John Powell and Ertell Whigham
Ryan Miller
Thursday, July 12, 2007

SAN JOSE, Calif. (Mennonite Mission Network) — Much of Ertell Whigham’s ministry revolves around bringing people together in Christ to form new things. His work toward collaboration among diverse urban constituents earned him the 2007 George and Pearl Kauffman Urban Leader Award.

The Pennsylvania pastor received the award at the 2007 Urban Leaders Network meeting. The honor includes $500 for rest, renewal and revitalization for urban leaders, a passion of the Kauffmans for whom the award is named.

Urban Connections – July 2007
1. On our street: Imagine – What is your dream for the church? Does your imagination spin, weave and paint in bright colors and vivid shapes? How shall we recreate God's kingdom on earth?
2. Urban leaders examine new forms of church –  When forming a church for the future, many models may suffice. Speakers at the Urban Leaders Network meeting urged leaders to connect with God's models instead of following trends.
3. The cancer, the city and the kingdom –  A cancer diagnosis in his family allowed Jason Evans a different perspective - one that allows him to imagine actually joining God's kingdom on earth.
4. New wine into old wineskins – New wine - new ideas - need new wineskins - new models. We all have heard this. But in San Francisco, Sheri Hostetler reports, the old skins are stretching to hold the new wine.
5. "If I was in charge" - Young adults share visions for the church –  Can the future church be anti-racist? Apolitical? Flexible? Focused on prayer? Egalitarian? Honestly inclusive? Young adults at Urban Leaders Network hope so.
6. Collaborator accepts 2007 Kauffman award –  Much of Ertell Whigham’s ministry has been about bringing people together in Christ to form new things. His work among diverse urban constituents earned him the 2007 George and Pearl Kauffman Urban Leader Award.
7. Urban briefs: News from across the street –  Church models from across the Mennonite world.

Whigham is associate pastor at Nueva Vida Norristown (Pa.) New Life Community Church, a congregation that formed when three other congregations – one primarily African-American, one Hispanic and one white – merged more than 17 years ago to intentionally create an intercultural church community. The congregation includes a multiethnic leadership team and bilingual worship based on a model of racial and cultural integration – an overt attempt to deal with racism and cultural bias, not just a desire to be intercultural.

Whigham provided the impetus to create formal connections among three conferences, 22 congregations, a community center and a high school as part of the Philadelphia Urban Ministry Partnership. The partnership envisions promoting revitalized Anabaptist congregations and new entrepreneurial ministries in and around metropolitan Philadelphia.

Whigham serves as a director of congregational resourcing and equipping for Franconia Mennonite Conference and has worked to establish a neighborhood center for children (Precious Life Center) and a variety of community efforts through the NNL Acts 2 Ministries, all while also volunteering his time to teach saxophone to students at Philadelphia Mennonite High School.

Whigham said those experiences have fed his ministry and the group's calling to be John 17 people – united for Christ.

“I thank God for the collaboration I’ve been able to experience with other leaders,” Whigham said.

As he introduced this year’s recipient, John Powell, co-director of U.S. Ministries, called Whigham a kindred spirit that has been able to stir up waters of change to seep into places that are hard to see or reach. His influence, Powell said, was evident in that three nominators suggested him for this year’s award – the most recommendations among the 15 urban leaders nominated.

One group of nominators called Whigham a high-energy person who has inspired and trained others for ministry while ministering himself. “Ertell uses his comfort level at the intersection of business, church and community to involve people in the relevant work of being followers of Jesus wherever people find themselves,” the group wrote.

As a teen, Whigham enlisted in the United States Marines, serving in Vietnam and later as a recruiter. He continued recruiting even while attending a Mennonite church, until he had a change of heart after a prayer session. Today, Whigham is a committed pacifist and actively works in counter-recruitment.

George and Pearl Kauffman were church planters with a deep concern for and commitment to urban ministry and leadership preparation. Following their death, their daughter and son-in-law, Jeanie and Lyn Hershey, set up a fund to help people involved in urban ministry find respite.

According to Powell, the Hersheys realized that many ministers were too busy to take advantage of the opportunity for rest, so they replaced the fund with the Kauffman award, which honors an urban leader and includes a cash gift to be used for respite or leadership development. Previous winners include B. Elaine Bryant of Englewood Mennonite Church, Chicago, and James Wenger of North Baltimore Mennonite Church.

Honorees must be actively engaged in a United States urban setting for a minimum of five years, working to combine evangelism with peace and justice.

Nominations for the 2009 Kauffman award may be made online.

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