Since 2005 the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) and the Mennonite Church USA (MC USA) have been journeying together in a relationship of mutual encouragement and enrichment.
Included in this journey have been small group discussions between theologians and scholars as well as joint worship services involving sharing pulpits at participating local churches at various locations around the nation. The Church of God has also sent representatives to the MC USA General Convention/Delegate Assembly (equivalent to the Church of God General Assembly). In particular Dr. Cheryl Johns, Professor of Discipleship and Spiritual Formation at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary, has lectured and preached at several Mennonite venues.
This blossoming relationship has resulted MC USA Executive Director Dr. Ervin Stuztman attending the 74th International General Assembly of the Church of God in Orlando last month; the first time ever that a MC USA chief executive officer has attended a Church of God General Assembly. Dr Stutzman, along with André Gingerich Stoner, director of Holistic Witness and Interchurch Relations, and Virgil Vogt, pastor and church leader, attended business meetings and worship services, and participated in encounters with Pentecostal Theological Seminary and Lee University faculty, pastors and laity, and several members of the Council of Eighteen and State Administrative Bishops.
A highlight of the week was fraternal fellowship with the Executive Committee. A small team of Mennonite leaders visited Church of God International Offices in Cleveland, Tennessee in August of 2011 for sharing and prayer with then General Overseer Raymond Culpepper and the entire Executive Committee, including current General Overseer Mark Williams. The Orlando Assembly was a time for renewing friendships and reaffirming partnerships. General Overseer Williams gave a rousing welcome from “our part of God’s church.” In Thursday evening’s worship service, while Culpepper spoke of our “shared zeal” for Christian mission and global ministry. Stutzman explained that he came to General Assembly to “observe how Spirit-filled business is conducted.” He says MC USA wants to “live and walk in the Holy Spirit”. He asks, “How does a Pentecostal experience of the Holy Spirit make a difference in ‘how we do this or that’?”
Stutzman was encouraged to make the trip to Orlando by the honesty and transparency he noted in Culpepper at the International Offices the year before. He laughingly admitted that during General Assembly he felt a bit like the Queen of Sheba visiting Solomon: he realized that the half had not been told. More seriously, he expressed appreciation for the sense of the immediacy of the Holy Spirit in the worship services, of decorum and respect in the business sessions, as well as for the strong emphasis on missions.
MC USA is an Anabaptist Christian denomination in the United States. Although the organization is a recent 2002 merger of the Mennonite Church and the General Conference Mennonite Church, the body has roots in the Radical Reformation of the 16th century. It is the largest of the Mennonite denominations in the United States. As part of its formally adopted “Purposeful Plan,” MC USA emphasizes seven key initiatives: Christian Formation, Christian Community, Holistic Christian Witness, Stewardship, Leadership Development, Undoing Racism and Advancing Intercultural Transformation, and Church-to-Church Relationships. The “Vision Statement” of MC USA is “God calls us to be followers of Jesus Christ and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to grow as communities of grace, joy, and peace, so that God’s healing and hope flow through us to the world.” MC USA drive toward Christian unity and the Church of God tradition of Christian fellowship led in large part to the present fraternal fellowship between these two evangelical organizations.
Virgil Vogt and Tony Richie are currently co-chairs of this ongoing dialogue. Future plans for interaction between the Church of God and MC USA include a number of planning sessions, phone conferences, meetings between teams of scholars and theologians from the respective traditions, as well as involvement at the local church level and possible joint retreats for prayer and spiritual growth and formation. As Williams and Stutzman have both affirmed, “We have so much to learn from each other!” In any case, ongoing fraternal fellowship will certainly be an important element of this exciting relationship. Most importantly, the prayer of Jesus that we “all may be one” (John 17:20) is being answered through Mennonites and Pentecostals as we together take seriously the admonition of Paul “to keep the unity of the Spirit” (Ephesians 4:3).