Tag Archives: Nations Worship

Going to the Margins: A 10 year experiment in South Philly

by Stephen Kriss

south phillyI’ve been in a lot of meetings where there’s discussion about decline in the church.  But every time I hear it, I think about the churches I work alongside.   While I know numbers are down in a lot of places, that is not the reality in most of Franconia Conference churches in Allentown and Philadelphia. In South Philadelphia alone, among three conference churches we have 500 members, almost 10% of the conference.  This past Sunday I spent the day visiting these congregation.

First I worshipped with Philadelphia Praise Center (PPC), which is my home congregation.   I was the oldest person on the platform during worship.   There’s a growing number of children and lack of Sunday school space.   Worship was energetic and bilingual.   The congregation counts about 150 people as part of the community.

After worship, I migrated down to the new building for Nations Worship Center (NWC).  The long delay with the permitting process is frustrating, so the congregation continue to meet in rented space on South Broad Street.   Worship attendance can go as high as 150 people not including special programs.  They’re anxious to finish the building on Ritner, about six blocks South of PPC’s building.   While they will be close to PPC, both churches reach different demographics among the 5000 or so Indonesian speakers in South Philadelphia.

After conversations at NWC, my next meeting was to explore a new facility for Centro de Alabanza.  Officially a conference member congregation only since this fall, the church needs to relocate again after outgrowing their worship space just off Passyunk.  It looks like they’ll move to purchase an old United Methodist building on Snyder Avenue.   Under the capable leadership of their pastors and a leadership team from across Latin America, the church continues to grow with over 100 adults and 50 children under the age of 18.

Just up north of these three properties is Indonesian Light Church.  It’s the smallest of our South Philly congregations and just joined the Conference this past fall.  Our Executive Minister, Ertell Whigham, was preaching this Sunday.  Emily Ralph Servant is serving as an interim pastor as they immerse themselves further in Anabaptist identity, and Bobby Wibowo from PPC is serving his seminary internship with the church.  Most of the church is from the Batak tribe from Sumatra, though they speak Indonesian as well as their tribal tongue with most members from the neighborhood, with others driving from New York to attend.

Over the last decade, unexpectedly, God has built a connection between Franconia Conference and the growing immigrant population in South Philadelphia.  This is what fruitful investment and going to the margins of our communities might mean over the long haul.  It’ll have meant purchasing about $1 million in property in the city and 500 members in the neighborhood.  But this work takes time and patience.  We’ve learned some things along the way.  And we’ll keep learning.

As we explore going to the margins again, as our churches in the Lehigh Valley and in South Philly begin to fill up and to represent increasing percentages of our Conference population, we’ll be required to rethink and reimagine what it means for us to be together.   And we’ll discover, hopefully, again the God who brings about transformation and even resurrection.

Why should we wait for the impossible?

by Beny Krisbianto, Nations Worship

Beny KrisbiantoThe words “waiting” and “impossible” aren’t fun words to discuss. The word “boring” is usually associated with the word “waiting” and the word “finished” or “dead” are often related to the word “impossible.” Why do we have to wait, if the thing that we are waiting for is impossible? It seems like acting in vain.

Not too long ago, I experienced a long period of waiting when I traveled back to my hometown of Jember, Indonesia. It takes at least twenty-eight hours in flight and four hours by car to get to this town in East Java, Indonesia. I still remember that in my time of waiting, I did everything that I could think of on the airplane, include praying, reading, reflecting, etc, to kill the time, so that I could enjoy my flight. But it still felt boring. Waiting is not fun, but sometimes it’s necessary.

In 1998, we had riot in Jakarta, the capitol city of Indonesia. In that tragedy, almost 3000 Chinese Christians were killed by radical Muslims. Since then, Indonesian Christians have been praying for justice and peace in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country on earth. For almost a decade, the Christians’ prayer has seemed impossible: no result and no progress. In some places in Indonesia, the persecution is even worse than before.

But surprisingly, God is answering the impossible prayer request of the Christians. Today, the Indonesian government passed a law that Christians should have the same opportunities as everyone else in Indonesia, and as I am writing this blog, the people of Jakarta just elected the first Chinese Christian governor. He will lead almost 15 million people in Jakarta in the next few years. Many people mentioned that he could also became the next president of Indonesia.

Nobody ever thought the day would come when a Chinese Christian would sit in the one of the most important public offices in a Muslim country like Indonesia. Indonesian Christians are giving thanks to the Lord for this historic moment. He is truly the God of the impossible. With God all things are possible.

The Word of God encourages us to wait upon the Lord. Before experiencing a great thing in life, most of the time, a process of waiting is required. Some times, God makes even his children wait, especially when we are waiting for things that are impossible for humans like us. I believe that waiting on the Lord is not passive, but an active action. Waiting on the Lord also includes praying, hoping, and believing that those things will come to pass. Several times, I’ve faced some impossible situations in life and ministry; however, when we didn’t give up, it finally changed. Let’s continue our prayer and hope in God until those impossible prayers are answered.

Our theme for this year’s joint Conference Assembly with Eastern District Conference is “Esperando: Waiting & Hoping.”  Conference Assembly will be held November 14-15 at Penn View Christian School in Souderton, Pa.  For more information: assembly.franconiaconference.org.

Conference pastors pursue higher education

by Lora Steiner, managing editor

The Lord works in mysterious ways,  and the Spirit leads in mysterious ways: sometimes to faraway lands, sometimes to stretching local ministries—or sometimes, back to the classroom.

Beth Yoder with her family at her graduation from Drew.
Beth Yoder with her family at her graduation from Drew.

This year, two Franconia Conference pastors finished Doctor of Ministry (D.Min) degrees, while several others are pursuing pastoral studies alongside other fulltime jobs. The advantages to them and their congregations are many: For pastors who’ve been in ministry for many years, it can be a time to refocus and re-tool. For congregations, it’s a chance to develop new practices and to see the Gospel in fresh ways, and a gentle nudge to those in maintenance mode.

Throughout Beth Yoder’s congregational ministry, she has interspersed her work with study: a year at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, coursework at Biblical Theological Seminary in Hatfield and Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey, and classes at Eastern Mennonite Seminary as well. It was at EMS that Beth re-embraced her passion for worship and preaching—and also at EMS where she remembered her interest in doing a Doctor of Ministry (D.Min) degree at Drew University,  a program that would allow her to focus heavily on those areas.

Yoder, associate pastor of Salford congregation, says her studies were invigorating, and brought a sort of freshness for her and her congregation. D.Min. programs are structured around a project that the student commits to doing in her worship setting; Yoder’s focused on embodied worship—using principles of theater and movement to enrich worship. Many—not all—she reports, were appreciated, but it let her examine a hunch about the significance of embodied worship on spiritual formation. A lot of it, she says, wasn’t brand new—but her studies and assignments carved out that space to try something different.

Mike Derstine, pastor of Plains congregation, recently finished a D.Min. at Palmer Theological Seminary in King of Prussia, Pa. He’d always thought about pursuing the degree but with commitments to family and church, the timing never seemed right. When his congregation gave him a three-month sabbatical, it was the encouragement he needed to enter the program.

Mike Derstine with his family at graduation from Palmer.
Mike Derstine with his family at graduation from Palmer.

Palmer’s program focuses on transformational leadership, the missional church, and congregational renewal. Derstine says it’s just what he was looking for, a “key area for congregational pastors who need to think about what the changing context means for ministry.”

Derstine says he’d become so preoccupied with the needs and demands of the day-to-day life of a congregation that he found he wasn’t taking enough time for personal or professional renewal. Programs like this, he says, allow pastors  space to cultivate a “deeper spirituality, as well as more disciplined  and intentional approach to what we do.”

Beny Krisbianto, pastor of Nations Worship Center in south Philadelphia, is finishing a degree at the Eastern Mennonite Seminary campus in Lancaster. Like many other pastors in Franconia Conference, he takes one or two courses a semester—that’s all he has time for—and appreciates how he is able to daily use what he is studying: “I can balance between learning the principles and theology and applying it to my context.”

Krisbianto says one thing he learned from seminary is how to care for himself.

“Before I went to seminary I didn’t know about teaching and discipline. After beginning seminary, I grew a lot,” he says. “I know my strength, I know my weakness, I know when to say no, I know when to say stop.”

Krisbianto has two classes left and will graduate in 2015. This week also saw the graduations of Tami Good, Souderton congregation, and Kris Wint, Finland congregation, with M.Divs. from Biblical Seminary in Hatfield, Pa.

Although it may seem impossible while in the midst of classroom demands, life continues after graduation: Derstine took time after he finished his studies to replace the mufflers and exhaust system on his old car, and started seeds for his garden, continuing the balance of daily life and renewal. Both Derstine and Yoder continue in their same congregations.

“I think both formal and informal pastor education are important for pastors and congregational leaders,” says Yoder, “because it gives people an opportunity to engage new material, to learn with new people, and also gives leaders a space to say ‘I don’t have all of the answers,’ when sometimes leadership roles can get us into the practice of feeling like we have to have all the answers.”

“Going back into the classroom invites you to become a learner, to engage humbly, to rethink your own leadership from a different perspective.”

Giving God our best: The Resurrection

Beny Krisbiantoby Beny Krisbianto, Nations Worship (with Emily Ralph)

God sent His only SON, HIS BEST to come to this earth to save us. He never intended to send the second or third best from heaven to redeem us. He didn’t send angels or prophets to die for us—he sent his son! God ALWAYS gives us THE BEST.

What about us? How do we respond to God’s gift?  Are we committed to follow Christ in life?  We are not left to live this way alone—just as Christ was raised from the dead, we, too, have the power of the resurrected Christ in us.

These are just some of the ways that Franconia Conference congregations have given God their best, witnessing to the power of the resurrection in the last year:

“So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.  So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.” (Galatians 6:9-10, NRSV)

On this great Easter weekend, as we celebrate the triumph of Christ’s resurrection, I want to encourage every single one of us to always give our best to God in everything that we do.  Christ is Risen!