Renewal Circles group plans first convention

Apr 28, 2014 by and

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The recently organized group Anabaptist Renewal Circles will look to fuel spiritual renewal across many Mennonite Church USA conferences with a national convention this summer.

ARC-logo-webUsing the theme, “Proclaiming the Good News of Jesus,” the gathering will be July 10-12 at Weaverland Mennonite Church in Lancaster, Pa.

ARC spokesperson Sunoko Lin said by email the group began during the 2011 Mennonite Church USA convention in Pittsburgh and named itself last June.

“Several of us, pastors and church leaders from diverse ethnic groups, were very concerned about the spiritual health of the Mennonite Church,” said Lin, pastor of Maranatha Christian Fellowship in Northridge, Calif. “This concern prompted us to seek new ways to encourage each other in common faith, ministry and mission. Since then, we have met several times to pray and plan for renewal activities that produce life and vitality rather than for divisive debate about sexuality.”

He said the group’s goal is “a biblical covenanted community where our unity is inspired and shaped by the authoritative Word of God.”

Plenary speakers are Ervin Stutzman, MC USA executive director; Wes Furlong, lead pastor at Cape Christian Fellowship in Cape Coral, Fla.; Christopher Yuan, a Moody Bible Institute instructor and former gay man who speaks and writes about living with HIV; Madeline Maldonado, associate pastor at Iglesia Evangelica Menonita Arca de Salvacion (Ark of Salvation Evangelical Mennonite Church) in Fort Myers, Fla.; Nelson Okanya, president of Eastern Mennonite Missions; and Esdras Ferreras, senior pastor at Sonido De Alabanza (Sound of Praise) in Cicero, Ill. The convention also will include about 30 workshops, a concert of prayer and a Friday evening youth worship event.

“We are hoping it will draw many like-minded pastors and church leaders from diverse ethnic groups and different MC USA conferences,” Lin said.

The event is not limited to MC USA but is open to all Anabaptist groups.

Organizers are hoping for 250 attenders, though Wea­ver­land Mennonite can host as many as 600 to 700, so more are welcome.

Information about the convention and registration is online at

Comments Policy

Mennonite World Review invites readers’ comments on articles. To promote constructive dialogue, editors select the comments that appear, just as we do with letters to the editor in print. These decisions are final. Writers must sign their first and last names; anonymous comments are not accepted. Comments do not appear until approved and are posted during business hours. Comments may be reproduced in print, and may be edited if selected for print.

  • Note to conference organizers: There is no such thing as a “former gay man.” If Christopher Yuan stands before you and says he’s no longer gay, he is being dishonest with you and with himself. It’s important to realize this, or you will never come to terms with the sweeping changes being initiated by the Holy Spirit right now: that is, the doors (as well as hearts) being opened to welcome our gay and lesbian sisters and brothers in the life of the church. If you listen really closely during prayer time at your conference, you will hear this message in a still small voice. Don’t miss the boat on this, or you will feel really uncomfortable in the Kingdom of God, which is a densely gay (and gay-friendly) neighborhood.

    • Merv Horst

      Holy Spirit, Come with Power.

    • John Troyer

      The characterization of Christopher Yuan as a “former gay man” was entirely concocted by Mennonite World Review, it does not come from conference organizers nor from Christopher Yuan.

  • Merv Horst It looks like Christopher Yuan might be problematic. I am sorry that this event will happen in the hallowed area where many of my ancestors are buried. I think they might be turning over in their graves.

    • John Troyer

      It’s fascinating to watch the responses to this gathering. One person launches into a tirade based on a straw man, and the other references his ancesters turning over in their graves. I’m assuming it’s because he agrees with a self-described atheist who says a redemption narrative has no place at Yale. Do the “tolerant and inclusive” individuals in MCUSA only tolerate and include those who agree with them?

      • Merv Horst

        I don’t know what this means “I’m assuming it’s because he agrees with a self-described atheist who says a redemption narrative has no place at Yale.” Surely something is most likely not properly understood. I guess we have to be wary of academic discourse? Then the Anabaptists should not have challenged the teachings of Luther and Zwingli and Jesus should not have challenged the religious powers of his day.

        • It is heartening to know that there are stirrings of renewal and revival in the Mennonite Church. As a long time city resident and member first of 7th Avenue Church (Now Infinity Mennonite) a Lancaster Conference congregation, and now West Philadelphia Mennonite Fellowship (Franconica Conference), and also as a former Mission Associate for six years in Philly with Eastern Mennonite Missions, I have long since yearned for a revival.

          In the early 1980’s in New York City I was a member of a five person core group that founded Peace Mennonite Fellowship. That group include an openly gay and partnered man, Lin Garber. (Details in “Mennonite and Brethren in Christ Churches of New York City”, by Richard K. MacMaster, Pandora Press, 2006).

          I left the Mennonite church at age 15 and began seeking faith in Zen Buddhism, Shinto, Shingon and other Asian mystical traditions. I received a Ph.D. in Premodern Japanese History and Religion from Columbia University in New York in 1980.

          In 1978, the summer before I left for Japan to write my doctoral thesis, I just happened to go to Mennonite World Conference in Wichita. I was standing talking to Dennis Byler, then a missionary in Argentina, when I had a Damascus Road experience, as described by Paul in the Book of Acts. Overpowering white light. I felt that I had been kicked in the stomach, a very physical sensation. Back in my hotel room I knelt down and recognized Jesus Christ as the Lord and Savior and master of the universe.

          That fall in Japan I wrestled with that experience and my trajectory as a Shinto/Buddhist mystic. When I returned to New York in 1979, I was still very confused, but thanks to the ministry of Student Young Adult Services I began to make my way back into the Mennonite Church. I helped found Peace Mennonite, then started attending 7th Avenue, then pastored by Gerry Keener, where I confessed my many sins and was received into membership. In 1982 I married Sylvia Horst in that storefront church in Harlem where we had room for exactly 80 guests.

          After a stint at AMBS, we were invited in1985 to Philadelphia by David W. Shenk, then EMBMC director of Home Ministries, and Luke Stoltzfus, Lancaster Bishop for Philadelphia. We worked for three years aiding as we good in the planting of the Vietnamese Mennonite Church. I was the first elder at West Philadelphia Mennonite, then just a year old. I was on the church-planting committee for Love Truth Chinese Mennonite Church in Philly.

          Last fall West Philadelphia Mennonite, after a long process of congregational discernment, agreed to accept openly gay members. Our pastor, Lorie Hershey, signed a recent letter admonishing MCUSA on this matter.

          I must confess that as an urban Mennonite, living in conditions that rural and suburban Mennonites can only imagine, without owning a car or a house, I have often felt resentment toward the extremely wealthy Mennonite church which is rapidly becoming assimilated into upper middle class American culture.

          A few years ago, we received an inivitation, as former EMM workers, inviting us to consider retiring in Landis Homes. Turned out that the entry fee was close to a half million dollars, which needless to say was beyond our means.–

          Every Pentecost, the twenty or so Mennonite churches in Philadelphia, many of them ethnic churches planted by EMM in a burst of evangelism in the late 1980’s, gather for a worship and communion service. There are Anglo congregations, African-American churches, mixed-ethnic churches, Hispanic, Indonesian, Vietnamese, Chinese, and Haitian (at the moment — the number grows every year.)–

          These are revival and renewal services. Last year James Kraybill of Mennonite Missions came and helped organize inter ethnic music groups. Every year it is a taste of heaven. At the end of worship, an array of pastors, white, Black, Hispanic and Asian stand in a row at the front and offer communion. These pastors range from ultra-liberal to inerrantist, and they know that about each other. —

          I truly believe the Mennonite church needs a major renewal. But this will not come by drawing pre-established lines according to any participants’ current theological positions. We have all sinned and come short of the glory of God.–

          Ross Lynn Bender, PhD

      • John, it doesn’t matter whether Christopher Yuan is a “former gay man” or a gay man who has chosen to be celibate because his Christian beliefs forbid him from acting on his same-sex attractions. The message is the same: openly gay persons are not welcome in the Mennonite church. That is why Christopher Yuan has been invited to this conference, to help the Mennonite holy rollers feel justified in their anti-gay bigotry. What Yuan’s presence actually shows, however, is that these Mennonites are only fooling themselves when they claim a special pipeline to the Holy Spirit. They are no more in touch with the genuine spirit of God than were the Christians in the pre-Civil Rights era whose bigotry caused them to exclude African Americans from their churches. This so-called “Renewal” convention is going to be nothing more than one big exercise in mass delusion. And a willful effort to close their eyes to the irreversible process that’s going to result in the eventual inclusion of gay and lesbian persons in all Christian churches around the world, including Mennonite ones.

  • John Troyer

    The article is incorrect, the conference website and Christopher Yuan’s website do not describe himself as a former gay man. To learn more detail about how Yuan identifies himself, you can find it at

About Me


Latest from MWR