By Sandy Drescher-Lehman, Pastor of Methacton Mennonite Church
Four Franconia Mennonite Conference churches met on the Sunday before Thanksgiving to proclaim the One who unifies them even amidst the diversity of opinions, theology, wealth, and political persuasions among other things. Ideas had been brewing in the hearts of several pastors of small churches in close proximity to each other for some time, to find ways to support and resource each other. Last summer, that dream became a reality as the pastors began to meet together. One of the outcomes of those meetings was this joint Thanksgiving worship service.
The pastors and congregations of Wellspring Church of Skippack, Frederick Mennonite Church, and Spring Mount Mennonite Church gathered at Methacton Mennonite Church on November 20 for the anticipated and momentous event! People who usually have plenty of room on their benches, were packed in like smiling sardines. Singers who ordinarily can identify every voice, were overwhelmed with the grand blend of harmonious praise. A colorful mountain of boxes and cans and bags began to grow in the front of the sanctuary as people streamed in with their offerings of food to be shared with their neighborhood food pantry. An open conversation among the four pastors, inspired comradery with other churches who also have an average of 15-30 members and who also each share the vibrancy of unique vision and mission intentions, centered around following Jesus Christ. Three pastors were happy to hear Mike Meneses share the Word and four song leaders led their congregations in a round of “Go now in peace,” (#429 HWB).
Friendships were lit and fanned into beautiful flames as we then spent informal time together around the tables of food and drink, with hopes of more joint ventures to come. Emulating what was shared at Conference Assembly two weeks earlier, we celebrated what is being planted and watered in our separate congregations and were inspired to notice how God calls us to grow into the days before us.
During the last staff meeting in this space in between, I invited my colleagues to share their celebrations and questions for the last month. Without exception, the celebrations and questions had to do with pastors. We celebrate the completion of pastoral search processes, with the beginning of Mike Spinelli’s leadership at Perkiomenville; the call of Maria Hosler Byler to an associate pastor role at Salford; Josh Jefferson’s installation and licensing last Sunday at Souderton as a youth pastor; and Sandy Drescher-Lehman’s beginning as pastor at Methacton. Many of these processes were lengthy discernments. We celebrate the new beginnings and new possibilities that leadership can bring in the life of our communities.
Our questions had to do with how we walk with pastors and congregations through difficult times. We wonder how God will provide with prolonged pastoral search processes at Franconia and Taftsville. We prayed as John Bender from Allentown who was in the hospital making difficult decisions between life and death, as he was readmitted to the University of Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia (he made the decision by the time our meeting had ended). We prayed for an upcoming surgery that Charlie Ness from Perkiomenville will be undergoing. These are all things we attend to as staff beyond our meeting time and carry in our hearts and heads.
The last month has meant focused attention on planning for Conference Assembly — a great time to celebrate the work God is doing in our midst, and spend time discerning and equipping ourselves for the future. Registration and the docket are available at http://edc-fmc.org/assembly/ to help us, as a conference, prepare for assembly at Penn View Christian School. Postcard invitations and posters will be coming to your congregations in the next two weeks. We’ve hosted and gotten some feedback from our time with David Boshart (moderator-elect) from Mennonite Church USA. We’re prepping for his return at assembly to discuss more specific issues around human sexuality that continue to challenge our capacity to be church together, while going to the margins to be and proclaim the Good News.
Our conference executive minister Ertell M. Whigham comes back on the job on Saturday, October 1. My season of this stretch of the race as acting executive minister has passed. I’m ready to return the baton and responsibilities back to Ertell as he navigates the next few months. I’ve learned a lot in these months. I’ve been busier than usual with meetings, emails, texts and phone calls. I have lots of hope for us as a community, but recognize our fragility at the same time. God continues to bless us with flourishing, and challenges enough to test and grow our hearts, minds, and souls.
At the beginning of these three months, I felt drawn to the text to “live a life worthy of my calling.” This time, ending this stretch, I want to turn that text back over to us as individuals and a community, to stay focused on the things we’ve discerned together, and to live, work and minister together in such a way that honors the sense of call that exemplifies what God has invited us toward in extending the peace of Christ to each other and to neighbors nearby and faraway.
“There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.”
That’s one of the many quotes we received over these last two weeks from your hearts to ours. We’ve been overwhelmed and grateful for your love to us and for our parents. Many of you know that two of Dad’s greatest joys were writing and preaching. The man we knew best was the one who cried tears of overwhelming grief and unspeakable love and who surrounded us with his laughter, his creativity ,and his daily prayers for each of us by name.
When he couldn’t stand long enough to preach any more this past year and his hands were too shaky to write—when all that was over, the thing that kept him wanting to live was his family. He cried tears of unspeakable love as he told us that even though he was so eager to touch Jesus, he cried tears of overwhelming grief to know that he was leaving us.
Dad worked out his life with words, writing them and sharing them. He worked at how to do relationships with words. He admitted that our mother was the one in his life who inspired him to write about the fruit of the Spirit. He asked her out for a date when someone in college pointed to her and said, “That woman would do anything for anyone,” and he found out how true that would be.
Dad moved around a lot when he was a child and made a decision to not do that when he had a family. He did travel a lot for the work that he loved. When he came back, he always had something in his suitcase for each of us—usually a pack of life-savers—that was a splurge for him, to let us know he’d missed us. In the summers, he plowed up a plot for each of us in our big garden and taught us the value of honoring the land. I remember him bragging to anyone who would listen about the big cantaloupe I raised and sold at our roadside stand, to earn money for Christmas presents. He was my overt cheerleader in everything from my childhood creations to being a pastor when it wasn’t okay for women to do that.
His favorite sermon to preach—the one he told me a few months ago that he still wanted to preach again—was on encouragement. He was a cheerleader for the church of Jesus Christ, for each person who shared their stories with him and for each of us in his family.
We’ll miss our cheerleader.
Dad taught us by his example to never accept a job based on what it will pay, but how it resonates with God’s calling. He taught us to decide how much we need to live on and give the rest away; that giving away 10 percent of what we earn is only the place to start.
He showed us that miracles happen all around us, all the time, and that we just need to notice them. Before gas got expensive, he took us on Sunday aft drives to look at the “views.” It was always the same one, but it was always newly amazing to him. Nature was to be honored and enjoyed. Life itself was a miracle.
Each of us in the family have our own experiences of times that he and mother together prayed us through crises of health and faith and emotional upheaval in our lives. I’m sure our memories of his faith and the power of prayer will help us keep watching for and expecting miracles, but we’ll miss his prayers.
After Dad was gone, we found the poems he wrote for this day in a folder with his memorial service plans. So he finished his life with poems again. In his last weeks of life, he was reading the scriptures purely for himself. We’d over hear him repeating Psalm 90, the psalm that upheld his spirit at the end, the last one he’d memorized for such a time as this:
“Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting, you are God. You turn us back to dust, and say, Turn back, you mortals. For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past. You sweep them away and they are like a dream… Satisfy us in the morning, with your steadfast love so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days… Let your work be manifest to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and prosper for us the work of our hands—O prosper the work of our hands!”
May it be so for each of us, as we choose to allow Dad’s prayers and his spirit to live on through us.
John M. Drescher passed away on July 10, 2014. Excerpted from the eulogy given at John’s funeral by his daughter, Sandy. Posted with permission.
Why would these 8 people from three different churches in our conference choose to spend 5 of their lazy days of summer vacation together, being NOT-lazy?
They enjoy making the wheels on a bike go round and round.
They wanted to help raise money to support Mennonite Central Committee’s project of planting trees in Haiti.
Biking is their favorite way to stay in shape.
They enjoy meeting other people from across North America who are making the same vacation choice!.
They’re WILLING to sleep in tents for a week.
They like to eat good food at the beginning and end and in-betweens of a good, hard day of biking.
They know what an incredible gift it is to experience the beauty of God’s world, intersecting with healthy bodies and wholesome fellowship, all wrapped up in a good cause.
When I say that “All of the above” are the true answers, you’re likely asking, “Who WOULDN’T want to use their vacation to do that and how can I join this great endeavor?” Well, know that you, too, are welcome to join this ride the next time around! Read on to learn some of the possible benefits.
Every year for the past 20, Mennonite Central Committee has sponsored a bicycle trip as one of its fund-raisers, alternating routes on the east and west coast. Michigan and Ohio have also run similar trips of their own. This year, during the first week of August, the East Coast MCC ride was in the beautiful hills, under the voluptuously clouded skies, surrounding three of the Finger Lakes in northern New York. The group of 50-some bikers, including members of Souderton, Salford, and Blooming Glen congregations, plus another dozen staff who took care of the trip details of eating, sleeping and getting from place to place, raised over $60,000.00 – an exciting new record! Thank you to each of you who sponsored one of us and to everyone who shares our passion for spreading God’s love throughout the world through the ministries of MCC.
I loved that bikers from 16 to 81 years of age, at all skill levels, could enjoy the same roads, worship in all of our different ways of noticing God’s presence, sing and pray together, and find out about each other’s families and the ministries we were returning to at the end of the week. Uniting around the things we had in common was energizing. Sharing the tasks of camping was fun. Hearing new ways, from each other, of being God’s messengers in the world was inspiring. And pedaling 300+ miles of roads that were hardly ever flat, was downright exciting, often exhausting and occasionally exhilarating!
Making safe space for people to experience the love of God has been a passion of mine ever since I can remember. That passion has been given life in camp settings, in prison cells, in our home and yard, in homeless shelters, on bicycle trips, in mental health facilities, and in churches.
Thirty years ago, after a profound experience at a retreat center of God’s love totally enveloping and holding me, my life verse became Isaiah 43: “But now, [Sandy], the Lord who created you says, ‘Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name. You are mine.’” Since that day, I have had the desire to live as many minutes of my life as possible in the heart of that much Love and to help others to connect with that much Love in whatever way they can experience it, thus receiving the healing we all need to become more fully human and to hold more of the Divine.
A formative book for me was, “Prayer and Temperament” which taught me the different ways that different personalities pray. I resonated with Sue Monk Kidd, when she said “Symbols are the language of the soul” and Paul Tillich who called Christians to the revitalization of their inner lives through the recovery of symbols. I began to notice how not only symbols but color, also, called my soul to go deeper into the wordless heart of God.
Brother Lawrence and Frank Laubach encouraged the practice of looking for God in everything. I noticed, as a worship leader, that when all of our senses are called for, people more easily engage in the heart of worship rather than only staying in their head with words and reasoning. And I’ve always loved the stories of Pippi Longstocking, who hid treasures in old tree stumps so she could watch her friends joyfully discover them on their “thing-finding” adventures.
So, when I became one of the pastors at Souderton Mennonite Church, I had the chance to combine all those learnings and passions! Joy Sawatzky and I began inviting people to special times of prayer to begin the Lenten season, combining input with times of silence; spending time alone with God in any of the several prayer centers we created, each with colors and symbols and scriptures. The variety was in the ways participants were invited to use their body or mind or taste buds or ears or sense of smell or sight. When we ended these retreats by “sharing the wealth” of our time with God, we were always overwhelmed to hear how God had come to each person in exactly the way that was most needed – far beyond anything we could have planned or imagined!
Then about 7 years ago, the ideas for different ways to pray suddenly exploded into 50 and then 60 centers, as more people joined the team, creating ways to express and make available to others how they prayed most easily. In experimenting with each other’s favorite methods and colors and symbols for praying, we discovered that when we try new ways of prayer, we sometimes go even deeper into the heart of God than engaging our usual patterns over and over. We organized the centers into rooms of a house – the kitchen (where we pray as we eat), the study (where we pray as we read and write and kneel and listen to music), the playroom (where tactile centers and craft centers help children play their prayers), the bedroom (where it’s enough to just BE; resting in God’s comfort), the art room (where all kinds of things to create wait to be discovered), and the great outdoors (where the sounds and smells and sights of creation invite us to pray in our walking and in noticing God in the world)
And my Pippi-heart loves to hide treasures in places where those who enter may or may not find them! The “House” symbolically calls us to see every room we enter as a place of prayer; every moment we live is another chance to be aware of God’s love and peace and mercy and grace and healing and whatever else we need from the One who created us and continues to create through us!
Souderton’s Lenten House of Prayer will be open February 8-18th, from 9am to 9pm in the congregation’s fellowship hall. All are welcome to visit. For more information or to access other Lenten resources from Souderton congregation, visit their website.