Nancy Kauffmann reflects on where God is at work among us and her time as denominational minister.
(Mennonite Church USA) — Nancy Kauffmann has served as denominational minister for Mennonite Church USA for over seven years and retired on May 1, 2018.
What roles and responsibilities have you held over the years (within and outside the church)?
I was on the pastoral team at College Mennonite Church for 19 years. After that I spent nine years as regional conference minister for Indiana Michigan Conference. And I’ve served the last nine years as denominational minister for MC USA. I have served on the Doves’ Nest board and the Editorial Board of Vision: A Journal for Church and Theology. I taught a Faith and Polity class at Eastern Mennonite Seminary and also taught youth ministry classes at Goshen College.
How have you experienced changes in the church over the years?
Since I began my career, there have been many major changes, but one has been in the presence of women in the ministry and leadership within the church. I’ve got a ton of stories about this — some sad and some humorous ones.
When I first began in ministry, serving with some other women, someone wrote an anonymous note to the elders complaining that women’s voices just don’t sound good over the mic. Another time someone visited our congregation and after the service told me I had a powerful sermon, but then proceeded to open his Bible to remind me that women shouldn’t be speaking in church.
You’ve connected with so many leaders (congregational, area conference, others) over the years. Can you name a particularly meaningful event or encounter that has shaped your leadership?
It is hard to give just one moment out of 37 years of ministry. I have encountered so many people that I have learned from over the years. I always paid close attention to leaders that I thought had a lot of integrity within their ministry (word and deed) and were deeply rooted in their faith in Christ. I admired leaders who could admit when they were wrong, knew how to empower others in ministry and had a healthy sense of humor. I admired leaders who didn’t abuse their power to harm others. I also admired leaders who didn’t attempt to manage people, but respectfully engaged and challenged people.
What have been some highlights of your work over the years?
- I enjoyed working with Terry Shue and Karen Martens Zimmerly of Canada on such documents as A Shared Understanding of Ministerial Leadership and Ministerial Sexual Misconduct Policy and Procedure.
- I valued my connections with conferences and their leadership and enjoyed attending their annual assemblies. I have so many wonderful memories of those assemblies, and I felt it gave me an opportunity to see firsthand all the good that does go on across the church, exposing me to the breadth of gifted leaders within MCUSA.
- I always felt it a privilege when invited by conference boards to work with them at particular times in the conference’s life like searching for a new conference minister or dealing with a conflict of some kind.
- While overseeing the calling system, I had the opportunity to talk to between 150-175 pastors — potential new pastors and potential pastors new to the Mennonite Church each year. I got to hear their stories of call to the ministry and was often moved by them. One high moment for me was last summer at a conference assembly where I heard a new pastor I had worked with share with the delegates his story of faith and finding the Mennonite Church. I smiled remembering the first time I met him by phone and was grateful to God for all that led up to this special moment. I had an unusual moment a while back when I received a phone call from a person wanting to be a pastor in the Mennonite Church. When he found out I was a pastor and that MC USA allowed women to be pastors, he said, “Well I don’t think your denomination is for me!” and hung up on me. I thanked God. J
- I had fun overseeing MennoData (the database for MC USA and MC Canada for pastor, congregation and conference records) and worked to increase that system’s capacity to serve the needs of regional churches and conferences. With the recent push for conferences to conduct regular boundary trainings for their pastors, we set up a way for conferences to use MennoData to keep track of who has and who hasn’t completed the training. Since MennoData is also a historical record, these records automatically move with the transfer of credentials.
- It was a joy to interact with new pastors through our office’s Transitioning into Ministry program (TiM) at our Laurelville retreat each year. Several months after one gathering, a TiM participant confided that before the retreat, she had been discouraged and had considered leaving the ministry. But she said her experience at the retreat helped her re-engage ministry in a new way, and now she has excitement about the ministry.
I just loved my work period for it gave me so many opportunities to see God at work within the Church. My faith was strengthened time and again.
What are your plans and hopes for retirement?
My short term plans are to travel to Israel with TourMagination in May. I’ll spend time with my granddaughter Elke some this summer, host friends traveling though Goshen in June, go to movies with my friends, do some hiking in the Sandia Mountains in New Mexico and stand in my yard and listen to the birds sing.
My long term plans are not set yet. I want some time to reflect, to just be, to listen to the birds sing and wait on God to stir within me before I make any major decisions about what is next. One project I do want to continue to work on is cataloging my husband Joel’s work which I have only slightly begun to do.
What are your hopes for MC USA?
I leave with great hope for MC USA and pray that MC USA will always be aware of where God is at work among us. I have thought of two scriptures lately as I prepare to leave my position. One is Isaiah 43:14a, 18-19. I truly believe that God is about to do something new within the church and am excited to see what that might be.
The second scripture is a part of the Lord’s Prayer, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” It is one part of the prayer that we, the Church could benefit from by asking God to help us understand what that means for how we approach God and the world and how we interact with each other so the Church does reflect “as it is in heaven.”
It reminds me of something one of my teachers said years ago, “The church should be a sanctuary where heaven and earth meet, where everyday assumptions and rationalizations are broken open like the frail elements they are, in order to reveal a more inclusive, just, empowering and satisfying truth through the presence of Holy Spirit.” Blessings to all.