All posts by Conference Office

Waiting on That New Thing

by Mike Clemmer, leadership minister

On Sunday, June 30, I preached my last sermon as the pastor of Towamencin Mennonite Church.

I had the privilege of serving at Towamencin for 14 wonderful years, yet, in the past year, my wife and I have sensed the Lord’s call on our lives to transition into a new ministry opportunity. For Towamencin, this means that they will now to need seek out and call a new pastor. For April and me, it is beginning a journey of exploring the unknown lands of the Lancaster area so that we can use our gifts of ministry in a church near our family.

Leaving Towamencin and the Franconia area are certainly big changes for me – but I am also aware that it is a big change for the congregation. We always say, “transition and change are both part of life,” but, in reality, change hits us all hard.

We as Eastern District and Franconia Conferences are also in the midst of change as we move towards a reconciled and merged conference this Fall. Unfortunately, times of change often bring about a period of anxiety and fear.  I have seen some of these emotions at times in my own life, at Towamencin, and within both Conferences.

In the midst of transition, however, I am also amazed at how often I have seen God at work – in my own life, but also growth and renewal at Towamencin – as well as in the Conferences. It is helpful to remember that God is always at work and promises to be with us always. So perhaps, in times of transition, we need to lay aside our anxieties and simply celebrate what God has already done and put more of an effort into anticipating what God is about to do.  

My wife April recently wrote these words in a Lenten devotional regarding change:

On this journey of life, I find myself once again in a place of waiting on God: for direction, for clarity, for peace.  Change is on the horizon, and with that comes excitement, but also some anxiety and fear.  In my humanness, I like to know “the plan,” … to have a picture of what’s ahead … to be in control.  But we don’t always have the luxury of these things. Change isn’t always easy, but I’ve heard it said that growth doesn’t come without change.  During this time of waiting, I see that God is helping me grow by building a deeper trust in Him and a humility in me.  I’m reminded that this isn’t about “me,” but about what God is planning to do. And I’m seeing this as a time of preparation for whatever lies ahead.

The words “waiting” and “preparation” are great words to reflect on as we deal with the emotions that transition and change bring into our life.  Psalm 27:14 says, “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”  Isn’t it amazing how God knows we often need to hear that reminder twice … Wait for the Lord!

As we continue to pray for our churches and our upcoming reconciliation of Conferences, may we also approach these uncertain times by preparing for what God is about to do by simply waiting on the Lord! Wait … Wait … “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:19)

 

Meeting Neighbors Near and Far

by Kiron Mateti, Franconia Board Member (Plains congregation)

As a relatively new board member with below average Spanish skills, I was surprised, but honored, when Franconia’s Executive Minister Steve Kriss asked me to join him and a Pennsylvania contingent to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Anabaptist churches in Mexico City.

A portion of our Pennsylvania contingent: Mary & Danilo Sanchez, Steve Kriss, and Kiron Mateti (not pictured: David Yoder and Cathy Godshall).

I boarded the plane with the stress of work still looming over me, and the mixed feelings that come with leaving a pregnant wife and two girls at home in PA while going on an exciting trip to Mexico.  With strong encouragement from my lovely and thoughtful wife, however, we agreed that this trip would be an opportunity to meet the real people of Mexico, to put faces to the impersonal news stories I often hear, and to allow God to recalibrate my ideas of who His people are in the world.

Our gracious host Oscar drove Steve, Danilo & Mary Sanchez (Ripple congregation), and me around Mexico City in Carlos Martinez Garcia’s Toyota Avanza.  I had previously met Carlos, moderator of the Conferencia de Iglesias Evangélicas Anabautistas Menonitas de México (CIEAMM) at the “Renewing Nations & Generations” gathering before 2018 Fall Assembly.  I enjoyed getting to know Carlos more and meeting Oscar for the first time, and greatly appreciated their hospitality.

Oscar’s heart reminded me of my Uncle Ravi in India.  One day, as we were driving to someone’s house for lunch, I mentioned how fresh the fruit in the road-side stand looked.  After we arrived and greeted everyone, we didn’t notice Oscar slip out.  Then, suddenly, Oscar had come back with fresh papaya, and proceeded to cut it and personally serve me a bowl with Tajin and fresh squeezed lime.  Que bien!

My mom’s native tongue is an Indian language called Telugu.  It is one of my life’s regrets that I can’t speak Telugu. In my defense, some of my hesitation to even try stems from instances of uncontrollable laughter when attempting to speak Telugu with my mom.  I guess I have an American accent.

But with Spanish I determined it would be different.  Spanish was not new to me—I had taken four years in high school.  But that was almost two decades ago!  I decided that I would speak what little Spanish I knew, and I would welcome the laughter.

But the laughter never came.

Instead my new amigos y hermanos appreciated my feeble Spanish, and I was amazed and thankful for how many people were willing to teach me along the way. And also, thank God for Google Translate!

The celebration services at El Buen Pastor, Luz y Verdad, and Cristiana de Paz congregations were a wonderful glimpse into a thriving Anabaptist church presence in Mexico City.  I was thankful to worship with my fellow believers, my neighbors from afar, and thankful to build relationships with the churches there.

Members from Iglesia Menonita Ebenezer at the Fourth of July “You Are Welcome” event.

Back home, at our 2nd annual “You are Welcome” Fourth of July picnic, Plains Mennonite Church and the Evangelical Center for Revival joined with Iglesia Menonita Ebenezer to enjoy music, food, and games in the sun at Plains Park.  Following my trip to Mexico, I found newfound courage that day to interact with fellow believers across the language and cultural divide. God used this trip to teach me that I don’t need to travel far to meet my neighbors—I can build relationships with my neighbors right here at home.

Food – Heritage, Sustenance, Culture, Celebration, Community

by Sarah Heffner, Mennonite Heritage Center

 Food is a daily and essential part of our lives. It touches on creation, celebration, and community.  Food is also a concern as extreme weather cycles and global strife impact the production of food and people’s access to adequate food. Global issues affect local food production and food consumption. Locally, 10 – 11% of Montgomery County residents experience some form of food insecurity.  

A new exhibit, Food: Our Global Kitchen will be on display from July 6, 2019 through January 4, 2020 at the Mennonite Heritage Center. The Opening Reception for the exhibit is scheduled for Sunday, July 28 from 2-4 pm. The exhibit features large-format, colorful exhibit panels created by the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH).  Exhibit themes about the global food supply include Food Waste, Scarcity & Abundance, Crop Diversity, Trade & Transportation and the Future of Growing.

The accompanying exhibit, Food Heritage of Eastern Pennsylvania, depicts our regional food heritage. Raising crops and preparing and preserving food was, and still is, a keen reminder that we are dependent on the Lord for the harvest each year. Events like our Apple Butter Frolic are great fun, with the sampling of traditional foods and farming demonstrations, but events like that don’t always connect us to the realities or labor of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century farm families or what the loss of prime farm land to development has meant in the mid-twentieth century. The regional food heritage exhibit connects some of those dots.

The local food story will begin with that of the 17th-century Lenape people and continue with the stories of the 18th-century European immigrants and 19th-century farm families who raised and prepared most of their own food. Beginning in the mid-20th-century, the region experienced rapid growth and development, and, today, a minority of area Mennonites are involved in agriculture. There is, however, a resurgence of interest in locally grown food, seasonal cuisine, and environmental and social justice issues surrounding food production and distribution.

Programming accompanying the Food: Our Global Kitchen exhibit: 

  • Friday, September 20, 5 p.m. Traditional Foods Potluck, in partnership with Indian Valley Public Library. Bring a dish from ethnic cookbooks featured at the library. Preregistration required.
  • Sunday, October 27, 7 pm. Community Harvest Home service in the Nyce Barn. Speaker Nate Stucky, Director of the Farminary Project, Princeton Theological Seminary. Open to the public.
  • Friday, November 8, 5 p.m. “Mennonite Community Cookbook” Potluck celebrates this classic Pennsylvania German Mennonite cookbook. Bring a dish/recipe from the cookbook. Preregistration required.
  • Sunday, November 17, 2:00 pm: This Very Ground, This Crooked Affair—Historian and storyteller John Ruth will present his work on finding language and understanding around the transfer of the land between the Schuylkill and Delaware rivers from native peoples to our Mennonite ancestors. Open to the public.

Thank you to the following congregations for their financial support for the exhibit: Blooming Glen Mennonite Church, Franconia Mennonite Church, Plains Mennonite Church, and Zion Mennonite Church, and to our business sponsors; Alderfer’s Poultry Farm, Godshall’s Quality Meats, and Bauman’s Fruit Butters.

There is Always Hope in God

by Wendy Wong, Souderton congregation 

Sue Park-Hur, denominational minister for leadership development, introduces the cross of reconciliation during Wednesday worship. Photo courtesy of MC USA.

This was my first experience attending Mennonite Convention.  3000 attendees were among us.  I attended all the worship services and I was very impressed by the energy the worship leaders had and the amazing resonance from the attendees.  I loved the inspirational songs and the fact that the leaders were ethnically diverse.  The emerging intergenerational worship created an atmosphere of joy & unity.  The unique stories from each speaker touched the audience’s heart.  Pastor Sue Park-Hur talked about how they reached out to North Koreans, a country that many might consider to be like Nineveh back in Jonah’s time.

I loved the teaching from Tom Yoder Neufeld.  He said, “Church is a mess;” we responded, “Thanks be to God!” He taught that “unity doesn’t mean harmony.”  He showed a picture of a drawing of Jesus who gathers our diversity (physical and mental) into His womb to create new human beings.  Churches should have vision, be open, pray for each other, show hospitality, and be transformed.  Forbearance means long-suffering and forgiveness and always watching the horizon like the father of the prodigal son.  There is always hope in God.

Wendy’s table group. Photo courtesy of Wendy Wong.

It is an excellent idea to have youth delegates and I am absolutely confident of what they can do for the kingdom of God.  Nowadays youth are a lot smarter than my generation. In my opinion, a youth board member and a youth in the pastoral search team may not be a bad idea. 

I totally agree on the resolution against the abuse of child migrants on the border.  Churches should be loving our neighbor through lobbying for family unification and policy change, sending members to witness the conditions of migrants and sending immigration detention kits, and even sending concern letters to the Southern Baptists so they can raise the concern to the president of the United States.

Wendy joins in the conga line during delegate worship. Photo courtesy of MC USA.

At my table, I heard that delegates were still very bothered by issues like LGBTQ and women in leadership roles, and some were not sure they will come next time.  I like the delegates from my table, however, and it felt like a family reunion.  We had Russian, German, Swiss, and Chinese Mennonites at our table. We prayed for each other and shared each other’s burden in just a few days of knowing each other.

Without coming to this convention, I would never have known how much we can be the light of the world for Jesus as an individual church or conference because we are a part of MC USA.  Sue Park-Hur challenged us to go wherever the Spirit leads us with the Spirit’s peace.  Leonard Dow challenged us to receive the Spirit and follow His guidance to overcome the challenges in our life.  Glen Guyton challenged us to humbly serve the body of Christ and to go, disarmed, to witness to the world.

The Unfathomable Movement of the Spirit

by Justin Burkholder, South Philly summer intern

Mennonite Convention 2019 was a fresh experience providing fruitful conversations, an open space to connect with God, and learning from one another about how God is moving, particularly through the Mennonite churches in this country.

Delegate sessions were fulfilling because of the unique opportunity to unite in Kansas City as brothers and sisters of various ages across the country. Conversations circled around shortcomings, mountain-top experiences, future challenges, and the unity of the Spirit laid out in Ephesians. Through three sessions on Ephesians, delegates were equipped with the charge of living cohesively amidst the reality that the church is messy; both locally and globally. The church was reinvigorated to praise God instead of allowing the differences to divide or define us. Tension or chaffing can be helpful because uniformity does not allow the space for challenging one another. In a world stained by sin, complete uniformity is not an option. Living together in harmony is encouraged, however, as Paul heavily emphasizes in Romans 12:18. The call to the church in Ephesus to “maintain the unity of the Spirit” (Eph. 4:3) has powerful relevance to the church in the twenty-first century.

Meghan Good teaches on the breath of the Spirit. Photo courtesy of Mennonite Church USA.

A speaker I thoroughly enjoyed was Meghan Good. Her sermon was titled He Breathed on Them. One story she highlighted was the unexpected call from God in her life. It was an ordinary afternoon when she felt an unquestionable revelation from God asking her to show up in a room for an unknown purpose. Waiting for her were two friends who were eager to pray for her life and calling. She felt the Spirit pour over her and comfort her in unfamiliar ways. It was a moment she felt renewed by God and credits it to the breath God breathed in her.

Meghan emphasized that much of our church has been running on empty, not seeking the source of our energy, our breath, our ruach. In scripture, God’s Spirit is also translated as wind, breath, energy. Meghan highlighted Genesis 2:7 which describes God breathing life into Adam. This is the original design and source of energy for humankind who believe in God as the creator. She gave the analogy of a hot air balloon because the balloon must be fueled by a consistent release of air or it will crash. Running through life without this source is exhausting and frustrating, but I—we—have learned to adopt the routine of faking it until it becomes too difficult on our own. God did not intend it to be this way.

Tom Yoder Neufeld led equipping times for the delegates on Ephesians. Photo by Vada Snider.

I believe our church must do a better job of accountability and vulnerability, because we have mastered and become comfortable with going through the motions. These motions are built to eventually return emotions of guilt, shame, and loneliness. God instead demands freedom. As Leonard Dow taught, the chains suddently fell off for Paul and Silas in prison when the wind-energy was released through the space (Acts 16:25-27). I believe God intends to release that energy through the church today so that we all witness and experience the power of God’s Spirit working through us. God is waiting with his arms wide open, ready for us to receive him. When we take one step towards him, he runs, eager to embrace us (Luke 15).

I was encouraged at convention to seek him directly. I do not want to run on my own and grow weary. We are not asked to go through any religious hoops to access him. Thanks be to God for the gift of his church and his Spirit.

              

              

Transformative Experiences at MC USA Convention 2019

by Justin Burkholder, South Philly summer intern

Mennonite Church USA (MC USA) held their biennial convention July 2-6 in Kansas City, Missouri. Three thousand energetic youth, children, and adults assembled for a week of learning, worship, serving, fellowship, and fun. The convention aims to build the vision and mission of MC USA as the church together embarks on God’s mission in the world.

Adult delegates met to discern the vision of the church together and for times of equipping.  Youth groups shared worship time with the adults and attended seminars during delegate sessions. Servant projects were also available each day for those who chose to join the efforts in the local community. The worship band was led by Seth Crissman (Walking Roots Band) and included various instruments, which created magnificent harmonies.

Youth worship in front of the stage at #MennoCon19. Photo courtesy of Mennonite Church USA.

Chuck Tirtasaputra was a youth attendee from Philadelphia Praise Center and found the worship especially meaningful. “There is something about a group of people singing together to worship God that moves me,” he reflected.  Youth crowded in front of the stage each worship session to gain the full experience of worshiping side by side with believers from all over the country. Mike Spinelli, pastor of Perkiomenville (PA) congregation, appreciated the passion of his church’s youth group: “The worship was a breath of fresh air as the youth enthusiastically moved to the front of the stage and full-on sang and jumped to the rhythms of grace.”

Beny Krisbianto (Nations Worship Center, Philadelphia, PA) in table discussions during #MennoCon19 delegate sessions. Photo by MC USA.

Worship also included a speaker each session who captivated the audience with an appealing story or message of God’s moving in their life. Speakers Dustin Galyon, Hesston College basketball coach, and Meghan Good, teaching pastor at Trinity Mennonite Church (Glendale, Arizona), were inspiring to Kyle Rodgers, youth pastor of Franconia (PA) congregation. Galyon emphasized that fear hates community, while Good highlighted that the breath of God is required to sustain our lives, in contrast to our own breath or the breath of others.

Delegate sessions were introduced on Wednesday morning with the formation of table groups. Tom Yoder Neufeld, professor emeritus at Conrad Grebel University, led three sessions from Ephesians titled Gathered as One on the unity of the Spirit. There was time for table discussions and eventually question and answer following each teaching session.

Justin Burkholder and Graciella Odelia become Franconia Conference’s first voting youth delegates. They were attending #MennoCon19 through the Step Up program. Photo by Emily Ralph Servant.

In the afternoon delegate sessions, table discussions centered around the Journey Forward, a conversation continued from convention in 2017. One discussion prompt read, “Identify one part of our shared peace witness we should work on together for the next biennium.” A variety of perspectives were discussed, including shared belief that our church must care for the migrants at the Mexico-United States border who are experiencing inhumane treatment. This focus was reflected in the passage of a resolution that condemned “the treatment of immigrants families and children at the border, as well as around the nation, [as] a horrific violation of the Image of God and God-given human rights.”

Another resolution that passed was the opportunity for congregations, churchwide agencies, and conferences to send additional voting youth delegates (age 16-21) to future conventions.

The next convention will be held in Cincinnati, Ohio, in the summer of 2021. As attendees reflect on lessons to share and ways to integrate what we experienced with our congregations and communities, the divisiveness in relationships remains an area for which the church yearns for God’s healing. Franconia Conference board member Yvonne Platts of Nueva Vida Norristown (PA) New Life echoed this thought as a significant take away from convention. She voiced that our churches and relationships are broken due to decisions and splits.  Tom Yoder Neufeld called this “checking the horizons” and still seeing the hope that is there. May we, as one body, look upon the horizons and see Jesus calling us closer to him despite our shortcomings.

Read further reflections on #MennoCon19 from Justin Burkholder and Wendy Wong (Souderton congregation):

Congregational Profile: Covenant Community Fellowship

by Steve Wilburn, Covenant congregation

In 1984, a core group formed from the Franconia congregation to begin planning for a new church plant in the Lansdale/Montgomeryville area.  In December 1986, the doors of Covenant Community Fellowship were opened for their first worship service at North Penn Senior Center on Main Street in Lansdale.  Three years later, with the assistance of other Franconia Conference churches, and under the leadership of Pastor Earl Anders, Covenant acquired the Beth-Israel Synagogue building just outside of Lansdale.  The congregation still meets there today, led by Pastor Jay Moyer.

Like most churches, we seek to worship God well, care for our neighbors, and reach out to our community.  Our services are informal and include a mix of contemporary worship and traditional hymns, as well as practical teaching based on God’s Word.  We regularly pray for and minister to the needs of our congregation and our neighbors.  And we find ways to engage with our community through events like our free Spaghetti Dinner, which we host twice a year.

Spaghetti Dinner

Recently, though, we’ve begun leaning into one of the areas in which God has blessed our congregation: our age diversity.

We are a multigenerational congregation with people of all ages worshiping and fellowshipping together each week.  We have a number of young families and have recently had the joy of welcoming several new babies into our church community.  We also have older couples and individuals who have been attending Covenant for many years.

In the past year, we have become more intentional about not just being multigenerational in our attendance, but also in our engagement with one another.  Older and younger church members regularly meet to learn and grow from each other.  Our regular women’s and men’s gatherings are designed to be open to people in all different stages of life so we can learn and grow together.

Women’s Retreat

We recently started a mentoring program to pair up our youth with adults in the congregation that can help guide them in faith and discipleship.

This past spring, we hosted monthly family nights where we invited several of the more mature members of our congregation to share their wisdom on practical life topics including finances, parenting, and marriage. This sharing led to wonderful times of discussions between age groups that were fun, encouraging, and challenging for everyone that attended.

The support and care across generations has proven especially important as we’ve had congregation members face health issues, financial hardship, and loss over the past year.  In each circumstance, God has not only shown his grace and provision, but he has brought a deeper unity and interdependence to our congregation as we have had older and younger members cross generational barriers to minister to and support one another.

More and more we are discovering how God has created Covenant to be a place of worship for people in all stages of life. We like to tell people that we at Covenant are not a bunch of perfect people, we are broken people that worship a perfect God.  Our desire is to share the love and truth of that perfect God to everyone we can, from every generation.

Prayer Requests: 

  • Pray for our Lead Pastor, Jay Moyer, as he finishes his sabbatical in the coming weeks.
  • Pray for our Summer Do initiative as we seek to reach our neighbors through prayer, invitation, and service.
  • Pray for the parents of several new babies born in our congregation over the past six months.

 

Names Matter

by Josh Meyer, Conference Naming Committee

My wife and I have two daughters. 

Our oldest is named Selah Ann.  The word selah is found as a notation in many of the Psalms.  It means something like “pause and consider.”  It was a cue for ancient worship leaders to slow down and invite the worshiping community to reflect on what they’d just heard before moving on to the rest of the psalm.  We love the idea that every time we say our daughter’s first name, we’re “pausing and considering” the goodness of God. 

Josh and family

Our youngest daughter is named Evie Joy.  Eve literally means “living” and joy comes from the same root word as grace.  Some scholars define joy as “grace acknowledged.”  Therefore, her name – Eve Joy – means “living acknowledgment of God’s grace.”  She’s been that for us, and her name reflects as much. 

The point?  Names matter.  Names have significance.  Names reveal identity and purpose and values.   

As Franconia Conference and Eastern District Conference move toward reconciliation and becoming a united conference once again, a question on many people’s minds is what the name of this new conference will be.  It’s not an insignificant question.  In one sense, what we do and who we are and how we live together is what matters most.  A name is simply what we call ourselves; God’s work among and through us is the highest priority.  Whatever we’re called, it’s our commitment to following Jesus, bearing witness to God’s peace, and experiencing transformation together that’s of primary importance. 

And yet, names matter.  Names have significance.  Names reveal identity and purpose and values. 

Josh Meyer gives an update from the Reconciliation Team at Spring Assembly 2019.

Therefore, the Structure and Identity Task Force has appointed a separate Naming Committee whose sole responsibility is to give attention to this important question.  The team is comprised of individuals from both conferences, and, for the past few months, we’ve been meeting and brainstorming and praying and listening and hoping.  It’s energizing, daunting, important work.    

The process is full of creativity and possibility.  We’re considering not only a name but potentially a logo as well.  We’ve discussed whether a descriptive tagline would be helpful.  We’ve considered input from other organizations that have changed names after a merger.  We’re talking with professional consultants.  We’ve discussed the possibility of using focus groups over the next few months.   And – here’s where we’d love for you to jump in – we’re actively seeking input and suggestions

As members of the new conference, you have a stake in this.  We want to hear from you.  If you have ideas for the Naming Committee, please send them in.  Whether it’s a specific name, a general concept (“maybe something around the theme of _____”), or a word of counsel, we are open to and intentionally asking for your thoughts.  You may send any ideas to Edie Landis and me (we’re both members of the Structure and Identity Task Force as well as helping to give leadership to the Naming Committee), and we’ll pass them on to the rest of the group.           

We’re excited about this process of discernment and discovery.  And we’re trusting with joyful expectancy that something will emerge that reflects our shared identity, purpose, and values.  Please join us in praying to that end.

Oh, and my daughters Selah and Eve?  They’re eagerly anticipating the addition of Baby #3 joining the Meyer family later this year.  They’re already letting us know their ideas for what the new baby should be called.  Evidentially, names matter—for conferences and to big sisters!

Naming Committee: Sara Kolb, Jaynie McCloskey, Aldo Siahaan, Merlin Hartman, Steve Kriss, Jim Musselman, Edie Landis (rodandedie1@verizon.net), & Josh Meyer (jmeyer@franconiamennonite.org).