Tag Archives: Perkasie Mennonite Church

Love is a Verb and So Much More

by Wayne Nitzsche, Interim LEADership Minister and Pastor of Perkasie Mennonite Church

When taking elementary Greek as a seminary student, suddenly it dawned on me that my knowledge of the English language was woefully inadequate. I might not have been able to tell you that a verb “is a word used to describe an action, state, or occurrence, and forming the main part of the predicate of a sentence, such as hearbecomehappen,” as Google says. But I’d have been able to say that is an action word!

So when I learned the theme for Mennonite Church USA for 2017, launched on Valentine’s Day, was: “Love is a Verb” I knew about verbs. I’m just glad they didn’t go with: “Love is a predicate noun.”

As followers of Christ we believe that God is love and that we are called to participate in God’s love. Not by the cheap “I’ll love you if you love me” ways of our culture, but in the gritty work of loving God, ourselves and our neighbors.

This theme of Love is a Verb will be the theme at our denominational assembly in Orlando in early July. As we lead up to that, Perkasie Mennonite (PMC), and perhaps other Franconia Conference congregations have recently engaged this theme. Here at PMC we developed a six week worship series focusing on: love is… a verb, … obeying Christ, … mutual, …. fear-less, ….of God, and …. life-giving. The series has been a study of the book of First John.

“This word of life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us…so that our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” (1 John 1:2-3)

For the writer, the love of God is expressed in the revealed “word of life” (Jesus Christ) so that we might have fellowship (koinonia) with God and with each other. That love we’ve received is then expressed in love for each other in the local fellowship. Yet, scholars believe this struggling church was fractured because of theological diversity and a refusal to love in word and deed. In a series employing sharp contrasts comes the command to do the hard work of love.

Our love has been put to the test in very specific ways as we have walked with congregation members in life and death. I witnessed people expressing their love by sharing meals, sending cards, sitting in silence, in unceasing prayer and in many other acts of love. I know this happens on a daily basis, not only at PMC but in all the churches spread out over our conference.

We have members demonstrate active love – love as a verb – by urging us to speak into the political process with a voice of concern for peace and justice. We had hard discussions in our Sunday morning second hour around the issue of racism, and talked about what steps we might take to become allies.

As an Interim LEADership Minister with Franconia Conference, I’ve been relating to Alpha, Bally and Taftsville congregations. It’s been a joy to hear stories of love in action. Bally created a large banner with the words from the Welcoming Your Neighbors posters: “No matter where you are from, we are glad you are our neighbor” written in Arabic, Spanish and English. During a committee meeting, a stranger entered and expressed his appreciation for the sign. He is a recent immigrant from the Middle East and had been feeling very vulnerable.

Love in action is expressed at Taftsville in their recent addition of solar panels on the roof of their meeting place.  They are now generating electricity that goes back onto the grid, as they continue to implement steps to care for God’s creation. I could go on with other illustrations just in these three congregations.

Let’s continue to challenge ourselves and our congregations to make Christ’s love known in our local communities. May we also celebrate and testify to the ways it is already happening in small ways in the wonderful diversity that is Franconia Mennonite Conference.

“We know love by this that he laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” (1 John 3:16)

From Dust You’ve Been Created

“Do you not realize what the Holy One can do with dust?”–Jan Richardson

By Steve Kriss, Executive Minister

Growing up in a dominantly Catholic community, I annually had ash envy.   There was something about that mark of the cross on the forehead, the smear and the audacity of wearing it out and about in town and at school that made me want to be marked similarly.

This year I joined the shared worship at Blooming Glen, jointly planned with Deep Run East and Perkasie congregations.  Each of the congregations’ pastoral leaders had a part.  I found my eyes becoming full as I watched them mark each other’s foreheads, after finishing marking those who came forward.  There was something both beautiful and awful in the fragility of the statement “from dust you’ve been created, and to dust you shall return,” being spoken to pastoral colleagues I know and love.

“Do you not know what the holy one can do with dust?”  It’s a serious question, written poignantly.  The dust of human existence breathed on by God becomes true life and even resurrection. Until then, we have these fragile days of marking, of honoring life, of sharing generously, of witnessing profoundly, of journeying together in sickness and in health, ’til death do we part.

Last Thursday, we honored the relationships we have with our credentialed leaders in an evening dinner with music.  It was a lovely night with good food and fellowship around tables while listening to some Gospel Folk music by The King’s Strings.   It felt like an extravagant night out for some of us.  A few pastors incredulously and skeptically wondered how the costs had been covered.  Two families from our community paid the bill as a gift, to show their appreciation for our credentialed leaders and conference.  Our pastors who attended felt honored.  It’s one of the ways we honor life’s fragility, through generosity and appreciation.  I’m grateful for our donors and our time together.

We set out now into these 40 days of journey toward the cross and resurrection.  Some of us are fasting from sugar or social media.  My catholic cousins often refrained from chocolate or soft drinks.   A recent suggestion I appreciated invited us to give away something every day.  They are all acts of devotion or attempting to focus direction differently.   These can be meaningful practices that stretch and strengthen our spiritual reflexes and muscles.  The Hebrew prophets repeatedly provoked honest service, pure-heartedness, and justice-seeking & doing over showy displays.  Our religiosity and practice, even during holidays, that help tell the story of our faith have little meaning without right relationships.

We continue to work and hope across our conference, our cities and towns, our country and all the world of sharing God’s extravagant and creative love incarnated in Christ and also through us when we live out the invitation in Isaiah to seek justice, share generously and relieve the burdens of those who struggle.   This is our journey this season of Lent, and always.

 

Creating Space

By Jenifer Eriksen Morales

teddy bear picnicMy 4-year-old daughter invited me to join her picnic, complete with plastic fruit.  I looked at the stuffed animal guests, “Wow, you have very different friends.  Aren’t you afraid the bear will eat the dogs or the dogs will eat the cats?” She patiently responded, “No Mommy.  That is not going to happen because Jesus is with us.” She pointed to a doll wrapped in white lying on the edge of the picnic blanket. “See?”

What a prime example of hospitality according to Henri Nouwen’s definition, quoted in last week’s Intersectings. “Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place…”

My role as a LEADership minister offers me many opportunities to witness hospitality at its finest within Franconia Conference.  Here are just a few ways in which congregations or members of congregations are “creating space.”

West Philadelphia Mennonite Fellowship is partnering with Redemption Housing to purchase a recovery home in West Philadelphia that is designed to encourage and support returning citizens. Not only are they collaborating in ministry with this organization, but the congregation will spend the next year preparing themselves to better understand, welcome and build relationships with citizens returning from prison to the broader community and congregation.  This will happen through trainings, Sunday school studies, and guest speakers who will help them grow in understanding the prison system/mass incarceration, and intercultural competencies.

A year ago, a man in the Spring Mount congregation told me about multiple new neighbors who are Muslim.  He asked me to recommend books he could read to learn more about this faith tradition.  Recently, he returned a book I lent him and told me about his on-going learning about Islam and the comfortable friendships he is forming with his neighbors from Pakistan, Egypt and Bangladesh.

Souderton Mennonite Church recently turned an extra Sunday school room into a warm, living room-type space where parents can retreat and connect with each other.  I spent some Wednesday evening club nights there drinking coffee and visiting with others.  I was able to get to know a woman from the Congo. Thanks to the provided space, our family has new friends.

Plains Mennonite Church has a beautiful park which often serves as space for people to connect.  Members of the congregation hang out at the park to have conversation and build relationships with neighbors who gather there for basketball, soccer, disc golf, or just to play at the playground. One member of the congregation carries dog treats in his pocket and takes a couple minutes to greet people and their pets.  This summer the congregation is hosting Art in the Park.  They will hold concerts, movies, and line dancing.  This July, a simple meal will be served each week in the pavilion followed by an art of living class on different topics such as gardening, or cooking/preserving in season foods. This is all free and open to the community. The goal is for all to feel welcomed and comfortable, including those with special needs. To prepare for this time, the congregation will devote June Sunday school classes to raising sensitivity and awareness and learning how to embrace and reach out to the special needs community.

5 years ago, the Perkasie congregation received a Franconia Conference grant to aid in their endeavor to create a safe place for people from the community to gather with faith-related questions or to talk about different ways of understanding the Bible.  The friendships formed there have been lasting.  This group of people still meet and are currently studying Phyllis Tickle’s video series around the theme of Emergent Christianity.

I could write pages about the different ways I see congregations and individuals intentionally creating space where strangers can come together.  As followers and worshipers of Jesus, we live in Jesus’ promise to be with us always.  The space we create in the name of Jesus, where lives and love are shared and transformed is ordinary and sacred.  Because Jesus is with us.  See?

Jenifer Eriksen Morales is Minister of Transitional Ministries and a LEADership Minister for eleven congregations in Franconia Conference.

Counterintuitive Solidarity

By Jenifer Eriksen-Morales

“Mom, check this out!”  My son called me to share his interest in a TV show. The host, Jeremy Wade, was underwater, speaking through scuba gear, right next to a giant crocodile!  He explained approaching a crocodile from above, below or directly in front, can be quite deadly as one may be mistaken as a threat or prey.  However, when one approaches a crocodile in cool water from the side or back, imitating them by crawling slowly along the sandy riverbed, “I can get quite close to it,” Wade stated as he reached out and touched the crocodile who didn’t even flinch. (Don’t try this!) He went on to say as a result of this encounter he felt safer in the water.  He went on to comment that to learn about Tiger Fish, it is better to use a crocodilian rather than human perspective.   He then floated next to the croc, narrating as the camera panned.  He drew attention to the plants, critters, light and shadows allowing the world to be observed from the vantage point of a crocodile.  I was flabbergasted; Wade wasn’t studying crocs, he was learning about Tiger Fish from crocodiles!  What he was doing was counterintuitive, courageous, and exciting!

I was reminded of a conversation I had with Mike Derstine, Pastor at Plains, that morning.  Over coffee, Mike shared his learnings about counterintuitive solidarity from a recent Webinar entitled “Neo-Anabaptism and Anablacktivism” offered by AMBS and facilitated by Drew Hart and Greg Boyd.

Mike shared his learnings so enthusiastically I was compelled to do a little research.  Hart writes in his blog, “White intuition and experience (limited by homogeneous networks) is signifying one thing while black experience is claiming an alternative reality. What are people who participate in dominant society to do when their intuition and experience contradict the experiences of oppressed people?”  Hart goes on to call for counterintuitive solidarity, by “trusting the historically marginalized and oppressed perception above one’s own… Jesus’ own solidarity performance is a call to discipleship and imitation as a way of being in the world. It is the cure for privileged blinders that leaves people’s own vision impaired and unreliable. The Spirit is pulling all of us to see things “from below” because that is where God has chosen to move, work, and transform the world (1 Cor. 1:18-31).”

drewhartpic
Drew Hart

While Drew’s blog focuses on racism in the United States, clearly his point is relevant in other contexts where people are marginalized and oppressed.  In the statement, “Going to the Margins, Kingdom Mission Strategy,” adopted by Franconia Conference’s delegate body this fall, “We advocate that Franconia Conference be intentional about identifying those on the margins of our churches and society, and provide resources for the work of mutual transformation according to the good news of Jesus Christ. “  I imagine, if we as a conference, as organizations, as congregations, and as individuals are to take this statement seriously, the dominant culture will need to learn the art of counterintuitive solidarity.  We must find ways to create space to get up close and personal, listen well and trust the perception of “the other” enough to begin to see from their vantage point.

drewhartgraphicThe Perkasie congregation is doing this through a 6 week Sunday school study, “Returning Veterans, Returning Hope,” a curriculum provided by Mennonite Central Committee. As part of this, a veteran will come and share his story with the congregation.  Pastor, Wayne Nitzsche comments, “The Perkasie congregation solidly identifies as a Peace church.”  They wonder what it may mean to be welcoming and inclusive of veterans, to journey with them, and by modeling Jesus share his love, healing and hope.  Pastor Wayne also wonders, “What are we willing to learn from Veterans? How do we listen to their story deep enough to see what we can learn from them about courage, and loyalty and discipline? Veterans have something to offer us, if we are willing to listen.”

andrew_huth_fmc_ed_youth_event_082As we go through the steps of identifying and listening to those who have been marginalized, partnering locally and globally, sharing the gospel and planting churches, how might the Holy Spirit be inviting us to explore beyond our patterns, stereotypes and intuition in order to develop alternate ways of seeing and experiencing reality.  What might we learn from another’s point of view?

To read all of Drew Harts Article quoted above visit: http://drewgihart.com/2013/08/07/400-years-of-white-blinders-counterintuitive-solidarity-and-the-epistemological-advantage-of-the-oppressed/.

For more information and to obtain a copy of Mennonite Central Committee’s “Returning Veteran, Returning Hope,” Sunday School Curriculum visit: https://mcc.org/media/resources/1719.

Jenifer Eriksen-Morales is Minister of Transitional Ministries and a LEADership Minister for eleven congregations in Franconia Conference.