Franconia Conference delegates gathered February 8 at Franconia Mennonite Church, Telford, Pa., to brainstorm ways of building relationships and collaboration in ministry and mission as part of a two-year direction toward growth and discernment as a community.
After a time of worship and reflection, delegates prayed for their congregations, the conference and denomination, and institutions of the church that are in difficult processes of discernment recognizing the tensions across the denomination related to human sexuality. Conversation then turned to identifying areas for mutual support and engagement; sharing ways that the conference community can strengthen relationships to open possibilities for healthy conversation and collaboration.
“We again recognize that God has gifted our conference with great diversity,” said Marta Castillo, assistant moderator. “Our Anabaptist commitments to reconciliation and community invite us to stay united in the midst of diversity…. So we again today commit ourselves to live openly and with integrity as brothers and sisters.”
Conference executive Ertell Whigham shared the intention of LEADership Ministers to reintroduce the principle of leadership clusters, where pastors from diverse congregations regularly meet together for support and networking. To make this more feasible for pastors, the School for Leadership Formation will scale back the number of other events pastors are encouraged to attend.
Some delegates enthusiastically supported the reimplementation of clusters and encouraged conference staff to explore ways to also engage between all congregation members rather than only credentialed leaders. Some dreamed of ways for members of diverse congregations to partner beyond ministry—to have fun together, worship, and play. Others questioned how we discern which issues to prioritize in mission together.
“Are we taking seriously the issues that we ought to be taking seriously?” asked Josh Meyer, associate pastor of Franconia congregation. “We were reminded of Matthew 23 where Jesus says, ‘… you neglect the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy, faithfulness.’ How can we as churches, as a conference, be more committed to justice, mercy, faithfulness?”
Meyer’s table group wondered if the conference could focus together on matters of justice instead of division, working, for instance, on an issue that many are passionate about: combatting human trafficking. Since one goal of the morning’s gathering was to build relationships around a common area of mission and call, Whigham asked delegates whose congregations are interested in working together against human trafficking to raise their hands so that they could network on the spot. Delegates from a dozen congregations responded.
“Sitting down and talking to one another is a good thing,” reflected conference moderator John Goshow. “I think we’re enjoying one another’s company this morning [which] demonstrates why we need to do more of that than we’ve done in the past.” He encouraged delegates to continue to pray for the denomination in days ahead. “This call for prayer does not need to end today. Our church needs the continued prayers of all of us.”
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