In a time of significant changes with youth ministry staffing and high school age youth demographics, last month Franconia Conference began a Youth Ministry Review/Visioning taskforce. The Taskforce will be working on a six month process reflecting on our Conference’s youth ministry initiatives. The members were by the Conference Board to review past and present youth ministry staffing and work at setting a vision for Conference youth ministry in the near future.
Taskforce members include Mary Keller (Zion/Eastern District representative), Jim King (Plains/Conference Board representative), Joe Hackman (Salford, facilitator), Brooke Martin (Franconia), Danilo Sanchez (Ripple/Whitehall) and Adrian Suryajaya (Philadelphia Praise Center). The diverse team seeks to understand current and emerging needs for congregations and youth across our conference community.
“I am glad to do this work because the youth are the future of our Church (as in the whole Christian body, not just denomination),” said Adrian. “We need to cultivate and guide them to fulfill the purpose of the Church in the future.”
In a time of changing demographics and priorities, the review and visioning process gives space to appreciate what past and current work while imagining upcoming possibilities and challenges.
Phil and Betsy Moyer of Salford Mennonite Church attended an event in 2002 at the Indian Valley Public Library where they befriended Bachir and Salma Soueidan. The Soueidan’s have been residents of Harleysville since 1962, after moving to the area from Lebanon. Being of the Muslim faith they found a void where once they had a sense of community. Yet through their friendship with the Moyers the Soueidan’s, have found a sense of home at Salford Mennonite Church. The church has provided them with a “refuge”, as Mr. Soueidan calls it. At the same time the Soueidans have helped the church achieve its goal of assisting refugees in resettlement. Both the Soueidan’s and Salford have found themselves learning from one another as they experience a true love for their neighbors. Read more about their friendship and the impact it is having here: http://www.montgomerynews.com/articles/2016/09/21/souderton_independent/news/doc57e3044d3a85f133876416.txt?viewmode=fullstory .
Following the terrorist attacks in Paris, France in November, and in San Bernardino, California in December, many have struggled with the question of how we should relate to our Muslim neighbors. Tensions have remained high, exacerbated by the election season, and the answer to this question has reared its head in the form of some ugly anti-Islamic sentiment, including harassment and acts of vandalism against mosques in the Philadelphia area and around the country. Several congregations in Franconia Conference have asked this question in a different way: How can we relate to our Muslim neighbors in a way that is Christ-like?
Philadelphia Praise Center (PPC) is one congregation that has a long history of interacting with its surrounding Muslim community. Shortly after PPC was first started in 2006, Pastor Aldo Siahaan, himself an immigrant from Indonesia, reached out to the Imam of a group of Indonesian Muslims and offered them the use of the church building for evening prayers during Ramadan. They didn’t accept his invitation that year, but called back the following year and asked to use the space, beginning a longstanding friendship between PPC and what is now Masjid Al Falah.
Lindy Backues, an elder at PPC, joined the church when he and his family were deported from Indonesia after living there for 18 years. “I’ve been ‘sent home’. I know what that feels like,” he says in response to national comments against Muslim immigrants. “I don’t want to send Muslims ‘home’. They’re my friends. So at PPC, we’re trying to be different—to reach out to visitors and guests and the sojourner in our midst. In the process of receiving the other, we become who we are, because God received us when we were the other.”
Salford Mennonite Church also has a longstanding relationship with its Muslim neighbors which began when Salford reached out to them in friendship after the events of 9/11. Out of that gesture began a close relationship with a family from Lebanon who lives nearby. And in turn, that family has walked alongside and assisted Salford as it has resettled Muslim refugees from Iraq and Iran.
After recent Islamophobic rhetoric hit national news, Salford contacted the Imam of North Penn Mosque. “We had a meeting to express that as Christians we desire to have a relationship with him and his community,” says Joe Hackman, Lead Pastor. “We want to let them know that we’re there for them to offer support in whatever form they might need. As Anabaptists, we know what it is to be persecuted because of our faith. So it makes sense that we would want to protect other religious minorities who are experiencing persecution.”
For Doylestown Mennonite Church, which has recently become a co-sponsor for a Muslim refugee family from Afghanistan, the decision to reach out was simply an act of love, says KrisAnne Swartley, Minister for the Missional Journey. “This is just a way for us to live out faithfulness to Jesus.”
The Bible is full of verses regarding loving our neighbors. In Mark 12 as Jesus is questioned by the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem they ask what the greatest commandment is, to which Jesus answers in verse 30-31, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” It is great to see Franconia Conference churches living their faith by loving their neighbors.
Esther Good is a member at Whitehall Mennonite Church.
By Steve Kriss, Director of Leadership Cultivation & Congregational Resourcing
The year 2015 has been a year of ordinations in Franconia Conference. We’ve been celebrating and marking commitments and calling nearly every six weeks . . . Mike Ford at Blooming Glen, Joe Hackman at Salford, Donna Merow at Ambler, Angela Moyer at Ripple, Kris Wint at Finland, Josh Meyer at Franconia, Samantha Lioi at Whitehall and Ubaldo Rodriguez at New Hope Fellowship in Baltimore for mission work in the Philippines.
Ordination is an ancient process of setting apart leaders for public ministry in the way of Jesus. Within Franconia Conference, we follow a set of procedures that seek to honor both the individual and the community while respecting the work of the Spirit within both settings. There is coursework for completion, interviews, paperwork that intends to keep our communities both safe and accountable, mental wellness assessments, varieties of continuing education and varying levels of mentoring. Some of our pastors breeze through the process at a steady and assured pace in the two year minimum waiting and working period of licensing. Others take much longer to plumb the depths of call both personally and communally and to wrestle it out. Personal disclosure, it took me six years of working, waiting and wondering in Allegheny Conference before I could wrap my head around the commitments and calling that ordination entails.
We take this process seriously yet the days of ordination have a more celebratory tone. There are few times in our lives when we make commitments that will shape our life like ordination. In front of a gathered congregation at the request and affirmation of a particular Christian community, we make commitments to serve, lead, pray, study, turn from evil and live into the role of Christian leadership as long as God sustains.
Many of us wrestle with the meaning of ordination. I’ve found this human and historic process of calling, recognizing, working and wrestling and receiving becomes quite holy. Somewhere in the wrestling and symbols, the questions and the mundane of the paperwork, the Spirit unfailingly shows up.
In this flurry of ordinations in the midst of a turbulent time, I am confident that the Spirit is still at work with us, trying to bring life. Each person who says yes to the invitation of God and the community strengthens the possibilities of future “yes” responses into the next generation. This round of ordinations represents our first millennial generation ordained ministers, our first Italian American woman, our first ordination for mission work in the Philippines. We’ve called at some of our most historic congregations and our newest. The churches are rural, suburban and urban. We’re recognizing the sons and daughters of historic Franconia Conference families, as well as persons who were drawn to Mennonite congregations by conviction, relationships and call. We’ve held events in Episcopal and Lutheran facilities and even at a Lancaster Conference church in Baltimore. (Interesting side note, a Lancaster Conference African congregation recently used the Towamencin meetinghouse for an ordination worship).
It’s definitely a different time. The ordination process isn’t what it used to be. There’s no somber ceremony with Bibles or hymnals and a slip of paper as in Mennonite history. But the holy moments remain, those wonderful spaces where community and Spirit commingle to cultivate surprising invitations toward ordination and wonderfully amazing continued responses of “yes I am willing.” Every time we ordain, it’s a sign that the church will go on. And in these days of turbulence and questions both in the church and in the culture around us, every yes somehow feels miraculous. And I’m grateful to get to witness it as the Good News still breaks upon us. . . this year about every six weeks.
On a Sunday several weeks ago, my family and I had several neighbors over to a “goodbye party” for our next door neighbor John, who had decided to move to an apartment closer to his son’s family after suffering the sudden loss of his wife in October. As we gathered together, we ate hoagies and Tandy cakes, and had pleasant conversation about what was happening in our neighborhood and in our lives. At 4 p.m., we awkwardly hurried the neighbors out the door to make room for our small group from church. For a few minutes, our neighbors and our small group shared the same space, one group cleaning up and moving out and the other group waiting for a space to move in and sit.
What struck me about these two gatherings is how similar the conversations were in the two groups. There were neighbors suffering from struggles in professional and personal relationships. Church members maxed out by frenetic schedules. Everyone in need of supportive community.
In thinking about supportive communities, a press release I read several weeks ago following the MCUSA’s Executive Board meeting came to mind. Buried at the end were several sentences about the EB counseling staff to include a new overarching priority within The Purposeful Plan that emphasizes a commitment to outreach, evangelism and church revitalization. The EB recognizes that many congregations are struggling with identity and many Mennonites are not comfortable with evangelism, and so the board urged staff to give greater time and energy to these initiatives. Reading about this new priority raised both excitement and anxiety.
I thought back to something I heard Andre Gingerich Stoner, Mennonite Church USA interchurch relations coordinator, say at one of the recent conventions: Mennonites tend to love service, flirt with peace and are allergic to evangelism. I think this description mostly fits my orientation to faith, as well as many in my congregation.
In my neighborhood, people identify as Muslim, Hindu, nominal Catholics, and others claim no faith at all. They know I’m a pastor, and especially with those who have negative perceptions of church, I don’t want them to associate my family or Mennonites with strong armed evangelism. I notice in conversations with these neighbors how sensitive and deliberate I am in talking about my experience of Christian faith. On Sunday, even though the stories my neighbors and small group shared were not all that different, the way in which I shared my own was.
This summer the delegate assembly will discuss a resolution on forbearance, an attempt for the church to remain united in the midst of our disagreements. I confess my spirit is fatigued by the seemingly never ending discussion on LGBTQ inclusion. There are days when I’m not sure I want to be in relationship with people who don’t have the same views as me. Yet, I don’t believe division is our destiny. Forbearance is more than a solution for how we can live together in this difficult season of the church. It can be a signal to our world that we believe the church does not only exist for those who are already a part of it, but for those who are yet to come. It can be a statement that rather than being driven by asking who is most right, we are driven by a vision of creating a community where people of all nations, backgrounds, and beliefs are baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. It can be a statement that difference and diversity is blessing in Christian community, rather than a curse.
Whether it’s with my neighbors or small group, most people are not looking for community that is consumed by the quest to be right, but rather one that cares deeply about one another, even when it’s difficult. Division is to follow the “course of this world” as Paul puts it in Ephesians 2. Neither my neighbors nor my small group need further polarization and divisiveness in their lives. Our families and communities are divided enough already.
I support forbearance, not because I doubt or want to compromise my own conviction, but because my neighbors are just like you and me. They experience all the joys and hardship that life brings. Just like you and me, they deserve to be invited into the healing power of transformative Christian communities that give people the opportunity to experience faith, hope, and love.
If all across our denomination we would make it a priority of inviting people to be part of our communities of faith, hope, and love, perhaps we too would remember the potential for the uniting love of the church that’s been there all along.
Joseph Hackman is lead pastor at Salford Mennonite Church and lives in Harleysville, PA.
This week, we are sharing several reflections from participants on the October 2014 “Come and See” tour to Israel and Palestine. The tour is part of a broader initiative by Mennonite Church USA which encourages Mennonite pastors and leaders to travel to the region, to “come and see” what daily life is like for those who live there.
Our group of 12 pastors and leaders–from Atlantic Coast, Eastern District and Franconia Mennonite Conferences–traveled to the West Bank town of Bethlehem, having intellectually prepared ourselves by reading the history of and various perspectives on the Israel-Palestine conflict. We weren’t prepared for our encounter with the hard realities of life in this country that would shake our hope in humanity and reshape our worldview.
One day, we were taken to a shrinking, dusty Palestinian village that sat in the shadow of a recently-built Israeli settlement. Our guide showed us the farm land that had been confiscated from the villagers for the use or disuse of the settlers. We saw the pond where the village children used to swim in the summer heat before they were chased away by armed settlers who came to the pond for their own recreation. We passed the entrance to the village where a checkpoint was often set up that made access to the outside world incredibly difficult.
We heard the perspectives of Jews who are hardened to the suffering they cause by decades and centuries of fear, persecution, and constant threat. They told us of the hope they have because of Zionism and the establishment of their homeland, but we were deeply frustrated to see the harm that this continues to cause nearly 70 years after independence.
We also met Jews who love their country but cannot support the oppressive actions of their government, so they endure teargas, rubber bullets, beatings, and arrests by the Israeli Army to stand alongside those without power.
In our brief time touring both sides of the dividing wall, we heard stories from the people that were both encouraging and discouraging. At times, we felt like throwing up our hands and admitting that there is no hope for justice or peace in this place. Each of us felt frustrated by the discrimination, inhumanity, and senseless violence inflicted upon the Palestinian people. We also felt anger toward the international community and especially our own government that acknowledges these atrocities but doesn’t take action.
But in spite of the discouragement we so often felt, we heard story after story showing the tenacity of the Palestinian people and their hope for a future. One of our guides was a Palestinian Christian with ancestry tracing back to the earliest disciples, who works tirelessly and daily risks imprisonment to raise awareness and promote peace in the area. Stories like this inspired us to come home and tell the stories of those in need of a voice and to promote shalom at home and abroad by encouraging all to be peacemakers in our broken world.
Salford Mennonite Church, located in Harleysville, Pa., was founded in 1717. An agrarian congregation throughout its history, the past 50 years has seen a transition to a suburban and professional lifestyle for its members.
Church leadership consists of a pastoral team of four (lead pastor Joe Hackman and three associate pastors, Maribeth Benner, Ben Wideman and Beth Yoder) with additional support staff, and a church board made up of nine members. Present membership is 450, with an average Sunday morning attendance of 300.
Our mission statement declares our desire to be “A joyful, learning community eager to live and share the peaceable way of Jesus.” We have a sister church relationship with Dios Con Nosotros in Mexico City, and a local neighbor relationship with Advent Lutheran Church of Harleysville.
We have a garden ministry shared with Advent Lutheran, regularly participate in Mennonite Disaster Service trips, Chosen 300 Meal Ministry feeding the hungry in Philadelphia, and an active Justice and Peace ministry. Our facility is active during the week with Salford Mennonite Child Care Centers (campuses at Salford and Dock Woods community).
Our congregational focus for the next few years is “Learning to Listen: across the generations, in our personal lives, and in our local community.” See our website and our photoblog for more glimpses of life and ministry at Salford.
by Joe Hackman, Conference Board Member and pastor of Salford congregation
Last summer my family spent some vacation time at our cabin in Central Pennsylvania’s Big Valley. I always love going there to visit my grandmother, which often means returning home with some sort of sinfully sugary gooey treat, most often a pecan pie that I’m certain would bring the highest bid at any of our church youth auctions.
On this most recent trip, however, I returned with something different. My grandmother has been downsizing for several years and this time she asked me if I wanted the woodbox. The woodbox has been in our family since 1837, or so we’re told, and has held firewood for Yoder families in the Valley for generations.
Our Harleysville townhouse has a propane gas fireplace, so my family doesn’t need a box to hold wood. We do, however, need a box to hold toys. With a three-year-old who seems to have an endless supply of dolls, stuffed animals, and countless forms of colorful molded plastic, I’m always looking for something — anything — that can contain our avalanche of toys. Our handed down woodbox has become a toy chest resting next to our bay window and is now the home of Dora and Pooh Bear.
Franconia Conference has a lot in common with wood boxes that have been converted into toy chests. The first bishops of our conference could not have imagined what we’ve become today — a network of theologically and culturally diverse congregations spanning the East Coast from Vermont to Georgia who worship in four languages. We communicate with both hashtags and snail mail. We gather at both the Heritage Restaurant in Franconia and Umai Royal in Center City Philadelphia. We raise our hands to worship and wash one another’s feet. We are a people blessed with diversity.
The board statement for conferring (see your docket if you don’t know what I’m talking about) is an affirmation of God’s gift of diversity and a signal that this diversity will increase in coming years — praise be to God! How do we continue to be a united church amid increased diversity?
For 300 years, our Franconia Conference ancestors have passed on to us a legacy of faithful Christian witness, and this history of faithful witness is a gift that we must treasure and use. But to continue adding to and strengthening this witness, we also must acknowledge the changing world around us. What is most needed to continue being a faithful conference– a woodbox or a toy chest?
Our board believes the future of our conference is bright because our leaders and congregations are made up of people who truly believe Paul’s words to the Ephesians — that we serve a God who is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine. God is [still] at work within us, throughout all generations. This is our hope! I encourage you to come to Conference Assembly this year ready to confer and to ask and imagine where God is still at work in this beautiful, faithful, diverse network of congregations that we call Franconia Conference.
A decade ago, Franconia Mennonite Conference leadership noticed a critical problem: seminary-trained leaders were increasingly in short supply. So when Delaware Valley Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA), a conference-related ministry, turned over a well-funded college tuition scholarship program to the conference, a solution soon emerged.
Conrad Martin and Donella Clemens of Franconia Conference partnered with Henry Rosenberger and Dave Landis of MEDA to form a committee charged with developing a plan for the use of the newly-received asset. According to Rosenberger, it became quickly apparent that continuing to use the fund for its previous purpose of providing small college tuition scholarships was becoming less meaningful in light of the meteoric rise of college costs.
“At the same time in our Conference history, there seemed to be an increasing number of pastors being called to congregations with little or no Anabaptist training or cultural knowledge of Mennonites,” said Rosenberger. “Concern for the effects this lack of training had in our congregations, I believe, prompted the Board of MEDA to see this fund as a way to enhance the training for persons moving into leadership.”
As a result, the Area Conference Leadership Fund (ACLF) was born. Future leaders from both the Franconia and Eastern District conferences now had a new financial option to help address the costs of seminary and higher education. The committee chose to accept ACLF applications from members in both the Franconia and Eastern District conferences to recognize the involvement of the two conferences in Delaware Valley MEDA.
In 2002, the first scholarships were disbursed and over the past decade, 60 leaders have received financial assistance from the fund. Soon, scholarship recipients began to reflect emerging shifts in the leadership demographics of Franconia Conference: twenty percent of recipients were people of color and one-third of recipients were women. The ACLF allowed Franconia Conference to invest in the future.
As Franconia Conference’s director of communication and leadership cultivation, Stephen Kriss immediately recognized the value of ACLF. “The amazing thing is how many people ACLF assisted who are serving the church both within and beyond Franconia and Eastern District conferences. These gifts were amazing investments in current and future leadership. ACLF enabled us to call forth, train, and equip dozens of leaders effectively, generously, open-handedly,” said Kriss.
Recipients of ACLF scholarships appreciate the confidence and support of the broader church community. For Angela Moyer, a member of the pastoral team of Ripple congregation, (Allentown, Pa.), the support of ACLF provided the freedom to explore seminary at a comfortable pace. “I never thought I would go to seminary. I started by just taking two classes at a time—I just had a few questions… I had no interest in pursuing a graduate degree. Little did I know how formative seminary would be in finding my identity as a pastor. Receiving funds from the ACLF was the broader church community nudging me, telling me it was okay to pursue this call even when I didn’t believe it myself.”
As the Lead Pastor of Salford congregation (Harleysville, Pa.), Joe Hackman believes that his leadership abilities have been significantly nurtured by the ACLF scholarship. “The ACLF fund allowed me to feel the support of the wider church community. The financial investment the church made for my education has helped me enter into my current leadership role with a greater sense of preparedness and confidence.”
In the words of Rosenberger, a core aspect of the original ACLF vision is to ensure that emerging “leadership was firmly based in Anabaptist theology and nonresistance.” This vision is coming to fruition in the work of Beny Krisbianto, Lead Pastor of Nations Worship Center (Philadelphia). “ACLF is helping me to finish my Capstone Project at Eastern Mennonite Seminary. My capstone project has taught me how to believe that ‘The Culture of Peace’ is still possible,” says Krisbianto. “Inspired by the struggles, prejudices, and broken relationships in my context of ministry in Philadelphia, peace is not theory, too big or unrealistic, but it is God’s calling and it does still work today.”
Despite occasional contributions, the size of the ACLF scholarship was considerably reduced in 2012 and leaders will no longer have access to substantial ACLF scholarships. This, however, does not mean that there is no longer a need for talented future church leaders. According to the Conrad Martin, Franconia Conference’s director of finance, the need for future church leaders is still there, as is the need to assist them financially so that they can pursue a quality Anabaptist education. Contributions into the ACLF continue to be welcomed.