Tag Archives: Mike Clemmer

The Gift of Receiving

By Mike Clemmer, LEADership Minister

I was intrigued by something that was said by one of the National Football League (NFL) analysts, about what it would take for this year’s new draft picks to be successful in the NFL. He said, “these star college players need to do something that they never really have had to do before – that is to be willing to receive coaching and critique, because their talent will only take them so far.”  I reflected on this statement and wondered how this might relate to our churches in Franconia Conference. I was taught from as early as I can remember that “it is better to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). As an adult, this makes sense. We as Christians are called to pursue mutual aid and to use our gifts and talents to help those who are in need. As I look around at our Franconia Conference churches, mutual aid and supporting those in need is clearly in the forefront of our missional focus, and rightfully so. Whenever there are financial needs or physical needs, churches and individuals are quick to deliver – often in the biblical mode of “not letting the right hand know what the left hand is doing.” We definitely have built up a good track record on giving.

But lately, I have been drawn to perhaps an equally important Christian posture –  that it is just as important to be able to receive. Our track record on being grateful receivers is not as stellar as our giving record. When people ask me if they can help me, my response is almost always, “No, I (or we) have things under control.” I wonder if we are not, at times, blocking others from receiving the blessing of giving to us. Do we find ourselves “above” the possibility of receiving from others?

I recently watched two of our churches experience times of crisis. When they were asked by Conference Leadership and by other churches what they needed to help them the most, instead of acting like they could handle things on their own, their leadership opened their arms to receive a variety of help and kindness that was offered to them. These churches were truly refreshed and encouraged by their ability to receive, and I was amazed at their openness to these blessings.

Receiving can be a lot more than just financial help. This is where it gets tricky. Though probably the greatest thing that both we and the new NFL players can receive is coaching and critique, neither is generally welcomed with open arms. The churches in the New Testament all were a work in progress. Dialogue, teaching, and coaching were needed as part of the growth process, but not all were open to receiving. Are we open to receiving help or coaching in areas of finances, racism, immigration, helping the poor, and a whole lot of other areas of need? I believe that when churches are open to seeing themselves as a work in progress and intentionally place themselves in a position to receive, blessings are poured out in abundance. I would challenge us to continue to look not only at the ways that we can give, but also to the people and places from which we can receive.

Holy Longing for Communion

By Mike Clemmer

Communion photoRecently, I had an intriguing conversation about communion with a friend who worships at a local Catholic parish.  He described his weekly experience of partaking the Holy Eucharist as being “a powerful, mysterious, holy event that brings [him] into the very presence of God – and therefore, something [he] needs to experience every week.”  As I quietly reflected on my own experience at the Lord’s Table, somehow I felt as if I was missing something very important in my faith. In fact, his statement challenged me to think more intentionally about my own thoughts about communion.

Indeed, my theology as it relates to communion differs from my Catholic friend. For him, the Eucharist is a sacrament, the very embodiment of Jesus, and the invitation for him to experience the presence of Christ. For me, it is a sign through which we as believers remember the new covenant established by Jesus through his death and resurrection as well as a recommitment to one another in the church. His belief seems to highlight the individual’s experience while mine emphasizes the community’s witness of togetherness.  After reflecting on these differences, I wonder if there are not several important things for me to learn from my Catholic friend.

One thing to learn is the importance of intentionally putting ourselves in holy places where we can simply be in God’s presence more often. I believe that the Lord’s Table is one of these holy places because as our Confession of Faith states, “When Christians eat the bread and drink the cup, they experience Christ’s presence in their midst.”  God’s Spirit works mightily when we are in God’s presence. Yet, as I surveyed churches in our Franconia and Eastern District Conferences, I found that most practice Communion less than 4 times a year and even those with the most frequency only come to the table once a month. I wonder, how often we should be placing ourselves into the holy place of Communion?

Another thing (which perhaps is more of a reminder than a new learning) is that through Communion, the Lord’s Supper, we practice community at its very core. All are welcome at the table. There is not a place of special prestige or honor, nor is there any room for exclusion.  We all eat the same bread and drink from the same cup. Despite our disagreements and differences, the community still is called together to serve and minister through the strength of the meal shared together. When my friend shared with me his experience with the Holy Eucharist, he reminded me that the practice of community through Communion is one of the greatest witnesses that we have in the world today.

And finally, in many ways, we need to allow for the mystery of God to shape us, move us, and call us to a closer relationship with Jesus. Our faith is not something that can be figured out. In fact, the way God works is rarely the way I think God should work. And so, through God’s mystery, Communion is very personal and individual.  One of the pastors that I spoke to about Communion described the mystery of experiencing God’s presence when he shared Communion at the bedside of a person at life’s end. He could not put words on what happened in that holy place, but God’s presence had a profound effect on him and all that were in the room. Thanks to my friend’s sharing, I find myself in a place of holy longing to experience God’s mystery in my life in a new way – and I can’t wait until the next time that I can share Communion with my other brothers and sisters in Christ.

Mike Clemmer is Lead Pastor at Towamencin Mennonite Church, and a LEADership Minister for Franconia Conference.

Tuning Fork

by Mike Clemmer

tuning fork - 4-28-16As a young boy, I enjoyed going to my grandparent’s house to explore the many knick-knacks that were displayed around their home. Of all the fun items to see, the one that intrigued me more than any other was my great grandfather’s tuning fork. I would spend countless hours repeatedly striking it against the heel of my shoe and then holding it to my ear to listen to the sound of the vibrations – a concert A – over and over again. I would then attempt to match the pitch that I heard in my ear with my own voice while imagining myself as a chorister leading a hymn. The inscription pressed into the metal on one of the tuning fork’s tines stated “A = 440 vibrations guaranteed,” meaning that the sound in my ear would always be the same – guaranteed! But although I always heard the same pitch in my ear, somehow my ability to match that pitch with the sound of my voice was less than a perfect match.

Years later and still having the tuning fork in my possession, listening for the perfect pitch has become both a labor of love as well as a conduit for lessons of faith. As an Anabaptist   follower of Jesus, I hold Jesus at the center of my faith – he is the “perfect pitch” on which all of my life is centered. Indeed, as Hebrews 13:8 states, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”  Yet, just as I often struggle to match the musical pitch perfectly with my tuning fork, so I too often fail to match the way that Jesus set forth as the center of my faith. Maybe I am simply not listening close enough? It also gets tricky at times – both in life and music, that is – because all songs do not start in the key of A. Some are written in a minor key and some in a major key. Some songs even use the same words but have a different melody. In those cases, I need to begin with the perfect pitch and work at deriving the correct starting note from that center place. This takes work and practice. In fact, I find that often times, I need to go back and strike the tuning fork again and again just to hear the Concert A clear enough to find the correct pitch needed to start the song that I am leading or living. In both music and life, I believe I would be further ahead if I would take time to listen to the guaranteed vibrations of Jesus and allow his perfect pitch to resonate within my heart, mind, and soul.

Mike Clemmer is Lead Pastor at Towamencin Mennonite Church, and a LEADership Minister for Franconia Conference.

Epiphanies: A Call to Worship

By Michael Clemmer

Many of our churches have just finished their celebration of Epiphany – a day that seems to have taken a back seat to our more culturally-relevant Christmas and New Year’s celebrations. Epiphany is literally defined as a “Christian festival held on January 6 in honor of the coming of the three kings to the infant Jesus Christ.” Yet, as I reflected on the story of how the Magi saw something new in the sky and were compelled to leave behind all of their responsibilities and travel to see this new king, I couldn’t help but wonder if epiphanies have the same effect on people today. Is it even possible that we, who live in our practical or intellectual worlds of thought, would even be open to see or understand something in a new way through God’s divine enlightening?

threewisemenPerhaps we spend so much time trying to figure out what God is doing and saying through our epiphanies that we miss the real purpose of them – to draw us to worship. The sight of the star set the Magi into motion. They saw the star and they freed themselves to make the trip to worship the newborn savior king. Maybe we all need some sort of epiphany to point us to the place or posture of worship.

Over the Christmas holiday, my nearly 3-year-old grandson helped enlighten me about my own need to make worship a priority. One night before he fell asleep, he was lying in bed when he burst out in singing “Gloria, Gloria, Gloria,” the refrain of the Christmas song he heard earlier in the week. And then there was silence. A few moments later, he repeated his praises to God –this time adding “In excelsis Deo.” He had heard this chorus for the first time of his life earlier in the week, and now, he couldn’t help but continue to sing it as a way of praising God. It burst forth from his heart and broke the silence. The song was a part of him – and he sang God’s praises freely and joyfully over and over again.   In that moment as I stood in the hallway outside of his room, the light became clear to me.  It was an epiphany. My heart was filled with joy as I whispered – Gloria in excelsis deo, indeed!! Every day that we live should be guided by the Epiphany that opens our eyes to new understandings of the fact that a Savior has been born. And that leads us to worship. Come all, come everyone and worship!

Michael Clemmer is pastor at Towamencin Mennonite Church and a LEADership minister in Franconia Conference.

Mike Clemmer Joins Conference LEADership Ministry Team

By Colin Ingram

Franconia Conference welcomes a gardener—who cultivates flowers, leaders, and diversity—to the LEADership ministry team. Loving to see beautiful things grow, Mike plants flowers on his church’s property and works to nurture leaders as a pastor. He will continue this leadership cultivation as a welcomed LEADership minister with the conference.

MIke Clemmer2 8-20-15 webLEAD is the conference’s oversight direction and platform intended to cultivate healthy and growing Anabaptist congregations by equipping leaders to empower others to embrace God’s mission. Oversight occurs through a team invited by congregational leaders to serve and lead them. This team includes the pastor, a Franconia Mennonite Conference LEADership minister, the chair of the congregation’s governing body (when relevant) and others.  LEADership ministers and the LEAD approach equips leaders to empower others to embrace God’s mission through support, accountability, and conflict management for pastors as they move forward in God’s vision and mission.

Mike Clemmer begins his responsibilities as a LEADership minister in Franconia Mennonite Conference this August. He has grown up in the conference, beginning life at Souderton Mennonite Church and now serving for the past ten years as pastor at Towamencin Mennonite Church. He is the chair of the conference credentialing committee and serves as a part of the ministerial committee.

Earning a doctorate in missional leadership at Biblical Theological Seminary, Mike has a passion for leadership and helping a congregation realize the insights it already has for making decisions.

“To give some encouragement to other pastors and other leadership teams is something I have always enjoyed,” Mike said.

Mike appreciates the connections that Franconia Mennonite Conference affords easily between churches. Something he has witnessed over his longstanding relationship with the conference and local congregations.

Mike considers connecting with the community important as well, which aligns with the conference’s focus on mission. In addition to his work as pastor at Towamencin Mennonite Church, he is a chaplain for the Towamencin Fire Company, a way to connect with others outside the congregation. Another indication of his passion to welcome the community into the church is the “no-conclusion” Bible study practice he encourages. Instead of a Bible study instructor concluding with the final answers of a passage, he prefers a more open-ended conclusion that allows the passage to continue to work in everyone’s heart throughout the week that allows for “many people [to] takeaway” insights.

Mike personally aligns with the intercultural goal of Franconia Mennonite Conference; after all, Towamencin Mennonite Church has 14 native languages in a congregation of about 160 people, according to Mike. Persons from Kenya, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Korea, China, Germany, and several Hispanic countries attend the congregation.

Before pastoring, Mike spent more than 20 years in business at Moyer & Son in Telford.

While serving as a LEADership Minister with the conference, Mike will continue to pastor at Towamencin Mennonite Church. He may also be found enjoying some of his other passions including running, sports, music, and gardening. Mike is married to April and they have three grown children.

Getting Ready for “Biblical Interpretation through Anabaptist Eyes”

by Sharon Williams

What will motivate you to get out of bed this Saturday morning?

Mike Clemmer
Mike Clemmer

“I am excited about this event because anytime I have the opportunity to discuss the Scriptures with other people and we are all open to the leading of the Spirit, God always speaks to me,” says Mike Clemmer, pastor of Towamencin Mennonite Church. “So I look forward to the opportunity to hear God’s voice speak into my life.”

 

Aldo Siahaan
Aldo Siahaan

Aldo Siahaan pastors Philadelphia Praise Center and is one of the conference’s LEADership ministers, and says, “As a Christian and pastor who is a ‘new’ Anabaptist/Mennonite, I am always eager to learn more about understanding the Bible from an Anabaptist perspective.”

“I am excited about this event,” says Sandy Landes, prayer minister with the Doylestown congregation. “So many voices clamor for attention in our world and the Bible, as a message for Sandy Landesour lives today, sometimes gets lost at sea. I look forward to hearing and learning about reading the Bible with faith. I want to grow with my brothers and sisters in our understanding of ways to interpret the Bible that will compel us to dig deeper, ask more questions and to increase our faith in God at the same time. I pray that we can learn to communicate with each other, increasing our trust as we respect the differences we bring to the table.”

Three Anabaptist biblical scholars—Laura Brenneman, Terry Brensinger and Dennis Edwards—will headline the event.

The event, this Saturday, 9 a.m.–3 p.m., is free. Registration is required on the conference website or by calling 610-277-1729; donations for lunch will be accepted. Penn View Christian School is located at 420 Godshall Road, Souderton.

Sharon K. Williams is a musician, editor and congregational/non-profit consultant. She serves the Lord with the Nueva Vida Norristown New Life congregation as minister of worship.

 

Conference leaders gather for conversation about EMU listening process

Loren Swartzendruberby Emily Ralph, associate director of communication

Credentialed leaders from Franconia and Eastern District Conferences gathered on May 5, 2014 at Towamencin Mennonite Church (Kulpsville, Pa.) to dialogue with Loren Swartzendruber, president of Eastern Mennonite University (EMU).   The evening conversation focused on the University’s recent six-month listening process regarding employment policies for persons in same-sex relationships.

Swartzendruber began the meeting by sharing about experiences throughout his career that challenged him to offer pastoral care for persons struggling with questions of sexual identity. As a recent seminary graduate beginning his first pastoral assignment at Salford congregation (Harleysville, Pa.) in 1978, Swartzendruber felt ill-prepared; he doesn’t remember learning about same-sex relationships in seminary.  “I had no idea how to respond,” he recalled.  These questions continued to follow him throughout his career in Mennonite education and as president of both Hesston College and Eastern Mennonite University.

These experiences led Swartzendruber to root the University’s consideration of employment policy changes in contexts of real people and real situations.  “Your feedback is more valuable to me if I know you’ve really walked through the pain with families and individuals,” he reflected.

Swartzendruber explained that questions and perspectives from students have driven him to lead the listening process and consider change.  “For me, it’s all about the young people… I really care about the next generation,” he shared.  He is becoming increasingly aware that students’ response to the conversation is as much about the process as the result.   “I met with the pastoral staff [at EMU] and they told me, ‘The students on campus are watching how we do this … and they’re trying to decide, do I want to be a part of the church?’”

Swartzendruber explained the realities on campus that led to the listening process:

  • Currently, students and employees are asked to sign a behavioral covenant in which they commit to “refrain from sexual relationships outside of marriage.”  Swarzendruber acknowledged the difficulty of enforcing this commitment and the challenge of understanding it in the context of changing definitions of legal marriage.
  • EMU has asked new hires to express their agreement with the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective for many years, but “we’ve allowed variants from the Confession of Faith at EMU for a long time,” he said.  Some of these variants have included beliefs about divorce and remarriage, infant baptism, and the traditional Mennonite peace position.  Employees have been asked to respect official Mennonite perspectives even where variation exists.
  • Eastern Mennonite University has a number of gay and lesbian students on campus.  “They want to be a part of the church,” Swartzendruber said.  “By definition most of them wouldn’t come to EMU if they didn’t want to be part of the church.  They are your children,” he said, “sometimes literally your children, but children of your congregations.”

Swartzendruber then answered questions from conference pastors about the listening process, the relationship of the university to the denomination, and steps moving forward.  The president’s cabinet led the listening process by facilitating about 20 listening circles, with up to 20 students or faculty and staff per session, he explained.  They then brought what they heard back to the rest of the cabinet and will consider those responses, along with what they heard in a survey and other communication from alumni and church leaders. They have begun processing that feedback and will write a recommendation to send to the EMU executive board and then the board of trustees in June.  The University’s board will make the decision to accept, reject, amend, or table the proposal.

Lorie Hershey, pastor of West Philadelphia congregation, was impressed by the thoroughness and intentionality expressed in the process.  “I think we need these listening circle places,” she told Swartzendruber.  “That’s where the Spirit can move, in relationships—not changing people’s minds, but relationships…. That’s transformative.”  Her hope was that the broader church could find more places for similar conversations, she said, conversations that “give one another space to respect each other, to not pull each other into camps.”

Loren SwartzendruberSwartzendruber acknowledged that these kinds of conversations surface anxieties in the church.  “Practicing non-anxious presence doesn’t mean you don’t have anxiety,” he said, “it means you don’t lead out of that anxiety.”  Learning to manage and respond to fear in healthy ways is a missional impulse, he said. “Who wants to join people who are afraid all the time? … What kind of evangelistic strategy is that?”

As the meeting ended, the pastors gathered around Swartzendruber and other EMU staff to pray for the continued process, acknowledging the ongoing struggle and pain all church leaders face during this difficult time.

After the meeting, “I heard and saw many persons engaged in some deeper discussions and I think that leads to better understanding of one another,” observed Mike Clemmer, pastor of Towamencin congregation. “I continue to be hopeful as we struggle together…. Overall, I was reminded that we need to keep praying for one another – no matter what!”

Learn more about EMU’s listening process on their website.

Ministerial Update (April 2014)

Hadi Sunarto
Hadi Sunarto was licensed as a deacon at Philadelphia Praise Center in March.

Steve Kriss, Director of Leadership Cultivation, provided this update from the March & April meetings of the Credentials and Ministerial Committees:

Hadi Sunarto (East Rutherford, NJ) was approved for a license for specific the ministry of deacon at Philadelphia Praise Center.

Krista Showalter Ehst (Bally, PA) was approved with a license toward ordination to serve as pastor at Alpha (NJ) Mennonite Church.

Bill Martin was approved with a license toward ordination and to serve as associate pastor at Towamencin Mennonite Church.

Danilo Sanchez (Whitehall congregation) was approved to serve as Allentown area youth minister with a license toward ordination.

Donna Merow was approved for ordination and continues to serve as pastor at Ambler (Pa) Mennonite Church.

Several new members have been added to the Ministerial and Credentials committees.

Mike Clemmer (Towamencin) and Marlene Frankenfield (Salford) have been named to the Ministerial Committee.   Heidi Hochstetler (Bally) resigned her position from the committee earlier this year.   Continuing Ministerial Committtee members include:  Verle Brubaker (Swamp), Ken Burkholder (Deep Run East), Carolyn Egli (Whitehall), Janet Panning (Plains), Mary Nitzsche (Blooming Glen), Jim Williams (Nueva Vida Norristown New Life).

Aldo Siahaan (Philadelphia Praise) and Marta Castillo (Nueva Vida Norristown New Life) have been named to three year terms on the credentials committee.    Continuing committee members include:  Rose Bender (Whitehall), Verle Brubaker (Swamp) and Mike Clemmer (Towamencin).

Steve Kriss began serving as Conference staff liaison for both committees since the retirement of Noah Kolb late in 2013.

Franconia Conference gathers to celebrate, pray, confer, listen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listen to the podcast.

Conference Assembly 2013 Highlight Video from Franconia Conference on Vimeo.