Evangelical Mennonite group looks west

Gathering in Oklahoma, AMEC moves beyond its Pennsylvania roots

Oct 3, 2016 by and

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An alliance of congregations centered mostly in southeastern Pennsylvania is making an effort to expand its geographic scope by holding its biennial conference in Oklahoma.

The Alliance of Mennonite Evangelical Churches will meet Oct. 21-23 at Eden Mennonite Church in Inola. It’s the first time AMEC will meet outside Pennsylvania. Eden, which formerly belonged to Mennonite Church USA’s Western District Conference, became one of AMEC’s 28 members about three years ago.

AMEC executive director Bob Gerhart said the location was chosen to give an opportunity for people in the Great Plains to become acquainted with AMEC’s goals of embracing “biblical evangelical identity from a biblical Anabaptist perspective.”

Since the distance will likely diminish delegate attendance, the agenda will be light on business, with no major resolutions.

“The conference itself will be a program, in some ways a Bible or ministry conference, looking at issues and challenges of the church in a changing culture and changing world,” Gerhart said.

The theme, “Standing Firm — Striving Forward,” is based on Phil. 1:27. The keynote speaker is Everett Piper, president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University in Bartlesville. Piper has worked with Family Research Council and Charles Colson’s Breakpoint ministry.

Other speakers include Dave Coryell, executive director of Christian Endeavor International, and Dennis Wiens, who will discuss international ministry via satellite technology.

Cultivating relationships

“There’s a tendency to see AMEC as a Pennsylvania organization, just serving the East Coast,” said Gerhart, who is based out of Bally, Pa.

The proposed budget expands funds for travel.

“One of our goals over the next two years is to cultivate some relationships, not just in the Midwest but following up on some of the contacts we’ve had across the country,” he said, specifying the central and western U.S.

Because “evangelical” is in the name, comparisons have been drawn to the more recently formed Evana Network. Gerhart attended Evana’s debut gathering a year ago at Clinton Frame Church in Goshen, Ind. He said the two entities have doctrinal differences.

Essentially, AMEC members were uncomfortable with the 1995 Mennonite Church USA Confession of Faith, which brought together the former Mennonite Church and General Conference Mennonite Church. Evana has stated a desire to hold to that Confession.

“The authority of Scripture, the nature of the atonement — we feel the ’95 Confession is ambiguous rather than specific when it comes to some important doctrinal issues,” Gerhart said.

Still, he said, both groups share common goals about wanting to see the church alive and doing outreach. He’s been wanting to get better acquainted with members of Evana’s leadership and noticed recent efforts by Evana to affirm other Confessions.

“That willingness to fellowship with other groups — we would hope they would see AMEC as co-laborers in various projects,” Gerhart said.

Also in the name of dialogue, Gerhart will travel with some AMEC leaders in the lead-up to the conference to introduce them to the Oklahoma area. They plan to visit Hydro, Cordell and Clinton, along with Corn Bible Academy. Oklahoma AMEC members already include Eden Mennonite, a house church in Oklahoma City and Grace Mennonite Church in Enid, another former Western District congregation.

Gerhart also extended invitations to Mennonite Brethren congregations to attend the conference.

“We’re not expecting them to join [AMEC], but to hear some of the messages,” he said. “We’d like to get acquainted with them and all the churches in Oklahoma.”

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