Tag Archives: Plains

Women and changing roles in the church

by Helen Lapp, Plains

PlainsChange can take a lot of time. And it is very unsettling for many—no surprise there! This past summer Plains congregation (Hatfield, Pa.) decided to explore together, during the usual Sunday school hour, some changes the church has weathered in the past several decades. Several of these changes are:

  • Musical choices: They can bring us together in worship but also can divide.
  • War and peace: It has impacted many lives in our congregation; a number of young men chose not to participate in war, but some also shared stories of serving in the military.
  • Rural to suburban: The trend of moving off the farm brought profound changes to our church.
  • Becoming a diverse church: People from a variety of countries shared the challenges and blessings they experienced as they became an enriching part of our church community.
  • Divorce and remarriage: There was discussion of the sadness and pain of divorce, as well as stories of healing. Joyful remarriage meant more change for our caring community.
  • Gender: The changing roles of women in the church

For the session dealing with changing roles of women at Plains, I led a panel of six women of various ages in sharing of their own experiences at Plains. We reflected on how the Bible we valued was written chiefly by and for men, and also taught by men. Candid sharing about the impact wasn’t easy. And, our own personal journeys continue.

Lois Clemens
Lois Gunden Clemens was the first woman to teach Sunday School at Plains.

The women listed some of their role models and helpers along the way; One was Lois Gunden Clemens, who was the first woman to teach a Sunday school class at Plains—the “young adults,” that is. Lois later served as one of our first elders. She was the editor of “The Voice,” the first church periodical specifically published for women. In 1975 Lois also released her book, WOMAN LIBERATED, a gentle guide during the time the secular liberation movement was also finding its voice.

It was clear that most of the women who took part in our panel grew up as loved little girls and privileged women.

My own story was similar.

After I married my husband, Sam, but before coming to Plains Mennonite, I had attended a small country church where the women seemed to make the wheels go round, and I remember them with appreciation and affection. I did notice that only men stood behind the pulpit—several leaving an imprint on my heart with their sermons. But I did weary of a male-centered church, and hungered for more.

During my college years at Eastern Mennonite College, having several women professors brought a learning curve; teaching English for several years likely also pushed me.

And I have always been touched by Jesus’ open-hearted conversation with the Samaritan woman.

A turning point came for me when Sam and I lived for two years in mid-Kansas while he finished his undergraduate college work. While there I met wise Mennonite women, Elaine Sommers Rich and Katie Funk Wiebe, who became mentors and role models as they explored and wrote of God’s clear calls to women in today’s world.

On that Sunday morning panel, all six women shared stories. Generally, personal change happened with little fanfare. Several told of courageous personal choices.; most of these choices led to welcomed role changes. At times change was scary, and sometimes annoying. Was it easier, some wondered, when little was asked but the care of our children?

Panel members found that congregational life had been enriched by having women as pastors alongside Pastor Mike Derstine during the past 15 years.

We acknowledged on this August Sunday morning that both our sons and our daughters accept most of this role flexibility as the new normal. And with God’s help, we usually can also. Healthy change requires open hearts and minds and a commitment to live in love with our fellow life travelers.

New IVEP participants join Conference communities

IVEP Participants 2014
IVEP participants pose for a photo during last week’s orientation. Front: Kim Dyer (MCC East Coast IVEP Coordinator), Solger Kim (Korea), Linlin Wang (China), Crecensia Wasama Mwita (Tanzania), Rubina Budha (Nepal), Sambath Nget (Cambodia).  Back: Luis Torres Diaz (Colombia), Elisante Lulu (Tanzania), Binod Gaire (Nepal), XiaoHua Wen (China), Martha Masilo (Lesotho), Gavi Luna Barguan (Colombia), Musa Manbefor Koreri Wambrauw (Indonesia)

This fall, four young adults from around the globe will use their gifts and time to support various Franconia Conference-related ministries. All four are participants in Mennonite Central Committee’s International Volunteer Exchange Program (IVEP), a year-long exchange that brings Christian young adults to the United States and Canada. Participants live with host families and volunteer with MCC partner agencies.

This year, local IVEPers include:

Binod Gaire, from Nepal. He will serve at Quakertown Christian School and his host family attends Rocky Ridge Mennonite Church.

Rubina Budha, from Nepal. She will work at the retirement community Living Branches. Her host family for the first part of the year attends Souderton Mennonite Church, and her host family for the second half attends Zion Mennonite.

Ntsena Martha Masilo, from Lesotho. She will be working at Ten Thousand Villages. Her host families attend Plains Mennonite and Zion Mennonite.

Solger Kim, from Korea. She will serve at Lutheran Children & Family Service in Allentown, and will connect with Whitehall Mennonite Church and Ripple Allentown

MCC encourages church members to reach out to IVEP participants and welcome them into the community, and pray for them, that their time in service with MCC proves fruitful and life-giving, as they work and serve in the name of Christ.

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.”

May Your Kingdom Come: A Benediction

Noah Kolbby Noah Kolb, retired pastor of ministerial leadership, Plains congregation

It was the summer of 1968. I preached one of my first sermons at Doylestown congregation. In it I called publicans “Republicans,” not once, but twice. Vernon Bishop nearly rolled off his bench.

It wasn’t my last blunder or mistake over the next 45 years of ministry. I am thankful for the grace and trust extended to me in spite of my imperfections. I learned quickly I was not a perfect leader and those I was called to lead were not perfect either. The tension between being right, standing for truth, and being gracious and merciful shaped much of my journey as a pastor and leader. I was raised by a somewhat conservative and legalistic community. Many years and experiences were required for me to understand grace and mercy, God’s incredible love.

As an adolescent I remember the conflict and division of the Franconia congregation in the 50’s. Several congregations had just left the Conference when I was ordained in 1970. Ordained leaders in an Assembly voted out the conference discipline, the guide for living faithfully. Pastors and congregational leaders were left to discern their way through issues that were once decided at Conference. I believed with careful study of the Scriptures, listening to the Spirit and congregational discernment most any issue could be resolved. Truth could be known and we would agree on what is the will of God.  Conflict and disagreement could be overcome by truth. But experience in the church and community did not support that conclusion. It was distressing and forced me to further search.

I never lost my trust in the Scriptures as the primary source of God’s will and truth. God did not leave us without light and direction. But we often disagree and disown each other, leaving us wounded and judged. Over time I discovered and experienced God’s grace and mercy freeing me from perfectionism and the need to be always right.  I/we are all broken creatures living in a broken creation. Only by the grace and mercy that has come to us in Jesus can we begin to realize truth, restoration, and shalom. Our passion to know truth often works against the restorative and reconciling grace and mercy of Christ through the work of the Spirit.

I have a high view of marriage as blessed by God and intended for a life time. I know from experience that living together is hard work. We are each broken creatures. Confession, forgiveness, grace, and mercy make it possible to live together. Many marriages don’t make it for a life time. I still believe God intends us to live together in peace for a life time. I have walked with many who have not been able to stay together. That does not change the truth of God for marriage. I have also learned how to extend grace and mercy so broken persons can find hope and reconciliation and continue in God’s grace as broken persons, finding healing and hope.

By the grace and mercy of God we are invited into the fellowship of Christ. Because we share His Spirit we are brothers and sisters in Christ. We are God’s Beloved. We are not one because we behave alike or all believe alike or all relate to God in the same way. We are one together only because we share the same spirit. That Spirit is a gift through the grace of God whose mercy is unending. It is out of this awareness and experience that we worship God. It is the new life we enjoy that drives us to share this Good News with others. It is this core understanding that enables us to talk honestly and safely with each other about our journey and life together. It is by the mercy of God and the grace of Christ that we can live in peace and bear witness to the transforming gift of the Spirit in and among us.

Our hope and future lies in our capacity to live in grace and mercy with God and each other. I pray with our Lord, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We live in the time in which the kingdom has not fully come.

May Your Kingdom come, Jesus, in grace and mercy to all.

Reflections on the Journey: celebrating the career of Noah Kolb

Noah Kolb's Open House
Noah and his wife Sara talk with their guests at the December 11 open house honoring Noah’s years of ministry. Photo by Emily Ralph

by Krista Showalter Ehst, Bally congregation

For Noah Kolb, the journey has moved in unexpected places, bringing challenges and blessings alike. Reflecting on a 45 year ministerial career—the most recent 14 of which he spent in Franconia Conference leadership—Noah says, “I could not have dreamed this path and in many ways it has felt like God has nudged and moved me along step by step.” As Noah anticipates his retirement years, he continues to experience those divine nudgings, offering words of wisdom from his ministerial work.

Noah was born and raised in a farming family in Spring City, Pa. He felt the call to ministry at a fairly young age, and this call was drawn out and affirmed by many people along the road. Noah names teachers, in-laws, mentors, and seminary professors at Goshen Biblical as central to discerning and following his call. Perhaps most significantly of all, Noah’s wife Sara has brought wisdom and counsel—as well as her own gifts of hospitality and relationship-building—that have helped Noah live into his calling. As he says, “I would not have wanted to do the journey without her.”

Noah and Sara Kolb
Noah and Sara were honored at the Credentialed Leaders Appreciation Dinner on December 2 with a fraktur by Roma Ruth. Photo by Emily Ralph.

That journey took Noah and his family to many different ministerial settings.  He spent 24 years in pastoral ministry: beginning part time at Pottstown (Pa.) Mennonite, moving to Swamp congregation (Quakertown, Pa.) for 11 years, and then serving the Bellwood Congregation in Nebraska for 5 years.  The leadership skills he exhibited during those years resulted in his call into conference ministry. After serving as the only Iowa-Nebraska conference minister for a number of years, he returned to the east coast. Jim Lapp, his brother-in-law and a former conference colleague, remembers that transition. “Noah’s strength as a leader arises from his lack of pretense and aspiration for recognition and a genuine humility and gentle spirit,” Jim shares.  “It was his strong churchmanship and character that led us to call him in 2000 to serve as part of the Conference Ministry Team [of Franconia Conference].”

Conference ministry brought its own set of challenges and learnings. For Noah, one significant area of growth was in conflict management. Noah grew up with very little understanding of conflict and became quite anxious when faced with it. As a pastor and conference minister, however, he was quick to realize that “wherever you have two or three gathered, there will be conflict.” Noah worked hard to wrestle with his aversion to conflict and to develop a non-anxious presence. He tried to create safe spaces where people could gather to talk and to share openly about their differences. As is so often the case, Noah remembers his times of helping congregations to move through conflict as some of the most difficult and rewarding moments of his career.

Noah and Bobby
Noah discusses life and ministry with Bobby Wibowo (Philadelphia Praise Center) at the 2013 Conference Assembly. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

As he’s worked alongside congregations, Noah has realized the importance of building relationships. He believes leaders cannot be effective without building trust with their congregations. Undoubtedly shaped by the many mentors in his own life, Noah has worked to build this trust by prioritizing one-on-one relationships with pastors, taking the time to listen to their stories and to know them more deeply. One leader who has benefited from this relational approach is Paulus Thalathoti, currently leading Peace Proclamation Ministries International in India and a member of Plains congregation, where Noah and Sara also attend. “Noah has energized me with his natural ability as a servant leader,” Paulus says.  “I have seen and experienced in him the qualities of gentleness and love.”

As he moves into retirement, Noah continues to model gentleness, strength, relationality, and the willingness to listen in the midst of difference. “We live with a lot of judgment towards each other and we don’t know how to receive and accept each other graciously as brothers and sisters in Christ even with our diversity,” Noah reflects.  “One of my deep convictions is that we need to work at a greater understanding of God’s grace and mercy—that God has received and uses us amazingly in our brokenness and that we can extend that grace to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. My deep yearning is that we can somehow learn to do that much better—not a sense that anything goes, but an extending of mercy and grace and compassion to each other in the midst of our brokenness.”

Noah and Nancy
MC USA Conference Minister Nancy Kauffmann joins Franconia Executive Minister Ertell Whigham and Eastern District Conference Minister Warren Tyson to pray for Noah at Conference Assembly 2013. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

While Noah has faced challenges in the last few years of ministry as he struggled with failing vision, his care and giftedness as a pastor to leaders has continued to shine through. “While it is indeed true that he is having a struggle with his physical eyesight, the spiritual eyesight of my brother continues to grow,” said Ertell Whigham, Franconia’s Executive Minister, at the 2013 Conference Assembly in November.  “[Noah is] able to see the needs and the care and the encouragement and the guidance and the wisdom that our brothers and sisters who serve in ministry need.  And so, while indeed there may be some struggles with [his] physical eyesight, I thank God for [his] spiritual eyesight….  I have truly been transformed through our intercultural interaction.”

Franconia Conference gathers to celebrate, pray, confer, listen

Garden Chapel Children's Choir
Garden Chapel’s children’s choir led a rousing rendition of “Our God” at Conference Assembly 2013. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

Franconia Conference delegates and leaders gathered November 2 at Penn View Christian School in Souderton, Pa. to celebrate God still at work.   With a packed auditorium for a third united assembly with Eastern District Conference, representatives gathered to listen and pray, to celebrate newly credentialed and ordained pastoral leaders, and to work alongside one another after an over 150-year rift created two separate Mennonite entities.  The theme “God still @ work” was an extension of the 2012 theme, “God @ work.”

With singing in Indonesian, Spanish, and English led by Samantha Lioi (Peace and Justice Minister for both conferences) and Bobby Wibowo (Philadelphia Praise Center) and translation into Franconia Conference’s worshipping languages, delegates and representatives from nearly all of the Conference’s congregations from Georgia to Vermont gathered to confer around a board-crafted statement on the Conference’s increasing diversity in ethnicity, experiences, faith practice, and expression.   The gathering was punctuated with points of celebration including testimony from Peaceful Living led by Joe Landis and Louis Cowell from Salford congregation, a youth choir from the revitalizing Garden Chapel in Victory Gardens, NJ, and a moment to mark the upcoming November retirement of Franconia Conference Pastor of Ministerial Leadership Noah Kolb after 45 years of ministry, which was met with rousing applause and a standing ovation.

Noah blessing 2013
Noah Kolb was recognized and blessed for 45 years of ministry. He will retire in November. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

In a shortened one-day event, delegates spent the morning together around tables with Eastern District Conference to continue to deepen relationships across conference lines.  Business sessions were separate, and Franconia’s included a significant amount of time in conversations among table groups, conferring over the board statement and then reporting on those conversations to the whole body.  Delegates and representatives were encouraged to mix across congregational lines to better hear and experience the diversity of conference relationships.

For many, including Tami Good, Souderton (Pa.) congregation’s Pastor of Music & Worship, who was attending Conference Assembly for the first time, the table conversations were holy spaces.  Each person at her table was from a different congregation.   “I saw God at work in the gracious listening, especially in the time when we talked about the conferring statement,” Good reflected. “There were disagreements, but everyone was graciously listening and hearing.  Everyone actually wanted to hear each other.  It was a beautiful time.”

The conferring time, along with an afternoon workshop led by the Franconia Conference board, focused on prayer and visioning for the Conference into the future.   Conference board members Jim Longacre (Bally congregation), Rina Rampogu (Plains congregation), Jim Laverty (Souderton congregation), and Klaudia Smucker (Bally congregation) served as a listening committee for the daylong event.  They reported seven themes of consistent and continued conversation: engagement, diversity, shared convictions, authority, polity, the role of conference, and the reality of changing relationships and engagement.  Board members noted that there is much response work to do to continue the conversation and discernment process.

Bruce Eglinton-Woods, pastor of Salem congregation (Quakertown, Pa.), said, “The challenge is speaking clearly on what we believe and where we are at, which is often a challenge for Mennonite leaders. My hope and prayer is that we can trust God and release the idea of keeping it all together. We need to let God do the holding together.”

Franconia Conference delegates spent time conferring and praying together.  Photo by Bam Tribuwono.
Franconia Conference delegates spent time conferring and praying together. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

According to Rampogu, one of the longest standing Conference board members, “the hardest part about this kind of meeting is that there isn’t enough time. We want to share and to talk together,” she said.  “That is a positive sign.  People want to connect.  My hope and prayer is that we keep our goal in mind, keeping our mission focused on equipping leaders to empower others to embrace God’s mission, with Christ in the center and churches focused on missional activity.”

In business sessions, delegates selected a number of positions by 97% affirmation including a 2nd term for conference moderator John Goshow (Blooming Glen congregation) along with board member Beny Krisbianto (Nations Worship Center), as well as ministerial and credentialing committee members Rose Bender (Whitehall congregation), Ken Burkholder (Deep Run East congregation), Mike Clemmer (Towamencin congregation) and Chris Nickels (Spring Mount congregation).   Randy Nyce (Salford congregation) who is completing a term as finance committee chair and board member reported on Conference finances, noting an 11% decrease in financial contributions from congregations.

“I was surprised and pleased that the attendance at Assembly 2013 was so strong; seeing the room filled to capacity was an affirmation of how much the delegates and guests in attendance care for our conference,” Goshow noted.  “Franconia Conference is all of us who are members of our 42 churches and our Conference Related Ministries.  It is my hope and prayer that together we chart a course that will advance God’s Kingdom in exciting and wonderful ways.”

Listen to the podcast.

Conference Assembly 2013 Highlight Video from Franconia Conference on Vimeo.

PPMI – A glimpse of God’s work in India

PPMI 2013
A pastor’s wife in India welcomes the visiting team from Plains congregation.

by Conrad Swartzentruber, Plains

I sat and listened in amazement as one Peace Proclamation Ministries International pastor after another told his story of ministry in India.  Rajiv told of the physical challenges in starting a small congregation with some neighbors throwing stones at the church.  “We continued praying for all our neighbors and showing God’s love to them,” he recalled.  After one family joined his church, the father recounted how he had participated in these oppositional activities.  After seeing the congregation’s response, his family accepted Christ.  “Following Jesus is a continuous process,” Rajiv reflected.  Rajiv hopes to take God’s word to new villages in the area.

From July 31-August 12, I traveled with my wife, Sharon Swartzentruber, Noah and Sarah Kolb, and Sumatha and Paulus Thalathoti to the Hyderabad area of southern India where PPMI works.  Our trip had two primary areas of focus: a four-day pastor and wives retreat from August 5-8 and visits to several churches and pastors from August 9-11.

During the retreat, Noah gave a devotional each morning from Philippians for both pastors and pastor’s wives.  The two groups then met separately for the rest of the day.  I presented sessions from the book of Nehemiah related to leadership.  Paulus taught from the book of John.  We observed the pastors supporting each other through prayer and encouragement.  Sharon, Sarah and Sumatha taught from the book of Ruth and on the topic of prayer for the pastors’ wives.  For many of the wives, this was the first time they had attended a resourcing event.  The retreat sessions for pastors’ wives were well received and one of our most significant contributions during the visit.

PPMI 2013
PPMI’s visiting team included Conrad and Sharon Swartzentruber, Sumatha and Paulus Thalathoti, and Sara and Noah Kolb.

After the retreat, we visited several PPMI churches, including an open air service, church dedication, and baptismal service.  Our visits took us to remote areas and farming communities.  After services, we were often asked to pray for people, in groups and individually.  Our team felt involved and able to contribute while we were learning from these gracious hosts.

One common theme through the pastor’s personal stories was of unique meetings with Christ, often through a tragedy or illness.  I was most moved by the frequent stories of receiving open opposition to their work and responding with patience and love.  In several stories, these Christ-like responses were the turning points in which significant oppositional leaders became pillars in the church.

Rao was born into a Hindu family.  When he was 20, he was bitten by a snake as he worked in the fields.  In the hospital, the doctor told him he had 20 minutes to live.  In that moment, Rao remembered hearing about Jesus as a child and called out to Jesus at for the first time; he survived the snake bite and now states, “God saved me from the bite of this snake for a reason.”  Ten years ago, he started a small congregation of 3 members that has now grown to 30 members.

Paul works in a particularly challenging area with a majority Moslem population and there was significant opposition to the church initially.  When a Moslem neighbor became ill with typhoid fever, Paul went to pray for her.  As a result of his patient love and care for his neighbors, twelve Moslems are now coming to church and three were recently baptized.

PPMI 2013
Paulus Thalathoti, founder of PPMI, prays with pastors after a Sunday service.

PPMI’s role in these Indian communities is simple – providing encouragement, training and limited financial support for pastors and their wives.  In this process, we learn much from our brothers and sisters in India and we are blessed by God in sharing our lives with others.

I left India with a deep respect for these pastors and wives ministering in settings with obstacles few of us can imagine.  I was struck by their patience in the face of opposition that could invoke anger rather than love.  I was challenged by the constant reminder of prayer.  We were frequently requested to pray for individuals, families, churches, and visions of future ministry.  I was encouraged to observe a simple, profound faith in God to lead, protect and bless.

Lois Gunden Clemens named Righteous Among the Nations

Lois ClemensLois Gunden Clemens was involved with leadership at Plains congregation in Hatfield, Pa. and on the Franconia Conference Nurture Commission, as well as the Franconia Conference chapter of Women’s Missionary & Service Commission of the Mennonite Church, editing their national publication “Voice” for some years.  She gave the 1970 Conrad Grebel lectures on “Who Is Woman?” and published the lectures in book form in 1971 through Herald Press under the title “Woman Liberated,” along with a study guide.  –Forrest Moyer, Mennonite Heritage Center

“Lois’s contribution was of such real quality that many of our local people only fairly realized it in retrospect.  She could speak effectively both [inside and outside of the community], to both the traditional and the forward-looking members of our spiritual community, with unself-promoting dignity.” –John Ruth, Salford congregation

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July 18, 2013: Press Release from Yad Vashem

Yad Vashem recently recognized Lois Gunden, an American Mennonite who helped save Jewish children while in France during the Holocaust, as Righteous Among the Nations.

Gunden will be posthumously honored in a ceremony that will take place in the United States, in which her niece, Mary Jean Gunden will accept the medal and certificate of honor on her behalf.

Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority, was established in 1953. Located in Jerusalem, it is dedicated to Holocaust remembrance, documentation, research and education.

According to a Goshen (Ind.) College press release, Gunden Clemens was a 1936 Goshen College graduate and a French professor at the college from 1939-1941 and 1944-1958.

In 1941, twenty-six year old Lois Gunden, a French teacher from Goshen, Indiana, accepted the call to serve with the Mennonite Central Committee in southern France.

Gunden joined the Mennonite organization Secours Mennonite aux Enfants in Lyon, and was sent to establish a children’s home in Canet Plage, located on the seaside of the Mediterranean.

The children’s center became a safe haven for the children of Spanish refugees as well as for Jewish children, many of whom were smuggled out of the nearby internment camp of Rivesaltes.

One of the Jewish children sheltered there was Ginette (Drucker) Kalish who was born in 1930. Her family lived in Paris until July 1942 when Ginette’s father was deported to Auschwitz. Managing to hide from the police, Ginette and her mother fled to the south of France but were caught on the train and eventually taken to Rivesaltes.

It was there that Lois Gunden approached Ginette’s mother and pleaded with her to let her take the child out of the camp. While hesitant at first, Gunden managed to convince her that Ginette would be safer under her care, and Ginette’s mother decided to part from her child.

“At the time I was 12 years old and certainly scared,” Ginette Kalish told Yad Vashem, “but Lois Gunden was quite kind and passionately determined to take me and these other Jewish children out of Rivesaltes to protect them from harm … I remember Lois Gunden being kind and generous and she made a special effort to blend us in with the other children. None of the other children were told that we were Jewish.”

Far from her home, Gunden would show great courage, ingenuity and intuitiveness, as she rescued children of a different nationality, religion and background.

One morning while the children were out for a walk, a policeman arrived at the center in order to arrest three of the Jewish children, Louis, Armand and Monique Landesmann.

Gunden told the police that the children were out and would not return until noon.  At noon the policeman appeared again and ordered her to pack the children’s belongings and prepare them for travel.

This time Gunden told him that their clothing was still being laundered and would not be dry until the late afternoon.

Gunden testified that throughout that day and evening she prayed for wisdom, guidance, and the safety of the three children. The officer never returned and the children were saved. During this time Gunden kept a diary, describing in it her experiences and daily activities.

In November 1942, the Germans occupied southern France. Although Gunden was considered an enemy alien after the United States entered the war, she continued to run the children’s center.

In January 1943, Gunden was detained by the Germans until she was finally released in 1944 in a prisoner exchange, later returning to her home in Indiana. In 1958 she married a widower, Ernest Clemens.

While she did not have any children of her own, Gunden gained a stepdaughter through her marriage. In addition to teaching French at Goshen College and Temple University, she also ministered in the Mennonite Church. Gunden passed away in 2005.

On Feb. 27 Yad Vashem recognized Lois Gunden as Righteous Among the Nations.

Lois Gunden is one of four Americans to be recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations alongside Varian Fry and Waitstill and Martha Sharp.

Eight set for first terms

Delegates at Phoenix convention elect moderator-elect, board members.

by Everett J. Thomas, The Mennonite, reposted by permission

Members of churchwide boards of directors are chosen in one of three ways: elected by the delegate assembly, appointed by the Executive Board or co-opted by the board on which they serve.

On July 2 at the delegate session in Phoenix, seven people, including two from Franconia Conference, were elected to serve for a first term on the following boards: Executive Board, Everence, Mennonite Education Agency, Mennonite Mission Network and The Mennonite, Inc. The delegates also approve the selection of moderator-elect.

Moderator-elect: Patricia Shelly is professor of Bible and religion at Bethel College, North Newton, Kan., and a core adjunct faculty member in Bible at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary—Great Plains, also in North Newton. She has completed eight years on the Executive Board.

Executive Board: Yvonne Diaz, Terlingua, Texas, is a member of Iglesia Menonita Comunidad de Vida, San Antonio, Texas. Yvonne is the former executive director of Iglesia Menonita Hispana. She was nominated by the Iglesia Menonita Hispana to represent the group on the board.

Executive Board: Joy Sutter (right), East Norriton, Pa., is a member of the Salford (Pa.) Mennonite Church. Joy is a hospital administrator.

Executive Board: Isaac Villegas, Durham, N.C., Chapel Hill (N.C.) Mennonite Church where he serves as pastor.

Mennonite Mission Network: Barry Bartel, Golden, Colo., is a member of Glennon Heights Mennonite Church. Barry is an attorney who served in Haiti and Bolivia through Mennonite Central Committee.

Everence: Karen Lehman (left), Furlong, Pa., is a member of Plains Mennonite Church (Hatfield, Pa.). Karen is CEO of Rockhill Mennonite Community in Sellersville, Pa.

The Mennonite, Inc.: Elaine Maust, Meridian, Miss., is co-pastor of Jubilee Mennonite Church and works for Maust Woodworking.

Mennonite Education Agency: Judy Miller (no photo), Othello, Wa., is a member of Warden Mennonite Church. Judy is a retired professor.

The names of candidates for church-wide boards are nominated by the Leadership Discernment Committee.

LDC members include Duncan Smith from Beaverton, Ore., and a member of Portland Mennonite Church, chair; Paula Brunk Kuhns, Colorado Springs, Colo., and a member of Beth-El Mennonite Church; Horace McMillon, Jackson, Miss., and a bivocational pastor serving Open Door Mennonite Church; Kim Vu Friesen, Minneapolis, and a member of Emmanuel Mennonite Church; Dionicio Acosta, Lancaster, Pa., and a member of New Holland Spanish Mennonite Church; Edie Landis, Telford, Pa., and a member of Zion Mennonite Church; George Stoltzfus, Lititz, Pa., and a member of Landisville Mennonite Church; and Louise Wideman, Bluffton, Ohio, and associate pastor at First Mennonite Church of Bluffton.

Entering into grace: The Cross

Noah Kolbby Noah Kolb, Plains

At a gathering of church leaders at camp Men-O-Lan in the early 70’s, I heard Gerald Studer (then pastor of Plains Mennonite) say something like: “If I were the only person living on earth, God so loved the world that he would have sent Jesus to die for me.”

As a teenager I was never sure I was good enough to take communion. I knew I did not live up to the expectations of the church community, nor of the Scriptures so I always took communion  with much anxiety and guilt. I lacked an understanding of the grace of God and of my own self-worth. All my being and doing good didn’t achieve the peace and confidence I was taught or hoped for.

After years of college and seminary training I came to discover in a much fuller way the meaning of Christ’s death. Intellectually, I understood God’s grace and mercy. I could preach with passion and conviction that “God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believed in him would not perish, but have eternal life.” I owned it, but did not enter into it fully in my inner being.

Holy week was a rich time for me. I enjoyed leading my congregation through what were often high times in our life together. Yet deep within me was this haunting uneasiness about how this incredible love of God reached my needs. Why would God love me to this degree? With all of my goodness on the surface which people could see, I was still a rebel inside, driven with selfishness and insecurities.

At one point in my early years of ministry I was wrestling with the question of how God could offer total forgiveness and hold nothing against me. How could I be fully his beloved son? I had no sudden epiphany, but the grace of God slowly overwhelmed me over several weeks and months. It had something to do with my self-worth and my being able to forgive and receive forgiveness. My view of God began to change from that of a judge who stood over me to a God who had high expectation but was gracious and understanding and forgiving. I began to hear the loving and welcoming voice of a God who was with me at all times. I was more gracious with myself. I found myself extending grace to others. If God could love and forgive the rascal and phony I was at times, I could do the same.

After 40 years of ministry, I enter another Holy Week eagerly anticipating the week’s events, Thursday evening at the last super and Friday evening at the cross. Yes, I am drawn into deep awareness of my own brokenness and the grace of God extended to me. Even more, though, I am now aware that Christ died for the whole world. Because of the grace of the Lord Jesus toward me, I am freed by His Spirit to extend grace and forgiveness to others; God’s mercy extended to me through the death of Jesus now flows on as I extend that mercy to others.

I am keenly aware of my brothers and sisters around me. I am aware of strained relationships and unresponsiveness to need. I know that I enter more fully into the grace of God as I am more fully in a gracious relationship with other believers.

When I stand by the cross this Holy Week, I will stand in and by the grace of God.  For I know that going deeper into the grace and love of God is related to extending more grace and mercy to others. As I weep because of my times of betrayal, may I also weep for the brokenness of others. As I enter into God’s mercy and forgiveness, may I also release others by grace to experience mercy and grace in God’s Kingdom of Love.