All posts by Conference Office

Listening for Pentecost

by Stephen Kriss, Executive Minister

These last few days I’ve been in California with a delegation of leaders from Franconia Conference. We are here to cultivate further relationships with a group of churches who have expressed a desire to join our Conference. All four congregations are immigrant churches who have been connected with the Anabaptist movement for years. We find ourselves in this space together to build on past informal collaborations, to build relationships and trust.

Meanwhile, at the same time that we are here, all hell seemed to break loose in Charlottesville, Virginia.  The east coast felt very far away from this side of the country. Yet, reading on my iPhone and following social media meant that the scenario wasn’t far from my mind as we met together. Most of these initial meetings have involved a lot of listening. As we are listening, I am reminded again that the process of transforming racism and xenophobia begins with a willingness to listen, to be challenged and to be changed.

Franconia Conference leaders with pastors Buddy Hannanto (2nd from left) and Virgo Handoyo (right) in San Gabriel, CA.

As the days have built, they’ve also involved a lot of eating together and extensive travel time on the freeways that crisscross the massive urban sprawl of Southern California. Yet in the middle of the conversations, I sensed more and more the possibility that emerges through honest listening that allows some vulnerability. Our delegation, John Goshow (board moderator), Mary Nitzsche (Associate Executive Minister), Aldo Siahaan (LEADership Minister) and I, represent one of the oldest configurations of Mennonite-ness in the hemisphere. Largely shaped by the experience of Germanic people, here we were listening to the experiences of immigrants and people of color on the West Coast. We were challenged to recognize that our systems aren’t always friendly to people who speak English as a second or third language. We were challenged again that our established patterns aren’t always reflective of the movement of the Spirit that had and continues to stir a global movement of people who live in the way of Jesus. In the meantime, we were served lovely meals and received gracious hospitality.

This is not always easy work. Those of us attached to these systems sometimes feel a need to defend them. Taking a listening posture rather than a defensive one allows us to hear both critiques and affirmations. I find that often as a white dude who is leading in this system, I want to protect our organizational process and the validity of the way that we do things. I don’t think that we have constructed systems with an intention to be oppressive or biased, yet often times they are. There is still work to do as we seek to be representative of the reign of God yet to come with persons from every tongue, tribe and nation.   Recognizing that the journey toward reconciliation of all people is more than I will ever accomplish doesn’t allow me to sit idly; it requires each of us in our time, place and space to do the work that we are invited toward that represents God’s Pentecost intent.

With leaders at San Francisco Chinese Mennonite Church.

In the meantime, we are being transformed by relationships with people who open their lives and stories with us. The pain and the celebrations are real. We can bear witness to these things together along with Christ who weeps and who also rejoices.

This fall we will have opportunity to continue to be transformed as a Conference community as at least five immigrant congregations seek to join us as new members. We will have ongoing opportunity to listen together, to extend Christ’s great shalom intended for us and for the whole world. This is will likely be our work for our time as a community together.

NOTE: Stay tuned for more information on the congregations looking to join Franconia Conference. Also, delegates – be sure to register for Assembly Scattered Meetings (CLICK HERE) which will be a time of listening and discerning together regarding these congregations.

God is at Work

By Aldo Siahaan, LEADership Minister and pastor at Philadelphia Praise Center

Each year Philadelphia Praise Center (PPC) holds Summer Peace Camp, a program similar to Vacation Bible School. This four-week camp led by a Mennonite Central Committee Summer Service Worker is a program that supports young people of color in developing their leadership skills through working with their local churches and communities. This year Amos Himawan was PPC’s summer service worker and he took on the challenging responsibility of assisting me in coordinating and running the Summer Peace Camp. There were two situations that happened during Peace Camp that showed me God is at work among us, if we will look to him. Thankfully, Amos was keeping God as his focus during these difficult moments at Summer Peace Camp.

Amos put so much thought into preparing a good program with various activities that the 40 children, ages 7 to 12 years old,  did not want to miss a moment. One day we took the kids to visit the Philadelphia Museum of Art where they have Art Splash programs, which are drop-in creative play activities. Amos contacted the museum to ensure that he could bring a large group, and the museum instructed him to just come, there was no need to make a reservation. The morning we arrived at the window to check in for Art Splash, the museum officer noticed 40 children and said that space was limited and not all the kids could join. Amos was silent because he did not know how to explain this situation to the kids. In his silence, Amos also prayed to God for help. In the middle of his silent prayer, the same officer said that since they were there, they could not turn them away and so some of the kids could explore the museum while others took part in the Art Splash. Not only that, but as an apology the officer gave us free tickets for all the kids and their families. Wow, God is at work.

Another story of God at work took place when we brought the Summer Peace Camp kids to the pool for swimming.  There are two pools that are not far from PPC, so we chose the pool that had a good playground. That morning, the vans dropped the kids off to play at the playground as they awaited their turn to swim. As their turn quickly approached, a pool staff member came and said that we had too many kids and would not be allowed to swim. Some of the kids who heard the rejection were disappointed and began to cry and express their anger. God gave Amos wisdom to take the kids to the other pool immediately, but did not have big enough vans to take them.  After Amos made a few calls, God sent a driver with a big van to bring the kids to the pool. Indeed, God is at work.

From these two stories, through the example of our Summer Service Worker, Amos, God has taught me a basic and yet deep attitude of putting my trust in Him. One Bible verse from Philippians 2:13 comes to mind, as it says, “For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” May we all continue to look for moments God is at work and may we continue to allow God to work in and through us.

 

When You Get Older You’ll Understand

by Ken Burkholder, pastor at Deep Run East Mennonite Church

There was a spirit of anticipation, joy, and camaraderie, at the combined worship service between the Mennonite churches of Deep Run East and Deep Run West on Sunday, August 6. Barry Schmell, who grew up at Deep Run West and is currently a hospital chaplain in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, began his sermon by telling a story about when he was a boy. As a child, Barry would ask his parents why their family drives by three other churches on the way to their church. He also asked them, “why does our family worship at Deep Run West, while many of our relatives worship at Deep Run East?” His parents responded by saying, “When you get older, you’ll understand!”

Well, whether we’re children, or adults, it’s not always easy for us to understand, nor explain, why there are two Mennonite churches across the street from each other both named Deep Run Mennonite.  I routinely hear this question from people in our local community, and those who are newer to the congregation. It’s almost as easy as trying to explain why there are two different Mennonite conferences within close geographic proximity named Franconia and Eastern District!

But, I’m grateful for opportunities, such as this joint worship service, which help to strengthen our connections with one another.  In this service, we incorporated persons from both congregations in the various elements of worship.  There was also an opportunity for people to greet one another, and to pray together in small cluster groups.  A logistical detail to arrange with this joint service is how to handle the offering!  We invited people to bring their offerings forward, and place them in the basket of their choice – one basket marked Deep Run East and one marked Deep Run West.  Our worship service was followed by an informal fellowship time with coffee and baked goods.

My prayer is that occasions such as this joint worship service help to strengthen the bonds of relationship, mutuality, and shared faith between Deep Run East and Deep Run West.  It may even help us all, whether young or older … understand …  how much we share in common!

Next Generation Ministry

On July 20th, over forty credentialed leaders from Franconia Conference and a few from the broader community including all the way from Lancaster, PA, gathered to hear about “Next Generation Ministry” from Josh Meyer, Pastor of Discipling and Preaching at Franconia Mennonite Church.  This credentialed leader’s breakfast was hosted by Perkiomenville Mennonite Church.

Credentialed leaders gathered around a breakfast of pancakes, bacon, and scrambled eggs courtesy of chickens raised by some of the Perkiomenville youth, and began the morning by engaging in table discussion about where they serve, how they came to be in ministry, and what they have found most fulfilling and most challenging.

Josh MeyerJosh Meyer took on researching millennials in ministry as his dissertation project for his Doctor of Ministry program at Biblical Seminary. With Franconia Conference having one of the highest percentages of millennial credentialed leaders (those born after 1980 and before the mid-1990s) at 11% of all active credentialed leaders, Josh utilized Franconia Conference as his case study. His goal was to identify factors that cultivate and confirm calling among millennial leaders. The project focused on the intersection of three distinct areas: 1) millennial generation dynamics, 2) the biblical concept of calling, and 3) experience within in pastoral ministry. Overall, what leads young people in to ministry and what keeps young people in ministry.

Following the table discussion time, Josh shared a video that went viral at the end of 2016 where Simon Sienk, an author and marketing consultant, speaks about millennials in the workplace. Josh asked those present, “as you watch, keep in mind: if what he is saying is true, what impact might that have on how young people are called to an experienced ministry?”

In the video, Sienk mentions that millennials have grown up in an environment of addictive social media, instant gratification and participation medals that has led to a lack of coping mechanisms to deal with stress and a lack of knowledge on how to form deep meaningful relationships. He is quick to point out these shortcomings are no fault of the millennials themselves as it is a result of the environment. Upon graduation and being thrust into the workforce, corporate environments continue to hinder this generation from learning the skills of cooperation, and that trust forms over time in slow, steady, consistent interactions.

Josh quoted Tim Elmore (2010) as saying, “The rapid changes in American society over the past century have contributed to the diverse perspectives of the four generational cohorts represented in the workplace today.”

Therefore, if millennials are having a different experience, how does that impact young pastors?

Noted in the presentation is the fact that MCUSA as a denomination has a shortage of young leaders, with a large number of leaders at or reaching retirement age. Many young leaders seem to only last seven years. Through focus groups and interviews with an equal number of millennials and older experienced pastors within Franconia Conference, Josh compiled a chart of similarities and differences between these two groups that included looking at: what leads persons into pastoral ministry and what keeps persons engaged in pastoral ministry.

Going through the chart provided in a handout, it was noted that for both generations ministry is broadly defined and Conference Leaders played a large role in their path to ministry. A distinct difference between the generations was their view of seminary. The millennials viewing it as a place of ongoing discernment and the preceding generations attending seminary as a result of discernment. As for discerning the call, the millennials seems to have a stronger outward call (others noticing and affirming it in them) than the preceding generations who are noted as having a stronger inward call. Both generations noted that being invited to lead in their home congregations as they were growing up played a role in their discernment.

Items noted in aspects of pastoral ministry included that no matter the generation, all were surprised by the amount of administration work; not that they couldn’t or didn’t have the skills to complete it, just that the quantity was unforeseen. Millennials noted the pressure and expectations along with the “lack of freedom to lead” as unexpected aspects of their pastoral ministry. Josh explained that this “lack of freedom to lead,” was felt as millennials are often being brought in to help congregations grow and change, yet the congregation is resistant to change. Also of note, as a result of being in ministry, millennials feel less tied to denomination affiliations where preceding generations feel less tied to local church structure.

As for what keeps these generations engaged in pastoral ministry, Josh’s research notes that it is stories of transformation, the continued sense of the Holy Spirit calling, and seeing the impact of their ministry. Noted differences are that millennials report seeing a counselor/spiritual director and having a persistent commitment to Christ and the church as helping them continue to say yes to ministry. Preceding generations noted healthy church structures, being sustained by relationships, and a lack of other employment options/ need for income, among other things.

Check out the handout for more on these generations’ perspectives on things that play into contemplating leaving ministry, challenges and opportunities for the church.

The event ended with those from the preceding generations praying over the millennial leaders in their midst.

Franconia Conference is grateful to Josh for taking on this project. The Conference board and staff continue to analyze and contemplate how this information can inform calling and sustaining younger and up-and-coming leaders.

To view the slide presentation including recommendations as a result of Josh’s research click here.

Retreat Before Moving Forward

by Paula Marolewski, Franconia Conference Board Member and Elder at Perkiomenville Mennonite Church

What characterizes the culture of Franconia Mennonite Conference (FMC) today? How do we respond to the crowded, complex, fast-paced culture of society around us? How do Conference member churches experience being valued and valuing the whole of the larger conference?

The grounds of Fatima House Retreat Center provided a peaceful backdrop for the Board Retreat.

These were some of the many questions the Conference Board discussed on July 28th and 29th as they met together for a retreat at Fatima House in Ottsville, Pennsylvania. All eleven of the board members were present*, representing eleven different congregations – a quarter of all the churches that comprise the conference. Facilitating the meeting was Jeff Wright of Riverside, CA, Executive Consultant for Urban Expression North America.  Jeff had served as a guide for the Conference’s Vision and Financial Plan a decade ago.

During the time together, the Board spent time in spiritual reflection, as three of the board members (Beny Krisbianto, Angela Moyer, and Ken Burkholder) shared devotions on Jesus’ parables and how the parables spoke to various situations and needs within the Conference. The devotional times flowed into discussions about colliding cultures, conflict and hope, and the future of Franconia Conference and Mennonite Church USA.

One of the key conversations centered on three central questions that everyone – individuals, churches, the conference, and the denomination – should answer:

  1. Who is Jesus to us? [Christology]
  2. What does Jesus want us to do? [missiology]
  3. How does Jesus want us to do it? [ecclesiology]

Jeff emphasized that it is critical to approach these questions in this order. For example, we as Franconia Conference need to first determine who Jesus is to us. The answer to that will become the foundation for our shared culture. Only then can we ask what Jesus wants us to do and how to go about it – these are questions of strategy that build on the foundation of culture.

The Board grappled with all these questions and more – and will continue to do so with the goal of advancing the Kingdom of God in our fallen world. That, after all, is the purpose of a retreat: to prepare to move forward.

*The Board is composed of John Goshow, moderator (Blooming Glen), Angela Moyer (Co-Pastor at Ripple), Beny Krisbianto (Pastor at Nations Worship Center), Gwen Groff (Pastor at Bethany), Jim King (Plains), Paula Marolewski (Perkiomenville), Ken Burkholder, interim chair of the Ministerial Committee (Pastor at Deep Run East), Kris Wint (Pastor at Finland), Smita Singh (Whitehall), Merlin Harman (Franconia), and Steve Kriss, Conference Executive Minister (Philadelphia Praise Center).

Five Signs of Hope in a 300 Year Old Community

by Stephen Kriss, Executive Minister

At our board retreat last week, our California-based consultant, Jeff Wright, suggested that we are living in a time when we often say, “that hasn’t happened before.”  For a 300 year old Conference community to contend with rapid changes requires flexibility and nimbleness that isn’t always characteristic of mature organizational systems.  However, we are more than an organization; we are the people of God.  This is both a challenge and a hope in times where change is rapid, confusing and often disorienting.  Here are five signs of change we haven’t seen before that give me hope and assure me that even though we don’t know a way, there is a way that the Spirit is working out for our ancient faith to thrive into the future.

  1. The summer ministry internship program that was envisioned by Souderton Mennonite Church pastor Tim Bentch and is staffed by Sarah Freeman from the Souderton congregation is giving opportunities for young adults from our Conference and Eastern District Conference to serve alongside their congregations and in nearby communities to extend the peace of Christ. This year’s group of women and one young man remind me that God is still calling and that opportunities to connect to each other are always around us no matter our neighborhood.
  2. In the last weeks, Bethany Church in Queens, New York officially requested membership with our Conference. We are in the midst of a teaching series on Global Anabaptism with the congregation and I had the privilege of preaching there last month on the centrality of Jesus.   The congregation’s pastor is a full-time Eastern Mennonite Seminary student, Hendy Matahelemual, who brings energy, passion and deep care.  If affirmed as a new member this fall, it will be our Conference’s first worshipping community in New York City.
  3. At our Conference Board Retreat, this past weekend, we spent time praying through the lists of our member churches, our Conference Related Ministries (CRMs) and our nearly 100 active credentialed leaders. Reading these lists reminds me of the gifted leaders, our diverse congregations, and the vibrant ministries that receive support and encouragement mutually through our life together.  It was a bit of an old school practice brought to new life with the diversity of who we are becoming, visible on paper.
  4. Franconia congregation pastor Josh Meyer’s recent doctoral research took a glimpse at the callings of millennial pastors in our Conference community. At this time across Mennonite Church USA, we have one of the highest percentages of younger pastors.  At the end of our morning time together, Josh invited us to pray with the millennial pastors who had gathered that morning at Perkiomenville Mennonite’s Christian Life Center.  The tenderness and care of our experienced pastors as they gathered around the five young pastors who were there was moving and beautiful.
  5. Next week a delegation from our Conference is spending time listening to the congregations in California who have sought to become new members of our Conference. We are seeking to spend some time together, to understand past wounds and to imagine new possibilities.  As we go, we will eat, listen, preach and continue to build on the relationships already established.  What might the Spirit be calling us toward as we consider these bi-coastal relationships?

There is growth and challenge across our Conference community these days.   A new thing is becoming; on a daily basis, I am increasingly aware of it.  At the same time, God’s intention is to continue the transformative work that Christ has done in each of us through these things that haven’t happened before.  There is new possibility, each day, for us to encounter the Risen Christ through the things that haven’t happened before in our world.  And there is assurance that there are things that will remain; faith, hope, love.

The Risk of Asking & Answering

by Maria Hosler Byler, Associate Pastor for Youth and Family Faith Formation

Sometimes it takes great courage to ask a question, especially if you are not sure that you can fulfill the answer. Mary Jane Hershey of Salford Mennonite Church had the courage to ask Katie Gard of the Oxford Circle Christian Community Development Association (OCCCDA) what they needed and Katie had the courage to answer, neither of them knowing what, if anything, might come of it.

Salford Mennonite Church and Advent Lutheran Church share a garden on Salford’s property that, “exists to nurture relationships with one another and with God, cultivating a piece of God’s creation, and growing good food for those who need it most.”  The produce from the garden is donated to individuals in need throughout the community, including to various non-profits. Oxford Circle Christian Community Development Association (OCCCDA) of Philadelphia is one of those non-profits.

At the annual fundraising dinner held at Salford to garner funds for seeds and supplies, Mary Jane Hershey encountered Katie Gard and asked that courageous question: what do you at OCCCDA need? She didn’t know what the response would be, or what it would cost her and her community. She didn’t know if she’d be able to fulfill whatever the answer was. Yet she stepped out and asked.

Katie took a risk, too, as she answered, asking for a visit to the Salford garden for their summer camp. The camp receives produce from the garden and Katie believed the kids would benefit from seeing where the produce comes from, and from being in the country. Katie didn’t know how it might happen. She didn’t know what it might require from Salford or Oxford Circle, but she gave her answer.

Mikaylah Price, Adele Shoup, Aubrey Andrews, and Ila Hackman (left to right) show off the carrots they harvested in the Salford Advent community garden.

That was not the end of the small acts of courage. Through collaboration and coordination, plans came together. When the buses pulled up on July 13, several Salford kids and parents were waiting hesitantly as 72 kids and 18 adults from the summer camp got organized. The summer camp kids didn’t quite know what to expect either, but their capable staff lined them up and we split up into our stations.

Between the garden tour, harvesting carrots, introducing the Oxford Circle campers to Gaga ball, and playing water games, kids from Salford and Northeast Philadelphia started to feel at home together. Teammates cheered each other on and helped each other out. Campers harvested carrots to take home. The next week, when the produce from the garden came to OCCCDA, they knew where it was from!

Asking questions and offering answers both take risk — the vulnerability of submitting one’s idea to the direction of another.  After that first risky question and answer, the questions and answers kept happening: How do we make sure the food we serve is halal? Is it ok to shorten this activity? What games do you like to play at your house? No, they shouldn’t have a second popsicle. Do you want to play with us?

The summer camp kids and adults were taking a risk, asking a question, just by getting on the buses and coming to this predominantly white country church to enjoy our space. Salford families and volunteers needed to respond by accepting the schedule and needs of the well-functioning system that is Oxford Circle Summer Camp. I saw our Salford kids offering welcome in the garden, a familiar space to them, to kids who were seeing it for the first time. I saw them experiencing being welcomed and invited into the games by strangers, needing to depend on the welcome of the summer camp kids. Questions were asked, answers were given, God moved, and the results were abundantly far more than we could have asked or imagined.

Photo: Mikaylah Price, Adele Shoup, Aubrey Andrews, and Ila Hackman (left to right) show off the carrots they harvested in the Salford Advent community garden.

 

Taking the Light Out of the Building

As the world we live in continues to change within our congregations, we still seem to expect people to come to us. As a city on a hill, the light of the world (Matt. 5:14-16), it seems we are content to stay on our hill tops, but what if we take the lamp into the streets?

The Inquirer (Philadelphia) recently highlighted congregations doing just that in their article “From bike shop to drive-thru prayer, churches try thinking outside the pew.” Featured in the article is Franconia Conference’s very own Scott Roth and Perkiomenville Mennonite Church with their ministry Bike and Sol.

As quoted in the article, Scott says, “I don’t think that we, as believers, should be sitting in our churches on Sunday morning waiting for people to come into our buildings for us to tell them about Jesus and show them a better way of life.”

Read how Scott and others are getting out of their comfortable buildings and doing the ministry of Jesus as Jesus did it, in the streets: http://www.philly.com/philly/news/pennsylvania/from-bike-shop-to-drive-thru-prayer-churches-try-thinking-outside-the-pew-20170705.html.