Tag Archives: Going to the Margins

Staff Meeting Heads to the Margins of Vermont

By John Stoltzfus, Conference Youth Minister

As part of our ongoing practice of going to the “margins,” a contingent of Franconia Conference staff traveled to Vermont last week for a 48 hour working retreat. Of course, going to the margins can be a relative statement depending on where one places the center. Perhaps, going to the margins can actually help re-center us in the saving work of God in this world. By locating ourselves physically in other people’s spaces we are re-placed and invited to see how the Spirit is present and active in communities and people beyond our own.

Our short time in Vermont included many opportunities for centering ourselves in God’s good work in the beautiful hills and valleys of Vermont. For our first meal, we received generous hospitality and delicious food around the table at the home of Gwen Groff, a Franconia Conference Board Member, who is pastor at Bethany Mennonite Church in Bridgewater, Vermont.

The following morning, our first in Vermont, Steve McCloskey who is the new pastor at Taftsville Chapel Mennonite Fellowship led our group in devotions. We were invited to consider our calling in ministry and how we are sustained in that calling. Later we visited Taftsville Chapel, getting a glimpse of the solar panels installed last year on the church roof.

We also heard from Joe Paparone who is an organizer with the Labor-Religion Coalition of New York State, and the advocacy coordinator with the FOCUS Churches of Albany (NY). Over the past several years he has connected with Bethany Mennonite Church through his work in Albany, including leading a book study for the congregation over video conference. He led the Franconia Staff in a helpful training on Community Organizing Principles for pastoral ministry and the church.

Hearing the stories of call for Joe, Steve and Gwen and learning more about the mission and ministries of their respective communities was an encouraging and hopeful witness of God’s renewing and creative work in our church and world. These communities have many gifts to offer to the broader conference and church.

Of course Vermont has other “gifts” to offer such as cheese, maple syrup and beautiful scenery. Our retreat included a visit to the Sugarbush Cheese and Maple Farm for a delightful cheese and maple syrup tasting and we enjoyed an invigorating walk down the Quechee Gorge.

Jesus’ life and witness consistently re-centered the focus on God’s activity in the world. Henri Nouwen made the observation that “those who are marginal in the world are central in the Church.” How can we as a conference continue to receive the gifts and witness of the Spirit’s presence and activity by those at the “margins”?

See the photo gallery on the Franconia Conference Facebook page.

An Update on An Experiment in Going to the Margins

By Stephen Kriss

“The first duty of love is to listen.”—Paul Tillich

As part of our practices in this summer space in between, we’ve taken our conference staff meetings “to the margins”, which so far has meant meeting at Doylestown and Alpha congregations for an afternoon to eat, pray and learn alongside the pastors who work in those settings before engaging our regular conference staff agendas.   We’ll go to Quakertown to learn about the work of Salem congregation’s engagement with partners and neighbors yet for our last of these meetings later this month.

doylestown
Doylestown Mennonite Church

These going to the margins meetings have felt like holy disruptions of our routine.   We’ve received the gracious hospitality of Krista at Alpha, and Randy, KrisAnne and Sandy at Doylestown.  We’ve had great ice cream and burritos.   We’ve learned by listening to both the possibilities and struggles for ministry and life in one of the wealthiest communities in Bucks County, as well as what it feels like to work and hope just across the Delaware River.

Alpha Mennonite Church
Alpha Mennonite Church

I’m noticing some things that have been happening through our experiment.   Some of these things might encourage our continued journey of “going to the margins” for the sake of the Good News.   This is a small disruption, a monthly afternoon staff meeting.   But breaking our routines invigorates our conversations and builds our relationships together, differently.  We carpool.   We talk differently and about different things because we are in different spaces.  In navigating the logistics of simply going to a different location, we think differently rather than simply showing up in the same place.  Our two meetings at the margins have been times when we’ve been highly engaged with one another, even when dealing with routine tasks and procedures (seriously).   I look forward to what we’ll learn later this month.  A few staff members have asked if we can continue this kind of meeting alongside congregations’ into the future.

Admittedly, it does cost us some extra time and mileage resources to get to these places, which I’d say is well worth the effort thus far.   By eating together, we create a different rhythm of gathering that opens conversation differently.   By listening and praying with the pastors in their settings, we’ve had opportunities to both bless and to learn.   In going to the margins, we find what happens when we respond to Jesus’s declaration to go and then the transformation that happens when we listen to each other and in the midst, to sense the presence of God and discover our hearts are still strangely warmed together on the way in this time in between.

Staff Update: The Space In Between

by Stephen Kriss

We are three weeks into Executive Minister Ertell Whigham’s three month sabbatical.   In the meantime, I’m serving as acting executive minister, which so far has meant attending to both more details and broader issues and possibilities for our community of faith together.   These months will continue to provide opportunities for staff growth and engagement in new ways.   Our conference youth minister, John Stoltzfus, is also on sabbatical, which makes the staff lean and busy for the summer.

In Mennonite Church USA, our conference currently has the most advertised pastoral openings.  We are searching for diverse leaders from Taftsville in Vermont to South Philly to serve among our congregations.   With about a dozen pastoral openings across our Conference, this is a significant time of transition and focused work.  Pastoral transitions are high priorities for LEADership Minister engagement to help keep our congregations healthy and growing.

conference assembly 2015 175This summer we, the staff, begin “Going to the Margins” staff meetings which will mean the Conference office will be closed the last Wednesday of July, August, and September in the afternoons as staff engage with our congregational communities.  Our first “Going to the Margins” staff meeting will be with Doylestown Mennonite next week where we’ll engage with pastors and spend time learning there.  I look forward to each of these three afternoon times out together.

Franconia Conference is about conferring.  There are frequent meetings and there is much planning happening for meetings coming up this fall.  Office staff work hard to ensure that we are ready to gather together in ways that are meaningful and that information flows in a timely and efficient way.  We’re in process of planning for our annual assembly and continue to work to update our pastoral credentialing records.

There is much to do.  We have many good stories to tell.   We continue to work and to hope.  I invite you to join together in prayer for the conference, staff, board and everyone across our almost 7000 people conference community as together we strive to “live a life worthy of our calling.”