Tag Archives: Alpha

Congregational Profile: Alpha Mennonite Church

by Brenda Havens and Alice Henthorn of the Alpha congregation

The building at the corner of East Boulevard and North Street in Alpha, NJ sits in beauty and dignity–tall, with steeple pointed to the Creator. Built many years ago as a Hungarian Presbyterian church, the house of God looks relatively small in area. Peeking inside, a newcomer would see that the sanctuary seats about 90 folks, and might be about one-third full on a typical Sunday morning.

Henry and Ida Swartley, originally of Eastern PA and then living in Warren County, NJ, planted Alpha Mennonite Church after they were asked by Franconia leaders to start a mission in this area. A crew of interested people refurbished the old building and opened doors for the first service in November, 1975. Through the next decade, the congregation grew, peaking at about 125 attendees in ’85.

In the case of Alpha Mennonite Church, small does not mean weak, or in decline, or inactive. This church hosts a community of people who come together in joy and committed love, and then work to share that love with neighbors. New attendees, visitors and neighbors consistently point to the outreach and hospitality of our congregation as strong factors in building their first impressions.

In our community, many families need help with food, as well as hygiene items. We contribute to this effort, as well as regular Sunday donations to the worldwide Worm Project (meds to eliminate abdominal parasites) and The Water Project (for village wells that produce clean water)—in response to guest speakers who work in these areas.

We participate in Interfaith Hospitality Network–helping to provide meals and shelter to homeless families. And, each spring, we meet neighbors by participating in a town-wide yard sale as we provide water, snacks and facilities to shoppers.

And we frequently respond to individual calls for material help.

One very strong program met with much enthusiasm is a Wednesday-night Bible study. For the past two years, one of our members has led the group in some serious and thoughtful history while going through the Pentateuch, the prophets and wisdom lit. Adults in Sunday School address a variety of topics through discussion, journaling, poetry and study. Our Sunday School kids sing, dance, pray and create awesome artifacts.

These kids, led by a long-time member and dance instructor, spend some of their Sunday time rehearsing dynamic, kinetic expressions of the Christian story for special programs through the year, and teens help with choreography.

These kids, led by a long-time member and dance instructor, spend some of their Sunday time rehearsing dynamic, kinetic expressions of the Christian story for special programs through the year, and teens help with choreography.

Young people and adults take turns leading some very creative children’s times during worship. We’ve had giraffe days, candle-holder making, and the march of the animals, all recently, among other fun endeavors.

Church dinners, parties, and celebrations abound at Alpha Church. Folks gather for a love feast and games around every Valentines Day. We celebrate Sunday School starting, Sunday School ending, graduations, babies, college kids leaving, Maundy Thursday, Seder, Easter breakfast, and any other reason we find to get together.

March of the Animals (Photo by Brenda Havens)

We need a pastor–for guidance, spiritual direction, and generally overseeing congregational matters.

We have dearly loved all our pastors, and we anticipate a solid working and loving relationship with a new one. In the 18 months since our last minister left, we have taken up the challenge of keeping this family of God ticking and connecting. We thank God for giving us the strength, love and community to keep the flock moving, and we see this as a testament to our readiness to continue until and after that long-awaited shepherd comes to us.

Prayer Requests:

We await, with hope and faith, the sending of a new pastor, who would serve us on a part-time basis. 

We want to find effective ways to connect with and reach out to the neighbors in our community.


One Stitch at a Time

A member at Methacton Mennonite Church, Tiana Martinez, was stirred to action by a sermon delivered by a guest speaker, Pastor Juan Marrero from Crossroads Community Center in Philadelphia, a ministry to those in recovery or recently released from prison who need a place to stay. Pastor Juan noted a need for blankets, and Tiana felt the Spirit’s nudge. She set a goal to donate 100 afghans to Crossroads by December 2015 thus launching, “One Stitch at a Time Ministry.” Tiana wondered is others across Franconia Conference would be interested in joining her in this endeavor. She contact her LEADership Minister, Jenifer Eriksen Morales, who helped Tiana connect with other congregations. So far, members of Methacton, Alpha, and Garden Chapel are working together to meet this goal. Participants were able to gather together to crochet and fellowship with each other, building relationships based in ministry between congregations.

The Missional Operations Grant helped to cover the cost of yarn and other necessary supplies to support One Stitch at a Time.

Peace Farm: A new experiment in Christian discipleship takes root

by Janie Beck Kreider

Peace Farm, a new voluntary service program born out of a collaborative effort between Quakers and Mennonites in Bally, Pennsylvania, will begin its inaugural season in May 2015. This six-month apprenticeship brings together the practical work of farming and an exploration of connections between peace, food justice and faith.

Krista Showalter Ehst
Krista Showalter Ehst

Farmers Krista and Tim Showalter Ehst are excited to see their dream for Peace Farm become a reality. Tim and Krista operate Valley Run CSA (community-supported agriculture), a diversified, sustainable farm in the Butter Valley of southeastern Pennsylvania, about an hour outside of Philadelphia. Along with other local farmers, they will host Peace Farm apprentices for the daily work of cultivating organic vegetables, raising pastured animals and helping with various other agricultural tasks. As part of the hands-on apprenticeships, the Showalter Ehsts will also facilitate ongoing reflections with participants about what it means to approach agriculture and land cultivation through the lens of faith. Themes within the Peace Farm curriculum address scarcity and abundance, food deserts, migrant farm labor, sustainable living and rest, and agricultural practices as a form of peacemaking.

The Showalter Ehsts are not your average Mennonite farmers. Their journey toward this vocation and lifestyle began at Goshen College, where they studied theology and began learning about food production and distribution in the United States and abroad. Neither of them grew up farming, although Krista was raised in a 200-year-old farmhouse on 80 acres of Pennsylvania farmland, and Tim grew up in rural Virginia, outside of Harrisonburg. While at Goshen College and reading authors such as Wendell Berry, Michael Pollan, Vandana Shiva, and the like, the two decided to pursue a farming apprenticeship in Kentucky upon graduation. They’ve been interested in this type of work ever since.

Bounty at Valley Run CSA.

“Coming off of studying theology and then moving right into learning about farming made both of us keen to find intersections between our faith commitment to Anabaptist-Mennonite theology and this work of tending to the land,” reflected Krista, who also pastors Alpha Mennonite Church in Alpha, New Jersey, a Franconia Mennonite Conference congregation. “We soon realized that our commitment to a lived discipleship found natural expression in the daily tasks of cultivating food in ways that respected the goodness of God’s creation and the interdependence of healthy human communities with healthy landscapes.”

Krista earned a Master of Divinity at Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, while Tim helped start Oakleaf Mennonite Farm, a diverse urban farm on the six-acre property of Berea Mennonite Church, also in Atlanta. After getting the farm off to a good start, Tim took a position as interim director for DOOR (Discovering Opportunities for Outreach and Reflection) Atlanta, which is affiliated with Mennonite Mission Network. It was while Tim was at DOOR, working closely with young adult volunteers, that the dream for a faith- and farm-based voluntary experience began to take root.

“We knew that there were lots of experiences for young adults to spend a year in a faith-based voluntary service program, and we also knew that there were tons of farming internship opportunities,” says Tim. “But there weren’t many opportunities for young people to learn about sustainable agriculture through the lens of faith.”

It wasn’t long before this dream began to germinate. After moving back to Krista’s family pigfarm in Pennsylvania and starting up a successful CSA (a cooperative farm where members help with start-up and operating costs in exchange for food), they began to brainstorm with Christina Repoley, one of Krista’s seminary friends who also directs Quaker Voluntary Service. Then Glenn Balzer, director of DOOR, joined the conversation. Quaker Voluntary Service and the DOOR program have signed on as program partners. The Showalter Ehsts also received a grant from the Fund for Theological Education that helped finance the development of the program.

“We began to imagine what it would look like for these peace churches to develop a program that centered on sustainable agriculture and food justice,” says Krista.

The inaugural season of Peace Farm will begin in May 2015. The experience is based on the rhythms of the farming year, so while most voluntary service programs start in August or September, Peace Farm will begin in late May. By the time they leave at the end of November, apprentices will have experienced not only the ins and outs of a sustainable farm, but will have engaged in essential conversations about how spirituality and faith commitments can inform a healthier relationship with the land.

This piece originally appeared as part of Mennonite Church USA’s #WeAreMenno series. Reprinted with permission.

Conference group prays, crochets

by Jenifer Eriksen Morales

The first Sunday Michelle came to worship with Kairos Community, she reached into her bag and pulled out a beautiful purple hand crocheted shawl. “I hope it’s ok if I wear this,” Michelle said as she draped it over her shoulders. “I use it all the time,” she added. “It helps me feel close to God; like I’m wrapped in God’s warm beautiful love.”

I recognized the prayer shawl. Michelle and her family had a difficult year. In December I invited her to join me in attending Souderton Mennonite Church’s longest night service for those experiencing loss and pain. During that service, Michelle received anointing, prayer, and the shawl from pastors Sandy Drescher-Lehman and Tami Good. As Michelle gathered for worship in our “home church” that evening, I felt incredibly grateful to the women in Souderton Mennonite’s prayer shawl ministry who blessed my friend by gifting their time and hands to lovingly and prayerfully crochet these shawls, a source of art, beauty and comfort. I wondered if the creators had any idea how many lives and hearts they warm.

Michelle and her niece, Sage, read the Bible wrapped in God’s love together at a recent Kairos Community gathering.
Michelle and her niece, Sage, read the Bible wrapped in God’s love together at a recent Kairos Community gathering.

I never learned to sew. My grandmothers tried to teach me to knit and crochet. Those lessons didn’t go well. But even someone with clumsy hands can admire the quilts, wall hangings, embroidery and wide assortment of cloth items produced by Mennonite women and a few men. Quilting and sewing is a colorful piece of our rich heritage. Although not a part of my personal experience, I feel a sense of loss when, in my work with congregations, I hear that quilting and sewing circles are declining in number. I understand the core of these gatherings to have been a time of fellowship, community building, prayer and ministry. Items made were donated to those in need, given as gifts by the congregation or sold at auction to raise money for mission and ministry. Yet, recently I have come to realize the Spirit is knitting something new but perhaps not all that different into being.

I was thrilled to receive an e-mail from Tiana Martinez, a member of Methacton Mennonite Church. Tiana was stirred to action by a sermon delivered by guest speaker, Pastor Juan Marrero from Crossroads Community Center in Philadelphia. Crossroads provides safe and educational space for children and youth, but also has a food assistance program and a thriving prison ministry, which has given birth to a new congregation, Christ Centered Church, attended by many ex-offenders and their families. Pastor Juan noted a need for blankets, and Tiana felt the Spirit’s nudge. She set a goal to donate 100 afghans to Crossroads by December 2015, thus launching “One Stitch at a Time Ministry.” Tiana wondered if others across Franconia Conference would be interested in joining her in this endeavor. So far, members of Methacton, Alpha, and Garden Chapel are working together to meet this goal. Plans are being made for participants to gather together to crochet and fellowship with each other, building relationships based in ministry between congregations.

Tiana’s email opened my eyes. I realized there are a number of people across Franconia Conference who knit and crochet. Some congregations have an established and growing knit/crochet ministry, where people gather together to crochet blankets, prayer shawls, hats and scarves. The soft, warm, brilliantly colored items are donated to those in need or given as gifts from the congregation to newborns, people in the hospital or as lap blankets for the elderly. In fact, Souderton Mennonite gifted me with a prayer shawl for my ordination. Often, the teams of people who create these gifts spend time praying together in advance for those who will receive them. Though the products are different, it seems to me, the crochet/knit ministries and sewing circles share the same core values of ministry, prayer, and fellowship.

A funny thing happened when I told some people in a congregation about Tiana’s ministry. A woman piped up, “I don’t knit or crochet, but I can quilt and knot, would that be helpful?” Of course!

This cold winter and especially as March comes in like a lion, I am inspired by those across Franconia Conference who are quietly wrapping people in God’s warm, comforting, beautiful love, “one stitch at a time.”

If you’re interested in getting involved, Tiana Martinez invites individuals and congregations to help share God’s love “One Stitch at a Time” by crocheting or knitting afghans or donating any color 4-ply yarn. For more information please contact Tiana: tmartinez65@gmail.com.

Jenifer Eriksen Morales is the minister of transitional ministries and LEADership minister with Franconia Mennonite Conference.  

Waiting when it’s hard to explain why

by Krista Showalter Ehst, Alpha

Krista Showalter EhstI recently attended my first high school reunion as a Mennonite pastor. I am a relatively young pastor, and I think for some of my fellow alumni it was a bit strange to hear about my current career path. I was chatting with two folks (not even discussing church or pastoring at the moment) when one suddenly turned to the other and said, “Are you religious?” They proceeded into a lengthy conversation about the various reasons for—but mostly against—attending church or embracing Christianity. I sat there quietly, absorbing it all and finding myself wondering, “How is it that I ended up on such a different path? Why am I not only in a church but leading one when so many of my peers have given up on church?”

In many ways, it’s easy to imagine myself in the shoes of one of those peers, to come up with a list of reasons for not being part of the church. Many churches are dwindling, and it’s sometimes hard to tell how a church serves people any better than a social club or community center. Even where churches are thriving, they have this persnickety way of wounding people rather than extending a healing touch. Churches have messed up many times and in many ways throughout the years, and it is understandable that some people need to simply walk away.

But I find myself firmly rooted in the church, even choosing a vocation of church leadership, and I wonder just what it is that has brought me to this place. I have certainly not been blind to the ways that church has wounded people, the ways that it is been complicit in injustice. I’ve seen up close and from afar the brokenness and failings of churches.

And yet right alongside the failures and brokenness are these persistent moments of grace and transformation. I’m only six months into my first pastoral experience, and yet I’ve already been privileged to witness many small-but-amazing moments when churchgoers—who in any other setting would likely not be a part of the same social group—extend abundant care to one another or share vulnerably with each other. I’ve seen the ways our small congregation works to give generously to folks in need even while feeling the pressures of a limited budget. I’ve seen high schoolers greeting and hugging an 80-plus-year-old member, and young children running up to ask one of the middle aged members to play with them. These kinds of interactions, these forms of care and intergenerational relationships, they’re kind of rare. They’re certainly not commonplace in our culture. These are the kinds of moments I wanted to tell my fellow alumni about as they speculated about the pros and cons of “being religious.”

And yet at the end of the day it doesn’t come down to looking at a list of pros and cons and deciding which outweighs the other. The failures persist even while grace abounds. Transformation occurs even while brokenness persists. It is one of the most wonderful and most irritating parts of our faith journey. We experience true tastes of God’s love and grace, and yet we continue to experience and confront the places where God’s kin-dom has not yet become reality.

It is, in fact, both the places of “now” and “not yet” that keep me in the church. The “nows,” the times when I see someone receiving healing through their church family or when I myself experience transformation through the community of faith, inspire and energize me. And the “not yets,” the painful moments of witnessing exclusion or becoming entrenched in church conflict—these moments push me to keep struggling, to keep praying, and to keep working on behalf of God’s kin-dom.

I’m not sure if any of this would make sense to my high school classmates. “Why bother wasting all that energy?” they might ask. “Why wait around if the church is still bogged down by all that negative stuff?”

“Well,” I might say, “Come and see.” Because it is only in experiencing small-yet-profound tastes of a kin-dom where God’s love abounds and all find wholeness that we can muster the patience to wait for that kin-dom to be realized in full.

Our theme for this year’s joint Conference Assembly with Eastern District Conference is “Esperando: Waiting & Hoping.”  Conference Assembly will be held November 14-15 at Penn View Christian School in Souderton, Pa.   

There wasn’t a burning bush

by Krista Showalter Ehst, Alpha Mennonite Church 

My calling into ministry did not come in a crystal-clear “Aha!” moment.

I have friends and former seminary classmates who knew they were going to be a minister since the age of 12, or who experienced a distinct “burning bush” calling from God. I, on the other hand, grew up wanting—at different points but with equal fervor—to be a veterinarian, author, and Broadway star.

Krista and her husband, Tim Showalter Ehst
Krista and her husband, Tim Showalter Ehst

I am none of those things today, and looking back, what stands out from those varied aspirations is an underlying but consistent curiosity about the Bible and faith and a deep connection to the life of the church.

I grew up at Perkasie Mennonite and was blessed with the examples of strong women pastors and with the affirmations of a warm church community. From a young age, I was encouraged to use my gifts in church and was also encouraged to bring my questions and uncertainties to the table. I have heard many stories of people who have been deeply wounded by church, and I am grateful that I was raised in such a safe, nurturing, and affirming community.

I received some encouragement from my church community and from high school teachers to consider ministry, but at the time it didn’t seem a very attractive option. While studying at Goshen College, however, that consistent curiosity that followed me throughout childhood led me into Bible and theology classes. I was so energized by studying Scripture and by learning about different theological perspectives. I recognized that what fed me the most was not my theater or music theory classes, but was engaging these questions of faith and of the church.

I spent a summer during college as an intern in a small Mennonite church in Florida, and recognized that not only am I energized by questions of faith, but that many of my gifts are well suited to ministry. I slowly began to open myself to the idea of pastoral ministry, although it still seemed like a far-off possibility.

Krista licensing
Krista’s licensing at Alpha congregation.

After college, I spent about six months in the United Kingdom working with the Anabaptist Network, on behalf of Franconia Conference. It was there, while taking part in a small, urban house church, that I decided to take the next step and apply to seminary, and my husband and I ended up in Atlanta for three years while I studied at Candler School of Theology. It was a wonderful place to gain both head and on-the-ground knowledge, and also a good place to integrate my passions for church ministry and sustainability.

Even while in seminary, however, I didn’t really think I’d be a pastor any time soon. I felt too young, too inexperienced. And yet here I am, not yet 30 and serving as a pastor of a small Mennonite congregation while also farming alongside my husband. The call is not what I thought it would be, and I imagine it will continue to take surprising and unexpected shapes as I continue on the road.

Introducing Alpha Mennonite Church

Alpha Mennonite ChurchAlpha Mennonite Church began as a church plant in 1975 by Henry Swartley.  We are located in the quiet little community of Alpha, NJ.

Since the beginning, our congregation has been a mixture of people from different backgrounds, perspectives, and theologies who have gathered together in our common love of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.  We are a small congregation with a family feel who welcomes all who God brings through our doors.  In this spirit, we seek to experience the full richness of Christ’s body in our life and ministry with everyone who freely desires to join us in our Christian walk.  We look forward to the future, hopeful of what God has in store for us as individuals and a church body.

Our leadership is composed of a Congregational Ministry Team consisting of Worship, Mission and Outreach, Discipleship and Nurture, Stewardship and Administration.  You can read more about Alpha on our webpage at www.alphamenno.com or on Facebook.  We invite you to join us to worship God in our welcoming fellowship.

Ministerial Update (April 2014)

Hadi Sunarto
Hadi Sunarto was licensed as a deacon at Philadelphia Praise Center in March.

Steve Kriss, Director of Leadership Cultivation, provided this update from the March & April meetings of the Credentials and Ministerial Committees:

Hadi Sunarto (East Rutherford, NJ) was approved for a license for specific the ministry of deacon at Philadelphia Praise Center.

Krista Showalter Ehst (Bally, PA) was approved with a license toward ordination to serve as pastor at Alpha (NJ) Mennonite Church.

Bill Martin was approved with a license toward ordination and to serve as associate pastor at Towamencin Mennonite Church.

Danilo Sanchez (Whitehall congregation) was approved to serve as Allentown area youth minister with a license toward ordination.

Donna Merow was approved for ordination and continues to serve as pastor at Ambler (Pa) Mennonite Church.

Several new members have been added to the Ministerial and Credentials committees.

Mike Clemmer (Towamencin) and Marlene Frankenfield (Salford) have been named to the Ministerial Committee.   Heidi Hochstetler (Bally) resigned her position from the committee earlier this year.   Continuing Ministerial Committtee members include:  Verle Brubaker (Swamp), Ken Burkholder (Deep Run East), Carolyn Egli (Whitehall), Janet Panning (Plains), Mary Nitzsche (Blooming Glen), Jim Williams (Nueva Vida Norristown New Life).

Aldo Siahaan (Philadelphia Praise) and Marta Castillo (Nueva Vida Norristown New Life) have been named to three year terms on the credentials committee.    Continuing committee members include:  Rose Bender (Whitehall), Verle Brubaker (Swamp) and Mike Clemmer (Towamencin).

Steve Kriss began serving as Conference staff liaison for both committees since the retirement of Noah Kolb late in 2013.

Ministerial report (September 2013)

The Ministerial Committee met on September 4:

  • We took action to grant a specific license to Tim Hart to serve as pastor of revitalization for Garden Chapel.
  • We approved ordination for Emily Ralph from the Salford congregation who has been called to an associate pastor position at Sunnyside in Lancaster.
  • We granted a license toward ordination to Tami Good who is serving as minister of worship and music at Souderton.
  • Arnold Derstine and Mike Ford have resigned from the pastoral team at Franconia.
  • Blooming Glen has hired Mike Ford as youth pastor.
  • Frederick and Lakeview are seeking interim pastoral leadership.
  • Perkiomenville is seeking an associate pastor and Alpha and Taftsville congregations are looking for pastoral leadership.