Category Archives: Intersections

Our paper and digital newsletter with photos and highlights from the previous month’s stories.

Intersections: September/October 2011

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Franconia Conference Snapshots (summaries of this issue’s articles):

Intersections: July/August 2011

Introducing: Franconia Conference Snapshots, a summary of Intersections!

Intersections Summer 2011

Keeping my heart wide open

Klaudia Smucker, Bally

“I am not planning on preaching,” I told one of my seminary professors. “I’m more interested in pastoral care and counseling.”

“Ask your minister anyway, and see if he can fit you into the preaching schedule,” he said.Klaudia's Installation

James Waltner, my minister at College Mennonite at the time, said “Of course we can fit you into the preaching schedule.” I remember sitting up front before giving my first sermon, and having the feeling of wanting to run off the platform.

I began my student internship, not planning on being a pastor. But as the year went on, my seminary practicum, “Minister in the Church,” held many surprises. I preached, I led worship, I did pastoral care and counseling, and I loved every minute of it. I remember thinking, “This is the job I always wanted to do. I just didn’t know it.” My spiritual director noticed how enthusiastic and focused I was when I talked about my church work. She encouraged me to continue to seek God, and wait for answers. I prayed that if ministry was the right direction, it would be affirmed by others.

As I finished my practicum, I was sad to be ending something I enjoyed so much, and happy that I discovered something I loved. I decided to continue to work part time at my nursing job, and work my way through seminary, hoping that answers would eventually come. In my last week at the church, Nancy Kauffmann, on the CMC team, took me out to lunch and asked me if I had ever considered pastoral ministry. I said, “Yes. This practicum has opened whole new possibilities for me. I’m just not sure about the timing of it all.” She said, “I can’t promise you anything until we talk to the church board, but James and I believe you have gifts for ministry. We’d like to recommend hiring you to help us fill in some gaps.”

Klaudia's InstallationThat was the beginning of my ministry journey, although as I look back, I can see that God’s hand was on me, leading, guiding, and bringing others my way to encourage me in that direction. When I preached a sermon as a 16-year-old on youth Sunday in the early 70’s, a woman came up to me afterwards with tears in her eyes, and said, “If you were a man, you could be a preacher some day.” I remember hearing a woman speak with passion and inspiration and thought, “I want to do that for others.” After I gave a presentation in a committee meeting once, a woman said, “God has something in mind for you.”

Not all of the 12 years that I have been in ministry have been easy. Sometimes it has been hard, sad and all-consuming. I have laughed, cried, and lamented along with people as I’ve walked with them through marriage, births of children, difficult issues, personal illness and loss. All of those things inform my preaching, and remind me that life is uncertain. My faith has been strengthened as I’ve watched people trust and follow faithfully in the midst of extreme difficulty. I have felt God’s hand on me along the way, sometimes through wise and trusted mentors, sometimes after time in prayer, and sometimes in the voice of a stranger at the right place, at the right time. As I continue to walk forward in what God has called me to, my prayer is to keep my heart wide open as I continue to listen for whatever is next on the journey.

Marked by a celebration of peace, a pole, and a neighborhood park: Urban Anabaptists make a commitment to work and hope in Allentown

Samantha Lioi, Whitehall

In one corner of Franklin Park’s blacktop, Heidi Wert and her young friends sat drumming for peace, drawing in others to grab a pair of sticks and beat out a rhythm on white plastic tubs—thumping out their commitment to be agents of well-being in their neighborhoods.Peace Pole Among them was Peter Pettit, director of the Institute for Jewish-Christian Understanding at Muhlenberg College. Mayor Ed Palowski stood talking with folks setting up for the dedication of the Lehigh Valley’s third Peace Pole, the only one in the City of Allentown. The four-sided pillar, bearing “May peace prevail on earth” in Spanish, English, Arabic and German, was a gift to Pastor Tom Albright for his ordination. With his wife Carolyn, Tom gives leadership to Ripple, an eclectic Anabaptist urban worshiping community “moving toward Jesus as our center.” As they learn more what it means to follow Jesus, Tom says, they also learn, “We need each other.” Tom is credentialed by Franconia Mennonite Conference and the group grew out of ministry with Whitehall Mennonite Church, just outside of the city.

This mutual need, mutual honesty and encouragement were clear in the words and acts surrounding this pole on Saturday, as various people of faith gathered in a common desire for respectful relationships which build trust and shed fear in our city. Josh Chisholm of Congregations United for Neighborhood Action (CUNA) stood at the mic with his daughter on one hip, describing where he sees peace emerging. John, one of Ripple’s faithful deacons who lives across the street from the park, assisted with logistics and the pole’s unveiling. Rev. Maritza Torres Dolich of St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church across the alley from the park said she sees peace in the children playing here day after day, and in her conversations with them. Torres Dolich, originally from Puerto Rico, read the peace pole’s message in Spanish on behalf of Allentown’s large and growing Latino communities. Muc Nguyen of Vietnamese Gospel Church spoke the pole’s blessing in Vietnamese, and his friend Luke Martin, long-time Mennonite missionary in Vietnam, spoke the words in German, representing the Pennsylvania Dutch settlers in the region. Lucy, a first-year student at William Allen High School just a few blocks from the park, read an original poem of peace and sang a song of Peace Poleworship that made children and parents move from playing on the swings and jungle gym behind her to stand listening.

Planting this pole of many tongues calling silently for peace in our city will not stop people from shooting at each other or children from calling out hurtful names across this playground. It will simply remind us who commit ourselves to making peace that we too are planted here among the swing set and the spring onions of the community garden. And unlike this pole, we have breath and voice and power to be in healing relationships. It’s true: we need each other, and we need to remind each other that we are held and empowered by the Source of peace.

View the photo album

Samantha Lioi is an associate pastor at Whitehall Mennonite Church and is part of Zume House in Center City Allentown, an emerging intentional community of faith, witness and hope.

Called into blessing: Liberty Ministries executive remembers his own journey

Bob Thompson with Gay Brunt Miller

In the fall of 1998, Ann Angelichio, a 16-year Liberty Ministries prison volunteer, called the church where I served as an elder. She was seeking volunteers to preach in a new Thursday night chapel service at Montgomery County Correctional Facility (MCCF). Our pastor asked the elders if any of us would be interested in doing this ministry. When I heard the request, I remember thinking, “No way would I want to go into prison to preach.” I only wanted to teach in our “safe” Sunday school.

But I could not get the idea out of my mind. Every time I thought about it, I would dismiss the idea.

A week later, I decided to call Ann to “at least find out more” about prison ministry. Ann’s enthusiasm about prison ministry was contagious. By the end of our conversation I told her I would go to the volunteer orientation class to “at least find out more about it.”

The orientation session was educational and answered more questions than I could have ever imagined. The expectations were high, the commitment level was serious. The fear factor was daunting.

Part of the class was to complete a background check form. A few weeks later I received a call from Ann. “Bob, you were approved to go into Montgomery County Correctional Facility as a volunteer—what Thursday night could you start?” I remember a very long pause after her question. She suggested that I go in with another volunteer first. The next day I got a call from an experienced volunteer telling me when to meet him at the prison.

My heart raced as we were escorted Liberty Ministriesthrough the long hallways and seven iron doors to reach the chapel deep inside the prison. None of the inmates were there yet. I was relieved. As groups of inmates were released from their cells, the room was soon full. The choir assembled at the front of the chapel and started the service with singing and rejoicing. I was amazed that the a cappella choir sounded so good. Even though I recognized none of the tunes, some of the lyrics were familiar. My heart calmed by the time Larry finished preaching. A guard announced it was time to wrap up. Larry gave a benediction, and we were escorted back to the prison lobby.

Outside the prison Larry asked what I thought about the service and prison ministry. I could only say that it was “great” and “I wanted to do it.” There was no more “at least” thinking. The next week I started preaching at 8 p.m. on the third Thursday of the month and have been involved in increasing ways ever since.

After several years I had the opportunity to teach a Bible study to the residents of Liberty House. Teaching men who were transitioning from a life of incarceration to one of freedom in Christ and freedom in the world convinced me of the importance of a ministry like Liberty. Men who have been in prison need a safe place to live and time to make changes in the way they want to live after becoming followers of Jesus Christ. Liberty Ministries provides that environment.

This realization led me to join the board of directors and eventually become board chair. My 37 years of professional experience in the business world has been indispensable in leading the ministry in new directions.

In the fall of 2010 I became the Executive Director. It is an honor, privilege and challenge to be in this a position. Many changes are taking place in the ministry that will help us be more responsive to the needs and expectations of our community. By implementing the best practices available in all areas of our ministry, we are seeking to be the finest faith based residential program for ex-offenders in Pennsylvania.

I am convinced that serving God wherever He calls us, and whatever He calls us to do, is one of the greatest blessings a Christ-follower can experience.

Is your teen almost Christian? — Part 2

Nate Stucky & Marlene Frankenfield

Almost Christian by Kenda Creasy Dean has grabbed the attention of not just persons that minister with youth but church leaders across all denominations. Nate Stucky, Ph.D. Almost Christianstudent at Princeton Seminary, returned for more conversations with church leaders, youth leaders and parents at Zion Mennonite Church (Souderton, Pa.) on April 14. Nate challenged the group with three practical ways to intentionally communicate a passionate faith with young people:

1. Tell Your Own Story: Find a way to tell your own story of faith to a young person, and then let the young person share their story. As you tell these stories, try to give God “agency.” In other words, make sure God is an actor in the story. What does God do in these stories? If we don’t answer that question, I think we fail to follow the example of scripture. Three different stories you might tell:

  1. Fill in the blank: If it weren’t for ________, there’s no way I’d be following Jesus today. Name one person for whom this would be true and tell the story of how that person impacted your life and shared Jesus with you.
  2. Dark Night of the Soul: Share the story of a time when God seemed most distant. How did you navigate that time? What did God teach you in the midst of it? How did that time shape your faith?
  3. Thin Spaces: Where and when do you consistently feel closest to God? Through music, art, nature, acts of service? Pick one place and tell a young person how you discovered that space, why you think God consistently finds you there and what that thin space might reveal about who God is.

2. Building the Constellation: While there are many benefits to the professionalization of youth ministry over the past few decades, one unanticipated and unfortunate byproduct is parents treating youth workers like “the hired help” to do youth ministry. In reality, youth ministry is the calling and work of the entire congregation. Each young person needs as many people as possible surrounding him or her to encourage and nurture the seeds of faith. Mark DeVries talks about having a constellation of support around each young person. Parents might benefit from making a list of the people who make up the constellation of support around their teen (teachers, youth sponsors, pastors, family friends, peers, coaches, etc.) and then intentionally building relationships within the constellation to provide as much support and encouragement as possible for the teen. Let the teen know that all these people care about their faith!

3. Participation in the life of the church: What might we learn from interrogating the bulletin each week? Do adults know why we sing? Why we pray, read scripture, receive an offering, take communion, baptize, and preach? Each element is presumably there for a reason, and adults and teens each stand to learn something from asking hard questions about why they exist in the first place. By having these conversations, we can’t help but increase the whole community’s vocabulary of faith. Additionally, Kenda reminds us that in order for any of these practices to be “Christian,” we have to explicitly connect the practices to Jesus. We practice “X” because we follow Christ.

When Nate asked Kenda Creasy Dean what one thing she would want to tell parents, she gave a simple and profound challenge: “Do one radical thing for your faith; do it in full view of your youth; and tell them you do it because you follow Jesus, not just because you are a wholesome or nice person.”

In an age when we feel like we are losing ground in passing on faith, perhaps we need to avoid being fearful and recognize that that the Holy Spirit is already acting in the lives of our young people and that we can come alongside and more actively share our stories of faith.

Conference Finance Update — April 2011

Two months have been completed in the 2011-12 fiscal year. Revenue is slightly ahead of budget at this point, but so are expenses. (The budget for both revenue and expenses is seasonally adjusted to reflect when activity is more likely to occur.)

A sampling of the various activities of the conference during these two months:

  • Franconia Conference School for Leadership Formation: a Damascus Road Training was held at Philadelphia Mennonite High School and two Pastors and Leaders Breakfasts were held.
  • Regional Partnerships: conference leaders attended the Mennonite Church USA Constituency Leadership Council meetings held in Ohio, with leaders from other conferences.
  • $13,500 in Missional Operations Grants was given out to four congregations for new ministry projects. We feature stories from these grants in Intersections.
  • Jr. High Lock-in

  • LEAD/Congregational Ministries: the annual Jr. High Youth event was sponsored by the conference again.
  • $1,250 in Leadership Cultivation Grants was given to seven emerging leaders.
  • Ministerial Leadership: Training & Development Grants and Ministerial Counseling Grants were provided to assist three pastors in their development as leaders.
  • Conference Board: Mennonite Health Services is continuing to give board development training for the new board members.
  • $5,990 in assistance was given from the Ministers Retirement Fund to those pastors and spouses who served in the era before retirement funds were established.
2 months
Operating Budget
Actual  Budget
Revenue (from all sources)
Line of Credit Payment
($ 38,131)
$ (37,924)

Same mission, same values, new urgency

Marta Castillo, Conference Board, Marta Castillo
Nueva Vida Norristown New Life

Intercultural, missional, and formational are words that beg to be defined more clearly and deeply in our hearts and minds. When many of us read, “For at least the next two years, the conference board has prioritized for Ertell Whigham and conference staff to work at being intercultural, missional and formational”, we can affirm those priorities as God-honoring and life-giving. Yet some of us may take a wait and see attitude on how being intercultural, missional, and formational will be “brought to the center in such a way everyone embraces them as the driving force behind why we do ministry and how we do ministry.”

This issue of Intersections is full of examples of how the priorities of being intercultural, missional, and formational are already being put into practice within Franconia Conference. God is actively defining these words for us as reflected in these stories of how God’s people are responding to the movement of the Spirit. As often is the case, we are trying to catch up and get on board with what God is already doing among us.

God’s formational work in the life of Ertell Whigham has brought him to this place of leadership among us and on the journey. God developed in him a deep appreciation for community, peace, honest communication, conflict management skills, and a deeply held vision for how the church can be a witness in the world. The prayer trainings referenced in the story of “Learning to Listen” highlight the central role of listening prayer in the formation of God’s people. “Prayer is finding out what God wants to do and asking God to do it.” We find evidence of God’s molding and directing in the story of the calling of Klaudia Smucker in her stated desire “to walk forward in what God has called her to” and her prayer to keep her heart wide open. God’s love for process and formation is reflected in the testimony of Samantha Lioi that “in God’s maddening slowness there is expansive room for healing. There is so much space to become the people we are.” Bob Thompson was moved by God from “no way” to “I am convinced that serving God wherever He calls us, is one of the greatest blessings a Christ-follower can experience.”

From the solid base of God’s formational work comes our missional response. The Whigham article states, “Whigham plans to encourage everyone from the pew to the pulpit and beyond to become more clearly passionate about the conference’s vision: equipping leaders to empower others to embrace God’s mission. Overall, he believes his role is “to continue to bring clarity for what that means and for every person to be able to think and pray about how they can represent that [vision] in their particular context, as it relates to the whole.” God’s mission is to reconcile the world to himself through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. Mission is happening in the Lehigh Valley through Ripple, an eclectic Anabaptist urban worshiping community “moving toward Jesus as our center.” As the conference board visits and listens to the testimonies of the churches, we hear story after story of how congregations continue to embrace God’s mission.

Our missional response is naturally taking us down the path to being increasingly intercultural. The Partner in Mission relationship with Mana de Vida Eterna is described “as another example of how the Lord is working through relationships to connect congregations and conferences across what may have formerly been seen as boundaries that were not to be crossed.” In Allentown, a peace pole becomes a symbol of unity and “a common desire for respectful relationships.” Ertell Whigham is quoted as saying of the beginnings of Nueva Vida Norristown New Life, an intercultural, multilingual church, “As I looked at [these] three churches . . . all professing to serve the same Christ, called to be one people, it just felt like we needed to do something different in order to be something different for God,” Whigham said.

The priorities set by the conference board for the next two years, being intercultural, missional, and formational, are not new. Neither is the conference’s vision: equipping leaders to empower others to embrace God’s mission. Yet there does seem to be a new urgency and a new commitment, to “do something different in order to be something different for God”. Embrace God’s mission!

Maná de Vida Eterna springs alive along the Hudson River

Charles A. Ness, Perkiomenville

The Hudson River Valley just north of New York City is a beautiful historic area that attracts both vacationers and residents. Towns with names like, Tarrytown, Ossining, Sleepy Hollow and Croton on the Hudson, have had an idyllic appeal for hundreds of years.Mana de Vida

It is also home to many Spanish-speaking persons from a variety of Central and South American countries, including Daniel and Jacky Lopez and their two sons who came to the United States 15 years ago from Chile. Daniel works as a maintenance supervisor at a children’s hospital and Jacky is employed in domestic services.

Years ago the Lord delivered Daniel and Jacky from a life of addiction and healed their marriage. This gave them a passion to share Christ’s love with others who need to know abundant life in Christ. For several years they have had a desire to be part of a church that could effectively reach the Spanish-speaking persons in Ossining. Daniel had led several persons to Christ who found it difficult to assimilate into their existing church. After prayer they decided to begin a new fellowship for these and other persons.

In February 2010 the group began a Friday evening meeting in the Lopez home attended by several persons from their home church and those who had recently professed Christ. It was very small at first but as persons came to faith in Christ they outgrew the Lopez living room. In December 2010 they began renting space in another church building. This new church, Maná de Vida Eterna, has adopted the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective as their statement of faith.

This group got connected to Franconia Conference when Pastor Alfredo Navea from Viña del Mar, Chile, who had been friends with the Lopez family for many years, introduced them to Kirk Hanger, Pastor of New Hope Fellowship, Alexandria, VA, and Charles Ness, Pastor of Perkiomenville Mennonite Church. This began a relationship where Daniel and his family attended Perkiomenville’s annual church retreat in August and persons from Perkiomenville and Franconia Conference have gone to worship services in New York. With Kirk serving as LEAD Minister for Perkiomenville, he and Charlie came together to support Daniel and the Manna of Eternal Life Church.

In December representatives of Franconia Conference, Steve Kriss, and Noel Santiago, persons from Philadelphia Praise Center, along with Kirk, Charlie and several men from Perkiomenville, attended the dedication of their new worship space. It was an encouragement to this emerging church to have representatives from the broader church present to bless this new beginning. In February 2011, Kirk and Charlie assisted with the first baptism. It is anticipated that this summer both the New Hope and Perkiomenville congregations will assist Manna of Eternal Life with outreach efforts which will further enhance the relationship and be mutually beneficial to all the churches.

A Franconia Conference Missional Operations Grant has provided important seed money for rent and other start up costs for this emerging church. Additionally, Daniel is participating in Eastern Mennonite Seminary’s STEP program which provides training for people who are licensed for pastoral ministry or have been encouraged to consider pastoral ministry—who may not have college, Bible school, or seminary training. STEP combines spiritual and personal formation with content-based learning in Bible, theology, leadership, and ministry skills in a very practical way. Daniel attends a class in Philadelphia one Saturday a month. This is equipping him to be a leader and giving him an understanding of Anabaptist/Mennonite theology and practice.

This Partner in Mission relationship between Franconia Conference, New Hope Fellowship and Perkiomenville Mennonite Church and the Manna of Eternal Life Church is another example of how the Lord is working through relationships to connect congregations and conferences across what may have formerly been seen as boundaries that were not to be crossed. This new paradigm allows for authentic relationships that are both life giving and life sustaining and enables both congregations and the conference to participate in the fresh move of God. The Spirit is flowing from the Potomac River and Perkiomen Creek to the Hudson River to build the Kingdom of God.