Both left and right brained, Ripple summer intern Hannah Yoder weaves science and art together as she carves out her ministry path in Allentown bringing hope and health.
Hannah joins Ripple Allentown as a Ministry Inquiry Program intern. She is shadowing Ripple’s five pastors throughout the summer. Under the direction of Pastor Angela Moyer her service lasts from May 30 to August 15. Hannah double majors in nursing and art at Goshen College. When home from college, Hannah goes to Akron (PA) Mennonite Church. Ripple is a frequent placement site for Goshen College students.
“One of the important parts is living in Allentown,” Hannah said, when asked about fitting into Ripple’s mission. “Living here you’re constantly engaged with the community.”
With room to pursue her interests and talents, responsibilities include working at a medical clinic, creating a grief mural, starting a material resource center, and leading involvement in a city summer art project.
“It’s a lot of piecing together different parts of what Ripple does in the community,” Hannah said.
As a nursing student, Hannah works with the street medicine clinic that meets Wednesdays at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Allentown, where Ripple meets on Sundays for worship.
She may help coordinate an emerging material resource center (MRC) to gather people together and encourage serving others. The materials collected, such as blankets, would go to Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and be distributed around the world. In terms of art, the mural will include memories of people processing the deaths of loved ones, including those from the Ripple community.
The 10-week summer internship is part of the Ministry Inquiry Program (MIP), connected through Mennonite colleges and universities. A Mennonite Church USA initiative, the program is supported by Franconia Conference, as well as other area conferences. The program is designed for college students to explore ministry, job shadow a pastor, and discover ministry gifts.
“It’s a way to call out students who might have interest in church leadership or have pastoral gifts and give them an opportunity to try out their gifts to see if they’re interested in it,” Pastor Angela said.
In her free time at Goshen, Hannah is involved with Student Senate, environmental club, and Art Club.
In the early 90s, a popular children’s television game show called “Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?” was broadcast on PBS. The show was based on a series of computer games designed to help viewers sharpen their geography skills.
In Franconia Conference, you could ask a similar question—“Where in the world is Steve Kriss?”—and in the process, learn many wonderful things about people and congregations of Franconia Conference. You’ll need a map of the east coast of the United States to trace Steve’s travels; geographical stretch, in Steve’s case, is an understatement.
Steve carries LEADership minister responsibilities for 12 congregations, located as far north as Vermont and as far south as Georgia. Currently, four of the congregations are in pastoral search processes, and another is working on a pastoral review. Steve’s goal is to nurture healthy relationships with all the congregations he walks alongside.
Next, watch for the locations of new congregations. Steve is often involved with helping them to launch their ministries and build connections in the conference and denomination.
“It’s a privilege to walk with them. I enjoy the energy and enthusiasm they bring to God’s work,” Steve says. Right now, Steve works with three new congregations emerging in South Philly.
Some of the congregations Steve works with are in the same area, such as the Lehigh Valley trio of Whitehall Mennonite Church, Ripple and Vietnamese Gospel Mennonite Church.
“Networking, creativity, and thinking outside the box are some of Steve’s greatest gifts,” says Rose Bender, pastor of the Whitehall congregation. “He’s always asking, ‘What might God be doing here? ‘How can we dream God’s vision?’ He sees the big picture and helps us make vital connections. Each conference staff person has a niche and expertise to offer us. These are the things our congregation appreciates about our relationship with Steve.”
At the new conference center on the campus of Christopher Dock Mennonite High School, Steve serves with the conference board’s ministerial committee as its staff person. This group guides the licensing and ordaining processes for new ministers and cares for credential transfers when ministers move in and out of the conference. The committee also provides continuing education for credentialed leaders. In this role, Steve also provides coordination among the LEADership ministers.
On the road again, Steve preaches usually twice a month around the conference, and handles all manner of inquiries about congregational leadership.
If you watch closely, you might find young adults and new pastors “on location” with Steve. Mentoring is an important part of cultivating leaders for the church. You will find him teaching in a classroom for Eastern Mennonite Seminary’s satellite classrooms in Philadelphia, Norristown, or Souderton. Sometimes his many travels double as field trips.
Look behind the scenes, too. As director of the conference’s communication team, Steve’s travels around the conference inform the planning and writing for Intersectings (the conference e-zine), Intersections (the newsletter), the conference’s website and other communication tools. The goal is to help make connections in the conference, and raise awareness of what is happening conference-wide.
In any given week, Steve may be found in enough places to highlight in a half-hour game show from Blooming Glen, Pennsylvania to Bridgewater Corners, Vermont or Sky Cafe in South Philly. But these travels mean more than that; they’re part of cultivating God’s dream in all of the places the people of Franconia conference live, work and worship.
Sharon K. Williams is a musician, editor and congregational/non-profit consultant. She serves the Lord with the Nueva Vida Norristown New Life congregation as minister of worship.
What comes to mind when you imagine Franconia Conference LEADership ministers and the work they do? You may be surprised to know that the new conference office at Christopher Dock Mennonite High School is probably not the place to find them, although a phone call there will certainly get you connected.
Steve Kriss, Jenifer Eriksen Morales, Aldo Siahaan, John Bender, Noel Santiago, and Ertell Whigham are always on the go. Each one connects with anywhere from three to 12 congregations in Vermont, northern Pennsylvania, the Lehigh Valley, southeastern Pennsylvania, and Georgia. They give much time and energy to congregations in transition and emerging congregations. An estimated 50 percent of conference congregations are in the midst of transition and/or growth.
Pastoral leadership is a common transition. Some congregations choose to work with an intentional interim pastor who stands in the gap and prepares the congregation to receive a new pastor. The LEAD ministers provide guidance for both search processes, and support elders and lay leaders in managing the congregation’s current and future priorities.
Jenifer Eriksen Morales, minister of transitional ministries, also works with other Mennonite Church USA (MCUSA) conferences on the east coast to train intentional interim pastors, and serves on the MCUSA task force for interim pastoral ministries.
Emerging and growing congregations are another focus. These congregations are high maintenance, but in a very good way. LEAD ministers help to address staffing needs, work with pastors who are new to the Anabaptist faith, and build relationships—in essence, anything that propels the missional vision forward.
The work of the LEAD ministers sometimes crisscrosses when their congregations work together. The Lehigh Valley youth ministry partnership is shared by the Whitehall, Ripple and Vietnamese Gospel congregations and led by Danilo Sanchez. Vietnamese Gospel Church in Allentown and Philadelphia Praise Center are partnering in a joint worship and outreach ministry with the Vietnamese community in south Philly. The LEAD ministers must also nurture their relationships with each other so their collaborations are fluid and fruitful.
Last summer, Aldo Siahaan and Steve Kriss received a “Macedonia call” (Acts 16:9-10). Could they meet with a Mara (Burmese) church during their visit with Georgia Praise Center leaders? This congregation in Atlanta is part of a network of Mara churches in Indianapolis, Indiana, Baltimore, Maryland, and Charlotte, North Carolina. The network is reaching out to Mennonite conferences on the east coast for assistance in establishing pastoral leadership. The exploratory relationship has many possibilities.
“As an immigrant pastor myself, it’s exciting to walk with the Mara Christians, to see them reach their destiny as a people, a church in this country,” says Aldo. “If they choose to join Mennonite Church USA, how will we receive each other and grow in ministry together?”
Each LEAD minister offers her or his unique gifts to their congregations. Noel enjoys helping pastors, elders and lay leaders experience the values and practices of intercessory prayer. Jenifer weaves in a missional focus with unchurched neighbors, adapted from the Kairos in Chaos ministry she’s involved with in Souderton. Aldo enjoys a natural affinity with the Mara church through their similar languages of Indonesian and Malay. Steve and Ertell always bring best practices of intercultural competencies to the mix.
Looking for your congregation’s LEAD minister? She or he may be in a meeting, consulting with pastors or elders in a coffee shop, or in a car on the way to your church.
Sharon K. Williams is a musician, editor and congregational/non-profit consultant. She serves the Lord with the Nueva Vida Norristown New Life congregation as the minister of worship.
by Rachel Sommer for Mennonite Central Committee East Coast and Mennonite Church USA
In a letter to Jerusalem’s exiled leaders, the prophet Jeremiah called on them to work for the welfare of Babylon, the city to which they had been deported. “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city,” he wrote. “Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jer. 29:7).
From October 2-4, nearly 100 Anabaptist leaders gathered in Philadelphia to discuss what responding to Jeremiah’s charge looks like in the 21st century.
Participants came from cities including New York; Hampton, Virginia; Philadelphia; and Washington, D.C., to attend the Urban Anabaptist Ministry Symposium organized by Glen Alexander Guyton, chief operating officer for Mennonite Church USA, and Chantelle Todman Moore, Philadelphia program coordinator for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) East Coast.
The symposium invited urban leaders to discuss practical Anabaptist ministry in their cities. “Being a peace church isn’t just about not going to war – it’s about manifesting God’s kingdom in our own communities,” said speaker Addie Banks, executive director at The Groundswell Group in the Bronx, New York.
Banks said the symposium provided opportunities for her to learn from colleagues in new ways. “Each of us has a tool. We all need tools to do our work, and gathering here with one another is like assembling a toolkit.”
During plenary sessions, Banks along with Al Taylor, pastor of Infinity Mennonite Church (Harlem, NY), and Ertell Whigham, associate pastor of Nueva Vida Norristown New Life (Norristown, Pa.) and executive minister of Franconia Mennonite Conference, shared “best practices” from their ministries.
Whigham spoke about the need to develop personal connections in culturally diverse contexts. “To be intercultural in the church of God today means that I will recognize how God has blessed you in your life, and I will recognize the gift that you are to me,” he said. “I will allow the Jesus in you to be the Jesus in me.”
Workshop leaders drew from first-hand experience to facilitate sessions on youth and young adult ministry, education for urban leaders, immigration, developing community partnerships and dismantling oppression.
Additional event sponsors included the African American Mennonite Association, Cookman at Emerging Ministries Corporation, Franconia Mennonite Conference, Goshen (Indiana) College, Kingdom Builders Anabaptist Network of Greater Philadelphia, Mennonite Mission Network and Philadelphia FIGHT.
Symposium organizers hope that participants will continue to connect and collaborate with one another. “I’m excited about the relationships that were forged here,” said Guyton. “This gathering showed that we can all benefit from the expertise of Anabaptist leaders who are carrying out practical ministry in their own contexts.”
Ben Walter, one of the pastors at Ripple, in Allentown, Pennsylvania, said the conference was one of the best he’d ever attended. He appreciated that voices often on the margins were given ample space and emphasis, and found it “helpful and enlightening” to hear the diverse perspectives and experiences represented among attendees.
Todman Moore hopes that urban Anabaptist leaders will convene in other cities in coming years. “We’d love to hear from Anabaptist leaders in other urban areas who are interested in discussing practical ministry in their contexts,” she said. She invites leaders to contact her (215-535-3624, ChantelleTodmanMoore@mcc.org) or Guyton (574-524-5282, GlenG@MennoniteUSA.org) to discuss planning similar initiatives in other cities.
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.
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.
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.
Juanita is nine months pregnant. Her boyfriend, the baby’s father, is in hospice dying of cancer, and she’s about to be evicted from her apartment in downtown Allentown. She arrives at Ripple desperate, yet cheerful. Tomorrow is her birthday, and we celebrate by singing and giving her a whole cake, complete with candles.
Last week when I saw Brian, his hair and beard were white, in keeping with his aging frame. Today he looks years younger with his obviously dyed hair. He tells me he’s living in a new “time warp,” caused by the convergence of aliens and Americans.
Today, my husband, Tom, and I will officiate at a funeral for a homeless man who attended Ripple.
Yes, these are some of the realities of Ripple, where I sense God’s call to pastoring.
What brought us here? God. What keeps us here? God. How did I get here? It has been a long journey, involving wrestling, resisting, remembering, releasing, and surrendering.
My Lutheran upbringing prepared me for service in the church as a choir and youth group member and leader, and later as president of our college fellowship (where I met Tom), Sunday School teacher and Bible study leader. For one year after college, I participated in Lutheran Volunteer Corps, an organization similar to Mennonite Voluntary Service (MVS), in Washington, D.C., where I met households of MVSers, who began my introduction to Anabaptist theology.
Early married life with two young children brought us to worship at Whitehall Mennonite Church, where, eventually, Tom was chosen to pastor. We were both rebaptized, as were our children later.
Tom prayerfully began pastoring in his “free time,” alongside his job as a teacher. I wrestled with the time crunch that his two jobs created for our family, and even resented how church took Tom away from our family. Meanwhile, God was nudging me to get involved and begin recognizing my own gifts of pastoring, but I refused. What would our kids do if both of us were sucked into church work?
So many brothers and sisters at Whitehall began calling out pastoral gifts in me that I could no longer deny that God was calling me to a pastoral role. Yet, the resistance continued, as Tom enrolled in Eastern Mennonite Seminary’s Summer Institute for Spiritual Formation. I decided to tag along to keep my eye on him—he was having some medical issues at the time—and ended up enrolling as well. Taking those classes was a fresh start for me, as I paid close attention to my own spiritual formation and internal conversations. I began to seriously consider what being called to pastor meant, and started meeting with a spiritual director. At the same time, we were moving out of Whitehall Mennonite’s realm to start an inner city ministry we first called “Ripple Effects.” Franconia Conference was instrumental in nudging us to take on this “missional experiment,” and Ripple continually reshapes itself, in true experimental fashion.
In the midst of all this, as our children approached college age, I returned to teaching school. Now how could I take on studying to be a pastor, when I, too, was working full time? Wrestling and resistance continued, until I remembered that others wrestled with God. I was in good company!
Releasing our country farmhouse and swapping for an apartment in inner city Allentown was a breaking point for me. I began Gateway classes after our first year in Allentown, and I have one more to complete. Because of Ripple’s ministry focus, I have also taken classes in restorative practices, and will earn a 24-credit certificate in ministry studies from EMS in the spring of 2015.
City life is so different from suburbia, but mission trips to Honduras also prepared us for life in Pennsylvania’s first majority-Latino city. We are part of a forming, informal group of Christians who live and work here in Allentown, and God keeps expanding our circles.
Recently, I wrote a response to some credentialing interview questions. One question, “What biblical principles guide your life and ministry?” caused me to reflect on love, relationships/community building and transformation. All three of these are rooted in Anabaptist theology and guide my daily living. Ripple’s byline is “moving closer to Jesus as our center,” and we do this by loving others Jesus’ way, building relationships, and praying and working for real, lasting transformation—beginning with me! In surrendering to God’s patient, persistent, risky call, my life has opened to new, life-giving possibilities. God is shaping me with a refreshing, transforming, loving perspective for my brothers and sisters in the inner city, as I pursue this adventure of being called to pastor at Ripple.
Juanita is still at risk of eviction. Brian still suffers with mental health issues. The family of Ronald, the homeless man whose funeral we officiated at, is still grieving. We are all moving closer to Jesus as our center, as we love, participate in community, and allow God’s transformation to happen.
Many Christian congregations commemorate the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday, and three Franconia Conference congregations in particular acknowledged the Spirit’s movement through the credentialing of leaders for ministry.
On June 8, all occurring in southeastern Pennsylvania, Donna Merow was ordained and Danilo Sanchez and Phil Bergey were licensed for ministry. Their credentialing brings the number of credentialed leaders in the conference to approximately 160 men and women serving in at least seven states and four countries.
Merow was ordained for pastoral ministry at the Ambler congregation, where she has pastored for more than four years. LEAD minister Jenifer Eriksen Morales led Merow’s credentialing. Merow chose to be ordained on Pentecost Sunday after discovering she was confirmed in the United Methodist church on Pentecost 40 years prior.
“The 40-year journey from one public confession of faith to another,” Merow said, “has been a significant one for me — including marriage and becoming a mother and grandmother, completing college and graduate work, worshipping in multiple traditions other than the one in which I grew up, and facing the challenges of breast cancer and kidney disease.”
Merow was only 12 when the possibility of religious vocation was first suggested to her. Between now and then, she “worked at a church camp, dropped out of college, cared for blind students, got married, and raised two daughters.” She has also been an active participant in churches from several denominations: Methodist, Baptist, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, and Mennonite.
She described her credentialing ceremony as “an outward acknowledgement of an inward change in identity as I became a pastor in the process of practicing pastoral care.”
Sanchez was licensed for youth ministry among multiple Anabaptist congregations in and around Allentown. LEAD minister Steve Kriss led the credentialing. Sanchez is primarily working with Whitehall and Ripple, both Franconia congregations, by leading music or teaching children, but is also working alongside Karen Fellowship (independent), Iglesia Menonita Evangelica Restoracion (Lancaster Conference), Christ Fellowship (Eastern District Conference), and Vietnamese Gospel (Franconia Conference).
Sanchez said his licensing felt like an important personal and professional step because many people and institutions, including Franconia Conference and Whitehall, “are recognizing my gifts and willing to walk alongside me as a pastor.” Sanchez, grew up in the Boyertown congregation and has interned with both Souderton congregation and Philadelphia Praise Center while a student at Eastern University. He graduated from Eastern Mennonite Seminary last year with a Master of Divinity degree.
“I finally feel like a pastor,” he said. “I am so honored that God has called me to be a leader. I’m thankful for the ways that Whitehall and Ripple will shape me into the leader God has called me to be.”
Bergey was licensed as interim lead pastor of the Blooming Glen congregation, where he has been a member for about 20 years. Ertell Whigham, executive minister of Franconia Conference, led the credentialing. Bergey is former conference executive of Franconia Mennonite Conference.
In the wake of Firman Gingerich’s resignation as Blooming Glen’s lead pastor, the congregation’s board invited Bergey to assume a part-time interim lead pastorate. The congregation is searching for a long-term pastor.
Bergey preached the morning of his licensing, focusing on the story of Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 12. He framed the commencement of his pastoral leadership and the pastoral search processes not as the beginning of a journey but the continuation of a journey. That journey, he said, includes the history of the Blooming Glen congregation, the Anabaptist tradition, and the Christian church, going all the way back to Abraham and Sarah.
Bergey said: “Blooming Glen, like other congregations, has been through pastoral transitions before; it is simply part of a congregation’s life together. And pastoral transitions are especially true for a congregation that is approaching 300 years of age.”
HARLEYSVILLE, Pa. – Some of the most diverse growth in Anabaptism along the East Coast is occurring in Allentown, Pennsylvania’s fastest growing city and now a city that is majority Hispanic. Even so, none of the city’s broad range of Anabaptist congregations has enough resources or even youth to maintain a youth pastor. That’s why Franconia Conference, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) East Coast, and six Lehigh Valley congregations have come together to hire a half-time youth worker, Danilo Sanchez, to minister across the various Anabaptist communities.
Through this role, Sanchez, who graduated this spring from Eastern Mennonite Seminary in Harrisonburg, Va., is involved regularly with a diverse combination of congregations unlike those served by just about any other Anabaptist minister in the U.S.: Karen Fellowship, Iglesia Menonita Evangelica Restoracion, Christ Fellowship, Vietnamese Gospel Mennonite Church, Whitehall Mennonite Church, and Ripple. Franconia Conference, MCC East Coast, Whitehall, and Ripple share financial support of the position.
Sanchez is primarily responsible for organizing gatherings for Lehigh Valley youth, leading worship at the Whitehall and Ripple congregations, organizing after-school youth activities, and engaging the myriad Lehigh Valley Anabaptist congregations.
“I’m excited to join the vision of creating a context where next-generation intercultural Anabaptist leadership can flourish and strengthening relationships across Anabaptist communities in the Allentown area,” Sanchez said. “While I have experience working with youth in many types of Mennonite churches, this will be a new challenge. I never expected myself to be in urban ministry, but that seems to be where God is calling me, and I’m willing to follow the Spirit’s call in my life.”
Youth have a reputation for being an especially challenging demographic for people in ministry, and Sanchez’s experience in Allentown will likely be no different. The youth of Whitehall and Ripple, though few, come from challenging, high-need situations, including coming to Allentown as refugees and being born into cycles of poverty, according to Whitehall pastor Rose Bender, who is Sanchez’s supervisor. “As a part-time pastor,” she said, “I am already feeling stretched beyond what I can give. So, the idea of adding a youth worker that would connect with Whitehall as well as some of the other congregations is very exciting.”
The partnership of so many groups and congregations makes sense to Bender. She noted that many people from Whitehall and Ripple in particular are neighbors, and some people worship with both groups. The connection with Franconia Conference and MCC East Coast, she said, is yet another example that people “are looking for ways to connect here and make a difference.” Many congregations already partner with Ripple by cooking meals or sending youth groups to work with children in the city.
Angela Moyer, co-pastor of Ripple, wants all different types of people feel like they are welcomed and wanted in the Ripple community, and she hopes Sanchez’s leadership will help Ripple work toward that.
“Danilo has a deep compassion for youth who typically are on the margins in their schools, families, and communities,” she said. “With Danilo, the teenagers at Ripple hopefully will find a place where they belong, are nurtured, and supported in their specific life stage.”
Thanh Pham, a pastor from Vietnamese Gospel, echoed Moyer’s hope that Sanchez will help youth to flourish. Pham said he prays the youth’s parents will “see our community as a place they can trust to send their children to learn more about God.”
A partnership between MCC and local congregations isn’t commonplace, though it does exist elsewhere. Sanchez’s position is one that “resonates deeply” with ongoing MCC work related to youth, urban ministry, collaboration with churches representing diverse ethnic backgrounds, and leadership development, said Kim Dyer, young adult program coordinator of MCC East Coast. “We are excited to be able to respond to an initiative coming from the church in a local context that connects so deeply to MCC’s areas of focus.”
“This new collaboration is a creative way to build on both strengths and possibilities,” said Steve Kriss, director of leadership cultivation for Franconia Conference. “Danilo has been shaped through numerous points of engagement within Franconia Conference. This work provides space for something new to emerge alongside the congregations of the Lehigh Valley. We’re grateful for the opportunity to work together through MCC’s Community Service Worker initiative.”
Sanchez, who is also working half time at MCC as national director for their Summer Service Worker program, said what makes him most excited and hopeful about the new position is that he can serve alongside the next generation of Anabaptist leaders who God is raising up.
“I don’t know what the church will look like, but I trust that the Spirit is leading and at work in the lives of these young people in Allentown,” he said.
Experienced Mennonite pastors John Bender and Aldo Siahaan have joined the Franconia Conference team of LEADership Ministers, bringing experience in church planting, intercultural leadership, and congregational pastoral work. Each will serve alongside several congregations yet to be decided and will work from home bases in southeastern Pennsylvania’s largest cities while continuing pastoral ministry assignments.
Aldo Siahaan, based in Philadelphia, helped start Philadelphia Praise Center in 2005. The congregation joined Franconia Conference in 2006, and Siahaan became credentialed as lead pastor in 2007.
Siahaan’s other ministry experience includes being a board member of Mennonite Central Committee East Coast, teaching a summer cross-cultural course at Messiah College, and being a member of the Indonesian Pastoral Network.
Siahaan hopes that in his role as a LEADership minister he can both “be a blessing” to others and “learn more about leadership in a broader way.”
John Bender, based in Allentown, Pa., is a graduate of Eastern Mennonite University and Eastern Mennonite Seminary. He and his wife, Marilyn Handrich Bender, started Raleigh (N.C.) Mennonite Church, where they co-pastored for 18 years. For the past nine years, John pastored Pittsburgh Mennonite Church.
In July 2013 the Benders moved to Allentown, Pa., where John is the part-time director of Ripple Community, Inc., a ministry of the RIPPLE congregation. He is also interim associate pastor of the Franconia congregation.
Bender served in a number of leadership capacities with Virginia Mennonite Conference and Allegheny Mennonite Conference and has close to 30 years of pastoral ministry experience.
“I care deeply about pastors and churches and helping them to pursue healthy relationships together, and I hope I can be a resource to pastors and a guide along the way,” Bender said.
Both Bender and Siahaan bring fresh perspectives and proven track records as they join the team of LEADership ministers resourcing congregations in mission and ministry, said Ertell Whigham, Franconia’s executive minister. “We feel that both John and Aldo bring a variety of gifts and experience that will help us to provide the support congregations need while enabling us to continue the intercultural work that we have stated as one of our conference’s values.”
LEAD is the conference’s platform for oversight, designed to Lead, Equip, And Disciple both lay and credentialed leadership as they guide congregations. A congregation’s LEAD team is comprised of a LEADership minister, the pastor, the chair of the congregation’s governing body (when relevant), and a LEAD advisor from beyond the congregation. LEADership ministers serve as the primary point of contact between congregations and Franconia Conference.
Ten leaders from Franconia Conference congregations voiced wide-ranging perspectives during two conference calls held recently to garner feedback on a controversial action taken by Mountain States Mennonite Conference earlier this year. In addition to those on the conference calls, about a dozen other leaders and delegates submitted written responses to Franconia Conference.
Franconia Conference executive minister Ertell Whigham convened the calls on March 15 and 16. His goal was to listen to leaders’ perspectives in preparation for a meeting of the Constituency Leadership Council, or CLC, of Mennonite Church USA held March 20-22 in North Newton, Kan.
In response to a decision by Mountain States to license a pastor in a committed same-sex relationship, the Executive Board of MC USA appointed a task force to frame questions for discussion at the CLC meeting. The conference calls included persons from across the conference invited to provide insight and counsel in preparation for the meeting. Persons were chosen to represent a diversity of perspectives. About half of those invited participated.
Whigham, moderator John Goshow, and board member Klaudia Smucker (Bally congregation) represented Franconia Conference at the CLC meeting. Beny Krisbianto of Nations Worship Center also attended representing the Indonesian Mennonite Fellowship (a national group within Mennonite Church USA).
Whigham invited leaders on the calls to respond to three questions: What is your prayer for the leaders of our denomination and conference? What would be one important question that would represent the thoughts of the constituents within your congregation or community? What is one perspective of hope and one of challenge that you see within our denomination and our conference?
During the call Angela Moyer, co-pastor of RIPPLE in Allentown, Pa., said people in her congregation “have little to no awareness” about the discussions going on at the conference or denominational level.
“People at RIPPLE are concerned about having a place to sleep, food to eat, and friends that care about them,” she said in an interview reflecting on the conference call. “People know that RIPPLE is safe and caring; we treat one another with dignity as people and not statistics. Other people on the conference call seemed surprised [when I said this] and appreciated this perspective.”
Prayers from those on the calls included that fellow church leaders would: be led by the Holy Spirit, continue to be humble, and allow Christ to be at the center of all decisions; continue to find ways to be faithful in the midst of difference; work toward unity and understanding; be bold and avoid perfectionism; be sensitive to the needs of church members; and maintain spiritual integrity and values while leading.
The leaders wondered what following Jesus in the 21st century looks like and how to respond faithfully to Micah 6:8. They wondered how many people would leave the church because of the Mountain States decision. Some expressed their hope for spaces where church members could be “real and vulnerable.” Hopes of the leaders revolved around how to practice faithful discipleship, right relationship, and the lordship of Christ. Challenges focused on whether unity is possible.
Similar themes emerged during the Kansas CLC meeting.
According to an article by Gordon Houser in TMail, Mennonite Church USA executive director Ervin Stutzman said that over the last few weeks he has received hundreds of emails, which he categorized into three groupings: 1) greater inclusion of LGBT individuals, 2) faithfulness to the traditional stance, and 3) unity. Stutzman called the CLC meetings “a referendum on the Membership Guidelines” that were adopted at Nashville 2001.
Those attending the CLC meetings, including Whigham, Goshow, Krisbianto and Smucker, participated in table-group discussion on a serious of questions related to Mountain States’ decision. The task force appointed by the MC USA Executive Board plans to draft a recommendation for consideration by the Executive Board at its June 26–28 meeting in Chicago.
The focus group invitations included credentialed and delegate representatives from 20 congregations. Representatives from Bethany, Deep Run East, Doylestown, Finland, Franconia, Plains, Ripple, Salford and West Philadelphia participated in the calls. Representatives from Boyertown, Blooming Glen, Line Lexington, Nueva Vida Norristown New Life, Philadelphia Praise, Rocky Ridge and Souderton congregations were also invited but unable to attend at the scheduled conference call times. A few of those invitees who were unable to participate in the calls submitted written responses.