Our Community

Meet the Leadership of the Church

Our pastor is our primary contact person, and helps us all be aware of the life of our fellowship. He also is tasked with helping us to keep the broader horizon in view so that we do not only attend to the week to week needs of worship and community. James offers spiritual guidance and pastoral care as needed, and is always glad to chat over a drink or meal. We do not see our pastor as having authority over us, but as being one among us, whose authority comes from the relationships built with us all.

Our elders are asked to also be especially attentive to the life of our community, bringing needs and concerns to our pastor's attention. They often serve as an initial sounding board for ideas before they are discussed at congregational meetings. They meet monthly with our pastor for discussion and to pray for our fellowship.

James Rissler

Pastor

James and his family attended and joined AMF when they moved to Atlanta in 2005. He has served in the role of pastor since October of 2006 and was ordained in May of 2010.

James has a Ph.D. in philosophy of religion from the University of Notre Dame and is married to Christina. They have two boys, Andrew and Peter.

James emphasizes the love of God and the importance of loving relationships with God and each other. He believes that relationships take precedence over doctrine, and that, almost always, people can find common ground that is wider and deeper than our theological differences. His enduring optimism is grounded in God's creation of us in God's image, a creation that God called very good.

Contact James

Michael Christophel

Elder

Michael has been attending AMF since 2010 and during this time, he has helped with leading music and serving on the worship committee.

As an elder, he brings a quiet introspection to the position, but also exhibits servant leadership in helping to fill needs of the congregation and its members.

He welcomes all who want to be included in our fellowship and believes that the church is strengthened by inclusion of people with a wide range of understandings of faithful living and community.

Contact Michael

Marilyn Schertz

Elder

Marilyn was “church shopping” after her congregation of 27 years decided to close its doors. Raised in the Mennonite church, she was led to attend a prayer meeting in 2007 with Atlanta area Mennonites following the horrific bus crash of the Bluffton University baseball team. 

She began worshipping with AMF in 2008 and joined soon after, serving in various leadership capacities since then. She currently is an elder, a member of the worship committee, moderator of the monthly congregational meeting and worship leader once a month.  

Marilyn is married, has two adult sons, and is retired from her job as Media Center Director for Candler School of Theology.

As an elder who wears other leadership hats, she brings the gifts of time, organizational skills, and a commitment to promoting a membership that represents diversity and inclusion as well as efforts of advocacy for economic and social justice both within and outside the fellowship.

Contact Marilyn

Sarah MacDonald

Elder

Sarah first became acquainted with AMF when she moved to Atlanta in 2011 to start Ph.D. studies at Emory University. She had just completed four years of service with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), and she appreciated the range of justice-seeking and peacebuilding ministries that AMF actively supports. 

She also values the church’s spirit of welcome and openness. Sarah and her partner, Cheryl, were married in October of 2016. They feel honored that James participated in the ceremony and so many AMF members attended and celebrated with them. 

In addition to serving as an elder, Sarah preaches once a quarter and enjoys occasionally facilitating a Bible study or discussion series. She is grateful for how AMF has given her space to be her full self, as well as space to stretch and grow. As an elder, she hopes to hold and nurture such space for others.

Contact Sarah

Life in the Church

We have regular church events throughout the year as listed below, but we also regularly gather for fellowship at game nights, small group meetings, and in each other's homes.

You can view regularly updated photos  and information on our Facebook page.

Regular Church Events

  • Congregational Meetings: monthly, generally on the first Tuesday of the month
  • Retreat: Friday evening through Sunday morning, first weekend of March
  • Easter sunrise service
  • Schmeckfest (giant potluck and hymn sing): generally Spring
  • Summer worship: table fellowship and a simpler worship service over a meal during July
  • Caroling: usually a couple weekends before Christmas

Membership Information

Mennonites believe that having a faith community to support and counsel each other is important to our personal relationships with God.

The Congregation's Covenant

At Atlanta Mennonite Fellowship, we have a covenant that expresses our commitments to God, to our fellowship, to each other, and to the world. Participants at AMF are invited to sign this covenant each year during the Easter season, indicating our ongoing commitments to these relationships.

Congregational Membership

Once you’ve signed the covenant, you may also ask to formally become a member of our congregation. Talk to our pastor or one of our elders, where you’ll be able to ask any questions you have about AMF or Mennonites more generally as you share your faith journey.

Baptism

If you have been baptized upon an expression of your faith and commitment to follow Jesus, then you’ll be affirmed for membership by the community at an upcoming congregational meeting, where you’ll have an opportunity to share why you’ve chosen to join AMF. We will then recognize your membership at a subsequent worship service.

If you have not been baptized, or were baptized as an infant, then our pastor will talk to you about whether you’d like to be baptized. Mennonites have generally practiced believers’ baptism, but AMF has on occasion affirmed folks for membership who were baptized as infants but understood their baptism to be meaningful.

Participation

Becoming a member is a way to formally express your commitment to our community. But being a member doesn’t have much effect on how you interact with our community. In keeping with our commitment to welcome all people, everyone, whether they are members or not, and whether they have signed the covenant or not, are invited to share their gifts in worship and to participate in congregational decision making. A few leadership roles (elders) are reserved for members, but otherwise, we invite all people to participate fully in the life of our congregation.

Why I Am a Mennonite

James Rissler

I grew up in a Mennonite congregation, but since Mennonites practice believers’ baptism, that’s not a sufficient answer. I had to choose this expression of faith for myself. I’m a Mennonite because we worship a God of love, who invites us to respond to God’s love with our own, and to share God’s love with all people: neighbors and even enemies.

I’m a Mennonite because I read the Bible christocentrically: beginning from the gospels’ portrayal of Jesus Christ, the fullest revelation of God. I’m a Mennonite because we value orthopraxy more than orthodoxy: that we sincerely live our faith is more important than that we all believe the same things. I’m a Mennonite because our faith is shared and shaped in community: we are a “priesthood of all believers” where we are all invited to help each other to draw near to God.   

I’m a Mennonite because I have experienced the love of God through the care and friendship of so many people, many of them Mennonite. I’m a Mennonite not because I think our tradition is better than others, but because I have found in it communities of faith that have encouraged me to grow toward God’s love. I’m a Mennonite because I worship and serve with so many gifted and faithful followers of Jesus. Of course, these reasons are also the reasons that I’m a Christian, and that identification will always be more fundamental than the fact that I’m also a Mennonite.

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Stanley Neal

While staying in the Mennonite House, I had the chance to read the history of the Mennonites. Reading about people who have made a difference in this world is something that I love to do, especially individuals who have put their lives on the line for the better of all mankind.

It was like that they were my heroes, in many ways, because of what they did, and I wanted to be like them. In 2015, I got what I wanted. It has allowed me to come to know a lot more than I thought I knew, and I am willing to know more.

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Marilyn Schertz

I was born to a Mennonite family and raised in the Mennonite church. I confess that I enjoy playing the “Mennonite game,” discovering how I’m related to a person who also shares this heritage, and I treasure the four-part harmony singing and the delicious rhubarb pies. But much more than that, I value the hallmarks that set Mennonites apart–particularly, that of serving others and of being pacifists.

I would not be drawn to join a church, though, just because it was Mennonite. Atlanta Mennonite Fellowship has a particular appeal to me. I love that it’s a small community made up of people who value worship, shared leadership, and consensus decision making. (That’s hard!) I love that, together, we are finding the best ways to be allies for those who are marginalized by society, especially those in the LGBQT community. I love that many of our members are people actively involved in service to refugees and their families and in activities that show opposition to the death penalty, to name a few.

I am grateful for this community that welcomes me, encourages me, carries me through hard times and rejoices with me in the blessings I receive.

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Michael Christophel

I grew up in a Mennonite church but gained a strong identification with Mennonite beliefs and practices by exposure to other Christian faith traditions during college. This has led me to seek out Mennonites wherever I have lived. I am strongly attracted to the peace & justice beliefs and practices of Mennonites as well as the desire to help meet physical needs of those affected by war and natural disaster rather than merely looking to make Christians of others while neglecting their current physical and spiritual needs.

I have always enjoyed music, church hymns, and spiritual songs. I like the fact that we have three great song books being used in our worship services that provide comfort and joy during our congregational singing.

I also appreciate the practice of our congregation of lifting each other up in prayer during our worship services and during other prayer times. Several members meet periodically to share a meal and to lift up prayer needs of the community. This practice helps to strengthen our community during times we are physically separated. The quietness and reflection of our prayer time suits my natural quietness and allows the Spirit to speak quietly, and for us to hear and respond as we live out Christian community.

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Lydia Thornburg

I am not a Mennonite, but I call AMF home just the same. When I moved to Atlanta on my own a few years ago, I knew I would need a community to root myself in, and I found it at AMF.

Initially I was attracted to AMF by the potlucks, a capella hymns, and anabaptist roots. And while I treasure these elements of our fellowship, the most valuable aspects of the community speak to something much richer.

What I most appreciate about AMF is its commitment to welcoming everyone and the many ways we support and challenge each other. AMF is a small congregation, but we find strength in each other as we live separate lives, each of us active in our own communities. With diverse backgrounds and interests, we challenge each other to see God and the world around us in new ways, which only causes us to grow.

This community that eats, and sings, and welcomes, and grows is brought together each Sunday to worship a God that calls us to love, in all the different ways that we can: to love ourselves, to love each other, to love friends and strangers and enemies, and to love God.

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David Rensberger

I grew up in a small, rural Mennonite congregation: that’s how I became a Mennonite. But being Mennonite must be freely chosen to be anything at all. My wife and I joined AMF in 2004 after being out of contact with Mennonite institutions for quite a few years, so this is why I’m still a Mennonite.

I believe that in many ways Mennonites accomplish what the Anabaptist Reformation sought to do: to get close to New Testament Christianity. This may be especially true in a small congregation like AMF, with an intimate yet open style of worship. Leadership is shared, with no hierarchy. Women and men, lesbian, gay and straight, young and old all take part and take charge. There is singing and reflection on scripture, awareness of one another’s needs and of the needs of the world around us. Yet there is also an awareness that Christians are called to live in a way different from how the human world generally carries on, its materialism, self-centeredness, injustice, and inclination to violence.

It’s true that Mennonites have had their problems with perfectionism, traditionalism, legalism, and in-group tribalism. But there have been changes too, and today there is more than one way of being Mennonite. Yet all those ways continue to focus on Jesus, and seek to embody the values that he valued. I’m still a Mennonite because as a Mennonite I can be both a worshiper of Jesus and a follower of him. The Anabaptist perspective acknowledges Jesus as the Word made flesh, true God made known as a true human being, Savior and Lord. But it also acknowledges him as Teacher and Example, whose words and deeds, life and death, show us who God is and how God desires humans to live.

Finally, I’m the particular Mennonite that I am because it gives me a Jesus-centered way of being other things as well. My spirituality is eclectic, willing to learn from both Protestant theology and Catholic and Orthodox contemplative tradition, from the Desert Fathers and Mothers, Francis of Assisi, and Thomas Merton, as well as Menno Simons and Pilgram Marpeck. In a congregation like AMF I have both freedom to be engaged beyond the bounds of Mennonite identity, and an awareness of Jesus Christ as the center point to which I always return.

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Karen Gimnig

As a person whose experience of faith is far more seeking than certain, Atlanta Mennonite Fellowship is a place in which I can explore, practice and challenge my beliefs in loving community.

For me the core messages of Jesus' teachings are about welcome, unconditional love, and living in community. AMF's members and practices live these values day by day and week by week. From intentional acts of welcome for each new person to pass our doors, to a practice of lay preaching that welcomes all voices--even the unbaptized--in conversation about faith and action, AMF consistently and consciously welcomes each and all without judgement.

At the same time, open discussions allow us to gently challenge each other as we notice our own individual struggles to follow God's call. Knowledge gathered in graduate school flows alongside the lessons of poverty, experience of prison life, wisdom gained through service, and passion of conviction with none valued more highly than any other. 

While Biblical texts are most highly regarded there is also room for Dr. Seuss or an unknown poet. AMF's encouragement of this diversity creates a space where I can be certain I will be loved and accepted, even as it challenges my expectations and exposes biases I hadn't noticed I held. It is a community that helps me be the very best of me.

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