Jon is lead pastor of and a member of Forest Hills Mennonite Church in Leola, Pa., Atlantic Coast Mennonite Conference.
Stan Shantz, chairperson of the Leadership Discernment Committee, described Carlson as having a firm focus on the vision, mission and goals of the denomination, as well as the gifts needed to lead in this role. “There’s a graciousness about the way Jon leads,” said Shantz. “He does well at inviting others’ perspectives into the discussion. Jon builds bridges between people.” Shantz also said that Carlson offers a fresh perspective that “will be healthy and bring a sense of hope to the church.”
“It’s an honor to be considered for a role like this,” said Carlson. “I love the Mennonite Church dearly and believe that God is at work in our world through the Mennonite Church in unique and valuable ways.”
After working in creative services and media production for 10 years, Carlson was called to ministry in 2010 as a part-time, interim pastor at Oley Valley (Pennsylvania) Mennonite Church. It was a 15-minute drive, but a world away from Carlson’s urban life in Reading, Pennsylvania. Carlson served there for four years. “They were a phenomenal congregation to serve and were incredibly gracious to this young and inexperienced pastor who didn’t have seminary training,” he said, smiling. Four years later, in 2014, Carlson followed his wife’s career path to Lancaster and accepted the position as lead pastor of Forest Hills Mennonite Church. While serving there, he completed his Certificate in Ministry Studies in 2017 from Eastern Mennonite Seminary and enrolled in the Master of Divinity program.
In 2018, Carlson was part of the Journey Forward writing team who drafted the Renewed Commitments for MC USA, a living document to articulate common commitments as a broader church. Not growing up Mennonite, Carlson said he appreciated the opportunity to be part of the Journey Forward rediscovery process.
Carlson joined MC USA’s Executive Board in 2019 and served on the Membership Guidelines Advisory Group in 2020, which he described as hard, but worthwhile work. “We are a church community that takes Jesus’ message of reconciliation very seriously, and I love that,” he said. “But sometimes we come to dramatically different conclusions about what our faith looks like and what our faith requires of us. I try to remind myself that the reason this is hard is because we take it seriously.”
Looking ahead to the future of MC USA, which he refers to as “this big, beautiful, messy thing,” Carlson said he sees the need to continue to do the difficult work of reconciliation. “I believe the good news of Jesus is the hope of the world, especially in this moment of heightened polarization,” Carlson said, “and the Mennonite Church has a wonderful gift to offer in the midst of all this.”
Carlson and his wife, Lyn, an educator with Lancaster Mennonite Schools, have three children.