Regina Shands Stoltzfus earns Everence National Journey Award
Everence® is pleased to award Regina Shands Stoltzfus, Ph.D., with its 2021 Everence National Journey Award.
Regina – a professor of Peace, Justice and Conflict studies at Goshen College (Goshen, Indiana), speaker and author – was selected for her personal and professional dedication to anti-oppression and social justice.
Co-founder with Tobin Miller Shearer of the Roots of Justice Anti-Oppression program (formerly Damascus Road), Stoltzfus has also co-authored several books – the newest one, Been in the Struggle:
Pursuing an Anti-Racist Spirituality, set for release in November 2021. Her articles about peacemaking and justice have appeared in numerous publications such as Sojourners, Anabaptist World and more.
The inspiration for this work
Regina grew up attending the Lee Heights Community Church in Cleveland, Ohio, a congregation where conversations about racial and economic justice were common.
Lee Heights was one of the original 13 Black Mennonite churches established amidst the convergence of post-World War II urban missions and African American migration from the rural Southern United States to larger metropolitan areas in Northeast, Midwest and West.
The congregation developed during a complex time of racial and political tensions, tracing its beginnings to the late 1940s and early 1950s, when Mennonites opened a Bible school and, eventually, a small congregation in Cleveland’s Gladstone neighborhood.
However, the ministry’s days were numbered when, in 1955, the city announced plans for an urban overhaul of the Gladstone area.
“Entire neighborhoods were razed in order to make room for non-residential public works, and in some cases rebuilt housing that was too expensive for the current inhabitants,” Regina wrote in a 2016 article on the Lee Heights church website. “Poor people, usually people of color, were pushed out of their neighborhoods.”
The Gladstone ministry moved southeast into the Lee Heights area, where – in 1957 – they established what is now the Lee Heights Community Church.
Raised as part of this racially diverse and historically inclusive congregation, Regina was inherently aware of the many ways injustice and inequity intersected in her neighborhood and wider community, and credits this for fostering the connection between faith and social justice.
“My church context was that Black and white people go to church together,” she said. “And then I realized as I grew older that our experience in our congregation was very unusual, and there was this long history of segregation that was experienced in the church.”
The anti-racism and justice work Regina does is inspired by what she sees as God’s vision: shalom for all creation.
“In the places where there is not shalom, what is the work that people of faith should be – ought to be – doing?” she said. “What piece of that work is given to all of us?”
“For me, that’s been very grounding.”
In a January 2020 speech at Goshen College, Regina said, “Justice is about right relationships. Relationships with each other, with the earth, with the Creator.” In the same speech, she also quoted James Cone, the architect of black liberation theology:
“The love of God is unavoidably expressed through the love of one’s neighbor.”
A dedicated career
Regina’s introduction and transition to peace education and conflict studies came from connections through the church and other peacemaking organizations.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, she spent time in northeast Thailand, working with Laotian refugees fleeing political persecution, human rights violations, and deteriorating economic conditions.
The experience was unexpectedly transformative for Regina, as she recounted in a 2016 article for the Goshen News:
“When I was in Thailand and I saw these refugees, the collateral damage of other people’s decisions… seeing what war does to people who didn’t chose that fight really got me thinking.”
Upon her return to the United States, Regina became involved with organizations, opportunities and positions focused on thinking, teaching and advocating for peace and justice. In addition to co-founding Roots of Justice, Regina has served as associate pastor at Lee Heights Community Church, minister of urban ministries with Mennonite Mission Network, staff associate for urban peacemaking with Mennonite Conciliation Service, and director of admissions at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (Elkhart, Indiana).
In 2002, Regina began her time at Goshen College, first as campus pastor before moving into her current professor position, teaching courses on race, class and ethnic relations, Biblical studies, peacemaking, women and gender studies, and transforming conflict and violence.
She holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Cleveland State University, a master’s degree in Biblical studies from Ashland Theological Seminary (Ashland, Ohio), and a Ph.D. in theology and ethics from Chicago Theological Seminary.
In 2016, Stoltzfus was awarded the Spirit of Justice Award by the State of Indiana Civil Rights Commission, the state’s highest civil rights honor.
Regina has dedicated her career to educating others and promoting shalom for all of God’s creation. She encourages and empowers others to do what they can – and her passion is contagious.
Serving the body of Christ through faith
Each year, Everence gives one national and up to nine regional Journey Awards. The recognitions celebrate the ways Anabaptists approach stewardship as a Christian attitude and practice that affects all aspects of our lives and every stage of our faith journeys.
Regina says receiving the award is a good reminder that the work she does matters.
“The recognition that something important to me is important to other people feels really good,” she said.
She firmly believes that the work for peace and justice is only successful if done alongside others who share the same vision.
In the January 2020 speech, Regina said, “Our current social climate reality calls for – demands – an active reinterpretation of faith for the present context.”
Over its more than 75-year history, Everence has invested in enduring values like hope and sharing, love and caring – and believes that working with communities that have been historically and systemically underserved is one way to live out those values.
“Christian stewardship grows out of our relationship with God, and how we use our resources and gifts to benefit God’s work, our communities, and the world,” explained Ken Hochstetler, President and CEO. “Regina’s life and work is an inspiring example and reminder of our call to support one another, by putting our faith into action.”
As an organization called to serve all within the body of Christ, Everence seeks to support one another and address disparities that harm others in our community.
“In living out our call to serve those who want to practice faithful financial stewardship, it’s our responsibility to understand the barriers – and address the financial and economic inequalities – that systemically oppress Black, Latino/a, Asian, Indigenous and other people of color,” added Madalyn Metzger, Vice President of Marketing. “Regina’s devotion to creating a more just and equitable world is vital in helping all of us better steward our gifts and resources for God’s work.”
Regina’s servant leadership reminds us of what it means to be part of God’s community – shalom community. She is a disciple, constantly working to restore relationships – with God and one another – and dismantle oppressive systems in ways that uphold justice and make peace.