Kingdom Fellowship Weekend seeks ‘pilgrim church’

Jun 19, 2017 by and

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A gathering of 20 young adults for Bible study, prayer and fellowship 13 years ago has grown into an annual event that draws about 1,000 people from conservative Anabaptist congregations and others interested in Anabaptist-inspired faith and practice.

Held since 2004 in south-central Pennsylvania, Kingdom Fellowship Weekend promotes “biblical Christianity in an era marked with apathy and compromise,” according to its website,

About 1,000 people attended the Kingdom Fellowship Weekend Aug. 26-28, 2016, at Roxbury Holiness Camp near Orrstown, Pa. — Kingdom Fellowship Weekend

About 1,000 people attended the Kingdom Fellowship Weekend Aug. 26-28, 2016, at Roxbury Holiness Camp near Orrstown, Pa. — Kingdom Fellowship Weekend

This year’s event is scheduled for Aug. 25-27 at Roxbury Holiness Camp near Orrstown, Pa.

“There has been this revival that has been coined ‘kingdom Christianity,’ where we understand the present reality of the kingdom as here,” KFW administrator Bryant Martin said. “There’s obviously a future dimension that is not yet. Jesus is our king; we are citizens of this kingdom, ambassadors obeying the decrees of our king.”

This emphasis, he said, makes interdenominational cooperation easier.

“There will be people present at Kingdom Fellowship Weekend who would not consider themselves Anabaptist,” he said. “But because of this transcendent love of Jesus Christ and willingness to be obedient to the teachings of the king, it creates a unity that is beautiful and powerful.”

Martin, who has a conservative Mennonite background, is now part of a congregation called Followers of Jesus at State College, Pa. It’s unaffiliated with any denomination, “but we do find a lot of connection with Anabaptist churches,” he said.

Kingdom Fellowship Weekend isn’t the only event crossing conservative Anabaptist denominational lines. In that sense, it’s similar to the annual Anabaptist Identity Conference, another weekend convention attended by a spectrum of people from Old Order Amish to those encountering Anabaptism for the first time.

But while AIC tends to focus on heritage and history, KFW has more of an emphasis on outreach.

Martin and his wife, Lynelle, run a coffee shop next to the Pennsylvania State University campus in State College. He says students from the university notice their plain clothing and ask them if they’re Amish and what they’re doing there.

In his conversations with students, Martin said he’s often asked questions such as: “What is [our] motivation? Why do I do these things? Why do I not vote? . . . The reason I don’t is not because I’m Mennonite but because we believe we’re citizens of a different kingdom.”

He said KFW isn’t about encouraging people to leave their church groups but to focus on the mission of the kingdom of God.

“We’re not interested in transfer of membership, but let’s find the unchurched, give them Bible studies and bring them into the kingdom,” he said. “There’ve been some voices crying in the wilderness for the past 20 years, saying this is the heart of Anabaptism.”

KFW’s emphasis is on being “the pilgrim church,” Martin said.

“There’ve always been those who follow Jesus, and those are the ones who really were pilgrims and strangers in this world,” he said. “We look at those groups to see ‘How did they live?’ What did they do in these circumstances?”

Like the early Anabaptists, KFW seeks to be a church-renewal movement that reclaims the apostles’ teachings and looks to early Christian writings for guidance, rather than trying to grow a distinctively Mennonite culture.

“You can’t colonize conservative Mennonitism in Bangla­desh,” Martin said. “But the kingdom of God is there.”

Humble beginnings

Joel Martin, a member of the KFW leadership team, was there for the very first meeting.

“The first time we got together basically was a time for spiritual fellowship, renewal, friends getting together for prayer and the study of God’s word,” he said.

The group of people in their late teens and early 20s grew as they invited more friends, some parents tagged along and new families were started.

“The original vision is still part of our focus,” Joel Martin said. “As we grew, we didn’t have any kind of a plan. It’s just something the Lord did.”

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