Tag Archives: formational

Love is a Verb and So Much More

by Wayne Nitzsche, Interim LEADership Minister and Pastor of Perkasie Mennonite Church

When taking elementary Greek as a seminary student, suddenly it dawned on me that my knowledge of the English language was woefully inadequate. I might not have been able to tell you that a verb “is a word used to describe an action, state, or occurrence, and forming the main part of the predicate of a sentence, such as hearbecomehappen,” as Google says. But I’d have been able to say that is an action word!

So when I learned the theme for Mennonite Church USA for 2017, launched on Valentine’s Day, was: “Love is a Verb” I knew about verbs. I’m just glad they didn’t go with: “Love is a predicate noun.”

As followers of Christ we believe that God is love and that we are called to participate in God’s love. Not by the cheap “I’ll love you if you love me” ways of our culture, but in the gritty work of loving God, ourselves and our neighbors.

This theme of Love is a Verb will be the theme at our denominational assembly in Orlando in early July. As we lead up to that, Perkasie Mennonite (PMC), and perhaps other Franconia Conference congregations have recently engaged this theme. Here at PMC we developed a six week worship series focusing on: love is… a verb, … obeying Christ, … mutual, …. fear-less, ….of God, and …. life-giving. The series has been a study of the book of First John.

“This word of life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us…so that our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” (1 John 1:2-3)

For the writer, the love of God is expressed in the revealed “word of life” (Jesus Christ) so that we might have fellowship (koinonia) with God and with each other. That love we’ve received is then expressed in love for each other in the local fellowship. Yet, scholars believe this struggling church was fractured because of theological diversity and a refusal to love in word and deed. In a series employing sharp contrasts comes the command to do the hard work of love.

Our love has been put to the test in very specific ways as we have walked with congregation members in life and death. I witnessed people expressing their love by sharing meals, sending cards, sitting in silence, in unceasing prayer and in many other acts of love. I know this happens on a daily basis, not only at PMC but in all the churches spread out over our conference.

We have members demonstrate active love – love as a verb – by urging us to speak into the political process with a voice of concern for peace and justice. We had hard discussions in our Sunday morning second hour around the issue of racism, and talked about what steps we might take to become allies.

As an Interim LEADership Minister with Franconia Conference, I’ve been relating to Alpha, Bally and Taftsville congregations. It’s been a joy to hear stories of love in action. Bally created a large banner with the words from the Welcoming Your Neighbors posters: “No matter where you are from, we are glad you are our neighbor” written in Arabic, Spanish and English. During a committee meeting, a stranger entered and expressed his appreciation for the sign. He is a recent immigrant from the Middle East and had been feeling very vulnerable.

Love in action is expressed at Taftsville in their recent addition of solar panels on the roof of their meeting place.  They are now generating electricity that goes back onto the grid, as they continue to implement steps to care for God’s creation. I could go on with other illustrations just in these three congregations.

Let’s continue to challenge ourselves and our congregations to make Christ’s love known in our local communities. May we also celebrate and testify to the ways it is already happening in small ways in the wonderful diversity that is Franconia Mennonite Conference.

“We know love by this that he laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” (1 John 3:16)

The Gift of Receiving

By Mike Clemmer, LEADership Minister

I was intrigued by something that was said by one of the National Football League (NFL) analysts, about what it would take for this year’s new draft picks to be successful in the NFL. He said, “these star college players need to do something that they never really have had to do before – that is to be willing to receive coaching and critique, because their talent will only take them so far.”  I reflected on this statement and wondered how this might relate to our churches in Franconia Conference. I was taught from as early as I can remember that “it is better to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). As an adult, this makes sense. We as Christians are called to pursue mutual aid and to use our gifts and talents to help those who are in need. As I look around at our Franconia Conference churches, mutual aid and supporting those in need is clearly in the forefront of our missional focus, and rightfully so. Whenever there are financial needs or physical needs, churches and individuals are quick to deliver – often in the biblical mode of “not letting the right hand know what the left hand is doing.” We definitely have built up a good track record on giving.

But lately, I have been drawn to perhaps an equally important Christian posture –  that it is just as important to be able to receive. Our track record on being grateful receivers is not as stellar as our giving record. When people ask me if they can help me, my response is almost always, “No, I (or we) have things under control.” I wonder if we are not, at times, blocking others from receiving the blessing of giving to us. Do we find ourselves “above” the possibility of receiving from others?

I recently watched two of our churches experience times of crisis. When they were asked by Conference Leadership and by other churches what they needed to help them the most, instead of acting like they could handle things on their own, their leadership opened their arms to receive a variety of help and kindness that was offered to them. These churches were truly refreshed and encouraged by their ability to receive, and I was amazed at their openness to these blessings.

Receiving can be a lot more than just financial help. This is where it gets tricky. Though probably the greatest thing that both we and the new NFL players can receive is coaching and critique, neither is generally welcomed with open arms. The churches in the New Testament all were a work in progress. Dialogue, teaching, and coaching were needed as part of the growth process, but not all were open to receiving. Are we open to receiving help or coaching in areas of finances, racism, immigration, helping the poor, and a whole lot of other areas of need? I believe that when churches are open to seeing themselves as a work in progress and intentionally place themselves in a position to receive, blessings are poured out in abundance. I would challenge us to continue to look not only at the ways that we can give, but also to the people and places from which we can receive.

Story Project: A Faith Nurtured and Renewed

By John Stoltzfus, Conference Youth Minister

How are we doing as a broader faith community in passing on faith to the next generation? Where is faith being lived out loud in such a way that our children and youth are catching a vision of what it means to be follower of Jesus today? The title of John H. Westerhoff’s book Will Our Children Have Faith, first published in 1976, is a question that reverberates with every generation of the church.

In some of our churches we are noticing emptier pews and smaller youth groups, decreasing engagement in the life of worship, and greater divides in cross generational life. I hear both anxiety and fear in response to these trends.

The reasons for these trends are as multi-faceted as is the diversity of our conference congregations. We also don’t live in a bubble from larger societal trends. Many studies reveal that more millennials are choosing to opt out of traditional church participation. This drop in traditional religious engagement and identity spans every demographic group.

We often talk about passing on faith to the next generation as if it was a one way street. A more apt metaphor may be one of a journey in which faith comes alive for each one of us in new ways as each generation shares in common experiences and practices of the Christian life. Unless we as adults are growing in our faith how can we expect our children and youth to grow into a faith that lasts and matures in adulthood?

Several years ago in my neighborhood there were several boys who were ringing doorbells late at night and then dashing away. My anger got the best of me one night and I chased them through the streets after they rang our doorbell waking the whole household. Much to my chagrin, my seven year old daughter heard what I did. Thankfully, she showed me a better, and more Christ-like way, to respond. The next evening she suggested that we set out a plate of freshly baked cookies that we had made that day so that the boys could have something to eat if they came again that night.

Our children may have something to teach us about being peacemakers if we as adults are willing to listen!

What is the invitation of the church at this time? What are the deeper questions we need to be asking of ourselves and how we live as disciples of Christ? We may need to look to the edges of our institutions and faith communities to see the Spirit moving. We will need to place our trust and hope in a revealing God who has been faithful for many generations.

I believe we have stories and practices that we can share with one another to spur us on in this grand journey and narrative of God’s revealing salvation. We have signs of hope if we look closely enough. We have a rich heritage of faith that can inspire us to live anew into the emerging shape of the people of God.

Along the way, we may be called to let go of some things. In order for the new to arise some ways of doing things in the church may need to die that the church may be resurrected to new life. Are we willing to allow our church structures to change to support and embrace the new shapes of faith of the next generation? As our demographics change and as our world around us changes we will need to imagine new wineskins. We also may be called to reclaim pieces of our faith heritage that we have neglected.

Over the next year, we want to highlight stories from across our conference of how faith across generations is being renewed and lives transformed. Let’s tell on each other in the best possible way to highlight the good news of God at work in our young and old. What models do we have, both new and old, of renewing faith intergenerationally? Contact me if you have a story to tell of a faith nurtured or renewed in your congregation or larger community.

Cuidándonos entre Mujeres / Sister Care

por Marta Castillo

La experiencia de sentarse, aprender, reír, llorar y compartir en un grupo de 30 líderes y pastoras de habla hispana es una experiencia que no tiene comparación. El Espíritu del Dios viviente fluía libremente y poderosamente, las voces se elevaban en ánimo, las oraciones se hablaban y las experiencias de vida fueran compartidas en alegría a través del dolor. Tuve el privilegio de ser incluida en la invitación y estoy agradecida de que la Conferencia de Franconia me apoyara,  Pastora Marta Castillo (Nueva Vida Norristown Nueva Vida) y Pastora Leticia Cortes (Centro de Alabanza), en nuestro viaje a Oregón el mes pasado para participar en el taller Cuidándonos entre Mujeres  en español. El entrenamiento trajo sanación y el encuentro de líderes de mujeres hispanas fuertes de todo Estados Unidos, incluyendo Florida, Texas, California, Iowa y Pennsylvania fue una fuente de inspiración.


Como dice el sitio web de Menonite Women USA, “los talleres proveen a las mujeres con herramientas para la sanación personal continua, el reconocimiento y la celebración de la gracia de Dios en sus vidas, y respondiendo con más confianza y efectividad a las necesidades de otros en sus familias, congregaciones y comunidades”. Se ha sido utilizado en todo el mundo y se ha traducido en varios idiomas, pero esta es la primera vez que se imparte el curso en español con la esperanza de llevar los materiales y habilidades a nuestras conferencias y congregaciones.  La Pastora Leticia Cortes Castro y yo estamos comprometidas a compartir lo que hemos aprendido con otras mujeres en nuestras iglesias y en nuestra  conferencia.

La Pastora Leticia envió una nota a la Conferencia de Franconia para expresar su agradecimiento. Como miembros de la Conferencia de Franconia aquí están sus palabras para ustedes:

Para la Conferencia de Franconia:

Por este medio quiero agradecer todo el apoyo que se nos dio a Marta Castillo y su servidora, para viajar a Portland Oregon, y poder tomar el taller de “Cuidado de mujeres” que fue de gran bendición para nuestras vidas, en lo personal me siento fortalecida y animada para compartir con otras lo aprendido, los temas son de gran interés para nuestra comunidad Hispana, y pudimos identificar que muchos de los temas que se compartieron, son necesarios para ayudarnos entre nostras como mujeres, me toco la lectura bíblica de la samaritana, y algo paso en ese tiempo de compartir ese pasaje,  fue algo especial para mí, me sentí tan identificada con la mujer samaritana, de sentir el perdón y amada directamente por el Mesías, otra parte del taller fue maravilloso porque los temas fueron  en mi idioma, lo extraordinario fue que lo aprendido lo pude poner en práctica con una Hermana que se sentía mal espiritualmente, y pude compartir con ella y orar juntas, y sentimos como Dios uso ese momento para darle paz , y gozo en su vida, quedamos tan agradecidas con Dios, que vamos a continuar con nuestra hermandad y amistad a la distancia,

Gracias nuevamente, en Cristo
Pastora Letty Cortes Castro
Centro de Alabanza de Filadelfia

by Marta Castillo

Sitting, learning, laughing, crying, and sharing in a group of 30 Spanish-speaking women leaders and pastors is an experience that is unrivaled.  The Spirit of the living God flowed freely and powerfully, voices were raised in excitement, prayers were spoken, and life experiences shared in joy through the pain.  I was privileged (as a white Spanish-speaking woman) to be included in the invitation and I am thankful that Franconia Conference supported myself, Pastor Marta Castillo (Nueva Vida Norristown New Life), and Pastor Leticia Cortes (Centro de Alabanza), in our trip to Oregon last month to participate in the Sister Care Seminar in Spanish.  Going through the training was healing and meeting strong Hispanic women leaders from all over the United States, including Florida, Texas, California, Iowa, and Pennsylvania was inspirational.

As the Mennonite Women USA website says, “seminars provide women with tools for ongoing personal healing, recognizing and celebrating God’s grace in their lives, and responding more confidently and effectively to the needs of others in their families, congregations and communities.” It has been used all over the world and been translated in several languages, but this is the first time that the training was held in Spanish with the hope that we would take the materials and skills to our conferences and congregations.  Pastor Leticia Cortes Castro and I are committed to sharing what we have learned with other women in our churches and in our conference.


Pastor Leticia sent a note to Franconia Conference to express her appreciation. As members of Franconia Conference here are her words to you:

I want to thank all the support that was given to Marta Castillo and me, God’s servant, to travel to Portland, Oregon, and to be able to take the workshop “Sister Care” in Spanish. That was a great blessing for our lives.  Personally, I feel strengthened and encouraged to share with others what I learned.  The topics are of great interest to our Hispanic community and we were able to identify that many of the themes that were shared are necessary to help us as women.   I shared a monologue of the biblical reading of the Samaritan woman and it touched me deeply.  Something happened during that time that I shared that passage and it is very special for me.   I identified with the Samaritan woman, feeling forgiveness and loved directly by the Messiah.  Another part of the workshop that was wonderful was that the teaching was in my own Spanish language.  The extraordinary thing was that what I learned I could put into practice immediately with a sister in Christ who felt bad spiritually and I could share with her and pray together.  We felt like God used that moment to give her peace and joy in her life.  We are so grateful to God for all the wonderful women that we met and that we will continue our sisterhood and friendship at a distance.

Thank you again, in Christ
Pastor Letty Cortes Castro
Centro de Alabanza

 

Binding Together What is Seen and Unseen

by Noel Santiago

Matt 16:19 (NIV) – “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

In the verses before the text above, Simon (later called Peter) has declared that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, the awaited Messiah. Jesus’ response is to declare Simon as blessed because of the revelation he has not only received, but declared!

There is more going on here than meets the eye, because Jesus doesn’t stop there. He goes on to change Simon’s name to Peter and declare that he is going to build His church and that the gates of hades will not prevail against it. Furthermore, Jesus gives him keys to the kingdom and declares that whatever is bound on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever is loosed on earth will be loosed in heaven! Wow! Who would of thought all this would have happened from a seemingly simple declaration! What’s going on here?

It would seem that there is an interplay being established here that is binding together what is not seen to what is seen. The agent of what is visible will become what we know today as the church at work on the earth, but what about the agents of what is not seen? Did he say it would be earth that decides what is bound or loosed in heaven? Is that right? Well, if this is so it makes me wonder then what is it we bind up on earth that causes heaven to bind it up there and what is it we loose on earth that causes heaven to loose that?

Jesus continually interacted with what was seen and not seen in dealing with people’s needs and bondages in the realm of the spirit. When Jesus laid down His life on the cross, we are told that the veil in the temple was torn from top to bottom. The veil was what separated God in the most holy place from humankind; heaven and earth would be one again and the binding agent would be Jesus the Christ, the Son of the living God. Paul, would later write to the Ephesians saying that “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.”

Is it possible that there is an entangled connection between earth and heaven; a binding together of what is seen and unseen? If so, what is the nature of this interplay? Is it possible that God in Christ, is calling us to help bring heaven to earth today?

Healing Through Truth Telling and Open Ears

By Barbie Fischer and an anonymous member of Salford Mennonite Church

Abuse takes many forms and is a topic often shied away from. Yet, our communities of faith should be safe and healing places for all of God’s children … and how can they be if abuse is not discussed and actions not taken to prevent it? April is both Child Abuse Prevention month and Sexual Abuse Awareness Month. Both Franconia Conference and Dove’s Nest encourage congregations to step into the space of talking about healthy relationships to prevent abuse, and discuss ways of healing when abuse does happen. While April is one month a year set aside to focus on these topics, these should be discussions all year long.

One of our local congregations recently took on the task of addressing child abuse within their service. Salford Mennonite Church held a service on March 26th dedicated to celebrating the joy and life of children — past and present — within their congregation, while at the same time acknowledging, naming, and lamenting that amid the joy and life, there is injury, trauma, and loss of trust. The scriptural focus for the day was Ezekiel 37:1-14, the story of dry bones coming to life.

Organization of the service and including the voices of survivors was spearheaded by Maria Hosler Byler, Associate Pastor for Youth and Family Faith Formation, and Beth Ranck Yoder, Associate Pastor. The day included singing from the children, times for the congregation to name their joys in the children, the vulnerability of the children among them, and their vision for safety for their children. The day also included words from survivors in the congregation who were invited to submit their stories and offer words of both lament and hope.

The service was a time of healing for those who have survived abuse and is evident through a letter received from one of Salford’s congregants following the service. This church member has allowed us to share their letter here. Through it, one can see that while the topic may be difficult, healing comes from bringing these things into the light, bringing life back to the dry bones.

 

Dear Beloved Church Family at Salford,                                                                            March 28, 2017

Thank you for the meaningful service on Sunday, March 26 in preparation for National Child Abuse Prevention Month in April.  Sunday’s service was clearly dedicated to the protection of children and to the restoration of those who have suffered from abuse.  Each aspect of the service was moving, and I want to thank the leadership team for listening to the guidance of the Spirit as you prepared for the service.  We participated in worship as we lifted our voices in song, listened to the children sing, prayed for the children, said prayers of confession, and heard voices of lament and of hope.  The worship service was inspiring and moving.  

I am grateful to have been asked to reflect on the Dry Bones passage from Ezekiel and share some of my story, anonymously.  The questions which were provided as guidance were helpful for me as I thought about what might be helpful for others to hear from my story.  As I wrote, the Valley of the Dry Bones from my past began to appear in my mind, and I could visualize the stages of healing that had taken place in recent years.  The image of healing after many, many years was helpful for me as I reflected on what would be meaningful to share.

During the week before the service, when I had the chance to read reflections that other survivors of abuse had sent in, I started to feel nervous about hearing their words, and my words, spoken to the congregation. By Saturday, I began to think about volunteering to help with the children during the service instead of sitting in the sanctuary.  While courage was needed for individuals to share their stories, even anonymously, courage was also needed to hear the words spoken.  I am very glad that I made the decision to attend the service.  Salford Mennonite, thank you for giving survivors the opportunity to share their stories with the congregation, and thank you for being willing to hear their stories.

At the beginning of the service, as I sat watching and listening, I felt numb, as though I were observing everything from a distance.  Toward the end of the service, I realized that I was indeed a part of the fellowship. I felt a keen sense of belonging to the body of believers at Salford.  Thank you for being a caring, loving, accepting, and even a risk-taking community of believers.  I believe that through the beloved community of Salford Mennonite Church, steps will continue to be taken to safely care for children, and restoration will continue to take place among the broken.

During the Sundays in Lent, I have been watching the transformation of the broken pottery at the front of the sanctuary.  Philip Hosler Byler carefully crafted the large and broken clay pot.  Each week, two people come forward and attach a broken piece to the base, and I watch in wonder.  Years ago I had told my counselor that I felt as though my journey of healing from abuse was like the journey of a broken vase being glued together—the vase might be functional, but the cracks will always be there, destroying its beauty.  My counselor told me that in some areas of Asia, when a vase is cracked, it is filled with gold, making it both beautiful and valuable.  During this week’s service, I could visualize the completed clay pot once all of the pieces are joined. Thank you, Philip, for crafting a pot that demonstrates how God can restore our lives, piece by piece.

After the children left the sanctuary, we heard the statistics that have been in the news in recent years, that 1 in 4 girls will be abused before adulthood and 1 in 6 boys will be abused before reaching adulthood.  The numbers are startling.  We were able to visualize those numbers by having people in appointed rows stand.  We as a congregation now have a deeper understanding of just how many 1 in 4 is.  Seeing half of the left side of the sanctuary standing was astounding.  Many survivors’ stories remain hidden.

I appreciated the themes of “Lament” and “Hope” through which survivors’ stories were shared.  As the four voices at the back of the sanctuary took turns reading the words of lament, I sensed that actual voices of the survivors were being heard.  (I did not turn around to see who the four people were who read, but I do want to thank them for their roles in the service.) The congregation seemed to really be listening to the words of sadness and grief. Toward the end of the service, when the four voices read the words of hope and anticipation which survivors of abuse had shared, I sensed that God was in our midst, caring, healing, loving, and encouraging. Thank you, Salford family, for being attentive to the journeys of these survivors in our midst.

I am thankful for the guidance through prayer for the children, the prayer of confession, and the spoken responses following the voices of lament and of hope.  I am grateful to you, our pastoral team, for reading together the confession of the church leaders.  I sensed your earnest desire to protect children and to restore those who have been “harmed by the evils of abuse.”  Healing and restoration will continue to take place in our church as we strive to move forward, trusting in God to show us the way.  Thank you for your willingness to lead our congregation in the way of healing.

The sermon I am grateful for, as it took an old Bible story, familiar for many of us, and brought it to life, allowing me to visualize the transformation of the Valley of Dry Bones and to see how God desires for us to move from a place of despair to a place of abundant living.  We as a congregation were given the opportunity to visualize the healing taking place within our church.  My Valley of Dry Bones took place years ago, but I can still see it. In that desolate place I was unable to get off of the couch, unable to go and pick up one item at the grocery store, unable to enjoy my favorite foods, unable to connect with my family in healthy ways. Sleep was my escape, feeling unable to do anything, just as the dry bones in the valley were unable to do anything.  The Valley of Dry Bones is a desolate place of despair, and no one wants to stay there; yet without help from God and from others, it is hard to find a way to leave.

There are so many things to be grateful for with the service. For the child protection policy being distributed in everyone’s church mailboxes prior to the service and for our Child/Youth Safety Team. For those who cared for the children during this important service. For our Pastors Joe, Beth, and Maria who guided our congregation through the Valley of Dry Bones.  Thank you for your leadership as you strive to make Salford a place of healing and of hope.  God does not want for us to stay in the Valley of Dry Bones, for Jesus came so that we might have abundant life, and our God is a God of hope.

Sunday’s service was truly beautiful.  I firmly believe that God is at work at Salford to restore the broken. My prayer is that God will continue to work in our congregation as we are committed to protect children and to restore those who have been abused.  May we serve one another in God’s love, and may we be a light in our community. My hope is that all congregations would be able to experience the healing power of a service of restoration.

God’s peace be with you.
________________________________________________________________________

To hear the sermon from the March 26th service visit http://www.salfordmc.org/recent-sermons.

DVDs of the service can be requested from Salford Mennonite Church.

Also, a list of resources utilized for the service can be found here: http://franconiaconference.org/church-safety/.

Sharing Breakfast and Life

by Emily Ralph Servant, Interim Director of Congregational Resourcing

“I was not really looking forward to the morning event.  I wasn’t even sure it had much to do with my call and work,” confessed Joy Sawatzky, a chaplain at Living Branches.  “What happened was a nice surprise.  I like surprises.”

The “morning event” was a breakfast sponsored by Living Branches and Franconia Conference exploring questions of spirituality across generations.  On February 14, a panel of leaders answered questions about calling, spiritual practices, and hope.

“What happened was heart-felt sharing from three different generations around call and how that was and is lived out, not just in the lives of those on the panel, but in the table conversations afterwards as well,” reflected Sawatzky.

Panelists Krista Showalter Ehst, John Ruth, Paula Stoltzfus, James Krabill, Josh Meyer, and Ray Hurst expressed curiosity about other generations, pondered over advice they would give to their younger selves, suggested practices that are important in the life of the Church, and confessed how their priorities in ministry have been shaped by their life experiences (listen to the podcast).

After the panelists shared, pastors gathered around tables to share their own stories, challenges, and questions.  The take away—a hope for the future of the church and a hope for more of these conversations.

Living Branches began to explore sponsoring conversations on aging after a pastor told them, “Our church is aging, however our energy is focused on family and youth; we would appreciate thinking and talking together about issues of aging. Help us.”   Living Branches believes that as a member of the community and a participating ministry of the Franconia Conference, they have a calling to connect with and resource their community and churches around the issues of aging, says Margaret Zook, Director of Church & Community Relations at Living Branches.  “We believe that joy and purpose in life is enriched through conversations at all stages of our life.”

Credentialed leaders are invited to two breakfasts this April:

  • April 19, 8-10am, at Souderton Mennonite Homes. Chaplains from Living Branches will present the documentary “Being Mortal” and facilitate a conversation around faith and end of life issues.  (RSVP to Margaret_Zook@LivingBranches.org).
  • April 25, 9-11am, at Blooming Glen Mennonite Church. Anne Kaufman Weaver will lead a conversation around her research in resiliency for women in pastoral leadership (RSVP at franconiaconference.org/events).

“Taking time to be together to learn, to network, to eat together, to drink coffee and tea together helps keep our leadership and relationships vibrant and lively,” says Franconia Conference executive minister Steve Kriss.  “While our schedules are busy, this time apart, even for a few hours, is an important respite and a significant time to strengthen both skills and relationships among us as credentialed leaders in our conference community.”

For questions related to upcoming events or to request resourcing for your congregation, contact Emily (email or 267-932-6050, ext. 117).

From Dust You’ve Been Created

“Do you not realize what the Holy One can do with dust?”–Jan Richardson

By Steve Kriss, Executive Minister

Growing up in a dominantly Catholic community, I annually had ash envy.   There was something about that mark of the cross on the forehead, the smear and the audacity of wearing it out and about in town and at school that made me want to be marked similarly.

This year I joined the shared worship at Blooming Glen, jointly planned with Deep Run East and Perkasie congregations.  Each of the congregations’ pastoral leaders had a part.  I found my eyes becoming full as I watched them mark each other’s foreheads, after finishing marking those who came forward.  There was something both beautiful and awful in the fragility of the statement “from dust you’ve been created, and to dust you shall return,” being spoken to pastoral colleagues I know and love.

“Do you not know what the holy one can do with dust?”  It’s a serious question, written poignantly.  The dust of human existence breathed on by God becomes true life and even resurrection. Until then, we have these fragile days of marking, of honoring life, of sharing generously, of witnessing profoundly, of journeying together in sickness and in health, ’til death do we part.

Last Thursday, we honored the relationships we have with our credentialed leaders in an evening dinner with music.  It was a lovely night with good food and fellowship around tables while listening to some Gospel Folk music by The King’s Strings.   It felt like an extravagant night out for some of us.  A few pastors incredulously and skeptically wondered how the costs had been covered.  Two families from our community paid the bill as a gift, to show their appreciation for our credentialed leaders and conference.  Our pastors who attended felt honored.  It’s one of the ways we honor life’s fragility, through generosity and appreciation.  I’m grateful for our donors and our time together.

We set out now into these 40 days of journey toward the cross and resurrection.  Some of us are fasting from sugar or social media.  My catholic cousins often refrained from chocolate or soft drinks.   A recent suggestion I appreciated invited us to give away something every day.  They are all acts of devotion or attempting to focus direction differently.   These can be meaningful practices that stretch and strengthen our spiritual reflexes and muscles.  The Hebrew prophets repeatedly provoked honest service, pure-heartedness, and justice-seeking & doing over showy displays.  Our religiosity and practice, even during holidays, that help tell the story of our faith have little meaning without right relationships.

We continue to work and hope across our conference, our cities and towns, our country and all the world of sharing God’s extravagant and creative love incarnated in Christ and also through us when we live out the invitation in Isaiah to seek justice, share generously and relieve the burdens of those who struggle.   This is our journey this season of Lent, and always.

 

Grateful for a Sad Surprise

By Randy Heacock, LEADership Minister

When Steve Kriss, Conference Executive Minister, invited me to consider being a LEADership Minister, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what to expect.  I have a LEADership minister and I have been in the conference long enough to remember the early conversations of the role of a LEADership Minister.  However, one of my first interactions, a phone call from an elder of a congregation I now serve as a LEADership Minster, caught me by surprise.  Steve never warned me of such a call, nor was it listed in the memo of understanding I signed.  I attended the training on mandatory reporting; Barbie Fischer, Conference Communication Manager, provided some guidelines for communication protocol so that confidentiality is maintained.  I was ready to go, so I thought.

An elder called and began with the following statement, “Randy, I need to apologize to you and ask for your forgiveness.”  He went on to explain how he had heard something about me that he allowed to shape his opinion of me.   When my name came up at their elders meeting, he raised some questions based on what he had heard about me.  The other elders challenged him to speak to me directly rather than to rely on what he had heard.  Hence, he began with an apology for not speaking to me first.  His sincere apology and request for forgiveness provided a solid foundation for us to discuss his questions.   I believe we both ended the conversation grateful for the interaction.

Though grateful, I soon felt a sense of sadness regarding this conversation.  Sad, because it made me realize how rarely I have been involved in communication with other believers in which a person requested to be forgiven.  In 30 years of pastoral leadership, I can only recall one other time when a person asked for my forgiveness.  I wondered why this is so rare in the church that proclaims that reconciliation is the center of our work.   At the same time, I have witnessed men with whom I have played basketball with for 15 years apologize to one another on a far more regular basis.   Why is it more common for these men, many of whom do not share a faith commitment, to readily apologize to one another?

While I could provide some possible answers, I prefer to let us think on this for ourselves.  I do know the positive outcome of one elder’s apology.   I was deeply moved and our relationship enhanced by his phone call.  It also challenged me to consider what stops me from freely seeking the forgiveness of another.  I am grateful for this sad surprise.   I pray we all may grow and experience the fruit of forgiveness in our relationships as the norm rather than the exception.

Luke 17:4, “”And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”

Disoriented Following

By Wayne Nitzsche, Interim LEADership Minister

I’ve been granted the privilege of walking with the congregations of Alpha, Bally and Taftsville as they engage the journey of calling a pastor. Jenifer Eriksen Morales has prepared them well for the steps in the process. But as in all of life, we make plans and sometimes it works to perfection and for a brief moment we believe we’re smartly in control. The rest of the time, life happens.

For example, recently I planned for a weekend trip to Taftsville, Vermont to have meetings with the Transition Team, Council and to preach on Sunday morning. The meetings went well, the congregation offered warm hospitality, and Vermont showcased its winter beauty, a dazzling display. Sunday afternoon when I’d plan to return home, four inches of new snow blanketed our vehicles. Vermonters for whom that is no big deal,
cautioned me about evening travel in blowing and drifting snow. I decided to spend an extra day and wait out the storm.  Initially I was frustrated. How could I miss a Monday morning and evening meeting and a day of work? When I let go of the temporary and minor disorientation of my schedule I was able to relax. I was gifted with an hour-long walk in the snow, and engaging conversation with my delightful hosts.

My change of plans was a minor inconvenience. But other situations feel more major. Heather Wolfe, member of the Taftsville Transition Team reflected on a piece of their four year pastoral search process. At one point, two pastoral candidates seemed to be real possibilities. However, both people withdrew their names from consideration. Dorcas Lehman, who was an interim pastor at that time, reminded the Team that Moses wandered in the wilderness for forty years before reaching the Promised Land. Surely Moses felt much disorientation, and disappointment.  Heather remarked that they hoped it didn’t take 34 more years to get to their Promised Land of finding a pastor!

In January, I visited Alpha Mennonite Church and was delighted to hear Krista Showalter Ehst preach a sermon called “Disoriented Following” based on the text from Matthew 4. Jesus begins ministry in a new place, and immediately calls two sets of brothers.

Krista began with her own story of disoriented following. She was about to graduate from seminary. A congregation inquired about her openness to a pastoral call. While on a silent retreat she sensed the Spirit validating her call to pastoral ministry. Soon there were multiple long-distance Skype interviews with a search committee resulting in a call to candidate at that church. Krista purchased plane tickets but then suddenly questions began to emerge from the search committee and the offer to be the pastoral candidate was withdrawn. Krista was obviously disoriented and devastated. Questions about that experience remain, but she testifies that it led to growth and new opportunities.

Krista says about Matthew 4:12: “Jesus himself is coming off a very disorienting experience–his temptation in the wilderness. Somehow, this disorienting wilderness experience seems to have brought him a renewed strength and clarified call as he now chooses this moment to begin his ministry.”

Later she says about the call of the brothers, James and John, and Peter and Andrew: “What a daring decision, and what a disorienting decision! They don’t even know what “following Jesus” means–in fact they may not even know that this guy’s name is Jesus yet! All they have to go on is his invitation and this cryptic phrase that they’re going to somehow fish for people. And so without any concrete sense of what lies ahead or where they will be led, they step out into this abyss of newness and change. I can’t imagine a more disorienting moment. I’m curious whether, an hour down the road, James turned to John or Peter turned to Andrew and said: “Brother, what in heck are we doing?”

Matthew has a purpose when he tells this story. And I think part of it is to remind his readers that the brothers’ disorienting beginning to their discipleship is indicative of the overall nature of discipleship. Being Jesus’ disciple has the potential to totally transform and change the shape of our lives–what we do with our lives, our relationship to family and friends and the various people and things we come to depend on. Being a disciple of Jesus and the kingdom he proclaims may just turn our lives upside down and call us away from everything familiar and secure.” This is just a little piece of Krista’s sermon. She agreed to send me the manuscript. Being the generous person she is, I’m sure she’d share it with you too.

What is your personal story of disoriented following? We all likely have many as we try to follow Jesus, and trust God’s loving care. We surely have them as congregations too. Often pastoral transition can be very disorienting for a congregation. It’s when congregations turn to the conference for leadership. It offers a great opportunity to live into the disorientation and grow by reconsidering current identity, context and mission.

Clearly we are in a disorienting time as a nation.  It offers the church the opportunity to differentiate itself from nationalism, patriotism, redemptive violence and consumerism that is often confused with American Christianity but has nothing to do with the gospel of Christ.

That Sunday at Alpha, Krista concluded her sermon by leading us into sharing the Lord’s Supper. Perhaps we need to more frequently rejoice in this gift that Jesus gave us. As we eat and drink may it prompt a powerful memory of his life; freely given for love of this beautiful but often disorienting world. May we live into these disorienting times, as individuals, and congregations so we may live courageously, oriented toward Christ’s kin-dom, coming on earth as it is in heaven.