by Ken Burkholder, pastor at Deep Run East Mennonite Church
There was a spirit of anticipation, joy, and camaraderie, at the combined worship service between the Mennonite churches of Deep Run East and Deep Run West on Sunday, August 6. Barry Schmell, who grew up at Deep Run West and is currently a hospital chaplain in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, began his sermon by telling a story about when he was a boy. As a child, Barry would ask his parents why their family drives by three other churches on the way to their church. He also asked them, “why does our family worship at Deep Run West, while many of our relatives worship at Deep Run East?” His parents responded by saying, “When you get older, you’ll understand!”
Well, whether we’re children, or adults, it’s not always easy for us to understand, nor explain, why there are two Mennonite churches across the street from each other both named Deep Run Mennonite. I routinely hear this question from people in our local community, and those who are newer to the congregation. It’s almost as easy as trying to explain why there are two different Mennonite conferences within close geographic proximity named Franconia and Eastern District!
But, I’m grateful for opportunities, such as this joint worship service, which help to strengthen our connections with one another. In this service, we incorporated persons from both congregations in the various elements of worship. There was also an opportunity for people to greet one another, and to pray together in small cluster groups. A logistical detail to arrange with this joint service is how to handle the offering! We invited people to bring their offerings forward, and place them in the basket of their choice – one basket marked Deep Run East and one marked Deep Run West. Our worship service was followed by an informal fellowship time with coffee and baked goods.
My prayer is that occasions such as this joint worship service help to strengthen the bonds of relationship, mutuality, and shared faith between Deep Run East and Deep Run West. It may even help us all, whether young or older … understand … how much we share in common!
by Paula Marolewski, Franconia Conference Board Member and Elder at Perkiomenville Mennonite Church
What characterizes the culture of Franconia Mennonite Conference (FMC) today? How do we respond to the crowded, complex, fast-paced culture of society around us? How do Conference member churches experience being valued and valuing the whole of the larger conference?
These were some of the many questions the Conference Board discussed on July 28th and 29th as they met together for a retreat at Fatima House in Ottsville, Pennsylvania. All eleven of the board members were present*, representing eleven different congregations – a quarter of all the churches that comprise the conference. Facilitating the meeting was Jeff Wright of Riverside, CA, Executive Consultant for Urban Expression North America. Jeff had served as a guide for the Conference’s Vision and Financial Plan a decade ago.
During the time together, the Board spent time in spiritual reflection, as three of the board members (Beny Krisbianto, Angela Moyer, and Ken Burkholder) shared devotions on Jesus’ parables and how the parables spoke to various situations and needs within the Conference. The devotional times flowed into discussions about colliding cultures, conflict and hope, and the future of Franconia Conference and Mennonite Church USA.
One of the key conversations centered on three central questions that everyone – individuals, churches, the conference, and the denomination – should answer:
Who is Jesus to us? [Christology]
What does Jesus want us to do? [missiology]
How does Jesus want us to do it? [ecclesiology]
Jeff emphasized that it is critical to approach these questions in this order. For example, we as Franconia Conference need to first determine who Jesus is to us. The answer to that will become the foundation for our shared culture. Only then can we ask what Jesus wants us to do and how to go about it – these are questions of strategy that build on the foundation of culture.
The Board grappled with all these questions and more – and will continue to do so with the goal of advancing the Kingdom of God in our fallen world. That, after all, is the purpose of a retreat: to prepare to move forward.
*The Board is composed of John Goshow, moderator (Blooming Glen), Angela Moyer (Co-Pastor at Ripple), Beny Krisbianto (Pastor at Nations Worship Center), Gwen Groff (Pastor at Bethany), Jim King (Plains), Paula Marolewski (Perkiomenville), Ken Burkholder, interim chair of the Ministerial Committee (Pastor at Deep Run East), Kris Wint (Pastor at Finland), Smita Singh (Whitehall), Merlin Harman (Franconia), and Steve Kriss, Conference Executive Minister (Philadelphia Praise Center).
There is much work that is done within the Conference and each person, committee, taskforce, congregations and Conference Related Ministry plays a role in that work. On April 13, Franconia Conference announced that Mary Nitzsche’s role in the work of the Conference would be changing as she joins Conference Staff, stepping down from the Chair of the Ministerial Committee and her role as a pastor at Blooming Glen Mennonite Church. While Blooming Glen enters a process of discernment to fill the role left by Mary, so too the Conference has been discerning who God might be calling to fill the role of Chair of the Ministerial Committee.
The Chair of the Ministerial Committee also would serve on the Franconia Conference Board and oversee the Credentialing Committee which conducts interviews of credentialing candidates. This is a large role, as the Ministerial Committee is responsible for overall policies related to the calling, credentialing, training, and disciplining of those persons being credentialed by the Conference, along with the granting of ministerial credentials in keeping with A Mennonite Polity for Ministerial Leadership.
Through much discernment the Board invited current Ministerial Committee member Ken Burkholder to serve as interim Chair of the Ministerial Committee. According to the Conference bylaws, this is a role that is to be appointed by the delegate assembly which does not meet until November 4. In order to ensure that the work of the Conference can continue, the Board agreed that Ken would be able to easily step into the role of chair and would be a good fit for the position long term.
Conference Moderator John Goshow stated, “Ken’s six years of experience serving on the Conference’s Ministerial Committee makes him uniquely qualified to fill the role of chair for this important committee.”
Ken’s name will be presented to the delegates at the Fall 2017 Assembly for the role of Ministerial Committee Chair and subsequently a member of the Conference Board.
Ken was originally appointed by the Conference Delegate Assembly to the Ministerial Committee in 2011. He attended Eastern Mennonite Seminary (EMS) and received his Masters in Divinity in 2005 after working in the business world for 11½ years. Since his graduation from EMS he has been serving as lead pastor at Deep Run East Mennonite Church. He and his wife Karen (Frankenfield) Burkholder have two children – Alyssa (20) and Justin (17), a recent graduate of Dock Academy.
Executive Minister, Steve Kriss, says, “Ken brings pastoral and professional experience that offers significant wisdom and insight to lead the important work of the ministerial committee. He will be a valuable board member as well helping to represent the current needs and possibilities of our Conference’s credentialed leaders. I’m grateful for his willingness to accept this position and responsibility in this time of transition to help offer stability and strength to our ongoing work together.”
When asked about his new role as interim chair Ken stated, “It’s an honor and privilege to respond to this call – serving God, and the church, as interim chair. I look forward to continuing to work with a terrific team of people on the Ministerial Committee, as we, together, give leadership to the credentialing of persons across Franconia Mennonite Conference.”
In his spare time, Ken enjoys being with family, cheering for the Phillies, reading, and running.
Ken Burkholder, pastor of Deep Run East congregation (Perkasie, Pa.), joined the 27th MAMA Project Team that Deep Run East has sent to Honduras since 2001. Over the years, Pastor Ken had heard from teams reporting on their experiences and had met some of the MAMA Project partners on their visits to the US, but on March 15-22, he joined the team in Honduras.
On March 16, one day after arrival in San Pedro Sula, the team arrived at Iglesia Central Menonita (the largest Mennonite Church in the city) for an inspired and holy time of worship. Wow… talk about a worship team and praise music! Pastor Ken was invited to preach and his sermon followed worship, focusing on II Cor. 5: 17-21, “In Christ—New Creation.” In the context of violence and poverty in Honduras, the call to reconciliation and being ambassadors and coworkers with Christ was powerful to all who were listening.
After the worship service it was good to play a little “Mennonite game,” meeting Honduran young persons who had been part of the Mennonite Central Committee IVEP program and also discovering that the worship band leader had attended Eastern Mennonite University’s Peace Institute. What a blessing to fellowship with other believers around the world; Pastor Ken and another team member were visiting so long that the rest of the group left them behind!
Pastor Adalid Romero, president of the Honduran Mennonite Church, met with our team and explained how life in Honduras was lived in the midst of organized crime and corruption, with much illegal immigration to the US, Mexico, and Spain. He shared that “the situation here would be that much worse than it already is, if it wasn’t for the presence of the churches in Honduras!” The Honduran Mennonite Church works to teach peacemaking in schools where guns and knives show up routinely, introducing students to a different way of problem solving without violence.
That Sunday evening, the team headed to Iglesia Evangelica del Principe de Paz, a church in a poor community at the edge of the city. The church is located in the middle of drug traffic and gang tensions, but the community loves our teams and helps to ensure we are protected. Deep Run East and Swamp congregation (Quakertown, Pa.) have partnered with the pastor of this church, Juan Angel Ramirez, to work in this community. A new church has been built over the last two years and, as we arrived, everyone was waiting outside for the “big reveal.” The dedication service included ribbon cutting, with eight children dressed in rented wedding clothes holding the ribbons. Pastor Ken, as the honored guest, was given the scissors. The new building is an amazing testament of God’s desire for the church to be a beacon of hope, sitting up on the hill for all in the community to see.
That week we traveled to a remote community each day, setting up a clinic to give parasite medicine and vitamins and do medical consults. In addition, a work project was planned in each community. Our team organizer, Irma Dinora Molina, an involved member in the Honduran Mennonite Church, suggested working in some of the poor struggling Mennonite communities around San Pedro Sula. This plan was a perfect fit for a team with a Mennonite pastor. It was a highlight to see Ken connect, pray, and worship with the pastors in these communities. These are some of Ken’s comments after our trip:
The Church is the Hope of the World – In the midst of the poverty, suffering, and brokenness that we encountered in Honduras, we witnessed how the church is a beacon of light and hope. I greatly enjoyed interacting with the pastors. They love the Lord, they love their communities, they believe in the power of prayer, and some of them are literally risking their lives to be pastors!
Power of Prayer – The people of Honduras pray often and fervently! We prayed together before beginning our work for the day, we laid hands on and prayed for a vehicle that wasn’t running well, and we experienced answered prayers from our Deep Run East and Honduran friends in various ways throughout the week.
Spontaneous Worship/Prayer Experience – Words simply cannot capture the one experience I had of spontaneous worship and prayer among a group of Hondurans as we were finishing a painting job. I clearly witnessed the power of the Holy Spirit and I would describe this as a “modern-day Pentecost experience.”
If worship experiences like these seem intriguing, think about joining even more powerful worship services at Mennonite World Conference in Harrisburg, PA, July 2015. Our friends in Honduras are anxious to come too…please pray for the visa process.
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.
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.”
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.”
Plains has a history of assisting members in time of need and this was an opportunity to extend assistance at a conference level. This action helps us to realize we are part of a larger body, and when one member of the larger body hurts, we also feel the pain.
—Merlin Grieser, Council Chair, Plains
Not only do we have a responsibility as brothers and sisters in Christ, but PPC and Norristown are also similar: both have mostly people of color in the congregation; both are serving in urban settings; both face similar challenges.
—Aldo Siahaan, Pastor, Philadelphia Praise Center
Whitehall made the decision to give a certain amount from our benevolence fund and then presented the story to the congregation in case individuals wanted to give. In three weeks, the congregation’s giving matched what we gave from our budget. Why did we do this? We wanted to be a part of God’s Kingdom work continuing in Norristown.
—Rose Bender, Pastor, Whitehall
New Life is a treasured part of our Conference family and they are meeting many needs in their community. We want to learn from them how to more effectively reach out to our community, sharing the love of Christ.
—Steve Landis, Pastor, Franconia
We wanted to partner with other congregations so that Norristown could continue its significant ministry in the Norristown community. An application was submitted to a congregational fund for “above-budget” requests, which provides support for ministries that are an extension of Deep Run East. The members “caught the vision” and supported this funding opportunity.
—Ken Burkholder, Pastor, Deep Run East
I can’t help but see the many faces of the local Mennonite Church and wonder what stories may be told of congregations finding themselves in unexpected hard places, stories of congregations finding safe places to process their struggle, and stories of congregations reaching out across our differences to share in these struggles. Unexpected hard places will always be with us—may the reaching out stories abound.
When Nueva Vida Norristown (Pa.) New Life (NVNNL) acquired a 9,000-square-foot office building adjacent its meetinghouse in 2007, a local realtor projected it would only take six months to fill it with tenants. Then the Great Recession hit.
By last summer the congregation was on the brink of foreclosure of its 104-year-old meetinghouse, listed as collateral for the new building’s mortgage.
From the beginning, the building purchase has been part of a larger congregational vision. In 2007, NVNNL launched “Enlarging Our Place in God’s World,” a $2 million capital campaign. The campaign seeks finances for the office building and meetinghouse renovations to create a base for intercultural ministries of racial justice and reconciliation, economic access and opportunity for disadvantaged people, and income generation to support the ministries.
“People will go into an office building, but they might never go into a church,” said church member Jim Williams. “If you can expose people to the gospel, there’s a chance they will begin to connect with the congregation.”
Several pastors and leaders in Franconia Conference learned of the plight. Conference moderator John Goshow met with leaders from seven sister congregations to propose a mutual aid effort.
In September, they initiated a conference-wide appeal for $95,000 to satisfy the mortgage’s needs for a year. To date, more than 20 churches, businesses, and individuals have committed over $100,000.
Williams said he never expected the conference to initiate a mutual aid appeal.
“We still believe we’re doing God’s will in this,” he said. “We can fill a huge void in the Norristown area. We are prayerful and hopeful that we’ll be able to meet our obligations and move God’s vision forward.”