New York’s new generation

Double-duty leaders carry Anabaptist torch their elders passed

Dec 3, 2018 by and

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NEW YORK — For 39-year-old Moises Angustia, there is no such luxury as coming home from his day job as a social worker to recline in an easy chair. Like many of his ministry peers in their 40s, Angustia does double duty in New York City’s multiracial Mennonite community.

Moises Angustia and his father, Nicholas Angustia. — Laurie Oswald Robinson for MWR

Moises Angustia and his father, Nicholas Angustia. — Laurie Oswald Robinson for MWR

Many work 9-to-5 jobs to make ends meet for their family in an expensive city. On eve­nings and weekends, they care for the families of the 17 congregations that belong to the New York City Council of Mennonite Churches.

That they spend their energy on so many fronts seems born of faithful mentoring, fresh vision and fervent commitment. This triad of forces lights the torches passed to them by earlier generations.

The first urban pioneers from Franconia and Lancaster Mennonite conferences began to break the barrier between country and city in the 1940s. That first wave led to church-planting and another wave of leaders who in turn have become men­tors for the next generation.

Examples of torch-passing include Angustia and his father, Nicholas, who came from the Dominican Republic in the early 1970s and began serving in 1981 as senior pastor at United Revival Mennonite Church in Brooklyn. Moises Angustia, now associate pastor/youth pastor, carries forward his father’s commitment to their 300-member Hispanic church family. Consisting of people from nine Latin American countries, it is NYCCMC’s largest congregation.

“I work in foster care from 9 to 5, and at 5:01 I put on my ministry hat and leave it on until midnight,” Angustia said. “Sometimes work and ministry cross paths, for example, when I travel across Brooklyn during my lunch hour to help a young person who needs help applying for college.

“Finances are so tight that my father is the only one who receives a salary, though there are 12 of us on our ministry team. . . .

“New York City churches could use a lot more lay support from people outside the city who would be willing to come here to walk alongside us on the path the early visionaries came to establish and alongside new leaders.”

Doing a lot with a little

Angustia belongs to a core group of leaders that has been solidifying since the early 2000s. The group includes 45-year-old Omar Guzman, whose people are a blend of African and Caribbean ancestry known as Garifuna. He was mentored and discipled by Celso Jaime, founder and senior leader of the fast-growing Garifuna network of churches in New York City and beyond.

Pastor Celso Jaime, back left, visits with worshipers at Evangelical Garifuna Church in Bronx. A native of Honduras, Jaime has led a church-planting movement among the Garifuna, people with African and Caribbean ancestry. — Laurie Oswald Robinson for MWR

Pastor Celso Jaime, back left, visits with worshipers at Evangelical Garifuna Church in Bronx. A native of Honduras, Jaime has led a church-planting movement among the Garifuna, people with African and Caribbean ancestry. — Laurie Oswald Robinson for MWR

Today, Guzman is pastor of Evangelical Garifuna Church in Manhattan and NYCCMC moderator. In his role as city-wide galvanizer, Guzman helps leaders share God’s good news in a city rife with immigration difficulties, high rents or mortgages for churches, exhausting work and commuting schedules, low incomes and material need.

“We are serving a lot of needy people, and we are often planting and developing our churches without money since our people are not able to contribute much toward finances,” Guzman said. “We basically are working with almost nothing, but we continue to put our faith in Jesus.”

Leadership development multiplies their resources, which requires that he and his cohorts prioritize discipling and mentoring. He is thankful that God recently provided a way for him to leave a day job and focus full-time on ministry.

“Each pastor must develop new pastors, who in most cases are the millennials,” Guzman said. “We need to be discipling and training them, giving them responsibility and authority to do ministry from their perspective, yet from an Anabaptist theological background to stand on.”

From this Anabaptist root each congregation branches out to its own people in NYCCMC’s mini-United Nations. Eight hundred to 1,000 Hispanics, African-Americans, Garifuna and Anglos form the Mennonite tapestry, Guzman said. One congregation, Mennonite Bible Fellowship, is in Connecticut.

Most range from a few to 100-plus members, and all are affiliated with LMC (formerly Lancaster Mennonite Conference) or Mennonite Church USA’s Atlantic Coast Conference.

The wisdom of elders

Since Guzman believes young­er leaders need historical perspective and wisdom, he established a group of advisers for ­NYCCMC. These include Nich­olas Angustia and Monroe Yoder, an 82-year-old former pastor and  LMC bishop who came to New York in 1965.

Another adviser is Ruth Weng­er, pastor of North Bronx Mennonite Church for 23 years. She came to the city in 1971.

“Omar not only invited us to  be advisers but insisted on it,” Weng­er said. “He is an extraordinary young leader who has deep faith, conviction and skills. . . . He and other younger leaders are honoring the context in which our Mennonite communities in NYC were first established and are building upon newer realities.”

Another adviser, Sylvia Shirk, Atlantic Coast Conference minister for New York City, was pastor of Manhattan Mennonite Fellowship for 11 years. She mentors 45-year-old Hyacinth Banks Stevens, pastor of King of Glory Tabernacle in Bronx and project coordinator for Mennonite Central Committee.

The impact of camp

Wenger also affirms the ministry of Ken and Deborah Bontrager, who “some of our young leaders have known all their lives,” she said. She considers them “bridge” leaders on two accounts: their age (mid-50s) and because they have honed leadership development for three dec­ades at Camp Deerpark in upstate New York.

The camp, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2019, is owned by NYCCMC.

Angustia and Stevens are former campers whose gifts were first developed by Bontrager, who has directed the camp for 28 years.

“Camp Deerpark is New York City’s biggest leader-growing factory,” Angustia said. “Many current leaders were either camp counselors or did some job at camp under Ken’s supervision. He has a passion for young people, and the fruit of the seeds he planted is now flourishing. . . .

“New York City did not have nearby Mennonite colleges to draw from for summer staff, and so he developed kids from the city to serve. Ken shaped me to become the leader I am today. I love him for that.”

Another home-grown talent is Stevens, daughter of Michael and Addie Banks, longtime Mennonite leaders in the city. After camping most summers, she held several staff positions and became program director for a time. She and her husband, Ben, are raising four children in West Haven, Conn. She commutes into the city most days.

Jesus’ example of reaching out to those on the margins fires her drive. Her charges are those who by and large grew up in poverty and broken homes and are now leading afterschool groups at church and going to college.

“Jesus didn’t get trapped in the synagogue but went to where the people were,” she said. “I first met many of the young adults I am mentoring today on the street corners outside the church building. A core group of them have been with me for 10 years.

“I strive to walk alongside others with a servant attitude. I want to serve people on their journey so that they can serve people and equip others to carry on God’s work.”


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