by Chris Meehan
The Buffalo branch hosted a gathering in which Catholics, Mennonites and nondenominational charismatics joined together for prayer and a Lord’s Day meal on February 5th.
Eighty-one people braved the snow to share in the potluck supper and prayer meeting held at Harris Hill Mennonite Church, the place where the Buffalo branch has held its meetings for more than 20 years.
The event emerged out of a scheduling conflict, says Tom Shriver, Buffalo’s principal branch coordinator. “Mennonite leaders from across New York wanted to use the church for the Saturday evening session of their annual conference, but we had already scheduled a Lord’s Day meal there. When they heard that, they asked if they could join us. We were happy to agree.”
The event expanded again when one of the Mennonite leaders, Pastor Gene Miller, asked if he could invite leaders from Northgate, a local charismatic congregation.
“It was a movement of the Spirit that the three groups could get together,” Pastor Miller said. “The worship was wonderful and the fellowship excellent. I believe that God was honored and pleased that his children could come together in this way.”
Tom added, “What would have been a typical event became a historic event for our branch. The three groups gave witness to our common desire to give glory and praise to our Father and to work to build his kingdom.”
As host and emcee, Tom began the evening by explaining the Lord’s Day opening ceremony, which he and his wife Theresa led. Later he also led the prayer meeting, with the support of the branch’s music ministry. The Mennonite conference, which had been going on since the previous day, then resumed with a talk by Pastor Jeff Wright, an urban mission strategist from California. His talk, “What do we do when the Holy Spirit shows up?,” was open to members of all three groups. “Obviously, there’s a presence of the Holy Spirit in this building because the People of Praise has been meeting here for more than 20 years,” Pastor Wright said.
Branch members spoke about their enthusiasm for the event. Jim Hippert said he experienced “an incredible outpouring of the Spirit during the worship time. The energy level was high—up to the level you’d find in the crowd at a professional football game!”
“Certainly all the conversations throughout the Lord’s Day meal were so positive,” said Arlene Meyerhofer. “We had lots of opportunities to explain who we are and what we do as a community.” She said members of all three groups worked side by side to clean up after the event.
Bud Northway can’t remember such a close interaction between Mennonites and members of the community since some community members in South Bend prayed over Nelson Litwiller, a retired Mennonite bishop, to be baptized in the Holy Spirit in the early 1970s. Bishop Litwiller went on to spread the baptism in the Holy Spirit and charismatic gifts to many Mennonites in South America and elsewhere around the world.
“This celebration in Buffalo reminds us of the good relationships the community has had with Mennonites,” says Kevin Ranaghan, chair of the community's branch relations council and a veteran of many ecumenical gatherings. “The Mennonite renewal was the first Protestant group to sign up for the Kansas City Conference (1977), and we have continued to relate from time to time over the years. This was a great opportunity to deepen our fellowship.”