NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – With less than a year to go until the global assembly of Mennonite World Conference, next summer in Pennsylvania, it’s appropriate that this year’s Menno Simons Lecture will address that topic.
Walter Sawatsky, professor emeritus of church history and mission at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Elkhart, Indiana, will deliver the 62nd annual lectures on the overall topic “Going Global with God in the Third Millennium,” Oct. 26-28.
There is one change from past schedules – the second evening lecture (Oct. 27) will begin at 8 p.m. to allow for another campus event that same evening at 7 p.m.
The first in the four-lecture series, “Pluralities of Mennonite History – Why Russian Mennonites as Paradigm?,” will be at 7 p.m. Oct. 26.
The second and third lectures will be Oct. 27. “Reconciling Free Churches to Two Millennia of Global Christianity” will be the convocation presentation at 11 a.m. “After 500 Years – Pressing Issues on Globalization of Mennonite Witness” will be given at 8 p.m.
The final lecture, “Full-Orbed Integration of Worship, Ethics, Nonviolence and Public Theology for the 21st Century,” will be Oct. 28 at 7 p.m.
All lectures will be presented in Krehbiel Auditorium in Bethel’s Fine Arts Center.
Opportunity for questions and discussion will follow each lecture. All sessions are free and open to the public.
Walter Sawatsky is a native of Manitoba, the son of a pastor and grandson of a bishop. He describes his life as “rooted from the beginning in a sense of participation in the Russian Mennonite story [and] its shift by mid-century to urbanization and steadily growing integration into Canadian society initially.”
Sawatsky’s undergraduate degree is from Goshen (Indiana) College, where he was first exposed to the so-called “Old” Mennonite world (as distinguished from the “Russian” Mennonite one). He earned a Ph.D. in modern Russian history at the University of Minnesota, where his dissertation topic was “Prince Alexander N. Golitsyn (1776-1844): Tsarist Minister of Piety.”
In 1973, Sawatsky took an assignment with Mennonite Central Committee as a research scholar at the newly formed Center for the Study of Religion and Communism in London, the beginning of a 37- year-long association with MCC.
He lived in Germany from 1977-85, and later worked in MCC program administration and as a “church ambassador” between European and North American Mennonites, based in Canada and the United States.
Sawatsky began teaching church history and mission at AMBS in 1985, retiring in 2012. During that time, he was also editor of the quarterly journal Religion in Eastern Europe, as well as the AMBS journal Mission Focus: Annual Review, with contributions by missiologists from five continents.
Also shaping his thinking, Sawatsky said, were involvement in the organizations EIRENE and Church & Peace and attending a variety of global peace conferences while he lived in Europe; active participation in the seven multilateral ecumenical dialogues known as the Prague Consultations between 1987-2003; and membership in the Inter-Church Relations Committee, a Mennonite group, from 1993-2008.
Sawatsky coordinated the 33-volume Russian Bible Commentary translation project (1978-93) and was a member of the Global Mennonite History Project Organizing Committee (1997-2011) and convener of the conference “Mirror on the Globalization of Mennonite Witness” at AMBS in November 2011.
The 2014 Menno Simons Lectures are “an attempt to distill, from developments in Christianity and society as perceived from my career trajectories, the urgent challenge to ‘go global with God’ as formulated by Titus Presler,” Sawatsky said.
“We so often identify with an early, stabilizing leader, Menno Simons of Witmarsum, as a way to recall the reforming, renewing vision of the West European Reformation era,” he continued. “We need to absorb more fully the 500-year legacy of light and shadow – also a task for all other Reformation-origin Christian traditions.
“Since Christian unity is a prerequisite for authentic witness, finding the way of reconciliation and forgiveness across the Christian divides forces us to think and act much more broadly than that Reformation world, which has been seen as such a watershed.”
Sawatsky is the author of Soviet Evangelicals since World War II (Herald Press, 1981; Russian edition, 1996) and editor or co-editor of several other volumes.
He has continued to teach periodically since retiring from AMBS, as well as working on numerous writing projects.
The John P. and Carolina Schrag Kaufman family established the Menno Simons Lectureship Endowment to promote research and public lectures by recognized scholars relating to Anabaptist-Mennonite history, thought, life and culture, past and present. Since 1997, the family of William E. and Meta Goering Juhnke has also contributed substantially to the endowment. Both families have their roots in the Moundridge area.