Tag Archives: Whitehall

“Where in the world?”: a glimpse into the work of a conference minister

by Sharon Williams

In the early 90s, a popular children’s television game show called “Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?” was broadcast on PBS. The show was based on a series of computer games designed to help viewers sharpen their geography skills.

In Franconia Conference, you could ask a similar question—“Where in the world is Steve Kriss?”—and in the process, learn many wonderful things about people and congregations of Franconia Conference. You’ll need a map of the east coast of the United States to trace Steve’s travels; geographical stretch, in Steve’s case, is an understatement.

Steve preaches often with the congregations the he serves alongside as LEADership minister. On February 22,  Steve preached twice in South Philly with Adrian Suryajaya who interpreted into Indonesian, first at Philadelphia Praise Center then at Indonesian Light Church. The congregations are about a half mile apart but reach different communities due to worship style and cultural backgrounds. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.
Steve preaches often with the congregations the he serves alongside as LEADership minister. On February 22, Steve preached twice in South Philly with Adrian Suryajaya who interpreted into Indonesian, first at Philadelphia Praise Center then at Indonesian Light Church. The congregations are about a half mile apart but reach different communities due to worship style and cultural backgrounds. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

Steve carries LEADership minister responsibilities for 12 congregations, located as far north as Vermont and as far south as Georgia. Currently, four of the congregations are in pastoral search processes, and another is working on a pastoral review. Steve’s goal is to nurture healthy relationships with all the congregations he walks alongside.

Next, watch for the locations of new congregations. Steve is often involved with helping them to launch their ministries and build connections in the conference and denomination.

“It’s a privilege to walk with them. I enjoy the energy and enthusiasm they bring to God’s work,” Steve says. Right now, Steve works with three new congregations emerging in South Philly.

Some of the congregations Steve works with are in the same area, such as the Lehigh Valley trio of Whitehall Mennonite Church, Ripple and Vietnamese Gospel Mennonite Church.

“Networking, creativity, and thinking outside the box are some of Steve’s greatest gifts,” says Rose Bender, pastor of the Whitehall congregation. “He’s always asking, ‘What might God be doing here? ‘How can we dream God’s vision?’ He sees the big picture and helps us make vital connections. Each conference staff person has a niche and expertise to offer us. These are the things our congregation appreciates about our relationship with Steve.”

At the new conference center on the campus of Christopher Dock Mennonite High School, Steve serves with the conference board’s ministerial committee as its staff person. This group guides the licensing and ordaining processes for new ministers and cares for credential transfers when ministers move in and out of the conference. The committee also provides continuing education for credentialed leaders. In this role, Steve also provides coordination among the LEADership ministers.

On the road again, Steve preaches usually twice a month around the conference, and handles all manner of inquiries about congregational leadership.

If you watch closely, you might find young adults and new pastors “on location” with Steve. Mentoring is an important part of cultivating leaders for the church. You will find him teaching in a classroom for Eastern Mennonite Seminary’s satellite classrooms in Philadelphia, Norristown, or Souderton. Sometimes his many travels double as field trips.

Look behind the scenes, too. As director of the conference’s communication team, Steve’s travels around the conference inform the planning and writing for Intersectings (the conference e-zine), Intersections (the newsletter), the conference’s website and other communication tools. The goal is to help make connections in the conference, and raise awareness of what is happening conference-wide.

In any given week, Steve may be found in enough places to highlight in a half-hour game show from Blooming Glen, Pennsylvania to Bridgewater Corners, Vermont or Sky Cafe in South Philly. But these travels mean more than that; they’re part of cultivating God’s dream in all of the places the people of Franconia conference live, work and worship.

Sharon K. Williams is a musician, editor and congregational/non-profit consultant. She serves the Lord with the Nueva Vida Norristown New Life congregation as minister of worship.

On the road with LEADership ministers

by Sharon Williams

Aldo_CA2014What comes to mind when you imagine Franconia Conference LEADership ministers and the work they do? You may be surprised to know that the new conference office at Christopher Dock Mennonite High School is probably not the place to find them, although a phone call there will certainly get you connected.

Steve Kriss, Jenifer Eriksen Morales, Aldo Siahaan, John Bender, Noel Santiago, and Ertell Whigham are always on the go. Each one connects with anywhere from three to 12 congregations in Vermont, northern Pennsylvania, the Lehigh Valley, southeastern Pennsylvania, and Georgia. They give much time and energy to congregations in transition and emerging congregations. An estimated 50 percent of conference congregations are in the midst of transition and/or growth.

Pastoral leadership is a common transition. Some congregations choose to work with an intentional interim pastor who stands in the gap and prepares the congregation to receive a new pastor. The LEAD ministers provide guidance for both search processes, and support elders and lay leaders in managing the congregation’s current and future priorities.

Jenifer Eriksen Morales, minister of transitional ministries, also works with other Mennonite Church USA (MCUSA) conferences on the east coast to train intentional interim pastors, and serves on the MCUSA task force for interim pastoral ministries.

Emerging and growing congregations are another focus. These congregations are high maintenance, but in a very good way. LEAD ministers help to address staffing needs, work with pastors who are new to the Anabaptist faith, and build relationships—in essence, anything that propels the missional vision forward.

The work of the LEAD ministers sometimes crisscrosses when their congregations work together. The Lehigh Valley youth ministry partnership is shared by the Whitehall, Ripple and Vietnamese Gospel congregations and led by Danilo Sanchez. Vietnamese Gospel Church in Allentown and Philadelphia Praise Center are partnering in a joint worship and outreach ministry with the Vietnamese community in south Philly. The LEAD ministers must also nurture their relationships with each other so their collaborations are fluid and fruitful.

Last summer, Aldo Siahaan and Steve Kriss received a “Macedonia call” (Acts 16:9-10). Could they meet with a Mara (Burmese) church during their visit with Georgia Praise Center leaders? This congregation in Atlanta is part of a network of Mara churches in Indianapolis, Indiana, Baltimore, Maryland, and Charlotte, North Carolina. The network is reaching out to Mennonite conferences on the east coast for assistance in establishing pastoral leadership. The exploratory relationship has many possibilities.

“As an immigrant pastor myself, it’s exciting to walk with the Mara Christians, to see them reach their destiny as a people, a church in this country,” says Aldo. “If they choose to join Mennonite Church USA, how will we receive each other and grow in ministry together?”

Each LEAD minister offers her or his unique gifts to their congregations. Noel enjoys helping pastors, elders and lay leaders experience the values and practices of intercessory prayer. Jenifer weaves in a missional focus with unchurched neighbors, adapted from the Kairos in Chaos ministry she’s involved with in Souderton. Aldo enjoys a natural affinity with the Mara church through their similar languages of Indonesian and Malay. Steve and Ertell always bring best practices of intercultural competencies to the mix.

Looking for your congregation’s LEAD minister? She or he may be in a meeting, consulting with pastors or elders in a coffee shop, or in a car on the way to your church.

Sharon K. Williams is a musician, editor and congregational/non-profit consultant. She serves the Lord with the Nueva Vida Norristown New Life congregation as the minister of worship.

Conferences end Peace and Justice Minister role

by Stephen Kriss, Franconia director of communication

Samantha LioiAfter a two-and-a-half-year experiment with a new model for peace and justice ministry in Eastern District and Franconia Conferences, conference leaders ended the contract with Samantha Lioi (Whitehall congregation) as Peace and Justice Minister on November 30, 2014 due to lack of funds. The peace and justice role relied on above-budget giving to the two conferences from individuals and congregations.  Contributions did not match ongoing expenses, leading to the position’s termination.

After consulting with leaders from both conferences, Franconia Conference issued a 90-day intent to discontinue Lioi’s contract in August 2014 if sufficient funds were not raised within that timeframe.  According to Franconia executive minister Ertell M. Whigham, there was a strong desire to find a way to keep the position funded and the conferences appreciated a last-ditch effort from numerous congregations to bridge the funding gap.

Both conferences hope to continue the important work that Lioi began in this experimental position. The role will be further reimagined within both Conference structures and alongside the Peace and Justice Committee serving both conference communities.

Lioi was appreciated by many congregations and leaders in her pastoral presence, work at initiating congregational peace representatives, and collaboration around important issues.  Both Whigham and Eastern District conference minister Warren Tyson expressed words of appreciation for Lioi’s ministry.  “We intend to find another way to extend Samantha’s good work,” said Whigham.  “She contributed passionately toward the ministry of Franconia Conference congregations. Her work is appreciated and her presence among conference staff will be deeply missed.”

Delegates commit to waiting, hoping, discerning at Assembly

Bob & Bonnie Stevenson
Charlie Ness (Perkiomenville) and Bonnie Stevenson pray for Bob Stevenson before he brings the message during Friday night worship. Photo by Emily Ralph

by Emily Ralph, associate director of communication

“Waiting on God is expectant and hopeful,” declared Marta Castillo, Franconia Conference’s outgoing assistant moderator, at the opening of the United Franconia and Eastern District Conferences’ 2014 Assembly.  The theme of this year’s gathering, held November 14-15 at Penn View Christian School in Souderton, Pa., was “Esperando: Waiting & Hoping.”

“We’re not waiting for something, we’re waiting for somebody,” added Bob Stevenson during Friday evening worship.  “Waiting is not just a passive sitting back.  And so the word I have is that we wait ‘until’ [we receive the power of the Spirit] and then we get up and go!”

Stevenson and his wife Bonnie were called and commissioned as missionaries to Mexico at a Franconia Conference Assembly 26 years before.  They were celebrated Friday night as they reached a milestone in their ministry: the transition from raising missionary support from the States to full funding through their congregation.  “I thank the Lord for allowing us to be a part of this conference,” Bonnie responded after she and Bob were presented with a Spanish fraktur created by Salford congregation member Roma Ruth.  “There are many times on Friday morning when we have our prayer together … that we pray for each one of your congregations by name.”

praying for Danilo Sanchez
Conference leaders pray for Danilo Sanchez, Whitehall, one of this year’s newly credentialed leaders. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

The theme of leaders raised up and called from within the Conference continued on Saturday during the joint delegate session, when the gathering recognized a number of newly credentialed leaders who were licensed out of Franconia congregations.  “Where do our pastors come from?” asked Steve Kriss, Franconia Conference director of leadership cultivation.  “They come because you invite them.”

This year also saw the credentialing of leaders from other conferences and denominational backgrounds, adding to Franconia’s increasing diversity.  “Diversity is a catalyst for growth,” reflected Jessica Hedrick, Souderton congregation, during table feedback.  Her table encouraged conference delegates to prioritize prayer and, as corporate discernment continued, to recognize “the opportunity to learn from each other instead of necessarily trying to get everyone to agree.”

KrisAnne Swartley praying
KrisAnne Swartley, Doylestown, joins in prayer for the other congregations at her table. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

The theme of listening well and together wove through many of the stories and hopes shared throughout the weekend.  Danilo Sanchez, Whitehall congregation, named three areas that it seemed the majority of delegates were wrestling with: “Listening to the Spirit, how to sit with our differences, and how to love like Christ.”

The Franconia Conference Board asked delegates to consider what kind of conversations needed to be planned leading up to the Mennonite Church USA convention in Kansas City next summer, knowing the likelihood that Convention will include decisions about denominational structure and human sexuality.  Many delegates agreed that the questions of structure and sexuality only skimmed the surface; perhaps there were other questions that should be asked instead.

delegates conferring
Delegates discussed difficult issues around tables with grace and laughter. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

Josh Meyer, Franconia congregation, wondered how the upcoming dialogue could form those participating into the image of Christ.  “How we have this conversation is just as important as any decisions that we make,” he said.  “It doesn’t matter what we decide in Kansas City; if we don’t treat each other as sisters and brothers in Christ, then we’ve missed the point.”

Throughout the weekend, conference leadership encouraged delegates to actively wait on the Spirit, to take time for stillness and listening, and to collaborate in acts of justice and mercy.  “We must not become paralyzed by the issues of the day,” encouraged Eastern District moderator Brenda Oelschlager, “but move forward in love … as God leads us along new paths.”

Several new paths highlighted included a new Lehigh Valley collaboration in hiring Sanchez as youth minister, welcoming two new Philadelphia congregations (Centro de Alabanza and Indonesian Light Church) into an exploration of membership in Franconia Conference, and the move of the Mennonite Conference Center to the campus of Christopher Dock Mennonite High School in Lansdale (Pa.).

Aldo Siahaan introduces new congregations
LEADership Minister Aldo Siahaan introduces two new congregations exploring membership in Franconia Conference: Centro de Alabanza and Indonesian Light Church. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

Although 2014 saw the beginnings of new ministries and the licensing of many new pastors, it also brought the deaths of three influential church leaders: Paul Lederach, John Drescher, and Israel Bolaños.  In reflecting on their legacies, Kriss encouraged delegates to remember them by carrying on their work of teaching, writing, and mission.

“The gospel isn’t good news until someone takes it and goes with it,” Bob Stevenson agreed.  The power which sends the church is not political or force, but “a power that is a ‘preach the gospel to the poor’ power, it’s a ‘healing the broken heart’ power….  What will change this world is us, God’s people.”

Even when we doubt, God fulfills promises

by Danilo Sanchez, Whitehall

Danilo Sanchez with his wife, Mary, and daughter Emilia.
Danilo Sanchez with his wife, Mary, and daughter Emilia.

In my experience, waiting and doubting have a direct correlation. As the length of time that we have to wait increases, so does our doubt. Over time, we begin to ask ourselves, “Is God really listening?” “Does God really care?” “Can this really happen?” “How long do I have to wait?”

So many times, we get tired of waiting for God so we begin to doubt and consider taking things into our own hands. The story of Abraham and Sarah comes to mind as an example: Yahweh promised Abraham descendants as numerous as the stars, but too many years had passed and doubt began to set in. In Genesis 16, the “waiting and doubting” couple decides to take control. Sarah convinces Abraham to have a son through the servant Hagar.

I find it a little strange that the Lord doesn’t intervene at this point to remind Abraham of his promise, but lets their actions unfold. Ishmael is born and blessed, and the “waiting and doubting” couple assumes this is the son that was promised. Yahweh continues to tell Abraham that Sarah will give birth to a son in her old age, however. Both Abraham and Sarah laugh at this idea as the possibility of having their own child seems impossible. Nevertheless, Isaac is born to Sarah and the now trusting couple goes on to have many descendants.

What I learn from this story is that even though Abraham and Sarah doubted God’s promise and took their own action, the Lord still blessed them and fulfilled his promise.

In Acts 1 we see a similar story of waiting, doubting, and taking action. Jesus has promised the Holy Spirit to the disciples and instructs them to wait in Jerusalem. The 11 disciples, Jesus’ mother Mary, and other women and followers gather together in a room to pray. After nothing has happened for weeks, the gathered group gets tired of waiting and praying. So Peter, who’s used to taking action, gets the idea that maybe if there were 12 disciples like when Jesus was around, the Holy Spirit would come. The group casts lots and by chance Matthias gets chosen.

The fact that Matthias is never mentioned again in Scripture makes me wonder why this story was included. What I think this story is trying to teach us, though, is that while Peter had good intentions for his actions, his solution to speed up the process of receiving the Spirit had little result. The disciples still had to wait for the Father’s timing to send the Holy Spirit.

So just as in the Genesis story, we learn that despite the actions of the “waiting and doubting,” God still fulfilled his promise.

What if, instead of being quick to take action, Peter had just waited and continued to pray with the disciples? What if in our “waiting and doubting,” God is calling us to more prayer? Perhaps that is a lesson the church needs to learn in our context today.

These stories give me hope that even when we push ahead with our own agenda or ideas, God can still work through us and accomplish his will. I know there have been times after waiting on God’s answer in my life, ministry, and call that I began to doubt and decided take my own action. It was just too hard to wait. But even if I didn’t make the right choice, God was still faithful to me. As I look to the future, I must continue to learn to wait for God. And as we are forced to wait, we must learn to commit ourselves to prayer. For it is in waiting and praying that we discern the voice of God and the activity of the Spirit.

As we go about our lives and ministries, we will have times where we are called to wait, and this waiting can be anywhere from a few days to several years. The longer we have to wait, the easier it will be to doubt and lose hope. When we find ourselves in times of “waiting and doubting,” however, we must not forget that God is still with us on the journey and is faithful to complete his promises.

Our theme for this year’s joint Conference Assembly with Eastern District Conference is “Esperando: Waiting & Hoping.”  Conference Assembly will be held November 14-15 at Penn View Christian School in Souderton, Pa.  For more information: assembly.franconiaconference.org.

New IVEP participants join Conference communities

IVEP Participants 2014
IVEP participants pose for a photo during last week’s orientation. Front: Kim Dyer (MCC East Coast IVEP Coordinator), Solger Kim (Korea), Linlin Wang (China), Crecensia Wasama Mwita (Tanzania), Rubina Budha (Nepal), Sambath Nget (Cambodia).  Back: Luis Torres Diaz (Colombia), Elisante Lulu (Tanzania), Binod Gaire (Nepal), XiaoHua Wen (China), Martha Masilo (Lesotho), Gavi Luna Barguan (Colombia), Musa Manbefor Koreri Wambrauw (Indonesia)

This fall, four young adults from around the globe will use their gifts and time to support various Franconia Conference-related ministries. All four are participants in Mennonite Central Committee’s International Volunteer Exchange Program (IVEP), a year-long exchange that brings Christian young adults to the United States and Canada. Participants live with host families and volunteer with MCC partner agencies.

This year, local IVEPers include:

Binod Gaire, from Nepal. He will serve at Quakertown Christian School and his host family attends Rocky Ridge Mennonite Church.

Rubina Budha, from Nepal. She will work at the retirement community Living Branches. Her host family for the first part of the year attends Souderton Mennonite Church, and her host family for the second half attends Zion Mennonite.

Ntsena Martha Masilo, from Lesotho. She will be working at Ten Thousand Villages. Her host families attend Plains Mennonite and Zion Mennonite.

Solger Kim, from Korea. She will serve at Lutheran Children & Family Service in Allentown, and will connect with Whitehall Mennonite Church and Ripple Allentown

MCC encourages church members to reach out to IVEP participants and welcome them into the community, and pray for them, that their time in service with MCC proves fruitful and life-giving, as they work and serve in the name of Christ.

Three congregations credential new leaders on Pentecost

by Sheldon C. Good

Many Christian congregations commemorate the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday, and three Franconia Conference congregations in particular acknowledged the Spirit’s movement through the credentialing of leaders for ministry.

On June 8, all occurring in southeastern Pennsylvania, Donna Merow was ordained and Danilo Sanchez and Phil Bergey were licensed for ministry. Their credentialing brings the number of credentialed leaders in the conference to approximately 160 men and women serving in at least seven states and four countries.

Merow was ordained for pastoral ministry at the Ambler congregation, where she has pastored for more than four years. LEAD minister Jenifer Eriksen Morales led Merow’s credentialing. Merow chose to be ordained on Pentecost Sunday after discovering she was confirmed in the United Methodist church on Pentecost 40 years prior.

Donna Merow's ordination
LEADership Minister Jenifer Eriksen Morales and members of the congregation pray at the ordination of Donna Merow (seated center), pastor of Ambler Mennonite Church. Photo by Andrew Huth.

“The 40-year journey from one public confession of faith to another,” Merow said, “has been a significant one for me — including marriage and becoming a mother and grandmother, completing college and graduate work, worshipping in multiple traditions other than the one in which I grew up, and facing the challenges of breast cancer and kidney disease.”

Merow was only 12 when the possibility of religious vocation was first suggested to her. Between now and then, she “worked at a church camp, dropped out of college, cared for blind students, got married, and raised two daughters.” She has also been an active participant in churches from several denominations: Methodist, Baptist, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, and Mennonite.

She described her credentialing ceremony as “an outward acknowledgement of an inward change in identity as I became a pastor in the process of practicing pastoral care.”

Sanchez was licensed for youth ministry among multiple Anabaptist congregations in and around Allentown. LEAD minister Steve Kriss led the credentialing. Sanchez is primarily working with Whitehall and Ripple, both Franconia congregations, by leading music or teaching children, but is also working alongside Karen Fellowship (independent), Iglesia Menonita Evangelica Restoracion (Lancaster Conference), Christ Fellowship (Eastern District Conference), and Vietnamese Gospel (Franconia Conference).

Sanchez said his licensing felt like an important personal and professional step because many people and institutions, including Franconia Conference and Whitehall, “are recognizing my gifts and willing to walk alongside me as a pastor.” Sanchez, grew up in the Boyertown congregation and has interned with both Souderton congregation and Philadelphia Praise Center while a student at Eastern University. He graduated from Eastern Mennonite Seminary last year with a Master of Divinity degree.

Members of Whitehall Mennonite Church pray over Danilo Sanchez
Members of Whitehall Mennonite Church pray over Danilo Sanchez. Photo by Patti Connolly.

“I finally feel like a pastor,” he said. “I am so honored that God has called me to be a leader. I’m thankful for the ways that Whitehall and Ripple will shape me into the leader God has called me to be.”

Bergey was licensed as interim lead pastor of the Blooming Glen congregation, where he has been a member for about 20 years. Ertell Whigham, executive minister of Franconia Conference, led the credentialing. Bergey is former conference executive of Franconia Mennonite Conference.

In the wake of Firman Gingerich’s resignation as Blooming Glen’s lead pastor, the congregation’s board invited Bergey to assume a part-time interim lead pastorate. The congregation is searching for a long-term pastor.

Phil Bergey
Phil Bergey, interim lead pastor of Blooming Glen.

Bergey preached the morning of his licensing, focusing on the story of Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 12. He framed the commencement of his pastoral leadership and the pastoral search processes not as the beginning of a journey but the continuation of a journey. That journey, he said, includes the history of the Blooming Glen congregation, the Anabaptist tradition, and the Christian church, going all the way back to Abraham and Sarah.

Bergey said: “Blooming Glen, like other congregations, has been through pastoral transitions before; it is simply part of a congregation’s life together. And pastoral transitions are especially true for a congregation that is approaching 300 years of age.”

Lehigh Valley congregations partner to support youth minister

Danilo Sanchez at Lock-in
Danilo Sanchez accompanies Lehigh Valley junior youth to the lock-in this spring.

by Sheldon C. Good

HARLEYSVILLE, Pa. – Some of the most diverse growth in Anabaptism along the East Coast is occurring in Allentown, Pennsylvania’s fastest growing city and now a city that is majority Hispanic. Even so, none of the city’s broad range of Anabaptist congregations has enough resources or even youth to maintain a youth pastor. That’s why Franconia Conference, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) East Coast, and six Lehigh Valley congregations have come together to hire a half-time youth worker, Danilo Sanchez, to minister across the various Anabaptist communities.

Through this role, Sanchez, who graduated this spring from Eastern Mennonite Seminary in Harrisonburg, Va., is involved regularly with a diverse combination of congregations unlike those served by just about any other Anabaptist minister in the U.S.: Karen Fellowship, Iglesia Menonita Evangelica Restoracion, Christ Fellowship, Vietnamese Gospel Mennonite Church, Whitehall Mennonite Church, and Ripple. Franconia Conference, MCC East Coast, Whitehall, and Ripple share financial support of the position.

Sanchez is primarily responsible for organizing gatherings for Lehigh Valley youth, leading worship at the Whitehall and Ripple congregations, organizing after-school youth activities, and engaging the myriad Lehigh Valley Anabaptist congregations.

“I’m excited to join the vision of creating a context where next-generation intercultural Anabaptist leadership can flourish and strengthening relationships across Anabaptist communities in the Allentown area,” Sanchez said. “While I have experience working with youth in many types of Mennonite churches, this will be a new challenge. I never expected myself to be in urban ministry, but that seems to be where God is calling me, and I’m willing to follow the Spirit’s call in my life.”

Youth have a reputation for being an especially challenging demographic for people in ministry, and Sanchez’s experience in Allentown will likely be no different. The youth of Whitehall and Ripple, though few, come from challenging, high-need situations, including coming to Allentown as refugees and being born into cycles of poverty, according to Whitehall pastor Rose Bender, who is Sanchez’s supervisor. “As a part-time pastor,” she said, “I am already feeling stretched beyond what I can give. So, the idea of adding a youth worker that would connect with Whitehall as well as some of the other congregations is very exciting.”

The partnership of so many groups and congregations makes sense to Bender. She noted that many people from Whitehall and Ripple in particular are neighbors, and some people worship with both groups. The connection with Franconia Conference and MCC East Coast, she said, is yet another example that people “are looking for ways to connect here and make a difference.” Many congregations already partner with Ripple by cooking meals or sending youth groups to work with children in the city.

Angela Moyer, co-pastor of Ripple, wants all different types of people feel like they are welcomed and wanted in the Ripple community, and she hopes Sanchez’s leadership will help Ripple work toward that.

“Danilo has a deep compassion for youth who typically are on the margins in their schools, families, and communities,” she said. “With Danilo, the teenagers at Ripple hopefully will find a place where they belong, are nurtured, and supported in their specific life stage.”

Thanh Pham, a pastor from Vietnamese Gospel, echoed Moyer’s hope that Sanchez will help youth to flourish. Pham said he prays the youth’s parents will “see our community as a place they can trust to send their children to learn more about God.”

A partnership between MCC and local congregations isn’t commonplace, though it does exist elsewhere. Sanchez’s position is one that “resonates deeply” with ongoing MCC work related to youth, urban ministry, collaboration with churches representing diverse ethnic backgrounds, and leadership development, said Kim Dyer, young adult program coordinator of MCC East Coast. “We are excited to be able to respond to an initiative coming from the church in a local context that connects so deeply to MCC’s areas of focus.”

“This new collaboration is a creative way to build on both strengths and possibilities,” said Steve Kriss, director of leadership cultivation for Franconia Conference.  “Danilo has been shaped through numerous points of engagement within Franconia Conference.  This work provides space for something new to emerge alongside the congregations of the Lehigh Valley.   We’re grateful for the opportunity to work together through MCC’s Community Service Worker initiative.”

Sanchez, who is also working half time at MCC as national director for their Summer Service Worker program, said what makes him most excited and hopeful about the new position is that he can serve alongside the next generation of Anabaptist leaders who God is raising up.

“I don’t know what the church will look like, but I trust that the Spirit is leading and at work in the lives of these young people in Allentown,” he said.

MCC U.S. Summer Service Program going strong

Summer Service worker Mya Ray demonstrates to Joanne Dietzel, conference coordinator for Lancaster (Pa.) Mennonite Conference of Mennonite Church USA, a way of weaving as done by Burmese women. Ray, who immigrated to the U.S. from Thailand after fleeing Myanmar, the southeast Asian nation also known as Burma, served with her home congregation, Habecker Mennonite Church in Lancaster, in 2011 and 2012. (MCC photo/Kim Dyer)
Summer Service worker Mya Ray demonstrates to Joanne Dietzel, conference coordinator for Lancaster (Pa.) Mennonite Conference, a way of weaving as done by Burmese women. Ray, who immigrated to the U.S. from Thailand after fleeing Myanmar, the southeast Asian nation also known as Burma, served with her home congregation, Habecker Mennonite Church in Lancaster, in 2011 and 2012. (MCC photo/Kim Dyer)

by Ed Nyce, Mennonite Central Committee

AKRON, Pa. – For years Keshia Kay Littlebear of Billings, Mont., was certain where her path would take her when she was older and the summers rolled around. She was going to be an MCC U.S. Summer Service worker.

From 2002 to 2005 she was just that – spending 10 weeks of her summers serving at White River Cheyenne Mennonite Church in Busby, Mont. She worked with recreational activities and as youth ministry coordinator.

Eventually she supervised the church’s Summer Service program while honing leadership skills that, she said, she uses to this day as a board member of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Central States and other service in her church and denomination.

The Summer Service program is a short-term MCC U.S. initiative that supports young people of color in their development of leadership skills through working with their local churches or communities. The program partners with churches that are members of MCC U.S.’ supporting denominations and related organizations. Since the program’s 1982 inception, 1,387 people have participated.  (Franconia Conference’s Philadelphia Praise Center has been a participating congregation on more than one occasion.)

A 2013 review of the Summer Service program led by MCC U.S. Anti-oppression Coordinator Ewuare Osayande elicited feedback from participant churches, former and current Summer Service workers, and MCC staff and board members.

Danilo Sanchez
Danilo Sanchez, seen here leading worship at Franconia’s 2008 Conference Assembly, will begin work as the MCC Summer Service national coordinator in late February.

Survey participants consistently affirmed the program for providing service and leadership development opportunities for youth of color. As a result, the U.S. board increased funding for the program and expanded the position of national coordinator to half time. Danilo Sanchez, Whitehall congregation, will start in that position in late February.

Sarah Thompson was a Summer Service worker for nearly three months in 2004 at Prairie Street Mennonite Church, Elkhart, Ind., where she is a member. She worked with children’s programs and as a community organizer.

“I had just taken a community organizing course at Spelman College,” said Thompson. “Meanwhile, MCC Summer Service was about developing leadership in home communities. So it was a perfect fit.

“Prairie Street created my Summer Service position because of a pressing need in the community to organize to resist city hall’s decision to destroy a local school building rather than renovate it,” said Thompson. Since the decision was made without the input of local residents, Thompson’s job empowered her to canvass the neighborhood and discover what the community wanted. At the end of the summer the community reported the findings to city hall, which “initially halted the wrecking ball,” she said.

The work catalyzed the next few years of community organizing that made it possible for the building to be saved; it is now on the state historical register. In addition, the project brought together members of the community from diverse backgrounds to work collaboratively, she said. Today the building serves as housing and an active community center.

As a college student, working with her home church and community in the summer helped her to stay grounded even during the school year, she said. That connection continues today for Thompson, who has stayed involved with MCC in numerous ways since Summer Service and was recently appointed executive director of Christian Peacemaker Teams. She lives in Chicago.

Last year, Hannah Nursalim, of Los Angeles, served with her church, Maranatha Christian Fellowship, in Northridge, Calif., and with Christian Legal Aid of Los Angeles (CLA-LA), based in Inglewood. At church, she performed support tasks related to worship and a fundraising event. Nursalim studies at University of Washington in Seattle.

Seeing CLA-LA colleagues assist people needing legal advice on immigration, crime-related matters and more “definitely made me want to pursue a career in helping people,” she said.

Lani Prunés was a Summer Service worker for three summers at Oxford Circle Christian Community Development Association (OCCCDA) in Philadelphia, a ministry of Oxford Circle Mennonite Church, her home congregation. Prunés is a senior at Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Va.

Prunés was co-director in 2009 and 2010 and sole director in 2011 of OCCCDA’s Summer Art and Enrichment Program, a day camp for children. She supervised campers and counselors, assisted in hiring and facilitated conflict resolution among campers. In addition, she contacted parents when necessary, helped set curriculum and schedules and created pamphlets.

“I think being in Summer Service showed me ways to use the gifts God gave me – even before I realized I had them,” she said. Prunés added that she can see how God used her to do good, but also used others to provide spiritual guidance to her that set her along her current paths.

“Summer Service was … crucial to the summer camp’s development,” she said. “The camp really needed leaders who could put the time into all the work that it takes, and being a service worker meant being able to commit fully and entirely to projects and more importantly, to the campers.”

Churches too benefit from Summer Service, said Kim Dyer of MCC East Coast, former national coordinator of the program. “Through the grant support of MCC, churches are able to further their dreams for ministry and outreach by utilizing the skills and gifts of a young adult from their congregation.”

Prunés recommended the Summer Service program, with one helpful hint. “Absolutely,” said Prunés when asked, “but only to those who are willing to be vulnerable and commit themselves to the people they encounter and the mission they hope to fulfill.”

Nursalim agreed. “In the summer months, it’s easy to be home, hanging out with friends, but Summer Service allows you to do something meaningful with your time.”

Franconia Conference gathers to celebrate, pray, confer, listen

Garden Chapel Children's Choir
Garden Chapel’s children’s choir led a rousing rendition of “Our God” at Conference Assembly 2013. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

Franconia Conference delegates and leaders gathered November 2 at Penn View Christian School in Souderton, Pa. to celebrate God still at work.   With a packed auditorium for a third united assembly with Eastern District Conference, representatives gathered to listen and pray, to celebrate newly credentialed and ordained pastoral leaders, and to work alongside one another after an over 150-year rift created two separate Mennonite entities.  The theme “God still @ work” was an extension of the 2012 theme, “God @ work.”

With singing in Indonesian, Spanish, and English led by Samantha Lioi (Peace and Justice Minister for both conferences) and Bobby Wibowo (Philadelphia Praise Center) and translation into Franconia Conference’s worshipping languages, delegates and representatives from nearly all of the Conference’s congregations from Georgia to Vermont gathered to confer around a board-crafted statement on the Conference’s increasing diversity in ethnicity, experiences, faith practice, and expression.   The gathering was punctuated with points of celebration including testimony from Peaceful Living led by Joe Landis and Louis Cowell from Salford congregation, a youth choir from the revitalizing Garden Chapel in Victory Gardens, NJ, and a moment to mark the upcoming November retirement of Franconia Conference Pastor of Ministerial Leadership Noah Kolb after 45 years of ministry, which was met with rousing applause and a standing ovation.

Noah blessing 2013
Noah Kolb was recognized and blessed for 45 years of ministry. He will retire in November. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

In a shortened one-day event, delegates spent the morning together around tables with Eastern District Conference to continue to deepen relationships across conference lines.  Business sessions were separate, and Franconia’s included a significant amount of time in conversations among table groups, conferring over the board statement and then reporting on those conversations to the whole body.  Delegates and representatives were encouraged to mix across congregational lines to better hear and experience the diversity of conference relationships.

For many, including Tami Good, Souderton (Pa.) congregation’s Pastor of Music & Worship, who was attending Conference Assembly for the first time, the table conversations were holy spaces.  Each person at her table was from a different congregation.   “I saw God at work in the gracious listening, especially in the time when we talked about the conferring statement,” Good reflected. “There were disagreements, but everyone was graciously listening and hearing.  Everyone actually wanted to hear each other.  It was a beautiful time.”

The conferring time, along with an afternoon workshop led by the Franconia Conference board, focused on prayer and visioning for the Conference into the future.   Conference board members Jim Longacre (Bally congregation), Rina Rampogu (Plains congregation), Jim Laverty (Souderton congregation), and Klaudia Smucker (Bally congregation) served as a listening committee for the daylong event.  They reported seven themes of consistent and continued conversation: engagement, diversity, shared convictions, authority, polity, the role of conference, and the reality of changing relationships and engagement.  Board members noted that there is much response work to do to continue the conversation and discernment process.

Bruce Eglinton-Woods, pastor of Salem congregation (Quakertown, Pa.), said, “The challenge is speaking clearly on what we believe and where we are at, which is often a challenge for Mennonite leaders. My hope and prayer is that we can trust God and release the idea of keeping it all together. We need to let God do the holding together.”

Franconia Conference delegates spent time conferring and praying together.  Photo by Bam Tribuwono.
Franconia Conference delegates spent time conferring and praying together. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

According to Rampogu, one of the longest standing Conference board members, “the hardest part about this kind of meeting is that there isn’t enough time. We want to share and to talk together,” she said.  “That is a positive sign.  People want to connect.  My hope and prayer is that we keep our goal in mind, keeping our mission focused on equipping leaders to empower others to embrace God’s mission, with Christ in the center and churches focused on missional activity.”

In business sessions, delegates selected a number of positions by 97% affirmation including a 2nd term for conference moderator John Goshow (Blooming Glen congregation) along with board member Beny Krisbianto (Nations Worship Center), as well as ministerial and credentialing committee members Rose Bender (Whitehall congregation), Ken Burkholder (Deep Run East congregation), Mike Clemmer (Towamencin congregation) and Chris Nickels (Spring Mount congregation).   Randy Nyce (Salford congregation) who is completing a term as finance committee chair and board member reported on Conference finances, noting an 11% decrease in financial contributions from congregations.

“I was surprised and pleased that the attendance at Assembly 2013 was so strong; seeing the room filled to capacity was an affirmation of how much the delegates and guests in attendance care for our conference,” Goshow noted.  “Franconia Conference is all of us who are members of our 42 churches and our Conference Related Ministries.  It is my hope and prayer that together we chart a course that will advance God’s Kingdom in exciting and wonderful ways.”

Listen to the podcast.

Conference Assembly 2013 Highlight Video from Franconia Conference on Vimeo.