by Sharon K Williams, Nueva Vida Norristown New Life
Claude E. Good, 90, was a practical visionary and a common-sense prophet of God. His ministry spanned almost 60 years of translating and distributing the Bible, welcoming international students, and leading The Worm Project, a deworming effort that reaches millions of people in more than 70 countries. An ordained minister of Franconia Conference, Claude entered into his eternal reward on Tuesday, September 3, 2019.
I had the privilege of working with Claude at Franconia Conference/Eastern District’s conference center in Souderton, Pennsylvania, in the 1990s. During that time, the conference celebrated the publishing of Claude’s Triqui translation of the New Testament. Claude and his wife, Alice Longenecker Good, raised their family among the Triqui in Mexico from 1960 to 1985, supported by Franconia Conference Missions.
After returning to the United States, Claude’s ministry moved to a home base at the conference center. Claude quietly contacted government officials in countries around the world, promoting Albendazole deworming pills as an effective way to address severe malnutrition issues caused by parasites. Today, The Worm Project is a very unique “Matthew 25” ministry, and its fundraising efforts captures the imaginations of young and old alike. We marveled over the cost of deworming pills (at that time, $.05, lasting for six months) compared to $5/month for deworming pills for our pets. We shared practical ideas for simple living, making peace, and sharing the gospel.
Claude also taught conversational English at the International House in Philadelphia, PA, and helped Mennonite families build relationships with students who were a long way from home. The Goods opened doors for us to welcome strangers in our homes through the Peach Festival, sharing good food and the good news of Jesus. Coupled with that ministry, the Goods also spearheaded the International Scripture Ministry at Souderton Mennonite Church, where they were members.
“Claude’s life has borne witness to the gentle and persistent love of Christ,” said Steve Kriss, Franconia Conference’s Executive Minister. “He helped Franconia Conference embrace a world bigger than itself, from the mountains of Mexico where he translated the New Testament to creating one of the world’s largest deworming programs, which remains a conference initiative. Claude’s work was deeply personal but also carried us together as a people in the way of Christ’s peace to the ends of the earth. We mourn Claude’s death but celebrate his life and legacy of faithfulness.”
Claude was preceded in death by Alice. They have five children: Marcia, Cecilia, Tricia (Mark), Carl, and Robert (Tami); nine grandchildren; and one great-grandchild. Services will be held at Souderton Mennonite Church, Saturday, September 14, 4:00 pm and Souderton Mennonite Homes, Sunday, September 15, 2:00 pm. View his obituary here.
There is power in simply staying connected. The reborn Partners in Ministry emphasizes that.
The revival of what used to be “Partners in Mission,” according to Franconia Conference’s Leadership Minister for Missional Transformation Noel Santiago, are partnerships made between groups with similar values and visions and greatly emphasizes relationships. In the past, the relationships with Partners in Mission were mostly leader-to-leader; as a result, when leaders relocated or moved on, some of those relationships faded. In reviving Partners in Ministry, Santiago continues, the Conference is emphasizing a renewed commitment to engaging and experimenting with diverse communities, not just leaders.
Partners in Ministry with Franconia each have a staff person who can accompany them, if desired, as a coach or listening ear, to help connect them with equipping and resources, and to walk with the community during leadership transitions or times of conflict. Franconia also provides credentialing for the pastors of Partners in Ministry if they need it. Leaders from Partners in Ministry are welcome to attend equipping events, Faith & Life gatherings, and other events that may benefit them as growing Anabaptist groups.
Partners in Ministry relationships are different than Conference-Related Ministries, which include institutions such as Spruce Lake Retreat, Care & Share Thrift Shops, and Camp Men-O-Lan. A Partner in Ministry relationship is more of a connection with communities, who, many times, are on the margins (because of geography, social situation, or as a church plant) rather than established organizations.
“Franconia Conference played an important role in the birth and continued growth of RIMI,” explains Kirk Hanger, pastor of New Hope Fellowship Church (Alexandria, VA). “In 2003, after 11 years of church planting ministry in Mexico, they encouraged me to continue.” Today, the RIMI Network includes around 80 churches, church plants, and ministries in 12 countries, with 28 churches and church plants in Mexico. The RIMI Network also includes a radio ministry, a short-term missions school and a leadership school affiliated with Global Disciples, a medical ministry, a prayer network, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center, and a microfinance ministry working with some 4000 people in economic development in Paraguay.
Franconia has recently renewed relationship with the Conference of Evangelical Anabaptist Mennonite Churches of México (CIEAMM) through the Partner in Ministry program. Carlos Martinez Garcia, CIEAMM moderator, believes that partnership is essential in order to fulfill Christ’s mission in the world: “We encourage each other, the Word says, to love and do good deeds (Hebrews 10:19-25),” he explains. “The Christian church is diverse in ability, understanding, and vision. By sharing with one another, we can grow and learn to serve better. In the mission the Lord has given us, we must not isolate ourselves, but connect in order to embed ourselves in the world…. We must try to learn from the different understandings the Lord has given others of his word, as well as how they are fulfilling their mission.”
The relationship between Franconia Conference and CIEAMM has been mutually beneficial: while CIEAMM was birthed out of Franconia mission work 60 years ago, CIEAMM has also trained leaders from Franconia congregations, including Centro de Alabanza de Philadelphia, through the Community of Anabaptist Theological Institutions (CITA). “The fact that we interact with other organizations makes us feel like more than part of a historic relationship,” says Oskar Dom, director of the Biblical Institute of CIEAMM. “It’s good to know that we are in a position to share what we have learned in these sixty years of existence.”
Partner in Ministry relationships are not highly structured, according to Franconia’s Executive Minister Steve Kriss; many communities may have just been introduced to Mennonite theology or practice. The Partner in Ministry relationship can provide space for these communities to learn what it means to live as Anabaptists in their complex contexts. With supportive partners, anyone can thrive. It is Santiago and Kriss’ hope that Partners in Ministry will continue to be a space for communities to interact, experiment, and get to know one another.
Permaneciendo Unidos como Compañeros en Ministerio
Hay poder simplemente en el permanecer unidos. El renacimiento de Compañeros en Ministerio (Partners in Ministry) enfatiza eso.
El resurgimiento de lo que ha sido llamado “Compañeros en Misión,” como dice Noel Santiago, el ministro de liderazgo de transformación misional de Franconia Conference, son relaciones hechas entre grupos con valores y visiones similares que enfatizan las relaciones. A menudo en el pasado, las relaciones con Compañeros en Misión eran entre líderes. Por eso, cuando los líderes se mudaban o se reubicaban algunas de las relaciones se terminaban. Por eso, resucitando Compañeros en Ministerio, Santiago continúa diciendo, la Conferencia enfatiza una nueva promesa de empeñarse y experimentar con comunidades diversas, no solamente líderes.
Cada Compañero en Ministerio con Franconia tiene un miembro del personal que puede acompañarlo si quiere para actuar como un consejero, conectarlo con recursos y caminar con la comunidad durante transiciones de liderazgo o tiempos de conflicto. Franconia también provee credenciales para los pastores de Compañeros en Ministerio si lo necesitan. Los líderes de Compañeros en Ministerio son invitados para asistir a eventos para equipar, las reuniones de “Fe y Vida” (“Faith and Life”), y otras actividades que pueden beneficiar a grupos Anabautistas que están creciendo.
Las relaciones de Compañeros en Ministerio son diferentes que los Ministerios Relacionado con la Conferencia que incluyen el retiro Spruce Lake, la tienda de segunda mano Care and Share y el campamento Men-O-Lan. Un Compañero en Ministerio es más como una conexión con comunidades que a menudo son más marginados (por su localización geográfica, situación social o porque son “iglesias plantadas”) que las organizaciones establecidas .
“Franconia Conference fue una parte importante en el nacimiento y progreso de RIMI,” dice Kirk Hanger que es el pastor de la Iglesia Nueva Esperanza (Alexandria, Virginia, Los Estados Unidos). “En 2003, después de 11 años de ministerio de plantar iglesias, ellos me motivaron a continuar.” Hoy, el sistema RIMI incluye aproximadamente 80 iglesias con 28 en México, iglesias plantadas y ministerios en 12 países. El sistema RIMI también tiene un ministerio de radio, una escuela de misiones de corto plazo que es asociada a Global Disciples (Discípulos Globales), un ministerio médico, un sistema de oración, un centro de recuperación para drogas y alcohol y un ministerio de microfinanzas que trabaja con aproximadamente 4000 personas para desarrollo económico en Paraguay.
Últimamente, Franconia ha renovado su relación con la Conferencia de Iglesias Evangélicas Anabautistas Menonitas de México (CIEAMM) a través del programa Compañeros en Ministerio. Carlos Martinez Garcia que es moderador de CIEAMM cree que la colaboración es esencial para realizar la misión de Jesús en el mundo: “Nos estimulamos unos a otros, como dice la palabra, a las buenas obras. (Hebreos 10:19-25),” el dice. “La iglesia cristiana es diversa en habilidad, entendimiento, y visión. Compartiendo unos con otros, podemos crecer y ser de más utilidad y servicio. Según la misión que el Señor nos ha dado, no debemos aislarnos. Debemos buscar la comunión para incrustarnos en el mundo que nos ha puesto… por eso es importante escuchar a otros y a otras del entendimiento que el Señor les ha dado de su palabra y como están cumpliendo la misión.
La relación entre Franconia y CIEAMM ha sido beneficiosa mutuamente: aunque CIEAMM había nacido por un trabajo misional de Franconia hace 60 años, CIEAMM también ha entrenado algunos líderes de congregaciones de Franconia, tales como Centro de Alabanza de Philadelphia, a través de Comunidad de Instituciones Teológicas Anabautistas (CITA). “El hecho de que nuestra conferencia tenga interacción con otras conferencias nos hace sentir cada vez más que parte de una relación histórica,” dice Oskar Dom, director del instituto bíblico de CIEAMM. “Es bueno saber que nuestra conferencia ya esta en posicion de compartir lo que nosotros hemos aprendido en estos 60 años de existencia.”
En palabras del ministro executivo Steve Kriss, las relaciones de Compañeros en Ministerio no son muy definidas. Muchas comunidades puede que apenas están siendo introducidas a la teología y prácticas menonitas. La relación con Compañeros en Ministerio puede proveer oportunidades para que estas comunidades pueden aprender qué significa vivir como Anabautistas en sus contextos. Con compañeros comprensivos, cualquiera puede prosperar. Kriss y Santiago esperan que Compañeros en Ministerio continue de ser un sitio donde comunidades pueden tener interacciòn, experimentar y llegar a conocerse.
The last week of August, I had the honor of representing Franconia Conference at the 50th anniversary of the Mutual Aid Sharing Plan (MASP).
The Mutual Aid Sharing Plan was established to provide coverage for the medical costs of the international workers for Anabaptist organizations around the world. While each organization has its own plan, each member organization pools their resources together to share the risks involved in medical-related expenses.
In the 1950s, purchasing any kind of insurance was still frowned upon by many Anabaptist groups, but the concept of mutual aid sharing was at the heart of these groups. In 1955, Mennonites leaders from across North America came together to establish the Association of Mennonite Aid Societies, which led to more formal collaborations between groups for sharing the risks related to “housing and lands.” In 1957, Mennonite Indemnity, Inc. (MII) was established to serve Anabaptist communities under the umbrella of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC).
Edgar Stoesz was working for MCC, with responsibilities serving MII, when he noticed a need for the sharing of medical costs for international workers. He was attending a meeting of the Council of Mennonite Mission Board Secretaries and overheard a conversation between one of the organizations represented at the meeting and an insurance agent. The prices that were being quoted for medical coverage shocked him and Stoesz remembers wondering why these organizations couldn’t pool their resources and share in the cost of medical claims. He determined that it would save these organizations a lot of money. He shared his idea with the group and immediately they asked him to create a plan and report back to them.
The concept Stoesz came up with was simple: member organizations would total up the medical costs for each worker at the end of the year and any costs in excess of $1,000 would be distributed equally over all of the member organizations, based on the number of participants. So in 1969, MASP was created.
In the early years, there was little overhead, so Stoesz was right—it did save a lot of money. Initially there were six member organizations, of which Franconia Conference was one, providing medical coverage for the missionaries sent to Mexico and other countries. Over the years, many other Anabaptist mission boards throughout the United States and Canada joined in MASP. Also over time, some member organizations birthed their domestic programs into new entities (for instance, Ten Thousand Villages was birthed out of MCC) and so MASP began to invite other domestic Anabaptist organizations into the sharing plan.
In more recent years, the medical insurance world has become more and more complex. Staff were brought on to focus on these details. In 2010, the Affordable Care Act created some challenges for MASP and the concept of the end-of-year reconciliation had to be changed. Actuaries were contracted to develop a system of premiums calculated at the beginning of the year, and so MASP began to function more like an insurance company. Reinsurance was purchased to handle any extremely high medical costs. In 2015-16, several large domestic claims were almost too much for the MASP, leaving the MASP board to consider dropping the domestic organizations. Instead, the decision was made to stick together and weather the storm; MASP came out of that period a stronger organization.
In celebration of its 50th anniversary, MASP commissioned Jewel Showalter to write a book on its history. A copy is available in the conference office.
Today, Franconia Conference continues to partner with the MASP member organizations for medical coverage for Robert and Bonnie Stevenson, serving in Mexico.
“Even though I am far away from my home, I feel like I am home. I feel welcome and encouraged as I learn from the Franconia Conference culture and work with people from different backgrounds. We have a sense of unity and community here,” says Hendy Stevan Matahelemual, Franconia Conference’s Pastor of Formation and Communication.
Hendy was raised in Bandung, Indonesia, 100 miles south of the capital, Jakarta. He was educated in law and for nearly 10 years he worked in a law office as well as the music entertainment industry. After Hendy found Christ in his community, he was baptized again and made a commitment to dedicate his life to God. In 2008 he started volunteering in his church, Elshaddai Creative Community, in music ministry and leading a cell group. He got married to his wife Marina, got a promotion in his job, and felt ready to settle down.
“My hometown is a nice city up in the mountains with great weather. Ever since I was born I always expected to stay in Bandung,” Hendy describes.
But after the transformation in his spiritual life, Hendy felt that God wanted him to move from his city. He prayed to God to understand this feeling and had a sense that he might be called to move to Jakarta to plant a church with other members of his cell group.
While he was still praying about it, Marina came home one day after her work as a secretary in their church, where she learned from their pastor that an Indonesian pastor in New York City was seeking someone to help do ministry there. “Well let’s go then,” Hendy replied, mostly joking. But later their pastor invited Hendy to seriously consider the idea.
Hendy and Marina accepted this calling, and Hendy resigned from his job working in the entertainment business. But unexpectedly, for two years in a row, his visa to come to the U.S. was rejected. Patiently he worked as a pastor in their church in Bandung until his visa was finally approved.
For over two years Hendy was a pastor at Bethany Church in Queens, also providing counseling and community outreach. Hendy became acquainted with staff and pastors within Franconia Conference and began studies at Eastern Mennonite University toward an MA in Christian Leadership, which he received earlier this year. Hendy received a call to serve as the pastor of Indonesian Light Church in south Philadelphia. So Hendy, his wife Marina and their two children, Judah and Levi, moved once again.
Hendy has also served in his conference role since May and helps to plan worship services for conference-wide events, shares stories through articles and creating videos, and supports the Conference’s social media work. Hendy is part of the new Youth Formation Team, coordinating events that offer training and resources to youth leaders and youth ministers, and he’s also a member of the Faith and Life Committee, which gathers credentialed leaders together quarterly for theological reflection and dialogue.
Additionally, Hendy serves on the conference’s Intercultural Team which provides training and resources for intercultural formation. “Revelation 7:9 provides a vision of what God wants us to be as a church,” Hendy shares. The scripture says, “There was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” Hendy says that this and other scriptures provide encouragement and a biblical base for how the church can grow and learn from each other, as people of different cultures.
“This is complicated work; in a conference that is predominantly white, recognizing that every group has its own dominant culture at work, to redefine norms together so that every culture can have a voice, and that each church’s expression of loving God, loving people, and serving the community is lifted up,” Hendy says.
Hendy has found the mutual transformation of his intercultural work to be a rewarding part of his Conference ministry, as he and colleagues “work together as the family of Christ, even though we come from different backgrounds.”
Hendy is excited to continue to grow in his ministry with Franconia Conference. In his spare time, he enjoys sports, swimming, and going on road trips. Recently, his family drove to MC USA Convention in Kansas City from South Philly—a 17-hour drive!
by Sherri Brokopp Binder, Ripple congregation, with Emily Ralph Servant, Director of Communication
Both the Implementation Committee and Business of the Conference Committee have been meeting over the summer, gathering feedback, and working on proposals for the logistics of a future reconciled conference in preparation for Franconia and Eastern District Conferences’ upcoming decision at Conference Assembly, November 1-2, 2019.
The Implementation Committee is responsible for thinking through how the reconciliation will take place, practically. As part of this, they are developing bylaws for the new conference based on the work of the Structure Team and other committees. To support the new bylaws, they are also updating documents like those that outline the roles of Delegates, Leadership Ministers, and so forth.
The Business of the Conference committee is responsible for developing a clear list of services provided to congregations by the Conference. They are discussing business matters and how they should be managed through the reconciliation, including ensuring that the budget reflects and is supportive of the mission and vision of the new Conference.
Together, the two committees are contributing to the legal documents required to complete the reconciliation. These documents will be available to delegates for review at the Assembly Scattered meetings, scheduled for Tuesday, October 1, 7:00 pm at Nations Worship Center in Philadelphia; Thursday, October 3, 7:00 pm at Salem Mennonite Church in Quakertown, PA; Tuesday, October 8, 7:00 pm EST (online) on a ZOOM video conference; Thursday, October 10, 9:00 am at Salford Mennonite Church in Harleysville, PA; as well as additional meetings scheduled in Vermont & California. Register now.
Task Force: Mark Reiff (Doylestown), Rina Rampogu (Plains)
Staff: Conrad Martin (Blooming Glen)
Eastern District: Jim Gunden (Zion)
Franconia: John Goshow (Franconia board; attends Blooming Glen)
Task Force: Scott Roth (Perkiomenville), Sherri Brokopp Binder (Ripple)
Staff: Mary Nitzsche (Perkasie)
Franconia: Ken Burkholder (Franconia board; attends Deep Run East)
Morris Mennonite Bible Fellowship is a small congregation, located in Tioga County, PA. It is in a valley, nestled between five gorgeous mountains. Planted in 1953, this congregation was a mission outreach of Franconia Mennonite Conference. Some of the original workers were Sam Landis, Clayton Godschall, Bob Felton, and Willard Bergey. Bob Felton was the first pastor. Later, Arthur Kolb was called to serve here. Then, in 1969, Paul and Faith Benner were called to move to the Morris area. So, they left Finland Mennonite Church with three small children and moved to Wellsboro. Paul became pastor in 1970, and they have been faithful to this congregation and community ever since. Since 2008, John Brodnicki, Paul’s son-in-law, has taken the place as senior pastor, with Paul filling in as needed.
The community in Morris consists mainly of life-long residential families. In many cases, several generations have called Morris “home”. To fit into the community, a person needs to commit to long-term presence here. The saying goes that either you have to be born into it or bury someone here before you become a local.
The Benner family has lived in the area for around 50 years. This has allowed us to live life as a part of the community. We owned and ran the local general store for 13 of those years, allowing us to share common ground with many from the community. Paul worked as a carpenter/contractor, while pastoring. Others from the congregation have taken up occupations or started businesses in the area, so people can get to know them. Rose and Nelson Yoder ran the Witt-Yoder Personal Care Home for several years. John Brodnicki works in forestry, while pastoring. Others have worked in garages, counseling, retail, medical and mental health, ski lodges, printing, restaurants, running people to healthcare visits, and cleaning and providing care in homes.
We have several people from the community who come to the church for special events. When asked, they claim Mennonite Bible Fellowship as their church, even when they don’t attend Sunday services. We are often asked to perform funerals and weddings for people in the community. We are a small group, so we often work alongside other local congregations to provide holiday services and VBS. This builds the Christian community around us and we all appreciate the feeling of inclusion.
Thursdays are special. Several women from the congregation meet with community women to knot comforters and fellowship over the noon meal. Sometimes they go on outings together, which promotes feelings of ownership and belonging. Walking beside these women, through illness, death, abusive situations and times of joy, allows us to bond very closely with them.
Other ministries include prison ministry, visitation, senior banquets and working with local fire/ambulance fund-raisers to name a few. Recently we participated in the local Trunk or Treat and Easter egg hunt. Those of us who are employed minister through friendship ministry at work.
The needs are great in Tioga County. Drugs and depression, both monetarily and emotionally, bind many souls. Family division is devastating the vast majority. Most churches are teetering to survive. The “old faithfuls” come as much as they can, but many suffer illness. Young families stop by, but when there are no other children there, they move on.
Many children have grown up at MBF and have spread out for various reasons. Employment that sustains a young family is tough to find in the area. The Christian community is suffering, so the hopes of finding a Christian spouse are low. But God has called a few of us to return and carry on the work of the mission.
Despite all of this, we press on. We want to remain faithful for those who do reach out for companionship, support, and prayer. We feel that being present and available is our best witness.
If you feel called to a new adventure in ministry, please come by and check us out. The people are warm and eager to greet anyone who stops by. At Sunday services we offer worship, sharing and prayer time, sermons, monthly life stories, Sunday school and monthly fellowship meals. Wednesdays, we have evening prayer gatherings. Thursday the women’s group meets. Support is offered any time needs arise.
Please pray for our congregation, and if you can, stop in for a visit.
that they would see and respond to the opportunities God provides to connect with and serve people in the community in ways that bring glory to God and draw people to Jesus
that they would be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit each day.
For more information, contact Pastor John Brodnicki at 570-353-2407 or Pastor Paul Benner at 570-353-7866.
“Welcome is one of the signs that a community is alive. To invite others to live with us is a sign that we aren’t afraid, that we have a treasure of truth, and of peace to share,” says Jean Vanier.
Perkasie Mennonite Church is a tiny but lively congregation that values welcome, whether of LGBTQ folks or others who have felt “outside the box” for many reasons. We aim to model Jesus (our succinct mission statement) in our daily lives in loving relationships and in service. Many, but not all, experience their faith journey through a progressive Christian lens. No matter where a person is in their faith journey, they are welcome.
PMC has had a long history of inclusion of those with intellectual disabilities, and several of these individuals have provided joy, humor, and spontaneity in our congregation for many years. Barbara Shisler has hosted a monthly Faith and Light chapter for many years, as well; this is a national program which offers fellowship in a spiritual context for community members with intellectual disabilities and their families.
In the past year, Brent Anders and Joe Matthew were invited to present two Second Hour seminars with resources, stories and language tips to help us all be more understanding and helpful in our relationships with LGBTQ attendees, friends, and neighbors. We are officially a Welcoming Congregation, and a number of our most recent new attendees sought us out for this open and welcoming environment.
PMC has trained many young people through the years, and finds joy in seeing these now-grown-up children living lives of faith and service in places around the country and the world. Today we have fewer children (although the ones we have get lots of love!), so we are exploring how to offer our wisdom and resources to young people’s programs run by others. Bucks Kids First is a program for at-risk kids (many in foster homes) which will be using our building for after-school mentoring four days a week. We also volunteer with other community programs like Bridge of Hope Bux-Mont, a homeless ministry for single mothers.
Hosting Patchwork Coffeehouse and Soul Talk (a progressive Christian study group) are other ways we reach out to the community. Favorite volunteer opportunities include FISH, MCC Material Resource Center, MCC, Care and Share, and ministries to the homeless. In recent years we have also hosted “Listen, Live, Local” events, including one evening inviting community conversation on gun control, and another on bridging the gap between right and left in the U.S.
The PMC community enjoys singing a capella music from the three Mennonite hymn books, and is looking forward to dipping into the new one next year. We value creativity in each other, which allows for both rich experience and change. One advantage of being small is the freedom to vary worship spaces and styles. During the summer, we meet more informally in our fellowship room, often around tables, and various members lead worship. “Every member a minister” is a favorite motto, which we take seriously.
Historically, our group was founded by Blooming Glen Mennonite Church as a mission outreach for young people in Perkasie. Over the years, gifted pastors offered leadership, such as Richard Detweiler, James Lapp, Jim Burkholder, Barbara Shisler, Beth Yoder, Wayne Nietszche, and Jessica Hedrick Miller, among others.
We appreciate your prayers as we seek to strengthen our relationships with people around us and model the love of Jesus that welcomes all people into God’s beloved community. Pray that we would be in tune to the movement of the Spirit in our community so that we can join in the good work that God is already doing.
by Tim Moyer & Diane Bleam, Bally congregation, with Andrés Castillo
Over the last year, Bally (PA) Mennonite Church has been moving toward a “centered-set” rather than “bounded-set” approach to church. After about 6 months of processing on the theory of being centered-set and how it might work, we discovered the book Blue Ocean Faith by Dave Schmelzer. This book offered insights into practical applications of how churches can function as centered-set.
A bounded set can be depicted as a circle with congregational members (us) inside the circle and all other people outside (them). Congregations spend huge amounts of energy defining and defending the boundaries. When the boundary needs to be redrawn, people get hurt, angry, and disillusioned. It creates a split between people. A bounded set environment is more prone to tension. Since much energy goes into the boundary, accomplishing things can be unnecessarily hard, because some people see defending the boundary as defending their faith.
In a centered-set approach, all energy points towards Christ, who is the center. People are treated as equals and are either moving towards or away from Christ. Everyone is being constantly challenged and supported to draw closer to the center. People feel more comfortable in a supportive environment and tension diminishes.
Centered and bounded sets are not reflective of theological positions, instead, they are mindsets adopted by congregations that guide them in the way that they express their faith.
Bally congregation has intentionally shifted to a centered-set approach to expressing our faith after significant congregational processing. For four and a half months we designated our Sunday school hour for congregational input and discussion. We presented the centered-set concepts, facilitated discussion in small groups, collected ideas from the congregation, and envisioned new ministries.
Since adopting a centered-set model of expressing our faith, we’ve found that spontaneous ministries and changes have surfaced among us. For example, at one of our Council meetings while discussing our facility’s rental fees, we confronted ourselves with the question, “Why do we have lower rates for members than we do for all other people if we are a centered-set church?” We realized that our fees were a boundary and now charge the same for members and all other people who desire to use our facilities.
Another example would be our practice of inviting attendees to share testimonies and short sermons regarding how Christ is working in their lives. We also launched a monthly Sunday morning breakfast where we started inviting VBS families, our church’s preschool families, and families we encounter from other ministries. The breakfast runs during Sunday School, and people are welcome to attend church; however the main purpose of the breakfasts is to establish relationships.
“Community Outreach” now seems an outdated term at Bally. “Community Connections” is now the title for that committee which better describes how we interact with the broader community. Not only have we changed our view of the community surrounding our church, but we have also noted changes within our congregation–there seems to be much more energy and enthusiasm for ministries and relationship building.
In centered-set congregation, the additional energy is used to encourage all to move toward Christ. Instead of programs and rules, the focus should be on building relationships so that people can walk alongside and support each other in faith. Perhaps the most important part of a centered set, however, is to remember that Jesus is the center.