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Last updated November 24.

Feb. 16, 2009 issue

Emerging churches find treasures in Anabaptism

By Laurie Oswald Robinson For Mennonite Church USA

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Isaac Villegas, pastor of Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship, didn’t grow up Mennonite. That may explain why he so readily sees that Anabaptists hold treasures others are seeking.

From left, Mary Jo Lehman, Miriam Huebner, Jonah Huebner prepare a visual center for worship at Chapel Hill (N.C.) Mennonite Fellowship. — Photo provided by Tom Lehman

From left, Mary Jo Lehman, Miriam Huebner, Jonah Huebner prepare a visual center for worship at Chapel Hill (N.C.) Mennonite Fellowship. — Photo provided by Tom Lehman

After growing up in Roman Catholic and Pentecostal faith traditions, a friend invited him to a Mennonite worship service in Chapel Hill.

He had moved to the area for a seminary education at Duke Divinity School. Villegas had become disillusioned with how his former church responded aggressively to 9/11, and he found a new home in the historic peace church.

While completing his studies at Duke, Villegas met Dan Rhodes, now co-pastor of Emmaus Way. The congregation is part of the “emergent church” movement.

These congregations are re-evaluating the worship practices and theological perspectives of historic denominations and are reconfiguring them to help members live faithfully in today’s culture.

A juncture of the spiritual journeys of Villegas, Rhodes and other Mennonites has led to the formation of the Anabaptist Exchange. It’s an interchurch group that sponsors events and conversations to examine what it means to live Jesus’ way in the 21st century.

The world that needs the particular “riches” Mennonites have to offer, Villegas said.

“The experts are warning us about the possibility of our denomination’s death if we don’t start changing things to keep up with the times,” he said. “But I’m a child of these times, and I came to the Mennonite church because someone did an old-fashioned thing and invited me to church. That’s where I discovered a small group of folks who read the Bible and sang from hymnals and talked about Jesus like it made all the difference in the world.

“Many folks like me are growing weary of generic evangelicalism and a sanitized Jesus. We are captivated by the Anabaptist story and the contemporary possibilities for radical reformation. The same Holy Spirit of the 16th century is flowing through our Mennonite churches. I’ve seen it at Chapel Hill Mennonite.”

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  • Refreshing, contextual and prophetic as a call for us who confess faith as walking with Christ in life to practice this Walk in relation to neighbors and not just the in-group. Our sense of community needs the dimension Jesus promised, "where two or three are gathered 'in my Name', I am there..." We want to be a presence for Jesus in society but I've learned with you that this happens by his presence. Thank you for the very personal sharing of 'faith in action'.

    - Myron Augsburger (feb 20 at 4:20 p.m.)

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