By Annette Brill Bergstresser
ELKHART, Indiana (Mennonite Church USA/Mennonite Mission Network) — On Aug. 16, Jonathan Brenneman of St. Marys, Ohio, is beginning a one-year assignment with Mennonite Voluntary Service (MVS) in Elkhart, Indiana, as Partners in Peacemaking coordinator for Mennonite Church USA’s Executive Board (EB) staff.
EB staff members worked with Mennonite Mission Network to create the new position as one way of implementing A statement of support for our Palestinian and Israeli partners in peacemaking, which the denomination’s Delegate Assembly adopted unanimously on July 4, 2015, in Kansas City, Missouri, three days after having tabled the Israel-Palestine Resolution until the 2017 convention.
The resolution that passed calls for members of Mennonite Church USA to learn more about the social, economic and political context of the region; to reflect on their theological and political understanding of the region; and to discern how to seek a more just future for all peoples of Israel-Palestine.
According to André Gingerich Stoner, director of interchurch relations for Mennonite Church USA, Brenneman will help Mennonites learn about and support Palestinian and Israeli peacemakers. He’ll facilitate education, conversation, prayer and action for peace with justice in Israel-Palestine in local settings across the denomination.
“We have a lot of people who have varied experiences, awareness and concern but haven’t been connected with each other,” he says. “Jonathan will help them share with each other what’s been meaningful in their setting and explore ways to share speakers and resources as well.”
Rather than developing many resources, Brenneman will focus on helping form regional networks so that people across the church can learn about and work at the issues together and connect with a significant number of congregations in their area.
Stoner, who will supervise Brenneman at the Elkhart Mennonite offices, is also the EB staff representative to the Mennonite Israel-Palestine Working Group that is directing the process of carrying out the resolution. The working group was formed after the Kansas City convention and grew out of the inter-agency committee that has been giving oversight to the “Come and See” learning tours. It includes staff and representatives from the EB staff, Mennonite Mission Network, Everence, Mennonite Central Committee U.S., Menno-PIN (Mennonite Palestine-Israel Network) and Christian Peacemaker Teams. Brenneman will be developing relationships with these organizational partners and helping link them with the regional networks.
“I am very excited about this position,” Brenneman says. “Engaging with other Christians, especially other Mennonites, about Israel-Palestine has long been a passion of mine, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to pursue that passion. I have already been so encouraged by all the initiatives that are happening within the Church, and I’m looking forward to cultivating them.”
Another part of Brenneman’s responsibilities will be to serve as a resource for people studying the Kairos Palestine appeal, which a broadly ecumenical group of Palestinian Christian leaders wrote in December 2009 to call on the global community to learn about and respond to the suffering in their region. A four-week Kairos Palestine congregational study guide prepared by Menno-PIN is available via MennoMedia at http://store.mennomedia.org/Kairos-Palestine-P4755.aspx.
Stoner says he sees Brenneman as “exceptionally well qualified” for this role. Brenneman grew up in Ohio and is a member of Lima (Ohio) Mennonite Church; his mother comes from a prominent evangelical Christian Palestinian family. His maternal grandfather was a pastor in Jerusalem, and Jonathan’s parents served with Mennonite Central Committee at Hope School in Bethlehem when he was a young child.
As an adult, Brenneman served with Christian Peacemaker Teams from 2012 to 2014 (2012–13 in Hebron). He studied history and philosophy at Huntington (Indiana) University as an undergraduate, and he recently completed a master’s degree in international peace studies at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, where he also attended Kern Road Mennonite Church.
“Jonathan has deep experience and conviction, and we feel extremely fortunate that he has made himself available to do this work as an MVSer,” Stoner says. “He’s already doing a remarkable job building relationships across the church with people who are committed to working for peace with justice in the region.”
He notes that although Brenneman’s term doesn’t officially start until mid-August, he’s spent time this summer traveling across the country to visit with area conference leaders, pastors and other Mennonites working for peace for Israel-Palestine. These include alumni of “Come and See” learning tours organized in response to the Kairos Palestine appeal and sponsored by the EB in collaboration with church agencies and organizations. Seventy-six leaders have participated in the tours since the first one in October 2013.
According to Stoner, two more “Come and See” tours are being planned: one for this fall that will include representatives from Eastern Mennonite Missions, Mennonite Mission Network and Virginia Mennonite Missions; and one for the spring that will include Hispanic and African American Mennonite leaders. Prior tour groups have consisted of agency and organization board members and representatives of nine area conferences. By the spring of 2017, the goal of sending 100 Mennonite leaders to Israel-Palestine over a five-year period will have been met, Stoner says.
He notes that the learning tours, Brenneman’s new position and the various regional initiatives will help prepare the church and its delegates to consider a revised resolution on Israel-Palestine at the Delegate Assembly in Orlando in July 2017.
Brenneman adds that he was disappointed that many delegates at KC2015 felt unprepared for the conversation about Israel-Palestine: “I see this next year — with the mandate of the Partners in Peacemaking resolution and preparation for the tabled Israel-Palestine resolution — as a prime opportunity for Mennonites to engage more deeply in what is happening in the region and to support our peacemaking partners.”
Jonathan Brenneman can be reached at 574-523-3086 or via e-mail.
Note: While church agencies and organizations are covering part of the monthly costs for Brenneman’s position, additional funds are still needed. Any funds raised above Brenneman’s costs will be used to strengthen Mennonite partnerships with Palestinian and Israeli peacemakers.
Contributions may be sent to Mennonite Church USA, 718 N. Main St., Newton, KS 67114-1703, with “MVS Partners in Peacemaking” on the memo line. Online contributions can be made at http://mennoniteusa.org/give/; click on “Donate to the Purposeful Plan,” then at the box at the bottom, designate your contribution for “MVS Partners in Peacemaking.”
Jonathan Brenneman, Partners in Peacemaking coordinator for Mennonite Church USA’s Executive Board staff. (Photo provided)