Tag Archives: Whitehall Mennonite Church

Franconia Conference and Its Properties

by Conrad Martin, Director of Finance

Did you know that Franconia Mennonite Conference (FMC) owns a shopping center in Souderton and a farm in Harleysville?  Okay technically, FMC doesn’t own any property.  Property ownership belongs to Franconia Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities (FMBMC).  Yes, that organization founded in 1918 to buy church properties for planting churches and to send missionaries to foreign countries still exists.  Its mission has evolved over the years, and while it no longer sends missionaries, it still owns properties.  The missionary-sending component of FMBMC was incorporated into the mission of the conference and its member congregations in the 1990s and the FMBMC board was brought under the authority of the conference board, to function as a captive corporation of FMC.  The purpose of FMBMC these days is to manage real estate on behalf of the conference and support the conference financially, and therefore its “doing business as” name is “FMC Properties”.

FMBMC continues to hold the ownership of a couple of church properties, Whitehall Mennonite Church being one of those churches.  The other church property — the former Peace Mennonite Church in East Greenville, PA — is being used by Project Haven, a ministry from the partnership of a few FMC and Eastern District Conference churches.

FMBMC purchased the Indian Creek Road farm in 1954 and established the Mission of Mercy, a ministry of rehabilitation for alcoholic men.  This continued until 1967 when a mission to those with  intellectual and developmental disabilities was begun on the farm.  This ministry evolved into Indian Creek Haven, which then became Indian Creek Foundation (ICF).  ICF eventually outgrew the farm, and in 2003 it became the birthing grounds for MCC Material Resource Center of Harleysville (MRC).  When MRC outgrew the farm in 2010, the conference decided to make the property a permanent farm.  The development rights for the farm were sold in 2012 and a local Community-Supported Agriculture organization, called Living Hope Farm, was established and began to rent the farm and has continued to grow since then.  As a connection with the past, an ICF group home continues to operate on the farm.  In keeping with its farming heritage, the Indian Creek Road farm has provided a seed bed for the startup of several organizations over the many years of FMBMC ownership.

FMBMC purchased the Souderton Center from a partnership of four Mennonite businessmen.  This group had initially purchased the shopping center property in 1986 to both provide a home for the conference offices, and to support the conference financially.  They renovated the entire center and in 2001 sold the property to FMBMC.  While the conference offices have relocated elsewhere since 2001, the Souderton Center continues to provide financial support to the conference.  When you shop at any one of the businesses of the shopping center — Care & Share Shoppes, Weaver Reckner & Reinhart Dentistry, TriValley Primary Care, ParmaJohn’s, or Ten Thousand Villages — you support the ministries of the Franconia Mennonite Conference.

In 1996, the conference board developed a statement providing rationale for continuing to own property, concluding that “some property is necessary and even advantageous for carrying out the work of the church”.  The statement also ensures that “all decisions about property ownership and the management thereof should reflect the priorities of the church” and that property ownership and use of funds should “reflect the best interests of the congregations of the conference and their mission“.  Keeping property ownership with FMBMC frees the conference board and staff to focus their energies on the mission of the church, leaving property management decisions to the properties board, consisting of persons with experience in property management.

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.

 

Collaborative Youth Ministry in the Lehigh Valley

11894513_866533416748400_313644984214870327_oThe Lehigh Valley is home to some of Franconia Conference’s thriving congregations that operate on very limited funds. In order to aid those congregations work in music ministry and with children and youth, Franconia Conference provided a Missional Operations Grant (MOG) to both Whitehall Mennonite Church and Ripple-Allentown to aid them in maintaining an MCC East Coast service worker to provide music and youth ministry.

This service worker, Danilo Sanchez, has been an asset to the Lehigh Valley and the broader conference. Here is what Pastor Rose Bender of Whitehall had to say about the work this MOG is supporting:

“Whitehall Mennonite Church (WMC) is a small but vibrant congregation with an increasing Karen refugee population.  Some Sundays, it feels like the children and youth outnumber the12227141_625635004242784_7705795286382547842_n adults!  It is a great ‘problem’ to have, but it has continued to be a challenge for me as a pastor that is only to work 20 hours a week to navigate this and support our youth.  When we dreamed about working with other small Anabaptist congregations several years ago, we still weren’t sure how we would financially be able to support anyone who could be a youth minister to our young people.  We are so grateful for Danilo Sanchez’ work with the Lehigh Valley Youth.  With the support of RIPPLE, WMC, Franconia’s Matching Grant, and MCC East Coast, we have been able to support Danilo for 12017552_610564622416489_5016454301448657351_othis missional experiment with the Lehigh Valley Youth.  He is able to work with youth from RIPPLE, Vietnamese Gospel, WMC, and the broader Karen Community. He has also done volunteer work in the community to connect with kids outside the church.  Urban youth ministry is very different from other youth ministry and we are learning together how to start a relational, intergenerational youth ministry from the ground up.  It’s challenging and messy. It requires flexibility and contextualization.  This is work and these are kids who would not be getting the attention, support, and pastoring without the support of MCC and Franconia Conference.  We are grateful for this on-going commitment to support folks on the margins!  And look forward to what God will do in year 3 of this experiment!”

A Glimpse of Heaven: Multi-Congregation Gathering in Allentown

By Esther Good

IMG_4269On Sunday, August 30th, RIPPLE-Allentown, Vietnamese Gospel Mennonite Church, and Whitehall Mennonite Church joined together for worship at Cedar Beech Park in Allentown, PA. As these three congregations spent time getting to know one another and praising the Lord, it was a glimpse of heaven with many nations and languages coming together as brothers and sisters.

Some sat at picnic tables under a pavilion or on the ground under the shade of trees, while others were hard at work around the outskirts of the group, grilling hotdogs and preparing for the potluck meal that would follow.  Children marched around waving brightly colored streamers as we began the service with songs of praise. A choir shared beautiful music in the Karen language, and the scripture was read in English, Spanish, Vietnamese and Burmese.  Members from each congregation shared about their walk with God. The sharing ranged from stories of persecution in Vietnam, to a first experience of summer camp at Spruce Lake Retreat.

IMG_4337The service closed with a meaningful time of prayer. Representatives from each church took turns sharing the needs of their congregation. Someone from another congregation then came along side them and prayed for those specific needs.

After the service, there was a time of food, fellowship, and fun.  Members from each congregation participated in weaving of rugs as part of Woven Welcome, a community-based art project started in December by artist Jill Odegaard. IMG_4459 The woven rugs represent the interconnectedness of all individuals. One person would weave a strand of cloth through one side of the rug, and pass if off to a partner on the other side who would complete the process.  This allowed members from different congregations to work together and spend time in conversation.  The finished rugs will be added to the Woven Welcome instillation, which will be on display at the Allentown Art Museum until Sunday, October 11, 2015.

IMG_4528As the adults spent time in fellowship together, the children played joyfully in a nearby creek.  It was a wonderful afternoon spent enjoying God’s creation and the company of brothers and sisters in Christ.

 
Additional Pictures

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Cultivating His Call as He Nurtures Urban Youth

Danilo Sanchez photoDanilo Sanchez grew up in Franconia Conference. From his time in Boyertown where he was able to explore the gifts God has given him, to being the youth minister in the Lehigh Valley area for three Franconia churches, the conference has watched him grow into his calling. Danilo was licensed toward ordination last year, and continues to nurture urban youth in the conference. Find out how he came to know and accept God’s call on his life through his call story:

Boyertown Mennonite Church is where my journey began. I remember the first time an adult asked me to be the worship leader for a Sunday service. I felt so honored. Then later I was asked if I would like to preach. I don’t remember how I did, but the congregation was so supportive. I liked serving and being in leadership. I decided I would try teaching the Wednesday night youth bible study and Sunday School some times. Around that same time some youth wanted to start leading worship the first Sundays of the month so I began to help out with that as well. I really enjoyed leading worship; worship made me feel close to God and I enjoyed leading others in encountering God.

Having a church like Boyertown was exactly what I needed. A church that was willing to let a young guy try out some of his gifts.

I went to some youth leadership retreats during high school and really tried to discover what my gifts were. I knew I wanted to serve God in some way, but at the time never really considered being a pastor. I was learning to serve God and willing to take the risk of saying “yes”, but I felt too unworthy to be in such a position of leadership. I think that was the biggest thing that I had to overcome as I sorted out my call to ministry. Like Moses, I wanted to come up with excuses as to why I couldn’t lead.

When I was preparing to go to college, I was at a bit of a cross roads. I wasn’t really sure what direction I wanted to head in life. I remember writing a covenant to God in my journal, “God I want to be your servant. I’m willing to follow you anywhere.” Little did I realize where that would lead me.

I liked the idea of being a psychologist, so I declared my psychology major as I entered Eastern University (St. Davids, PA). I figured I could have a good paying job and then maybe volunteer my time for the church on the side.

I stayed involved at Boyertown during my first semester at Eastern, leading Bible studies and helping with the youth, and after the Winter Youth Lock-in, someone’s comments changed the direction I was going. An adult volunteer commented that many of the youth looked up to me, that I seemed to enjoy being around the youth, and maybe I should be a youth pastor.

I look back now and know that I needed the affirmation of my gifts from the church to discover my call to ministry. The thought had never really occurred to me. Me? A youth pastor? I needed to think more about it.

As a way of testing the waters, I decided to take a youth ministry class. Something just clicked. I felt alive. I felt energized. This made sense. I remember praying, “God, give me passion if this is your will.”

I changed my major to youth ministry and things just took off from there. I started doing internships at different churches — Good Shepherd Community, Souderton, Hereford Mennonite (now Butter Valley Community Church), and Philadelphia Praise Center– to discover and develop my gifts. I learned many things about myself and God during those experiences. There were several times that my gifts and calling were affirmed, whether it was through words of others, relationships, or experiences where I felt God affirming me. It had become clear to me that God was calling me to be a youth pastor.

As I approached graduation from Eastern University, the logical next step for me was seminary. I headed to Eastern Mennonite Seminary (Harrisonburg, VA) and during my three years there, I was the seminary intern youth pastor at Eastside Church. As a church plant, there was no established youth ministry, so for the first time I was able to take all my knowledge and create the youth ministry that I wanted. Needless to say, it was both exciting and terrifying. I had some good success stories, but probably more failures. All in all, the experience was very formative and Eastside was another place for me to cultivate my gifts and call.

Currently, I am living in Allentown, PA and serving as the Lehigh Valley Youth Pastor for Whitehall, Ripple, Vietnamese Gospel, and Christ Fellowship. I would have never imagined that this is where God is calling me to be – urban ministry. I always pictured myself in a suburban setting where I would be nice and comfortable. But after being in Allentown for almost a year, it is clear that this is where God is calling me to be. I have never felt more fully alive. Sure I’m still making mistakes and learning new things, but I’m following God’s call in my life and finding my pastoral identity.

As I reflect on my call, it becomes clear to me what happens from a simple prayer and willingness to say yes to God, no matter where it takes you. There has been some wrestling and some discerning, but God’s call in my life has become clear.

Danilo Sanchez is the youth minister for Whitehall Mennonite Church, Ripple, and Vietnamese Gospel in the Allentown, PA area. For more about Danilo’s work as an urban youth minister check out his blog post for The Gathering Place.