Taking our faith seriously with formation ministries
by Jon Trotter
In September, my wife Eunice and I traveled to Pennsylvania to celebrate our forty-fifth class reunion. We were classmates at Christopher Dock Mennonite High School. I attended from fall 1970 through spring 1974. (VMC members Willis Hunsberger, Knoxville, Tenn., Barbara Weirich, Ted and Sue Swartz, and Rosemary Landis, all of Harrisonburg, Va., are also members of the class of 1974.)
Lee Yoder, principal, and Elam Peachey, assistant principal, provided leadership to the school during those years of our faith formation in that Mennonite setting. Christopher Dock was a place to explore my faith and emerge with a commitment to serve the church in ministry.
At that time, the school was a ministry of Franconia Mennonite Conference. My congregation at the time, Franconia Mennonite Church, provided educational assistance to families through the Brotherhood Plan. The Brotherhood Plan was communal mutual aid for families in the congregation who desired a faith-informed education, regardless of their economic standing.
Many families sent their children to Christopher Dock because the congregation provided financial support. I remember the gratitude expressed by one individual at our congregation’s annual meeting.
He expressed his support of the congregation funding for families to send their children to a Mennonite school, and recalled the burden of taking out loans to send his children to the Mennonite school. Even though he no longer had children at the school, he advocated the congregational vision of a Brotherhood Plan as truly a community mission for forming faith of our youth.
I realized the immense value of our Mennonite congregation and communal approach [so that] all families could have their children receive a faith-based education.
In another period of my life, while attending Princeton Theological Seminary, I discovered the contrast of our community’s mutual aid approach to Christian education—with an approach that sought to provide assistance to those of academic promise.
A professor invited me to attend his church in Newark, New Jersey. I attended, and following the worship service, he gave me a tour of the academy associated with this 1,600 member congregation (which eventually grew to 3,600 members).
During the tour, he reported that the academy only admitted those students who showed academic promise, who had the ability to thrive in college, and make a difference in the community. Traveling home, I was troubled by this gifted leaders’ congregational approach. I realized the immense value of our Mennonite congregation and communal approach which provided opportunity for all families to have their children receive a faith-based education.
Faith formation across the course of our entire life is a communal task carried out by our local congregation and ministries of the larger church. I am grateful for the “always task” of teaching faith to children, youth, and adults in our local congregations in worship, Sunday school, and various creative ministries.
I am thankful for ministries like Highland Retreat and Williamsburg Christian Retreat Center, and their focused ministry of calling forth faith in youth and young adults in a retreat setting.
I am deeply gratified by the ministries of Eastern Mennonite School, Eastern Mennonite University, and Eastern Mennonite Seminary, as young adults and adults pursue knowledge, experiences, and wisdom through educational processes informed by our faith traditions to “lead together” in a world of uncertainty.
I am thankful for the ministry of Pleasant View, Inc., for its commitment to walk alongside families with special needs. Pleasant View provides hope, care, and faith-informed compassion to children and adults with special needs.
Being part of a community of faith that seeks to embody the way of Christ is a lifelong journey…at each crossroads there are difficult choices to make. But we do not need to make those choices alone.
I am appreciative of Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community because it provides a faith-informed communal vision. Its leaders seek to create an environment that “strive[s] to be a community of hope, meaning and growth where people can age well and live fully.”
Our Conference also has an asset in Virginia Mennonite Missions, which for the last one hundred years has formed faith by equipping individuals, leaders, and congregations to share new life in Jesus Christ with neighbors near and far.
Being part of a community of faith that seeks to embody the way of Christ is a lifelong journey. It is a journey that recognizes that at each crossroads there are difficult choices to make. But we do not need to make those choices alone. The local assembly of believers, the ministries of the church in our conference, and Mennonite Church USA, all strive to provide faith-informed resources and services to strengthen our community life and witness.
In these times of global, national, and religious turmoil, I give witness to the goodness that is present in the vision and purpose of our faith community and its ministries to form and sustain our faith throughout our life course and the special needs that emerge along the journey.