Chiesa Evangelica Mennonita Italiana

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Italian Mennonite Church
Italy map.png
Google Maps, 2014.

Location

Sicily and Bari regions, Italy

Date Established

1981

MWC Affiliated?

Yes

Number of Congregations

5 (2014)

Membership

250 (2014)

Chiesa Evangelica Mennonita Italiana (The Italian Mennonite Church) was established as an official member of Mennonite World Conference in 1981. However, the Mennonite presence in Italy reaches back to the post-World War II era. The Italian Mennonite Church began primarily through Virginia Mennonite Conference missions and outreach.

History

Origins

Unlike many of the Mennonite mission efforts in Europe, the Italian Mennonite Church was not born of direct planning or missionary strategies (Baecher 238). Instead, the Virginia Board of Missions and Charities started its work in Italy as a result of correspondence and the ensuing relationships that formed. After World War II, an Italian woman named Franca Ceraulo saw an address on a relief package sent by Mennonites. She began corresponding with a few Virginia Mennonites about the Anabaptist belief (Yoder). In 1949, Lewis Martin and Jason Weaver traveled in Europe to explore the possibilities for mission work and relief efforts by Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). By the suggestion of Ceraulo’s friends in Virginia, they visited Ceraulo, who was ready to be baptized (Yoder). Through Ceraulo’s leadership and testimony, a Mennonite congregation began to emerge in Italy (Eberly).

The mission in Sicily, established and administered by the Virginia Board of Missions and Charities, was one of eight Mennonite missions established in Europe during 1949 and 1953 (Baecher 237). Soon after the Ceraulo’s baptism, the first Mennonite church in Italy, Centro Agape, was established (Baecher). Throughout the church’s growth, the Virginia Mennonite Conference members have maintained a presence as missionaries, church planters, and pastors.

Timeline

Origins

.....1949..... Lewis Martin and Jason Weaver visit Sicily and baptize Franca Ceraulo.

Centro Agape, the first Mennonite church, is born.

1950 Churches in Virginia provide material aid to Sicily for Franca Ceraulo to distribute.

People from the Virginia Mennonite Church visit Palermo and Sicily to teach and baptize. Franca Ceraulo is appointed the director for missionary work in Palermo.

1954 The translation and printing of Mennonite publications to Italian begins.
1957 Contact is established with a group in the Abruzzo area, led by Amacarelli, who wants to join the Mennonite church.

A radio program is begun.

1960 A committee forms between Mennonite Board of Missions and Virginia Mennonite Board of Missions to coordinate mission work in Italy.

In April, the first Italian Mennonite Conference is held at Palermo, Sicily.

1962 Virginia Mennonite Board of Missions assumes full responsibility for work in Italy.
1964 The relationship with Amacarelli in Abruzzo ends.
1965 Francesco Picone is baptized.
1967 Literature work ends in Florence.
1969 Franca Ceraulo dies.
1972 A charismatic member of the church creates confusion and division. The church is reduced to a small, unified group after complete reorganization, and a covenant of membership in the Mennonite Church is signed.
1974 Francesco Picone is ordained.
1975 The Palermo Church takes charge of their own expenses.
1976 Mennonite agencies send help after an earthquake strikes in Friuli (Eberly).

A gospel team of young Mennonites from Virginia evangelizes on the street in Palermo and Altofonte. The leaders decide to organize an association to manage the legal side of church lie, and La Chiesa Evangelica Mennonite Italiana (CEMI) is created.

1978 The Palermo church, Centro Agape, outgrows its basement meeting place, and new grounds are purchased.
1979 A new church in Palermo is dedicated.
1980 A group of dissidents leaves the church.

The radio broadcasts are suspended.

1981 A severe earthquake in the Naples area prompts relief efforts and rebuilding projects from the churches in Sicily as well as MCC and the European Mennonites.

The Italian Mennonite Church becomes an official member of Mennonite World Conference.

1983 A successful tent evangelism effort occurs in Sicily.
1987 The Sicilian churches begin the indigenization process as Francesco and Martha Picone become pastors at Centro Agape and Francesco and Helen Sapienza take charge of a young church at Cinisi.

Work begins in the San Lorenzo district of Palermo.

1988 Work begins in the Bari region.
1993 A new church, Shalom, emerges in eastern Palermo.
1995 The Ministerial Council sets up a fund to assist church leaders.
1999 The Italian Mennonite Church celebrates 50 years.

A history of the Italian Mennonite Church, New Awakenings in an Ancient Land, is published. A missions team is sent to Lushnje, Albania, in a joint project with Virginia Mennonite Board of Missions.

2001 The last missionaries leave Sicily and the Sicilian churches are entirely in the hands of Italian leaders (Blosser).
2014 Italian leadership takes charge of the church at Bari (Blosser).

Growth and Development

1991-1995 The conference aimed to achieve economic independence during this period. Although the conference became more independent, it was not able to achieve complete financial independence. Total membership of churches in CONEMPAR dropped.[1]
1996-2002 In 1996, the Paraguayan economy suffered, making the economic situation of the conference precarious. A new Executive Committee was elected in 1997. This administration adopted bylaws for the conference by 1999, and by 2002, CONEMPAR was completely financially independent. In 2002, the conference published a Manual of Faith and Doctrine.[2]
2003-2011 Over this period, the church experienced significant growth in membership. Recent efforts by the administration of CONEMPAR led to improved working conditions and benefits for pastors, including health insurance and support opportunities. Some churches are now able to receive financial support, and development efforts provide socio-economic preparation in church areas, making it possible for them to become self-sustaining. Training for pastors, treasurers, and leadership became available.[3]

In 2006, the 222 program was introduced, named after 2 Timothy 2:2, "And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others." The program aimed to be training for evangelism and teaching.[4]

2012-Present In recent yearsh, the conference has worked to expand the church. In order to support this effort, several initiatives have been instituted. The conference has sent several pastors to the International Revival Center megachurch in Bogotá, Colombia to observe the approaches towards worship in that church. In addition, CONEMPAR has made connections with the Honduran Amor Viviente church, who have built up a unified discipleship/teaching program. CONEMPAR is in the process of adopting those materials.[5]
  1. Marecos.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Amstutz, C. Paul. Skype interview. 09 Dec. 2014.
  5. Ibid.