by Mike Clemmer, LEADership Minister & Pastor at Towamencin Mennonite Church
This past week, I had the wonderful opportunity of leading a litany of blessing and rededication for the Souderton Mennonite Homes’ Living Branches 100th Anniversary. This service was the final event of a year-long series of activities that gratefully acknowledged the past 100 years, while also casting a vision for serving the community in the years to come. Living Branches is the first and oldest established partnership in ministry with the Franconia Conference. Currently, there are 18 Conference Related Ministries (CRMs) that represent an array of extensions of the reign of God into local communities through nurture, witness, care and discipling. After my experience at this service, I wondered, how are we doing in supporting our CRMs?
At their core, Conference Related Ministries have a unique collaborative relationship with Franconia Conference and represent a fruit of faithfulness in the church’s history and future. CRMs have usually been born out of a deep desire to care for people in need, both in church communities as well as the physical community in which they reside. All the CRMs also have their own stories to tell. This is true of Souderton Mennonite Homes.
In the early 1900s there were no local retirement communities. Leaders in the Mennonite community wanted to find a way to care for the aging population in their congregations. They saw a need and collectively asked, how can we care for our community? Prior to this point, care for the aging happened within families. Although there was a heartfelt sense of love and responsibility for their older members, and care was provided for grandparents and parents by the younger generation – this often meant that the sick or elderly lived out their days confined to a bed, without easy access to proper care. At this time in our country, making ends meet was hard enough for many families and some simply could not provide adequate care. Much like in Acts 6, Franconia Conference leaders conferred about this great need and the seeds of the possibility of forming this “ministry” together were planted. On October 7, 1915, the Conference approved the project and appointed 12 trustees – all who understood that they would not be creating an institution, but rather, a “home,” embraced by the church. The Conference then looked to its congregations to help support the project financially, and the goal of $6,000 was surpassed as the trustees collected over $19,000. Shortly thereafter, the “Eastern Mennonite Home of the Franconia District” opened its doors in 1917 and the partnership with Franconia Conference has continued.
Stories like this one could be told by many other Conference Related Ministries. Indeed, the Conference has partnered with a variety of ministries in many areas of need including bringing help to disabled or special needs persons, collaborating in areas of aging and mental health, engaging together in camps and retreat centers, as well as working together in creating educational facilities and church plantings. By ministering together, our churches are achieving a synergy of missional engagement in our communities. We are truly the church when many members are working together to form one body in Christ – a body that shares resources and invites collaboration with many gifted volunteers – as we together exercise mutual care and love in showing hospitality to all those in need. After all, the church exists to benefit others. How are we doing at supporting our Conference related ministries?