In a time of significant changes with youth ministry staffing and high school age youth demographics, last month Franconia Conference began a Youth Ministry Review/Visioning taskforce. The Taskforce will be working on a six month process reflecting on our Conference’s youth ministry initiatives. The members were by the Conference Board to review past and present youth ministry staffing and work at setting a vision for Conference youth ministry in the near future.
Taskforce members include Mary Keller (Zion/Eastern District representative), Jim King (Plains/Conference Board representative), Joe Hackman (Salford, facilitator), Brooke Martin (Franconia), Danilo Sanchez (Ripple/Whitehall) and Adrian Suryajaya (Philadelphia Praise Center). The diverse team seeks to understand current and emerging needs for congregations and youth across our conference community.
“I am glad to do this work because the youth are the future of our Church (as in the whole Christian body, not just denomination),” said Adrian. “We need to cultivate and guide them to fulfill the purpose of the Church in the future.”
In a time of changing demographics and priorities, the review and visioning process gives space to appreciate what past and current work while imagining upcoming possibilities and challenges.
How are we doing as a broader faith community in passing on faith to the next generation? Where is faith being lived out loud in such a way that our children and youth are catching a vision of what it means to be follower of Jesus today? The title of John H. Westerhoff’s book Will Our Children Have Faith, first published in 1976, is a question that reverberates with every generation of the church.
In some of our churches we are noticing emptier pews and smaller youth groups, decreasing engagement in the life of worship, and greater divides in cross generational life. I hear both anxiety and fear in response to these trends.
The reasons for these trends are as multi-faceted as is the diversity of our conference congregations. We also don’t live in a bubble from larger societal trends. Many studies reveal that more millennials are choosing to opt out of traditional church participation. This drop in traditional religious engagement and identity spans every demographic group.
We often talk about passing on faith to the next generation as if it was a one way street. A more apt metaphor may be one of a journey in which faith comes alive for each one of us in new ways as each generation shares in common experiences and practices of the Christian life. Unless we as adults are growing in our faith how can we expect our children and youth to grow into a faith that lasts and matures in adulthood?
Several years ago in my neighborhood there were several boys who were ringing doorbells late at night and then dashing away. My anger got the best of me one night and I chased them through the streets after they rang our doorbell waking the whole household. Much to my chagrin, my seven year old daughter heard what I did. Thankfully, she showed me a better, and more Christ-like way, to respond. The next evening she suggested that we set out a plate of freshly baked cookies that we had made that day so that the boys could have something to eat if they came again that night.
Our children may have something to teach us about being peacemakers if we as adults are willing to listen!
What is the invitation of the church at this time? What are the deeper questions we need to be asking of ourselves and how we live as disciples of Christ? We may need to look to the edges of our institutions and faith communities to see the Spirit moving. We will need to place our trust and hope in a revealing God who has been faithful for many generations.
I believe we have stories and practices that we can share with one another to spur us on in this grand journey and narrative of God’s revealing salvation. We have signs of hope if we look closely enough. We have a rich heritage of faith that can inspire us to live anew into the emerging shape of the people of God.
Along the way, we may be called to let go of some things. In order for the new to arise some ways of doing things in the church may need to die that the church may be resurrected to new life. Are we willing to allow our church structures to change to support and embrace the new shapes of faith of the next generation? As our demographics change and as our world around us changes we will need to imagine new wineskins. We also may be called to reclaim pieces of our faith heritage that we have neglected.
Over the next year, we want to highlight stories from across our conference of how faith across generations is being renewed and lives transformed. Let’s tell on each other in the best possible way to highlight the good news of God at work in our young and old. What models do we have, both new and old, of renewing faith intergenerationally? Contact me if you have a story to tell of a faith nurtured or renewed in your congregation or larger community.
A junior high youth sponsor needs to be prepared to answer all kinds of questions; however, I wasn’t prepared for “would you rather be a bear or a penguin”, posed by a curious youth halfway through the recent annual conference wide Junior High Late Night Blast at Dock Mennonite Academy.
One of the keys to developing an enduring faith in our youth is intergenerational relationships in the church. Part of the purpose of this annual event is to give our youth just that: a positive and memorable experience relating to other adults and youth in the broader church. Our youth need to know that they are valued and loved for who they are and that their questions and contributions matter in the life of the church.
This intersection of over 180 youth and adults is a visible representation of the breadth and diversity of our Franconia and Eastern District Conference churches from Philadelphia to Harleysville to Allentown and beyond. This event also gives a wonderful opportunity for our youth workers to partner together in ministry.
Caleb Benner and Emily Grimes, both teachers at Dock Mennonite Academy, along with a band of high school students led a time of engaging worship. Juan Marrero, pastor at Christ Centered Church and director of Crossroads Community Center, challenged the youth to be doers of God’s word. He used the illustration of an athlete who looks at film to make adjustments to their game. So, too, we as Christians need to have a mirror put to our lives so that we can be more faithful to the way of Christ.
The rest of the night was full of activities to choose from … soccer, basketball, dodge ball, human Dutch blitz, wallyball, Gaga Pit ball, and much more. Directing over 150 Junior High youth in a group game might be considered a challenge for most people, but Josh Reichart handled it like a professional as he and other staff from Spruce Lake helped to organize the games.
In addition to getting to answer random fun questions, another perk of being a Junior High youth sponsor is the freedom to experiment with crazy games. A popular new game introduced this year was Bubble Soccer. Picture giant plastic bubbles with legs bouncing off each other and rolling around!
Whether you’d rather be a bear or a penguin, if you are in Junior High or have a heart for kids you’re welcome at our annual Junior High Late Night Blast.
When our oldest son was 13, he wanted to play in the park football program. Despite some misgivings about the benefits of youth football, my wife and I decided to let him play hoping that he would find a sense of confidence and purpose in a team sport. However, when the schedule came out indicating that some games may happen on Sunday mornings, we knew we had some additional discernment to do. So we engaged our son in conversation about what we would do.
A recent book, Overplayed: A Parent’s Guide to Sanity in the World of Sports, by David King and Margot Starbuck, asks some of the same questions. They address seven myths about youth sports that are deeply entrenched in our culture. What are the unintended messages we pass on to our children about what we value regarding performance, success, family, community, and justice and equity? What are alternative ways families can positively engage with youth sports culture?
They do not give a one-size-fits-all suggestion. Each family will need to make their own tough calls based on their priorities and values and responses to these questions:
What do we want to be doing with our money and our time?
What relationships are most important for us to honor?
What are three to five values we want to name as being important to us?
As parents and/or youth workers it is important that we help keep the focus of our youth on Christ and being disciples. Identifying family values in advance gives you tools for decision making about athletic and other types of extracurricular commitments. As youth workers and pastors we can help keep these values at the forefront for our youth when we see them making decisions. These values may lead to limited or no engagement in certain extracurricular activities, or as seen in a previous Intersectings article, “The Everyday Missionary,” you may find a way to help make disciples for the Lord through extracurricular activities. Either way engagement should be based off the values your family holds.
Here are some guiding values for us to consider as communities of faith. What would you add?
Sabbath. We need to be grounded in a Christian community committed to the sacred balance between work and rest. A life that incorporates Sabbath rest helps us to be more aware of the Spirit of God, more dependent on the providence of God, and more available for relationships of love. What does Sabbath look like in a world where choices abound and technology surrounds us? Sometimes our church youth programs buy into the “more activities and choices are better” mentality and only compound the problem. Let’s confront one of the diseases of our time: we are distracted from the “better” things often hidden among many “good” things.
Accompaniment. How can we come alongside our youth in their journey of discipleship? Our task is to initiate young persons into mature Christian faith through relationships with adults who join them in living the way of authentic discipleship. As elders we can offer youth friendship, guidance and listening ears as they make the passage through adolescence into spiritual maturity. This is the work of the whole church and not just a youth pastor or a few youth sponsors in the congregation.
Discernment. We need to be guided by prayerful discernment attentive to God’s living Word. We practice and teach the discipline of discernment with our youth so as to be responsive to the movement of God’s grace and mission. How can we be less anxiety and fear driven and more Spirit led in our ministry with youth? Involve youth in the decision making process in congregational life. Be open to how God is speaking to and through them to the larger church.
Multigenerational: Make church multigenerational as much as possible. In some of our attempts to do great youth programming we may be unintentionally disconnecting them from the larger body of Christ. Young people at multigenerational focused churches are more likely to remain connected to the faith and become active church members as adults, because that’s what they already are and always have been. When my wife and I were looking for a church home, we were not looking for a church with a dynamic youth program as much as we were looking for a community of believers modeling an active faith that included the nurture of children and youth.
Authentic action: We seek to engage youth and adults in authentic actions that reflect God’s mercy, justice and peace. Most studies of faith and youth point to parent’s faith as the key factor in their children’s faith. What is the shape of our faith that we are passing on our children? What is the one radical thing we are doing because of our faith? Our youth need to see the connection between life and faith.
Baptism: Let’s reimagine baptism and its role in Christian citizenship and discipleship. What does baptism look like in our current context? To early Christians, baptism meant a decisive step of leaving one’s civilian life behind and accepting the commitment of becoming a “living sacrifice” for God’s service. How can we as adults make more of our baptismal promises and journey? How can we give space for the baptism instructional experience and ritual to be more fully robust and transformational?
My conviction is that God is speaking to our youth in every part of their lives. How can we as adults help them respond with the words of Samuel, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”?
In order to bring teens “together despite differences”, Eastern District and Franconia Mennonite Conference held their annual Youth Worship Gathering on June 4, 2016. The theme of the event was “Built together in Christ”, and was led by Chantelle Todman Moore, Philadelphia Program Coordinator for Mennonite Central Committee.
According to Christian Zeo, Doylestown Mennonite Church, the theme helped to “bring us all together under Jesus.”
The message that Todman Moore delivered also resulted in a positive responses. “It put flesh and blood on the idea of Christ,” said Doylestown Youth Leader Brandon Landis.
As well as a message, the gathering also had many times of worship throughout the event, which were led by Nathan Good, Associate Pastor at Swamp Mennonite Church, and Danilo Sanchez, Leigh Valley Youth Pastor for Ripple, Whitehall and Vietnamese Gospel.
According to Zeo, the songs get people to express what they normally can’t. “Besides the messages, the songs had an upbeat feel,” said Zeo. “Most songs are too solemn.”
This event is held biannually, the first weekend of June following the Mennonite Historians Whack and Roll event. Usually the youth enjoy time outdoors under a big tent on the Mennonite Historians’ land in Harleysville. Due to the rain, the event was moved indoors to Christopher Dock Mennonite High School. Yet, the rain did not keep the people away; over 12 youth groups participated, including those from Doylestown, Ripple, Whitehall, Blooming Glen, Deep Run East and Deep Run West and many more.
Recently, I spent three days with a group of conference leaders who work in youth ministry. This is an annual gathering at a beach house that has no agenda other than to be with one another, share what is happening in our lives and ministries, and eat some good food. Let’s just say that youth workers know how to have a good time when we get together!
What dominated our conversation this time, however, was a lament of the current state of affairs in Mennonite Church USA: the dwindling numbers and interest in the events we plan for youth and youth workers; the fracturing of churches and conferences; the passive aggressive behavior which is so prevalent in conflicts; a lack of healthy leadership (including disappointment in ourselves); the church caving to cultural patterns of polarizing behavior; a lack of the empathy and forbearance in our church relationships that love requires; the list could go on. As we dug our toes into the sand, we waited with one another and sought to listen deeply in our grief and disappointment.
One of us commented that it feels like we are in a waiting period. We are waiting for what will be torn down and what will emerge. It didn’t help the mood that the weather was overcast and there was a chill to the wind coming off the ocean. Someone volunteered to go and collect coats and blankets so that we could stay warm.
Yet, as we huddled together, we also noticed signs of hope. We shared stories of emerging faith and maturity in our children. The more seasoned parents among us noted that this can take a long time. We noticed signs of new life and emerging ministries in our churches and conferences. We rejoiced in the collaborative spirit we often see among youth pastors and workers. We reflected on the increased interest in Anabaptist thought and practice from groups and churches outside the Mennonite Church. We chuckled with holy amazement as we swapped stories of “problem” youth in our youth groups who grow up to be effective and mature Christian leaders.
We need places in our faith community where we can grieve together and share our disappointments. We also need community to help us move beyond ourselves and notice where God is stirring on the edges. We can choose to focus on the fears and anxieties of what we perceive is being lost or we can lean into the assurance that what God is bringing about is good even if we have a hard time imagining what it might look like.
In this time of uncertainty, I long for a renewed sense of community to emerge that is willing to wait with one another until Christ returns. Each generation in the church has a new set of perplexing issues and challenges and we are fooling ourselves if we think we can ever come to a final resolution to settle our differences. Our youth need to see the church model a way to be authentic community together when so much in our world is fragmenting and tearing apart. I long for a church that has a vision of the community that will one day gather around God’s banquet table and then seeks to live into that community today.
I long for a community that is willing to simply be with one another even when the weather is overcast and cold.
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.
Youth from Franconia Conference and Eastern District gathered on Sunday, June 1, for an afternoon of worship, celebration, and inspiration.
The event, held under tents that had hosted the Mennonite Heritage Center’s Whack & Roll croquet tourney the day before, was the first of what planners hope will become an annual event.
The speaker, Luke Hartman, reflected on John 17 and Jesus’ prayer that believers would recognize their unity with each other and with God. Hartman encouraged those present to make the tent larger, for all God’s people to be a part of the kingdom. He challenged youth to be change agents in the world, and to discover their own sense of worth and calling.
A joyous, embodied worship was led by Peder Eide, a singer-songwriter from the Lutheran tradition who had the group dancing in short order.
John Stoltzfus, Franconia Conference youth minister, says that in the past, there hasn’t been an event for youth from both Franconia and Eastern District to draw together; delegates from both conferences had expressed desire to explore how members of the conferences were relating to one another and building a foundation of trust and intimacy between churches.
The event was planned by conference staff, pastors, youth workers and youth. Mennonite Church USA contributed funding. About 175 youth and adults attended the gathering.
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.
HARLEYSVILLE, Pa. – Franconia and Eastern District Conferences are hosting junior and senior high youth this June at an event that will feature elements very similar to the biennial Mennonite Church USA youth convention, but with one key difference – it’s outside.
The worship event, cosponsored by the Mennonite Heritage Center, will be held from 12-3pm on June 1 on the lawn of 569 Yoder Road, Harleysville, a campus shared by the Mennonite Heritage Center and the Conference offices. The rain location is Christopher Dock Mennonite High School’s auditorium (Lansdale, Pa.).
After eating lunch together at noon, potentially hundreds of youth will spread out on the lawn for free time and then worship featuring Luke Hartman, vice president of admissions at Eastern Mennonite University (Harrisonburg, Va.), as the main speaker. Hartman’s message will focus on John 17’s call to unity in the body of Christ. He will collaborate with his good friend Peder Eide, a popular musician and worship leader in the Lutheran Church.
Additional music will be provided by Susquehanna, a band of students from Christopher Dock. Band members are John Bergstresser, Ryan Moyer, Austin Kratz, Brooks Inciardi, Simon Nam, Derek Reeser, and Ethan Neal.
John Stoltzfus, conference youth pastor and one of the event planners, anticipates that the event will invite youth to consider “what God is doing among us and who God is calling us to be together.”
He said there are several goals for the event: to provide opportunity for deepening relationships and fellowship among youth across conference churches; to give space for youth to engage in inspiring worship and experience renewal in their relationships with God and one another; and to offer a witness to the surrounding community of the church’s call to be a united people of God.
Mike Ford, associate pastor of youth at Blooming Glen (Pa.) congregation, has also been integrally involved in the event’s planning. He hopes that “youth leave challenged and encouraged spiritually, and that they also experience a healthy dose of fun and fellowship.”
The gathering is part of an ongoing commitment in Franconia Conference to help individuals and congregations connect, says Ertell Whigham, Franconia’s executive minister. “While it’s true that it takes little or no effort for us to find opportunities to disagree, it takes a greater commitment to reach out across our diversity and connect in ways that express the kingdom of God,” he reflects. He encourages congregations to keep this event in prayer, as youth gather to worship, play, grow, and share a meal together in Christ.
Steve Kriss, Director of Leadership Cultivation, provided this update from the March & April meetings of the Credentials and Ministerial Committees:
Hadi Sunarto (East Rutherford, NJ) was approved for a license for specific the ministry of deacon at Philadelphia Praise Center.
Krista Showalter Ehst (Bally, PA) was approved with a license toward ordination to serve as pastor at Alpha (NJ) Mennonite Church.
Bill Martin was approved with a license toward ordination and to serve as associate pastor at Towamencin Mennonite Church.
Danilo Sanchez (Whitehall congregation) was approved to serve as Allentown area youth minister with a license toward ordination.
Donna Merow was approved for ordination and continues to serve as pastor at Ambler (Pa) Mennonite Church.
Several new members have been added to the Ministerial and Credentials committees.
Mike Clemmer (Towamencin) and Marlene Frankenfield (Salford) have been named to the Ministerial Committee. Heidi Hochstetler (Bally) resigned her position from the committee earlier this year. Continuing Ministerial Committtee members include: Verle Brubaker (Swamp), Ken Burkholder (Deep Run East), Carolyn Egli (Whitehall), Janet Panning (Plains), Mary Nitzsche (Blooming Glen), Jim Williams (Nueva Vida Norristown New Life).
Aldo Siahaan (Philadelphia Praise) and Marta Castillo (Nueva Vida Norristown New Life) have been named to three year terms on the credentials committee. Continuing committee members include: Rose Bender (Whitehall), Verle Brubaker (Swamp) and Mike Clemmer (Towamencin).
Steve Kriss began serving as Conference staff liaison for both committees since the retirement of Noah Kolb late in 2013.