Tag Archives: John Goshow

Living God’s Great Shalom

by Stephen Kriss, Executive Minister

In our commitments for credentialing as pastors within Franconia Conference, we agree to giving and receiving counsel.  This week I am here in Indiana as part of our process of giving and receiving counsel through Mennonite Church USA’s Constituency Leader Council (CLC).

It’s not been an easy time in Mennonite Church USA (MCUSA).   Three conferences have seceded from MCUSA and several have lost significant membership numbers.  Three conferences have moved toward credentialing gay and lesbian persons which puts them at variance with our official confessional/polity positions.   We are not alone in our turmoil as similar processes have been playing out among United Methodists, Presbyterian Church USA and the Episcopalians.   Nonetheless we are here to keep trying to work it out.    At times, it feels like we are at our wits end with each other.

Franconia Conference was a founding body in MCUSA. We remain engaged thus far because we believe that we can do more together than we can on our own.  I recognize, though, that some of us question our relationship with MCUSA because of the tensions felt around our theology and practice thereof.   I understand both the acts of conscience and the levels of frustration that have meant Conferences have seceded and that others have landed at variance.

I believe in the kind of love that Paul wrote about that is patient, kind and enduring.   As a Conference, we have an enduring history. Unfortunately, it hasn’t always been marked with enduring love that has been witness of the reconciling power of Christ’s peace.   Our current exploration of a possible reconciliation process with Eastern District Conference evidences our lack of patience with one another, that now is being addressed over a century later.  Randy Heacock’s story from the last Intersectings reminds us of the sad reality that reconciliation work on an interpersonal level is still a rarity.   So, I’m committed this week to sit at these tables on our behalf, and to find ways to engage constructively and generatively, along with John Goshow, our Conference moderator, and Mary Nitzsche, chair of our Ministerial Committee.

In these few days, for the sake of all of us, I commit to believing and hoping, of seeking the Spirit’s stirring.  Of continuing to live into my ordination vows of giving and receiving counsel.  Whether around tables in Elkhart or at the kitchen table or the communion table, this is our invitation.  It’s an invitation that endures; a recognition that love never fails, a way of living God’s great shalom, even through day long meetings.

Board Welcomes Paula Marolewski

By Barbie Fischer

paula-photo-3The Franconia Conference board will welcome Paula Marolewski as a new board member at their September 19 meeting. Paula has been a member of Perkiomenville Mennonite Church (Pennsylvania) for sixteen years.

As a member of Perkiomenville, Paula has served in many roles, including adult Sunday School teacher, Minister of Education, and member of the Ministry Council. She was also brought onto the Elder Team in 2013, providing her with the opportunity to contribute to the spiritual leadership and direction of the congregation.

Paula hails from the state of New York, having moved to Pennsylvania in 1995. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Creative Writing, graduating in 1993 as salutatorian from Houghton College (Houghton, NY). While very involved in her home congregation, Perkiomenville, Paula also runs her own business as a copywriter, developing marketing materials for companies to promote their products and services.

paula-photo-2In speaking of her congregation, Paula stated that she loves the people: “I have no immediate family in this area, and the people at Perk have truly stepped in and filled that role. The friendships I have developed are deep and abiding, and give me fellowship and support as we share the victories and challenges of life.”

Paula brings many gifts and talents with her to this new role as Franconia Conference board member, including her professional experience in communications. “As part of the Conference board, I hope to help lead the conference into the unity that we desire in a manner that is true to the Word of God and that honors Jesus whom we serve,” Paula said.

“Paula’s leadership skills which have been developed as an active leader at the Perkiomenville Mennonite Church as well as her communication skills will add important value to the conference board.” Stated John Goshow, conference moderator.

Paula (right) with her sister Ariane (left) in Glacier National Park.
Paula (right) with her sister Ariane (left) in Glacier National Park.

While her hobbies frequently change (she has enjoyed sculpting, ballroom dancing, and stained glass over the years, among other activities), she does enjoy a few constants, including traveling with her sister, taking photos, and tending to her garden.

Paula affirmed, “My whole desire and God’s calling on my life is summed up in II Peter 3:18: to help others ‘grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.’ As a result, my Christian walk has been characterized by a deep love for the Word of God, a hunger to learn more about God, an appreciation for theology, and a commitment to teach and disciple others.”

Paula invites those interested in knowing more about her to explore her Christian writings on www.sinkyourroots.com and her counsel on anxiety at www.thrivenowseminars.com.

 

Executive Search Update

Franconia Conference logoOn May 19, Franconia Mennonite Conference (FMC) Moderator, John Goshow, announced to the conference delegates and conference related ministry (CRM) leaders that the board had accepted the resignation of Executive Minister, Ertell Whigham, to be effective January 31, 2017. Ertell states in his resignation letter, “it continues to be a blessing and honor to serve as the Executive Minister and CEO of FMC. On behalf of the conference, I have enjoyed the opportunities and collaborative relationships that have developed and been strengthened among our constituency and MCUSA affiliates. However, as I sense time for a change in responsibility and ministry focus, I believe that the season approaches for me to step out of my current conference role as Executive Minister and CEO of FMC.”

With that the Conference Board Executive Committee began engaging Franconia Conference pastors, CRM leaders, board and staff for their input on what they desire from the next Executive Minister.  A survey was sent out to these constituency groups and resulted in 22 pages of feedback. Three meetings were then held where pastors, CRM leaders, board and staff were invited to dialogue with the Executive Committee about their hopes and expectations of the next Executive Minister. The survey results and notes from these meetings have been shared with the search committee.

As communicated in a letter from the conference moderator on July 1, Joy Sutter of Salford Mennonite Church, has agreed to chair the search committee. Joy is also a member of the MCUSA board, and the Associate Administrator for the Cancer Service Line at University of Pennsylvania Health System. She brings extensive administrative and executive experience to this process. Five additional people have also been named to the search committee in the last few weeks. These individuals have been appointed by the board with input from some conference pastors. The other members include Angela Moyer (Ripple) who will serve as the board representative on the committee, Henry Longacre (Swamp), Glen Nemath (Blooming Glen), Doris Diener (Franconia Mennonite Church), and Michael Meneses (Wellspring Church of Skippack). The search committee is scheduled to have their first meeting on July 21.

The conference board desires not to rush this process and wants to ensure that the search committee has all the time they need to discern the person God has for this role. At the same time, it is hoped that the next Executive Minister would be named by December 31. Further communication regarding the process will be released as it is available via Intersectings and possible letters from the Moderator. Questions regarding the process can be directed to the Conference Moderator.

Blessing and Appreciation

IMG_6026On Wednesday, March 23rd, Franconia Conference hosted an appreciation luncheon for the Conference’s 19 Conference Related Ministries (CRMs). Representatives from the organizations enjoyed lunch in the Fisher Auditorium at Dock Woods, part of Living Branches. Welcome remarks were given by Ertell Whigham, conference executive minister. John Goshow, conference moderator, reflected on his time as a leader at Penn Foundation, a CRM, and offered his perspective now from a conference stand point, highlighting all the CRMs offer to the conference and conference congregations. It was noted that through the CRMs, well over 50,000 people are reached annually.

IMG_6030As a token of appreciation, each CRM was gifted by the conference a Pennsylvania Redware plate handcrafted by Denise Wilz (www.wilzpottery.com) and customized with the CRM’s name. In addition, Mim Book and Jim Lapp, credentialed leaders within Franconia Conference offered a blessing over the CRMs.

CRM Lunch - photo 1
Click to enlarge

To learn more about who the Conference Related Ministries and how you and your congregation can get involved with them, visit http://franconiaconference.org/directory/conference-related-ministries/.

 

Prayer of Blessing
Conference Related Ministries Appreciation Luncheon
March 23, 2016

Offered by Mim Book and Jim Lapp, credentialed leaders with Franconia Conference

IMG_6033It is an honor to be with you today and to offer a blessing for you in your varied ministries in behalf of our conference and congregations.

Thank you for the important service you each provide that enriches the body of Christ in such diverse ways. Please pray with us. 

Gracious God, you have blessed your church with a rich abundance of gifts for service through these sisters and brothers, and the boards, leaders and staff in each of these ministries.

We praise you for the women and men with vision who gave pioneering leadership these past 100 years to bring into existence these many forms of service that extend the mission of our congregations. 

We give thanks for those who contributed their finances and time, often sacrificially, for the good of children, youth, older people, those with disabilities,  those well and not well, the newly born and those dying, the incarcerated, and those with physical and mental illnesses.

We are grateful for those who brought business experience and wisdom to their leadership as they invested their gifts and resources in these creative ways.  We thank you for pastors and church leaders who offered spiritual insight and wisdom to help make these ministries flourish.

We now pray your blessing upon those who give leadership to our camps and retreat centers – Bethany Birches in Vermont, Camp Men-O-Lan, and Spruce Lake.   We pray that in each setting the spirit of Christ would infuse those who serve with love, and transform all the participants in these ministries.

We pray your power and blessing on our schools – The City School, Quakertown Christian, Penn View and Christopher Dock high school.  May the administration, faculty and boards of directors serve with clarity of purpose and conviction in the nurture and formation of our children and youth.

We pray grace upon all who serve with the Indian Creek Foundation and Peaceful Living who provide opportunities and care for those with special challenges in life.  May each one be treated with dignity, compassion and love. 

We pray your gracious presence upon all who serve with the Penn Foundation and Liberty Ministries.  Let your healing mercy and love shine through the staff and contribute growth and stability to those who too often are stigmatized in our society.

We pray for those who lead us in gathering and managing historical resources through the Germantown Historic Trust and the Mennonite Historians of Eastern Pennsylvania.  Through these ministries may the faith of our ancestors continue to enrich and guide our churches in the 21st century.

We pray your continued strength on the ministries of the Care and Share Shoppes and the MCC Material Resource Center and all who lead and volunteer in these ministries.  Bless these labors of love and sharing as a means of ministering in the name of Christ to those local and global who experience special needs.

We pray the Delaware Valley MEDA, the Eastern PA Mennonite Disaster Service, and Life with God program will continue to offer resources that touch the spiritual and physical needs of people with the hope and peace of Christ. 

We pray for all our ministries that serve the aging – Living Branches on its various campuses, and the Community at Rockhill.  We pray the staff, administrators, chaplains, and boards of directors will have wisdom to foster communities of healing and peace, with respect for the spirituals sages who reside there, and for those with limited family and other resources. 

Our God, we also ask your Divine blessing on our conference leaders who seek to show support and encouragement to those in these ministries.

With the apostle Paul we exclaim, “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!”

With the saints of all ages we pray, “Now to God who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly in these ministries, far more than we can ask or imagine, to this God be glory in the church, in all our church related ministries, and in Christ Jesus, to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

Conference focus groups provide feedback for national meetings

by Sheldon C. Good

Ertell WhighamTen leaders from Franconia Conference congregations voiced wide-ranging perspectives during two conference calls held recently to garner feedback on a controversial action taken by Mountain States Mennonite Conference earlier this year. In addition to those on the conference calls, about a dozen other leaders and delegates submitted written responses to Franconia Conference.

Franconia Conference executive minister Ertell Whigham convened the calls on March 15 and 16. His goal was to listen to leaders’ perspectives in preparation for a meeting of the Constituency Leadership Council, or CLC, of Mennonite Church USA held March 20-22 in North Newton, Kan.

In response to a decision by Mountain States to license a pastor in a committed same-sex relationship, the Executive Board of MC USA appointed a task force to frame questions for discussion at the CLC meeting. The conference calls included persons from across the conference invited to provide insight and counsel in preparation for the meeting.  Persons were chosen to represent a diversity of perspectives.  About half of those invited participated.

Whigham, moderator John Goshow, and board member Klaudia Smucker (Bally congregation) represented Franconia Conference at the CLC meeting.  Beny Krisbianto of Nations Worship Center also attended representing the Indonesian Mennonite Fellowship (a national group within Mennonite Church USA).

Whigham invited leaders on the calls to respond to three questions: What is your prayer for the leaders of our denomination and conference? What would be one important question that would represent the thoughts of the constituents within your congregation or community? What is one perspective of hope and one of challenge that you see within our denomination and our conference?

During the call Angela Moyer, co-pastor of RIPPLE in Allentown, Pa., said people in her congregation “have little to no awareness” about the discussions going on at the conference or denominational level.

“People at RIPPLE are concerned about having a place to sleep, food to eat, and friends that care about them,” she said in an interview reflecting on the conference call. “People know that RIPPLE is safe and caring; we treat one another with dignity as people and not statistics.  Other people on the conference call seemed surprised [when I said this] and appreciated this perspective.”

Prayers from those on the calls included that fellow church leaders would: be led by the Holy Spirit, continue to be humble, and allow Christ to be at the center of all decisions; continue to find ways to be faithful in the midst of difference; work toward unity and understanding; be bold and avoid perfectionism; be sensitive to the needs of church members; and maintain spiritual integrity and values while leading.

The leaders wondered what following Jesus in the 21st century looks like and how to respond faithfully to Micah 6:8. They wondered how many people would leave the church because of the Mountain States decision. Some expressed their hope for spaces where church members could be “real and vulnerable.” Hopes of the leaders revolved around how to practice faithful discipleship, right relationship, and the lordship of Christ. Challenges focused on whether unity is possible.

Similar themes emerged during the Kansas CLC meeting.

According to an article by Gordon Houser in TMail, Mennonite Church USA executive director Ervin Stutzman said that over the last few weeks he has received hundreds of emails, which he categorized into three groupings: 1) greater inclusion of LGBT individuals, 2) faithfulness to the traditional stance, and 3) unity. Stutzman called the CLC meetings “a referendum on the Membership Guidelines” that were adopted at Nashville 2001.

Those attending the CLC meetings, including Whigham, Goshow, Krisbianto and Smucker, participated in table-group discussion on a serious of questions related to Mountain States’ decision. The task force appointed by the MC USA Executive Board plans to draft a recommendation for consideration by the Executive Board at its June 26–28 meeting in Chicago.

The focus group invitations included credentialed and delegate representatives from 20 congregations.   Representatives from Bethany, Deep Run East, Doylestown, Finland, Franconia, Plains, Ripple, Salford and West Philadelphia participated in the calls.   Representatives from Boyertown, Blooming Glen, Line Lexington, Nueva Vida Norristown New Life, Philadelphia Praise, Rocky Ridge and Souderton congregations were also invited but unable to attend at the scheduled conference call times.  A few of those invitees who were unable to participate in the calls submitted written responses.

Delegates discuss collaboration in time of anxiety

Candlesby Emily Ralph, associate director of communication

Franconia Conference delegates gathered February 8 at Franconia Mennonite Church, Telford, Pa., to brainstorm ways of building relationships and collaboration in ministry and mission as part of a two-year direction toward growth and discernment as a community.

After a time of worship and reflection, delegates prayed for their congregations, the conference and denomination, and institutions of the church that are in difficult processes of discernment recognizing the tensions across the denomination related to human sexuality.  Conversation then turned to identifying areas for mutual support and engagement; sharing ways that the conference community can strengthen relationships to open possibilities for healthy conversation and collaboration.

“We again recognize that God has gifted our conference with great diversity,” said Marta Castillo, assistant moderator.  “Our Anabaptist commitments to reconciliation and community invite us to stay united in the midst of diversity….  So we again today commit ourselves to live openly and with integrity as brothers and sisters.”

Conference executive Ertell Whigham shared the intention of LEADership Ministers to reintroduce the principle of leadership clusters, where pastors from diverse congregations regularly meet together for support and networking.  To make this more feasible for pastors, the School for Leadership Formation will scale back the number of other events pastors are encouraged to attend.

Table groupsSome delegates enthusiastically supported the reimplementation of clusters and encouraged conference staff to explore ways to also engage between all congregation members rather than only credentialed leaders.  Some dreamed of ways for members of diverse congregations to partner beyond ministry—to have fun together, worship, and play.  Others questioned how we discern which issues to prioritize in mission together.

“Are we taking seriously the issues that we ought to be taking seriously?” asked Josh Meyer, associate pastor of Franconia congregation.  “We were reminded of Matthew 23 where Jesus says, ‘… you neglect the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy, faithfulness.’  How can we as churches, as a conference, be more committed to justice, mercy, faithfulness?”

Meyer’s table group wondered if the conference could focus together on matters of justice instead of division, working, for instance, on an issue that many are passionate about: combatting human trafficking.  Since one goal of the morning’s gathering was to build relationships around a common area of mission and call, Whigham asked delegates whose congregations are interested in working together against human trafficking to raise their hands so that they could network on the spot.  Delegates from a dozen congregations responded.

“Sitting down and talking to one another is a good thing,” reflected conference moderator John Goshow.  “I think we’re enjoying one another’s company this morning [which] demonstrates why we need to do more of that than we’ve done in the past.”  He encouraged delegates to continue to pray for the denomination in days ahead.  “This call for prayer does not need to end today.  Our church needs the continued prayers of all of us.”

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Important info about the Feb 8 Delegate Meeting

  • Date: February 8, 2014
  • Time:  9 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.
  • Location: Franconia Mennonite Church

Registration:  Please click here to register your attendance. We apologize if you tried earlier and were unable to register. We have experienced some technical glitches in our website that are now fixed. Your registration will help us be better prepared for our time together.

Description: The purpose of this meeting is to share a synthesis of the information gleaned from your input at Conference Assembly in November and develop a direction for how we will live into what Conference leaders heard you say during those sessions.

 Desired Outcomes:

  • To identify areas for mutual support and engagement
  • To grow in our understanding of one another as people of mission and ministry
  • To share ideas about how we can strengthen and develop relationships that allow us to become more collaborative
  • To create opportunities to hear one another for open and generative conversation

Attached are four documents:

  1. An an overview of a Strategic Direction for 2014 and 2015.
  2. Compilations of your 2013 Conference Assembly input:
    –How you see God Still@Work.
    –Your SWOT Analysis of the Conference Board Statement for Conferring.
    –Your reflections on the future of the conference from the afternoon workshop.

Please take time to review these documents in advance in order to make better use of our time together on Feb. 8.

A number of persons have urged Conference leaders to use the February 8 meeting as a time to discuss issues of human sexuality following the recent action of Mountain States Mennonite Conference to grant pastoral credentials to a woman in a same-sex relationship and the six-month listening process begun by Eastern Mennonite University’s trustees to review the university’s employment practices as they relate to persons in same-sex relationships.

However, the focus of the February 8 gathering will not be discernment around human sexuality. Conference leaders have responded to the two incidents with recent communication.  You should have received an emailed letter (English, IndonesianSpanish, Vietnamese) from Franconia Conference moderator, John Goshow, which included a Call to Prayer by Mennonite Church USA’s executive director, Ervin Stutzman (English, Indonesian, Spanish, Vietnamese) along with the Mennonite Church USA Membership Guidelines (Spanish).  In response to Ervin’s call, we will spend time in corporate prayer on February 8.  This delegate gathering will also be the first step in the 2014-15 strategic direction that suggests ways we can work toward processing this and other potentially difficult conversations.

Franconia Mennonite Conference is all of us: congregations, delegates, pastors, and Conference Related Ministries. Your presence is important!   Be part of shaping our shared future on February 8.

Norristown congregation celebrates new life

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NVNNL Sept 2013by Emily Ralph, associate director of communication

On the day that their meetinghouse and office building, New Life Plaza, was scheduled to be sold at sheriff’s sale, members and friends of Nueva Vida Norristown (Pa.) New Life gathered for a celebration.  Instead of an impending foreclosure, the congregation experienced God’s miraculous intervention and, on the evening of December 18th, they met to worship, pray, testify, and burn the sheriff sale signs.

Nueva Vida Norristown New Life (NVNNL) is a multilingual and multiethnic congregation in Franconia Conference that provides over a quarter-million-dollars’ worth of social services for its community including a child care center, youth center, internet café, photo ID application services, and a discipleship housing ministry.  The congregation formed in 1990 with the merger of three Mennonite congregations: one Latino, one African American, and one Anglo and African American.  Their vision for racial reconciliation and justice has led to ongoing witness in their community and within the regional and national Mennonite church.

NVNNL bought New Life Plaza in 2007 as part of their “Enlarging Our Place in God’s World” campaign.  The office building, located next door to their church facilities, provided space for new and growing ministries as well as offices that could be leased to generate income for the congregation’s vision of ministry and outreach.  Soon after, however, the United States entered a recession and New Life Plaza slowly lost tenants until it was nearly empty.

Interest rates on the Plaza’s mortgage remained high and the mortgage payments became impossible to pay.  By summer of 2013, the bank had decided to foreclose.

NVNNL
Photo by Tim Moyer.

NVNNL, whose vision is to be a “house of prayer for all people,” continued to bring their need to God.  As they fervently prayed,   “God moved people to get involved in ways and for reasons they didn’t understand,” said Jim Williams, chair of the stewardship ministry team. “A group slowly came together who said, ‘We can’t allow this foreclosure to happen.’”

Congregational leaders and business people from Franconia Conference began meeting in the summer of 2013 to discern what the next steps might be.  All agreed that the ministry and witness of NVNNL was too important in the life of the conference to lose.

“People appreciate the mission that NVNNL has in their community, the way they serve the folks in their neighborhood,” said John Goshow, Franconia Conference moderator and one of the leaders who initiated the gathering.  “There’s also a historical connection here—folks had been hearing about Norristown for a long time and affirmed the vital role that the congregation has played in Franconia Conference over the years.”

One leader in the group was Paul Lederach, a former bishop from Franconia Conference who, born and raised in the Norristown mission church, continued to advocate on the community’s behalf until his death on January 6, 2014.  He was 88.

The conference partners began negotiating with the bank and gathering pledges; by that fall, they had collected nearly $350,000 from congregations and individuals in gifts and loans.  In December, they bought out the mortgage on New Life Plaza, settling on December 30th.  NVNNL will have three years interest-free on part of the mortgage and five years interest-free on the rest, with the understanding that the mortgage must be paid off by the end of that time. Two loans with the bank also remain, with more manageable payments.

Nueva Vida Norristown New Life
NVNNL gathered to worship in the parking lot of the New Life Plaza to celebrate the congregation’s 20th anniversary in 2010. Photo by Tim Moyer.

“The new partnership in ministry between some Franconia Conference people and churches and NVNNL is what we have envisioned for several years,” said Adamino Ortiz, NVNNL council chair.  “It is a great opportunity for everyone involved to know each other better, to share talents, ideas, and resources [that will] develop the vision and mission of the church for years to come. It is an opportunity to continue the vision and legacy of Brother Paul Lederach and others who ministered in Norristown before us.”

Moving into 2014, the future looks brighter, with the possibility of new tenants and a slowly improving economy in Norristown.  “The ministry that started here in 1918 will continue,” Williams said, “and everything we have done to gain a more stable financial situation will benefit future generations.”  In the immediate future, the congregation will begin raising funds to pay off the loans, work on renovations in the Plaza, meetinghouse, and youth center, and continue to expand and grow deeper in their intercultural ministry.

“We have renewed energy to continue the hopes and plans that we had,” said Yvonne Platts, a member of the steering team for Enlarging Our Place in God’s World.  “We have a bigger story to tell–who we are, who God has called us to be, living into the vision of having a larger presence in God’s world.”

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Congregación en Norristown Celebra Nueva Vida

NVNNL Sept 2013

por Emily Ralph, Franconia Mennonite Conference; traducido por Julio Castillo, NVNNL

El día en que estaba prevista para ser vendidos en la venta del alguacil su centro de reuniones y edificio de oficinas de Plaza Nueva Vida,  miembros y amigos de Nueva Vida Norristown ( PA) se reunieron en una celebración. En lugar de una ejecución hipotecaria inminente, la congregación experimentó la intervención milagrosa de Dios y, en la tarde del 18 de diciembre, se reunieron para adorar, orar, testificar,  y quemar las muestras de la venta del sheriff.

Nueva Vida Nueva Vida Norristown ( NVNNL ) es una congregación multilingüe y multiétnica, en la conferencia de Franconia que proporciona un poco más de un cuarto de millon de dolares en servicios sociales para la comunidad, incluyendo un centro de cuidado infantil, centro juvenil, internet café, las fotos de los servicios de aplicaciones de identificación, y un ministerio de vivienda de discipulado. La congregación se formó en 1990 con la fusión de tres congregaciones menonitas: una latina, una afroamericana, y una anglo. Su visión de la reconciliación racial y la justicia ha llevado a testimonio continuo en su comunidad y en la Iglesia Menonita regional y nacional.

NVNNL compró Vida Nueva Plaza en 2007 como parte de la campaña “Ampliando Nuestro lugar en el mundo de Dios.” El edificio de oficinas,  situado al lado de sus instalaciones de la iglesia, con la condición de espacio para los ministerios nuevos y en crecimiento, así como oficinas que podrían ser alquilados para generar ingresos para la visión de la congregación del ministerio y la divulgación. Poco después, sin embargo, los Estados Unidos entró en recesión y Nueva Vida Plaza perdió lentamente inquilinos hasta que estaba casi vacío.

Las tasas de interés sobre la hipoteca de la Plaza se mantuvieron altos y los pagos de la hipoteca se hicieron imposibles de pagar. Para el verano del 2013, el banco había decidido ejecutar la hipoteca.

NVNNL
Photo by Tim Moyer.

NVNNL,  cuya visión es ser una “casa de oración para todas las personas”, continuó trayendo su necesidad a Dios. Mientras oraban fervientemente, “Dios movió a la gente a involucrarse en formas y por razones que no se entendían”, dijo Jim Williams,  presidente del Equipo del ministerio de Administración. “Un grupo se acercó lentamente a nosotros que dijo, ‘No podemos permitir que esto suceda’’’.

Líderes congregacionales y empresarios de la Conferencia de Franconia comenzaron a reunirse en el verano del 2013 para discernir cuáles podrían ser los próximos pasos. Todos estuvieron de acuerdo que el ministerio y el testimonio de NVNNL era demasiado importante en la vida de la conferencia para dejar perderse.

“La gente aprecia la misión que NVNNL tiene en su comunidad, la manera en que sirven a la gente en su barrio”, dijo John Goshow,  moderador de la Conferencia de Franconia y uno de los líderes que iniciaron la reunión. “También hay una conexión histórica aquí—la gente oía constantemente acerca de Norristown durante mucho tiempo y afirmó el papel vital que la congregación ha desempeñado en la Conferencia de Franconia en estos años”. Uno de los líderes en el grupo era Paul Lederach, un ex obispo de la Conferencia de Franconia que, nacido y criado en la iglesia de la misión Norristown, continuó abogando en nombre de la comunidad hasta su muerte el 6 de enero de 2014. Tenía 88 años.

Los socios de la conferencia comenzaron a negociar con los compromisos bancarios y las promesas; durante el otoño,  se habían recaudado casi $ 350,000 de las congregaciones e individuos en los regalos y préstamos. En diciembre,  compraron la hipoteca sobre New Life Plaza,  estableciéndose el 30 de diciembre. NVNNL tendrá tres años, sin intereses por parte de la hipoteca a cinco años sin intereses sobre el resto,  en el entendimiento de que la hipoteca debe ser pagada por el final de ese tiempo. Dos préstamos con el banco también se mantienen,  con pagos más manejables.

Nueva Vida Norristown New Life
NVNNL gathered to worship in the parking lot of the New Life Plaza to celebrate the congregation’s 20th anniversary in 2010. Photo by Tim Moyer.

“La nueva asociación en el ministerio entre algunas personas e iglesias de la Conferencia de Franconia y NVNNL es lo que hemos imaginado durante varios años”, dijo Adamino Ortiz, presidente del concilio de NVNNL. “Es una gran oportunidad para todos los involucrados a conocernos mejor,  de compartir talentos,  ideas y recursos [que será] el desarrollo de la visión y misión de la iglesia en los años venideros. Es una oportunidad para continuar con la visión y el legado del Hermano Paul Lederach y otros que servían en Norristown ante nosotros”.

Entrando en el 2014,  el futuro parece más brillante, con la posibilidad de nuevos inquilinos y una economía que mejora lentamente en Norristown.

“El ministerio que comenzó aquí en 1918 continuará”, dijo Williams, “y todo lo que hemos hecho para tener una situación financiera más estable beneficiará a las generaciones futuras”. En el futuro inmediato, la congregación iniciará la recaudación de fondos para pagar los préstamos, trabajar en las renovaciones en la Plaza, centro de reuniones y un centro de la juventud, y continuará expandiéndose y profundizándose en su ministerio intercultural.

“Hemos renovado la energía para continuar con las esperanzas y los planes que teníamos”, dijo Yvonne Platts,  un miembro del equipo directivo de Ampliando Nuestro lugar en el mundo de Dios. “Tenemos una gran historia que contar—lo que somos,  y que Dios nos ha llamado a ser, viviendo en la visión de tener una mayor presencia en el mundo de Dios”.

Franconia Conference gathers to celebrate, pray, confer, listen

Garden Chapel Children's Choir
Garden Chapel’s children’s choir led a rousing rendition of “Our God” at Conference Assembly 2013. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

Franconia Conference delegates and leaders gathered November 2 at Penn View Christian School in Souderton, Pa. to celebrate God still at work.   With a packed auditorium for a third united assembly with Eastern District Conference, representatives gathered to listen and pray, to celebrate newly credentialed and ordained pastoral leaders, and to work alongside one another after an over 150-year rift created two separate Mennonite entities.  The theme “God still @ work” was an extension of the 2012 theme, “God @ work.”

With singing in Indonesian, Spanish, and English led by Samantha Lioi (Peace and Justice Minister for both conferences) and Bobby Wibowo (Philadelphia Praise Center) and translation into Franconia Conference’s worshipping languages, delegates and representatives from nearly all of the Conference’s congregations from Georgia to Vermont gathered to confer around a board-crafted statement on the Conference’s increasing diversity in ethnicity, experiences, faith practice, and expression.   The gathering was punctuated with points of celebration including testimony from Peaceful Living led by Joe Landis and Louis Cowell from Salford congregation, a youth choir from the revitalizing Garden Chapel in Victory Gardens, NJ, and a moment to mark the upcoming November retirement of Franconia Conference Pastor of Ministerial Leadership Noah Kolb after 45 years of ministry, which was met with rousing applause and a standing ovation.

Noah blessing 2013
Noah Kolb was recognized and blessed for 45 years of ministry. He will retire in November. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

In a shortened one-day event, delegates spent the morning together around tables with Eastern District Conference to continue to deepen relationships across conference lines.  Business sessions were separate, and Franconia’s included a significant amount of time in conversations among table groups, conferring over the board statement and then reporting on those conversations to the whole body.  Delegates and representatives were encouraged to mix across congregational lines to better hear and experience the diversity of conference relationships.

For many, including Tami Good, Souderton (Pa.) congregation’s Pastor of Music & Worship, who was attending Conference Assembly for the first time, the table conversations were holy spaces.  Each person at her table was from a different congregation.   “I saw God at work in the gracious listening, especially in the time when we talked about the conferring statement,” Good reflected. “There were disagreements, but everyone was graciously listening and hearing.  Everyone actually wanted to hear each other.  It was a beautiful time.”

The conferring time, along with an afternoon workshop led by the Franconia Conference board, focused on prayer and visioning for the Conference into the future.   Conference board members Jim Longacre (Bally congregation), Rina Rampogu (Plains congregation), Jim Laverty (Souderton congregation), and Klaudia Smucker (Bally congregation) served as a listening committee for the daylong event.  They reported seven themes of consistent and continued conversation: engagement, diversity, shared convictions, authority, polity, the role of conference, and the reality of changing relationships and engagement.  Board members noted that there is much response work to do to continue the conversation and discernment process.

Bruce Eglinton-Woods, pastor of Salem congregation (Quakertown, Pa.), said, “The challenge is speaking clearly on what we believe and where we are at, which is often a challenge for Mennonite leaders. My hope and prayer is that we can trust God and release the idea of keeping it all together. We need to let God do the holding together.”

Franconia Conference delegates spent time conferring and praying together.  Photo by Bam Tribuwono.
Franconia Conference delegates spent time conferring and praying together. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

According to Rampogu, one of the longest standing Conference board members, “the hardest part about this kind of meeting is that there isn’t enough time. We want to share and to talk together,” she said.  “That is a positive sign.  People want to connect.  My hope and prayer is that we keep our goal in mind, keeping our mission focused on equipping leaders to empower others to embrace God’s mission, with Christ in the center and churches focused on missional activity.”

In business sessions, delegates selected a number of positions by 97% affirmation including a 2nd term for conference moderator John Goshow (Blooming Glen congregation) along with board member Beny Krisbianto (Nations Worship Center), as well as ministerial and credentialing committee members Rose Bender (Whitehall congregation), Ken Burkholder (Deep Run East congregation), Mike Clemmer (Towamencin congregation) and Chris Nickels (Spring Mount congregation).   Randy Nyce (Salford congregation) who is completing a term as finance committee chair and board member reported on Conference finances, noting an 11% decrease in financial contributions from congregations.

“I was surprised and pleased that the attendance at Assembly 2013 was so strong; seeing the room filled to capacity was an affirmation of how much the delegates and guests in attendance care for our conference,” Goshow noted.  “Franconia Conference is all of us who are members of our 42 churches and our Conference Related Ministries.  It is my hope and prayer that together we chart a course that will advance God’s Kingdom in exciting and wonderful ways.”

Listen to the podcast.

Conference Assembly 2013 Highlight Video from Franconia Conference on Vimeo.

Together we are doing God’s work: Conference Assembly 2013

John Goshow
Moderator John Goshow welcomes delegates at the 2011 Conference Assembly. Photo by Emily Ralph.

by John Goshow, Moderator, Blooming Glen congregation

The Constituency Leadership Council (CLC) of Mennonite Church USA met in Michigan this week.  The CLC, which includes all 21 conferences of Mennonite Church USA, serves as a group of elders for the denomination.  In my capacity as moderator of Franconia Conference I joined this meeting, along with Ertell Whigham, Executive Minister, and Jenifer Eriksen Morales, LEADership Minister.

Our conference report to the CLC says, “Franconia Mennonite Conference is a network of 42 congregations, 20 Conference Related Ministries (e.g. schools, retirement facilities, historical organizations, camps, prison ministry, thrift stores, etc.), partnerships, and initiatives continuing to emerge out of the 300+ years of Anabaptist witness and faith in the Western Hemisphere … with its beginning in Philadelphia. Franconia Conference’s mission is to ‘equip leaders to empower others to embrace God’s mission.’ With congregations and initiatives that span the East Coast of the US (Vermont to Georgia, north to south, and Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, east to west), our geographic center is in southeastern Pennsylvania. We work together in cultivating and developing leaders, in engaging the world through witness and relationships, and in our commitment to Christ as the center of our shared and individual vision.”

As moderator of Franconia Mennonite Conference, I have wondered what it means for us to be together now and how leadership roles have changed in the last 300+ years. The dictionary definition of moderator helps: “1) one who arbitrates; 2) one who presides over an assembly, meeting or discussion.”   I have learned to appreciate the role of moderator in that it provides the opportunity to connect with and listen to the many persons in our conference who care deeply about God’s work in our congregations and Conference Related Ministries.

In a  recent conversation with a friend we agreed that Franconia Conference is not the board or the staff. Rather, it is the 42 congregations of Franconia Conference and their members, and the Conference Related Ministries that provide important services to the people of their communities. These services—education, elder care, prison ministry, camping, mental health, housing, thrift stores, development disability, and others—serve a huge number of people and represent a wonderful example of how God is at work in our communities.

On November 2 at Penn View Christian School, Franconia Conference will gather for Assembly 2013. This year’s Assembly will be held jointly with Eastern District Conference and will provide the opportunity to worship together and to celebrate the many ways our two conferences are working together to advance God’s Kingdom.  During the business sessions the two conferences will meet separately to do work specific to each conference.  I am looking forward to our time of conferring and discerning God’s will together.

This year the delegates of Franconia Conference will spend significant time conferring about a statement that has been developed by the conference board. The statement acknowledges the cultural shifts impacting the practices and beliefs among Franconia Conference congregations. How can we continue to work together out of our commonality rather than our differences? How can we be accountable to one another as we, together, shape the future of our conference? Many conferences in Mennonite Church USA are having similar kinds of discussions. My hope and prayer is that the conferring and discernment at our assembly and the discussions across the Mennonite Church USA will lead to greater understanding of how together we are doing God’s work.