Tag Archives: Swamp

Thanking God for new offices, my Mac and Skype

by Stephen Kriss, director of leadership cultivation

transpacific interview
Steve, Mary, Aldo, and Verle Skype with Ubaldo for his credentialing interview.

In less than a decade, the Mennonite Conference Center has moved to its third location.   With increasingly dispersed staff, the Center has downsized to serve as a hub and back office for activity out and about.

My first day in the offices at Dock High School this week included crowding around my MacBook Pro with Verle Brubaker (Swamp) Mary Nitzsche (Blooming Glen), and Aldo Siahaan (Philadelphia Praise Center) for our first transpacific ordination interview by Skype.  We were interviewing Ubaldo Rodriguez, originally from Colombia, educated at Eastern Mennonite Seminary, who is now serving with SEND International in Manila, the Philippines.  Ubaldo is there to support and train mission workers from the 2/3rds world, hoping to build connections between Latin America and Asia.

Ubaldo is connected with a one of our partner congregations, New Hope Fellowship in Alexandria, VA, begun by Kirk Hanger after returning from a long term assignment with Franconia Mennonite Missions in Mexico City over a decade ago.   As a community, we keep being shaped and reshaped by our relationships and engagement in the world.  And now some of those connections are more easily sustained through technology like Skype, which we thanked God for in our interview.

Franconia Conference keeps changing and moving.  It’s not just our desks and cabinets, but it’s how we’re following the Spirit, paying attention to the pillar of fire that urges us to follow in the way of Jesus that moves us to be a part of God’s great redemption story in Souderton, Harleysville, Lansdale, Alexandria, Mexico City and Manila.

Town hall meetings offer clarification and questions

Stutzman town hallby Stephen Kriss, director of communication

Earlier this month, nearly 250 persons from Franconia and Eastern District conference congregations came to ask questions and to listen to Dr. Ervin Stutzman, executive director of Mennonite Church USA.  Franconia Conference leadership invited Stutzman to two town hall meetings held at Swamp Mennonite Church (Quakertown, Pa.) on April 10 and Salford Mennonite Church (Harleysville, Pa.) on April 11.   With dozens of questions submitted beforehand to conference staff, Stutzman took time to explain the current landscape of Mennonite Church USA, addressing the consistent themes of those questions but also taking questions from those gathered.

The majority of questions related to the recent turmoil and controversy following the licensing of Theda Good, a woman in a committed same sex relationship, for ministry at First Mennonite Church of Denver by Mountain States Mennonite Conference and Eastern Mennonite University’s listening process to review policies for employment of persons in same sex relationships.

According to Franconia Conference executive minister Ertell Whigham, the meetings provided a unique opportunity for persons from “the pew to the pulpit” to engage the MC USA executive.   Stutzman calmly and transparently responded to an array of questions and explained the current circumstances in detail to offer a glimpse of history, complexity, theology, and possibility.

At the Salford meeting, Stutzman noted the tensions in the church but promised, “I don’t think there’s a single question that you can ask that I will try to avoid.”  He observed that this time of turmoil in the church has resulted in an amazing outpouring of communication, concern, and prayer.  “Our church cares deeply about this,” Stutzman reflected at the Swamp town hall.  “God has our attention in a new way.  We stand at the door of opportunities to be faithful.”

Franco Salvatori, pastor of Rocky Ridge congregation, particularly appreciated that Stutzman clearly explained the executive board’s process in response to Mountain States Conference.  “I desired to attend the town hall meetings because I believe that the issue of same sex relationships is critical for the church in our time,” Salvatori said.  “Unlike any other issue I have seen in recent history, this one seems to have the most potential for division, which always obscures the gospel.”

Stutzman articulated his own commitments to the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspectivebut admitted that the challenge from Mountain States Conference on the denomination’s membership guidelines will not likely result in that conference’s expulsion from Mennonite Church USA, a response which would require a 2/3 vote at the Kansas City 2015 convention.   He also highlighted the work of a task force designated by the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board to chart a way forward.  The task force’s recommendations will be discussed at the October meeting of the Constituency Leaders Council, a twice a year gathering with representatives of all Mennonite Church USA conferences and constituent groups intended to provide counsel to the denomination’s executive board and leadership.

Alice Eldredge of Ambler congregation appreciated the respectful way town hall participants interacted with Stutzman and one another.  “Even though it was evident persons felt deeply, they asked questions mostly in a respectful tone and with care,” she said. “I felt hope in the abilities of the leadership of Mennonite Church USA, with Ervin as a representative. My hope is that grace may abound among us and love and respect for one another may prevail in the midst of disagreement.”

Listen to the podcasts:

Thursday, April 10, 7pm at Swamp Mennonite Church (Quakertown, Pa.)

 

Download the podcast

Friday, April 11, 9:30am at Salford Mennonite Church (Harleysville, Pa.)

 

Download the podcast

Deep Run East joins MAMA Project in Honduras

Deep Run & MAMA Project
The dedication service at Iglesia Evangelica del Principe de Paz.

by Barb Rice, Deep Run East

Ken Burkholder, pastor of Deep Run East congregation (Perkasie, Pa.), joined the 27th MAMA Project Team that Deep Run East has sent to Honduras since 2001.  Over the years, Pastor Ken had heard from teams reporting on their experiences and had met some of the MAMA Project partners on their visits to the US, but on March 15-22, he joined the team in Honduras.

On March 16, one day after arrival in San Pedro Sula, the team arrived at Iglesia Central Menonita (the largest Mennonite Church in the city) for an inspired and holy time of worship.  Wow… talk about a worship team and praise music!  Pastor Ken was invited to preach and his sermon followed worship, focusing on II Cor. 5: 17-21, “In Christ—New Creation.”  In the context of violence and poverty in Honduras, the call to reconciliation and being ambassadors and coworkers with Christ was powerful to all who were listening.

After the worship service it was good to play a little “Mennonite game,” meeting Honduran young persons who had been part of the Mennonite Central Committee IVEP program and also discovering that the worship band leader had attended Eastern Mennonite University’s Peace Institute.  What a blessing to fellowship with other believers around the world; Pastor Ken and another team member were visiting so long that the rest of the group left them behind!

Pastor Adalid Romero, president of the Honduran Mennonite Church, met with our team and explained how life in Honduras was lived in the midst of organized crime and corruption, with much illegal immigration to the US, Mexico, and Spain.  He shared that “the situation here would be that much worse than it already is, if it wasn’t for the presence of the churches in Honduras!”  The Honduran Mennonite Church works to teach peacemaking in schools where guns and knives show up routinely, introducing students to a different way of problem solving without violence.

That Sunday evening, the team headed to Iglesia Evangelica del Principe de Paz, a church in a poor community at the edge of the city.  The church is located in the middle of drug traffic and gang tensions, but the community loves our teams and helps to ensure we are protected.  Deep Run East and Swamp congregation (Quakertown, Pa.) have partnered with the pastor of this church, Juan Angel Ramirez, to work in this community.  A new church has been built over the last two years and, as we arrived, everyone was waiting outside for the “big reveal.”  The dedication service included ribbon cutting, with eight children dressed in rented wedding clothes holding the ribbons.  Pastor Ken, as the honored guest, was given the scissors.  The new building is an amazing testament of God’s desire for the church to be a beacon of hope, sitting up on the hill for all in the community to see.

Deep Run &  MAMA Project
The worship space at Maranatha Menonita church.

That week we traveled to a remote community each day, setting up a clinic to give parasite medicine and vitamins and do medical consults.    In addition, a work project was planned in each community.  Our team organizer, Irma Dinora Molina, an involved member in the Honduran Mennonite Church, suggested working in some of the poor struggling Mennonite communities around San Pedro Sula.  This plan was a perfect fit for a team with a Mennonite pastor.  It was a highlight to see Ken connect, pray, and worship with the pastors in these communities.  These are some of Ken’s comments after our trip:

  • The Church is the Hope of the World – In the midst of the poverty, suffering, and brokenness that we encountered in Honduras, we witnessed how the church is a beacon of light and hope. I greatly enjoyed interacting with the pastors. They love the Lord, they love their communities, they believe in the power of prayer, and some of them are literally risking their lives to be pastors!
  • Power of Prayer – The people of Honduras pray often and fervently! We prayed together before beginning our work for the day, we laid hands on and prayed for a vehicle that wasn’t running well, and we experienced answered prayers from our Deep Run East and Honduran friends in various ways throughout the week.
  • Spontaneous Worship/Prayer Experience – Words simply cannot capture the one experience I had of spontaneous worship and prayer among a group of Hondurans as we were finishing a painting job. I clearly witnessed the power of the Holy Spirit and I would describe this as a “modern-day Pentecost experience.”

If worship experiences like these seem intriguing, think about joining even more powerful worship services at Mennonite World Conference in Harrisburg, PA, July 2015.  Our friends in Honduras are anxious to come too…please pray for the visa process.

Reflections on the Journey: celebrating the career of Noah Kolb

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

by Krista Showalter Ehst, Bally congregation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hurricane Sandy leaves destruction and opportunity

by Emily Ralph, eralph@franconiaconference.org

Three days after Hurricane Sandy swept through south-eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, members of Franconia Conference are still cleaning up from massive flooding, downed trees and power lines, and extensive power outages.

Communication has been challenging and reports are trickling in–entire communities are still without power, dealing with road closures, and running short on supplies as gas stations and grocery stores are also without electricity.

Some of the reports we have heard:

  • Power is still out at Deep Run East (Perkasie, Pa.), Doylestown (Pa.), Swamp (Quakertown, Pa.), Methacton (Norristown, Pa.) and Garden Chapel (Dover, NJ) facilities.
  • Most of the Garden Chapel congregation is without power, although there have been no reports of damage to homes or the church building.
  • Methacton had and continues to have flooding in their basement/fellowship hall.  Without electricity, they are unable to pump the water out.
  • Many members of congregations along the Rte. 113 corridor around Souderton, Pa., are without power, as are the Conference Center offices and the Souderton Center, which is owned by Franconia Conference.  Penn View Christian School—the site of next weekend’s Conference Assembly—is also without electricity.   These power outages extend as far north as Allentown and as far east as the Delaware River.
  • Despite reports of wider damage in Philadelphia, Franconia congregations in the city survived the hurricane mostly unscathed.
Zume after Hurricane Sandy
Ben Walter, Ripple (right), and his housemates at the Zume House intentional community in Allentown, hosted their “power-less” neighbors for dinner the night after the hurricane. Luke Martin, Vietnamese Gospel, was among the guests.

In the midst of such wide-spread destruction, conference congregations are finding opportunities to minister to one another and their communities:

  • A young mother at Doylestown congregation made meals and delivered them to members of her congregation who were without power.
  • Salford (Harleysville, Pa.) congregation, once their own electricity was restored, opened their facilities to anyone in the community who needed heat, bathrooms, clean water, or a place to plug in their electronic devices.  They also expanded their weekly Community Meal to include those who needed a hot dinner.
  • Individuals throughout the region have opened their homes to friends and neighbors without power, delivered supplies to those who are stuck at home because of blocked roads, and brought their chainsaws to aid in the cleanup.
  • Members of Ripple Allentown (Pa.) who were without power met at their pastors’ home for a meal and to “warm up a bit,” reported Carolyn Albright. “It was a holy, blessed time together.”

Noah Kolb, Pastor of Ministerial Leadership for Franconia Conference, received two emails from conference congregations encouraging members to share their resources with others in their congregation and neighborhoods.  “Often we try to get beyond these things to get to the work of church,” Kolb reflected, “but this IS church.  This is really the stuff of church.”

Because of the challenges of communication, conference staff has not been able to contact all conference congregations to learn of current conditions, needs, and relief efforts.  If you have any information, please report it to your LEADership Minister or any member of conference staff—don’t assume that the staff already know about it.

If your congregation and neighborhood has made it through relatively unscathed, please check in with other congregations in your region to see how you can help; also consider how your congregation’s facility or aid can help the greater community.

If you are aware of relief efforts or needs, please report these to conference staff so that they can connect needs with resources.  The conference email and phones are up and running.

On Monday, as the hurricane was approaching, Michael King, a member of Salford and the dean of Eastern Mennonite Seminary (Harrisonburg, Va.), sent out an email to seminary students and staff.  “I don’t know precisely how we theologize at a time like this,” King wrote.  “Jesus teaches that the rain falls on the just and the unjust and that tragedies are not signs that we’re out of God’s favor. The Bible is also rich with images of God’s care, of God as the mother who shelters us under tender wings.  My loved ones, your loved ones, and all of us are in my heart and prayers amid the yearnings for God’s shelter.”

A Franconia Conference Summer

We asked for stories from summer activities from around the Conference and got this jewel from Kim Moyer, Blooming Glen congregation:

The theme for our Summer Bible School was “Be Bold! God is with You!” The children learned through songs, dramas, stories, crafts, and games, that God is with them, even when they are scared. 

One mother told me a story about her 5 year old son who has always been afraid to go into the basement of their home by himself.  The week after SBS, he asked his mom to go with him to the basement so that he could get his blanket.  His mom couldn’t go with him at the moment, so he decided he would try to go by himself.  When he returned to his mom with his blanket, he told her, “I was able to go down in the basement because I kept telling myself, God is always with us, God is always with us.”

A piece of SBS that caused a lot of excitement among the children was an offering project competition between the girls and the boys.  The children were raising money for a Mennonite Mission Network project, which sends children in South Africa to Bethany Bible School, a camp that teaches the children about Jesus.  It costs $20 to send one child to the camp, and the boys and girls at SBS were competing against each other to send the most children to camp.  If the boys won, then the Children’s Ministry Director (me) would get a pie in her face, and if the girl’s won, then the Lead Pastor would get the pie in his face. 

The children took this competition seriously and were bringing in their piggy banks, doing extra chores to raise money, and asking grandparents to write out checks.  By the end of the week, the 70 children at SBS collectively raised $1,162.53, sending 58 children to Bethany Bible School!  Although the boys won, and I got a pie in the face, it was decided that the real winners were the 58 children that would now be able to attend the Bible Camp.

Thanks, Kim, and everyone else who shared their photos and stories this summer!  And if you haven’t already read them, check out these stories about Peace Camps, Bethany’s anniversary celebration, a special service at Plains, Salford’s listening project, Kingdom Builders construction in Philly, Germantown Historic Trust’s painting project … and this is just some of what has been happening in our Conference this summer.

Enjoy these fun photos that were taken at camps, picnics, outdoor services, Bible Schools, and more.  If you’d like to add photos from your congregation’s summer to this gallery, send them to Emily with captions and photo credits.

View the photo album

Walking together on the road to Easter

by Emily Ralph, eralph@franconiaconference.org

It’s a familiar story, especially for those who have grown up in the church.  So how do we retell the story of Jesus’ passion and resurrection year after year in ways that open us up, once again, to the pain, the beauty, and the wonder of Jesus’ sacrifice and victory over death?

dove scripture picture
Members at Souderton congregation contributed artwork made of scripture. Photo provided.

The season of Lent, celebrated for the forty days leading up to Easter, marks Christ’s journey to Jerusalem.  It invites those who follow Jesus to walk with him by remembering his life, practicing disciplines of fasting and sacrifice, and engaging in deeper commitment to their brothers and sisters in the church.

Souderton (Pa.) congregation began Lent by diving deeper into Mennonite Church USA’s “Year of the Bible” with an art project.  Members of the congregation were invited to choose a word or phrase from scripture on which they wanted to meditate and to write it over and over on a panel using colors to create images.  These panels became banners that hung in the front of their sanctuary during the Lenten season.

Souderton wasn’t the only congregation to celebrate the imaginative Spirit.  Swamp (Quakertown, Pa.) spent Lent exploring God as creator, “littering” the steps of their platform with items created by members of the congregation, symbols of God’s unique creative work in them.  Their children memorized Psalm 139, which they recited on Palm Sunday after leading the entire congregation in a procession, joyfully waving palm branches.

Plains maps
Plains congregation used maps to illustrate their prayers for their region, country, and world. Photo by Dawn Ranck.

Palm Sunday marked the beginning of Holy Week and was the day when Jesus entered Jerusalem to the adoration of the crowds.  The week soon turned more somber, however, as Jesus ate his final meal with his disciples, washing their feet, and predicting his betrayal.  These events are remembered on Maundy Thursday.

Conference congregations reenacted Christ’s humility with their own experiences of footwashing.  Traditionally, Mennonites have practiced footwashing in groups divided by gender.  At Perkiomenville (Pa.) congregation this year, footwashing was one of several stations that members could visit, which, for the first time, allowed married couples or family members to wash each other’s feet.

Good Friday vigil
Franconia Conference members joined Christians from all over the Philadelphia region for a Good Friday vigil outside a gun shop. Photo by Jim McIntire.

In addition to footwashing, Plains (Hatfield, Pa.) congregation acted out Christ’s care and humility by setting up prayer stations with large maps of the world, the country, and their region.  Members could pray for and mark areas on each map with a dot or a heart.

Compassion for the community continued to spread into Good Friday, the day when followers of Jesus remember his death on the cross.  Members of churches all over the Philadelphia region gathered outside a gun shop in the city for a Good Friday vigil.  As these believers stood against violence in the city, others gathered in Good Friday services to remember that Jesus’ death made peace and reconciliation with God, and one another, possible.

Salford power outage
Salford congregation spent part of its Good Friday service in the dark, thanks to an unexpected power outage. Photo by Emily Ralph

Just when Good Friday seemed like it couldn’t get any darker, Salford (Harleysville, Pa.) congregation’s evening service was suddenly interrupted by a power outage.  For just a few, brief moments the congregation was surprised by the darkness and powerless to do anything but sit in the shadow of the cross.

There was a hush in Franconia Conference on the Saturday of Holy Week, as though the Church was holding its breath, waiting for the joy they knew was coming on Easter morning.

And the joy did come—in colors and flowers, in song and story, in food and hope and promise.  Crosses were draped in white and lilies and hyacinths and forsythia decorated sanctuaries.  Congregations met as the sun rose, around breakfast tables, and in their morning services to celebrate an empty tomb.

Philadelphia Praise Center viewed a video in which church members took to the city streets to ask people about the significance of Easter.  Blooming Glen (Pa.) congregation acted out the resurrection story in a chilly sunrise service and a member at Deep Run East (Perkasie, Pa.) built a custom tomb to display on Easter morning. In Vermont, members of Bethany congregation participated in an ecumenical sunrise service on the side of Mt Killington and then, after brunch, were led in worship by a new generation of storytellers–their children.

It’s a familiar story, and yet it’s born fresh each year as we once again walk with Jesus through Lent, Holy Week, and the Easter season.  In this story, we recognize what theologian H.S. Bender once wrote: we live on the resurrection side of the cross.  May we continue to celebrate Christ’s resurrection by living our lives as a resurrected people.

He is risen: He is risen indeed!

View the photo gallery

Communing with each other and the world

by Emily Ralph, eralph@franconiaconference.org

Every year, followers of Jesus around the world join together in remembering his death and resurrection through the act of communion. World Communion Sunday is a celebration marking that through his death, Jesus broke down the wall of hostility between people groups and that through his resurrection, Christ formed a new family of disciples world-wide.

Swamp’s children walk around the globe
Swamp’s children encircle and walk around the globe singing “I am the Church” on World Communion Sunday. Photo by Abby Mason.

Whether wearing clothes from countries around the world, as they did at Plains in Hatfield, Pa., or sharing a spaghetti dinner with the church down the street, as they did at Ripple in Allentown, Pa., Franconia Conference congregations spent October 2nd remembering this holy communion with the world-wide church.

“This remains one of my favorite services of the year,” said Sharon Ambrose, a member of Swamp (Quakertown, Pa.). “I find it so meaningful to celebrate with Christians around the world.” In addition to sharing communion bread from other countries and reading Scripture in multiple languages, Swamp’s service focused on expanding circles of concern from the congregation to the world, both locally and globally.

Church elders pray behind the communion table
Church elders pray behind the communion table at Nueva Vida Norristown New Life. Photo by Emily Ralph.

At Nueva Vida Norristown New Life, Pastor Marta Castillo also encouraged her congregation to evaluate how their actions affected believers around the world. “On World Communion Sunday,” she said, “we need to think about how we commune with the Body of Christ that is hungry . . . with the Body of Christ that is persecuted. . . with the Body of Christ that are immigrants.”

Souderton (Pa.) Mennonite Church celebrated with the theme of hospitality from Acts 2, which describes how the early church worshiped and ate together, sharing their possessions. The congregation used a braided bread of different colors to remind them that people from many nations were celebrating the Lord’s Supper with them. As members of the congregation approached the communion tables, they were joined on the big screen by photos of people celebrating communion around the world.

Souderton--world communion bread
Souderton used a braided bread to remind them that people from many nations were celebrating the Lord’s Supper with them. Photo by Alyssa Kerns.

Ambler celebrated more than World Communion Sunday—the congregation also hosted a regional CROP walk to end hunger that afternoon. Ambler’s preschoolers mixed and bagged trail mix for those who would be “praying on their feet” and, with issues of global hunger on their minds, the congregation worshiped around tables. On each table was a cut-out of the earth with facts and quotes about the condition of the world printed on it, said Pastor Donna Merow. “These became part of our silent confession as we prepared for Communion,” she reflected. “We served one another [around the tables] and then enjoyed an international meal together before heading out to walk to raise funds for global relief efforts.”

On World Communion Sunday and throughout the rest of the year, we are being formed as Jesus-followers, joining God’s world-wide mission to invite all people to participate in God’s kingdom. “Marking this day gives us an invitation to remember our sisters and brothers in places far from us,” said Samantha Lioi, associate pastor at Whitehall Mennonite. “Hearing scripture in three languages and being asked to choose from a variety of breads reminds us we are sojourners as Jesus was, not quite at home but creating welcome places wherever we pitch our tents.”

Hound of heaven in hot pursuit

Verle Brubaker, Swamp, pastorverle@justswamp.com

I fled Him down the nights and down the days
I fled Him down the arches of the years
I fled Him down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind, and in the midst of tears
I hid from him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped and shot precipitated
Adown titanic glooms of chasmed fears
From those strong feet that followed, followed after
But with unhurrying chase and unperturbed pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat, and a Voice beat,
More instant than the feet:
All things betray thee who betrayest me.
“The Hound of Heaven,” Francis Thompson, 1893

I was from the earliest years called to service. I helped my mother teach Good News Clubs throughout the year, folded bulletins for church, taught Sunday School classes, led summer camps. My dream was to be David Livingstone, Jr., serving in the mission field as a medical doctor.

Growing up in a pastor’s family with three uncles as pastors and three prior generations serving as pastors in the Brethren in Christ Church is quite a legacy to live into. It was overwhelming. The last thing I wanted, growing up in that environment, was to be a pastor.

During my teen years the call came particularly clearly as my father was exiting one of his pastoral assignments. I can remember tearfully hearing the call and anxiously saying to myself, “This can’t be happening.”

Resistance to the call took many of the forms of adolescent rebellion. Like Francis Thompson wrote in The Hound of Heaven, I tried many diversions and pathways that ultimately proved futile.

As I entered college I pursued the dream of medical missions. Yet I could not resist the call. I do not know exactly what triggered the final surrender but it happened in the middle of my sophomore year at Messiah College. At that time I switched my major from pre-med to Bible. An interim pastorate between my sophomore and junior years, seminary experiences, and Voluntary Service assignments further affirmed the call and my response.

I have found joy in learning about God’s church and his call to it. I have a passion for the church to be the church, living out the kingdom of God to a needy world. I have learned that my role as pastor is to help the church become the vehicle of God’s grace to the world, a sign of God’s will for heaven being lived out here on earth.

That sense of call has kept me focused over the more than 30 years I have served the church in the pastoral role. I do not regret the surrender. As Francis Thompson found at the conclusion of his flight from the Hound of Heaven:

All which I took from thee, I did’st but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might’st seek it in my arms.
All which thy child’s mistake fancies as lost,
I have stored for thee at Home.
Rise, clasp my hand, and come.
Halts by me that Footfall.
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?
Ah, Fondest, Blindest, Weakest,
I am He whom thou seekest. . . .

Conference announces staff transitions

Marlene Frankenfield, Franconia Conference Youth Minister and Campus Pastor at Christopher Dock Mennonite High School announced her resignation effective July 15. Marlene served in roles both with Dock and Conference for the last 12 years working tirelessly with young leaders. She said, “I plan to do a big exhale and I hope to live into the quote from Frederick Buechner, ‘The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”’

According to Ertell M. Whigham Jr., Conference Executive Minister, “I’m excited about Marlene’s future. She’s moving forward to continue to cultivate her ministry call. She’s contributed much to us as a community in bridging the world of youth, youth ministers, conference and Christopher Dock. I value her insights as well as commitments and look forward to building on her work over the next years.”

Currently, a youth ministry vision task force is working in conjunction with Eastern District Conference to extend and enhance Franconia Conference’s ongoing partnerships and commitments to youth ministry and leadership development. More details will be released as they are available on transition and future direction of youth ministry within the intercultural, missional and formational priorities of Franconia Conference.

Dr. Conrad Swartzentruber, Principal at Dock High School remarked, “Marlene has a deep passion for our youth and Christopher Dock greatly benefited from her presence. Her participatory approach enabled students to develop gifts of leadership and ministry. She met students where they were, always pointing them to Christ. While we will miss Marlene at Dock, we wish her God’s richest blessing as she continues to use her gifts in ministry to others.”

Emily Ralph of Bechtelsville, Pa has been named associate director of communication beginning May 1. Most recently she was part of the pastoral team at Swamp Mennonite Church in Quakertown, serving in a worship minister role and as cofounder of a communication/public relations business, Rethink Creative Services. Emily’s work will focus around web-based communication, conference assembly and development communication. She will be employed two days a week based at the Mennonite Conference Center in Harleysville and will be a full-time student at Eastern Mennonite Seminary in Pennsylvania.

According to Steve Kriss, Director of Communication, “Emily’s gifts and commitments complement our direction in providing more effective and frequent communication in a variety of venues, following up on recent requests from both conference board and constituency. Emily brings a commitment to excellent and professional quality work along with a passionate commitment to follow in the way of Christ. Her work will be an asset as we continue our journey together toward equipping, empowering and embracing God’s mission.”