Tag Archives: Josh Meyer

Sharing Breakfast and Life

by Emily Ralph Servant, Interim Director of Congregational Resourcing

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

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

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

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

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

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

Credentialed leaders are invited to two breakfasts this April:

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

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

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

The Space in Between: More Than We Can Dream or Imagine

by Stephen Kriss

MiaThis past Sunday, Mia, an elementary-school-aged girl from Indonesian Light Church, told me that she thinks she might want to be a pastor.  Her mom remarked that this is a relatively new development within the last few months.   Though she tagged on that sometimes she wants to be a doctor too.  Both tough jobs, I responded.  And both things that help people, her mom said.  Her mom wondered where the pastoral desire might have originated.  There is no doubt in my mind that having Emily Ralph Servant as the congregation’s interim pastor for the past six months has something to do with it.   This young girl has experienced that women, too, might be pastors and her life is forever changed.  I look forward to the day 30 years or so from now when this young woman might be my pastor, shaped by the city, loved by a congregation, and formed as one who is loved by God.

As Franconia Conference, our focus of energy is around cultivating healthy leaders of all ages, communities and connections.   As staff, board and committees, we regularly work at this in a variety of ways.  We do this in day-to-day correspondence, strategic planning and holy conversations.   Sometimes it’s seemingly well-planned, other times it’s the Spirit’s serendipity.  I’m learning to trust that the Spirit is working out something usually beyond what we can see and often more than we can imagine, as Paul tells the early church (Ephesians 3.10).

Two research initiatives have also begun this summer that involve our Conference pastors.  As part of a project that examines the resiliency of women pastors in several Mennonite Conferences, Anne Kaufman Weaver from Lancaster County is interviewing 11 credentialed women currently serving within congregations. Currently 30% of our active credentialed pastors are women. Josh Meyer, one of the pastors at Franconia congregation, is beginning a longer examination on what sustains millennial Mennonite pastors (those born after 1980’ish).  In his initial round of research, we’ve discovered that Franconia Conference has among the highest percentages of credentialed millennial pastors in Mennonite Church USA.

Steve KrissThe Spirit is truly upon us, calling men and women, stirring the young, and giving dreams to those of us who have been on the journey longer.  May we be able to live into these possibilities that are for sure beyond even our greatest hopes and imagination.   Thanks be to God that the Spirit is undoubtedly still with us and calling among us in the space in between.

Every Ordination is Miraculous

By Steve Kriss, Director of Leadership Cultivation & Congregational Resourcing

oil lamp 9-24-15
To order a Dancing Flame Oil Lamp handcrafted by June Keener Wink please call 413-258-4243 or e-mail junewink@gmail.com.

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.

Ministerial Committee Update

by Stephen Kriss

The Ministerial committee of Franconia Mennonite Conference board met on May 6th at Christopher Dock Mennonite High School.   The committee approved and recognized the following changes in credentialed minister status.

Penny Naugle from Plains Mennonite Church was licensed toward ordination for her work as a chaplain at Rockhill Mennonite CommunityNathan Good, associate pastor at Swamp Mennonite Church, was licensed toward ordination.

Ministerial Committee Update 5-21-15 web
Angela Moyer was ordained on May 17, 2015.

In addition, the Ministerial committee approved Kris Wint, pastor at Finland congregation, for ordination which will take place at Finland Mennonite Church on June 28th.  Josh Meyer, teaching/preaching pastor at Franconia congregation was also approved for ordination and his ordination ceremony will be on June 28th as well.  The Committee is pleased to announce that the ordination of Angela Moyer took place this past Sunday, May 17th at Ripple in Allentown.

Other changes to credentialed minister status include, Doris Diener, Franconia congregation, who was received by transfer from Southeast Mennonite Conference has been moved to retired.  James Longacre, Bally congregation, was shifted to a retired credential as well.

Gerry Clemmer, former lead pastor at Souderton congregation, John Bender, former interim associate pastor at Franconia congregation, and Mark Derstine, who completed his work as Chaplain at Living Branches, were moved to active without charge.

Steve Kriss is Director of Leadership Cultivation & Congregational Resourcing , as well as a LEADership Minister, in Franconia Mennonite Conference. 

 

Focusing on the well and not the wall

by Josh Meyer, Franconia Mennonite Church

Josh MeyerI vividly remember sitting in one of my seminary classes when a classmate asked our professor, “What’s the single most important piece of advice you’d give us as we prepare for ministry in the church?” The professor responded by saying, “Keep the main thing the main thing. Don’t ever allow Christ to become secondary because you’re distracted by other issues, pursuits, or debates. Those other things may have value, but they’re not the center. Jesus is the center. Above all else, keep the main thing the main thing.”

After nearly a decade in ministry, I’ve seen how easy it is to get preoccupied trying to define the parameters and defend the borders of our faith, rather than focusing on Christ. Debates about who’s in and who’s out, who’s right and who’s wrong, who’s one of “us” and who’s one of “them” have a way of distracting us from the main thing.

It’s kind of like a farmer caring for sheep. One way to prevent the sheep from running away is to build a fence. The downside to fences, though, is they require a lot of maintenance. You need to continually make sure that every part of the perimeter is secure, because just a small gap in the fence will allow all the animals to roam free.

Fences require a lot of resources, though. If you’ve got a three-acre property, you can probably afford to build a fence around it. If you’re a rancher with a huge amount of land, it’s not possible fence the whole thing.

The other option is digging wells. Since a well is a source of water, animals will stay relatively close to it. They are free to roam, but won’t wander too far from the well because it is their source of life. In this scenario, you care for the sheep through what you’re drawing them toward, not what you’re restricting them from. The goal of both approaches is the same, but it’s a whole lot easier and more efficient to dig a life-giving well at the center than it is to maintain a bunch of fences along the border.

I believe the same thing is true when it comes to our faith. Some people spend an inordinate amount of time and energy trying to define and defend the boundaries. Here are the lines we can’t cross, the issues we can’t discuss, the things we can’t do, the words we can’t say, the ways we can’t vote, the people we can’t let in because they believe differently than we do. It’s all about building fences that separate us and erecting walls that distinguish us from everyone else.

The danger of this kind of “bounded set mentality” is it elevates and accentuates peripheral issues while minimizing and diminishing the center. This approach to faith breeds a mentality where we’re extremely clear what we’re against–we draw really thick lines around the edges–but the center tends to get neglected.

I believe a far healthier model is to spend less time defending the borders and more time focused on the center. This “centered set mentality” acknowledges there are some lines we shouldn’t cross, but makes our primary objective the well, not the wall. The bulk of our time and energy is spent inviting people to the source of Living Water.

If we’re really clear about that–if we’re passionate and unwavering in introducing people to Jesus–we won’t need to spend as much time arguing about the border because people won’t want to leave the center. Frankly, I think the problem for many Christians and many churches isn’t that the boundaries of our faith is weak, but that the center of our faith is weak. We’ve spent far too much time on secondary issues and not enough time being formed into the likeness of Christ.

Therefore, we’ve tried to be very clear about what we’re committed to as a faith community: we’re committed to Jesus being the Christ, and we’re committed to Jesus being the center. For that reason, we will unapologetically focus more on the well than on the wall.

As a church, we’re far more interested in proclaiming Christ than we are getting into arguments about who’s in and who’s out. More interested in lifting up the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus than we are debating secondary issues that distract us from the main thing. More interested in introducing people to Jesus than we are engaging in culture wars. More interested in seeing people have their lives changed by Christ than we are convincing them of a particular theological position. More interested in opening the doors of faith to anyone who’s interested in Jesus than we are turning people away because they don’t agree with us on every single issue.

In other words, we are far more interested in the center than we are in the boundary. And Jesus is the center, so that’s what we’re going to preach, that’s what we’re going to teach, that’s what we’re going to study, that’s what we’re going to rally around, that’s what we’re going to get passionate about, that’s what we’re going to give our lives to– because Jesus is the Christ, and Jesus is the center. We want to be really, really clear about that.

May we remember and reaffirm the profound truth that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. May we be a church that is deeply committed to the well rather than to frenetically building fences. And may we always, always, always keep the main thing the main thing.

This is an excerpt from Josh’s sermon last Sunday at Franconia Mennonite Church in Telford, Pennsylvania. 

Pastors, leaders travel to Israel and Palestine

by Brook Musselman, for the Come and See tour

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.

Photo by Sheri Wenger.
The group sits on steps outside of the Damascas gate, Jerusalem. Photo by Sheri Wenger.

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.

Photo by Sheri Wenger.
The group on a tour of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The church is said to be built over the place where Jesus was born. It was site of refuge for Palestinians during recent violence. Photo by Sheri Wenger.

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.

Delegates commit to waiting, hoping, discerning at Assembly

Bob & Bonnie Stevenson
Charlie Ness (Perkiomenville) and Bonnie Stevenson pray for Bob Stevenson before he brings the message during Friday night worship. Photo by Emily Ralph

by Emily Ralph, associate director of communication

“Waiting on God is expectant and hopeful,” declared Marta Castillo, Franconia Conference’s outgoing assistant moderator, at the opening of the United Franconia and Eastern District Conferences’ 2014 Assembly.  The theme of this year’s gathering, held November 14-15 at Penn View Christian School in Souderton, Pa., was “Esperando: Waiting & Hoping.”

“We’re not waiting for something, we’re waiting for somebody,” added Bob Stevenson during Friday evening worship.  “Waiting is not just a passive sitting back.  And so the word I have is that we wait ‘until’ [we receive the power of the Spirit] and then we get up and go!”

Stevenson and his wife Bonnie were called and commissioned as missionaries to Mexico at a Franconia Conference Assembly 26 years before.  They were celebrated Friday night as they reached a milestone in their ministry: the transition from raising missionary support from the States to full funding through their congregation.  “I thank the Lord for allowing us to be a part of this conference,” Bonnie responded after she and Bob were presented with a Spanish fraktur created by Salford congregation member Roma Ruth.  “There are many times on Friday morning when we have our prayer together … that we pray for each one of your congregations by name.”

praying for Danilo Sanchez
Conference leaders pray for Danilo Sanchez, Whitehall, one of this year’s newly credentialed leaders. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

The theme of leaders raised up and called from within the Conference continued on Saturday during the joint delegate session, when the gathering recognized a number of newly credentialed leaders who were licensed out of Franconia congregations.  “Where do our pastors come from?” asked Steve Kriss, Franconia Conference director of leadership cultivation.  “They come because you invite them.”

This year also saw the credentialing of leaders from other conferences and denominational backgrounds, adding to Franconia’s increasing diversity.  “Diversity is a catalyst for growth,” reflected Jessica Hedrick, Souderton congregation, during table feedback.  Her table encouraged conference delegates to prioritize prayer and, as corporate discernment continued, to recognize “the opportunity to learn from each other instead of necessarily trying to get everyone to agree.”

KrisAnne Swartley praying
KrisAnne Swartley, Doylestown, joins in prayer for the other congregations at her table. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

The theme of listening well and together wove through many of the stories and hopes shared throughout the weekend.  Danilo Sanchez, Whitehall congregation, named three areas that it seemed the majority of delegates were wrestling with: “Listening to the Spirit, how to sit with our differences, and how to love like Christ.”

The Franconia Conference Board asked delegates to consider what kind of conversations needed to be planned leading up to the Mennonite Church USA convention in Kansas City next summer, knowing the likelihood that Convention will include decisions about denominational structure and human sexuality.  Many delegates agreed that the questions of structure and sexuality only skimmed the surface; perhaps there were other questions that should be asked instead.

delegates conferring
Delegates discussed difficult issues around tables with grace and laughter. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

Josh Meyer, Franconia congregation, wondered how the upcoming dialogue could form those participating into the image of Christ.  “How we have this conversation is just as important as any decisions that we make,” he said.  “It doesn’t matter what we decide in Kansas City; if we don’t treat each other as sisters and brothers in Christ, then we’ve missed the point.”

Throughout the weekend, conference leadership encouraged delegates to actively wait on the Spirit, to take time for stillness and listening, and to collaborate in acts of justice and mercy.  “We must not become paralyzed by the issues of the day,” encouraged Eastern District moderator Brenda Oelschlager, “but move forward in love … as God leads us along new paths.”

Several new paths highlighted included a new Lehigh Valley collaboration in hiring Sanchez as youth minister, welcoming two new Philadelphia congregations (Centro de Alabanza and Indonesian Light Church) into an exploration of membership in Franconia Conference, and the move of the Mennonite Conference Center to the campus of Christopher Dock Mennonite High School in Lansdale (Pa.).

Aldo Siahaan introduces new congregations
LEADership Minister Aldo Siahaan introduces two new congregations exploring membership in Franconia Conference: Centro de Alabanza and Indonesian Light Church. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

Although 2014 saw the beginnings of new ministries and the licensing of many new pastors, it also brought the deaths of three influential church leaders: Paul Lederach, John Drescher, and Israel Bolaños.  In reflecting on their legacies, Kriss encouraged delegates to remember them by carrying on their work of teaching, writing, and mission.

“The gospel isn’t good news until someone takes it and goes with it,” Bob Stevenson agreed.  The power which sends the church is not political or force, but “a power that is a ‘preach the gospel to the poor’ power, it’s a ‘healing the broken heart’ power….  What will change this world is us, God’s people.”

Franconia congregations partner to fight human trafficking

Franconia pastor Josh Meyer sparked conversation at the February 8 delegate gathering when he asked delegates to partner in issues of justice.  Photo by Emily Ralph.
Franconia pastor Josh Meyer sparked conversation at the February 8 delegate gathering when he asked delegates to partner in issues of justice. Photo by Emily Ralph.

by Sheldon C. Good, for Franconia Conference

As debate around human sexuality continues to leave many church leaders wondering what binds together people with diverse beliefs, at least four Franconia Conference congregations are partnering to advocate for basic human rights, declaring that human beings shouldn’t be abused, raped, and sold.

The four Pennsylvania congregations – Doylestown, Finland, Franconia, and Philadelphia Praise Center – independently of each other became aware of the issue of human trafficking, commonly defined as the illegal movement of people, often for the purposes of forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation.

These congregations are each comprised of members with diverse theological perspectives, racial makeup, and socio-economic status, making their shared interest in addressing human trafficking unique and important at a time when conversations around homosexuality have polarized many churches.

Each congregation has taken its own steps toward becoming informed about the impact of human trafficking internationally, nationally, and locally, and toward advocating for victims of human trafficking everywhere.  It wasn’t until recently, however, that leaders from the four churches realized their shared conviction at a seemingly surprising location: a delegate meeting.

In February, as Franconia Conference leaders conducted business and wrestled with questions related to homosexuality, Josh Meyer, associate pastor of Franconia congregation, stood up and appealed to church leaders, “What are the more important matters of justice, mercy and faithfulness that we can gather around?”  For example, Meyer suggested, despite differing opinions about homosexuality, doesn’t everyone agree that human beings shouldn’t be abused, raped, and sold into slavery?

IMG_3560“That was the appeal that sparked a quick, on-the-spot poll of pastors and leaders present to ask, ‘which congregations want to be in conversation on this, want to get together to work on this?’” said Samantha Lioi, Franconia Conference minister of peace and justice.

After the delegate meeting, leaders from the four congregations, plus Lioi, formed an informal task force “to explore what it would look like to work together and make responding to human trafficking a priority in our Conference,” Meyer said. The task force organized a resourcing breakfast focused on human trafficking, held in September, and organized an anti-trafficking workshop to be held during Conference Assembly on November 15. The task force is planning a day of public witness, where people will be invited to gather and pray outside popular trafficking spots in southeastern Pennsylvania.

“Moving forward, we’re excited about making more congregations aware of the issue, and providing practical, tangible ways for churches to respond together,” Meyer said.

The Finland congregation has been addressing human trafficking for several years, hosting local speakers including Debbie Wright, an activist who is producing a documentary about sex trafficking in southeastern Pennsylvania. Pastor Kris Wint first encountered trafficking while in Cambodia. “To do nothing is to keep people enslaved and live contrary to the One we claim to follow,” Wint said.

Franconia congregation has focused a Sunday morning service on trafficking, hosted an awareness night, heard from guest speakers, and provided resources on how to get involved in combatting trafficking.  “My sense is many congregations don’t even realize the extent to which human trafficking is a reality in our world,” Meyer said. “There are more slaves in the world today than at any other time in human history.  Churches need to know about this … My other sense is that many churches are aware of the situation but don’t know what to do in response. It seems like such a big issue; it’s hard to know how to engage. If we can find ways to help churches act in practical, tangible ways, that would be a great thing.”

About three years ago, Doylestown staff members KrisAnne Swartley and Sandy Landes began prayer walking around Hilltown. As they walked, they became aware of area businesses that profit from the sex trade: adult bookstores, strip bars, massage parlors.

“It deeply troubled us, but we weren’t sure what we could do about it, other than continue to pray,” said Swartley, Doylestown’s minister for the missional journey.

Eventually, the Doylestown congregation connected with local advocates: Worthwhile Wear and The Well. With this kind of partnering, Swartley sees advocating for an end to human trafficking as missional.

“Individually, we can do very little to end modern day slavery,” she said. “As we partner together, we can accomplish so much more – each person and congregation offering different gifts as we have them, for this ministry.”

Adrian Suryajaya agrees. Some members of his congregation, Philadelphia Praise Center, have been victims of forced labor and wage theft.

“It is important that we work together on this issue because it is such a big, overwhelming issue to tackle alone,” he said. “We need a lot of resources and teamwork.”

The diversity of the Franconia Conference congregations partnering to end modern day slavery shows this teamwork is already happening. Lioi hopes more join in, and hopes the upcoming conference assembly will provide ample opportunity to do so.

“I don’t know why, but it seems this injustice, this oppression in particular, has drawn a more diverse group of leaders together than any other I have seen,” she said. “I believe we can be publicly present in standing against traffickers and standing with survivors, especially since we have information about places close to our congregations that have been centers for trafficking.”

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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Reflections from Impact: Holy Land conference

Impact: Holy Land
Archbishop Elias Chacour speaks at the Impact: Holy Land conference. Photo by Ben Wideman.

by Josh Meyer, Franconia congregation

I tend to be fairly cautious about most Christian conferences.  At the risk of sounding overly-skeptical, I’m not thoroughly convinced of the long-term benefit of such events, and wonder if they don’t play into a kind of consumerism within the Christian sub-culture of the West: lots of marketing, lots of money, lots of “celebrity Christians,” lots of glossy pamphlets and slick websites.  They’re not all bad, of course, but I generally feel uncomfortable with many aspects of “the big conference machine.”

However, I must admit when I received an invitation to attend the Impact: Holy Land conference, I was intrigued.  If you’re going to have a conference, I thought, there aren’t many issues other than the situation in the Middle East that are worthy of special time and attention.  And so, with a bit of hesitation, I registered for and attended the event.  I’m so glad I did.

It was a richly challenging and deeply hopeful three days of relationship-building and peace-building, of learning and growing.  The speakers and participants were comprised of a diverse group of individuals, with varied theological and political backgrounds and beliefs, but who were united by a love for Jesus.  We listened to stories, wrestled with difficult topics, asked pointed questions, studied the Bible, tried to disagree agreeably, and worshiped together throughout the entire event.

There’s not room in one short blog post to capture all of the wisdom and grace and hope that was shared during our time together, but here’s a brief sampling of some of the thoughts that struck me and continue to shape my thinking about the Way of Jesus in general and the Holy Land in particular:

  • “The greatest tool to fight injustice is actively seeking peace and reconciliation with those who are persecuting us.”
  • “The most deadly weapon in conflict is dehumanization.  When we dehumanize the other and buy into an ‘us vs. them’ mentality, it’s a breakdown of the image of God in other people.”
  • “If your theology is not a blessing to and good news for your enemy, then it’s not a Christian theology.”
  • “Part of loving your enemy means listening to their story, learning their history, and getting to know their narrative.”
  • “You cannot have justice without reconciliation.”
  • “Whenever people ask if I’m for a one-state solution or a two-state solution, I always reply that I’m for an 11 million-individual solution.  Every single person living in the Holy Land needs to be transformed and needs to be part of the solution.”
  • “As Mother Theresa teaches us, if we have no peace it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
  • “We Christians do not have exclusive control over the Holy Spirit.  Sometimes God works through those who believe differently than we do.”
  • “Dr. West reminds us that justice is what love looks like in public.”
  • “Love cannot be legislated, but as our hearts are transformed by the love of God we will necessarily change our policies.”
  • “Politics is about policies that impact people.  If there are policies in place that are hurting people, then challenging those policies is the right and loving thing to do.  So yes, there are times when love is political.”
  • “We must expose injustice to the point that it becomes so uncomfortable that people have no choice but to do something about it.”
  • “We need to exchange weapons for worship, conquest for community, and the pursuit of power for the pursuit of peace.”

I attended this conference with a desire to learn about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.  And while I did learn more about the situation, I also learned about much more than simply the religious and socio-political struggle in the Holy Land.

I learned about God’s deep love for all people.  I learned about conflict and reconciliation and justice.  I learned about the power of story, the power of forgiveness, and the power of God using ordinary people to do small things with great love.  I learned about my own distorted ways of dealing with conflict and relating to those who disagree with me.  I learned about social justice and the fierce urgency of now.  I learned about the imperative call to express our faith not merely in belief but through concrete, tangible, loving action.  And most importantly, I learned once again that the good news of Jesus is for all people: saints and sinners, skeptics and dreamers, Arabs and Americans, Israelis and Palestinians.