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Elizabethtown College Professor, Kanagy, Gives Voice to Southern Hemisphere Mennonites

Jan 12th, 2010 | By | Category: Features, Lead Article

c_kanagyElizabethtown College, ELIZABETHTOWN, PA (01/12/2010)– In 2003, Conrad L. Kanagy, Associate Professor of Sociology at Elizabethtown College, travelled to visit the Mennonite church in Ethiopia. In Africa, he saw a vibrant and growing church, one that today has a much larger Mennonite population than all of North America. Upon returning to the U.S., Kanagy knew that this was a story that needed to be told. As a sociologist, Kanagy was particularly interested in telling that story by documenting through survey research the attitudes, beliefs and values of Mennonite Christians in the global south.

With funding initially unavailable, Kanagy worked with colleague, noted Anabaptist scholar Donald Kraybill, in “The Church Member Profile 2006,” a study of Anabaptists in the U.S. Kanagy then approached Eastern Mennonite Missions in Salunga, PA for funding a global study, the group who originally sent missionaries to East Africa and other countries in the early 20th century. Now interested in tracing the development of these churches, the agency funded a two-year study of eleven Anabaptist-related church bodies in Honduras, Guatemala, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, India, Vietnam, Indonesia and the United States. Now more than one year into the project, Kanagy has received data from four countries and anticipates the remaining data by March, 2010. The survey has been translated into eleven languages.

Richard Showalter, President of the Eastern Mennonite Board of Missions, the sole sponsor of the multi-nation study, visited Indonesia, East Africa and Central America as part of his orientation as president of EMM and “was pleasantly surprised to learn how much they were already a part of the Anabaptist story…These churches have much to teach us in North America,” he said recently at Mennonite World Conference, noting that the western churches need this data for their own development and self-awareness. “There has been more interconnectedness over the last years than we, in the North, have taken notice.”

Each church selected an ‘Anchor’ for the project, often younger church leaders who have proven to be fast learners who are energized by the project. Kanagy and the Anchors met in Delhi, India in October 2008 for planning and for training in social science methodology. “That was one of the most exciting workshops I’ve ever participated in,” said Kanagy. “The opportunity to listen to representatives from the various churches reflect on their challenges was tremendous.”

The Anchors agreed in Delhi to create a questionnaire with 95% of the questions in common. “We spent hours working through the survey design and questionnaire construction, and the questionnaire kept growing.” The result was a nine-page questionnaire with 37 separate questions on attitudes, beliefs, and values.

“This project is a substantial challenge,” says Kanagy. “In some countries, gaining access to remote churches is difficult. In others, illiteracy requires methodological adaptations. And in still others, the idea of framing individual responses around categories to questions is new.” But the project is moving according to schedule. Each week Kanagy updates the Anchors on the progress and reminds them of outstanding tasks.

This fall, Kanagy begins analysis of data from the project, co-authoring reports with each Anchor. While Kanagy will analyze and report, the Anchors will reflect on the meaning of the data within their context. A consultation of Anchors and church leaders from ten countries will be held the last week of August, 2010 in Kenya to present summary reports of what has been learned about the churches of the global south.

When asked about outcomes from the profile, Kanagy noted: “I anticipate that this study has been and will continue to empower churches in the global south. For most Christian faith traditions today, membership growth is much greater in the southern hemisphere than in the northern. And yet, the realities of power and money too often keep the north in control of the global agendas of our churches.” Such a study will give voice to those in the southern hemisphere and facilitate “South to South” conversations.

Kanagy notes the involvement of two Elizabethtown College students with this project – Ryan Long, a Religion major and Alisha Sangrey, a student of Modern Languages and Business. Both are writing major research papers using data from the Profile and both hope to join Kanagy in Kenya in August to present their findings. In addition to the reports and conferences that the Profile will generate, Kanagy anticipates writing a book to tell the story of the growth of Mennonite churches in the southern hemisphere. This will follow the successful research and publication of his 2006 book “Road Signs for the Journey: A Profile of Mennonite Church USA.”

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