Tag Archives: Steve Kriss

Board Names Interim Chair of the Ministerial Committee

There is much work that is done within the Conference and each person, committee, taskforce, congregations and Conference Related Ministry plays a role in that work. On April 13, Franconia Conference announced that Mary Nitzsche’s role in the work of the Conference would be changing as she joins Conference Staff, stepping down from the Chair of the Ministerial Committee and her role as a pastor at Blooming Glen Mennonite Church. While Blooming Glen enters a process of discernment to fill the role left by Mary, so too the Conference has been discerning who God might be calling to fill the role of Chair of the Ministerial Committee.

The Chair of the Ministerial Committee also would serve on the Franconia Conference Board and oversee the Credentialing Committee which conducts interviews of credentialing candidates. This is a large role, as the Ministerial Committee is responsible for overall policies related to the calling, credentialing, training, and disciplining of those persons being credentialed by the Conference, along with the granting of ministerial credentials in keeping with A Mennonite Polity for Ministerial Leadership.

Through much discernment the Board invited current Ministerial Committee member Ken Burkholder to serve as interim Chair of the Ministerial Committee. According to the Conference bylaws, this is a role that is to be appointed by the delegate assembly which does not meet until November 4. In order to ensure that the work of the Conference can continue, the Board agreed that Ken would be able to easily step into the role of chair and would be a good fit for the position long term.

Conference Moderator John Goshow stated, “Ken’s six years of experience serving on the Conference’s Ministerial Committee makes him uniquely qualified to fill the role of chair for this important committee.”

Ken’s name will be presented to the delegates at the Fall 2017 Assembly for the role of Ministerial Committee Chair and subsequently a member of the Conference Board.

Ken was originally appointed by the Conference Delegate Assembly to the Ministerial Committee in 2011.  He attended Eastern Mennonite Seminary (EMS) and received his Masters in Divinity in 2005 after working in the business world for 11½ years. Since his graduation from EMS he has been serving as lead pastor at Deep Run East Mennonite Church. He and his wife Karen (Frankenfield) Burkholder have two children – Alyssa (20) and Justin (17), a recent graduate of Dock Academy.

Executive Minister, Steve Kriss, says, “Ken brings pastoral and professional experience that offers significant wisdom and insight to lead the important work of the ministerial committee.  He will be a valuable board member as well helping to represent the current needs and possibilities of our Conference’s credentialed leaders. I’m grateful for his willingness to accept this position and responsibility in this time of transition to help offer stability and strength to our ongoing work together.”

When asked about his new role as interim chair Ken stated, “It’s an honor and privilege to respond to this call – serving God, and the church, as interim chair.  I look forward to continuing to work with a terrific team of people on the Ministerial Committee, as we, together, give leadership to the credentialing of persons across Franconia Mennonite Conference.”

In his spare time, Ken enjoys being with family, cheering for the Phillies, reading, and running.

On Being Both Local and Global

By Stephen Kriss, Executive Minister

My first trip in my role with Franconia Conference over a decade ago was to Guatemala.  I traveled with a group of persons from our Conference who began to invest in the lives of communities in rural indigenous villages through Agros International.   It was my first glimpse into the global-mindedness of our Conference in both official programs as well as through individual or familial relationships.   Though we are rooted firmly in Bucks and Montgomery County, wedged between the metro areas of Allentown, New York City and Philadelphia, we think often like global citizens.

Thomas Friedman, in his well-known book about global economicsThe World is Flatsuggests that to survive and flourish into the new millennium, organizations will need to think of themselves as both global and local.  This is not new for us.  Our immigrant and settler mindset remains with us in many ways, though we’ve been in Pennsylvania for hundreds of years and in some areas the road names bear our familial surnames and reference even our own congregations and faith (see Mennonite Road in Collegeville).

In a time of America first, we know and live otherwise.  We live with a sense of the reality of “to whom much is given much is required”.  For us in Franconia Conference, as the world became more accessible, we became more aware.  Our unusual geography and clusters near major cities on the East Coast provide us ready access to transportation that can take us around the world in 24 hours.  With the massive migration of the last decades, the world has also come to us.  Sometimes these changes make our heads and hearts spin as we listen to unfamiliar languages in the aisles while shopping at Landis Supermarkets.

Lois Clemens
Lois Gunden Clemens (1915-2005)
Clayton Kratz (1896-1920)

As a community in Franconia Conference, we honor the legacy of those from our heartlands who in the early 20th Century, saw the world coming closer and felt compelled to take and live the story in places like Norristown, Rocky Ridge and Bristol.   We honor the story of people like Clayton Kratz who in the early 20th century, disappeared in the Ukraine while trying to find ways to assist Mennonites in a time of intense realities.  We tell the story of Lois Gunden Clemens, who is recognized as “Among the Righteous” by the state of Israel for her work among refugees during World War II in France.  These are our stories and our blessed heritage.

We have invested heavily in the Anabaptist community in Mexico City.  Through the MAMA Project, we continually support the health and wellness of communities in Honduras.  We’ve built bridges with Anabaptist communities in Indonesia that have transformed us here in the States.  We support workers in diverse places through various organizations, as well as regularly sending and supporting longer term initiatives through Mennonite Mission Network and Mennonite Central Committee.   Currently, we have four credentialed pastors who are working outside of the United States in Indonesia, the Philippines, Cambodia and Mexico.  We regularly produce publications in English, Indonesian, Spanish and Vietnamese and all of the translation is done by partners who live in Asia.

This is one of the things that continues to intrigue me about us.  It makes me wonder how we might continue to use these legacies of global connection and our ready points of access through increased ease of transportation and communication, financial resources, along with our communal and individual astuteness and acumen, in our sense of calling as followers of Christ to be both wise as serpents and as innocent as doves in extending the Good News to all people.

London skyline from Shadwell Basin

This week I returned from London, building on relationships that we have cultivated through the Anabaptist community there.  I was there days after the Manchester bombing and preached in London the morning after the incident at London Bridge.  The Gospel of Christ’s peace that we know, that we have been given, continues to be brilliantly relevant in these tough times.

God has uniquely situated us at Franconia Conference with global connections and global capacities, hearts provoked to love and care for the places where we are from like Bally and Bridgewater Corners, Souderton and South Philly, while at the same time connecting us to places, people and possibilities globally.   In a time when much of the world retreats into fear, we remain people of hope, continually willing to share with neighbors both nearby and faraway, to share this peace that goes beyond comprehension with family, with friends, and even with those who might be called our enemies.

Board Welcomes Smita Singh

By Angela Moyer, co-pastor at Ripple and Conference Board Member

Smita Singh was appointed to the Franconia Conference Board by delegate affirmation at the Fall 2016 Assembly, beginning her first term with the Board in January, 2017. Smita is a member at Whitehall Mennonite Church in the Lehigh Valley since 2000, when she immigrated to the United Stated with her husband Naveen and son Ronak.

Growing up in Nagpur, India, Smita was raised in a Christian home with church and faith as an integral part of her upbringing. She was actively involved with her church youth group, Youth for Christ (YFC), Evangelical Students Union (EU), children’s ministry, National Council of Church’s in India (NCCI) and Maharashtra Village Ministries (MVM). She has led women’s groups and youth groups through BSF International (Bible Study Fellowship), and as a member of Whitehall, Smita has worked in children’s ministry, helped with fundraisers and served on the budget committee and worship planning committee.

She graduated from Nagpur University with a Bachelors in Computer Science. She then received her Master’s Degrees in Business Administration specializing in finance and marketing. Smita has experience as a Google Quality Rating Consultant and also owns an Etsy business, “Rosmina Collections.” Recently, she began working in the Customer Service Department at Nestle.

Janet Byler, Smita Singh, and Ron Bender finished out a long line of blessings and anointing for Pastor Rose Bender at her ordination in 2012.

Initially, Smita was not interested in being on the Board at Franconia Conference, but after prayer, both she and Naveen sensed that this was a call to move out of her comfort zone, especially after having an encouraging conversation with Steve Kriss, then the Director of Leadership Development.  Now, she is looking forward to discovering how she can use her gifts and experience to serve in this role and hopes to fulfill God’s calling.

Her favorite passage of Scripture is Isaiah 41:10, “Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” She says she connects to God best by having her quiet time praying and seeking His word for discernment.

Smita describes Whitehall Mennonite as an eclectic group of people filled with hospitality, diverse in speech and culture, with a common goal to serve the Lord and care for each other. Something she has learned at Whitehall is that God is faithful and always provides in unexpected ways. Transformation happens one person at a time and many times the transformation takes place years after the seed was planted.

Rose Bender, Pastor at Whitehall Mennonite Church says, “Folks at Whitehall appreciate Smita’s creativity, generosity, and delicious cooking!  Because of her life experience and background, Smita often has a different perspective to add to the conversation – a part of the rich fabric of diversity at Whitehall Mennonite Church. She is a joy to pastor and work alongside in ministry.”

Smita lives in Breinigsville, PA with her husband, and now 14-year-old son.  In her free time, she enjoys making cards, helping her son with his school projects, volunteering at church, and as a volunteer coach for Springhouse Middle School Science Olympiad Team.

 

On Scattering, Gathering and California Dreamin’

by Steve Kriss, Executive Minister

Within the first few weeks of assuming the role of Executive Minister of Franconia Conference, I began to hear more about how the shifting structures across the Mennonite landscape might begin to affect us.  In Conferences across the country as well as in Canada, we have begun a season of realignment.  Conferences are both receiving and releasing congregations as communities seek new alignments that seem to defy previous understandings of geography and organizational configurations.  Daniel Hertzler, retired Mennonite editor, from Scottdale, PA, has called it a season of Mennonite scattering.

But it is also a season of Anabaptist gathering.  Over the last decade our Conference has received new member congregations in Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Allentown and East Greenville.  Several of those new congregations no longer exist which is common with church-planting initiatives; however some have grown to communities approaching 200 people.   These new communities have been essential to our health and the possibilities for our future.  Our new immigrant congregations talk about the significance of joining a “family” that provided a new home, a sense of shelter, roots, accountability, and relationships that give space for flourishing.

This spring, we have begun to experience a significant influx of inquiries, including congregations who would wish to join our Conference from as far as California.  Many of these congregations have had long term relationships with persons in Franconia Conference that have helped to cultivate fruitful global and local partnerships.  As the structure and composition of Mennonite Church USA and conferences continues to shift, these congregations see ready affinity with us and are now asking if they might join us as members.

We are taking these inquiries seriously and we take the challenges of these inquiries to heart.  How might we be a Conference with a cluster of churches in California?  In what ways does this challenge us and in what ways might it invigorate us?

I believe it is possible.  And I trust the inquiries to join with us to come in good faith and honest hope.  Most congregations have had long-term Anabaptist commitments and affiliations, sometimes relationships with Mennonite communities that span the world.   As Franconia Conference, we have long been use to tending long-distance relationships with ongoing work and connections in Mexico that has spanned decades, initiatives in Honduras, and credentialed leaders in Southeast Asia.  We once even assisted in planting a church in Hawaii.

While we take these questions seriously, I know that member congregations in California might stretch us more than we are prepared.  While the relationships aren’t necessarily new, the idea of having a West Coast cluster is beyond what we might have imagined for ourselves as a community. Though it seems possible with the ease of transportation these days and many forms of communication, this will take intentional efforts to build and strengthen our bonds and we’ll have to learn to speak differently when we speak of “us.”

I am challenged by these possibilities.  Yet, the one thing that I know about Franconia Conference is that the Spirit is relentless in inviting us to be transformed anew.  The invitation is again upon us.   I invite your prayers as we together consider and discern God’s best direction while honoring our past, accepting our limitations, and trusting also the Spirit’s movement in both scattering and gathering that might give us a future with great hope.

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.