Tag Archives: Taftsville Chapel Mennonite Fellowship

Love is a Verb and So Much More

by Wayne Nitzsche, Interim LEADership Minister and Pastor of Perkasie Mennonite Church

When taking elementary Greek as a seminary student, suddenly it dawned on me that my knowledge of the English language was woefully inadequate. I might not have been able to tell you that a verb “is a word used to describe an action, state, or occurrence, and forming the main part of the predicate of a sentence, such as hearbecomehappen,” as Google says. But I’d have been able to say that is an action word!

So when I learned the theme for Mennonite Church USA for 2017, launched on Valentine’s Day, was: “Love is a Verb” I knew about verbs. I’m just glad they didn’t go with: “Love is a predicate noun.”

As followers of Christ we believe that God is love and that we are called to participate in God’s love. Not by the cheap “I’ll love you if you love me” ways of our culture, but in the gritty work of loving God, ourselves and our neighbors.

This theme of Love is a Verb will be the theme at our denominational assembly in Orlando in early July. As we lead up to that, Perkasie Mennonite (PMC), and perhaps other Franconia Conference congregations have recently engaged this theme. Here at PMC we developed a six week worship series focusing on: love is… a verb, … obeying Christ, … mutual, …. fear-less, ….of God, and …. life-giving. The series has been a study of the book of First John.

“This word of life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us…so that our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” (1 John 1:2-3)

For the writer, the love of God is expressed in the revealed “word of life” (Jesus Christ) so that we might have fellowship (koinonia) with God and with each other. That love we’ve received is then expressed in love for each other in the local fellowship. Yet, scholars believe this struggling church was fractured because of theological diversity and a refusal to love in word and deed. In a series employing sharp contrasts comes the command to do the hard work of love.

Our love has been put to the test in very specific ways as we have walked with congregation members in life and death. I witnessed people expressing their love by sharing meals, sending cards, sitting in silence, in unceasing prayer and in many other acts of love. I know this happens on a daily basis, not only at PMC but in all the churches spread out over our conference.

We have members demonstrate active love – love as a verb – by urging us to speak into the political process with a voice of concern for peace and justice. We had hard discussions in our Sunday morning second hour around the issue of racism, and talked about what steps we might take to become allies.

As an Interim LEADership Minister with Franconia Conference, I’ve been relating to Alpha, Bally and Taftsville congregations. It’s been a joy to hear stories of love in action. Bally created a large banner with the words from the Welcoming Your Neighbors posters: “No matter where you are from, we are glad you are our neighbor” written in Arabic, Spanish and English. During a committee meeting, a stranger entered and expressed his appreciation for the sign. He is a recent immigrant from the Middle East and had been feeling very vulnerable.

Love in action is expressed at Taftsville in their recent addition of solar panels on the roof of their meeting place.  They are now generating electricity that goes back onto the grid, as they continue to implement steps to care for God’s creation. I could go on with other illustrations just in these three congregations.

Let’s continue to challenge ourselves and our congregations to make Christ’s love known in our local communities. May we also celebrate and testify to the ways it is already happening in small ways in the wonderful diversity that is Franconia Mennonite Conference.

“We know love by this that he laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” (1 John 3:16)

Disoriented Following

By Wayne Nitzsche, Interim LEADership Minister

I’ve been granted the privilege of walking with the congregations of Alpha, Bally and Taftsville as they engage the journey of calling a pastor. Jenifer Eriksen Morales has prepared them well for the steps in the process. But as in all of life, we make plans and sometimes it works to perfection and for a brief moment we believe we’re smartly in control. The rest of the time, life happens.

For example, recently I planned for a weekend trip to Taftsville, Vermont to have meetings with the Transition Team, Council and to preach on Sunday morning. The meetings went well, the congregation offered warm hospitality, and Vermont showcased its winter beauty, a dazzling display. Sunday afternoon when I’d plan to return home, four inches of new snow blanketed our vehicles. Vermonters for whom that is no big deal,
cautioned me about evening travel in blowing and drifting snow. I decided to spend an extra day and wait out the storm.  Initially I was frustrated. How could I miss a Monday morning and evening meeting and a day of work? When I let go of the temporary and minor disorientation of my schedule I was able to relax. I was gifted with an hour-long walk in the snow, and engaging conversation with my delightful hosts.

My change of plans was a minor inconvenience. But other situations feel more major. Heather Wolfe, member of the Taftsville Transition Team reflected on a piece of their four year pastoral search process. At one point, two pastoral candidates seemed to be real possibilities. However, both people withdrew their names from consideration. Dorcas Lehman, who was an interim pastor at that time, reminded the Team that Moses wandered in the wilderness for forty years before reaching the Promised Land. Surely Moses felt much disorientation, and disappointment.  Heather remarked that they hoped it didn’t take 34 more years to get to their Promised Land of finding a pastor!

In January, I visited Alpha Mennonite Church and was delighted to hear Krista Showalter Ehst preach a sermon called “Disoriented Following” based on the text from Matthew 4. Jesus begins ministry in a new place, and immediately calls two sets of brothers.

Krista began with her own story of disoriented following. She was about to graduate from seminary. A congregation inquired about her openness to a pastoral call. While on a silent retreat she sensed the Spirit validating her call to pastoral ministry. Soon there were multiple long-distance Skype interviews with a search committee resulting in a call to candidate at that church. Krista purchased plane tickets but then suddenly questions began to emerge from the search committee and the offer to be the pastoral candidate was withdrawn. Krista was obviously disoriented and devastated. Questions about that experience remain, but she testifies that it led to growth and new opportunities.

Krista says about Matthew 4:12: “Jesus himself is coming off a very disorienting experience–his temptation in the wilderness. Somehow, this disorienting wilderness experience seems to have brought him a renewed strength and clarified call as he now chooses this moment to begin his ministry.”

Later she says about the call of the brothers, James and John, and Peter and Andrew: “What a daring decision, and what a disorienting decision! They don’t even know what “following Jesus” means–in fact they may not even know that this guy’s name is Jesus yet! All they have to go on is his invitation and this cryptic phrase that they’re going to somehow fish for people. And so without any concrete sense of what lies ahead or where they will be led, they step out into this abyss of newness and change. I can’t imagine a more disorienting moment. I’m curious whether, an hour down the road, James turned to John or Peter turned to Andrew and said: “Brother, what in heck are we doing?”

Matthew has a purpose when he tells this story. And I think part of it is to remind his readers that the brothers’ disorienting beginning to their discipleship is indicative of the overall nature of discipleship. Being Jesus’ disciple has the potential to totally transform and change the shape of our lives–what we do with our lives, our relationship to family and friends and the various people and things we come to depend on. Being a disciple of Jesus and the kingdom he proclaims may just turn our lives upside down and call us away from everything familiar and secure.” This is just a little piece of Krista’s sermon. She agreed to send me the manuscript. Being the generous person she is, I’m sure she’d share it with you too.

What is your personal story of disoriented following? We all likely have many as we try to follow Jesus, and trust God’s loving care. We surely have them as congregations too. Often pastoral transition can be very disorienting for a congregation. It’s when congregations turn to the conference for leadership. It offers a great opportunity to live into the disorientation and grow by reconsidering current identity, context and mission.

Clearly we are in a disorienting time as a nation.  It offers the church the opportunity to differentiate itself from nationalism, patriotism, redemptive violence and consumerism that is often confused with American Christianity but has nothing to do with the gospel of Christ.

That Sunday at Alpha, Krista concluded her sermon by leading us into sharing the Lord’s Supper. Perhaps we need to more frequently rejoice in this gift that Jesus gave us. As we eat and drink may it prompt a powerful memory of his life; freely given for love of this beautiful but often disorienting world. May we live into these disorienting times, as individuals, and congregations so we may live courageously, oriented toward Christ’s kin-dom, coming on earth as it is in heaven.

Taftsville Chapel Mennonite Fellowship Awarded Solar Grant

At Fall Assembly, Taftsville Chapel Mennonite Fellowship in Vermont was featured in one of the Plant, Water, Grow videos, discussing their creation care initiatives. Part of that includes going solar. This week in the Mennonite World Review, is was announced that they will receive a $10,000 award from Mennonite Creation Care Network to assist in these efforts.

Read the article here; to see their testimony video (second story in the video) from assembly visit: https://vimeo.com/190770169.

Witnessing Out and About in the Villages

By Dorcas Lehman, Interim Pastor – Taftsville Chapel Mennonite Fellowship

Sometimes witness means continuing work that has lasted several generations, as it has taken root in the communities around the church.  People tell their neighbors that this is who the Mennonites are and what they do.  Then when the neighbors learn that an Interim Pastor is in the village, the witness resounds in conversations where I live, worship, and shop.

Taftsville ChapelMy Subaru was overdue for an oil change, so I took it to a local mechanic in Bridgewater Corners, Vermont.  I needed my out-of-state car to run smoothly while I serve as Interim Pastor at Taftsville Chapel Mennonite Fellowship.  “Take a good look,” I said, “this car has a lot of miles on it, over 100,000, and I am putting a lot more miles on it.”  He took one look and countered, “With that Outback, you are just getting started!” An Outback, even with PA license plate, fits right into the landscape in Vermont, and Chris the mechanic seemed happy to help.

He also smiled when he learned that I am a Mennonite pastor. All his growing up years, he camped at Bethany Birches in Plymouth, as did his mother before him, first as a camper and then as a counselor.  For fifty-plus years this Mennonite-affiliated camp and Franconia Conference Related Ministry has been part of his family story, and he tells it with delight.

I hear this in other places too:  “Have you seen the new state-of-the art pavilion?” asks another neighbor at a dinner in the village with friends, an ecumenical array of guests around the table, mostly neighboring Catholics.  He is a donor, and he admires its architecture.  The Mennonites are known for camp, and for being in the community, adds another guest. They volunteer all the time.

Resurrection Walk In a place and time when only 17% of the state’s residents regularly attend houses of worship, the lowest church attendance in the nation, it is no small witness to be known for generating a sense of community ownership of a camp that cares well for local children.  When the stories of Jesus are shared in the way of Jesus, a community will remember that camp was invitational, playful, and welcoming.

While Mennonites are also known for volunteerism in their communities, that witness seems to enrich and flow with the local culture, rather than contrasting with it.   “Vermonters by and large are a quiet people who recognize and appreciate hard work and service,” says Dave Beidler, a life-time member of the Taftsville congregation.  Vermonters readily join hand in hand with their neighbors as needs arise.

Taftsville signThere is yet another kind of witness that neighbors tell about Vermont Mennonites.  I hear it from Charlie Wilson, long-time resident and observer of Taftsville, the hamlet where my interim congregation worships.  I am sitting in a presentation at the Woodstock Historical Society, where he is telling stories about Taftsville’s recent past.  “If you walk by the Chapel on a summer Sunday morning and the windows are open,” he tells the group, “you will hear the unsurpassed acappella singing of the Mennonites, and at Christmas they serenade the village with carols.”

Sometimes witness is the quiet service of being and doing with neighbors, and sometimes it is the sounds of our singing that float out the windows into the village during our service of worship.