Tag Archives: Living Branches

Palestinian and Jewish Voices for Peace

By Peder Wiegner, member at Norristown New Life and of the Conference Israel/Palestine Taskforce

Franconia Mennonite Conference (FMC) together with Living Branches hosted the Palestinian and Jewish Voices for Peace Tour on Saturday, April 22. The FMC Israel Palestine Task Force was key to organizing this event together with Mennonite Church USA (MCUSA).

Jonathan Kuttab, a Palestinian Mennonite and human rights lawyer, together with Rabbi Linda Holzman of Jewish Voices for Peace and organizer of the social justice community in Philadelphia called Tikkun Olam Chavurah, shared their stories, experiences, and analysis of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. This was a key time to hear their stories and experiences as in July, Mennonites from around MCUSA will be voting on an important resolution at the MCUSA Convention in Orlando, FL.

The FMC Israel Palestine Task Force’s Preston Bush welcomed the thirty or so guests to the event and introduced the speakers, while everyone enjoyed a delicious breakfast.

Rabbi Holzman spoke of her journey in the Jewish community as it relates to the context of Israel and Palestine. Holzman highlighted that there are a wide range of views about Israel/Palestine among the Jewish community, while speaking of some of the things she was taught as a child she had to unlearn in order to be able to see the reality of the oppression of the Palestinian people. One of those teachings was that the land of Palestine was empty before the Jewish settlers arrived in Palestine, and another was that the Palestinians left their homes voluntarily, giving the land as a gift to the newly arriving Jewish settlers. Both of which she later learned to be false, as Palestinians were living there and had been working the land for centuries. Those who fled what is now Israel proper had their land taken from them, forcing them to become refugees never allowed to return home.

Rabbi Holzman reminded those present that criticism of the oppressive Israeli government does not come from Anti-Semitism; on the contrary, there is a wide variety of opinions and views within the Jewish world about Israel and Palestine. Not everyone is on board with supporting the oppressive regime.

She affirmed something that we Mennonites often declare. She said, “What I learned as a Jew was that everyone is created in the image of God and that we should love our neighbor as ourselves. The Jews were enslaved in Egypt, and so we should never let others be enslaved. The Jews were strangers in the land and so we should treat strangers well.”

Rabbi Holzman closed by talking about intersectionality being the recognition of oppression of different kinds as being connected and also layered. For example, being a woman in a male-dominated society brings certain disadvantages, but those disadvantages are compounded for women of color in a society dominated by white privilege such as the U.S., or for a Palestinian woman in Israeli society. We need to open our eyes and see that the struggles of Palestinians are like those of people of color in the U.S. and like the struggles of indigenous groups all over the world.

Jonathan Kuttab then spoke about the current situation in Palestine today, the Kairos Palestine Document, the MCUSA Israel Palestine Resolution, the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a Palestinian-led movement for freedom, justice and equality holding to the principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity. Palestinian civil society organizations have called for a nonviolent resistance strategy to end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Part of this strategy includes the BDS movement. Yet many in the West are critical of this approach despite the fact that it is nonviolent. The BDS movement is a moral and ethical critique that bothers Israel. It bothers Israel so much that Israel has dedicated three government ministries to fighting it. That seems to be an indicator of the capacity of BDS.

Mr. Kuttab observed that Western Christians tend to hold Palestinians accountable when it comes to violence but often turn a blind eye to the violence perpetuated by Israel. Yet, they still have not supported the Palestinian-led non-violent strategies.

Many Palestinian Christians were shocked when the Mennonite church – a peace church – failed to pass a resolution in Kansas City in 2015, addressing the injustices perpetuated against the Palestinians. However, the new resolution being presented for the 2017 Convention provides an opportunity for Mennonites to end their silence on this issue and commit to being part of a just and peaceful solution in Israel/Palestine while at the same time speaking out against Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and other hateful ideologies in our churches and society.

This June marks the 50th anniversary of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Will we sit back and let the oppression of Palestinians continue without making a statement? We, the Task Force, invite our Franconia Conference delegates to Convention to support the Seeking Peace in Israel Palestine Resolution.

You can listen to a recording of the April 21st Palestinian and Jewish Voices for Peace Tour event at Germantown Mennonite Church here.

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).

Running toward God (& the joy of finding the right ministry match)

Joy Sawatzkyby Joy Sawatzky, chaplain, Souderton Mennonite Homes (reposted by permission)

I am scheduled to be ordained into pastoral ministry February 9 at Souderton Mennonite Homes.  It’s a service that affirms God’s call on me to lifelong ministry to the Church, and gives me the credentials and oversight to do so through the Franconia Mennonite Conference.

I have been almost this close to being ordained before… twice.  And each time I found a reason not to accept the invitation.  Each time the reason was the same.  It was because I was not convinced that I was ‘called’ to this life of service to the Church – for a lifetime.

In the movie “Runaway Bride”, Maggie has a tendency to run away when it comes to a marriage commitment.  Maggie has just left another groom standing at the altar, and has jumped aboard a FedEx truck as an escape route.

Ellie: Where is she going?
Fisher:  I don’t know, but she’ll be there by 10:30 tomorrow.

Like Maggie, I wasn’t always sure why I ran away, but just knew it wasn’t right – knew it in that place where I discern what God is saying to me.  I knew it wasn’t the time.  I was not running away from God or even God’s call (in the larger sense).   I have been running toward God since I was a kid, after making a serious personal commitment to God’s loving and sustaining grace at our church camp, and have always lived a life pointed towards God.

Oh, I have thrown a tantrum or two at God since then, but never veered from that early innocent desire to be connected to and in service with my Creator – to live that life that God created me for. The verses that I live by are from Psalm 139:13 – 14:

For it is you, o god, who formed my inward parts;
you knit me in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made,
wonderful are your works;
I know that well.

Here at SMH I have found a place of ministry that fits with God’s call on my life.  The time is right.  I am not even tempted by all the FedEx trucks on the road!  Thanks be to God for this marvelous gift!

Joy Sawatzky will be ordained at Souderton Mennonite Homes at 2pm on February 9, 2014.  All are welcome to attend!

MCC International Volunteers: Impacting the World

Kaputa_Madalitsoby Millie Penner, Mennonite Central Committee East Coast

“We eat together, sing together in both English and Chichewa, go on our nightly walks together, and laugh together like a family of hyenas,” says Eric Bishop of his family’s relationship with Madalitso Kaputa. Eric and Linda Bishop, Souderton congregation, have opened their home to Madalitso, a participant in the International Volunteer Exchange Program (IVEP). IVEP is a program of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) that brings young adults from other countries to live and work in Canada and the United States for a year. Madalitso is far from his home in Malawi, Africa this year, yet clearly he also has found a family with the Bishops.

During the day Madalitso volunteers at the Dock Woods and Dock Meadows campuses (Lansdale, Pa.) of the Living Branches retirement community. It is clear to his host family and both his supervisors that this work is far more than a short term volunteer assignment. For Madalitso, this work is a part of the calling God has on his life, a calling he works to fulfill with joy and passion. He says, “When I first arrived in the United States, the food, the time change and the people were all new to my life, and I wondered if I would be able to hold on to my sense of mission. But after a month, I feel like I’m at home as my wonderful host family has helped me to remember my mission goal. Through my work at Dock Woods and Dock Meadows, I have come to understand the great call that the church has in taking care of people, especially the elderly. Indeed, this is now the time that the church should be inviting and welcoming all the elderly into her caring and protective service as the salt and light of the world.”

Gerry Moore, who supervises Madalitso at Dock Meadows, agrees that he is focused and effective. “He is eager to visit with each resident and learn their stories. He wants them to know they have a life time of experience to share, a wealth of wisdom and much he can learn from them.”

Dock Meadows and Dock Woods have hosted IVEPers for several years and have seen good fruit from the cross-cultural exchanges that happen through this program. Eileen Burks of Dock Woods says, “A resident just received an email from one of our past IVEPers from Indonesia. They have been in contact for over seven years, and this clearly is one of many great bonds that were formed through this program. Another way that we are enriched is when the IVEPer brings the world to our residents through a cultural class, sharing about their country … family, faith, foods and languages.”

Madalitso will take many gifts with him when he leaves the IVEP program, not the least of which is a better sense of the world community. Linda Bishop, his host mother, says that he already refers to the world as his home, not just Malawi, since he is willing to go wherever God sends him.

And Madalitso will leave just as many gifts with those whose lives he touches here in Pennsylvania. Living Branches residents, his supervisors and his host family will have formed many good memories, relationships and connections that will last a lifetime.

Team Living Branches walks to end Alzheimer’s

LANCASTER, PA—Team Living Branches took big strides to end Alzheimer’s disease in Lancaster on Saturday, September 24.

A team of 42 Living Branches employees, residents, and family members took to the walking path at Long’s Park in Lancaster Saturday in an effort to raise funds and awareness about the crippling disease that is so close to their hearts. The team, led by Dock Woods healthcare social worker Mary Spencer, was the second largest in attendance at the annual event.

Dock Woods Resident, Janet Wells, joins Team Living Branches at Long's Park in Lancaster to raise awareness of Alzheimer's Disease.

Team Living Branches is also responsible for raising over $8,000 to benefit the Alzheimer’s Association; the second highest amount of all the groups present at the Lancaster walk. Team members hosted multiple fundraisers at the three Living Branches campuses—Dock Meadows, Souderton Mennonite Homes, and Dock Woods—including a popular “Kiss the Pig” contest.

One of the Lancaster walk’s top individual fundraisers is Living Branches employee Charlene Rogers.  In her own words, “The Walk to End Alzheimer’s took on more meaning for me because of the Alzheimer’s journey I’m walking with my mom. She is turning 85 on 0ctober 1, so I made and met my fundraising goal of $850 in celebration of her.”

About Living Branches
Living Branches is a not-for-profit system of retirement living communities in southeastern Pennsylvania, affiliated with the Franconia Mennonite Conference of Mennonite Church USA. Comprised of two continuing care retirement communities—Dock Woods in Lansdale and Souderton Mennonite Homes in Souderton—and Dock Meadows personal care community in Hatfield, Living Branches employs more than 600 team members and offers a wide range of housing, support services and life-enriching activities for more than 1,350 residents. Through Dock Manor and Dock Village, Living Branches also offers affordable senior and family housing for those who qualify for rental assistance.

Living Branches names pastoral care & service team

Russ Mast
Russ.Mast@livingbranches.org

When visionary leaders from Franconia Mennonite Conference founded Souderton Mennonite Homes and Dock Woods Community, serving older adults and families in the name of Jesus was at the heart of their mission. When the Boards of these two ministries came together to form Living Branches in 2008, we again affirmed that the vision and vitality of our shared ministry is rooted in and guided by Jesus. “Recognizing the importance of our faith heritage to our mission, we wanted to ensure that pastoral care played a prominent role in Living Branches,” explains Edward Brubaker, President/CEO. “We also felt that service to others was core to our Anabaptist Christian identity.”

This past fall, Living Branches combined Pastoral Care and Volunteer Coordination across the three campuses to create a unified Pastoral Care and Service Team. After interaction with a number of good candidates, the Pastors, Volunteer Coordinator and Living Branches leadership unanimously decided to call Ray Hurst to serve as our first Director of Pastoral Care and Service. Ray leads a gifted new team, which includes Jim Derstine, Pastor at Dock Meadows (Zion Mennonite); Lorene Derstine, Pastor at Dock Woods (Plains); Mark Derstine, Pastor at Souderton Mennonite Homes (Blooming Glen); and Lynne Allebach, our Volunteer Coordinator (Methacton).

Ray brings more than 20 years of ministry, pastoral care and social service experience to Living Branches. He began his ministry in Kansas, where he served as Co-Pastor of Tabor Mennonite Church in Newton for 11 years. Ray then became Lead Pastor of Community Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, Virginia, for a decade. Both were larger, multi-staff congregations. Ray moved to the Philadelphia area three years ago when his wife, Brenda, accepted a call to serve as Pastor of Frazer (Pa) Mennonite Church. Since moving to Pennsylvania, Ray has served autistic youth and adults living with mental illness. He also worked for a year as Executive Director of Good Samaritan Shelter in Phoenixville.
Ray earned a Master of Divinity Degree in Pastoral Counseling from Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, and a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology from Trinity College. He is an avid gardener and is passionate about the Christian call to work for peace and justice.

“We have a strong interest in nurturing the ongoing faith development of older adults,” says Ray. “Our faith isn’t finalized when we reach a certain age; rather, we can always continue to mature in our faith journey.” Ray and his team are creating spaces to talk about questions of life and faith in the context of community. Ray recently started a column in a monthly resident newsletter titled “Roast Preacher” where he invites conversation with residents around an aspect of faith that he is pondering.

With these changes, the Dock Woods and Dock Meadows chaplains are now referred to as pastors, which had already been the tradition on the Souderton Mennonite Homes campus. As Ray explains, “For some, the term ‘chaplain’ can signify a shorter-term ministry to an individual. At Living Branches, however, we’re looking to form meaningful relationships for the balance of a person’s life, and we’re also tending to the wider faith community on all three campuses. We feel this new language embraces our Anabaptist heritage of faith in the context of community.”

Another way we’re embracing our Anabaptist approach to spirituality is including Volunteer Coordination in the Pastoral Care and Service Team. “Serving others is at the heart of the Gospel,” added Ray. “By including Volunteer Coordination in our vision for Pastoral Care, we are helping others connect more fully with service as a wonderful, life-giving spiritual discipline.”
In addition to engaging our residents, their families and staff members around issues of spirituality, our Pastoral Care and Service Team strives to be a resource for area pastors and coordinators of congregational health ministries. One way we do this is through annual Pastoral Care to Seniors seminars.

As Ray summarizes, “We are here to be expressions of Christ’s love, as we minister to the needs of the whole person—mind, body and spirit.”

Conference Related Ministries

« BACK to Conference Assembly Index Page

Below is the list of Franconia Conference Related Ministries. Click on the name of a CRM below to read an update on their ministry. (Currently, not all ministries have submitted reports.)

Bethany Birches Camp
Camp Men-O-Lan
Care and Share Shoppes
Christopher Dock Mennonite High School
Community Home Services
Crossroad Gift and Thrift
Delaware Valley MEDA
Germantown Mennonite Historic Trust
Indian Creek Foundation
Liberty Ministries
Life with God Ministries
Living Branches – Dock Woods Community and Souderton Mennonite Homes
Mennonite Historians of Eastern Pennsylvania
Mennonite Disaster Service
MCC Material Resource Center of Harleysville
Peaceful Living
Penn Foundation
Penn View Christian School
Philadelphia Mennonite High School
Quakertown Christian School
Rockhill Mennonite Community
Spruce Lake

Collaborative missional learning task force formed for Indian Valley initiatives

by Stephen Kriss

blooming-glen-bapt-4.jpgLeaders from ministries and organizations connected with Eastern District Conference and Franconia Mennonite Conference of Mennonite Church USA met on April 5 at Dock Woods Community at Lansdale, Pa, to initiate a conversation about future partnerships toward collaborative missional learning. The gathering has implications for broader cooperation and included representatives from Living Branches (an affiliation of Franconia Conference-related retirement communities), Christopher Dock Mennonite High School, Eastern Mennonite Seminary in Pennsylvania and Biblical Seminary in Hatfield, Pa. The meeting included board members, business leaders, pastors, conference staff and organizational leaders in conversation together.

The group met to discuss possibilities and to engage in storytelling on the movement on education and equipping within a variety of contexts, considering from the pew to pulpit as well as later year learning. Though an informal conversation, the group named a task force to continue the conversation toward more practical realities and paths for mutual enhancement of mission and vision for extending the reign of God and missional engagement locally in Bucks and Montgomery Counties in Pennsylvania.

Franconia Conference is undergoing a conference-wide review while regional conferences of Mennonite Church USA, including Harleysville-based Eastern District Conference, continue to explore collaborative equipping and learning opportunities from an Anabaptist perspective. Christopher Dock Mennonite High School is also in the midst of a marketing review along with Penn View Christian School in nearby Souderton, Pa. Both Biblical Seminary and Eastern Mennonite Seminary in Pennsylvania are expanding options to serve emerging congregational leaders in the Philadelphia region considering both urban and suburban constituencies. With the recent affiliation of Souderton Mennonite Homes and the Dock Woods facilities under the name Living Branches, there is a new opportunity to explore lifelong living and learning among a community of 1500 residents.

The group named a task force set to include:

  • Phil Bergstresser, board member Christopher Dock Mennonite High School, broker/owner, Bergstresser Real Estate
  • David Dunbar, President, Biblical Seminary
  • Steve Kriss, Director of Leadership Cultivation for Franconia Conference of Mennonite Church USA
  • Rich McDaniel, board member Biblical Seminary, president of College Retail Alliance
  • Conrad Swartzentruber, Principal, Christopher Dock Mennonite High School
  • Mark Wenger, Director of Pastoral Studies, Eastern Mennonite Seminary at Lancaster (Pa)
  • Warren Tyson, Conference Minister, Eastern District Conference of Mennonite Church USA