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.
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 .
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
by Jenifer Eriksen Morales
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.”
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.
Congregations 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.
Over the first week of August, a tropical storm (and at a time, Hurricane Earl) wreaked havoc across Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Central America, and Mexico, deeply impacting the Mexican state of Pueblo where Monte Maria Church has several church plants.
In 1988, Franconia Conference sent Pastor Bob Stevenson to Mexico for church planting and evangelism. Bob became connected with Monte Maria Church in Mexico City and currently is the second pastor of the congregation since its formation in 1979. The Conference continues to hold Bob’s credentials and his ministry and Monte Maria Church continue to connect with various conference congregations. Perkiomenville Mennonite Church has maintained a partner in mission relationship with the Monte Maria Church through mission trips and teaching in the School of Ministry. Last fall Perkiomenville pastor, Charlie Ness, spoke at the Monte Maria leaders’ conference and made connections with the pastors.
Five of Monte Maria’s church plants were severely damaged by tropical storm Earl in the villages of Ahuacatlan, Huauchinango, Xaltepec and Chicahuxtla. The congregation in Xaltepex experiencing the worst. The pastor of the congregation, Pastor Ramiro and his wife Lucy, along with several church members lost their homes and all of their belongings due to the landslides and flooding caused by Earl. Among the many who lost their lives due to the storm, six children are nieces and nephews of Pastor Ramiro.
In a letter received from Bob last week, he writes “We have sent teams and basic supplies. However, the need is enormous. Therefore, I am asking for special offerings to rebuild, bedding, towels and clothing and if possible, workers. There are still persons unaccounted for and risks of more damage. Please pray the mercy of God over these villages.”
The need is far beyond what Perkiomenville Mennonite Church is able to meet and is appealing to others to help bear the burden of our brothers and sisters in Mexico. They are currently in conversation with Mennonite Disaster Services and are appealing for financial contributions to buy building materials to rebuild the pastor and congregation members’ homes and also to help assist in purchasing a vehicle for the pastor, as his only means of transportation was washed away by the storm.
Financial contributions can be sent to Franconia Conference (1000 Forty Foot Rd, Lansdale, PA 19446) marked for Monte Maria Rebuilding Efforts.
If you or your congregation are interested in sending workers, please contact Charlie Ness as he will be coordinating work teams over the next several months. He can be reached at Charlie@perkmc.com.
By Dorcas Lehman, Interim Pastor – Taftsville Chapel Mennonite Fellowship
Sometimes witness means continuing work that has lasted several generations, as it has taken root in the communities around the church. People tell their neighbors that this is who the Mennonites are and what they do. Then when the neighbors learn that an Interim Pastor is in the village, the witness resounds in conversations where I live, worship, and shop.
My Subaru was overdue for an oil change, so I took it to a local mechanic in Bridgewater Corners, Vermont. I needed my out-of-state car to run smoothly while I serve as Interim Pastor at Taftsville Chapel Mennonite Fellowship. “Take a good look,” I said, “this car has a lot of miles on it, over 100,000, and I am putting a lot more miles on it.” He took one look and countered, “With that Outback, you are just getting started!” An Outback, even with PA license plate, fits right into the landscape in Vermont, and Chris the mechanic seemed happy to help.
He also smiled when he learned that I am a Mennonite pastor. All his growing up years, he camped at Bethany Birches in Plymouth, as did his mother before him, first as a camper and then as a counselor. For fifty-plus years this Mennonite-affiliated camp and Franconia Conference Related Ministry has been part of his family story, and he tells it with delight.
I hear this in other places too: “Have you seen the new state-of-the art pavilion?” asks another neighbor at a dinner in the village with friends, an ecumenical array of guests around the table, mostly neighboring Catholics. He is a donor, and he admires its architecture. The Mennonites are known for camp, and for being in the community, adds another guest. They volunteer all the time.
In a place and time when only 17% of the state’s residents regularly attend houses of worship, the lowest church attendance in the nation, it is no small witness to be known for generating a sense of community ownership of a camp that cares well for local children. When the stories of Jesus are shared in the way of Jesus, a community will remember that camp was invitational, playful, and welcoming.
While Mennonites are also known for volunteerism in their communities, that witness seems to enrich and flow with the local culture, rather than contrasting with it. “Vermonters by and large are a quiet people who recognize and appreciate hard work and service,” says Dave Beidler, a life-time member of the Taftsville congregation. Vermonters readily join hand in hand with their neighbors as needs arise.
There is yet another kind of witness that neighbors tell about Vermont Mennonites. I hear it from Charlie Wilson, long-time resident and observer of Taftsville, the hamlet where my interim congregation worships. I am sitting in a presentation at the Woodstock Historical Society, where he is telling stories about Taftsville’s recent past. “If you walk by the Chapel on a summer Sunday morning and the windows are open,” he tells the group, “you will hear the unsurpassed acappella singing of the Mennonites, and at Christmas they serenade the village with carols.”
Sometimes witness is the quiet service of being and doing with neighbors, and sometimes it is the sounds of our singing that float out the windows into the village during our service of worship.
By Barbie Fischer
In Mark 12:30-31 Jesus tells us what the greatest commandments are: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” This brings to mind the question, who are our neighbors.
Throughout the New Testament we see that Jesus intends this word ‘neighbor’ to mean any other person, irrespective of race or religion, with whom we live or whom we meet. This is clearly brought out in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37 and Mark 12:30-33). This commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves is reiterated numerous times in the New Testament (Matthew 19:19; Matthew 22:39; Romans 13:9, 10; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8).
The last two days have brought to mind for me this question of ‘who are our neighbors’, as I watched the news and spoke with friends around the country regarding the two police-involved shootings that happened just this week. These shootings resulted in the deaths of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota. Both shootings took place not far from some of my friends. These men were quite literally my friends’ neighbors . The police officers who took these men’s lives were also my friends’ neighbors. In the moments leading to the weapons being fired, I dare say Alton and Philando were not viewed as neighbors by those who took their lives, but instead were viewed as threats.
When you answer the question ‘who is your neighbor’, who comes to mind? People from church, friends? What are these people like? How many of them are different from you?
We gravitate towards people who are like us. It is comfortable. Navigating those awkward cultural differences can be very uncomfortable. Yet, when we get to know one another and especially people different from ourselves, oh the new things we learn and the blessings these experiences become! I live up the block from a home for mentally impaired adults. Honestly, at first I found a few of them quiet frightening. There is an older lady who stands and stares even I you try to say hello or smile at her, she will follow you with her eyes just staring with a cold, blank expression. There is an older man who walks his imaginary dog every morning. He is often seen singing and dancing, leaping through the air even. While these people live close to me, I might not have considered them my neighbors at first. In fact, had I seen them before I moved in I might have reconsidered. Yet, I am so thankful I live where I do and I am blessed to call these people my neighbors. Each morning as I leave for work, I look for the man with his imaginary dog. His pure joy brightens my day, especially when I ask about his pooch and he picks up the imaginary dog and holds him to my car window for me to pet. I am thankful that the Spirit led me to get to engage with him. If I hadn’t, I might not get that extra smile from seeing him every morning. Even the lady who stares. I still smile and say good morning as uncomfortable as it makes me feel.
Lord God, we grieve with our neighbors around the country at the loss of two of our neighbors. Both were created in your image, as all of us are. We ask that you comfort those involved in these shootings. We ask that you guide us in your ways and show us what you desire from us at these times and always. We ask, Lord, that as we go through our days, may our eyes be opened to seeing all those we meet as our neighbors. May we see all people as you see them, Lord. In Jesus’s precious name, Amen.
by Barbie Fischer
Rahab is often referred to in scripture as a harlot. Yet, she is the great grandmother of King David, a man after God’s own heart, and is one of five woman mentioned by Matthew in the lineage of Jesus Christ, God’s own son. Even though she is known as a harlot, she is also mentioned in Hebrews among the faithful. How could this be? In the story of Rahab documented in the book of Jeremiah, we see that Rahab’s faith led to great hospitality, leading to a victory for Jeremiah and the Israelites over the land of Jericho. The story of Rahab is a reminder that we are all sinners (Romans 3:23), yet our faith in Christ as seen in our actions, such as hospitality, saves us. After all, James 2:17 says, “even so faith, if it has no works, is dead.”
Joshua told the spies to go view the land, especially Jericho. “So they went, and came to the house of a harlot named Rahab, and lodged there” (Joshua 2:1). Large houses near the city gates would often serve as the city hotel for traveling caravans. Rahab and her family operated one of these inns right on the wall where travelers would pass. Many of these establishments had a little extra emphasis on the “bed” available for the right price. Most likely this is how Rahab got her title of harlot.
Rahab would have known of the Israelites as they could be seen across the river from Jericho in their camp. She may have heard how they miraculously escaped from Egypt and the people of Jericho knew of how the Israelites has conquered other nations. Thus Rahab and others in Jericho knew the Israelites were most likely coming to destroy Jericho.
Rahab, knowing all she does of Israel, not only welcomed the Israelite spies — she risked her life and that of her family by hiding them on her roof when the King’s army came calling for them (Joshua 2:2-7). Joshua 2:8 clearly shows that Rahab offered hospitality at the risk of her life because she believes in the Lord, stating that she knows the Lord has delivered Jericho to the Israelites. She believed. She had faith. She not only offered hospitality because of this — she risked her life.
How many times have Christians judged someone like Rahab. Someone living a life we may disagree with and claiming that they must not be a believer? Could it be that in fact they do believe but need some more discipleship, like Rahab? Yet as Christians do we invest in getting to know these people whose lifestyles are different than our own, strangers to us, or do we offer them hospitality?
The Israelites’ lifestyles were different than Rahab’s; they were strangers to her, yet Rahab offered them hospitality and they accepted it. Her life led to that of King David and Jesus Christ our Lord. Perhaps, we should not write off those different from us so quickly. Perhaps we should offer and accept hospitality from them. After all, we are all sinners (Romans 3:23) and we are all God’s creation (Colossians 1:16).