A decade ago, Franconia Mennonite Conference leadership noticed a critical problem: seminary-trained leaders were increasingly in short supply. So when Delaware Valley Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA), a conference-related ministry, turned over a well-funded college tuition scholarship program to the conference, a solution soon emerged.
Conrad Martin and Donella Clemens of Franconia Conference partnered with Henry Rosenberger and Dave Landis of MEDA to form a committee charged with developing a plan for the use of the newly-received asset. According to Rosenberger, it became quickly apparent that continuing to use the fund for its previous purpose of providing small college tuition scholarships was becoming less meaningful in light of the meteoric rise of college costs.
“At the same time in our Conference history, there seemed to be an increasing number of pastors being called to congregations with little or no Anabaptist training or cultural knowledge of Mennonites,” said Rosenberger. “Concern for the effects this lack of training had in our congregations, I believe, prompted the Board of MEDA to see this fund as a way to enhance the training for persons moving into leadership.”
As a result, the Area Conference Leadership Fund (ACLF) was born. Future leaders from both the Franconia and Eastern District conferences now had a new financial option to help address the costs of seminary and higher education. The committee chose to accept ACLF applications from members in both the Franconia and Eastern District conferences to recognize the involvement of the two conferences in Delaware Valley MEDA.
In 2002, the first scholarships were disbursed and over the past decade, 60 leaders have received financial assistance from the fund. Soon, scholarship recipients began to reflect emerging shifts in the leadership demographics of Franconia Conference: twenty percent of recipients were people of color and one-third of recipients were women. The ACLF allowed Franconia Conference to invest in the future.
As Franconia Conference’s director of communication and leadership cultivation, Stephen Kriss immediately recognized the value of ACLF. “The amazing thing is how many people ACLF assisted who are serving the church both within and beyond Franconia and Eastern District conferences. These gifts were amazing investments in current and future leadership. ACLF enabled us to call forth, train, and equip dozens of leaders effectively, generously, open-handedly,” said Kriss.
Recipients of ACLF scholarships appreciate the confidence and support of the broader church community. For Angela Moyer, a member of the pastoral team of Ripple congregation, (Allentown, Pa.), the support of ACLF provided the freedom to explore seminary at a comfortable pace. “I never thought I would go to seminary. I started by just taking two classes at a time—I just had a few questions… I had no interest in pursuing a graduate degree. Little did I know how formative seminary would be in finding my identity as a pastor. Receiving funds from the ACLF was the broader church community nudging me, telling me it was okay to pursue this call even when I didn’t believe it myself.”
As the Lead Pastor of Salford congregation (Harleysville, Pa.), Joe Hackman believes that his leadership abilities have been significantly nurtured by the ACLF scholarship. “The ACLF fund allowed me to feel the support of the wider church community. The financial investment the church made for my education has helped me enter into my current leadership role with a greater sense of preparedness and confidence.”
In the words of Rosenberger, a core aspect of the original ACLF vision is to ensure that emerging “leadership was firmly based in Anabaptist theology and nonresistance.” This vision is coming to fruition in the work of Beny Krisbianto, Lead Pastor of Nations Worship Center (Philadelphia). “ACLF is helping me to finish my Capstone Project at Eastern Mennonite Seminary. My capstone project has taught me how to believe that ‘The Culture of Peace’ is still possible,” says Krisbianto. “Inspired by the struggles, prejudices, and broken relationships in my context of ministry in Philadelphia, peace is not theory, too big or unrealistic, but it is God’s calling and it does still work today.”
Despite occasional contributions, the size of the ACLF scholarship was considerably reduced in 2012 and leaders will no longer have access to substantial ACLF scholarships. This, however, does not mean that there is no longer a need for talented future church leaders. According to the Conrad Martin, Franconia Conference’s director of finance, the need for future church leaders is still there, as is the need to assist them financially so that they can pursue a quality Anabaptist education. Contributions into the ACLF continue to be welcomed.