ELKHART — How can faith leaders and their communities grow in building faith in today’s digitally saturated culture?
This question is central to the theme of an upcoming conference – Shaping Faith in a Digital Culture – from 7 p.m. Monday, March 2, through 12:30 p.m. Thursday, March 5, on the campus of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart. The event is a joint conference of two annual leadership gatherings: AMBS’s Pastors and Leaders 2020 and Mennonite Church USA’s Deep Faith.
Planners have designed the joint event for leaders in congregations and communities of any or no denomination – pastors, lay leaders, formation leaders, youth leaders, parents and educators – with the goal of thinking together biblically and theologically about living, worshiping and playing in digital spaces.
“Digital spaces are intricately intertwined with our daily lives, which is why it is so important to talk about what that means for our faith, our churches and our theology,” said Jewel Gingerich Longenecker, AMBS dean of Lifelong Learning and a member of the planning committee. “It has become normal to pray with prayer apps, worship over video calls, and research sermons through online preaching resources. As Christian people, we proclaim our faith through our actions every day, both online and offline. We want participants to hone faith-building skills that support good mental and spiritual health.”
The idea for the joint conference came about when Shana Peachey Boshart, denominational minister for faith formation for Mennonite Church USA, approached Longenecker about holding Deep Faith, a gathering for faith formation leaders, at AMBS every other year. Peachey Boshart wants to begin to host the denominational faith formation gathering annually under the name Deep Faith, alternating between AMBS and the city hosting the next biennial Mennonite Church USA convention as locations.
Both AMBS and Mennonite Church USA were among the sponsors of the original Deep Faith conference, which was held at AMBS in October 2016. That event, which drew more than 100 people, was planned by an ad hoc group of faith formation leaders from Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada.
Gingerich Longenecker saw potential in combining this year’s Deep Faith conference with the AMBS Church Leadership Center’s annual Pastors and Leaders conference in March, considering that both events are designed to reach leaders who are involved in faith formation. The Pastors and Leaders conference (formerly Pastors Week) has gathered faith leaders for worship, workshops, plenary sessions and community at the seminary for more than 20 years.
Peachey Boshart said she is excited about the variety of people the joint event can bring together for a conversation about how faith is lived out in their contexts, from congregations to educational institutions to camps and retreat centers to mission agencies and more.
“It’s important to me to provide leaders with an opportunity to get away from their ministry contexts and into a setting where they are supported and nurtured in their roles as theological thought leaders,” she said. “We’re in a time of great societal and religious upheaval and realignment, and a conference like this can give leaders tools for discernment in their congregations and communities.”
About this year’s event, Peachey Boshart said she sees value in “thinking together as Christian people about how our faith is shaped by the digital tools we use and the digital spaces we find ourselves in, and conversely, how the choices we make because of our faith can shape our use of digital tools and our behavior in digital spaces.”
“We will find ourselves witnesses to Christ’s peace wherever we are, including in digital space,” she said.