Tag Archives: Doylestown

Congregational Profile: Doylestown Mennonite Church

Our congregation’s history reaches back almost 250 years, and we have seen the normal highs and lows of many mid-sized congregations. Our group of approximately 70 congregants enjoys a blended style of worship that includes old hymns as well as contemporary songs. We intentionally include a variety of voices in our worship service: scripture readers, worship leaders, and individuals willing to share about their daily lives and where they see God at work. Our active prayer ministry provides opportunities, during worship and at other times, for prayer ushers to listen to a person’s struggles with a focus on simply lifting the person and their situation before God. They also listen in prayer for a word that God might have for the individual who comes to pray.

Community Garden (Photo credit: KrisAnne Swartley)

Though the congregation’s history is long, we have a youthful energy and flexibility. We see evidence of this in the courageous step of the 3-year experiment that we called the Missional Journey, which began in 2011. Through this experiment, the congregation intentionally set aside funds and people to connect with the community around them. A community garden was started on church grounds, and small groups formed to pray and reflect on simple ways to connect with neighbors. Themes that grew out of these times together were authenticity, vulnerability, and trust in the Holy Spirit to be at work beyond us, within us, and through us.

Summer soccer camp (Photo credit: Judy Garrido)

The Missional Journey did not immediately result in an upward trend in church attendance, but it inspired more risk-taking on the part of congregation members. A disc golf group formed, bringing together congregants and neighbors. An annual summer soccer camp was also started, combining learning soccer skills with spiritual formation. The community garden on the church property continues to grow and is used in large part by neighbors of the church, donating much of the produce to local food banks. Potlucks connect garden members and church members in friendship and conversation. Funds were set aside to create a walking path, new playground, and a pavilion on the property, in order to welcome even more neighbors and create spaces for the congregation to build and deepen relationships.

New pavilion (Photo credit: Lois Myers)

Our congregation has also become more intentional about connecting with the many groups who use the building throughout the week, including girl scout troops, addiction support groups, writing groups and A Woman’s Place (the domestic violence prevention agency serving Bucks County). We intentionally invite them to special events and times of worship.

This fall we will welcome quite a few new members into the congregation, and we anticipate growing even more flexible and courageous as God leads us onward in risk-taking!

Prayer Requests:

  • Pray that we deepen our identity in Jesus so that we can follow His example of engaging others with the love of God.
  • Our theme for this year is Incarnational Living. Pray that we have the courage to practice living incarnationally even when it feels uncomfortable.


Franconia congregations partner to fight human trafficking

Franconia pastor Josh Meyer sparked conversation at the February 8 delegate gathering when he asked delegates to partner in issues of justice.  Photo by Emily Ralph.
Franconia pastor Josh Meyer sparked conversation at the February 8 delegate gathering when he asked delegates to partner in issues of justice. Photo by Emily Ralph.

by Sheldon C. Good, for Franconia Conference

As debate around human sexuality continues to leave many church leaders wondering what binds together people with diverse beliefs, at least four Franconia Conference congregations are partnering to advocate for basic human rights, declaring that human beings shouldn’t be abused, raped, and sold.

The four Pennsylvania congregations – Doylestown, Finland, Franconia, and Philadelphia Praise Center – independently of each other became aware of the issue of human trafficking, commonly defined as the illegal movement of people, often for the purposes of forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation.

These congregations are each comprised of members with diverse theological perspectives, racial makeup, and socio-economic status, making their shared interest in addressing human trafficking unique and important at a time when conversations around homosexuality have polarized many churches.

Each congregation has taken its own steps toward becoming informed about the impact of human trafficking internationally, nationally, and locally, and toward advocating for victims of human trafficking everywhere.  It wasn’t until recently, however, that leaders from the four churches realized their shared conviction at a seemingly surprising location: a delegate meeting.

In February, as Franconia Conference leaders conducted business and wrestled with questions related to homosexuality, Josh Meyer, associate pastor of Franconia congregation, stood up and appealed to church leaders, “What are the more important matters of justice, mercy and faithfulness that we can gather around?”  For example, Meyer suggested, despite differing opinions about homosexuality, doesn’t everyone agree that human beings shouldn’t be abused, raped, and sold into slavery?

IMG_3560“That was the appeal that sparked a quick, on-the-spot poll of pastors and leaders present to ask, ‘which congregations want to be in conversation on this, want to get together to work on this?’” said Samantha Lioi, Franconia Conference minister of peace and justice.

After the delegate meeting, leaders from the four congregations, plus Lioi, formed an informal task force “to explore what it would look like to work together and make responding to human trafficking a priority in our Conference,” Meyer said. The task force organized a resourcing breakfast focused on human trafficking, held in September, and organized an anti-trafficking workshop to be held during Conference Assembly on November 15. The task force is planning a day of public witness, where people will be invited to gather and pray outside popular trafficking spots in southeastern Pennsylvania.

“Moving forward, we’re excited about making more congregations aware of the issue, and providing practical, tangible ways for churches to respond together,” Meyer said.

The Finland congregation has been addressing human trafficking for several years, hosting local speakers including Debbie Wright, an activist who is producing a documentary about sex trafficking in southeastern Pennsylvania. Pastor Kris Wint first encountered trafficking while in Cambodia. “To do nothing is to keep people enslaved and live contrary to the One we claim to follow,” Wint said.

Franconia congregation has focused a Sunday morning service on trafficking, hosted an awareness night, heard from guest speakers, and provided resources on how to get involved in combatting trafficking.  “My sense is many congregations don’t even realize the extent to which human trafficking is a reality in our world,” Meyer said. “There are more slaves in the world today than at any other time in human history.  Churches need to know about this … My other sense is that many churches are aware of the situation but don’t know what to do in response. It seems like such a big issue; it’s hard to know how to engage. If we can find ways to help churches act in practical, tangible ways, that would be a great thing.”

About three years ago, Doylestown staff members KrisAnne Swartley and Sandy Landes began prayer walking around Hilltown. As they walked, they became aware of area businesses that profit from the sex trade: adult bookstores, strip bars, massage parlors.

“It deeply troubled us, but we weren’t sure what we could do about it, other than continue to pray,” said Swartley, Doylestown’s minister for the missional journey.

Eventually, the Doylestown congregation connected with local advocates: Worthwhile Wear and The Well. With this kind of partnering, Swartley sees advocating for an end to human trafficking as missional.

“Individually, we can do very little to end modern day slavery,” she said. “As we partner together, we can accomplish so much more – each person and congregation offering different gifts as we have them, for this ministry.”

Adrian Suryajaya agrees. Some members of his congregation, Philadelphia Praise Center, have been victims of forced labor and wage theft.

“It is important that we work together on this issue because it is such a big, overwhelming issue to tackle alone,” he said. “We need a lot of resources and teamwork.”

The diversity of the Franconia Conference congregations partnering to end modern day slavery shows this teamwork is already happening. Lioi hopes more join in, and hopes the upcoming conference assembly will provide ample opportunity to do so.

“I don’t know why, but it seems this injustice, this oppression in particular, has drawn a more diverse group of leaders together than any other I have seen,” she said. “I believe we can be publicly present in standing against traffickers and standing with survivors, especially since we have information about places close to our congregations that have been centers for trafficking.”

The travels of a missional minister

KrisAnne Swartleyby KrisAnne Swartley, Doylestown congregation

I am grateful for Doylestown leadership’s blessing to travel March 24-29. My first stop was at Eastern Mennonite University for three days. I met with various campus leaders including President Loren Swartzentruber, athletic director Dave King and undergraduate campus pastor Lana Miller, as well as several professors in both the college and seminary. It was a privilege to hear them talk about the passion they have for creating a learning environment that includes high quality training for vocation as well as a solid foundation of faith.

The best part of my visit was meeting students who have a desire to pursue ministry. They asked questions like: How do you find time to refresh your own soul?  What is the most difficult part of pastoring?  What is the best part? I have great hope for the future of the church after meeting these young adults. I was privileged to speak in seminary chapel on Thursday about Ruth and Naomi and Boaz, and how making space for outsiders creates space for God to work miracles in our midst. I shared several stories of what that looks like for us at Doylestown as we continue on the missional journey.

The second part of my trip took me to Alexandria, Virginia where I attended the Fresh Expressions National Gathering. The group of 200+ was made up of Southern Baptists, Anglicans, Anabaptists, Presbyterians and more!

We discussed the rapidly changing culture in the USA and how to connect with people who don’t know Jesus and have no interest in attending a church on Sunday morning. We talked about the need for discipleship and the ways the Holy Spirit leads us to “improvise” in whatever local context we find ourselves, much like the early church in Acts. I heard stories of coffee houses, single parenting groups, married couples opening their homes for family-style meals with neighbors, after-school tutoring centers, a “messy church” built around doing crafts and science experiments and a “sweaty church” built around active games and sports. It affirmed much of what we are learning at Doylestown about the missional journey, and it also inspired me to continue to encourage the ideas and dreams that are bubbling up within our congregation.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the weekend:

  • When you choose to keep company with Jesus, you give up the right to choose the rest of the company around you. You keep company with whoever Jesus chooses.
  • “These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise and its mission to seek out new life and new civilization…to boldly go where no one has gone before.” That is for us, Church! And if you can’t boldly go, then for heaven’s sake, at least GO!
  • If you are comfortable more than 70% of the time, then there is a problem, because the church in Acts was hardly EVER comfortable. They were always racing to catch up to what the Spirit was doing next.
  • Grace engages the world as it is now. The fact is, the world has changed, though we never gave it permission to do so. Acting as if it hasn’t changed and continuing to do the same old things, simply is not faithful.
  • 40% of new leaders in these new, creative ministries are LAY LEADERS–not clergy or professional ministers. These are courageous, everyday people.
  • God is into the multiplication of the small. You don’t have to lead a “mega”-anything.

Helping People to Pray

Sandy Landesby Sandy Landes, Doylestown

Writing a call to ministry story is probably the last thing I ever expected to do if you would have asked me fifteen years ago. At that time in my life, I had doubts about the role of women in leadership and yet I was serving in different capacities in my home congregation, Doylestown Mennonite Church. As I look back on that time, I think the call to ministry had been brewing in my life for several years.

After working as an elementary school teacher for four years, my husband Steve and I began having children and my focus changed to homeschooling, which was a natural extension of my love for learning and teaching. I learned some leadership skills in the steering committee of the homeschool group of which we were active members. Being called to ministry in the church, however, was a different kind of leadership for which I was not ready.

Around this time, I read a book entitled Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire by Jim Cymbala, pastor of Brooklyn Tabernacle Church.  It ignited a spark in me that had been smoldering for some time.  I felt called to begin a prayer time in our congregational setting.

Inviting people to pray during Sunday School, we focused on intentionally praying for our congregation, our community, and persons we knew by name who were not yet followers of Jesus. Out of that prayer time, we learned about prayer, about God and ourselves. Doylestown Mennonite Church graciously allowed this group to develop a prayer room where persons could come to pray together or on their own.

I gradually began inviting the congregation to more and more prayer initiatives as well as connecting with other persons involved in prayer ministry. Randy Heacock, pastor of Doylestown, encouraged and welcomed my involvement in calling the congregation to prayer.  He, along, with the Ministry Leadership Team, affirmed my giftings by asking me to serve on staff as Prayer Minister. I sensed the Spirit was opening the door so I stepped in. Since then I have made several more steps into this calling. I served for several years as Prayer Ministry coordinator for Franconia Conference, working alongside staff and pastors in the conference as well as prayer leaders.  Being mentored by Noel Santiago in the prayer ministry was also helpful for me.

It was during this time that Steve and I attended a conference at Spruce Lake Retreat.  The speaker invited us to ask God what our mission was and I very clearly heard, “You are called to help people pray.” At that time, I did not connect that mission with being called to the ministry as a vocation.

Taking on the identity of a pastor grew gradually as I continued to serve as prayer minister in the congregation but also in other settings. Connecting with persons in my local community, serving on prayer teams in local businesses, and doing more pastoral care visitation in retirement communities have all been important ways for me to grow into the identity of pastor.

The more I think about the mission statement I sensed from the Holy Spirit several years ago, the more I realize that was a call to pastoral work. In Acts 6, we read the story of the apostles discerning their calling in the context of the local church. The apostles declared their priorities to be prayer and the ministry of the word.  Randy preached from this text at my licensing on Jan. 5 and the more I ponder  this, the more I realize that helping people to pray is a  pastoral task.  How important it is that pastors teach the word, but also pray and invite, lead, model, and encourage others to pray!  When we as followers of Christ are able to grow in our relationship with God through prayer, we will be transformed and changed. Very simply, I see that as a priority for pastors. I am thankful to be called to serve Christ, the church, and the world in this way.

The hesitations I had about women in ministry were changed as I began to understand God’s invitation to all in Acts 2:17 where Peter reminds the crowd of the prophecy in Joel of the Holy Spirit being poured out on all people, sons and daughters, young and old. I see the incredible ways God uses both men and women in the kingdom work and I am grateful for God’s work in all of us. I anticipate growing in hope and joy as I continue to walk this journey of ministry alongside my brothers and sisters.

May Your Kingdom Come: A Benediction

Noah Kolbby Noah Kolb, retired pastor of ministerial leadership, Plains congregation

It was the summer of 1968. I preached one of my first sermons at Doylestown congregation. In it I called publicans “Republicans,” not once, but twice. Vernon Bishop nearly rolled off his bench.

It wasn’t my last blunder or mistake over the next 45 years of ministry. I am thankful for the grace and trust extended to me in spite of my imperfections. I learned quickly I was not a perfect leader and those I was called to lead were not perfect either. The tension between being right, standing for truth, and being gracious and merciful shaped much of my journey as a pastor and leader. I was raised by a somewhat conservative and legalistic community. Many years and experiences were required for me to understand grace and mercy, God’s incredible love.

As an adolescent I remember the conflict and division of the Franconia congregation in the 50’s. Several congregations had just left the Conference when I was ordained in 1970. Ordained leaders in an Assembly voted out the conference discipline, the guide for living faithfully. Pastors and congregational leaders were left to discern their way through issues that were once decided at Conference. I believed with careful study of the Scriptures, listening to the Spirit and congregational discernment most any issue could be resolved. Truth could be known and we would agree on what is the will of God.  Conflict and disagreement could be overcome by truth. But experience in the church and community did not support that conclusion. It was distressing and forced me to further search.

I never lost my trust in the Scriptures as the primary source of God’s will and truth. God did not leave us without light and direction. But we often disagree and disown each other, leaving us wounded and judged. Over time I discovered and experienced God’s grace and mercy freeing me from perfectionism and the need to be always right.  I/we are all broken creatures living in a broken creation. Only by the grace and mercy that has come to us in Jesus can we begin to realize truth, restoration, and shalom. Our passion to know truth often works against the restorative and reconciling grace and mercy of Christ through the work of the Spirit.

I have a high view of marriage as blessed by God and intended for a life time. I know from experience that living together is hard work. We are each broken creatures. Confession, forgiveness, grace, and mercy make it possible to live together. Many marriages don’t make it for a life time. I still believe God intends us to live together in peace for a life time. I have walked with many who have not been able to stay together. That does not change the truth of God for marriage. I have also learned how to extend grace and mercy so broken persons can find hope and reconciliation and continue in God’s grace as broken persons, finding healing and hope.

By the grace and mercy of God we are invited into the fellowship of Christ. Because we share His Spirit we are brothers and sisters in Christ. We are God’s Beloved. We are not one because we behave alike or all believe alike or all relate to God in the same way. We are one together only because we share the same spirit. That Spirit is a gift through the grace of God whose mercy is unending. It is out of this awareness and experience that we worship God. It is the new life we enjoy that drives us to share this Good News with others. It is this core understanding that enables us to talk honestly and safely with each other about our journey and life together. It is by the mercy of God and the grace of Christ that we can live in peace and bear witness to the transforming gift of the Spirit in and among us.

Our hope and future lies in our capacity to live in grace and mercy with God and each other. I pray with our Lord, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We live in the time in which the kingdom has not fully come.

May Your Kingdom come, Jesus, in grace and mercy to all.

Brokenness and healing in Doylestown

Chaplain George Lindsey and KrisAnne Swartley at Doylestown congregation’s Veteran’s Day prayer service. Photo by Randy Heacock.

by KrisAnne Swartley, Doylestown congregation

On Sunday evening November 10th, a group of people from the community and from Doylestown congregation gathered to reflect on the painful parts of life and to seek hope in God’s Presence.

Chaplain George Lindsey of the local VFW, spoke honestly and with vulnerability about the depression he felt while deployed in Iraq, as well as the PTSD he struggled to overcome when he arrived back home. He also spoke with great confidence about God’s comfort and the many ways God has healed and continues to heal him.  George led us in singing “Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, let me stand!”

Ron and Robin Miller also spoke about the hope they find in Jesus as they continue to grieve the loss of their son, Brett. They read from Psalm 22, “from birth I was cast upon you, God. Do not be far from me, for trouble is near.”

In the candlelight and silence, with broken pieces of slate in our hands to symbolize how broken we sometimes feel, we waited on God. We could hear one another weeping. And then we prayed that God in Jesus would make all things well, even in the midst of suffering.

After the service was over, many of us stayed to talk and pray with one another. It was a healing time of honesty and hope, this beautiful evening that broke down barriers between “church” and “community.”

Successful Conference, Seminary partnership concludes

Steve Kriss (top right) and Derek Cooper (second row, fourth from the right) have partnered for five years to take seminary students on intercultural learning trips, including this spring’s trip to Vietnam and Cambodia. Photo by Dennis Dong.

by John Tyson, Salford congregation

Theological educators believe headfirst immersion into unfamiliar cultural terrain is a requirement for preparing church leaders in the context of the twenty-first century. For students at Biblical Theological Seminary (Hatfield, Pa.), a lifelong commitment to intercultural ministry begins at the second year mark of their LEAD Master of Divinity Program.

To meet the complex and unconventional demands of intercultural education, Biblical Seminary and Franconia Conference have partnered together to create the Intercultural Ministry Experience (IME). For the past five years, Franconia’s director of leadership cultivation, Steve Kriss, and Biblical’s director of the LEAD program, Derek Cooper, have led a total of seventy-five students on journeys far and wide, from Israel/Palestine to Italy to Cambodia and Vietnam.

For Dr. Derek Cooper, the ten-day trips abroad produce formative insights and questions that dwell with students well beyond their time in seminary. “It is my favorite component of the LEAD program, and students receive a very concentrated educational experience,” said Cooper. “Students always come away from the trip changed, challenged, and more culturally aware. It’s completely transformative.”

“We also talk a lot about contextualization, and we learn much about how the local Christian community addresses issues relating to history, culture, politics, and world religions,” Cooper added.

Josh Meyer, associate pastor of Franconia congregation (Telford, Pa.), participated in the 2011 trip to Vietnam and Cambodia. Meyer identified practices of learning and listening as the educational core of his experience. “This was not a mission trip where rich, white Americans did a service project and ‘brought Jesus’ to the forgotten corners of the globe,” he said.  “Rather, this was a learning experience where we went as students, not saviors; as listeners, not experts; as those interested in exploring ways in which God was already living and moving and active in the culture, not as those bringing Jesus to a place where, prior to our arrival, God was not present…This approach to cross-cultural study resonated deeply with my own wariness of short-term missions and helped to shape my thinking on how we as people of faith engage with the rest of the world.”

The required IME provided Donna Merow her first opportunity to explore spaces beyond U.S. borders. Now pastor of Ambler (Pa.) congregation, Merow recalled how her trip to Israel/Palestine transformed both her understanding of ancient scripture as well as the present Israeli/Palestinian conflict. “The reality of walking where Jesus did, of visiting his birthplace, the village he called home, the Sea of Galilee, and the site of his death has changed the way I read the Bible,” Merow explained. “Seeing and touching the separation wall, staying in the homes of Palestinian Christians, and visiting one of the multigenerational refugee camps has made me ask hard questions about government policy and church practice.”

For many travelers, encountering weathered, historically nuanced places reveals how tender the balance is between the past and the future. This was one of the major lessons absorbed by KrisAnne Swartley, associate pastor of Doylestown (Pa.) congregation, on her trip to Italy. “I was struck by the history there, and how it is preserved and revered, and how that can be both a strength and a weakness,” Swartley reflected. “The strength is in remembering our story, remembering how the faithful who went before us worked through questions of faithfulness in the midst of change/struggle. The weakness can be that we are so trapped by traditions of the past that we become irrelevant in the present and into the future. I continue to think about this balance, to pray that I remember and learn from the church of the past but also [have courage] to walk into the future bravely, not afraid to let go of what was as the Spirit gives new wisdom.”

While this spring marks the end of the Biblical/Franconia IME partnership, its conclusion is cause for celebration, according to Kriss. “The model proved to be an effective partnership because both the seminary and the Conference benefitted,” he said. The Conference offered resources of intercultural education and global networking, he observed, while the seminary provided students who were positioned to deeply engage.  “The surprising outcome,” Kriss said, “was to build relationships with Anabaptist students on campus which helped Conference congregations to have new connections with potential pastors.   And these new potential pastors had already been shaped somewhat by Anabaptist ways of engaging the world.  It was a fruitful endeavor, not without struggles at times, but one that represents effective and strategic partnering in healthy ways.”

Pastors walk through transformation together

Learning Community
Members of Salem, Rockhill, and Doylestown congregations pray for one another at their joint worship service on February 10.

by Emily Ralph, eralph@franconiaconference.org

When Larry Moyer, pastor of Rockhill congregation, was seriously injured after falling off of the roof of his home in 2011, Randy Heacock, pastor of Doylestown congregation, filled in to preach.  Moyer’s recovery was long and difficult, but throughout the following year he was supported by Heacock and the other pastors in his Learning Community—Bruce Eglinton-Woods, pastor of Salem congregation, and Walter Sawatzky, a member of Plains.

“I valued the support of these pastors,” reflected Moyer, “the prayer support from their congregations, and Walter’s ongoing care of me personally and my family.  Randy made personal visits to my home as I was not able to attend our monthly meetings and on one occasion, the group met at my house.  I felt cared-for during my recovery journey.”

This care and prayer support is only one aspect of the Learning Community that these pastors formed in 2006 in response to conference encouragement to form pastoral support teams.  They invited Sawatzky, who was a Conference Minister at that time, to join them for insight and encouragement.

This team of four has met monthly ever since, sharing their challenges and joys of ministry, introducing one another to new resources, and supporting one another with advice and prayer.  “We wanted to meet together as we sensed our churches were on similar journeys and we wanted to share in mutual learning and encouragement,” Heacock remembered.  “Though each of us are different and have our unique emphasis, we share a common vision for a future church that is about being real with who we are in Jesus Christ before one another.”

Small groups of like-minded pastors is not a new concept in Franconia Conference, Sawatzky observed; support, study, and prayer groups have existed in various forms for years.  What has made this particular group successful has been both a commitment to one another and shared vision for what church could be.  “They have organized their activities around their immediate shared concerns,” Sawatzky said.  “[Then their activities] come out of relationship as these pastors have bonded as friends and in spiritual relationship with one another.”

Their congregations have also benefited from their relationship, both directly and through their growth as leaders, Eglinton-Woods said. “I have greater confidence and ability to lead transformation in our congregation as a result of being with other pastors who are doing the same thing. Continuing to teach, preach, encourage, and lead transformation in the face of comfortable Christianity has a cost but it has become an easier cost to bear [because of] being a part of this group.”

Soon after they formed their Learning Community, the group began working together to provide equipping events for their congregational leadership.  These workshops eventually developed into joint worship services where the congregations met to share stories of transformation, including one in February in which the congregations worshiped, shared testimonies of God’s joy, and prayed for each other.  This mutual prayer has always been a pivotal part of the pastors’ and congregations’ relationship, Heacock pointed out, because it keeps them from experiencing envy or from developing a sense of competition.

After six years, this Learning Community is still an important support for all three pastors—they rarely miss a meeting.  “I look forward to them and receive encouragement, insight, and new life every time,” reflected Eglinton-Woods.

“I am grateful for our learning community,” added Heacock.  “I believe God has brought us together….   Larry, Bruce, and Walter are men that are being transformed by and used by God.  I am honored to walk and learn with them.”

Incarnation in the suburbs

Hilltown prayer walkby KrisAnne Swartley, Doylestown congregation

My fingers and toes are still somewhat numb as I sit down to write this account of the prayer walk in Hilltown Township (Pa.). I also feel somewhat numb on the inside. I wonder how I got here… the associate pastor who was just interviewed by a local news station for walking and praying on a neighborhood street. This is weird.

Then I remember how I got here. I have been asking God to show me what it looks like to incarnate God’s love in the suburbs because it isn’t always obvious to me. My suburbs look beautiful and well-kept and peaceful when you drive around on the streets. What need is there here? It is hidden under the surface.

I got an email last Friday from my children’s school district office saying that there had been a home invasion and murder in my township and that their school would be increasing security. I quickly looked up the news story and read the report. My first instinct was to lock my doors, hunker down and pray. I felt violated and fearful.

My second instinct was to get outside and be present, to stand in the middle of the darkness and bring the light of hope and faith. I had been asking God what it looked like to do incarnational ministry in the suburbs and I felt in this moment that it meant going against any normal instinct to insulate myself or rationalize away what had happened.

A group of us from Line Lexington Mennonite, St. Peter’s Covenant, and Doylestown Mennonite have been meeting to pray once a month. We called an emergency meeting to pray specifically about this tragedy and discern a response. Lowell Delp, the pastor of Line Lexington congregation, Jim Fox, the pastor of St. Peter’s congregation, and Sandy Landes and I from Doylestown congregation decided that walking Swartley Road and praying for our neighbors there would be a faithful and redemptive way to incarnate Jesus. Lowell and Jim visited some of the residents the day before our prayer walk, to let them know what was happening and invite them to join us.

Today, a group of ten of us met in a parking lot on Route 309. One man who joined us there but could not brave the cold walk said, “I want to see our community come together after this. We can’t change anything by ourselves. Our community needs prayer and our churches need prayer.” I was sure I saw the hint of tears in his eyes and heard a tremble in his voice.

We carried candles in glass jars and sang songs of grace and God’s faithfulness. We walked against the freezing wind to “Amazing Grace” and “The Steadfast Love of the Lord Never Ceases.” We prayed for the woman and the teen boys who were traumatized by the violence, for the neighbors whose street was violated by this horrific incident. We prayed for beauty to come from these ashes, for God’s redeeming power to be at work.

I am tempted to look forward and ask “What’s next?” But maybe for now it is enough to be visible. To be present.  In a community with no sidewalks and few places to be together as neighbors, maybe even that presence is miraculously transformative.  I will keep choosing presence and incarnation over insulation. I will tell my first instincts to step aside in favor of what Jesus is prompting deep inside. And I find I am not numb anymore.

KrisAnne Swartley is pastor for the missional journey at Doylestown (Pa.) Mennonite Church.  She wrote this reflection last Thursday (January 24th).  Read the news report.

Thanksgiving at the beach … and other tales, part 2

Holiday MealThanksgiving dinner at the firehouse
by KrisAnne Swartley, Doylestown

After Hurricane Sandy, our congregation held “storm kitchens,” where we gathered to cook for those without power.  After the initial crisis passed, we asked ourselves as a missional mentoring group, “What’s next?” One of the young women suggested thanking our local fire fighters.  For many in our group, cooking and serving food is our passion and gift, a way that we express love and care for others.  So on November 27th and 29th, we served Thanksgiving dinner at two firehouses in Roslyn and Hilltown (Pa).

It is important to us as a missional group to bless those who help our community thrive, and these volunteers (can you believe this is still done on a VOLUNTEER basis??) do just that. We wanted to bless them from our faith perspective, while recognizing they may not share our beliefs or practices. They were very open to that and were genuinely appreciative of the prayer of blessing we gave them and the time we spent with them that night… as well as the food, of course!

I served at the Hilltown firehouse.  Although the meal was outside of our comfort zone, we soon discovered that humor unites. Within moments of arriving with my big roasting pans and all the food, they were teasing me gently and I gave it right back to them.  The joking created a comfort level that made us all feel safe in each other’s presence.

It took conscious effort for those of us from Doylestown to not just talk to each other, but to break out of our “clique” and begin to visit with the firefighters and their families. Once we did that, however, we made connections and shared stories and the conversation flowed freely.

Jenni Garrido, who organized the dinner at Roslyn, said the folks at the firehouse couldn’t believe someone from their neighborhood would take the time and effort to bring them a meal… they were floored by the generosity.

This felt like only a beginning. The firefighters are looking for connections and relationships within the community and are very open to more conversation and time together. A few of us are gathering to pray there on Friday morning.  Who knows what more may come?!

PPC Thanksgiving
Members of Philadelphia Praise Center lead worship at Quakertown Christian School on Thanksgiving. Photo by Octavianus Asoka.

A Thanksgiving Retreat
by Aldo Siahaan, Philadelphia Praise Center

On a beautiful Thursday morning around 8 o’clock sounds of laughter and excitement  could be heard from Philadelphia Praise Center’s building in South Philly.  About 100 congregation members were anxious to depart for Quakertown Christian School, where we held a one-day Thanksgiving Retreat filled with sermons, games, fellowship, and other fun activities.

At this year’s retreat, PPC was fortunate to host not one, but two special guests from Indonesia. The guest speaker was Rev. Daniel Alexander, a well-known preacher in Indonesia who has been ministering in Nabire, Papua since the 1980s. In addition, Rev. Alexander also brought along Stevano Wowiling, one of the finalists from a recent Indonesian Idol, who led the congregation in ardent worship sessions.

Halfway through the day, members of Nations Worship Center joined us after spending Thanksgiving morning at Salford Mennonite Church. The Thanksgiving Retreat ended with dinner at a nearby Chinese buffet.