Tag Archives: missional

Listening for Pentecost

by Stephen Kriss, Executive Minister

These last few days I’ve been in California with a delegation of leaders from Franconia Conference. We are here to cultivate further relationships with a group of churches who have expressed a desire to join our Conference. All four congregations are immigrant churches who have been connected with the Anabaptist movement for years. We find ourselves in this space together to build on past informal collaborations, to build relationships and trust.

Meanwhile, at the same time that we are here, all hell seemed to break loose in Charlottesville, Virginia.  The east coast felt very far away from this side of the country. Yet, reading on my iPhone and following social media meant that the scenario wasn’t far from my mind as we met together. Most of these initial meetings have involved a lot of listening. As we are listening, I am reminded again that the process of transforming racism and xenophobia begins with a willingness to listen, to be challenged and to be changed.

Franconia Conference leaders with pastors Buddy Hannanto (2nd from left) and Virgo Handoyo (right) in San Gabriel, CA.

As the days have built, they’ve also involved a lot of eating together and extensive travel time on the freeways that crisscross the massive urban sprawl of Southern California. Yet in the middle of the conversations, I sensed more and more the possibility that emerges through honest listening that allows some vulnerability. Our delegation, John Goshow (board moderator), Mary Nitzsche (Associate Executive Minister), Aldo Siahaan (LEADership Minister) and I, represent one of the oldest configurations of Mennonite-ness in the hemisphere. Largely shaped by the experience of Germanic people, here we were listening to the experiences of immigrants and people of color on the West Coast. We were challenged to recognize that our systems aren’t always friendly to people who speak English as a second or third language. We were challenged again that our established patterns aren’t always reflective of the movement of the Spirit that had and continues to stir a global movement of people who live in the way of Jesus. In the meantime, we were served lovely meals and received gracious hospitality.

This is not always easy work. Those of us attached to these systems sometimes feel a need to defend them. Taking a listening posture rather than a defensive one allows us to hear both critiques and affirmations. I find that often as a white dude who is leading in this system, I want to protect our organizational process and the validity of the way that we do things. I don’t think that we have constructed systems with an intention to be oppressive or biased, yet often times they are. There is still work to do as we seek to be representative of the reign of God yet to come with persons from every tongue, tribe and nation.   Recognizing that the journey toward reconciliation of all people is more than I will ever accomplish doesn’t allow me to sit idly; it requires each of us in our time, place and space to do the work that we are invited toward that represents God’s Pentecost intent.

With leaders at San Francisco Chinese Mennonite Church.

In the meantime, we are being transformed by relationships with people who open their lives and stories with us. The pain and the celebrations are real. We can bear witness to these things together along with Christ who weeps and who also rejoices.

This fall we will have opportunity to continue to be transformed as a Conference community as at least five immigrant congregations seek to join us as new members. We will have ongoing opportunity to listen together, to extend Christ’s great shalom intended for us and for the whole world. This is will likely be our work for our time as a community together.

NOTE: Stay tuned for more information on the congregations looking to join Franconia Conference. Also, delegates – be sure to register for Assembly Scattered Meetings (CLICK HERE) which will be a time of listening and discerning together regarding these congregations.

When You Get Older You’ll Understand

by Ken Burkholder, pastor at Deep Run East Mennonite Church

There was a spirit of anticipation, joy, and camaraderie, at the combined worship service between the Mennonite churches of Deep Run East and Deep Run West on Sunday, August 6. Barry Schmell, who grew up at Deep Run West and is currently a hospital chaplain in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, began his sermon by telling a story about when he was a boy. As a child, Barry would ask his parents why their family drives by three other churches on the way to their church. He also asked them, “why does our family worship at Deep Run West, while many of our relatives worship at Deep Run East?” His parents responded by saying, “When you get older, you’ll understand!”

Well, whether we’re children, or adults, it’s not always easy for us to understand, nor explain, why there are two Mennonite churches across the street from each other both named Deep Run Mennonite.  I routinely hear this question from people in our local community, and those who are newer to the congregation. It’s almost as easy as trying to explain why there are two different Mennonite conferences within close geographic proximity named Franconia and Eastern District!

But, I’m grateful for opportunities, such as this joint worship service, which help to strengthen our connections with one another.  In this service, we incorporated persons from both congregations in the various elements of worship.  There was also an opportunity for people to greet one another, and to pray together in small cluster groups.  A logistical detail to arrange with this joint service is how to handle the offering!  We invited people to bring their offerings forward, and place them in the basket of their choice – one basket marked Deep Run East and one marked Deep Run West.  Our worship service was followed by an informal fellowship time with coffee and baked goods.

My prayer is that occasions such as this joint worship service help to strengthen the bonds of relationship, mutuality, and shared faith between Deep Run East and Deep Run West.  It may even help us all, whether young or older … understand …  how much we share in common!

The Risk of Asking & Answering

by Maria Hosler Byler, Associate Pastor for Youth and Family Faith Formation

Sometimes it takes great courage to ask a question, especially if you are not sure that you can fulfill the answer. Mary Jane Hershey of Salford Mennonite Church had the courage to ask Katie Gard of the Oxford Circle Christian Community Development Association (OCCCDA) what they needed and Katie had the courage to answer, neither of them knowing what, if anything, might come of it.

Salford Mennonite Church and Advent Lutheran Church share a garden on Salford’s property that, “exists to nurture relationships with one another and with God, cultivating a piece of God’s creation, and growing good food for those who need it most.”  The produce from the garden is donated to individuals in need throughout the community, including to various non-profits. Oxford Circle Christian Community Development Association (OCCCDA) of Philadelphia is one of those non-profits.

At the annual fundraising dinner held at Salford to garner funds for seeds and supplies, Mary Jane Hershey encountered Katie Gard and asked that courageous question: what do you at OCCCDA need? She didn’t know what the response would be, or what it would cost her and her community. She didn’t know if she’d be able to fulfill whatever the answer was. Yet she stepped out and asked.

Katie took a risk, too, as she answered, asking for a visit to the Salford garden for their summer camp. The camp receives produce from the garden and Katie believed the kids would benefit from seeing where the produce comes from, and from being in the country. Katie didn’t know how it might happen. She didn’t know what it might require from Salford or Oxford Circle, but she gave her answer.

Mikaylah Price, Adele Shoup, Aubrey Andrews, and Ila Hackman (left to right) show off the carrots they harvested in the Salford Advent community garden.

That was not the end of the small acts of courage. Through collaboration and coordination, plans came together. When the buses pulled up on July 13, several Salford kids and parents were waiting hesitantly as 72 kids and 18 adults from the summer camp got organized. The summer camp kids didn’t quite know what to expect either, but their capable staff lined them up and we split up into our stations.

Between the garden tour, harvesting carrots, introducing the Oxford Circle campers to Gaga ball, and playing water games, kids from Salford and Northeast Philadelphia started to feel at home together. Teammates cheered each other on and helped each other out. Campers harvested carrots to take home. The next week, when the produce from the garden came to OCCCDA, they knew where it was from!

Asking questions and offering answers both take risk — the vulnerability of submitting one’s idea to the direction of another.  After that first risky question and answer, the questions and answers kept happening: How do we make sure the food we serve is halal? Is it ok to shorten this activity? What games do you like to play at your house? No, they shouldn’t have a second popsicle. Do you want to play with us?

The summer camp kids and adults were taking a risk, asking a question, just by getting on the buses and coming to this predominantly white country church to enjoy our space. Salford families and volunteers needed to respond by accepting the schedule and needs of the well-functioning system that is Oxford Circle Summer Camp. I saw our Salford kids offering welcome in the garden, a familiar space to them, to kids who were seeing it for the first time. I saw them experiencing being welcomed and invited into the games by strangers, needing to depend on the welcome of the summer camp kids. Questions were asked, answers were given, God moved, and the results were abundantly far more than we could have asked or imagined.

Photo: Mikaylah Price, Adele Shoup, Aubrey Andrews, and Ila Hackman (left to right) show off the carrots they harvested in the Salford Advent community garden.

 

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.