Tag Archives: missional

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.”  (http://www.mennocreationcare.org/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: (http://www.mennocreationcare.org/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.

What is the Significance of the Church Building?

By Marta Castillo, Franconia Conference LEADership Minister and Pastor at Nueva Vida Norristown New Life

Several years ago we almost lost our church building to a sheriff’s sale (a type of auction on properties that have either been repossessed by a lender or seized to satisfy judgment liens or tax liens). We said to ourselves, “the church is people; the church is not the building.”  Thankfully, by God’s grace and support from Franconia Conference, we did not lose our church building .  However, as I attended two building-centered events this past weekend, I was paying careful attention to the question, “If the church is people, what is the significance of the church building?”

For churches that have been in existence for 100 years or more, buildings may be a given and are rarely given a second thought, except for repairs and additions. For a congregation just starting out and growing, buildings are more than just a location; they are central to mission, identity, and community.

On Saturday evening, we celebrated with Centro de Alabanza (Center of Praise) in Philadelphia at the dedication of their building. A much-needed larger space in a Spanish neighborhood, this was made possible by Centro de Alabanza’s fundraising efforts include tamale sales and a car raffle, along with generous support from other Franconia Conference congregations. It was a joyful event of thanksgiving and praise, renewed covenant, and anointing before the Lord. Families brought forward wooden blocks inscribed with their family’s name to construct a building showing community, committing themselves to build on the foundation that “has already been laid, which is Jesus Christ” (I Corinthians 3:9-11).

Pastors Fernando Loyola and Letty Cortes said of their new building, “First of all, we feel honored and thankful for the mercy and backing of God in this Hispanic ministry and for us to have a building means to have a place to worship the Lord in freedom and in power concentrating on the mission work of extending the Kingdom of God.  It will help us be more responsible in stewardship, and the location is an area where there are many Latino groups. We believe that God has sent us here to be an example and to reach more souls for Christ.”

The following day, Sunday, January 29, members from Bethel Mennonite, Nueva Vida Norristown New Life and Christian Community Baptist came together for a time of celebration and remembrance. Over 29 years ago, Bethel Mennonite and Nueva Vida Norristown New Life joined together, selling the original Bethel building to Christian Community Baptist.  Members of all three congregations celebrated together in a time of remembrance and worship in the same building where former Bethel members had put down their spiritual roots.  Christian Community Baptist members thanked Nueva Vida Norristown New Life and Franconia Conference for sharing with them a well-cared-for building that was already filled with the Holy Spirit.

As the first church in Acts met in homes, today, we see that God’s provision of these physical spaces — church buildings — allow “the church” to worship, be together and do mission for God. They provide space where more of us are able to join in fellowship with one another, and often are used to bless our surrounding communities as our doors are open for other groups to utilize the space. We thank God for these physical spaces that allow us — “the church” — to worship and do the work of God’s Kingdom.

Weeding and Walking a Celebration of Shalom

by Emily Ralph Servant, Interim LEADership Minister & Director of Congregational Resourcing

Is pulling weeds “mission?”

I certainly thought so as a teenager, when I spent several summer evenings sitting on the grass, helping my neighbor weed her flower beds and talking about God as she struggled to find her way back to faith.  We were quite a picture, the awkward teen and the twenty-something-year-old masseuse.

Those years were exciting for my family — church planters on Philadelphia’s main line — as children from our neighborhood poured into our basement every week to hear stories about Jesus, play games, and receive our love.  While we were committed to acts of compassion and mutual aid in the name of Jesus, we were also dedicated to verbal evangelism and church planting as the most visible manifestation of God’s mission.

I cherish those memories, even as time and exposure to different faith expressions have given me more varied experience of what mission could look like: in the last few years alone, missional initiatives in Franconia Conference have included  peace camps and community gardens, picnics at the park and Biker Sunday, Sanctuary Churches for immigrants and survivors of sexual abuse, prayer walks, Bible studies at the pool, creation care initiatives, summer camps, disaster relief, refugee resettlement, supporting survivors of sex trafficking, prayer evangelism, working with families in need, a community center, prison ministry, making quilts, veterans ministrypeace poles, an internet café, bicycle ministry, drive-thru coffee and donuts, and church planting.

All of these expressions of mission point to the Good News: through Jesus, we are invited to share in God’s life; out of the overflowing of God’s life and love in us, we work for wholeness in the world around us.  That is the meaning of the word shalom: wholeness and health, demonstrated in reconciled relationships with God, others, ourselves, and the earth.

“That is why words like peace, justice, righteousness, and salvation are often used interchangeably in the New Testament,” says James Krabill in Fully Engaged: Missional Church in an Anabaptist Voice. “They are all different aspects of what Jesus came to bring, to be, and to do.”  The Church cannot separate witness and work, peace and evangelism.  “The faithful church preaches what Jesus practiced and practices what he preached.  And in so doing, [the Church] announces the whole gospel of Jesus to the broken world he so loved and for which he died.”

James KrabillSo what does it look like to be an Anabaptist church in mission?  According to Krabill, it means “doing what God does, loving the world—all of it—as much as God does, caring deeply for its welfare and working to set right what has gone wrong.”  Krabill (senior mission advocate for Mennonite Mission Network) will join Mennonites in eastern Pennsylvania this February for a conversation on mission and shalom.  “Celebration of Shalom: Stories of the Church in Mission” will feature stories and insights about mission from Fully Engaged as well as interactive storytelling from congregations in Franconia Conference and beyond, celebrating the diversity of God’s Spirit in sharing the Good News through both word and deed.

As a teenager, I never would have imagined the day two years ago that I participated in an early-morning prayer walk to pray for peace and healing after a murder in my neighborhood.  And as a teenager, I might not have recognized the walk as an act of mission.  Yet both my experiences—weeding and walking—were witnesses that, in Jesus, God will make all things right.  That is Good News indeed.

“Celebration of Shalom: Stories of the Church in Mission” will be held on Monday, February 13, 7pm, at Fischer Auditorium, Dock Woods Community, Lansdale, PA.  The event is free and open to all; donations for snacks will support local mission initiatives. For more information, contact Emily (eralphservant@franconiaconference.org).

Immigrants are the Church

Franconia Conference’s new Executive Minister, Steve Kriss, is a frequent columnist for Mennonite World Review. His latest column, released earlier this week, speaks of the need for the church to offer hospitality to our immigrant brothers and sisters as “most immigrants to the United States are already Christian. This ongoing influx of Christians bolsters our churches and keeps an abundant percentage of our country Christian.” We at Franconia Conference have been blessed with an influx of immigrant brothers and sisters who share our Mennonite values. Read the full article here: http://mennoworld.org/2017/01/02/columns/kriss-immigrants-are-the-church/.

Unity in Thanksgiving

By Sandy Drescher-Lehman, Pastor of Methacton Mennonite Church

Four Franconia Mennonite Conference churches met on the Sunday before Thanksgiving to proclaim the One who unifies them even amidst the diversity of opinions, theology, wealth, and political persuasions among other things. Ideas had been brewing in the hearts of several pastors of small churches in close proximity to each other for some time, to find ways to support and resource each other.  Last summer, that dream became a reality as the pastors began to meet together. One of the outcomes of those meetings was this joint Thanksgiving worship service.

The pastors and congregations of Wellspring Church of Skippack, Frederick Mennonite Church, and Spring Mount Mennonite Church gathered at Methacton Mennonite Church on November 20 for the anticipated and momentous event!  People who usually have plenty of room on their benches, were packed in like smiling sardines.  Singers who ordinarily can identify every voice, were overwhelmed with the grand blend of harmonious praise. A colorful mountain of boxes and cans and bags began to grow in the front of the sanctuary as people streamed in with their offerings of food to be shared with their neighborhood food pantry. An open conversation among the four pastors,  inspired comradery with other churches who also have an average of 15-30 members and who also each share the vibrancy of unique vision and mission intentions, centered around following Jesus Christ. Three pastors were happy to hear Mike Meneses share the Word and four song leaders led their congregations in a round of “Go now in peace,” (#429 HWB).

Friendships were lit and fanned into beautiful flames as we then spent informal time together around the tables of food and drink, with hopes of more joint ventures to come.  Emulating what was shared at Conference Assembly two weeks earlier, we celebrated what is being planted and watered in our separate congregations and were inspired to notice how God calls us to grow into the days before us.

Taftsville Chapel Mennonite Fellowship Awarded Solar Grant

At Fall Assembly, Taftsville Chapel Mennonite Fellowship in Vermont was featured in one of the Plant, Water, Grow videos, discussing their creation care initiatives. Part of that includes going solar. This week in the Mennonite World Review, is was announced that they will receive a $10,000 award from Mennonite Creation Care Network to assist in these efforts.

Read the article here; to see their testimony video (second story in the video) from assembly visit: https://vimeo.com/190770169.

Learning From and Loving Our Neighbors

The Soueidans hosted a meal for the Salford Mennonite Church congregation on Sept. 17. The event marked the 15th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001 and the Muslim Eid al-Adha (sacrifice feast) holiday.
The Soueidans hosted a meal for the Salford Mennonite Church congregation on Sept. 17. The event marked the 15th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001 and the Muslim Eid al-Adha (sacrifice feast) holiday.

Phil and Betsy Moyer of Salford Mennonite Church attended an event in 2002 at the Indian Valley Public Library where they befriended Bachir and Salma Soueidan. The Soueidan’s have been residents of Harleysville since 1962, after moving to the area from Lebanon. Being of the Muslim faith they found a void where once they had a sense of community. Yet through their friendship with the Moyers the Soueidan’s, have found a sense of home at Salford Mennonite Church. The church has provided them with a “refuge”, as Mr. Soueidan calls it.  At the same time the Soueidans have helped the church achieve its goal of assisting refugees in resettlement. Both the Soueidan’s and Salford have found themselves learning from one another as they experience a true love for their neighbors.  Read more about their friendship and the impact it is having here: http://www.montgomerynews.com/articles/2016/09/21/souderton_independent/news/doc57e3044d3a85f133876416.txt?viewmode=fullstory .

Worthy of our Calling to Extend Christ’s Peace

by Stephen Kriss

During the last staff meeting in this space in between, I invited my colleagues to share their celebrations and questions for the last month.   Without exception, the celebrations and questions had to do with pastors.   We celebrate the completion of pastoral search processes, with the beginning of Mike Spinelli’s leadership at Perkiomenville; the call of Maria Hosler Byler to an associate pastor role at Salford; Josh Jefferson’s installation and licensing last Sunday at Souderton as a youth pastor; and Sandy Drescher-Lehman’s beginning as pastor at Methacton. Many of these processes were lengthy discernments.   We celebrate the new beginnings and new possibilities that leadership can bring in the life of our communities.

Conference staff took a road trip with Pastor Bruce Eglinton-Woods (Salem), to explore the community where the congregation is ministering.

Our questions had to do with how we walk with pastors and congregations through difficult times.  We wonder how God will provide with prolonged pastoral search processes at Franconia and Taftsville.  We prayed as John Bender from Allentown who was in the hospital making difficult decisions between life and death, as he was readmitted to the University of Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia (he made the decision by the time our meeting had ended).  We prayed for an upcoming surgery that Charlie Ness from Perkiomenville will be undergoing.   These are all things we attend to as staff beyond our meeting time and carry in our hearts and heads.

The last month has meant focused attention on planning for Conference Assembly — a great time to celebrate the work God is doing in our midst, and spend time discerning and equipping ourselves for the future.  Registration and the docket are available at http://edc-fmc.org/assembly/  to help us, as a conference, prepare for assembly at Penn View Christian School.  Postcard invitations and posters will be coming to your congregations in the next two weeks. We’ve hosted and gotten some feedback from our time with David Boshart (moderator-elect) from Mennonite Church USA.  We’re prepping for his return at assembly to discuss more specific issues around human sexuality that continue to challenge our capacity to be church together, while going to the margins to be and proclaim the Good News.

Our conference executive minister Ertell M. Whigham comes back on the job on Saturday, October 1.  My season of this stretch of the race as acting executive minister has passed.  I’m ready to return the baton and responsibilities back to Ertell as he navigates the next few months.  I’ve learned a lot in these months.  I’ve been busier than usual with meetings, emails, texts and phone calls.  I have lots of hope for us as a community, but recognize our fragility at the same time.  God continues to bless us with flourishing, and challenges enough to test and grow our hearts, minds, and souls.

At the beginning of these three months, I felt drawn to the text to “live a life worthy of my calling.”  This time, ending this stretch, I want to turn that text back over to us as individuals and a community, to stay focused on the things we’ve discerned together, and to live, work and minister together in such a way that honors the sense of call that exemplifies what God has invited us toward in extending the peace of Christ to each other and to neighbors nearby and faraway.