All posts by Ben Sutter

Franconia Conference empowers young adult leaders through summer ministry initiatives

Benjamin Sutter, Franconia Conference Communication Intern, benjamins5@goshen.edu

Franconia Conference’s vision is to equip leaders to empower others to embrace God’s mission. This summer ten young adults, pastors and congregations embodied the Franconia Conference vision of equipping leaders to empower others to embrace God’s mission as part of the conference’s ongoing leadership cultivation initiatives. This summer partnerships extended with partners in mission, Philadelphia congregations, Mennonite Central Committee, Eastern Mennonite University and Goshen College—all for the sake of carrying the good news through a new generation and context.

Photo by Aldo Siahaan
Adrian Suryajaya rediscovered patience as he worked with children this summer. Photo by Aldo Siahaan

Adrian Suryajaya served through Mennonite Central Committee’s summer service worker program. He worked with his home congregation Philadelphia Praise Center and plans to attend Eastern University as a first year student this fall.

“I enjoyed working with the children and my pastor (Aldo Siahaan) during the summer,” said Suryajaya. “I rediscovered the value of patience, flexibility, and humility . . . to seek God’s counsel when I’m in tough situations.”

Suryajaya organized various church events including a free music concert, a block party, and a summer peace program for children.

The hardest thing I had to do during the summer was to come up with the Peace Program planning,” Suryajaya said. “Once the blueprint was set, it was easy to do the program.”

For now, Suryajaya will continue his education at Eastern and work towards becoming a physician. “The things that I’ve learned during my internship definitely will help me get through the process of becoming a medical doctor,” he said. “For instance, I have to be patient about how long it will take to get my degree and I know that God will always be on my side in any situation.”

Brendon Derstine

Brendon Derstine wanted a taste of every part of ministry while working with his home congregation, Franconia Mennonite Church, in Telford, Pa, this summer.

I have been joining in a variety of ministries including worship leading, preaching twice this summer, teaching Sunday Schools, . . . visitation, going to church meetings, delegating at Pittsburgh, and helping out in other ministries as well,” said Derstine, who will be a senior at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU), Harrisonburg, Va. this fall. “My focus has been intentionally broad so that I could get a big picture of the life of the congregation.”

Over the summer, Derstine connected with the role model of Moses as a leader.

I liken the pastoral vocation to the character of Moses leading the Israelites throughout the desert wilderness in the Exodus story,” he said. “Like Moses, pastors lead us throughout our lives—we call on them in times of need and harp on them when things don’t go our way. They walk with congregants in the best of times and the worst of times and they are expected to be everything to everyone.”

Moses understood that even though he was a leader, he was human, Derstine said. “High standards are good, but we must remember that pastors are only human, too,” he added. “They lead us toward the Promised Land, but ultimately, they don’t go make that decision for us to follow God—we make it. They remain on the east side of the Jordan.”

For Derstine, serving in his home congregation has been a blessing. “One of the greatest rewards of my time here at Franconia has been reconnecting with my home congregation after being away at school for 3 years. Ministry is a lot about relationships and connecting people to the ways God is already working in their lives.”

Ministry is a constant up and down, according to Derstine, “An ever-changing mix of emotions. It can be messy, but let’s face it, life is messy. And yet in its messiness, God is ever present.”

Derstine will finish his studies to be a sixth to twelfth grade teacher next spring. “I don’t see education and church ministry as that different from each other,” he said. “Whether I teach in a school, or follow God’s call in another direction, I believe that this internship has allowed me to practice teaching and caring for people in a variety of ways—two important components in both church ministry and education.”

Erica Grasse speaks at Blooming Glen congregation on a Sunday morning. Photo by Kreg Ulery

Erica Grasse, a junior at Goshen College, Goshen, Ind., also worked with her home congregation, Blooming Glen (Pa.) Mennonite Church, this summer.

Grasse echoed Derstine’s joys of rediscovering relationships, saying that what she enjoyed most about working at Blooming Glen was returning to her home congregation and reestablishing relationships and coming to appreciate her roots.

I have been getting opportunities to teach and work with the youth,” she said. “To sit in on various leadership meetings, to see perspectives of layperson ministry; and to look at strengthening the young adult program to better match the needs and resources of the church and community.”

While she enjoyed her summer, she said she recognized the needs of pastors to enjoy themselves as they work. “Pastors are out to have a good time, too,” she said. “The work of ministry is a tiring and daunting task, but sharing humor and food are two ways to keep sane.”

At Blooming Glen, Grasse says she comes away from the program with less certainty about a future occupation. “This internship has confused me even more,” she said. “As someone who is studying biology, environmental science, policy and economics, I have been challenged to see the pursuit of ministry work as a complementary component to my vocational interests. Yet, I have come to realize that my future may consist of things I cannot currently imagine myself doing.”

Grace Parker and Monica Solis interned at New Hope Fellowship in Alexandria, Va. Photo by Grace Parker

Seven other interns also spent their summer working through Franconia Conference contexts:

  • Monica Solis, a student at Northern Virginia Community College, served at New Hope Fellowship in Alexandria, Va. with Grace Parker, a junior at Goshen College.
  • Patrick Ressler, from Goshen, served at Germantown Mennonite Church, Philadelphia, through a partnership for supervision from Franconia Conference.
  • Jamie Hiner, senior, and Bianca Lani Prunes, sophomore, from EMU served with the Oxford Circle Christian Community Development Association in Philadelphia.
  • Ben Sutter, a junior from Goshen, served with Steve Kriss on the communication team of Franconia Conference.
  • Joanne Gallardo, EMU Associate Campus Pastor, spent her summer doing a residency at Deep Run Mennonite Church East in Perkasie, Pa.

Toward transformation with the Wild Goose

Steve Kriss, Philadelphia Praise Center, skriss@franconiaconference.org

In late August the board and staff of Franconia Conference gathered to share dreams and visions, to work at logistical details for assembly and to take a step toward reconciliation and healing. It was a beautiful day at the pavilion behind the meetinghouse at Blooming Glen, amongst cornfields—the first day when brisk air invites longsleeves and light jackets after a hot summer. We were meeting to do business plan, to eat together, to imagine.

As the sun was setting to the west, we gathered in a circle for prayer, confession, and mutual commissioning. Led by LEADership Minister Ray Yoder, we prayed with the Conference’s core values and vision—centered in Christ—placed on the floor between us. We were there in a shared journey, shared struggle, with sometimes shared hope and sometimes contested dreams. We are different people, representing different histories, perspectives, congregations. It’s hard work and real commitment in a postmodern world to be together, to witness together, to carry each other’s joys and burdens.

Photo by Emily Ralph

But something interesting happened as we ended our prayer, at the moment of our confession of our struggle, our inadequacies, our failures and foibles—a trail of wild geese streamed over us loudly, moved to form a V and flew into the sunset. In Celtic Christianity, a tradition that maintained a healthy and hearty faithful Christianity while the rest ofEuropeand the Mediterranean region muddled through a difficult time, the Wild Goose was a name given the Holy Spirit. In that evening, amidst our questions and questing, I think the Spirit invited us again to move on, to press into a new day, to gather our diversity of experience and perspective, to pay attention to the signs around us in creation, culture, Text and Spirit and to soar into God’s future.

When I am reading this Intersections, I am struck again by how the Spirit continues to stir us. Within these pages, the diverse dreams for the reign of God and the life of discipleship that we incarnate are written in story form. We are people of many commitments and ways of describing God. We’ve been called forth and cultivated from many places . . . and we’re going into diverse places fromVermonttoBaltimoretoEngland. We’re young dreamers, pilgrim seekers and mature leaders building peace in places like Souderton, Quakertown and Allentown. We’re trying out the reconciling process by gathering across historic divisions and cultural boundaries with assembly this year . . . and we’re committing to a yearlong journey focusing on extending Christ’s justice and peace.

It feels like we’re trying to follow the Wild Goose, recognizing a new day, moving in diverse and unexpected places, seeing sometimes what was unimaginable emerge, and grappling to deal with it and make sense of it. The Celtic Christians maintained a real faith in tough and confusing times. They provoked art, developed mission movements and cultivated missional communities. They used resources creatively and carefully. They were mindful of the connection of body, soul, mind, land, resources and the resurrected Christ.

When I read our stories in this issue, I know we’re on the journey. The Spirit is stirring. Something continues to be breaking forth. We’ll need to continue to be prepared for it, to cultivate, to hope and work, to pay attention for both the signs and possibilities around us, near and far. The Spirit invites us as a historic and yet emerging community further into a journey, offering up a mission which we might embrace and find both ourselves and the world transformed through the story of the Good News even in disconcerting times.

Climbing walls and coffee shoppes: Transforming meetinghouses and cities in the UK

Tom Albright, RIPPLE Allentown, tomalbright1@gmail.com

This summer I spent two weeks in the United Kingdomtraveling by train to visit eight distinctly unique Urban Expression gatherings. As pastor of Ripple, an inner city, missional Anabaptist congregation in Allentown, Pa., I went to observe, learn and “compare notes.” Each gathering and each family that I visited had a uniqueness and creative energy related to and reflecting its neighborhood, culture, size, resources and leadership. I had never encountered so many different faith expressions in such a short time or been able to experience them so honestly and openly. Each church had its struggles, joys, cutting edges and things that were changing. All had a belief that God had called them to the city, to these people; they loved the people in their neighborhoods.

Playground built on a vacant lot by E1 Community Church in East London as a safe place for neighborhood children to play. Photo by Gay Brunt Miller

Some groups had old buildings, while some had newer buildings. Some had no buildings but gathered in homes, or pubs, or community spaces. While walking in BristolI saw a steady flow of people entering and leaving a large and, undoubtedly, old church building. Curious, I went inside and found a climbing gym. Children climbed the walls in what might have been the Sunday School rooms. More advanced climbers made it to the top of the sanctuary and others tackled the bell tower. In all the church buildings I visited, this was the only single-use facility.

At St. Mark’s Baptist Church in Bristol, I had a great lunch prepared by volunteers with a bill that was “pay what you could” in the church’s new cafe. The place was full. The building’s double balconies in the sanctuary held an eclectic display of artwork by local artists and school children. There were rooms that were refurnished for students with special needs and other spaces for community arts programs. In another part of the turn-of-the-century building, the church planned to begin a food bank in cooperation with the local citizens and grocery stores. All of this was open on a summer Saturday afternoon.

I found churches that had remodeled their cavernous sanctuary space into three floors of apartments, a coffee shop run by people in need of job skills, community social service offices and, yes, a number of cozy meeting spaces used for worship, Bible teaching, Sunday school, parenting classes and addiction recovery. The reflection on space was interesting, organized and exciting. There was often a facilities manager on the premise to moderate and coordinate the building use. The spaces have been transformed – not lost, but used in creative ways, open seven days a week to meet needs Monday through Sunday.

On other occasions, worshipping groups gathered in public places, transforming them into holy space. Bible studies around pub tables, meeting people in parks, movie nights at the local community center, and church- run community carnivals on the town square all witnessed to Jesus’ presence among the people, outside of formal church buildings.

These encounters provoked questions about facility use, whether we have been blessed with space of our own, or where we gather if we do not own our own meetinghouse. What does God ask of us? Are we being faithful to the Great Commission to go and make disciples of all nations, and to our neighbor? Are we willing to open up and to be the center of the community, a light on a hill? Or are we being nudged to move out of our church buildings into the public spaces to proclaim the gospel? May we think creatively, remembering the meetinghouse turned into a climbing gym, as we follow Jesus and form missional communities.

Tom’s time in England was partially funded by a Missional Operational Funds Grant to continue to build relationships with Anabaptists in the United Kingdom and to cultivate further learning and implementation of God’s dream in Allentown.

Transforming Mennonites by the Gospel of Peace in 2012

Samantha Lioi, Whitehall, samanthalioi@gmail.com

“Syrian troops have kept up their assault on the coastal city ofLatakiafor a third day, reportedly killing three people.” — Aljazeera.net

“The marines made a frenzied escape, opening fire with automatic weapons as they tore down a six-mile stretch of highway, hitting almost anyone in their way . . . [according to] the Afghan Human Rights Commission report . . . the victims included a 16-year-old newlywed girl carrying a bundle of grass and a 75-year-old man walking back from the shops.” — Guardian.co.uk

“Nonviolence isn’t just about not having a gun or not going to war,” says [Jason] Shenk [of Men Encouraging Nonviolence]. “It is an active respect or reverence that I seek to cultivate in all my relationships.” —TheMennonite.org

It’s safe to say our world could use more peace—a greater surplus of well-being, mutual love, and respect. And for Mennonites, people historically known for our teachings and practices of peace, it’s not news that we’re in different places when it comes to owning and living our identity as peacemakers. Though in our worship and everyday relationships, we all desire to reflect the image of God by becoming more like Jesus the Christ, we think about this differently, and our practice reflects these differences. So when I say the Peace and Justice Committee of Eastern District and Franconia Mennonite Conferences is inviting every congregation to a year-long focus on peace—to be introduced at our combined Conference Assembly in November—I suspect we’ll have a variety of responses. Some will think this is exciting and even overdue; some will think it unnecessary, maybe even cliché. There are bound to be questions. What if it’s too political? What if it’s not political enough? Will this really bring us closer to God? Will it help us be more sensitive as we engage in intercultural relationships?

As members of our peace committee met, we imagined the year 2012 as a time to re-educate ourselves, to renew and deepen our commitment to peacemaking. Here is our vision for that in light of Franconia Conference’s three current priorities of formation, intercultural relationship-building and mission:

How do we open ourselves to be shaped by this Gospel? First, we allow Scripture to be inscribed more deeply on our hearts and minds. We hope to see every congregation engage in Biblical study, absorbing and wrestling with the witness of both Old and New Testaments regarding the nature of peace/shalom, our identity as peacemakers, and our worship of the God of peace/shalom. What do the Scriptures teach us about the restoration of broken people and places? About reconciliation? Could we open ourselves to be surprised, scandalized, encouraged by the Bible and the Spirit speaking through it to our gathered communities of faith? Who knows what beauty and new life might break out?

Our second goal is growing into unity and maturity in Christ, who breaks down the dividing walls. We know our conference holds and blesses many different expressions of Anabaptist Christian faith in many languages. How might we welcome that diversity through intentional relationship building? To that end we hope every congregation will make an intercultural connection appropriate to that faith community, with the purpose of learning in relationship more of what it means to belong to Christ together in unity which spans boundaries of gender, economic resources, race, ethnicity, national identity, and beyond.

And when we have done some of that good work, how do we make it public? Our third desire is that, growing from the experiences and learning of the first two goals, every congregation will engage in a peace witness or public action which models reconciliation to people outside our Mennonite Church circles.

The peace committee has also proposed a time during the Saturday afternoon of our joint Conference Assembly for the delegates to confer and share resources around peacemaking in our various contexts. While we’ll hear more at Conference Assembly, in the meantime, you’re invited to talk with colleagues and members of our committee about your own imagining and questioning as you hear this proposal. You can find our names under “who we are” on our home page: http://efpjc.ppjr.org. May our imaginations and our spirits be stirred to love boldly, immersed in the love of God who is not counting sins against us but reconciling the whole world through Christ.

Philly Churches plan festival to benefit MCC

Ken Beidler, West Philadelphia, kenbeidler@yahoo.com

Philadelphia Anabaptist churches are planning the first ever Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Benefit Festival in Philadelphia. This inaugural event is scheduled for Saturday, October 29, 2011, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at West Philadelphia Mennonite Fellowship, 4740 Baltimore Avenue, Philadelphia, PA19143.

Like other MCC Relief Sales, the Philly event will feature an auction, international food booths and children’s activities. With MCC East Coast offices headquartered inPhiladelphia, it made sense for there to be a relief sale in the city. Grant Rissler, MCC Financial Resource Development Coordinator, says, “Many relief sales take place at fairgrounds that have a rural feel. . . It’s exciting to see this Festival in Philadelphia working to innovate in the urban setting. That type of innovation is really one of the growing edges that will keep support for MCC strong and growing into newer generations.”

In addition to supporting MCC’s programs around the world, half of proceeds of the sale will benefit MCC Philadelphia’s work with prison ministry, alternatives to youth violence, gun violence prevention and a low-income housing ministry.

Fred Kauffman, MCC East Coast program coordinator, says, “The MCC Benefit Festival promises to be an occasion where the Philly churches can work together and bring the diversity of our gifts and cultures into the process. We look forward to connecting with neighbors, MCC supporters, churches outside of Philly, and with each other to create a public witness for Christ and the kingdom which he proclaimed.”

For more information about the festival or to coordinate donating an item for the auction, visit eastcoast.mcc.org/phillyfestival, e-mail PhillyBenefitFestival@gmail.com or call (215) 535-3624.

A variety of ethnic foods will be available at the MCC Benefit Festival in Philadelphia. Photo by Anna Ralph

Conference Assembly to build unity

Emily Ralph, Swamp, eralph@franconiaconference.org

Franconia and Eastern District Conferences will hold a joint conference assembly this November.

“We felt that this is an exciting opportunity resulting from a long standing conversation about what it means to work together for God’s purpose and ministry in our region from Georgia to Vermont,” said Ertell Whigham, Franconia Conference’s executive minister.

The planning for this annual gathering, which will be held November 11-12 at Penn View Christian School in Souderton, Pa., has already begun. Members from both conferences are working together on details of the joint worship service on Friday evening, including guest speaker Dennis Edwards (pastor of Peace Fellowship Church in Washington DC), an intercultural worship team, and exploration of this year’s theme, Unity and Maturity in the Body of Christ (from Ephesians 4:16). Although each conference will hold its own delegate sessions, Eastern District and Franconia Conferences will reunite for part of the day on Saturday to recognize new leaders and discuss future collaboration.

Franconia Conference is also planning a series of Conference Assembly Scattered gatherings, which will meet on the evenings of October 4, 9, 11, & 19 at locations throughout eastern Pennsylvania (TBA) or online streaming. The purpose of these gatherings is to prepare delegates, according to Gay Brunt Miller, director of administration. “It is an important assignment that helps to influence and shape the work of Franconia Conference and should be accepted with a real sense of God’s call,” she said.

This is not the first partnership between Franconia and Eastern District Conferences: they already share office space and staff and are in the process of hiring a shared conference youth minister. The conferences also share resources and training events, so the joint conference assembly is a logical next step. “It feels natural and timely,” said Whigham. “We are excited about the possibilities of what it will mean for our future together.”

Hound of heaven in hot pursuit

Verle Brubaker, Swamp, pastorverle@justswamp.com

I fled Him down the nights and down the days
I fled Him down the arches of the years
I fled Him down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind, and in the midst of tears
I hid from him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped and shot precipitated
Adown titanic glooms of chasmed fears
From those strong feet that followed, followed after
But with unhurrying chase and unperturbed pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat, and a Voice beat,
More instant than the feet:
All things betray thee who betrayest me.
“The Hound of Heaven,” Francis Thompson, 1893

I was from the earliest years called to service. I helped my mother teach Good News Clubs throughout the year, folded bulletins for church, taught Sunday School classes, led summer camps. My dream was to be David Livingstone, Jr., serving in the mission field as a medical doctor.

Growing up in a pastor’s family with three uncles as pastors and three prior generations serving as pastors in the Brethren in Christ Church is quite a legacy to live into. It was overwhelming. The last thing I wanted, growing up in that environment, was to be a pastor.

During my teen years the call came particularly clearly as my father was exiting one of his pastoral assignments. I can remember tearfully hearing the call and anxiously saying to myself, “This can’t be happening.”

Resistance to the call took many of the forms of adolescent rebellion. Like Francis Thompson wrote in The Hound of Heaven, I tried many diversions and pathways that ultimately proved futile.

As I entered college I pursued the dream of medical missions. Yet I could not resist the call. I do not know exactly what triggered the final surrender but it happened in the middle of my sophomore year at Messiah College. At that time I switched my major from pre-med to Bible. An interim pastorate between my sophomore and junior years, seminary experiences, and Voluntary Service assignments further affirmed the call and my response.

I have found joy in learning about God’s church and his call to it. I have a passion for the church to be the church, living out the kingdom of God to a needy world. I have learned that my role as pastor is to help the church become the vehicle of God’s grace to the world, a sign of God’s will for heaven being lived out here on earth.

That sense of call has kept me focused over the more than 30 years I have served the church in the pastoral role. I do not regret the surrender. As Francis Thompson found at the conclusion of his flight from the Hound of Heaven:

All which I took from thee, I did’st but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might’st seek it in my arms.
All which thy child’s mistake fancies as lost,
I have stored for thee at Home.
Rise, clasp my hand, and come.
Halts by me that Footfall.
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?
Ah, Fondest, Blindest, Weakest,
I am He whom thou seekest. . . .

God’s call from the Andes Mountains

Ubaldo Rodriguez, New Hope Fellowship Baltimore, ubalrod@hotmail.com

I am glad that the Lord called me when I was a teenager. I believe nowadays that listening to God’s call is hard because we must listen through the worries of life and the distraction of the world’s noise to hear and respond to his call.

During the preparation for “my first communion” in the Catholic Church, I started to feel the Lord’s call toward service. I was 12 and lived with my parents by the Andes Mountains thirty miles north of Bogota, Colombia. I remember that I had some questions about Jesus and the Catholic Church. I asked questions like, “Why did baby Jesus not grow up?” “Why did we have to pay for baptisms, confirmations and funerals?” and “Why was preaching not relevant for real life?” I knew, somehow, that something was not right, but I did not know what.

When I was 19, my parents sent me to Bogota to study. After a semester of living in a big city, my father and I got involved in a witchcraft situation without knowing it. We went to different places for help, but we could not find any release. We could not become free from that evil power. My uncle, who was Christian, told us that the only way to overcome that evil power was through Jesus Christ. Therefore, we decided to accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, and we started to attend a Mennonite church in Bogota. After several months of attending, we were free from that evil influence. After a year, I was baptized by water. I remember that after my baptism, I began to pray for the baptism of the Holy Spirit. I prayed for a long time, believing Luke 11:13b: “. . . how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (NRSV) After three years of prayer, I was baptized in the Spirit in a worship service.

Years later, I studied in Bogota in a two-year evangelical Bible institute. After that, the Lord granted me a one-year opportunity through the Mennonite Central Committee International Exchange Program in the US. Reflecting back on that time, I realized that the Lord was opening doors for me in different places. It was during that time, as I walked through those doors in obedience to God, that my ministry began to take shape. It was also during that time in 1993 that I decided to open my life completely to God and to serve the Lord only. I quit my job and said, “Lord, here is my life, use me as you wish.” God started to open doors outside Colombia for my Biblical and theological formation. I went to Hesston College’s Pastoral Ministry Program. Years later, I went to Costa Rica to study the scriptures from the Latin American perspective. I thought Colombia was going to be the place for a long-term ministry, working with the poor and the victims of the country’s internal conflict, however the Lord had other plans for me. In 2006, God, in his mercy, allowed me to come to Eastern Mennonite Seminary for further education. Maybe God took me out of my country in order to serve somewhere else and not become one of the hundreds of pastors killed recently in Colombia.

God’s call in my life has been a process: accepting Jesus as my Lord and Savior, witnessing God’s power against the powers of darkness, experiencing baptism in the Holy Spirit, responding in obedience, receiving an excellent Christian education and committing to serve in the Mennonite Church.

New Hope Fellowship Baltimore is a new church plant connected with Wilkins Avenue Mennonite Church and New Hope Fellowship in Alexandria, VA. If you are interested in supporting this initiative to reach Spanish speakers in the city, contact Steve Kriss, skriss@franconiaconference.org.

To each according to their need: Ongoing partnership in the Vermont Mountains

Brandon Bergey, Bethany, brandon@bethanybirches.org

Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged presents ideas that are seemingly opposed to the Reign of God. Ayn Rand’s philosophy on the matter of need suggests that people should get only what they earn, regardless of their needs. If you earn it, it’s yours. If you need it, well, you can’t have it until you earn it. She believed that this would create a society full of contributing individuals. Consider that.

Now, consider Acts 4:32-35 from The Message.

The whole congregation of believers was united as one—one heart, one mind! They didn’t even claim ownership of their own possessions. No one said, “That’s mine; you can’t have it.” They shared everything. The apostles gave powerful witness to the resurrection of the Master Jesus, and grace was on all of them. And so it turned out that not a person among them was needy. Those who owned fields or houses sold them and brought the price of the sale to the apostles and made an offering of it. The apostles then distributed it according to each person’s need.

I realize that Ayn Rand may not have seriously considered the Reign of God as a legitimate economic model. That doesn’t mean Bethany Birches Camp (BBC) shouldn’t. While I’m not advocating for communism or even a reversion to the early church, I’m advocating for an acceptance of God’s spirit and way, best viewed through the person of Jesus: a person who sent his followers out to the world with almost no earthly possessions; a person who told his students to give their shirt away to someone who demanded it, rather than put up a fight; a person who taught that if two or three gather in his name and agree, whatever they ask for will be given. Jesus was not a person focused on rights and earnings. He was a person who understood that anything he had was a gift from his Father in Heaven.

Summer campers at Bethany Birches. Photo by Brandon Bergey

Since the beginning of BBC in 1965 we have tried to offer a unique camping experience, creating a community of love with whoever joins and we’ve tried to do this at a low price. While a camping community is a different version of the church than what we see in Acts, there is much similarity.

Obviously, offering something to someone for less than what it costs to provide that something runs up a deficit somewhere. Let’s put this in the context of camp. If it costs us about 400/camper, and we charge $200, there is $200 of expense remaining. Who will pay the remaining $200? Enter: donors. Donors give gifts from the riches they’ve been given.

Bethany Birches was initiated with a donation of land. And since that very first day, our story has been one of people providing money, time and other resources to make the camp possible; an ongoing illustration of God’s provision for kids to have a special, faith-developing experience.

In a board meeting in 2010 we were discussing these issues around the topic of pricing. We talked about the fact that some of our camper families have much resource and some have very little. We developed the idea of tiered pricing.

We are just now finished with the first summer season that used a tiered pricing structure. The highest tier is about what we figure it costs to have a camper at camp (no profit built in). Both of the lower tiers are donor-subsidized rates.

Could we consider this a Kingdom economic model? Or perhaps foolishness? Maybe we can just call it a system built for taking advantage of. Whatever you call it, we’re trusting that the Christ who inspired the craziness in the book of Acts will continue to inspire us and show us a way so that “not a person among them was needy.”

Opening new doors in the Poconos

Grace Nolt, Public Communications Coordinator, Spruce Lake Retreat,  grace@sprucelake.org

For 48 years, Spruce Lodge has been the changeless hub of Spruce Lake Retreat, but a new door to the future has opened!

Spruce Lake has embarked on a visionary yet demanding $8 million “New Horizons” capital campaign to build a new hospitality center. Ribbon-cutting is anticipated for May 19, 2013, in time to celebrateSpruceLake’s 50th anniversary.  Confident of God’s hand in the decision to move forward in spite of the current economy, board and staff see this step as an opportunity God has put into place.

Possibly the oldest building on the grounds, Spruce Lodge is well-loved, like a favorite pair of worn shoes in which we feel comfortable. It’s also a kind of holy place; many who have entered through its doors have been changed forever.

Yet the familiarity—and the patience—is wearing thin. Staff frequently serve meals for 250 people or more in space intended for 140 at best. Guests worm their way through the often crowded lobby to tiny public restrooms. Those who lodge upstairs can hear what their neighbors do or say in the next room. And there are more old boards, leaks and fire hazards than staff would want anyone to know! Spruce Lodge has even been referred to as the Achilles’ heel of Spruce Lake.

Spruce Lake has been inching toward the new dining room for 20 years. Since 1991, five different plans have been proposed. The board believes that now is the time to act on building a new Hospitality Center that will meet Spruce Lake’s program needs while maintaining a responsible budget and meshing fluently with the natural environment.

Chad Davidheiser of Bethlehem, Pa., has attended Joni and Friends Family Camp for nearly 20 years. (Left to right: Chad Davidheiser, Mark Swartley, and Jackie Swartley.) Photo by Grace Nolt

Some guests can hardly wait! Joni and Friends International Disability Center (JAF) is one such group.

“For more than 20 years,” said JAF founder Joni Eareckson Tada, “Joni and Friends has been a partner with Spruce Lake in serving families with disability. The new Hospitality Center means that Joni and Friends will be able to serve 45 more special needs families every summer. That is huge!”

JAF holds three weeklong Family Camps at Spruce Lake each year. All are full, with approximately 40 families each week. As many as 38 families are on waiting lists.

Increased accessibility will enhance Spruce Lake’s long-held commitment to provide facilities suitable for persons with disabilities.  Other features will also allow Spruce Lake to continue honoring guests with an enjoyable, inspiring and quality experience through which God can ease his way into their hearts.

In July, 2011, RIPPLE Allentown, a Franconia Mennonite Conference Partner-in-Mission, held its first church leadership retreat at Spruce Lake. That experience was just what the group needed for listening to the voice of God more clearly.  “Leaving the city to meet elsewhere was new for us,” Pastor Tom Albright said. “Some of our group had never been away from an urban setting.”

“God was present (and) we grew closer to Jesus,” Albright continued, “as we realized that we all are broken, healing, hurting, loved and forgiven people. That breakthrough has brought us to a place where we are listening to God and to each other, while being disciples of Jesus.  Our return to the city has included thanks and praise to God, and the desire to return to Spruce Lake to hear, see, taste, touch and smell that God is so good!”

As Spruce Lake moves through the door that God has opened, the $8 million needed for the New Horizons campaign is indeed a big goal. And it will require the cooperation of many hands and hearts so that future generations can also “hear, see, taste, touch and smell” that God is good!