All posts by Conference Office

Delegates Begin Conferring for Assembly

This year, Franconia Conference delegates are being asked to consider two main agenda items at the Fall Assembly: One being four congregations for membership, three of these congregations come from California and one from New York. All four are Indonesian congregations and have ties to Franconia’s Indonesian congregations in South Philadelphia. The second item delegates are being asked to consider is the recommendations from the Exploring Reconciliation Reference Team, which states that the team recommends that Eastern District and Franconia Conferences, “enter a formal engagement process for the purposes of healing and reconciliation and with the intention of becoming a single, unified conference by November 2019.”

Both of these items are monumental for Franconia Conference. Therefore, delegate discernment around them began this past week at two Assembly Scattered meetings. These meetings are an opportunity for delegates to gather together and discuss the agenda items and ask questions of conference leadership. The scattered meetings began last week, one being held on October 5 at Franconia Mennonite Church and a second on October 10 at Swamp Mennonite Church with combined participation of around 100 delegates. Two more scattered meetings are scheduled for this coming week: October 16 at Nueva Vida Norristown New Life and October 17 via video conference. Currently, 61% of Franconia Conference delegates have either attended or are registered to attend an assembly scattered meeting.

These scattered meetings provide vital discernment time as together, delegates work to confer around whether or not to admit four new congregations as members and whether or not to continue to envision a single united conference with Eastern District. The hope is that by the end of Assembly 2017, Franconia Conference will know if they have 4 new member churches and whether or not they will be working to implement a team to envision a united conference with Eastern District (EDC), so that in November of 2019 they will be able to vote on whether or not to merge with EDC.

Admitting the four congregations as members would make Franconia a bi-coastal conference. Modern technology makes relationships across great distance a bit easier.  At one point in Franconia’s history, leaders used to take 7-hour buggy rides to visit constituents; now, it would be a 7-hour bi-coastal plane ride. As Steve Kriss, Executive Minister, said in a recent article, “In the past, we have worked at church planting in Hawaii.  We have maintained long term partnerships with congregations in Mexico City.  For 50 years we have traveled the six-hour trip back and forth to our congregations in Vermont.  This will have some similar characteristics; there will for sure be challenges, but I believe that we’ll learn and be stronger by cultivating these partnerships together.”

Since 2011, Eastern District and Franconia Conferences have been working together more formally with their leadership, meeting on a regular basis and sharing in joint assemblies each fall. Congregations in close proximity have also worked at building relationships. At the 2016 Conference Assembly, both conferences agreed to implement an Exploring Reconciliation Reference Team (read more about that here) to see if Reconciliation was possible between the two Conferences. That team not only believes reconciliation is possible, but also believes there is a possibility for merger as laid out in their final report which can be viewed here: edc-fmc.org/exploring-reconciliation-report. However, there is still work to be done before merger can be considered. This year at Assembly, delegates will discern if they believe God is calling them to that work.

As the Conference continues to work to equip leaders to empower others to embrace God’s mission, there is much prayer and discernment to be done.

To learn more about the four new churches, check out the Congregational Profiles on the Franconia Business Tab at: edc-fmc.org/assembly/.

 

Good Neighbors Through the Rain

By Karen Kingma, Ambler Mennonite Church Ministry Team Administrator

Ambler Mennonite Church (AMC) sits on a beautiful, large corner lot in the borough of Ambler, Pennsylvania.  Environmental stewardship of that property is important to the congregation, and in September, we took a big step towards improving our green infrastructure with the installation of a large rain garden.

Previously, storm water runoff from our parking lot and yard made its way to the lowest corner of the property, making it soggy, muddy, and generally unattractive. This runoff also contributed to downstream flooding of the Wissahickon Creek that occasionally caused flooding for our neighbors. In an effort to be good neighbors and good stewards, AMC reached out to Ambler’s Environmental Advisory Council (EAC) for assistance and expertise, knowing that they had initiated the installation of dozens of rain gardens on private and public property throughout the borough.

The EAC was excited to collaborate with us.  They brought in Red Tail Land Restoration & Land Management to do the soil remediation and Tannery Run Brew Works to provide volunteer labor and financial support.  We all saw the potential in this soggy corner for a garden that would filter pollutants, have better drainage, reduce downstream flooding of the Wissahickon Creek, and be a source of beauty and enjoyment for the congregation and the neighborhood.  Due to the visibility of our property, the EAC also saw opportunities for using the garden to educate the community about storm water management, rain gardens, native plants, and environmental stewardship.

AMC and community members dug deep (literally) in their own gardens to supply a variety of plants and shrubs.  On a crisp fall morning in late September, dozens of church and community volunteers came together to plant the new rain garden.  Local business donated coffee and pastries to keep the volunteers energized.

Working all together was a tremendous blessing, as connections with neighbors and new friends were made.  The end result is a beautiful space that arose from neighbors who care for each other and the environment.

 

Stewardship

By C. Conrad Martin, Director of Finance

I was reminded again during my morning devotions, from Deuteronomy 10:14 that everything belongs to God, the heavens, the earth and everything in it.  Exodus 9:29, Psalm 24:1, and 1 Corinthians 10:26 reiterate this theme.

So what.  What does this mean for us?  Matthew 25:14-30, which the NIV subtitles “The Parable of the Bags of Gold,” gives us a brief glimpse of what this could mean.  We are all given some part of God’s creation, each according to our abilities, to steward on His behalf.  We ultimately must realize that whatever we have been given, must be returned to the one who gave it to us.  So what are we doing with it in the meantime?

Luke 12:48b (NIV) also gives us the charge that “…from everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”  The “much” in this verse isn’t quantified, so can we assume that what we have been given is as much as our abilities can handle?  And that if we steward what we have been given wisely, our abilities can grow and more will be given to us to steward?

Mark Vincent in his publication, A Stewardship Manifesto, delves deeply into the study of stewardship, defining a steward as someone entrusted to take care of someone else’s assets.  So since everything belongs to God, the ultimate steward is someone who cares for God’s assets, even to the point of treating these assets as if they were one’s very own — although seeing how some people treat the assets they call their own, I might wonder about that.

Vincent goes on to say that stewardship is the act of willingly and responsibly caring for this charge.  He also lists four assumptions for being a steward and carrying out good stewardship:

  • it requires my service
  • it is the highest level of personal fulfillment
  • it is done in community (we are not alone in this)
  • it is done willingly

What is our motivation for stewardship?  Vincent give four possible answers:

  • Obligation, done out of some religious mandate, possibly even out of guilt or fear
  • Philanthropy, done out of love for mankind, to be a better person or a concern for one’s own well-being
  • Prosperity, done out of the belief that by managing God’s resources wisely, one will gain a material blessing
  • Worship, rooted in grace as a response to a generous God; it isn’t something you do, but rather it is something you become. Vincent quotes Lynn Miller in saying that stewardship is “organizing life so God can give you away”

So, what is your motivation for stewardship? Are you being a good steward?

Partial Vision

By Marta Castillo, LEADership Minister

One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” When faced with new situations, unexpected challenges, decision-making, or new information, my mind starts to try to make sense of it using my senses, my past experiences, and my knowledge. It is natural for us to try to problem solve and to find a space for information within our framework of understanding.

However, as followers of Jesus Christ, children of God, and saints led by the Spirit, we are called to look beyond our own understanding and to trust in the Lord and submit to God’s wisdom and way. When we look at the gospels, we see how many times Jesus says to people, “You do not understand.” As he washes the disciples’ feet, Jesus says in John 13:7, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” To Nicodemus, in John 3, Jesus answers, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?” When Jesus told parables, and talked about his upcoming death to the disciples, the ones closest to Him, did not understand. John 12:16 says, “His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him.”

Richard Rohr uses the term “partial vision”, the need to recognize that we understand only in part. Our acknowledgement that we know only in part (1 Corinthians 13:12) allows us to “lean not on our own understanding,” to trust in God, and to submit our ways to God so that God can direct our paths. Our confession that we have “partial vision” humbles us and allows us to listen to others who have “partial vision” and seek God who fully sees and knows all things.

In Franconia Conference, we are facing all kinds of new situations, receiving new congregations, facing unexpected challenges, deciding about possible reconciliation, and making new kinds of decisions. I believe that we will all benefit from confessing together that we have “partial vision” and that there are numerous ways that God is working that are outside of our understanding and comprehension. I believe that we will benefit in committing and submitting together to walk in trust of the Lord, following the footsteps of Jesus, and relying heavily on the lead of the Holy Spirit.

I  Corinthians 13:12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

 

Where Hope Meets History

By Kendra Rittenhouse, Salford

A 300 year anniversary meant more than one day of celebration for Salford Mennonite Church. Beginning Sunday, September 10th and culminating with a feast of events the following weekend, it was a look to the past that has shaped the present as the congregation heads with hope to the future.

Brian McLaren

Sunday, September 10, Salford began celebrating 300 years of history and hope with guest speaker and author Brian McLaren who among other things gave a presentation of his most recent book, “The Great Spiritual Migration.” McLaren urges Christians to follow closely the words and teachings of Jesus rather than give priority to doctrine and theology. Links to his sermon and afternoon presentation can be found at http://brianmclaren.net/heres-what-i-shared-in-pennsylvania/. The service also included a song written by Lynelle Bush.

The following weekend of celebration began on Friday, September 15 with a play, “These Are My People,” written by Ted Swartz of Ted & Company in collaboration with Brent Anders and was performed by a cast of Salford members along with Ted. Presented again on Saturday evening, it told the story of Salford including why people come, why they leave, the struggle of change from the past to the present day, and the sacredness of gathering together.

Saturday, September 16, a community day was held in the grove next to the school house which included food, fun, and historical tours. A large tent shielded church members and visitors from the warm sun and provided a place to gather, eat together, and enjoy music provided by groups that included Salford members. Bus tours of local Mennonite history, led by John Ruth, included the Dielman Kolb House, Lower Skippack Mennonite Church, and Upper Skippack Mennonite Church, as well as sights throughout Skippack, Upper Salford, and Lower Salford Townships. Joel Alderfer of the Mennonite Historians gave cemetery tours telling of past members who shaped Salford’s history.

Saturday’s activities also included volleyball in the grove and children’s games from a century ago. Children also painted rocks for Color Harleysville, cheerful rocks to be hidden and found throughout the Harleysville area. A photo booth made for fun reminders of the day.

Sunday morning, September 17, began with worship and ended with a catered meal for members and visitors. The sermon on Matthew 14, given by pastor Joe Hackman, focused on having the courage to ‘get out of the boat’ when Jesus calls.  Examples of courage were former pastor Mim Book in following her call in a time when women’s ministry gifts were not recognized, and of MJ Sharp who lost his life working for peace in the Congo earlier this year.

The service also included art and musical offerings. A vocal ensemble and the choir each sang songs of rootedness and vision. As well, a commissioned fraktur by Roma Ruth was presented by Mary Jane Hershey and Roma Ruth and is hanging in the church lobby.

Attending the morning service were former pastors Jim Lapp, Ben Wideman, Mim Book, Maribeth Longacre Benner, Jim Longacre, Loren Swartzendruber, Michael King, Willis Miller, John Ruth, and John Sharp. A panel discussion by the former pastors was held during the second hour in which they reflected on the eras they served at Salford.

In a blessing to the congregation former pastors, Jim Longacre and John Sharp urged the congregation to turn away from Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism, to turn back to the teachings of Jesus. John Ruth, in agreement, also reminded us to return to the early Anabaptist teachings and to focus on relationship, which is core to salvation.

It is said that the growth of a plant is proportional to its roots. Salford’s deep and expansive roots are testimony to a rich and fertile relationship with God. Remembering the past, the changes that have taken place, and that God is always faithful and will be faithful in the changes to come made for spirits ready to grow and a celebration full of hope.

Digging Deep in Faith

By Paula Marolewski, Perkiomenville Mennonite Church

“As we got ready to drill the well, people just shook their heads. ‘There’s no water there; you’re wasting your time,’ they said. They didn’t even stay to watch us drill. But I thought to myself, many people are praying back home. We will find water.”

Gwab Mpofu has been shining that light of faith in the Perkiomenville Mennonite Church family ever since he first came to the United States in 2000 from the village of Bulawayo in Zimbabwe. Like many immigrants, Gwab maintains close ties with his family overseas. He has a deep understanding of the needs the village faces, and a clear vision of how to meet those needs. Over the years, he has communicated that understanding and vision to the congregation at Perkiomenville. So, when he decided to send a container the size of a semi-trailer to Zimbabwe, the church was behind him 100%. Gwab raised money and sent a much-needed tractor, truck, and plow to his village, along with clothing and other supplies. Church members not only helped with funds and donations, but also worked with Gwab to pack the huge container to be shipped overseas.

Three years later, Gwab did it a second time – this time, with a backhoe and other farm equipment filling the container.

In 2016, Gwab voiced a plan for his most audacious goal yet: to drill a well for the village. “The villagers have to walk three to five kilometers each day to get water,” Gwab explained. “A few years ago, my mother’s health was endangered when she became seriously dehydrated. So I thought, why can’t we drill a well?”

For many people, the obstacles would be overwhelming. Drilling a well requires paperwork, time, equipment, workers, and – of course – money. But Gwab had already raised thousands of dollars to send the two containers to Zimbabwe. He had gone over both times to shepherd the containers through customs, past countless officials and red tape. He knew the ropes.

Perkiomenville was again ready to stand with him. Members donated money and encouraged Gwab when the going got tough. Most important of all, they prayed. “Without my church family’s emotional support, friendship, and prayer, I could not have done any of this,” said Gwab.

In all, Gwab raised over $15,000 from the church, his workplace, and the community. He went back to his village this summer to drill. “The people did not believe we would find water,” he noted. “They had drilled a well several years ago, going down 80 meters and finding nothing. They pointed to that dry well and told us we were wasting our time.”

Gwab didn’t have the money for an official site survey, but he knew that his church family in the U.S. was praying. “I believed that God would guide us to the place to drill,” he affirmed.

At 70 meters down, Gwab’s drill team hit water. “Suddenly, the villagers took notice. They were thrilled. It was amazing – they were literally coming with buckets while we were still drilling!”

Gwab’s team went down a full 90 meters to ensure a reliable supply of water. A solar pump was put in place to draw the water up and deliver it to a 1300 gallon holding tank.

The well has been transformative to the lives of the villagers. But it has also been transformative to the lives of the people at Perkiomenville. “Gwab has expanded our understanding of conditions in Africa and the plight of our brothers and sisters there,” said Charlie Ness, pastor at Perkiomenville. “Previously, we had no connections in Africa – now, we do. His bishop came and preached here a few years ago, and we hosted several pastors here for a Mennonite conference. We continue to have ongoing relationships with them.”

Paula Marolewski, a member of Perkiomenville, affirmed, “Gwab’s faith and generosity and perseverance have been a model and an inspiration for me. When I think ‘I can’t do this,’ I remember what he has done. He doesn’t know the word ‘quit’ because he truly understands how powerful and faithful God is.”

Perspective from a Veteran and a Mennonite Pastor

by Ben Walter, co-pastor at Ripple

The national anthem protests in the NFL this week  have brought everyone to the table with opinions, praises, threats, and outrage.

As a US Army veteran, I can understand why many people think it is a big deal that someone would decide to sit or kneel instead of standing for the anthem. Standing up is viewed as a way to honor those who serve in our nation’s military. Participating in the patriotic rituals of our culture is strongly linked to showing respect for the men and women who have died while serving in the armed forces.

However, there is also an inherent element of praise for our country in the singing of and standing for the national anthem. This seems to be at the root of the conflict surrounding this issue. Many Americans view our nation as the example of righteousness in the world, embodying freedom and justice for all. Others, especially people of color, look at their own history in this country and do not see much righteousness, freedom, or justice. In fact, that history is full of terror, violence, theft, and death.

You may read this and want to reply with examples of people of color who have been successful in the United States. We just had eight years with an African American president. Colin Kaepernick and others who kneel are millionaires. Though true, this does not change the fact that black folks across our country still face numerous injustices that are inextricably linked to the color of their skin: housing discrimination, lack of community support and resources, racial profiling, stop-and-frisk, police brutality, the school-to-prison pipeline, and mass incarceration.

These atrocities are part of the system of white supremacy that has been in the DNA of our nation since the beginning. This is our national original sin.  Yet, we continue to refuse to confess, repent, and work toward ending this sickness. Until things change, people of color will bear the dire consequences, and those of us who live under the shade of white supremacy continue to dehumanize others and ourselves.

When Colin Kaepernick took a knee last year during the national anthem, these were the things that weighed heavy on his mind. He was refusing to stand in honor of a nation that is failing to live up to it’s ideals of freedom and justice for all. He refused to stand in praise of a nation with police who murder black people and a justice system that allows them to go free.  This problem is bigger than a few racist cops.  It stretches all the way from the courts to the streets to our minds, and deep into our hearts.

Despite my time in the military, I take no offense when someone kneels in protest during the national anthem. Personally, I view much of our military-focused patriotism as a form of idolatry, worshiping the gods of power and pride. As a Christian, I seek to give my allegiance to God alone.  God and country are not one in the same.

Given our nation’s history of racism and ongoing racial injustice I empathize with those who refuse to give it praise. As followers of Jesus, we are called to go beyond empathy and move toward solidarity, specifically with oppressed people and communities.  Seeking to understand the protests is just the beginning.