Tag Archives: Steve Kriss

Life Anew

by Steve Kriss, Executive Minister

Signs of resurrection and new life can be difficult to imagine or perceive.  While the disciples didn’t have the wherewithal to walk closely with Jesus from Maundy Thursday through the horrors of Good Friday, the reality of Easter and the resurrection was even harder to comprehend. It was a story trusted to women first, the disciples were mostly incredulous and avoidant.  Thomas even took an “I’ll believe it when I see it and touch it” kind of stance that wouldn’t be that far away from most of our approaches to faith and life.

I’ve been struck this season of Lent by the texts that have been provoking something new: the dry bones of Ezekiel, Jesus’ healing of the man born blind.   Can dry bones live?   What happens when we go to where we are sent to find ourselves seeing the world anew?

As I’m past my first 100 days in the Conference Executive Minister role, I’m starting to glimpse the possibilities of new life for us and seeing signs along the way of the Spirit’s invitation on how we might live together as people of God’s peace, extending that peace to others both locally and globally.

This week in Intersectings we are highlighting the newness of Mary Nitzsche’s appointment to the role of Associate Executive Minister.  Mary will bring wisdom, groundedness, experience and compassionate care to the role and to our Conference system of about 100 active credentialed leaders as well as retired credentialed persons.   I’m excited about the new thing that Mary’s “yes” will bring to us.   It’s a step along the way toward finding the place that God is calling us as Franconia Conference in this time.

Easter was the culminating event in the life and ministry of Jesus, though he returned to teach and instruct through the Ascension.  Pentecost (June 4 this year) represents the Spirit’s arrival, the gifts of speaking the word of Christ’s peace to everyone.  In these next weeks from Easter to Pentecost, I invite  you to join me in prayer to seek what God might be asking of us individually, congregationally and as a Conference-wide community from South Philly to Vermont and including our credentialed pastors in Metro DC, Mexico, Cambodia, Indonesia and the Philippines. How might the Spirit empower us to speak and embody Christ’s peace anew?  What signs of new life and resurrection do we see along the way?  And how might we be that living sign for others who are seeking, searching, hoping, struggling toward the Way which we know means restoration of sight, freedom from bondage, good news for the poor?

Franconia Conference Welcomes New Staff Member

Beginning in July, 2017, Mary Nitzsche will join the Franconia Conference staff as Associate Executive Minister. This role will include the work that was previously classified as Conference Pastor. She will serve as primary staff person for the ministerial committee and assist in pastoral accompaniment with various groups within Conference, such as with Conference chaplains and retired leaders, while also serving as the primary connection with Mennonite Church USA, attending denominational meetings, CLC and working with credentialing processes.

Mary is well known throughout Conference, having served as a credentialed leader in the role of Pastor of Pastoral Care and Spiritual Formation at Blooming Glen Mennonite (PA) for the past nine years. Mary has also served as the Conference Board Ministerial Committee Chair and thus a member of the Conference Board since 2013. She has resigned from these roles to step into her position as Conference staff.

In addition to her work within Franconia Conference, Mary has also served as a Regional Pastor with Ohio Conference for 12 years, she worked as a counselor within the Church Relations office at Goshen College, and early in her career was an elementary school teacher.  Mary holds a Master’s degree in pastoral counseling from Ashland Theological Seminary (OH), a Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education from Goshen College (IN) and an Associate of Arts in Liberal Arts from Hesston College (KS).

On March 26, 2017, in an announcement to Conference Staff and Board, Executive Minister Steve Kriss wrote, “Mary’s gifts will help add depth and care to our ministry and leadership team.  I’ve experienced Mary as someone who genuinely exhibits the fruits of the Spirit in her life and trust that she’ll bring that fruitful presence further into our life together.  After consulting and conversing with numerous persons across our Conference community, it seemed as if there was a clear call from us and the Spirit sensing that Mary’s gifts would serve our fellowship and God’s purposes well at this time.  I’ve appreciated Mary’s insights, her capacity to listen and to imagine.   I look forward to Mary’s participating in Franconia Conference leadership in a different way as she begins the staff role this summer.”

Mary states that her guiding verse is Isaiah 30:18a and 20b-21: “Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you. . .your Teacher will not hide. . . your eyes shall see your Teacher. And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’”

In regards to her new role she said, “I am humbled and honored to accept God’s new call to serve as Associate Executive Minister of Franconia Conference. I pray the gifts and the congregational and conference experiences I bring to this role will help me lead with grace, wisdom, and hope. In this time of uncertainty and opportunity in our conference, denomination, nation and world, I hope to join staff in being attentive and responsive to the movement of God’s Spirit already present and working through us.”

Mary is married to Wayne Nitzsche, pastor of Perkasie Mennonite Church. They have two adult daughters: Alison, living with her husband, Michael, in Long Beach, California, and Megan living in New York City. Mary and Wayne are Midwest natives and have both lived and served in a variety of congregational and conference settings.

For fun and relaxation, Mary enjoys walking/hiking, knitting, working Sudoku or jigsaw puzzles, sewing, and baking.

Sharing Breakfast and Life

by Emily Ralph Servant, Interim Director of Congregational Resourcing

“I was not really looking forward to the morning event.  I wasn’t even sure it had much to do with my call and work,” confessed Joy Sawatzky, a chaplain at Living Branches.  “What happened was a nice surprise.  I like surprises.”

The “morning event” was a breakfast sponsored by Living Branches and Franconia Conference exploring questions of spirituality across generations.  On February 14, a panel of leaders answered questions about calling, spiritual practices, and hope.

“What happened was heart-felt sharing from three different generations around call and how that was and is lived out, not just in the lives of those on the panel, but in the table conversations afterwards as well,” reflected Sawatzky.

Panelists Krista Showalter Ehst, John Ruth, Paula Stoltzfus, James Krabill, Josh Meyer, and Ray Hurst expressed curiosity about other generations, pondered over advice they would give to their younger selves, suggested practices that are important in the life of the Church, and confessed how their priorities in ministry have been shaped by their life experiences (listen to the podcast).

After the panelists shared, pastors gathered around tables to share their own stories, challenges, and questions.  The take away—a hope for the future of the church and a hope for more of these conversations.

Living Branches began to explore sponsoring conversations on aging after a pastor told them, “Our church is aging, however our energy is focused on family and youth; we would appreciate thinking and talking together about issues of aging. Help us.”   Living Branches believes that as a member of the community and a participating ministry of the Franconia Conference, they have a calling to connect with and resource their community and churches around the issues of aging, says Margaret Zook, Director of Church & Community Relations at Living Branches.  “We believe that joy and purpose in life is enriched through conversations at all stages of our life.”

Credentialed leaders are invited to two breakfasts this April:

  • April 19, 8-10am, at Souderton Mennonite Homes. Chaplains from Living Branches will present the documentary “Being Mortal” and facilitate a conversation around faith and end of life issues.  (RSVP to Margaret_Zook@LivingBranches.org).
  • April 25, 9-11am, at Blooming Glen Mennonite Church. Anne Kaufman Weaver will lead a conversation around her research in resiliency for women in pastoral leadership (RSVP at franconiaconference.org/events).

“Taking time to be together to learn, to network, to eat together, to drink coffee and tea together helps keep our leadership and relationships vibrant and lively,” says Franconia Conference executive minister Steve Kriss.  “While our schedules are busy, this time apart, even for a few hours, is an important respite and a significant time to strengthen both skills and relationships among us as credentialed leaders in our conference community.”

For questions related to upcoming events or to request resourcing for your congregation, contact Emily (email or 267-932-6050, ext. 117).

Living God’s Great Shalom

by Stephen Kriss, Executive Minister

In our commitments for credentialing as pastors within Franconia Conference, we agree to giving and receiving counsel.  This week I am here in Indiana as part of our process of giving and receiving counsel through Mennonite Church USA’s Constituency Leader Council (CLC).

It’s not been an easy time in Mennonite Church USA (MCUSA).   Three conferences have seceded from MCUSA and several have lost significant membership numbers.  Three conferences have moved toward credentialing gay and lesbian persons which puts them at variance with our official confessional/polity positions.   We are not alone in our turmoil as similar processes have been playing out among United Methodists, Presbyterian Church USA and the Episcopalians.   Nonetheless we are here to keep trying to work it out.    At times, it feels like we are at our wits end with each other.

Franconia Conference was a founding body in MCUSA. We remain engaged thus far because we believe that we can do more together than we can on our own.  I recognize, though, that some of us question our relationship with MCUSA because of the tensions felt around our theology and practice thereof.   I understand both the acts of conscience and the levels of frustration that have meant Conferences have seceded and that others have landed at variance.

I believe in the kind of love that Paul wrote about that is patient, kind and enduring.   As a Conference, we have an enduring history. Unfortunately, it hasn’t always been marked with enduring love that has been witness of the reconciling power of Christ’s peace.   Our current exploration of a possible reconciliation process with Eastern District Conference evidences our lack of patience with one another, that now is being addressed over a century later.  Randy Heacock’s story from the last Intersectings reminds us of the sad reality that reconciliation work on an interpersonal level is still a rarity.   So, I’m committed this week to sit at these tables on our behalf, and to find ways to engage constructively and generatively, along with John Goshow, our Conference moderator, and Mary Nitzsche, chair of our Ministerial Committee.

In these few days, for the sake of all of us, I commit to believing and hoping, of seeking the Spirit’s stirring.  Of continuing to live into my ordination vows of giving and receiving counsel.  Whether around tables in Elkhart or at the kitchen table or the communion table, this is our invitation.  It’s an invitation that endures; a recognition that love never fails, a way of living God’s great shalom, even through day long meetings.

From Dust You’ve Been Created

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

By Steve Kriss, Executive Minister

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Much Work with Great Hope

By Steve Kriss, Executive Minister

My first communication received in the new executive minister role came as a text message on Sunday morning before I went to worship on January 1.   It came from a Conference board member who told me that his congregation intended to support the work of Danilo Sanchez in Allentown for another year in the partnership between the Conference, Whitehall Mennonite Church, Ripple congregation and Mennonite Central Committee East Coast.  It was a welcome communication and a gracious reminder of the Spirit’s work among us.  What our board member didn’t know was that this important initiative working with youth (many who are refugees and immigrants) was reaching the end of its funding stream.  We had decided late in 2016 in a collaborative conversation between the partners to move forward without funding fully being figured out.  This gift will help bridge that gap.  I was and am grateful.

It’s these kinds of signs along the way that remind me of the good work that we are called to do together.  While political change and tensions surrounds us, we continue in the work that God has called us to do.  As executive minister, I will do my best to keep us focused toward the going to the margins mission as affirmed at Conference Assembly in 2015.  This includes the ongoing and important work of caring for the refugee, the stranger, the poor, the differently-abled, the young, the aged, the homeless, the hungry, those in prison and those recently released while respecting all people as created in the image of our God regardless of their own religious practice or lack thereof.   And it also includes renewed attention on church-planting and gives space for new initiatives that we might not yet have imagined that will help carry the Good News into the next generation.

For some of us, this good work seems more challenging under President Trump while for others this seemed more difficult under the leadership of President Obama.  Regardless of our political preferences or the regime at hand, we are called to the same hard and good work with respect and prayer: to speak and incarnate the Good News of Christ that heals the wounded, sets the captive free, provides sight to the blind and offers freedom to the oppressed (Luke 4.18). This message changes us and intends to transform the whole world.

PPC valentinesMission to the margins means both speaking and acting.  For us as Conference staff, these last few weeks have included finding ways to support when Carlos Romero, Executive Director of Mennonite Education Agency, received a racially harassing phone call.  Our response to Christ and the Spirit’s work at Pentecost means we cannot remain silent as witnesses to ethnic intimidation or acts that represent white supremacy.  We are the first community to have named an African American pastor in the Mennonite Church and to have an African American lead our conference.  We worship in four languages.  Almost 20% of our pastors are people of color.  This is our story.  It’s never been easy work and gets even more challenging when we are able to be more honest with one another about our experiences.

It’s meant a conversation with Congressman Fitzpatrick’s office, who serves much of our constituent community in Pennsylvania’s 8th District, regarding last week’s Executive Orders that has halted for the time begin the processes for refugees entering our country.   Many of our congregations have hosted refugees and helped with resettlement, others of us are refugees, asylum seekers and migrants.  Many of us descend from those who were those same persons from generations earlier.  This is a story we live and know and are continually challenged by through Biblical mandates to welcome the stranger.

Donella Clemens from the Perkasie congregation once advised me to seek out Biblical texts that offer guidance into where to situate ourselves for difficult or transitional times.  This week, I’ve settled into Micah 6.8’s invitation to “live justly, love mercy, walk humbly with God.”  It’s a challenging invitation for our time even though the words can at times feel overly familiar.  It seems exactly where I’m going to need to be awhile after 30 days into the new leadership role.  There’s still much to figure out and to learn.

In the meantime, I’ll keep celebrating God’s generosity and Spirit’s provocation among us like I experienced on Day 1.  We’ll keep figuring out how to speak and act as mission to the margins is our priority.  I invite you to be an ongoing part of those good stories and that sometimes hard but worthy work among us as we live out what it means to embody the Good News with our neighbors near and far and even among those who might be perceived as our enemies.  There is still much work but we have great hope.

Transition brings Interim LEADership Ministers

As the Conference is in a time of transition, it provides an opportunity for reflection and strategic planning for the coming years. With that, the new Executive Minister, Steve Kriss, and the Conference Executive Committee have provided a six-month transitional period that included bringing on three contracted LEADership Ministers, one of whom will also serve as Interim Director of Congregational Resourcing.

On January 1, 2017, the Conference welcomed Emily Ralph Servant, Randy Heacock, and Wayne Nitzsche into the role of Interim LEADership Minister. Emily will also serve as the Interim Director of Congregational Resourcing. Their willingness to serve in these interim roles ensures that all conference congregations have a dedicated Conference Minister available to serve them. In addition, with Emily stepping in as Interim Director of Congregational Resourcing the Conference can expect continued equipping events available to all Conference members and some geared toward credentialed leaders.

“Interim times are valuable for reconsidering and rethinking staffing configurations,” says Steve Kriss, Conference Executive Minister. “With the departures of Ertell and Jenifer, we have an unusual opportunity to reimagine how to lead and serve at the Conference level.  While I don’t anticipate changing our model of LEADership Ministry for accompaniment alongside pastors and congregations, this team of interim LEADership Ministers for six months will provide excellent space while also offering clear contacts for Conference ministry.  Emily, Randy and Wayne are skilled leaders who have conference level experience.  I’m grateful for their availability and willingness to serve in this time of change.  I’m grateful too for the flexibility and trust we have found with our congregations in the willingness to embrace each of them in the interim role.   As a conference we have a healthy pool of gifted and capable leaders; Emily, Randy and Wayne are evidence of this in their responsiveness to our invitations to serve together.”

Emily has been credentialed with the Conference since 2010, and a member of the conference since her youth.  She has served as a worship leader at Bally Mennonite Church, led worship and taught Sunday School while a member at Salford, and conducted interim ministry work with Swamp and Indonesian Light. She also spent time serving Sunnyside congregation in Lancaster, PA. Emily will also serve a number of Congregations as LEADership Minister while working to provide meaningful equipping events over the next six months.

Looking toward this new role, Emily states, “There is a special spirit in Franconia Conference that feels different from other contexts in which I’ve ministered, one that continues to draw me back!  I love the way that we celebrate diversity, passionately partner in different types of mission, and support one another in difficult times.  I’m so pleased to minister again as part of the staff during this time of transition, walking alongside some really gifted pastors and congregations!”

Randy Heacock steps in to his role as Interim LEADership Minister while continuing as pastor at Doylestown Mennonite Church. Randy was ordained in 1991 through Virginia Conference transferring to Franconia Conference in 2001 when he accepted the position at Doylestown. Randy has a wealth of pastoral experience spanning the last 35 years and has also served on the Virginia Conference Nurture Committee and as Chairperson of the Virginia Peace Committee. He has been noted for his steady presence and ability to walk with congregations through difficult times, holding space with patience as the Spirit moves making discernment possible.

In regards to his new role as Interim LEADership Minister, Randy says, “I am excited for the opportunity to walk alongside other church leaders as they pursue a Kingdom vision.”

Wayne Nitzsche currently serves as pastor at Perkasie Mennonite Church. He will continue in that role as he joins the Interim LEADership Ministry team. Wayne has been a member of Franconia Conference since accepting the role at Perkasie in 2008. Originally, Wayne was ordained in 1989 through Ohio Conference where he would serve as Regional Pastor for 12 years. Throughout his career, Wayne has served in a number of ministry roles including time under Mennonite Board of Missions, now known as Mennonite Mission Network. Wayne has been noted as having exceptional listening skills and truly strives to model Jesus in his everyday life. He will be working in these next six months with three congregations who face transitions themselves.

Wayne states, “God is with all our congregations. Perhaps God’s presence is most keenly experienced in times of pastoral transition. I look forward to walking with Alpha, Bally and Taftsville through their transition. I’m sure I will be enriched by the ways the Spirit is at work in these congregations. I hope to draw on twelve years of conference ministry experience in Ohio Conference, along with present pastoral perspectives from my pastorate at Perkasie Mennonite.”

We welcome these three to their new roles and are grateful for their answer to serve in this capacaity.

To learn more about the new Interim LEADership Ministers check out their full bios at: http://franconiaconference.org/directory/staff/

Immigrants are the Church

Franconia Conference’s new Executive Minister, Steve Kriss, is a frequent columnist for Mennonite World Review. His latest column, released earlier this week, speaks of the need for the church to offer hospitality to our immigrant brothers and sisters as “most immigrants to the United States are already Christian. This ongoing influx of Christians bolsters our churches and keeps an abundant percentage of our country Christian.” We at Franconia Conference have been blessed with an influx of immigrant brothers and sisters who share our Mennonite values. Read the full article here: http://mennoworld.org/2017/01/02/columns/kriss-immigrants-are-the-church/.

Why I Said Yes …

 . . . to ongoing work and hope

by Stephen Kriss

Mother Theresa called it a “call within the call.”  That’s the best language I’ve found to describe why I’ve said yes to the invitation to the role of Executive Minister with Franconia Conference.   These weeks since the announcement went public I’ve felt surrounded by congratulatory support as well as honest condolences.   The congratulations recognize the largeness of the role and the condolences honor the difficulty of church leadership in this time and space.  I’ve received them both openly and humbly feeling strongly the sense of call between God, the world, our community and me for “such a time as this.”

While I’ve worked now over a decade with Franconia Conference, this appointment still feels like a surprise.  I’d have never guessed moving to Philadelphia after grad school would mean staying this long and finding my heart drawn to the community that we are, that we have been and that we are becoming.   I’ve come to love us from our immigrant congregations in South Philadelphia, to our historic congregations in Bucks and Montgomery County, to our experiments in church life in the Lehigh Valley and our unique blend of Vermonter Anabaptism.   There’s no where like us.   We are poised with interesting and sometimes complicated possibilities.

I’m grateful for the thorough work of the search committee and for the discerning work of the board.   Ertell Whigham, who has served as our executive minister, hands off a stable and financially sound organization.   He is leaving the role after being the first African American to lead a Conference in our national body.  Ertell’s commitment to our ongoing transformation as missional and intercultural people is one that I intend to carry forward.

In my interview with the Conference Board, I said that a marker of success for me will be collaboration.  I’m not exactly sure how we’ll mark or measure this yet, but I’ve seen glimpses of it in our work together in mutuality and sharing resources that give me some clues.   We have a long story together and I’m convinced that our future could be bright.   We’ll need to keep learning (to keep on being disciples) and to invest carefully so that our gift of faith might not simply be safely preserved but multiplied like the resources entrusted to the servants in Jesus’ parable from the Gospel of Matthew.

In this journey, the text “to whom much is given, much is required” has lingered in my head.   I hear it both for me and for all of us.   I receive this work as a gift.   I acknowledge the privileges that are mine and are ours.  These are not simply political, economic or racial/class privileges (though there are those), but privileges of grace, hope, and love.    It is because of these eternal things that last that I have said yes, again this time to the invitation of the Spirit among us.  I look forward to living into this “call within a call” together.  And trust that we’ll continue our faithful legacy of work and hope.

Nations Worship Center Celebrates Mission: I’m Possible

By Sharon Williams

nations-1Joyful, heartfelt praise to God filled the new home for Nations Worship Center (NWC) on Sunday afternoon, November 20. The house was packed as the congregation gathered with sister congregations and friends to dedicate their newly renovated building at 1506 Ritner Street in south Philadelphia. Pastor Beny Krisbianto and the NWC worship team led a full house of worshipers in songs and prayers.

The congregation has faced many challenges in establishing a home base for worship, discipleship, and mission in their south Philly neighborhood. In August 2012, they purchased Paradise Gardens, a catering hall with offices and an apartment on the 2nd and 3rd floors. The building had been abandoned and empty for 12 years. With much prayer and faith, NWC faced strong opposition from the local community, red tape from city government, contractor woes, and financial challenges. Each step was embraced with grace and dignity, trusting that God would accomplish the impossible mission.

nations-2Steve Kriss, Franconia Conference Director of Leadership Cultivation and Congregational Resourcing, offered a greeting from the conference. He connected the congregation’s testimony to that of the first immigrant Mennonites in Philadelphia who embraced an ethic of “work and hope” as part of their witness. In a recent meeting with community residents, someone inquired about the use of government funds for the building’s transformation. “Oh no,” Kriss replied, “this is a result of the congregation’s hard work, prayers, and partnerships — all made possible by God’s grace.”

nations-3Pastor Timotius Hardono, Beny’s pastor from Indonesia, shared a message about God’s impossible missions made possible through immigrants such as Moses and Daniel, and Mary, the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:26-38). NWC will continue to fulfill Jesus’ Great Commission, making disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20). Many worshipers rededicated themselves to being used for God’s mission: I’m possible!

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.