All Junior and Senior High youth are invited to an evening of “Mission Impossible” at Camp Men-O-Lan on April 21, 7-9:30PM. Come for an evening of connecting with other youth and adventure in the woods, followed by ice cream. This event is sponsored by Franconia Mennonite Church, Eastern District Conference and Mennonite Mission Network and hosted by Spruce Lake and Camp Men-O-Lan staff.
For more info contact John Stoltzfus – email@example.com
REGISTER YOUR GROUP HERE:
by Steve Kriss, Executive Minister
Mary Nitzsche and I made our first trip to visit the California congregations since the three were welcomed into our Conference in November. International Worship Church (IWC) in San Gabriel, Jemaat Kristen Indonesia Anugerah (Grace Indonesian Christian Fellowship) in Sierra Madre and Indonesian Community Christian Fellowship (ICCF) in Colton are located within an hour of each other, all to the east of Los Angeles along the 210 and 10 freeway corridors. They are located in a stretch of large suburbs that flow into what is known as the Inland Empire. Each suburb is distinct, but these communities – sometimes more like cities themselves – merge together to create the US’s second largest metropolitan area.
We spent time with each congregation. If you hustled, you could likely attend each congregations’ worship gathering, all on the same Sunday. Mary and I split the responsibilities, though, so we would have time to visit with each group. Mary brought greetings to the English worshipping community at International Worship Church at 11:00 am and preached at JKIA at 2:30 pm. I preached at the Indonesian language service at IWC at 12:30 and at ICCF at 5:30.
There was food afterward the worship services. After over a decade of walking alongside Indonesian congregations, I recognize the gracious island hospitality and celebration that remains intact here in the States as well. At IWC, I had a bowl of spaghetti brought from the kitchen, when the servers realized that I didn’t eat seafood, which was the main dish provided for lunch. At ICCF, there was an anniversary celebration which included traditional Indonesian satay, rice and soup, along with karaoke that was a mix of pop, praise songs and traditional hymns.
There is new opportunity and challenge by being bi-coastal. We’re navigating the legal requirements necessary for credentialed leaders in California, which are different from Pennsylvania. We’re having to learn new geography, time zones and context. We are moving toward adding a staff person based in Southern California, as well. Aldo Siahaan, Conference LEADership minister and pastor at Philadelphia Praise Center is also initiating an online Zoom call for Indonesian speaking pastors across our Conference. These things will help to ensure our flourishing together.
There is still a sense of surprise for me that we are here in this time and place. This trip meant beginning to think and care for California in a way that I haven’t before – as a pastor. What is the Spirit provoking through this holy experiment? In what ways can we live and move into this time and space, where God’s capacity is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or imagine through the power at work within us (Ephesians 3.20)?
As we begin to move into this space, beyond dreams and into new realities, I invite your prayers for us together. I’m still grateful for the overwhelming sense of the Spirit’s direction at assembly to welcome the California congregations to become part of us. And in that welcome, I believe there will continue to be transformation.
by Aldo Siahaan, LEADership Minister and Pastor at Philadelphia Praise Center
On Super Bowl Sunday, some Philadelphia Praise Center members came to church wearing Philadelphia Eagles’ jerseys, hats, and jackets. That morning I asked “how many of you believe the Eagles will win?” It turns out that only some were certain that the Eagles would win.
That evening at 6 pm friends gathered at my house to watch Super Bowl LII. After watching a pretty tense game, we know for certain that the Eagles won! My house is located in South Philadelphia just one block from Broad Street where people gathered to celebrate the Eagles’ win. My friends and I joined in that celebration about 10:30 pm.
How extraordinary that night was! Thousands of people went out into the streets, walking towards Center City, celebrating with enthusiasm and spontaneity. What I remember is people gave each other a smile, high fives, shouted “E-A-G-L-E-S, Eagles,” hugged, shared food and drink. Regardless of the color of your skin, without asking for immigration status, regardless of belief and background, all celebrated victory and joy. One friend said “Aldo, this is a bit of the taste of heaven, where there is excitement, there is unity.”
The words “taste of heaven” continue to ring in my ears. These words make me wonder whether the taste of heaven can only happen if there is a victory in a sports game like this, and involve hundreds or thousands of people shouting and cheering.
Revelation 21:4 says, “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying.” Yes, in the” taste of heaven” God must be involved. God can use any individual, family or church to present a taste of heaven for others. Whatever we do for others, to bring to their lives less sorrow, less crying, less pain, it seems that we have brought a taste of heaven to them.
Last week, I asked a few people in my cell phone contacts, “please pray for my uncle and aunt who lives in Lakewood, New Jersey who had a car accident. I will go to see them in the emergency room tonight.” The response was amazing, from a person willing to accompany me, to people praying and giving encouraging words. That, for me, is a taste of heaven too!
I am sure we have all experienced and will continue to experience a taste of heaven. May our eyes be open to it, until one day when all believers gather in heaven and we no longer have just the “taste of heaven.” We will all together be with God in heaven. “Before the throne of God and serve him day and night,” Revelation 7:15.
Since Ripple Church opened its doors to the city of Allentown in 2011, it’s seen a steady influx of neighbors seeking God’s transformation and community. This diverse gathering of people comes from a variety of racial, economic and educational backgrounds, and many who have been traditionally marginalized now find community and connection in the sanctuary, on the front steps, and in the fellowship hall of Ripple Church.
In order to take the gifts of Ripple Church out into the broader community, Ripple Community, Inc. was established in 2015. Their Community Building Center opened its doors to provide not just a community center, but a place of support and connection for socially and economically marginalized residents of Allentown – those living with mental illness, multiple disabilities, addiction, or histories of incarceration, or for those marginalized due to income, housing or abuse issues. Today, the CBC is a safe haven for more than 190 of Allentown’s most vulnerable residents.
Being an inner-city ministry comes with a unique set of challenges. “It’s really hard to build relationships and develop leaders in the church when people are constantly moving in and out of the city,” says Angela Moyer, co-Pastor at Ripple. “Additionally, as we have asked and listened to folks about what God’s peace, life, freedom, and healing looks like in their lives, time and time again people have talked about the stress and hardship of unstable housing.”
Ripple and RCI often describe their friends as being “precariously housed”. Affordable, safe, stable housing in the Lehigh Valley, as well as in communities across the country, has become increasingly unattainable. A study by the National Low Income Housing Coalition reported that in order to afford the average two-bedroom apartment in the Lehigh Valley ($1,038 per month), a minimum wage worker would need to work 110 hours per week. “We work with people who are paying $800 or more a month for apartments with doors that don’t lock, or windows that don’t close, or plumbing that doesn’t work,” explains RCI Executive Director Sherri Brokopp Binder. “For many of our most vulnerable neighbors, the only alternative to a substandard apartment is homelessness. They are caught in an unending cycle between homelessness and temporary housing solutions that don’t work or don’t last.”
In order to address this growing need, RCI is following their call to launch the RCI Village. Based on a model in Washington, DC called Jubilee Housing, this initiative will be the first permanent, supportive housing program in Allentown. RCI Village will take an innovative approach to addressing the need by not only providing quality, affordable housing, but also by connecting residents to established social support networks, community building opportunities, and other resources. “It isn’t just about housing,” says Sherri. “It’s about home and community. It’s about stability and belonging. Those are the basic building blocks of a good life.”
RCI recently reached an agreement to obtain a former funeral home property, which will provide 13 rental units in four connected rowhomes, as well as space for the Community Building Center. This acquisition will allow RCI Village to move ahead with the program later this spring, but in the meantime, funds are being raised to cover minor renovations, launch the program, and operate for the first year. The estimated expense during this phase of the project is $100,000, and RCI welcomes any and all contributions to support this exciting endeavor.
Says Pastor Angela, “Ripple has been praying about affordable housing options for several YEARS, and God has answered our prayers! Ripple folks always encourage one another by saying, ‘you can’t rush God because God is always right on time.’ We trust that God is right on time with this opportunity for quality, permanent, and affordable housing. Praise the Lord for what is in store for Allentown!”
Please visit RippleCommunityInc.org to learn more about the RCI Village or to make an on-line contribution. If you have questions or need more information, contact them at 484-240-1231 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Robert Walden
The following are excerpts on the Winter Peace Retreat Report. For the full report from the Peace and Justice Committee visit efpjc.ppjr.org/pjnews/pjn1803.pdf.
On February 9 to 11, around 50 participants gathered at St Mary of Providence Retreat Center in Elverson, PA to participate in the 2018 Eastern District and Franconia Conference Winter Peace Retreat. This year’s theme was “Immigration, Sanctuary, and the Church”.
The weekend began with a family activity led by Tammy Alexander, Senior Legislative Associate for Domestic Affairs in the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Washington, Office: “People on the Move: A Migration Exercise”. The activity sparked conversation around what people go through when they are uprooted from their homelands, the sacrifices they are forced to make, the struggles they endure and the questions they carry with them about safety and what they may encounter in a new land.
Peter Pedemonti, co-founder and Director of New Sanctuary Movement Philadelphia, shared about his own family’s migration journey, his father from Italy and his mother from England. Settling in Hartford, CT, Peter grew up with stories of why his family left Italy and some of the struggles they had when they came to this country. He shared how people often took advantage of his grandmother because she didn’t speak English. This is a frequent experience today for immigrants of color in the U.S. when compared to the relatively privileged status of white immigrants.
Peter also shared the origins of New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, a grassroots organization led by affected immigrants to “win immigrant justice campaigns with our members across nationality, faith, class, and immigration status.” When Peter came to the Philadelphia to join the House of Grace Catholic Worker, it was at a time when there were growing rates of workplace raids and immigrant deportations, and proposed legislation in the U.S. Congress was hostile to immigrants. During this time a small group of clergy, immigrants, and allies started coming together about the situation. They discovered that a lot of people in Philadelphia were engaged with immigration issues, but nobody was organizing in the faith community. So, little by little, they began organizing in coffee shops and in living rooms, until one day they had a movement. Peter then left the Catholic Worker and started to do this full time.
According to their website, New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia is “an interfaith, multicultural immigrant justice movement organizing communities to end injustices against immigrants, regardless of status”. This is done through partnering and educating faith communities. Currently working with 28 congregations including two Franconia Conference congregations, member congregations assist in trainings, workshops, campaigns, and accompanying families facing deportation.
One of the ways presented to participants at the retreat that congregations can get involved is accompaniment – walking with families facing deportation. Accompaniment is not to provide legal representation. People who provide accompaniment aren’t lawyers; what they do is stand in solidarity. Much of it is going to court – just showing up in immigration court or criminal court or probation check-in with a group of 5, 10 or 15 people, as a witness. They form a little prayer circle in front of the court. They come in and wait in front of the court room with two goals in mind: (1) surround the person with community, and really have their back in that situation; and (2) command accountability, because the people in the court know that folks are watching them. It’s not that the presence of NSM will automatically win the case, but there have been occasions when after the person’s case is presented and seven people stand up to leave, the judge asks, “Oh, is that the New Sanctuary Movement?”
There is something uplifting about having that visual representation of God’s presence in the courtroom. Bringing the power of God’s love into that environment does something to bring people hope. There are many times when NSM has seen people win cases that they did not think were possible – when people come out of it saying, “This is a miracle; this is God.” For those of us who are immigrant allies not directly affected by immigration law, this is an opportunity to see how the system works and moves us into exploring why so many people are in detention and deportation.
Immigration is a large part of the Franconia Conference and Eastern District story. Our ancestors were immigrants to the Franconia area and we are honored to learn from and walk with our more recent immigrant brothers and sisters. If you are interested in learning more about the immigration stories in Franconia Conference, contact the Conference Office for a copy of a short documentary complete with discussion guide that can be used in Sunday School or other formats.
Read about Philadelphia Praise Center’s Pastor Aldo Siahaan’s involvement in A New Sanctuary Movement Action HERE.
Read the Pastoral Response from Franconia Conference Leadership Regarding DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) HERE.
The Faith and Life Commission has begun their 2018 gatherings this month with the topic of baptism. Despite the snow, credentialed leaders met February 8 and 9 at several locations including Souderton Mennonite Church, Zume House in Allentown and Nations Worship Center, as well as via Zoom.
In groups both large and small, they discussed scripture and the topic of baptism in their settings. There was time for dwelling in the word of God, discussion, and questioning. Some items that emerged include: how to handle when a person comes to faith in our fellowships but does not feel ready to commit to membership, can we baptize them? What do we do when someone has been baptized as a baby, sees it as meaningful, and wants to be a member; do we push for rebaptism or receive? Is our faith worth dying for and does baptism carry this weight? Baptism is an essential element to new life in Christ and a normal expression of faith in Christ. It is a lasting promise, a gift.
Participants expressed their appreciation of hearing stories of others and their unique contexts.
If you are a credentialed leader, in Franconia or Eastern District Conference, active or retired, and wish to attend one of these gatherings you can find more information HERE. Dates, locations and registration is now open for the May and August 2018 gatherings!
By Danilo Sanchez, Lehigh Valley Youth Minister
Hope for the Future gatherings bring together leaders of color from across the church, sometimes with white allies, to explore the ways that power, privilege and racism function in our denomination. For its 7th annual gathering, participants met in San Antonio, TX. Nearly 70 people of color attended the gathering and represented various Mennonite organizations, institutions, and churches across the U.S.
“The beggars are marching. And Christ is in their midst. Where are the saints?”
These prophetic words come from Dr. Vincent Harding’s sermon at the Mennonite World Conference in Amsterdam in 1967 when he called upon the Mennonite church to no longer be the “quiet in the land” and identify with the oppressed and marginalized in our communities. It was a call for confession, unity and action. Vincent’s words became our theme and motivated us as we met for Hope for the Future and looked to the future of the Mennonite church. During our weekend together, we were encouraged to dream, breathe as one, and care for one another. It was a time of unity and empowerment.
I felt the Spirit moving among us as we sang praises to God. I felt the Spirit stirring inside me as speakers like Sue Park-Hur, Glen Guyton, Dr. Juan Martinez, and Chantelle Todman-Moore shared their hope for the future. I witnessed the Spirit’s power from the testimony of the Goshen community who stopped an immigration detention facility from being built in their town. I saw the Spirit descend as we anointed and prayed for Glen Guyton as the new Executive Director of MC USA. The Holy Spirit was ready to work among us.
One of our main goals for the conference was to write a prophetic letter to Mennonite Church USA. The prophetic word started in small groups where we each shared what was on our heart. Then four gifted writers compiled each group’s words into one voice. The writers later shared the letter with the large group and we discussed. The major themes that emerged were being centered in Christ and the Holy Spirit, love one another despite our differences, be visibly active in the world, and invite the next generation into leadership. Many of these themes were affirmed, but some were not comfortable with the language of “celebrating and embracing” all members of the body of Christ; specifically, inclusion of LGBTQ members. At this point heated words were exchanged and the sense of unity that we experienced in the first half of the conference was shattered. As one leader said, we were no longer speaking to or with one another, but speaking past each other. How can we have any prophetic witness or word for the church, let alone the world, when we can’t even love one another as brothers and sisters in Christ despite our differences? Our group struggled to move forward. In the end, we decided the letter needed more time for discernment since we were not able to affirm all that was in the letter.
As I walked back to my hotel room, the Spirit gave me a song that we sang at Ripple one Sunday. The words of the song are,
“I need you. You need me.
We’re all a part of God’s body.
Stand with me. Agree with me.
We’re all a part of God’s body.
It is his will that every need be supplied.
You are important to me. I need you to survive.
I pray for you. You pray for me
I love you. I need you to survive
I won’t harm you
With words from my mouth
I love you. I need you to survive”
What simple yet profound, beautiful words. Despite our differences, are we able to say to all members of Christ’s body, “I love you. I need you to survive”? Many times, we are not. In our desire for both unity and holiness, we often harm one another with our words and leave some feeling invisible and rejected. But the Church throughout history has always struggled with unity and holiness; this is nothing new. Reflecting on Paul, N.T. Wright says, “In almost every letter we can see Paul urging two things upon his churches: unity and holiness…It is comparatively easy to work for unity if you don’t care about holiness; you just adopt a laissez-faire anything-goes strategy. And it is comparatively easy to work for holiness if you don’t care about unity; you just go on splitting the church over each moral disagreement. The trick is to work for both at the same time.”
Holding unity and holiness both equally is hard. The Mennonite church right now is struggling hard with how to live that out. I don’t believe it is the task of one person to find the path forward, but rather the Church must submit to the voice of the Spirit and discern together. My hope is that the Eternal One- who was, who is, and who will be- will lead us into all Truth and Grace.