Franconia Conference’s new Executive Minister, Steve Kriss, is a frequent columnist for Mennonite World Review. His latest column, released earlier this week, speaks of the need for the church to offer hospitality to our immigrant brothers and sisters as “most immigrants to the United States are already Christian. This ongoing influx of Christians bolsters our churches and keeps an abundant percentage of our country Christian.” We at Franconia Conference have been blessed with an influx of immigrant brothers and sisters who share our Mennonite values. Read the full article here: http://mennoworld.org/2017/01/02/columns/kriss-immigrants-are-the-church/.
At Fall Assembly, Taftsville Chapel Mennonite Fellowship in Vermont was featured in one of the Plant, Water, Grow videos, discussing their creation care initiatives. Part of that includes going solar. This week in the Mennonite World Review, is was announced that they will receive a $10,000 award from Mennonite Creation Care Network to assist in these efforts.
As Pentecost approaches and we talk of hospitality, we must remember the importance of language and communication. Check out what Steve Kriss, Director of Leadership Cultivation & Congregational Resourcing for the conference has to say about communication in Spirit’s Strange Words, published in Mennonite World Review.
by Stephen Kriss
The powerful words of Advent readings from Isaiah tend to get lost in this feel-good season of tinsel and twinkling lights. Familiar music, family gatherings and special worship times mark the holiday with a sense of holy regularity.
But echoes of the prophet’s words linger in our yearning at this time of year to make things right. There’s a sense that Advent and Christmas shouldn’t pass anyone by. There are more efforts in church and culture to be mindful of those who will struggle this season. Sensitivities are pricked by those who ring bells for the Salvation Army and year-end appeal letters from charitable causes.
When I pastored in the Allegheny Mountains, our congregation had an annual Christmas Sharing Fund. It was an attempt at mutuality within our congregation of diverse income levels. Within and sometimes beyond this season it felt that “no one among us lacked anything.” It was one of my favorite times of the pastoral year. I miss those intimate moments of sharing, knowing that some who contributed to the fund could at times be those who received from it.
I’ve been challenged by my friend Mark Van Steenwyk of the Mennonite Worker, an intentional community in Minneapolis. Settled into a middle-class lifestyle, I’ve learned to trust the mediating work of organizations to handle my charitable giving, which also provides a tax write-off. This popular path of generosity adds a step between giver and receiver that I think usually honors the relationship, allowing a sense of respect to be maintained.
But Van Steenwyk, out of his own reading of Scripture and walking alongside the poor in community, suggests mediated giving doesn’t readily allow transformative relationships to develop between givers and receivers.
My tax-deductible check takes away the receiver’s sense of indebtedness but does little to cultivate the community and connectivity with the poor, whom Isaiah suggests are chosen to receive the Messiah’s good news.
I remember the intimacy of the Christmas fund, knowing the holy bonds created within the church community from that sharing. Though given anonymously, the gifts directly from the church communicated love and offered those who struggled a sense of being in the struggle together rather than getting a handout.
Those intimate gifts demonstrated care rather than creating a sense of dependency.
I wonder how congregations can do more mutual work like that. It requires us to know and trust each other.
I live in a city where I am asked on a weekly basis to contribute money to someone who is homeless, lost, addicted, struggling. Even after living in large cities for 15 years, I can’t quite look away. I wonder if every encounter might render me the priestly character in the story of the Good Samaritan. I rarely respond anymore. And usually I don’t feel guilty.
But Van Steenwyk’s invitation to step out from behind the comfort of charitable check-writing at this time of the year rings in my ears. Giving is ultimately about God, who gives freely, but also about my redemption and transformation.
This season of tinsel and twinkling commingles with the profound invitation of a Hebrew prophet to give and respond out of the call of the One who sustains all human dignity.
This piece first appeared in Mennonite World Review. Reposted with permission.
by Steve Kriss, director of communication
(originally posted on Mennonite World Review, reposted by permission)
I’ll start with a confession: There is no such thing as objective reporting. I know this after working around journalism for 20 years. If you and I were to see the same thing occur, we would likely see it differently. Experiences etched into our brains cause us to interpret the same scene through different lenses.
Often the more information we have, the more complicated the scenes become. Then there are the limitations: deadlines, language barriers, short attention spans of readers (and editors!), lack of space on a page. We are trapped by the inadequacy of communicating human experience through words. Yet, we try.
And then there are the biases, even in the newspaper you are reading. MWR is rooted in the General Conference Mennonite tradition, valuing autonomy and unity. We are biased toward the positive possibilities of Mennonite Church USA and other Anabaptist denominations. We are biased toward relationships within Mennonite World Conference’s big tent. We believe there is something good in us being together.
If you watch Fox News or MSNBC, there are obvious partisan preferences. The funding sources of RT (Russian) news or Al-Jazeera (Qatari) shape reporting and information gathering in quite different ways from U.S.- or U.K.-based sources. This summer’s unrest in Ferguson, Mo., played differently in China (where they are also afraid of insurrection within the nation’s diverse ethnic groups) and Russia (where the incident was viewed as an example of internal American imperialism).
In Ferguson, Gaza, Iraq and Ukraine, we’ve seen how conflict is interpreted in different ways. I’ve written very little on any of these topics, fearing I might be wrong. It’s my privilege to be silent when I don’t have a deadline or the conflict isn’t at my doorstep. I’ve found myself silent, knowing all too well that my biases can get in the way of good judgment.
In the Midwest, the Middle East or Ukraine, it’s easy for me to identify oppressed and oppressor. My biases form quickly. I don’t trust Israeli offenses in Palestine. I am leery of police who shoot the unarmed. As a great-grandson of Eastern European immigrants, I am suspicious of Russian assertions of power and cheer on Ukraine’s move to align with the European Union and NATO. But the more I learn, the more I wonder about my easy-to-come-to conclusions. It’s like the more I know, the less I know.
More and more these days I trust these complex stories to on-the-ground interpreters. I hear the words of friends in Israel/Palestine. I hear their fears from inside Israel’s “Iron Dome” and the West Bank. I listen to the stories of those who witnessed the scenes that unfolded in Ferguson. I struggle to interpret what is happening in Ukraine, Syria and Iraq because of limited access to firsthand sources in English. Online I found an interpreted account of a Yazidi woman who is pleading for intervention to save her people in Iraq. It brought me to tears.
I am glad I am not entrusted to make foreign policy, particularly when I recognize how hard it is even to interpret what is happening in Missouri. Yet it is important to me, as a Christian leader/ writer/follower, to keep listening to those who bear witness to the justice, injustice, violence and hope of their own communities. And to believe that the Spirit is upon us as Jesus-followers to bear good news of freedom and possibility. And to know that I cannot persist in silence.
Stephen Kriss is a teacher, writer, pastor, student and follower of Jesus living in Philadelphia.
Goshen, Dock grad shares research on tension Christians face in India at international conference in Rome
Halfway through a conference on Christianity and freedom, Chad Bauman and his fellow presenters were told the schedule had changed.
The next morning they crossed the street from the Pontifical Urbaniana University in Rome and met the pope.
“In my wildest imagination I had thought, ‘Wow, wouldn’t it be cool if I’d be able to meet the pope,’ ” said Bauman, who is associate professor and chair of religion at Butler University in Indianapolis. “But there was nothing on the schedule to indicate anything like that might happen.”
The international conference, held Dec. 13-14 to discuss Christian contributions to the idea of freedom and restrictions Christians face with regard to religious liberties, had come to the attention of Vatican officials.
Conference organizer Timothy Shah said the meeting was completely unexpected, but reflected the Pope’s commitment to religious freedom.
“And [it reflected] his concern to highlight the terrible situation of persecuted Christians in many parts of the world, especially the Middle East,” Shah said.
Bauman said of all the popes in his lifetime this was the one he wanted to meet.
“There’s such energy and enthusiasm about him, and indications that he could have a massive positive impact on the world because of the positions he’s taken on social issues and the size of the Roman Catholic church,” he said. “It just topped off a really wonderful time in Rome.”
And he said it increased the energy for the rest of the conference — one he already found to be faster-moving and more lively than academic conferences at which he’s accustomed to presenting his research on religious conflict in India.
This conference, “Christianity and Freedom: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives,” was held as part of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs in Washington, D.C.
Shah, who is the associate director of the Religious Freedom Project, said an effort was made to connect journalists and policy makers to the conference.
“As a result, we designed each panel to be a brisk, concise, free-flowing conversation, rather than a series of long academic presentations,” he said.
Bauman, who grew up in Souderton, Pa., and is a graduate of Christopher Dock Mennonite High School, Goshen (Ind.) College and Princeton Theological Seminary, was one of about 40 people asked to write chapters for an upcoming volume or volumes on Christian freedom on behalf of the project.
The conference presentation came after a year of research on Christian contributions to freedom and civil society in India, as well as on their occasional experiences of harassment and violence. Bauman worked with a research partner, James Ponniah, of Jnana Deepa Vidyapeeth, a Catholic university in Pune, India.
The center’s larger project will study all religions and their access to freedom.
“Christians are not the only people around the world suffering difficulties because of their faith,” Bauman said.
Christians sometimes invite the hostility of others by engaging in provocative forms of evangelism, he said. They have exploited their occasionally greater access to Western wealth and political power to gain advantages over people of other faiths.
“Christians in places like India are suffering, and that’s truly awful,” he said. “But I think we also need to investigate the reasons why they are suffering and see if there are things they, or even their Western Christian supporters, could do differently to ameliorate the situation.”
Bauman’s research describes how Christians and Hindus coexisted relatively peacefully for a thousand years in India and how tensions have emerged more recently largely as a result of European colonialism and everything which came along with it — including Christian missions, of which Mennonites were a part.
“Now Christianity is very much associated with Western power and globalization in ways that make people skeptical about it and make people fear its influence,” he said.
Bauman’s research in India originated in the state of Chhattisgarh, and his own past.
“I first got interested in that state when I was doing my dissertation research because Mennonite missionaries had worked there,” he said.
His research eventually moved to cover a different group of Christians.
“One of the reasons that I’m interested in efforts to alleviate violence clearly has to do with my education at Christopher Dock and Goshen, and the emphasis those institutions place on peace and nonviolence and especially on understanding the causes of violence,” he said.
Bauman said it’s difficult to measure the impact of an academic conference. But this one was different.
“The organizers of this conference are really good at trying to bridge the gap between journalist and academic,” he said. “I’m sure it will have more of an impact than most scholarly conferences do.”
By Sheldon C. Good, Mennonite World Review
HARLEYSVILLE, Pa. — When Annie Clemmer Funk, a Mennonite missionary to India, learned her mother was very ill in Pennsylvania, she quickly packed her bags and caught a train to Bombay. From there she traveled to England, where she learned a coal strike had delayed her ship’s voyage to the U.S.
So she paid a few extra gold pieces for a spot on the Titanic, which set sail two days later.
Funk was one of 1,517 people who died in the “unsinkable” ocean liner’s disaster on April 15, 1912. Just three days earlier she had celebrated her 38th birthday aboard the Titanic.
To mark the centennial of Funk’s death in one of history’s most famous tragedies at sea, filmmaker Jay Ruth is producing a 35-minute video that tells the story of Funk’s faith and witness and describes the nature of Mennonite mission at the time.
A DVD will be available, and two premiere showings are planned. The first will be at 7:30 p.m. April 29 at Zion Mennonite Church in Souderton. The second will be at 7:30 p.m. May 6 at Hereford Mennonite Church in Bally, Funk’s home congregation.
The film, sponsored by Mennonite Historians of Eastern Pennsylvania, is a production of Jay Ruth’s Branch Valley Productions in Lederach.
A native of Butter Valley in southeastern Pennsylvania, Funk was the first Mennonite woman from Pennsylvania to serve as a missionary in India. Fragments of her story have been known for years, but the film is the first larger project of its kind.
“Here’s a young woman who grew up in rural Pennsylvania, and somehow she was drawn from there to the other side of the world, and then her life ended in this worldwide drama,” said historian John L. Ruth, a consultant for the film. “As a memorably dedicated Christian, she has not been forgotten in India and North America as a hero of our faith family.”
Using momentum from the blockbuster 1997 film Titanic, Charlotte Strouse of Zion Mennonite helped Funk’s story became even more widely known. Strouse recalled Funk’s life more than 100 times in a one-person re-enactment.
Before going to India, Funk took a teachers’ course at West Chester State Normal School, which later became West Chester University. She trained for Christian service at D.L. Moody’s Northfield (Mass.) Seminary for Ladies, then served in Chattanooga, Tenn., and with the Young Women’s Christian Association in Paterson, N.J.
After Mennonite missionaries in India put out an urgent call for an unmarried woman, Funk expressed interest, Jay Ruth said.
According to a story in the Dec. 26, 1985, issue of Mennonite Weekly Review, Funk had written: “Several years ago I promised the Lord that if the way would open to go to the foreign field, I would do my duty… . Now the door is open wide enough for me to do my duty to the extent of being willing to go.”
Funk went to Janjgir, India, in 1906, at the age of 32. She served under the General Conference Mennonite Church’s young board of missions.
“At the time, India had famine, leprosy, cholera and extreme heat,” Jay Ruth said. “Annie would not have thought of herself as an important person. She would have thought of herself as being faithful.”
In 1908 Funk started a one-room school for girls, later named Funk Memorial Girls School.
Giving up her seat
Not much is known about Funk’s time on the Titanic. Conflicting stories tell of her experience while the ship was sinking.
According to one account, Funk was already seated in a full lifeboat when she saw a woman and her child (or children) who needed space. So Funk gave up her seat, saying she would probably find a seat in another boat.
Although a newspaper in England was said to have documented Funk’s situation, the story is now mostly oral, Jay Ruth said.
Funk’s friends back home were surprised to see her name listed in newspapers along with the other casualties. They were sure the Annie Funk they knew was to come on the SS Haverford. A letter Funk sent back to India as the Titanic left England explained what she had done.
After her death, several memorial services were held in Pennsylvania and India. Her mother’s health had improved, and she was able to attend one of the services. A plaque was later installed in the chapel of the Northfield school, where she had trained.
In 1913 a monument was dedicated at the Hereford Mennonite Church cemetery. The monument, erected by Eastern District Conference, says: “Her life was one of service in the spirit of the master — ‘not to be ministered unto but to minister.’ ”
Reprinted by permission from Mennonite World Review.