Emerging churches find treasures in AnabaptismBy 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.
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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