In her opening address to this year’s Pastors Week event at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, held during the last week of January 2016, Jewel Gingerich Longenecker, the school’s dean of lifelong learning, highlighted widespread confusion in the church today about what to do with the Bible, but implored listeners not to “put the Bible on the shelf.”
In her talk, entitled “In the right doses,” to more than 170 pastors, other church leaders and lay learners, she contrasted the counter-cultural, life-giving nature of the biblical story with popular dead-end narratives, and invited pastors to consider how they might "reclaim the biblical story in a way that expresses its non-coercive claim to truth.” She called attention to the potential of in-depth Bible study using scholarly tools “in the right doses for congregational contexts,” to shed light on the Bible and to help bring people together around it.
Bryan Moyer Suderman, an itinerant Bible teacher from Stouffville, Ont., who is also widely known as an Anabaptist singer-songwriter, led three morning sessions, focussing on stories from the Gospel of Mark in which Jesus uses Old Testament passages in his dealings with a variety of people. Through word, song and group interaction, Moyer Suderman helped participants observe the discernment processes going on in various strands of Old Testament discussion, and showed how they emerge in Jesus’ use of scripture in Mark.
He offered a “mapping” process for looking at the gospels, including asking, “Where are we? Who is talking to whom? Where do we see [Old Testament] scripture coming into play? What do we notice about how scripture is being used here? Are there patterns? What might this say to us?” As Pastors Week participants discovered these New Testament conversations about faithfulness, they were reminded that engagement with, and discernment around, the Bible is the church’s ongoing task and responsibility.
Moyer Suderman’s original song, “Wrestling with the Scriptures,” became an informal theme song for the week, pointing to the continuing task of “wrestling with each other, wrestling to be heard, wrestling with the scriptures, wrestling with the Word.” Likewise, his song “I’m Glad You’re Here,” struck a chord as it called listeners to value the presence of others with whom they disagree, even in midst of scriptural debates.
Throughout the week, worship leaders Malinda Berry and Rebecca Slough invited guests to “turn the text” by offering midrash-inspired reflections on the scripture passage for the day. These dramatic interpretations, original vocal and piano pieces, and spoken reflections challenged participants to see the text through multiple perspectives.
“Pastors Week was a chance to reconnect with old friends, make new friends, debate scripture, sing, worship and pray together,” said Doug Unrau, pastor of Lowe Farm Bergthaler Mennonite Church in Manitoba. “What could be better?”
“It was a privilege to be a part of Pastors Week,” commented Marisa Smucker, a church relations worker with the Mennonite Mission Network in the U.S. “I wasn’t sure what to expect since this was my first time attending. What I experienced was worship that used all my senses; opportunity to relate to pastors, leaders, professors and students; and a prodding and a challenge to go deeper and further in my faith journey.”