Tag Archives: missional

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.

An Update on An Experiment in Going to the Margins

By Stephen Kriss

“The first duty of love is to listen.”—Paul Tillich

As part of our practices in this summer space in between, we’ve taken our conference staff meetings “to the margins”, which so far has meant meeting at Doylestown and Alpha congregations for an afternoon to eat, pray and learn alongside the pastors who work in those settings before engaging our regular conference staff agendas.   We’ll go to Quakertown to learn about the work of Salem congregation’s engagement with partners and neighbors yet for our last of these meetings later this month.

doylestown
Doylestown Mennonite Church

These going to the margins meetings have felt like holy disruptions of our routine.   We’ve received the gracious hospitality of Krista at Alpha, and Randy, KrisAnne and Sandy at Doylestown.  We’ve had great ice cream and burritos.   We’ve learned by listening to both the possibilities and struggles for ministry and life in one of the wealthiest communities in Bucks County, as well as what it feels like to work and hope just across the Delaware River.

Alpha Mennonite Church
Alpha Mennonite Church

I’m noticing some things that have been happening through our experiment.   Some of these things might encourage our continued journey of “going to the margins” for the sake of the Good News.   This is a small disruption, a monthly afternoon staff meeting.   But breaking our routines invigorates our conversations and builds our relationships together, differently.  We carpool.   We talk differently and about different things because we are in different spaces.  In navigating the logistics of simply going to a different location, we think differently rather than simply showing up in the same place.  Our two meetings at the margins have been times when we’ve been highly engaged with one another, even when dealing with routine tasks and procedures (seriously).   I look forward to what we’ll learn later this month.  A few staff members have asked if we can continue this kind of meeting alongside congregations’ into the future.

Admittedly, it does cost us some extra time and mileage resources to get to these places, which I’d say is well worth the effort thus far.   By eating together, we create a different rhythm of gathering that opens conversation differently.   By listening and praying with the pastors in their settings, we’ve had opportunities to both bless and to learn.   In going to the margins, we find what happens when we respond to Jesus’s declaration to go and then the transformation that happens when we listen to each other and in the midst, to sense the presence of God and discover our hearts are still strangely warmed together on the way in this time in between.

The Everyday Missionary

by Jenifer Eriksen Morales

Jess McQuade and family
Jess McQuade with her husband, John, and children, Katie (15), Aiden (13) and Kieran (11)

Jess McQuade, an Everyday Missionary, is a member of Souderton Mennonite Church, Vice President General Manager for Allebach Communications, wife to John, and mother of three active children.  Jess lives according to the overly demanding schedule these roles require. Everyday Missionaries are those who intentionally live the Great Commission to make disciples in the context of their jobs, relationships, homes and ordinary life activities. In her missionary role, Jess ministers to young people by leading a weekly Bible Study in the Souderton Park for swim team members before their morning practice. Her story is inspiring and challenging.

The Souderton Swim Team is one of the many extra-curricular activities Jess’ children participate in.  In addition to meets, the family practices 7-10 hours per week nearly year-round.  Clearly Jess spends a lot of time at the pool!  A few years ago, a friend recommended a book called “Don’t Waste your Sports” by C.J. Mahaney.  Jess says it reminded her, “sports are a gift from God, and that we can either use them to glorify God (allowing God to be our focus and priority) or we can use them to try to bring glory to ourselves (not just as athletes, but also as parents of athletes). The Bible study was just one way I thought I could help my kids, and hopefully others, keep focusing on God and give Him the glory in their sports.”

 So, two summers ago, Jess began to meet with a group of young swimmers in Souderton Park at 8:00 am, before practice, and before she needed to be at work.  All swim team members are welcome to participate. The group does a short game or ice breaker activity, reads a testimony from a Christian athlete with a corresponding Bible passage and discusses what it means to them in everyday life and athletics. Each meeting ends with prayer requests and prayer.  According to Jess, “There are always kids who offer to pray for someone else’s prayer request – that is the most awesome thing to hear!”

Not only is Jess nurturing young Jesus-followers through the Bible Study, but she is cultivating leadership. For example, Jess’ daughter and son lead prayer, pick out Bible studies they think would be relevant, and lead some of the games.  Next year they are hoping to lead a study on their own.  A young adult who grew up at Souderton Mennonite Church, Jessica Wimmer, is a coach on the swim team.  She participated with the swimmers and led some of the morning Bible Studies.  Jessica notes, “It was great having her involved as an example and motivator for the younger swimmers.”

As the group grows in relationship with Jesus, Jessica hopes the kids “support each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.  These swimmers spend a lot of time together.  Wouldn’t it be awesome if they could have an opportunity to share their faith, pray for one another, and encourage each other in their faith walk?  I want to help them see that God gave them Christian brothers and sisters to walk along with them – they aren’t alone.” Jess aims to “help Christian kids do ‘church’ in their natural, day-to-day environment and not just on Sunday mornings.  This is something I still struggle with as an adult.  How do you bring your faith into your job, social functions, daily life, etc.?  Here’s one way.”

Through this two-year experience in the everyday mission field, Jess has learned that God, “will give you what you need to be able to do what He is calling you to do.  I am not a super mom – life is busy and I often live in a state of feeling completely overwhelmed.  Adding even a small, simple thing like this Bible study to my plate could almost put me over the edge, but I really felt [God] calling me to do this and each week He gave me the resources and the strength to make it happen.  I left each gathering feeling completely energized, blessed, and excited by what God had done in our brief time together.”

The Space In-Between: Work, Hope and Missional Operations Grants

by Stephen Kriss

Over the last ten years, Franconia Conference has released over $500,000 through the Missional Operations Grant (MOG) fund.  These grants are tools that help instigate and cultivate missional initiatives connected with our Conference and congregations. They’ve been used broadly over the last decade to cultivate ministries in our local congregations and around the world from India to Indonesia to Mexico and the Caribbean, even assisting in the cleanup after Hurricane Katrina.

As staff work with congregations developing ministries to further the mission and vision of the Kingdom of God and Franconia Conference, they are able to help resource these initiatives with MOGs.  Our last staff meeting involved a spirited discussion how to best continue to implement and inform the use of this significant tool justly, fairly, and openly across our congregations.

11894513_866533416748400_313644984214870327_oCongregations are able to apply for MOGs and with the blessing of the LEADership Minister and congregation leadership these applications are passed on to the Ministry Resource Fund Grant Committee. The MOGs approved by the committee focus on ministries within conference congregation or partnerships between congregations and other organizations/ministries. The projects funded are intent on mutuality, rooted in considerations of justice, building on strengths, and calling forth new and next-generation leaders. To see a list of the projects funded in 2015 visit the MOG tab at: http://franconiaconference.org/mission/stewardship/.

Last year, due to a change in allocation of funds in the account (reduced from 20% to 10% of total available dollars), there are less funds available causing us to be more strategic this year with the reduced dollars.  Already this year 8 MOG grants have been approved mostly to our urban congregations (keep your eye on the MOG webpage at FranconiaConference.org for coming testimonies). With our average grant amount coming in at approximately $4000, we have only enough left in the fund this year to grant possibly two to three additional requests.  We’ve capped the requests this year at $5000 per congregation with only a single disbursement likely. Grants are requested through an application process that should be done in consultation with the congregation’s LEADership Ministers and then approved by the Ministry Resource Fund Grant Committee. More information can be found on the MOG tab at: http://franconiaconference.org/mission/stewardship/.

The grants allow the Conference and LEADership Ministers to assist in funding creative spaces for our churches.  The return on investment of these funds is high though the initiatives themselves don’t always seem successful in a traditional sense of understanding.   The grants invite our congregations to take risks for the sake of the dream of God.  We trust the outcomes into God’s hands.

Most MOG funds are sourced from estate bequests and contributions from the revenue from Conference-owned properties.   This year we are expecting to receive an estate gift that will likely allow an increase in available funds for next year.  If you’d like to help boost our ongoing capacity to instigate missional initiatives now and into the future, I’d be glad to talk with you or your congregation. You or your congregation are welcome to donate specifically to the MOG Fund as well. This is important and generative work.   It’s a glimpse of the good that comes when we can share the labor together in times of opportunity and possibility.

We still work and hope.  And we trust in the power of Christ to take our work and multiply it for the sake of the world.