by John Goshow, Moderator, Blooming Glen congregation
The Constituency Leadership Council (CLC) of Mennonite Church USA met in Michigan this week. The CLC, which includes all 21 conferences of Mennonite Church USA, serves as a group of elders for the denomination. In my capacity as moderator of Franconia Conference I joined this meeting, along with Ertell Whigham, Executive Minister, and Jenifer Eriksen Morales, LEADership Minister.
Our conference report to the CLC says, “Franconia Mennonite Conference is a network of 42 congregations, 20 Conference Related Ministries (e.g. schools, retirement facilities, historical organizations, camps, prison ministry, thrift stores, etc.), partnerships, and initiatives continuing to emerge out of the 300+ years of Anabaptist witness and faith in the Western Hemisphere … with its beginning in Philadelphia. Franconia Conference’s mission is to ‘equip leaders to empower others to embrace God’s mission.’ With congregations and initiatives that span the East Coast of the US (Vermont to Georgia, north to south, and Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, east to west), our geographic center is in southeastern Pennsylvania. We work together in cultivating and developing leaders, in engaging the world through witness and relationships, and in our commitment to Christ as the center of our shared and individual vision.”
As moderator of Franconia Mennonite Conference, I have wondered what it means for us to be together now and how leadership roles have changed in the last 300+ years. The dictionary definition of moderator helps: “1) one who arbitrates; 2) one who presides over an assembly, meeting or discussion.” I have learned to appreciate the role of moderator in that it provides the opportunity to connect with and listen to the many persons in our conference who care deeply about God’s work in our congregations and Conference Related Ministries.
In a recent conversation with a friend we agreed that Franconia Conference is not the board or the staff. Rather, it is the 42 congregations of Franconia Conference and their members, and the Conference Related Ministries that provide important services to the people of their communities. These services—education, elder care, prison ministry, camping, mental health, housing, thrift stores, development disability, and others—serve a huge number of people and represent a wonderful example of how God is at work in our communities.
On November 2 at Penn View Christian School, Franconia Conference will gather for Assembly 2013. This year’s Assembly will be held jointly with Eastern District Conference and will provide the opportunity to worship together and to celebrate the many ways our two conferences are working together to advance God’s Kingdom. During the business sessions the two conferences will meet separately to do work specific to each conference. I am looking forward to our time of conferring and discerning God’s will together.
This year the delegates of Franconia Conference will spend significant time conferring about a statement that has been developed by the conference board. The statement acknowledges the cultural shifts impacting the practices and beliefs among Franconia Conference congregations. How can we continue to work together out of our commonality rather than our differences? How can we be accountable to one another as we, together, shape the future of our conference? Many conferences in Mennonite Church USA are having similar kinds of discussions. My hope and prayer is that the conferring and discernment at our assembly and the discussions across the Mennonite Church USA will lead to greater understanding of how together we are doing God’s work.