Eastern Mennonite University alumni give leadership to expanding MC USA Peace and Justice ministry


by Mennonite Church USA staff

Mennonite Church USA Executive Board is strengthening its ongoing commitment to creation care and climate justice by expanding its Peace & Justice ministries to include Mennonite Creation Care Network (MCCN).

Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz, Eastern Mennonite University alum

The transition is the result of a mutual agreement with Everence®, an agency of MC USA that has previously provided administrative services for MCCN and continues to provide financial support, and Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center of Goshen College, which has managed the daily operations since its formation in 2005. The transition process will begin Aug. 1, 2023.

“As people of faith, we need to talk about climate justice and take action,” said Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz, MC USA denominational minister of Peace and Justice. “We need to ensure the equitable distribution of the burdens of climate change and consider its impact on all of us. We know the heaviest burden falls on those who have little to do with creating the crisis, and we must be accountable to those communities through our actions and personal involvement.”

Mennonite Church USA Executive Board is creating a permanent, part-time staff position for a climate justice coordinator to oversee the work of MCCN and help to shape its future. Jennifer Halteman Schrock, director of MCCN since 2016, will step down from her part-time role on Sept. 30, 2023.

Jason Martin, Ph.D., executive director of Merry Lea, said that he and Halteman Schrock began talking about this transition three years ago: “We asked ourselves ‘What can we do to make this wonderful program even better? How can we reach a broader audience? How can we do even more good work through this calling?

Jennifer Halteman Schrock, Eastern Mennonite University alum

“We realized that MCCN was not unlike the vegetable starter plants that many of us grow on our window sills during early spring. Luke Gascho and Jennifer initially planted the seeds of MCCN at Merry Lea and through their care and guidance the program spouted and flourished,” Martin said. Gascho served as the director of Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center of Goshen College when MCCN was formed. “But as with all starter plants, MCCN eventually began to experience the constraints of growing within a pot that was no longer sufficient to contain and support it. It is time to transplant MCCN into a bigger garden so it can realize its full potential,” he added.

Over the years, MCCN’s work has included developing MC USA’s Creation Care Resolution in 2013; creating the “Every Creature Singing” curriculum; equipping churches to embrace solar through the “Considering Solar?” guide for churches; administering the Pam De Young Net Zero Energy Fund, which provides grants to churches who are installing solar panels; hosting informational webinars and providing resources through its website and email newsletter.

“I’m grateful for all of the work that Jennifer has done to craft and administer this wonderful creation care ministry. Thanks to her work, MCCN is well positioned to enter its next chapter,” said Martin. “We feel that by stepping under the MC USA Executive Board umbrella, MCCN will be in a good position to achieve its full potential. Merry Lea looks forward to continuing to support this work by serving in an advisory capacity for MC USA.”

Halteman Schrock and Stutzman Amstutz are currently working together on a couple of new initiatives, before Halteman Schrock steps down. One initiative is the upcoming Youth & Young Adult Climate Summit in Kansas City, Missouri, on July 7, 2023.  MC USA Executive Board staff, MCCN and the Anabaptist Climate Collaborative are partnering to provide attendees with a comprehensive understanding of the climate change crisis and the ways that they can cope and get involved.

The other initiative is the soon-to-be-announced Gen Z Energy and Spirit Challenge. It challenges youth and young adults to work with their congregations to make quantifiable improvements in their collective carbon footprints or to address another environmental problem in their church or community.

“It is a relief to know that MCCN is lodged in a place where it can reach more people,” said Halteman Schrock. “The number of youth and young adults registered for the Youth Climate Summit this July illustrates the future potential.”

Following the transition, Halteman Schrock will focus her energies on her other role, providing administrative support for the Global Education department of Goshen College.

A shared vision

The formational mission of MCCN, as affirmed by MC USA and Mennonite Church Canada, was to connect people, resources and the Anabaptist faith tradition in ways that promote peace with creation.

Stutzman Amstutz and Sandy Plett, climate action coordinator for Mennonite Church Canada, said the denominational partners hope to continue to collaborate and share resources, even as a new broader vision takes shape.

“Both denominations take this work seriously, and we value that connection across the border,” said Plett. “As in an ecosystem, our actions impact each other.”

“There are no borders when it comes to climate issues and the actions that need to be taken,” affirmed Stutzman Amstutz.

Primary sponsors of MCCN’s work have been Merry Lea and Everence. Merry Lea is providing funding to support the establishment of MCCN at MC USA, and Everence has committed to continue to contribute funds for the next three years.

“Our responsibility as stewards of God’s resources includes being caretakers of creation and the communities around us,” said Ken Hochstetler, Everence president and CEO. “It’s imperative that we work together to cultivate and grow the lives we share, and we are glad to continue supporting MCCN in this shared work for today and the future.”

To support MC USA Executive Board creation care and climate justice ministries, please donate here.

During the transition period, MCCN followers and supporters are encouraged to subscribe to PeaceMail, MC USA’s weekly email newsletter, for updates on the transition process.

Mennonite Church USA is the largest Mennonite denomination in the United States with 16 conferences, approximately 517 congregations and approximately 52,000 members. An Anabaptist Christian denomination, MC USA is part of Mennonite World Conference, a global faith family that includes churches in 59 countries. It has offices in Elkhart, Indiana and Newton, Kansas. MennoniteUSA.org

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