As a part of an annual event of Kingdom Builders network of Philadelphia, the Pentecost Worship service was held at Philadelphia Praise Center on July 2, 2016. The service started with a fellowship over different traditional meals. There was a Vietnamese noodles and meatball dish, traditional tacos, Indonesian empanadas, sushi and much more. We did not expect to have a big crowd because it was a holiday weekend. Yet, to our surprise so many people came and brought food to the point where we were overflowing.
We opened the service at 6:30 pm with a prayer, followed by songs in Creole, Spanish, English, and other languages. We listened to a short message by Chantelle Todman Moore, Philadelphia Program Coordinator at Mennonite Central Committee. The service was divided into 3 sections. The first was, “Hallowed Be Thy Name”, then “Thy Kingdom Come”, and lastly “Thy Will Be Done”. During the service, Fred Kauffman, Methacton Mennonite, and Calenthia Dowdy, Professor and Director of Faith Initiatives at Eastern University, led occasional conversations by throwing a question to discuss in small groups about why our ancestors came to the United States. Some reasons given were “escaping persecution”, “economic opportunities”, “education”, and “slavery”. A big lesson learned was that we are all displaced (desplazados, terlantar, verschoben). We closed the service with a holy communion led by Bernard Sejour, pastor at Eglise Evangelique Solidarite and Harmonie, and Fernando Loyola and Leticia Cortez, co-pastors at Centro de Alabanza.
I am very grateful to be a part of a diverse community in the city of Philadelphia that can give me a little sneak peak of Heaven.
Note: The Kingdom Builders Network is a Mennonite Anabaptist Network around Philadelphia. They have meetings every month on the second Thursday. During the meetings, they read scriptures, discuss the word of God, and pray for each other. They have meetings in different locations although most of the time the meeting is held in Oxford Circle Mennonite Church.
Aldo Siaahan is a LEADership Minister and Pastor at Philadelphia Praise Center.
I was struck by the powerful words of the songs that we were singing together on Sunday in this former-thrift-store-turned-worship-space packed to nearly overflowing: we are not afraid… we believe… The words were punctuated with amens, raised hands, “Gloria A Dios.” This is Centro De Alabanza, an outgrowth of Philadelphia Praise Center, now a congregation of its own among the growing Spanish-speaking population in South Philadelphia. We were singing redemption songs that add strength and meaning to immigrant life in this thriving and sometimes dangerous city.
On Sunday we celebrated the pastoral licensing of Fernando Loyola and Letty Cortes as ministers in Franconia Conference. Letty was radiant, clothed elegantly with gifts she said were from women in the congregation. Fernando, steady, firm, serious as usual in the task of leading. They lead together as a team, the boomerang of the fruit of Mennonite mission efforts from Franconia Conference to Mexico City in the 90’s. No one would have expected that support for Kirk Hanger, who left his role at Methacton Mennonite to work at church-planting in Mexico City, would have meant that Centro de Alabanza would emerge to join Franconia Conference.
God multiples the small things and the licensing of Fernando and Letty are proof of that. Fernando tells the story of his conversion as one that takes a lifetime. Letty is the first woman of color recognized as a pastoral leader in Franconia Conference, over 25 years after the first woman (Marty Kolb-Wycoff) was credentialed for ministry in Vermont.
In working with credentialing new leaders and in the slow work that we do in establishing new congregations, I cannot help but see all of the connections that make new things possible. I notice the small things along the way that when invested in the dream of God, result in unexpected blessing and possibility. It is the widow’s mite given in faith and generosity, the mustard seed that grows into a tree, the leaven that transforms the whole loaf of bread.
We ate together after the two-hour plus worship. There was chicken, rice and beans, Coke along with orange, grape and pineapple soda. I thought of how similar it felt to the times I’ve visited with Mennonite Churches in Mexico City, yet I was still in my home city in the state where I was born. I fumbled through conversations in Spanish, but remembered best the words that I learned from Ruth Hunsberger, my Spanish teacher at Johnstown Christian School, who learned Spanish herself while working in Puerto Rico in the 40’s. My Spanish will thus always sound both a bit Pennsylvania Dutch and a bit Puerto Rican.
We bring all of those gifts and parts, all of who we are, all of the possibilities and relationships into the great Matrix of God … and they are used. Nothing is lost, everything is found and even the smallest thing can mean real transformation. Kirk told the story of meeting Letty while washing dishes in Mexico City. A wholly ordinary conversation that has led eventually to this new community flourishing in South Philadelphia and the naming of the first Latina Mennonite minister in Franconia Conference. And for those small things, which become eternally significant, and the ability to notice them later and to celebrate together over pollo, frijoles y arroz, I am grateful.
Stephen Kriss is Director of Leadership Cultivation & Congregational Resourcing at Franconia Conference.
by Elizabeth M. Miller for Mennonite Education Agency, originally posted in The Mennonite
Flexibility is one of the critical ways the various schools associated with Mennonite Education Agency (MEA) are making theological formation and education accessible and relevant to urban churches.
But flexibility alone is not enough. Urban church leaders are also looking for education solidly grounded in a global context and embedded in relational networks, not just institutional structures.
In response a variety of Mennonite educational institutions have developed services meant to serve and learn from urban Anabaptists, often strongly rooted in a particular geographical center or located within a series of networks and partnerships.
1. Instituto Bíblico Anabautista At Centro de Alabanza in Philadelphia each week, over 20 percent of the church community gathers to study and discuss courses offered by the Instituto Bíblico Anabautista (IBA, Anabaptist Biblical Institute) and facilitated by the congregation’s pastors, Fernando Loyola and Leticia Cortés.
“The advantage of the courses is that you can start whenever it best suits,” said Cortés in a recent interview. “We can study at any time.”
The IBA courses at Centro de Alabanza are held twice a week. Most of the participants at Centro de Alabanza are married couples, so men study one night and women the next. This way husbands and wives are able to swap child care during their respective class nights.
“[IBA] has total flexibility,” says Rafael Barahona, IBA and the Hispanic Pastoral and Leadership Education office director. “So [the churches] can make it work for them.” IBA provides instruction manuals for students and training for facilitators, but it does not impose an external schedule on church groups using the program.
For Centro de Alabanza, this flexibility has been key. The ability to offer courses on a schedule that equally benefits husbands and wives from within the same households has had a tremendous effect on the congregation. “In my case with the women especially, they have more confidence that they are capable, that they can use their gifts,” said Cortés.
Cortés has observed the women immediately putting into practice what they have been learning in the classes. Some have even started preaching in the worship services.
IBA is one of the longest-running and most expansive programs for urban Mennonite church leaders. Now in its 27th year, there are 42 centers serving around 300 students across the country, from New York City to Miami to Omaha, Neb.
Eastern Mennonite Seminary, a graduate division of Eastern Mennonite University,operates a campus in Lancaster, Pa., that most directly serves the eastern part of the state, including many urban churches in Lancaster and the greater metro area of Philadelphia.
“One of the things unique about the EMS program is that our programs are intended for urban dwellers,” says Steve Kriss, associate director of pastoral studies at EMS Lancaster and LEADership minister for Franconia Conference.
While EMS Lancaster offers an M.Div. track and two graduate certificate programs, they also operate Study and Training for Effective Pastoral Ministry (STEP), an undergraduate-level program for church leaders who wish to strengthen their ministry and leadership experiences.
From the beginning, STEP was designed as a collaborative program, dependent on urban church networks and experience. An advisory committee from Philadelphia-area congregations helped design the original program, and teachers and students came from area Anabaptist congregations.
“It was a very deliberate attempt to connect with the vibrant urban minority [and] recent immigrant congregations in the Philadelphia urban metro area,” says Mark Wenger, director of EMS Lancaster.
STEP is grounded in practical experience and mentoring relationships. Everyone who joins STEP must already serve in a leadership role within his or her congregation, and each student is paired with a ministry mentor.
“[It’s an] embedded model, not an academy model,” says Wenger. “What you study, what you read about, what you write about, you practice right away in your context. That works in an urban setting very well.”
By necessity STEP integrates global realities into the formal education experience.
“Global political realities sometimes come crashing down in the classroom,” says Kriss. “The world does not stay as separated as it might in a more traditional setting.”
The urban congregations that partner with EMS Lancaster include Vietnamese, Latino, Anglo, African-American and Ethiopian ones. The diverse identities of these, combined with their urban context, bring global issues to the fore.
“Urban leaders are asking us to work at ways of telling the Anabaptist story that integrate with urban and global realities. For places like Philly, it’s not just the city that we’re dealing with,” says Kriss. “We’re dealing with global realities. So our coursework needs to reflect those realities.”
It has also been important for traditional Mennonite congregations to be involved in the work that urban congregations and leaders are doing. Kriss calls this “enlivening work.” “Across the board it helps build relationships and give [traditional Mennonite congregations] new ways to look at Anabaptism.”
Both EMS in Harrisonburg, Va., and Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) in Elkhart, Ind., offer courses in their graduate programs specifically focused on urban contexts and ministry. They also regularly receive students from nearby urban centers.
In general, however, the seminaries report that it is the partnerships in urban-based theological education that have most strengthened their programs in this regard.
AMBS, for example, is a long-standing member of the Seminary Consortium for Urban Pastoral Education (SCUPE). Rather than try to duplicate the courses and experience offered by SCUPE, AMBS encourages students to enroll in SCUPE’s courses in nearby Chicago.
According to Rebecca Slough, academic dean, SCUPE builds on the formation offered at AMBS while introducing students to a wider network of people.
“It puts [students] in a different theological and racial-ethnic environment,” says Slough.
Julia Gingrich, a 2014 AMBS graduate who lives and works in Elkhart, credits her SCUPE courses with giving her the tools to “exegete” her urban context.
“[They] played a significant role in forming me as a missional leader who seeks to be deeply and consciously rooted in my ministry context,” she wrote in an email.
The Urban Peacemaking course Gingrich took through SCUPE was especially helpful in preparing her for her ministry internship at St. James AME, which Gingrich described as “an African-American congregation located in a marginalized Elkhart neighborhood.”
“[In Urban Peacemaking] we studied and discussed gun violence and mass incarceration, issues that are of central concern to the members and neighbors of St. James,” wrote Gingrich. “Studying these issues helped me join St. James in [its] efforts to resist these forms of violence.”
CIIE focuses on welcoming students from multicultural backgrounds—who are also often urban students—as well as working with organizations and churches that work with youth.
“Many times we think urban students are more needy than other students,” says Gilberto Pérez, CIIE director. But he notes that urban students often have a level of resiliency and network navigation skills that is helpful for college. Adjusting to college without the proximity of their home network can be daunting, however, so CIIE pairs them with a student mentor. “The mentoring gives them a place to experience what they had in their home community,” says Pérez.
While CIIE focuses much of its energy on the Goshen College community itself, it also sustains partnerships with 16 different community partners that work with students of color in locations all across the country.
Their goal, Pérez says, is “to be in relationship and offer the resources the church has available.”
5. ReconciliaAsian ReconciliAsian, an Anabaptist peace center that works mainly with Korean-American churches in Los Angeles, recently began a partnership with CIIE. Like the Philadelphia churches who partner with EMS Lancaster, ReconciliAsian finds their focus to ultimately be a global one.
Their recent partnership with CIIE allows ReconciliAsian to reach what Park-Hur calls “invisible” youth in the Asian-American community who may not fit the “model minority myth” imposed on so many Asian-Americans.
Park-Hur also hopes to speak at more family conferences with her husband, Hyun Hur. Their respective backgrounds as a Korean-American and a Korean immigrant make them uniquely equipped to communicate a message of conflict transformation across generational boundaries.
Like many urban ministries, ReconciliAsian depends on a variety of relational networks and partnerships for its work.
As important as networks and flexibility are to theological formation and education in urban contexts, they alone cannot respond to other challenges. Some urban churches, for example, want their youth to attend Mennonite colleges, but they fear those same young people won’t return after four years away.
“Our undergraduate programs are all outside major urban areas,” says Kriss. “Some Mennonite congregations feel that to raise up good leaders and send them to Mennonite schools means the congregations lose them forever, because they don’t return.”
Cost is another hurdle. Some of the programs, like IBA, keep their costs low by using volunteer instructors. But accreditation comes with a price tag that can be particularly burdensome for urban churches and leaders.
Yet relationships can go a long way toward sharing these challenges and adapting or creating new educational structures that better serve urban churches.
“We need networks of trusted relationships,” says Kriss. “We need to spend time building relationships and being in each other’s space.”
Elizabeth Miller is a member of Berkey Avenue Mennonite Church in Goshen, Ind.