Dispersed staff helps all of MC USA
Staff connect to fringes rather than centralized locationsby Laurie Oswald Robinson
Glen Guyton, Mennonite Church USA's denominational minister for Intercultural Relations, works from his local community in Hampton, Va. He says there are two things he needs to do his job: a good Internet connection and a good way to connect with people.
The Internet allows Guyton to communicate with denominational office staff in Elkhart, Ind., Newton, Kan., and Harrisonburg, Va. He can work from home or carry his office with him via a cell phone and laptop. And good connection to people keeps him in tune with how God is working throughout the wider church—especially within his home congregation of Calvary Community Church, where his office is located.
"If we want to be a church in which every congregation and every person is at the center of what God is doing somewhere, then we need to value having staff work where they live," Guyton says.
Guyton is one of many staff members who are "dispersed"—serving away from one of the denominational offices. Denominational leaders are embracing new technologies and attitudes that help them respond in new ways to constituents' desire to be connected to the whole, says Ervin Stutzman, Mennonite Church USA’s executive director.
Stutzman, in the short term, has chosen to serve the wider church from his home in Harrisonburg rather than move to Elkhart or Newton. Newton was the working site of retired executive director Jim Schrag. Stutzman may discern it best to move in the future.
"I want to be part of maintaining a network of people all over the church rather than perceiving the church as being in one or two centralized locations," he says. "Many constituents feel on the fringes in one way or another. So we need to ask: Where is the center of the church? And how can we help connect the fringes to the center?"
Stutzman and the Executive Leadership staff with the church's four agencies—Mennonite Mission Network, Mennonite Education Agency (MEA), Mennonite Publishing Network and Mennonite Mutual Aid—are discerning what "center" means for a church undergoing change.
"We are adjusting to the constant flux that is the 21st century, and I think it’s somewhat like living in the first or second centuries of the church's existence," says Ken Gingerich, art director for Mennonite Church USA Executive Leadership Communications. He works from home in Albuquerque, N.M.
Rachel Swartzendruber Miller, director of Convention Planning for Executive Leadership, works from home in Phoenix, Ariz., and is a member of Trinity Mennonite Church in nearby Glendale. "Trinity has softened my heart for the churches on the fringes, whether they are in isolated rural areas, racial ethnic communities or urban centers,' she says. 'Congregations need connections to denominational leadership that go deeper than an annual visit or a presentation at their conference gathering."
Elaine Moyer, an associate director of MEA, works out of her home in Harleysville, Pa. She says she believes serving the church includes harnessing technology in ways that enhance Anabaptist community.
"At MEA we are exploring possibilities for expanding our online education capacities," she says. "But we must be careful to contextualize this from an Anabaptist perspective that values communities and community discernment."
Staff members also grapple with challenges, including lack of daily office interactions, says Bethany Shue Nussbaum, development associate for Mission Network, who works from an office at Central Christian School in Kidron, Ohio.
"Because I’m an extrovert, working dispersed has taken some adjustment," she says. "I miss the water cooler chats and pick-up-and-go-lunches, and long phone meetings can require extra patience and focus."
Rhoda Keener, executive director of Mennonite Women USA, works from her home in Shippensburg, Pa. "I can get more work done in solitude at home, but I miss the relationships in an office," Keener says. "I have to recognize my social needs and make sure those get met in other ways. There are also limits to long-distance communication. Some work really needs to be done in person."
John Powell, a church relations associate and antiracism coordinator for Mission Network, works from home in Ypsilanti, Mich.
"Research shows us the old church is moving away from its old 'centers' and into the periphery of other communities," he says. "We need to be careful not to label anything as central—other than Christ’s call to be relational people. No matter what else we do, we need to help each other remain faithful to Christ’s call in all the places where we are."
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