Evana envisions stronger evangelical Anabaptist voice
With 17 members, network is taking shape
SHIPSHEWANA, Ind. — Leaders of the emerging Evana Network want to help their congregations speak up.
“We’ve heard this perception of [Anabaptists as] the quiet in the land, struggling how to know how to engage their communities,” said Evana executive director John Troyer of Goshen. “What does it mean to engage and see shalom be made known in our communities instead of just being the quiet in the land?”
Seventeen congregations have joined Evana, and about 18 more are discerning whether to join, Troyer said.
Taking its name from the words “evangelical” and “Anabaptist,” Evana Network officially launched in September, affirming the 1995 Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective as its doctrinal statement.
Although intended to be a mission-focused network for any congregation claiming an evangelical Anabaptist identity, Evana’s offering of ministerial credentials has made it an attractive option for congregations leaving Mennonite Church USA.
Carl Horner, pastor of Shore Mennonite Church in Shipshewana, said members of his congregation felt strongly about leaving MC USA and Indiana-Michigan Conference even before Evana became an option.
“We knew we were going to leave Mennonite Church USA no matter what,” Horner said. “The timing was, ‘Evana is starting; we should look into that.’ ”
Horner said the debate within MC USA about same-sex relationships was “the tip of the iceberg.”
“In my mind there are broader issues,” he said. “For instance, in the last two [MC USA] conventions I’ve been a delegate. The only speakers who had us open our Bibles were people brought in from the outside who weren’t Mennonite.”
Horner believes MC USA lacks an emphasis on Scripture and isn’t “willing to step in and discipline somebody who has broken polity.”
Shore’s members voted 95 percent in favor of leaving MC USA and Indiana-Michigan Conference and exploring the possibility of joining Evana.
“As we looked at the Scriptures, there was only one way to interpret it. It’s in the Old Testament and the New Testament,” Horner said. “We would rather spend our time working on ‘How do you do kingdom work?’ rather than spending all this time in hours and hours of meetings working on this one issue.”
Shore is in a one-year provisional partnership with Evana while determining whether to stay with the network long-term.
Data for outreach
Of Evana’s 17 congregations, one is from Conservative Mennonite Conference and the rest from MC USA. Four are retaining their previous affiliations alongside Evana, while “the vast majority” of the others left their area conferences before making a decision about Evana, Troyer said.
Some interested congregations are coming from Mennonite Church Canada and U.S. Mennonite Brethren.
Troyer said the network’s focus is on its congregations “working together toward a larger vision of the kingdom of God that goes beyond the local church but is connected to the area in which we live.”
Wes Furlong, Evana’s director of church development, is in charge of helping congregations obtain specific data about their congregations and communities so they can be strategic about outreach.
Of one congregation, Furlong said: “They know the exact number of single mothers under the community poverty line, and they want to reach them.”
Furlong said congregations interested in Evana are exploring how to “have a more effective presence in the community” while maintaining their Anabaptist commitments.
“What really is drawing churches to us, wherever they’re at on the question of affiliation, is the commitment to the Anabaptist theological framework, along with the vision of evangelism,” he said.
Evana’s first major convention for all ages, ReGen 2016, is planned for July 5-9 at Taylor University in Upland. Troyer said he expects about 500 people to attend.
Troyer said the convention would keep the delegate sessions short and focus on “equipping and inspiring and challenging activities for people.”
This fall, a residential church-planting training center is expected to accept its first residents, supported by grants, Furlong said. The program’s focus will be on college campus-centered ministries.
“There’s a real desire to see some greater campus presence with an Anabaptist fellowship focus,” Furlong said.
Evana is involved in several conversations with Anabaptist agencies and institutions such as Lancaster Mennonite Conference, Mennonite Central Committee, Fresno Pacific University, Church of the Brethren and Brethren in Christ, Furlong said. An Anabaptist student group recently begun on the campus of Bethel College in Mishawaka, Ind., is using Evana as a resource.
“The work of loving our neighbor and the work of making disciples are integrally tied together,” Troyer said. “The two together are really the power to change lives and communities.”
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