Tag Archives: missional

Taking the Light Out of the Building

As the world we live in continues to change within our congregations, we still seem to expect people to come to us. As a city on a hill, the light of the world (Matt. 5:14-16), it seems we are content to stay on our hill tops, but what if we take the lamp into the streets?

The Inquirer (Philadelphia) recently highlighted congregations doing just that in their article “From bike shop to drive-thru prayer, churches try thinking outside the pew.” Featured in the article is Franconia Conference’s very own Scott Roth and Perkiomenville Mennonite Church with their ministry Bike and Sol.

As quoted in the article, Scott says, “I don’t think that we, as believers, should be sitting in our churches on Sunday morning waiting for people to come into our buildings for us to tell them about Jesus and show them a better way of life.”

Read how Scott and others are getting out of their comfortable buildings and doing the ministry of Jesus as Jesus did it, in the streets: http://www.philly.com/philly/news/pennsylvania/from-bike-shop-to-drive-thru-prayer-churches-try-thinking-outside-the-pew-20170705.html.

Preparation for the Way Ahead

by Marta Castillo, LEADership Minister

In a recent article, “On Scattering, Gathering and California Dreamin”, Steve Kriss wrote regarding the inquiries we have received from congregations requesting to join our conference. I was struck by his last statement: “the one thing that I know about Franconia Conference is that the Spirit is relentless in inviting us to be transformed anew … I invite your prayers as we together consider and discern God’s best direction while honoring our past, accepting our limitations, and trusting also the Spirit’s movement … to give us a future with great hope.”

In times of decision-making and Spirit nudging to move forward in a new space, it helps to revisit “the calling and vision” that God has already put into place and that we have already proclaimed.  “The conference’s mission is to equip leaders to empower others to embrace God’s mission.”  In 2012, the conference board discerned that our conference work is focused on three priorities.  “We are called to be missional, intercultural, and formational.”  Congregations are invited take risks for the sake of the Gospel through creative partnerships and new possibilities for missional engagement.  They are invited to network and cultivate intercultural ministry relationships.  The people of the conference are recognized as our greatest resource and we are committed to build leadership capacity across geographies and generations.  In these priorities, God already laid a strong foundation, preparing us in 2012 for what was coming in 2017.  God is like that, always graciously preparing the way ahead of us and preparing us for the way ahead.

Our preparedness to move into a new space, in my opinion, is limited not by money or distance or human resources but may be limited by attitudes and beliefs ingrained in our system.  I invite you to consider that we as a conference must overcome a historical tendency “to maintain what is” and to keep what is different from truly changing or impacting our systems and procedures.  Ethnic Mennonite culture is often curious and welcoming to an international person from Latin America or Africa or Asia but we struggle to allow for the African American, the more recent immigrant Latin American or Asian American voices to bring about change and revival.

We are limited by a sense of many leaders and congregations in our conference, that they are on the margins of conference life.  This sense comes from leaders and members from churches all over the conference.  How can we all be on the margin?  If a Franconia area church feels like it is on the margin, what about the churches who may join us from far away in California?  I believe that we must embrace our participation in the conference and learn to say, “We are Franconia Conference.  God is the center that pulls us ever closer together through the power of the Holy Spirit and in the name of Jesus.”

On Being Both Local and Global

By Stephen Kriss, Executive Minister

My first trip in my role with Franconia Conference over a decade ago was to Guatemala.  I traveled with a group of persons from our Conference who began to invest in the lives of communities in rural indigenous villages through Agros International.   It was my first glimpse into the global-mindedness of our Conference in both official programs as well as through individual or familial relationships.   Though we are rooted firmly in Bucks and Montgomery County, wedged between the metro areas of Allentown, New York City and Philadelphia, we think often like global citizens.

Thomas Friedman, in his well-known book about global economicsThe World is Flatsuggests that to survive and flourish into the new millennium, organizations will need to think of themselves as both global and local.  This is not new for us.  Our immigrant and settler mindset remains with us in many ways, though we’ve been in Pennsylvania for hundreds of years and in some areas the road names bear our familial surnames and reference even our own congregations and faith (see Mennonite Road in Collegeville).

In a time of America first, we know and live otherwise.  We live with a sense of the reality of “to whom much is given much is required”.  For us in Franconia Conference, as the world became more accessible, we became more aware.  Our unusual geography and clusters near major cities on the East Coast provide us ready access to transportation that can take us around the world in 24 hours.  With the massive migration of the last decades, the world has also come to us.  Sometimes these changes make our heads and hearts spin as we listen to unfamiliar languages in the aisles while shopping at Landis Supermarkets.

Lois Clemens
Lois Gunden Clemens (1915-2005)
Clayton Kratz (1896-1920)

As a community in Franconia Conference, we honor the legacy of those from our heartlands who in the early 20th Century, saw the world coming closer and felt compelled to take and live the story in places like Norristown, Rocky Ridge and Bristol.   We honor the story of people like Clayton Kratz who in the early 20th century, disappeared in the Ukraine while trying to find ways to assist Mennonites in a time of intense realities.  We tell the story of Lois Gunden Clemens, who is recognized as “Among the Righteous” by the state of Israel for her work among refugees during World War II in France.  These are our stories and our blessed heritage.

We have invested heavily in the Anabaptist community in Mexico City.  Through the MAMA Project, we continually support the health and wellness of communities in Honduras.  We’ve built bridges with Anabaptist communities in Indonesia that have transformed us here in the States.  We support workers in diverse places through various organizations, as well as regularly sending and supporting longer term initiatives through Mennonite Mission Network and Mennonite Central Committee.   Currently, we have four credentialed pastors who are working outside of the United States in Indonesia, the Philippines, Cambodia and Mexico.  We regularly produce publications in English, Indonesian, Spanish and Vietnamese and all of the translation is done by partners who live in Asia.

This is one of the things that continues to intrigue me about us.  It makes me wonder how we might continue to use these legacies of global connection and our ready points of access through increased ease of transportation and communication, financial resources, along with our communal and individual astuteness and acumen, in our sense of calling as followers of Christ to be both wise as serpents and as innocent as doves in extending the Good News to all people.

London skyline from Shadwell Basin

This week I returned from London, building on relationships that we have cultivated through the Anabaptist community there.  I was there days after the Manchester bombing and preached in London the morning after the incident at London Bridge.  The Gospel of Christ’s peace that we know, that we have been given, continues to be brilliantly relevant in these tough times.

God has uniquely situated us at Franconia Conference with global connections and global capacities, hearts provoked to love and care for the places where we are from like Bally and Bridgewater Corners, Souderton and South Philly, while at the same time connecting us to places, people and possibilities globally.   In a time when much of the world retreats into fear, we remain people of hope, continually willing to share with neighbors both nearby and faraway, to share this peace that goes beyond comprehension with family, with friends, and even with those who might be called our enemies.

All Together in One Place

by Chris Nickels, Pastor at Spring Mount Mennonite Church

On Sunday June 4, five Franconia Conference congregations (Wellspring, Methacton, Spring Mount, Frederick, and Providence) gathered in Skippack to worship together and have a picnic.  Skippack has some historical significance, being the place where Mennonites first settled in  Montgomery County.  A few centuries later we are still here, seeking to live out a vision of faithful witness to Jesus Christ.

In the beautiful surroundings of Hallman’s Grove, tucked within a residential neighborhood just east of the village, I was reminded of the life and Spirit that surrounds us. One’s senses could pick up the sights and sounds of creation as well as a gentle breeze— especially meaningful on this day of Pentecost that was the focal point of our gathering.

We celebrated the coming of the Holy Spirit to the first followers of Jesus (Acts 2), and the gifts of the Spirit present among us today. Worship included speaking and singing in different languages, and a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer included nine languages (Spanish, Indonesian, English, German, Greek, Italian, Kannada, French, Vietnamese). Pastor Sandy Drescher-Lehman of Methacton Mennonite Church presented a children’s story about the birth of the church—complete with birthday cake! —and she and the children led us in a fun birthday song.

We prayed for each other, for our pastors, and also for a local food pantry, all of which reminded me of our common mission in central Montgomery County.  Our pastors took turns giving a short message about how we have been living out God’s mission and how we are being empowered for ministry by the Spirit. The picnic, organized by members of each church, provided plenty of delicious food and space to build relationships with one another.

The event was a team effort among our congregations, and I think we are discovering that we really enjoy working together and are being blessed in our common activities and growing relationships. Despite the small size of our individual congregations, we are noticing that we benefit from diverse membership and from the wisdom of our elder members. We are realizing that our small congregations can be a blessing to our conference and also to our local communities. We have unique gifts to offer, and by the end of our time together I felt energized for how we might continue to share the love and light of Christ together.

Love is a Verb and So Much More

by Wayne Nitzsche, Interim LEADership Minister and Pastor of Perkasie Mennonite Church

When taking elementary Greek as a seminary student, suddenly it dawned on me that my knowledge of the English language was woefully inadequate. I might not have been able to tell you that a verb “is a word used to describe an action, state, or occurrence, and forming the main part of the predicate of a sentence, such as hearbecomehappen,” as Google says. But I’d have been able to say that is an action word!

So when I learned the theme for Mennonite Church USA for 2017, launched on Valentine’s Day, was: “Love is a Verb” I knew about verbs. I’m just glad they didn’t go with: “Love is a predicate noun.”

As followers of Christ we believe that God is love and that we are called to participate in God’s love. Not by the cheap “I’ll love you if you love me” ways of our culture, but in the gritty work of loving God, ourselves and our neighbors.

This theme of Love is a Verb will be the theme at our denominational assembly in Orlando in early July. As we lead up to that, Perkasie Mennonite (PMC), and perhaps other Franconia Conference congregations have recently engaged this theme. Here at PMC we developed a six week worship series focusing on: love is… a verb, … obeying Christ, … mutual, …. fear-less, ….of God, and …. life-giving. The series has been a study of the book of First John.

“This word of life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us…so that our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” (1 John 1:2-3)

For the writer, the love of God is expressed in the revealed “word of life” (Jesus Christ) so that we might have fellowship (koinonia) with God and with each other. That love we’ve received is then expressed in love for each other in the local fellowship. Yet, scholars believe this struggling church was fractured because of theological diversity and a refusal to love in word and deed. In a series employing sharp contrasts comes the command to do the hard work of love.

Our love has been put to the test in very specific ways as we have walked with congregation members in life and death. I witnessed people expressing their love by sharing meals, sending cards, sitting in silence, in unceasing prayer and in many other acts of love. I know this happens on a daily basis, not only at PMC but in all the churches spread out over our conference.

We have members demonstrate active love – love as a verb – by urging us to speak into the political process with a voice of concern for peace and justice. We had hard discussions in our Sunday morning second hour around the issue of racism, and talked about what steps we might take to become allies.

As an Interim LEADership Minister with Franconia Conference, I’ve been relating to Alpha, Bally and Taftsville congregations. It’s been a joy to hear stories of love in action. Bally created a large banner with the words from the Welcoming Your Neighbors posters: “No matter where you are from, we are glad you are our neighbor” written in Arabic, Spanish and English. During a committee meeting, a stranger entered and expressed his appreciation for the sign. He is a recent immigrant from the Middle East and had been feeling very vulnerable.

Love in action is expressed at Taftsville in their recent addition of solar panels on the roof of their meeting place.  They are now generating electricity that goes back onto the grid, as they continue to implement steps to care for God’s creation. I could go on with other illustrations just in these three congregations.

Let’s continue to challenge ourselves and our congregations to make Christ’s love known in our local communities. May we also celebrate and testify to the ways it is already happening in small ways in the wonderful diversity that is Franconia Mennonite Conference.

“We know love by this that he laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” (1 John 3:16)

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.

On Scattering, Gathering and California Dreamin’

by Steve Kriss, Executive Minister

Within the first few weeks of assuming the role of Executive Minister of Franconia Conference, I began to hear more about how the shifting structures across the Mennonite landscape might begin to affect us.  In Conferences across the country as well as in Canada, we have begun a season of realignment.  Conferences are both receiving and releasing congregations as communities seek new alignments that seem to defy previous understandings of geography and organizational configurations.  Daniel Hertzler, retired Mennonite editor, from Scottdale, PA, has called it a season of Mennonite scattering.

But it is also a season of Anabaptist gathering.  Over the last decade our Conference has received new member congregations in Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Allentown and East Greenville.  Several of those new congregations no longer exist which is common with church-planting initiatives; however some have grown to communities approaching 200 people.   These new communities have been essential to our health and the possibilities for our future.  Our new immigrant congregations talk about the significance of joining a “family” that provided a new home, a sense of shelter, roots, accountability, and relationships that give space for flourishing.

This spring, we have begun to experience a significant influx of inquiries, including congregations who would wish to join our Conference from as far as California.  Many of these congregations have had long term relationships with persons in Franconia Conference that have helped to cultivate fruitful global and local partnerships.  As the structure and composition of Mennonite Church USA and conferences continues to shift, these congregations see ready affinity with us and are now asking if they might join us as members.

We are taking these inquiries seriously and we take the challenges of these inquiries to heart.  How might we be a Conference with a cluster of churches in California?  In what ways does this challenge us and in what ways might it invigorate us?

I believe it is possible.  And I trust the inquiries to join with us to come in good faith and honest hope.  Most congregations have had long-term Anabaptist commitments and affiliations, sometimes relationships with Mennonite communities that span the world.   As Franconia Conference, we have long been use to tending long-distance relationships with ongoing work and connections in Mexico that has spanned decades, initiatives in Honduras, and credentialed leaders in Southeast Asia.  We once even assisted in planting a church in Hawaii.

While we take these questions seriously, I know that member congregations in California might stretch us more than we are prepared.  While the relationships aren’t necessarily new, the idea of having a West Coast cluster is beyond what we might have imagined for ourselves as a community. Though it seems possible with the ease of transportation these days and many forms of communication, this will take intentional efforts to build and strengthen our bonds and we’ll have to learn to speak differently when we speak of “us.”

I am challenged by these possibilities.  Yet, the one thing that I know about Franconia Conference is that the Spirit is relentless in inviting us to be transformed anew.  The invitation is again upon us.   I invite your prayers as we together consider and discern God’s best direction while honoring our past, accepting our limitations, and trusting also the Spirit’s movement in both scattering and gathering that might give us a future with great hope.

Reflections on Breaking Free to Follow an Untamed God

By Jenny Duskey, Ambler Mennonite Church

Todd Wynward

An Exodus Time, a Great Turning, a Watershed Moment – whatever we call it, we are in the midst of crisis.  We, children of a free, wild, untamed God, try “to follow Jesus while shackled to Caesar.”  “Fast food, cheap oil, chronic debt, and constant pressure are only some of the cultural cages that hold us captive.  Bottom line:  We’ve been constrained and colonized by corporations,” says the prologue of Rewilding the Way: Breaking Free to Follow an Untamed God by Todd Wynward. Todd was the speaker this year for Franconia and Eastern District Conferences’ Peace Retreat held February 10-12 at St. Mary of Providence Center in Elverson, PA.

A watershed is “a region draining into a river, river system, or other body of water;” or “an event or period marking a turning point in a state of affairs.”  (mennocreationcare.org/our-congregations/watershed-way/ ) The Winter Peace Retreat this year was about embracing this watershed moment, this crisis, and seizing the opportunity to break out of our shackles and live the Golden Rule Jesus teaches us, treating those downstream, both geographically and chronologically, as we would have those upstream treat us. Communities downstream and future generations have no choice but to inherit the consequences of our lifestyle today.

“Taking care of our environment is the most important social justice issue today,” said Todd.  He did not, however, discourage any of us from continuing to pursue the various peace and justice activities in which we are engaged.  If we are going to minimize the damage resulting from the way we have been undermining water cycles, atmosphere, soil, oceans and thermal balance for the past 200 years of industrial growth, we need to find ways for everyone to have clean water and renewable energy sources.  Human society needs to transition from industrial growth for the few to sustenance of life for all.  If we keep Jesus at the center of our work locally, in our state and nation, and worldwide, the church can offer the world hope, love and peace as we work for this transition.

Co-intelligence arises when we all share our visions.  Todd passed out sticky note pads and asked us to write what we’d experienced in the past six months in five categories:  Good News/Grounded Hope, Fresh Insights/Awareness, Examining Our Lives, Calls to Action, and Laments/Despairs.  We mounted our notes on newsprint sheets on the walls. When the “Laments/Despairs” newsprint fell off the wall from its heaviness, we shared some much-needed laughter!  Todd encouraged us to stay with our laments as long as we need to, going through them instead of around them, to find the hope and motivation that lead to action.

By the end of the final session, we felt highly energized and hopeful.  Many of us want to continue this environmental theme for the next five years, at least as part of what we do at Peace Retreat.  Some are motivated to form two or three ongoing regional groups within our two Conferences, to get together more often to encourage each other in efforts to care for God’s creation.  Any who are interested in being part of that may contact John Stoltzfus (jstoltzfus@franconiaconference.org) who will coordinate the effort.  Congregations, groups, or individuals are also encouraged to join the Watershed Way sponsored by the Mennonite Creation Care Network ,and/or to accept a voluntary Carbon Tax. To learn more about Mennonite Creation Care Network visit: (mennocreationcare.org/our-congregations/watershed-way/. For information on a voluntary carbon tax, where you can calculate the cost of your carbon footprint and choose to donate what you can afford of that cost to a project or non-profit that helps the environment visit: http://voluntarycarbontax.org/index.php.

As we continue to work for peace and justice, we must be mindful that our care for the environment is a part of that. As God’s creation provides for us, we must ensure it can continue to do so for everyone now and in the future.

“You shall not pollute the land in which you live…. You shall not defile the land in which you live, in which I also dwell; for I the LORD dwell among the Israelites.” -Numbers 35:33-34

We’re All Out of Chicken!

By Joshua Jefferson, Youth Pastor at Souderton Mennonite Church

We were all drawn together on that cold, windy Monday evening, February 13, by the promise of fresh enchiladas and tostadas made by the members of Centro de Alabanza, along with some warm conversation with James Krabill of Mennonite Mission Network, to share stories about the church in mission.  The topic of the evening was “Celebration of Shalom: Stories of the Church in Mission”, and so, after we finished a few tasty treats, James spent time sharing about his readiness as a missionary for plans to be interrupted by God’s unexpected appointments.

The son of parents who met on a church-planting mission trip,  James grew up in a congregation in mission.  North Goshen (IN) Mennonite Church was a Goshen College student-planted church in what was called an “immigrant community”, serving largely unchurched factory workers who had migrated from Kentucky and Tennessee.  This early foundation prepared James for a lifetime of mission-oriented teaching, service and administration, including 20 years as a Bible teacher in Ivory Coast.  He is currently Senior Executive for Global Ministries at Mennonite Mission Network.

James KrabillThroughout the the evening, James shared Biblical principles about how the Cross brings reconciliation on a cosmic yet personal scale.  He then reminded us that the ministry of reconciliation is God’s highest priority in the cosmos.  At this point I leaned in, realizing how often this simple calling gets strangled by the tyranny of the urgent.

“Peace,” he continued, “is not the distinction of one tradition, but the very model and message of the church!”  He finished by telling us of a friend who was once at an airport, trying to find a quick dinner before his flight.  He stumbled up to the counter of a Popeye’s, and ordered a meal. “We’re all out of chicken,” the cashier replied.  “But chicken is who you are!” the man responded.  For Popeye’s, to be out of chicken is to be out of business.  For the Church, to be out of reconciliation, is to be out of mission.

James told us about the history of his home congregation — Prairie Street Mennonite Church.  Founded in 1871 as a presence in the city of Elkhart, Indiana, the congregation originally housed the Elkhart Institute (which later became Goshen College) and the Mennonite Publishing House in the late 1800s.

“People who have been connected with that congregation their whole lives think of this as the ‘golden days’,” James confessed. “They live in the past, rather than saying ‘What is God doing right now?  How can we be God’s people today in this time and place?’ The neighborhood has completely changed; our context has completely changed.  In 2017, we do not live anymore in 1871. We have people with doctoral degrees and some people who can’t read and write.  We have some fairly wealthy people, and virtually, some homeless people!  We have some English speakers, we have a growing number of Spanish speakers. We have cradle Mennonites, and other people who are just becoming acquainted. So how do we figure out how to be the church in 2017?”

Listen to James’ story of how an unfortunate misunderstanding has led Prairie Street to become a place of hope for their community:
 

Download the podcast


At this point, we changed tables to meet someone new and to share about our experiments and obstacles encountered in mission.  I had the privilege of sitting with Lynne Allebach, the lay pastor from Arise Community Outreach, and Fernando Loyola, pastor of Centro de Alabanza.  We reminisced about our own unexpected appointments, and commented on the unique shape of the ministry of reconciliation in our different settings.  At the end of the evening, James offered a few final remarks, namely that Christianity comprises about one third of our planet, and that Islam comprises about one fourth of our planet.  This is paramount to the ministry of reconciliation.  We must recognize the task before us now, for the life of the world!

(Hear the entire “Celebration of Shalom” podcast in our audio gallery.)

 

Much Work with Great Hope

By Steve Kriss, Executive Minister

My first communication received in the new executive minister role came as a text message on Sunday morning before I went to worship on January 1.   It came from a Conference board member who told me that his congregation intended to support the work of Danilo Sanchez in Allentown for another year in the partnership between the Conference, Whitehall Mennonite Church, Ripple congregation and Mennonite Central Committee East Coast.  It was a welcome communication and a gracious reminder of the Spirit’s work among us.  What our board member didn’t know was that this important initiative working with youth (many who are refugees and immigrants) was reaching the end of its funding stream.  We had decided late in 2016 in a collaborative conversation between the partners to move forward without funding fully being figured out.  This gift will help bridge that gap.  I was and am grateful.

It’s these kinds of signs along the way that remind me of the good work that we are called to do together.  While political change and tensions surrounds us, we continue in the work that God has called us to do.  As executive minister, I will do my best to keep us focused toward the going to the margins mission as affirmed at Conference Assembly in 2015.  This includes the ongoing and important work of caring for the refugee, the stranger, the poor, the differently-abled, the young, the aged, the homeless, the hungry, those in prison and those recently released while respecting all people as created in the image of our God regardless of their own religious practice or lack thereof.   And it also includes renewed attention on church-planting and gives space for new initiatives that we might not yet have imagined that will help carry the Good News into the next generation.

For some of us, this good work seems more challenging under President Trump while for others this seemed more difficult under the leadership of President Obama.  Regardless of our political preferences or the regime at hand, we are called to the same hard and good work with respect and prayer: to speak and incarnate the Good News of Christ that heals the wounded, sets the captive free, provides sight to the blind and offers freedom to the oppressed (Luke 4.18). This message changes us and intends to transform the whole world.

PPC valentinesMission to the margins means both speaking and acting.  For us as Conference staff, these last few weeks have included finding ways to support when Carlos Romero, Executive Director of Mennonite Education Agency, received a racially harassing phone call.  Our response to Christ and the Spirit’s work at Pentecost means we cannot remain silent as witnesses to ethnic intimidation or acts that represent white supremacy.  We are the first community to have named an African American pastor in the Mennonite Church and to have an African American lead our conference.  We worship in four languages.  Almost 20% of our pastors are people of color.  This is our story.  It’s never been easy work and gets even more challenging when we are able to be more honest with one another about our experiences.

It’s meant a conversation with Congressman Fitzpatrick’s office, who serves much of our constituent community in Pennsylvania’s 8th District, regarding last week’s Executive Orders that has halted for the time begin the processes for refugees entering our country.   Many of our congregations have hosted refugees and helped with resettlement, others of us are refugees, asylum seekers and migrants.  Many of us descend from those who were those same persons from generations earlier.  This is a story we live and know and are continually challenged by through Biblical mandates to welcome the stranger.

Donella Clemens from the Perkasie congregation once advised me to seek out Biblical texts that offer guidance into where to situate ourselves for difficult or transitional times.  This week, I’ve settled into Micah 6.8’s invitation to “live justly, love mercy, walk humbly with God.”  It’s a challenging invitation for our time even though the words can at times feel overly familiar.  It seems exactly where I’m going to need to be awhile after 30 days into the new leadership role.  There’s still much to figure out and to learn.

In the meantime, I’ll keep celebrating God’s generosity and Spirit’s provocation among us like I experienced on Day 1.  We’ll keep figuring out how to speak and act as mission to the margins is our priority.  I invite you to be an ongoing part of those good stories and that sometimes hard but worthy work among us as we live out what it means to embody the Good News with our neighbors near and far and even among those who might be perceived as our enemies.  There is still much work but we have great hope.