Over and over again throughout this season of advent, I find myself looking at our Crèche (a model representing the scene of Jesus Christ’s birth), longing to place the Little One in the empty manger early — a symbol of hope. This has been a tumultuous year for many in our congregations, communities, nation and world. Some of us struggle with illness, finances, and relationships, while others are mourning the loss of a loved one. As a church, we long to belong and we long to get along. Just 15 minutes of the morning news highlights clips about political corruption, racism, assassinations, suicide bombings and other forms of violence in homes and neighborhoods. A quick scroll through Facebook reveals posts of sexual abuse, injustice, commercialism and a war in Syria that has left so many homeless and taken so many innocent lives, especially in the city of Aleppo.
Needless to say, it doesn’t surprise me that this advent season the typical advent and Christmas songs are not running through my head. Instead it is the song, “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen, a Jewish song writer, singer, and poet who passed away in November. There are many verses and versions to this song, but In “Hallelujah,” Cohen writes:
…Love is not a victory march
It’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah.
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah.
Maybe there’s a god above
All I ever learned from love
Was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you
And it’s not a cry you can hear at night
Not somebody who’s seen the light
It’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Amidst the cold and broken hallelujahs of this advent season comes my six-year-old with a painting she made. She asks to hang it behind the crèche — a symbol of hope. I am touched by her awareness, heart and imagination as she describes her art.
“This is a flower and this is Leonard Connan (Cohen). He is holding hands with a little girl from Aleppo. They are in heaven and they are singing ‘Hallelujah!’ But Mommy, their Hallelujah isn’t cold and broken anymore. It is warm and fixed!”
I hug her tight and whisper a prayer, “May it be so Little One. May it be so… ‘On Earth as it is in Heaven’.”
The Friday following the presidential election, leaders from Franconia Conference’s south Philadelphia churches asked for representatives from the conference to be present with them on the following Sunday for worship. Each of these congregations — Centro de Alabanza, Indonesian Light, Nations Worship Center, and Philadelphia Praise Center –have members who have immigrated to the United States. Some have been here for decades, others only a few months. Regardless of the length of time, there is a new sense of anxiety and fear following the recent elections. Many brothers and sisters in Christ no longer feel welcome, some fear for their safety, separation from family, and continue “praying so that God gives us the peace and wisdom to get through all of this situation.”
As representatives of Franconia Conference, Mary Nitzsche, the Franconia Conference Ministerial Committee Chair, and Jenifer Eriksen Morales, a Franconia Conference LEADership Minister, attended all four worship services to offer support and prayer. Some of the words they shared include:
We are here today on behalf of the sisters and brothers of Franconia Conference. We are here today to remind you that you are not alone. We are in this together. Our commitments to your congregation are un-wavered. We will walk through this time together…We are here with love, to recognize that you might be feeling particularly vulnerable. We do not have all the answers. We do have the words that the Bible repeatedly says, “to not be afraid.” We recognize that those words can seem hollow, without a real sense of support. We are here today to offer that support, to make sure that you know that you are loved. That the God who promises to not leave us is with us for sure. But that we are also in this time together. Your pastors and leaders have access to Conference staff for questions, for support. Other persons in Franconia Conference congregations have already begun to ask how they can support you in prayer and in other more tangible ways. In the meantime, we are committed to being part of the work that God has begun with us. We will seek the peace of the city, and of this land where God has sent us. We want to offer a prayer with you…that God might keep you in perfect peace.
Mary stated, “Our south Philly churches warmly welcomed us and offered generous hospitality. Appreciation was expressed in word, facial expression, and hugs for our presence and support. The worship was vibrant and hopeful even as fears for the future were expressed. I was reminded of our need for each other as Christ’s ambassadors of love, peace, and hope.”
“In spite of their feelings they worshiped with gusto and sincerity. Placing their hope and trust in Jesus, the King of Kings,” said Jenifer. “I was blessed by the opportunity to be a small beacon of hope to my brothers and sisters during this tumultuous and uncertain time.”
Pastor Aldo Siahaan, Philadelphia Praise Center, stated that their presence and words reminded him and his congregation that they are “part of a big family” and it made them feel cared for.
As this time of uncertainty moves forward, ways to express support can be through prayer, words of encouragement to the leadership of the congregations, visiting their worship times and taking part in activities the communities host. Become informed about immigration laws and offer a voice for our brothers and sisters with legislatures. Support New Sanctuary Movement and maybe even have your meetinghouse become a sanctuary.
“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself,” Leviticus 19:33-34a.
Jess McQuade, an Everyday Missionary, is a member of Souderton Mennonite Church, Vice President General Manager for Allebach Communications, wife to John, and mother of three active children. Jess lives according to the overly demanding schedule these roles require. Everyday Missionaries are those who intentionally live the Great Commission to make disciples in the context of their jobs, relationships, homes and ordinary life activities. In her missionary role, Jess ministers to young people by leading a weekly Bible Study in the Souderton Park for swim team members before their morning practice. Her story is inspiring and challenging.
The Souderton Swim Team is one of the many extra-curricular activities Jess’ children participate in. In addition to meets, the family practices 7-10 hours per week nearly year-round. Clearly Jess spends a lot of time at the pool! A few years ago, a friend recommended a book called “Don’t Waste your Sports” by C.J. Mahaney. Jess says it reminded her, “sports are a gift from God, and that we can either use them to glorify God (allowing God to be our focus and priority) or we can use them to try to bring glory to ourselves (not just as athletes, but also as parents of athletes). The Bible study was just one way I thought I could help my kids, and hopefully others, keep focusing on God and give Him the glory in their sports.”
So, two summers ago, Jess began to meet with a group of young swimmers in Souderton Park at 8:00 am, before practice, and before she needed to be at work. All swim team members are welcome to participate. The group does a short game or ice breaker activity, reads a testimony from a Christian athlete with a corresponding Bible passage and discusses what it means to them in everyday life and athletics. Each meeting ends with prayer requests and prayer. According to Jess, “There are always kids who offer to pray for someone else’s prayer request – that is the most awesome thing to hear!”
Not only is Jess nurturing young Jesus-followers through the Bible Study, but she is cultivating leadership. For example, Jess’ daughter and son lead prayer, pick out Bible studies they think would be relevant, and lead some of the games. Next year they are hoping to lead a study on their own. A young adult who grew up at Souderton Mennonite Church, Jessica Wimmer, is a coach on the swim team. She participated with the swimmers and led some of the morning Bible Studies. Jessica notes, “It was great having her involved as an example and motivator for the younger swimmers.”
As the group grows in relationship with Jesus, Jessica hopes the kids “support each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. These swimmers spend a lot of time together. Wouldn’t it be awesome if they could have an opportunity to share their faith, pray for one another, and encourage each other in their faith walk? I want to help them see that God gave them Christian brothers and sisters to walk along with them – they aren’t alone.” Jess aims to “help Christian kids do ‘church’ in their natural, day-to-day environment and not just on Sunday mornings. This is something I still struggle with as an adult. How do you bring your faith into your job, social functions, daily life, etc.? Here’s one way.”
Through this two-year experience in the everyday mission field, Jess has learned that God, “will give you what you need to be able to do what He is calling you to do. I am not a super mom – life is busy and I often live in a state of feeling completely overwhelmed. Adding even a small, simple thing like this Bible study to my plate could almost put me over the edge, but I really felt [God] calling me to do this and each week He gave me the resources and the strength to make it happen. I left each gathering feeling completely energized, blessed, and excited by what God had done in our brief time together.”
My 4-year-old daughter invited me to join her picnic, complete with plastic fruit. I looked at the stuffed animal guests, “Wow, you have very different friends. Aren’t you afraid the bear will eat the dogs or the dogs will eat the cats?” She patiently responded, “No Mommy. That is not going to happen because Jesus is with us.” She pointed to a doll wrapped in white lying on the edge of the picnic blanket. “See?”
What a prime example of hospitality according to Henri Nouwen’s definition, quoted in last week’s Intersectings. “Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place…”
My role as a LEADership minister offers me many opportunities to witness hospitality at its finest within Franconia Conference. Here are just a few ways in which congregations or members of congregations are “creating space.”
West Philadelphia Mennonite Fellowship is partnering with Redemption Housing to purchase a recovery home in West Philadelphia that is designed to encourage and support returning citizens. Not only are they collaborating in ministry with this organization, but the congregation will spend the next year preparing themselves to better understand, welcome and build relationships with citizens returning from prison to the broader community and congregation. This will happen through trainings, Sunday school studies, and guest speakers who will help them grow in understanding the prison system/mass incarceration, and intercultural competencies.
A year ago, a man in the Spring Mount congregation told me about multiple new neighbors who are Muslim. He asked me to recommend books he could read to learn more about this faith tradition. Recently, he returned a book I lent him and told me about his on-going learning about Islam and the comfortable friendships he is forming with his neighbors from Pakistan, Egypt and Bangladesh.
Souderton Mennonite Church recently turned an extra Sunday school room into a warm, living room-type space where parents can retreat and connect with each other. I spent some Wednesday evening club nights there drinking coffee and visiting with others. I was able to get to know a woman from the Congo. Thanks to the provided space, our family has new friends.
Plains Mennonite Church has a beautiful park which often serves as space for people to connect. Members of the congregation hang out at the park to have conversation and build relationships with neighbors who gather there for basketball, soccer, disc golf, or just to play at the playground. One member of the congregation carries dog treats in his pocket and takes a couple minutes to greet people and their pets. This summer the congregation is hosting Art in the Park. They will hold concerts, movies, and line dancing. This July, a simple meal will be served each week in the pavilion followed by an art of living class on different topics such as gardening, or cooking/preserving in season foods. This is all free and open to the community. The goal is for all to feel welcomed and comfortable, including those with special needs. To prepare for this time, the congregation will devote June Sunday school classes to raising sensitivity and awareness and learning how to embrace and reach out to the special needs community.
5 years ago, the Perkasie congregation received a Franconia Conference grant to aid in their endeavor to create a safe place for people from the community to gather with faith-related questions or to talk about different ways of understanding the Bible. The friendships formed there have been lasting. This group of people still meet and are currently studying Phyllis Tickle’s video series around the theme of Emergent Christianity.
I could write pages about the different ways I see congregations and individuals intentionally creating space where strangers can come together. As followers and worshipers of Jesus, we live in Jesus’ promise to be with us always. The space we create in the name of Jesus, where lives and love are shared and transformed is ordinary and sacred. Because Jesus is with us. See?
Jenifer Eriksen Morales is Minister of Transitional Ministries and a LEADership Minister for eleven congregations in Franconia Conference.
“Mom, check this out!” My son called me to share his interest in a TV show. The host, Jeremy Wade, was underwater, speaking through scuba gear, right next to a giant crocodile! He explained approaching a crocodile from above, below or directly in front, can be quite deadly as one may be mistaken as a threat or prey. However, when one approaches a crocodile in cool water from the side or back, imitating them by crawling slowly along the sandy riverbed, “I can get quite close to it,” Wade stated as he reached out and touched the crocodile who didn’t even flinch. (Don’t try this!) He went on to say as a result of this encounter he felt safer in the water. He went on to comment that to learn about Tiger Fish, it is better to use a crocodilian rather than human perspective. He then floated next to the croc, narrating as the camera panned. He drew attention to the plants, critters, light and shadows allowing the world to be observed from the vantage point of a crocodile. I was flabbergasted; Wade wasn’t studying crocs, he was learning about Tiger Fish from crocodiles! What he was doing was counterintuitive, courageous, and exciting!
I was reminded of a conversation I had with Mike Derstine, Pastor at Plains, that morning. Over coffee, Mike shared his learnings about counterintuitive solidarity from a recent Webinar entitled “Neo-Anabaptism and Anablacktivism” offered by AMBS and facilitated by Drew Hart and Greg Boyd.
Mike shared his learnings so enthusiastically I was compelled to do a little research. Hart writes in his blog, “White intuition and experience (limited by homogeneous networks) is signifying one thing while black experience is claiming an alternative reality. What are people who participate in dominant society to do when their intuition and experience contradict the experiences of oppressed people?” Hart goes on to call for counterintuitive solidarity, by “trusting the historically marginalized and oppressed perception above one’s own… Jesus’ own solidarity performance is a call to discipleship and imitation as a way of being in the world. It is the cure for privileged blinders that leaves people’s own vision impaired and unreliable. The Spirit is pulling all of us to see things “from below” because that is where God has chosen to move, work, and transform the world (1 Cor. 1:18-31).”
While Drew’s blog focuses on racism in the United States, clearly his point is relevant in other contexts where people are marginalized and oppressed. In the statement, “Going to the Margins, Kingdom Mission Strategy,” adopted by Franconia Conference’s delegate body this fall, “We advocate that Franconia Conference be intentional about identifying those on the margins of our churches and society, and provide resources for the work of mutual transformation according to the good news of Jesus Christ. “ I imagine, if we as a conference, as organizations, as congregations, and as individuals are to take this statement seriously, the dominant culture will need to learn the art of counterintuitive solidarity. We must find ways to create space to get up close and personal, listen well and trust the perception of “the other” enough to begin to see from their vantage point.
The Perkasie congregation is doing this through a 6 week Sunday school study, “Returning Veterans, Returning Hope,” a curriculum provided by Mennonite Central Committee. As part of this, a veteran will come and share his story with the congregation. Pastor, Wayne Nitzsche comments, “The Perkasie congregation solidly identifies as a Peace church.” They wonder what it may mean to be welcoming and inclusive of veterans, to journey with them, and by modeling Jesus share his love, healing and hope. Pastor Wayne also wonders, “What are we willing to learn from Veterans? How do we listen to their story deep enough to see what we can learn from them about courage, and loyalty and discipline? Veterans have something to offer us, if we are willing to listen.”
As we go through the steps of identifying and listening to those who have been marginalized, partnering locally and globally, sharing the gospel and planting churches, how might the Holy Spirit be inviting us to explore beyond our patterns, stereotypes and intuition in order to develop alternate ways of seeing and experiencing reality. What might we learn from another’s point of view?
A pretty marvelous thing happens around this time of the year: It snows, and cabin fever-weary neighbors find each other on the sidewalks and streets, shovels in hand. They talk together and share a common battle with the elements. They laugh, and play with the kids and the dogs in the snow. But then the snow goes away (yes, it always does) and everyone gets back to their isolated, hustle-bustle routines.
After about a year of living in a new neighborhood, Jenifer Eriksen Morales, Franconia Conference LEADership minister and minister of transitional ministries, realized that she really didn’t know her neighbors. She tried prayer walking. Occasionally she would deliberately stop and talk with people. Then she decided to invite some of the women with young children for coffee once a week. It was quickly dubbed “coffee and chaos.”
Always curious about how other people experience God, Jenifer began to gently ask questions. She discovered that most of her neighbors were unchurched. She began to watch for kairos moments—when God’s time meets our time and the Holy Spirit moves. “So, where do you see God in the chaos of your life?” she asked. Now when coffee and chaos meets, women often start conversations with, “I had a Kairos moment!”
People continued to come to for coffee and chaos. They started a book club, using mostly secular titles, but always sharing requests and simple prayers together. Souderton Mennonite Church provided child care so the meetings were not quite so, well, chaotic.
As people learned to know each other, they began to host gatherings for the whole neighborhood. They celebrate Tres Reyes (Three Kings Day) on January 6 with rosca, a special sweet bread cake that has a baby Jesus hidden in it. Other events include a salad party and a summer solstice ice cream party. Each event has a faith aspect built into it.
One of Jenifer’s favorite celebrations is the back-to-school barbeque. Every household in the neighborhood, whether they have school-age children or not, is invited to eat and play yard games. During the meal, the adults write blessings for the children and youth, and post them on the garage door. At the end of the meal, the blessings are read, and they pray together. “We want the children to understand that we love all of them, Jesus is with them, and that they can come to us anytime,” Jenifer explains.
More recently, a small group, who named itself Kairos Community, has begun meeting for worship twice a month in Jenifer’s home on Sunday evenings. They tell a story from the Bible in a way that adults and children can understand. They talk about how this scripture is meaningful/relevant to their lives, share prayer requests, pray together, and enjoy a simple soup meal.
“It’s exciting to journey with people at various stages in their journeys with Jesus,” says Jenifer. “I’m inspired by what I learn from them. People who wouldn’t be friends under normal circumstances are learning to care for each other.”
As one neighbor told a friend, “Things have changed around here for the better.”
Leadership is emerging from among the neighbors. Some of the women have worked with Jenifer to co-lead presentations for churches that are interested in starting similar ministries in their neighborhoods. One of the men has a vision for a soccer ministry with children. Their experience has been featured on Fresh Expressions, a ministry in the United Kingdom that “seeks to transform communities and individuals through championing and resourcing new ways of being church.”
Interested to learn more about reaching out to in your neighbors with the love of Jesus? Jenifer’s neighbors would be happy to encourage you. Bring coffee, join the chaos, and watch for the God moments.
Sharon K. Williams is a musician, editor and congregational/non-profit consultant. She serves the Lord with the Nueva Vida Norristown New Life congregation as minister of worship.
What comes to mind when you imagine Franconia Conference LEADership ministers and the work they do? You may be surprised to know that the new conference office at Christopher Dock Mennonite High School is probably not the place to find them, although a phone call there will certainly get you connected.
Steve Kriss, Jenifer Eriksen Morales, Aldo Siahaan, John Bender, Noel Santiago, and Ertell Whigham are always on the go. Each one connects with anywhere from three to 12 congregations in Vermont, northern Pennsylvania, the Lehigh Valley, southeastern Pennsylvania, and Georgia. They give much time and energy to congregations in transition and emerging congregations. An estimated 50 percent of conference congregations are in the midst of transition and/or growth.
Pastoral leadership is a common transition. Some congregations choose to work with an intentional interim pastor who stands in the gap and prepares the congregation to receive a new pastor. The LEAD ministers provide guidance for both search processes, and support elders and lay leaders in managing the congregation’s current and future priorities.
Jenifer Eriksen Morales, minister of transitional ministries, also works with other Mennonite Church USA (MCUSA) conferences on the east coast to train intentional interim pastors, and serves on the MCUSA task force for interim pastoral ministries.
Emerging and growing congregations are another focus. These congregations are high maintenance, but in a very good way. LEAD ministers help to address staffing needs, work with pastors who are new to the Anabaptist faith, and build relationships—in essence, anything that propels the missional vision forward.
The work of the LEAD ministers sometimes crisscrosses when their congregations work together. The Lehigh Valley youth ministry partnership is shared by the Whitehall, Ripple and Vietnamese Gospel congregations and led by Danilo Sanchez. Vietnamese Gospel Church in Allentown and Philadelphia Praise Center are partnering in a joint worship and outreach ministry with the Vietnamese community in south Philly. The LEAD ministers must also nurture their relationships with each other so their collaborations are fluid and fruitful.
Last summer, Aldo Siahaan and Steve Kriss received a “Macedonia call” (Acts 16:9-10). Could they meet with a Mara (Burmese) church during their visit with Georgia Praise Center leaders? This congregation in Atlanta is part of a network of Mara churches in Indianapolis, Indiana, Baltimore, Maryland, and Charlotte, North Carolina. The network is reaching out to Mennonite conferences on the east coast for assistance in establishing pastoral leadership. The exploratory relationship has many possibilities.
“As an immigrant pastor myself, it’s exciting to walk with the Mara Christians, to see them reach their destiny as a people, a church in this country,” says Aldo. “If they choose to join Mennonite Church USA, how will we receive each other and grow in ministry together?”
Each LEAD minister offers her or his unique gifts to their congregations. Noel enjoys helping pastors, elders and lay leaders experience the values and practices of intercessory prayer. Jenifer weaves in a missional focus with unchurched neighbors, adapted from the Kairos in Chaos ministry she’s involved with in Souderton. Aldo enjoys a natural affinity with the Mara church through their similar languages of Indonesian and Malay. Steve and Ertell always bring best practices of intercultural competencies to the mix.
Looking for your congregation’s LEAD minister? She or he may be in a meeting, consulting with pastors or elders in a coffee shop, or in a car on the way to your church.
Sharon K. Williams is a musician, editor and congregational/non-profit consultant. She serves the Lord with the Nueva Vida Norristown New Life congregation as the minister of worship.
Jesus’ parting words to his disciples were to “Go… and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).
Over the centuries, the church has worked at making disciples in a variety of ways, with Sunday school being a significant model since the late 1700s. How best can we communicate the Good News of God’s love to our children and youth in this day and age?
On Tuesday, August 12, from 7-9 p.m., there will be an opportunity for Sunday school teachers and others involved in Christian education and formation, in its various formats, to come together, to connect and encourage each other, and to share ideas and teaching tips as they work at sharing the Christian faith with upcoming generations. It will also be an excellent opportunity for those with less experience to learn from others.
Co-planner and Eastern District Conference Resource Advocate Marjorie Geissinger says, “It has been many years since we have sponsored a teacher training event for congregations from both Eastern District and Franconia Conferences. Smaller congregations often lack the personnel and resources for doing in-house training; this will be an opportunity for those attending from large and small congregations alike to benefit from the presenters as well as each other.”
The event, sponsored by the School for Leadership Formation of Franconia and Eastern District Conferences, will be held at Perkiomenville Mennonite Church, 1836 Gravel Pike, Perkiomenville, Pennsylvania. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. for attendees to “browse and buy” MennoMedia resources, many of which will be available at a 20 percent discount. (Cash, check or credit cards will be accepted.)
Following a brief time of gathering and worship, attendees can engage in a sample lesson for the age group of their choice followed by time for conversation, questions, and sharing. Teachers will use MennoMedia’s new “Shine” Sunday school curriculum as the basis for these lessons, but it will also be a time to connect and learn.
“Building relationships across congregations for ministry and mission is a current priority for Franconia Conference,” says Jenifer Eriksen Morales, a LEADership minister and Franconia’s resource advocate. “I hope this gathering will be one opportunity to build bridges between Christian Education teachers and leaders across our congregations so they can share ideas and learn from one another. Questions that emerge may help shape a future resourcing event.”
Many Christian congregations commemorate the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday, and three Franconia Conference congregations in particular acknowledged the Spirit’s movement through the credentialing of leaders for ministry.
On June 8, all occurring in southeastern Pennsylvania, Donna Merow was ordained and Danilo Sanchez and Phil Bergey were licensed for ministry. Their credentialing brings the number of credentialed leaders in the conference to approximately 160 men and women serving in at least seven states and four countries.
Merow was ordained for pastoral ministry at the Ambler congregation, where she has pastored for more than four years. LEAD minister Jenifer Eriksen Morales led Merow’s credentialing. Merow chose to be ordained on Pentecost Sunday after discovering she was confirmed in the United Methodist church on Pentecost 40 years prior.
“The 40-year journey from one public confession of faith to another,” Merow said, “has been a significant one for me — including marriage and becoming a mother and grandmother, completing college and graduate work, worshipping in multiple traditions other than the one in which I grew up, and facing the challenges of breast cancer and kidney disease.”
Merow was only 12 when the possibility of religious vocation was first suggested to her. Between now and then, she “worked at a church camp, dropped out of college, cared for blind students, got married, and raised two daughters.” She has also been an active participant in churches from several denominations: Methodist, Baptist, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, and Mennonite.
She described her credentialing ceremony as “an outward acknowledgement of an inward change in identity as I became a pastor in the process of practicing pastoral care.”
Sanchez was licensed for youth ministry among multiple Anabaptist congregations in and around Allentown. LEAD minister Steve Kriss led the credentialing. Sanchez is primarily working with Whitehall and Ripple, both Franconia congregations, by leading music or teaching children, but is also working alongside Karen Fellowship (independent), Iglesia Menonita Evangelica Restoracion (Lancaster Conference), Christ Fellowship (Eastern District Conference), and Vietnamese Gospel (Franconia Conference).
Sanchez said his licensing felt like an important personal and professional step because many people and institutions, including Franconia Conference and Whitehall, “are recognizing my gifts and willing to walk alongside me as a pastor.” Sanchez, grew up in the Boyertown congregation and has interned with both Souderton congregation and Philadelphia Praise Center while a student at Eastern University. He graduated from Eastern Mennonite Seminary last year with a Master of Divinity degree.
“I finally feel like a pastor,” he said. “I am so honored that God has called me to be a leader. I’m thankful for the ways that Whitehall and Ripple will shape me into the leader God has called me to be.”
Bergey was licensed as interim lead pastor of the Blooming Glen congregation, where he has been a member for about 20 years. Ertell Whigham, executive minister of Franconia Conference, led the credentialing. Bergey is former conference executive of Franconia Mennonite Conference.
In the wake of Firman Gingerich’s resignation as Blooming Glen’s lead pastor, the congregation’s board invited Bergey to assume a part-time interim lead pastorate. The congregation is searching for a long-term pastor.
Bergey preached the morning of his licensing, focusing on the story of Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 12. He framed the commencement of his pastoral leadership and the pastoral search processes not as the beginning of a journey but the continuation of a journey. That journey, he said, includes the history of the Blooming Glen congregation, the Anabaptist tradition, and the Christian church, going all the way back to Abraham and Sarah.
Bergey said: “Blooming Glen, like other congregations, has been through pastoral transitions before; it is simply part of a congregation’s life together. And pastoral transitions are especially true for a congregation that is approaching 300 years of age.”
In an instant, my resin flocked Koala bear figurine was transformed: accidently knocked off my dresser and crushed beneath my cousin’s feet while we played.
Tearfully, I scooped up the pieces and brought them to my Pop Pop. He gave me a hug. “I can’t fix this, Jen. The pieces are too small. Look—some have turned to dust.”
I cried louder. Pop took pity. “I’ll fix it.”
Comforted, I waited expectantly for the return of my Koala…at first. But in typical kid-manner, before long I forgot about it.
A month or so later, my grandparents came to visit and I was surprised when Pop Pop handed me my transformed Koala. The poor Koala was in one piece but it most definitely was not the figurine it used to be: it was patched together and disfigured, the hardened and lumpy putty patching my grandfather made was not a perfect color match, and there was no velvety flocking where the patches were. I pray my disappointment did not show in my face as I politely said, “thank you,” and took the Koala to my room.
Later that day I overheard my grandma talking to my mom. “He stayed up for nights sweating bullets over that crazy bear,” she said. I was instantly both humbled and excited to realize that Pop Pop would sweat and lose sleep just for me.
The Koala was once again transformed into one of my most beloved possessions. I was transformed too. My Pop Pop’s sweat worked like streams in the desert of my life. He kept his promise and did his best for me, even when I didn’t really care. I knew that I was loved.
I love the season of advent when we look forward to Christmas, celebrating Christ’s first coming and reminding ourselves that Christ is coming again—indeed He comes to us continually. With Isaiah, I am filled with vision and hope as I anticipate the blooming of the desert, the strengthening of the weak, and the everlasting joy and gladness that will come to God’s people as they travel on “The Holy Way” (chapter 35). Oh, what transformation the people of Israel hoped for and oh, what transformation is to come!
At the same time, we live in a world experiencing constant transformation. Sometimes transformation is expected and welcomed. We watch it unfold like spring or healing after a long illness: the blooming of the desert. Other times we watch with horror as transformation comes, like when hurricane Haiyan stormed through the Philippines. In the aftermath of such tragedy or injustice, there are times when we, like Nelson Mandela, are challenged to notice and work toward transformation. I once heard someone say, “It’s wonderful to watch a miracle unfold, but it’s even better to help a miracle unfold.”
Mary and Elizabeth helped their miracles unfold. As I live in the “already and not yet” of this advent season, I am inspired by the gospel of Luke’s portrayal of these miracle-bearing cousins. Though I am sure their lives were not easy, the courage and faith of Mary and Elizabeth remind me that I am humbled and called and blessed to participate in the already and not yet plan of God. With Isaiah, Mary, and Elizabeth, I look forward to the transformation promised in fulfillment of what was spoken by the Lord. I also wonder how God might be calling me and others in Franconia Conference to participate in the miracle of transformation in our relationships, community, or world.
I pray I will not get so caught up in the busy-ness of life that I forget to keep my baptismal promise as Christ’s disciple to convey the life and love of Jesus—Immanuel, God with us. May I, like my Pop Pop, help the miracle of transformation unfold by sharing God’s love in simple and practical ways with hearts that may not even be fully aware they are waiting.