Evana Network previews its future

30 congregations said to be in the process of joining

Oct 19, 2015 by and

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GOSHEN, Ind. — Five months after the birth of Evana Network was announced, the newest movement to link Anabaptism and evangelicalism held its coming-out party Oct. 16-17, emphasizing relationships with God, among its members and with those they want to serve.

“We’re ready to go,” executive director John Troyer declared during the closing worship service of Evana’s “Preview Weekend” at Clinton Frame Mennonite Church. “We’re ready to move, to run, to walk, to laugh and to cry.”

Evana board member Samuel Lopez (center, with mic) speaks during a question-and-answer session Oct. 17. From left are staff member Wes Furlong and board members Tyler Hartford, Lopez, Matt Hamsher and Virginia Leichty. — Rich Preheim for MWR

Evana board member Samuel Lopez (center, with mic) speaks during a question-and-answer session Oct. 17. From left are staff member Wes Furlong and board members Tyler Hartford, Lopez, Matt Hamsher and Virginia Leichty. — Rich Preheim for MWR

For many of the supporters and other interested people in attendance, the weekend also meant moving on, leaving behind Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada.

Evana emerged this spring as an alternative to both denominations as they struggle with disputes related to sexuality.

The organization’s creation was announced in April, with Troyer as executive director. He previously was a youth pastor at Clinton Frame, which last year withdrew from Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference and MC USA because of the support by others in the church for same-sex marriage and other LGBT issues. The congregation, which hosted the weekend activities, this summer became the first to join Evana.

During the weekend, Pleasant View Mennonite Church of Goshen was announced as the second member. Like Clinton Frame, the congregation had also withdrawn from Indiana-Michigan in 2014 but transferred to South Central Conference. Now Pleasant View has pulled out of South Central and cut ties with the denomination.

“You can only invest your efforts into so many [affiliations],” said Pastor Tyler Hartford, an Evana board member and former member of the MC USA Executive Board.

About 30 former or current MC USA and MC Canada congregations are in the process of joining Evana, Troyer said. Evana has also been in contact with groups from the Brethren in Christ, Conservative Mennonite Conference and Mennonite Breth­ren.

Troyer, Hartford and other Evana leaders largely avoided public denunciations of MC USA and MC Canada, nor were sexuality issues mentioned.

“We’re not here to encourage anyone to leave anything,” Troyer said during a question-and-answer period on Saturday afternoon.

In his message on Friday night, he also refused to claim religious superiority.

“We are not a gathering of the pure away from the impure,” Troyer said. “We are a fellowship of the broken.”

While he refrained from criticism, many in attendance did not. Others expressed exhaustion from debates about matters they see as settled by Scripture.

Brian Voss from Burr Oak Mennonite Church in Rensselaer, Ind., was discussing the need for a successor to his congregation’s retiring pastor and asked, “We’re just trying to find Bible-believing Mennonites. Do you know any we can scare up?”

Adhering to Confession

About 275 people registered for the weekend, coming from 19 states, Manitoba and Ontario. One of them was Dave Hersh from Grace Mennonite Church, Lansdale, Pa., which last month withdrew from Eastern District Conference. That concluded a process that started four years ago when Grace voiced its opposition to Megan Ramer, pastor of Chicago Community Mennonite Church, officiating several same-sex wedding ceremonies. After a nine-month investigation, Central District Conference placed in her official file that she was at variance with the church’s positions.

“We want to deal with like-minded congregations” that are “strictly adhering to the confession of faith,” Hersh said.

MC USA and MC Canada have been criticized for not upholding the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, which has also been adopted by Evana. It defines marriage as “a covenant between one man and one woman for life . . . meant for sexual intimacy, companionship and the birth and nurture of children.”

That has resulted in a lack of trust in the denominations and area conferences. During the question-and-answer time, board member Larissa Moore said, “Evana is necessary because pastors and congregations need a safe place . . . to uphold the Word of God.”

But Troyer offered words of caution in his concluding remarks on Saturday night. “The undercurrent I heard this weekend was who can we trust,” he said. But Evana’s leadership can also disappoint. “There’s only one person we can trust; that’s Jesus Christ,” he said.

More than just talk

Embodying Christ was a major focus of the weekend. In the Saturday morning plenary session, Wes Furlong, Evana’s director of church development, outlined an Anabaptist approach to evangelism.

“Our responsibility is not just talk, talk, talk, talk, talk,” he said.

Furlong cited Civilian Public Service workers’ experiences in mental health care during World War II and subsequent development of Mennonite mental health facilities as examples of willingness “to suffer with one another.” That requires entering into personal relationships.

It was a point echoed in Marvin Lorenzana’s seminar on church planting. “The kingdom of God grows one disciple at a time,” said Lorenzana, a church planter with Virginia Mennonite Missions and Mennonite Mission Network. “It’s really about a believer making the commitment with someone until the person becomes a believer” and perpetuates the process.

To better enable its members’ evangelistic efforts, Evana will offer community mapping — the systematic research of a geographic area to identify needs and opportunities for congregational ministry.

The network will also provide credentialing for pastors of congregations that leave other groups, plus educational opportunities, internships for young adults interested in ministry and online resources.

Evana is planning annual pastors’ retreats and biennial youth and adult conventions. The first retreat is scheduled for Feb. 29-March 3 at Lake Placid, Fla., and the first convention for July 5-9 at Taylor University in Upland, Ind.

Several levels of congregational membership are available, and details are being finalized for individual memberships.

On Sunday morning, Oct. 18, Evana board members preached in five area Mennonite congregations: First Mennonite Church, Nappanee; Maple City Chapel, Goshen; True Vine Tabernacle, Elk­hart; plus Clinton Frame and Pleasant View.

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