by Samantha Lioi, Whitehall
Call is a slippery word in divine-human relations, and there are always at least two in this tango: God can be slippery as we look and listen and follow, and people are pretty slippery when called by God. It happened with all the greats. “But…I am only a boy,” says Jeremiah. Peter falls at Jesus’ knees in the boat crying, “Go away from me, Lord!” Even after much reassurance, Moses says, “Lord, please send someone else.” I get it. To be called is to be responsible. Seriously, visibly responsible. In the good company of prophets and apostles, when I look at my ability to live with integrity, I don’t know if I want all that responsibility.
It’s interesting to me that the biblical folk who come to mind first—and those whose call stories I’ve mentioned so far—are men. They are men whose stories are comforting and familiar as they resonate with my own experience. Maybe I should pay more attention to the women God called. At the garden tomb, Mary Magdalene doesn’t say, “Jesus, I don’t think I can…I’m still processing that thing with the seven demons.” There’s no hedging. In love and joy she runs from the empty tomb and comes shouting to Peter and John: “I have seen the Lord!”
I grew up thinking people who had women as pastors couldn’t be taking the Bible seriously. I was 20 years old and a sophomore in a biblical interpretation class at Houghton College when I was required to think about both sides of this. I remember exactly where I was sitting when I learned that scholars with a bias against women in church leadership consistently defended the translation of Junia (a woman’s name) as Junias (a man’s name) in Paul’s list of greetings in Romans 16, because he calls her an apostle. In this context of honesty about the stickiness and complexity of biblical interpretation, I began to welcome the idea that I, or any woman, could be a pastor. Not that I wanted to be. I felt a general call to ministry throughout college and in the years that followed. But a pastor? Me? No—not interested (read this as I was scared to death). Six years after that class, and after much prayer and conversation with mentors and our small campus-based Mennonite fellowship, I began seminary. I enrolled as an M.Div. student so that, I told myself, I would have the authority to preach—but still without any intention of pursuing pastoral ministry. I loved theology and I wanted to study the Bible in more depth. People I trusted had been telling me to go. It felt like the unavoidable next thing, plunked down in the middle of my path.
A key to my ongoing conversion to the Gospel has been receiving and trusting the powerful, unending flow of God’s love. This deepened during my time in Elkhart and Goshen as a student at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary. My new friends and professors showed me grace as I had not known it before. They modeled and encouraged me to accept the underlying good God has woven into the universe, the undergirding Love that will not let us go. I have encountered a fierce Love indeed, and One who can be trusted. It is only in that love that I take the risk of leading others in walking the way of Jesus. And, I practice not taking myself too seriously as I live with the delight and the struggle of feeling things deeply, finding myself frequently moving through deep springing joy and grieving compassion and doubt. Like many of us, I face the temptation to despair, the temptation to do nothing, the temptation to be defeated by the impossibility of complete integrity. So I am as messed up as everyone else—thanks be to God for the freedom to minister in my weakness, and not from pretended worthiness!
Like every other disciple of Christ, I’m called to maturity. Like everyone else, I’m called to die. No wonder I resist the gift and weight of leadership! Yet, at the center of our faith is a poor man from an ethnic minority whom we say is God with skin on. Holiness inseparable from ordinary human living. Flesh and muscle and bone. Bread and wine. A seed that falls into the earth and dies, and is drawn up by water and sun through the soil, and bears much fruit. A long, slow view of pain and hope and saving. And in God’s maddening slowness there is expansive room for healing. There is so much space to become the people we are.
Amazingly, knowing Christ’s church as well as I do, I love it enough to stay. And amazingly, it seems the church is saying the Spirit is empowering me to keep practicing this pastor-prophet-poet-preacher-pray-er thing: in listening, speaking, tugging, laughing, living beside. Resisting God and saying yes, and learning to trust like the Magdalene when I don’t know what that yes will mean. In all of it, called by inescapable Love.
by Sheldon C. Good, Salford
As a child, Ertell M. Whigham, Jr. loved his tight-knit community in North Philadelphia. But by senior year at Simon Gratz High School, he was bored and began searching for a new place to belong. In March 1968, three months before high school graduation, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. He entered boot camp in that summer and by the end of the year was deployed to Vietnam, assigned to a combat battalion landing team.
“We were stationed aboard Naval air craft carriers and would patrol the coast providing reinforcements and security for various search and destroy operations. We would be air lifted by helicopter to an area for weeks or months at a time where reinforcements were needed,” he said. “It was difficult and stressful because there were frequent combat situations and constant exposure to opposing forces.”
After serving a year in Vietnam he and his wife Pat were married and stationed in North Carolina where he completed the last two years of a four year enlistment. Following discharge in 1972, Whigham returned to Philadelphia where he drove a taxi as a way to reconnect with people and the cultural revolution of the late 60s and early 70s. After about a year of finding it difficult to provide for his family, he took a position as a military recruiter. “Although the Marine Corps was a very racist, culturally biased and controlling system, at least I knew my way around it,” he said.
After re-enlistment, Whigham was relocated to nearby Reading but never completely found what he was looking for in the Marines. Years later after accepting Christ during a fellowship at a mega church in Philadelphia, he rediscovered a different type of “community.” While living in Reading, a neighbor shared the Gospel with Whigham’s wife, Pat, and invited the family to attend Buttonwood Mennonite Church. “I remember getting dressed for church in my culture, we got dressed up,” he said. “We walked in, and everyone was dressed down. There was no piano. There was no music. It was very quiet.” People wore plain clothes. Women wore head coverings.
Mennonite women often went door-to-door in his neighborhood in North Philly. One of the women told Whigham that Jesus loved him. He said, “I never forgot the look in her eyes when she told me that Jesus loved me. Even as a kid, I could see that she was really committed.”
Going to Buttonwood Mennonite, 24-year-old Whigham liked the preacher’s sound doctrine. “What struck me was what I now know as an Anabaptist perspective,” he said. More important, Whigham enjoyed the community aspect of congregational life. “Then they began to talk about the peace position, and that didn’t work,” he said. Whigham shared his perspective about what he saw in Vietnam; the congregation gave their thoughts on peace and justice.
Theological differences became even more pronounced when Whigham decided to go to college with help from the G.I. Bill. A church elder told him that was “blood money.” Even so, Whigham stayed committed to the Mennonite community, a place he finally found belonging, unlike in the military. He later became a pacifist while having a devotion one morning.”I remember walking away from that and the Lord speaking to me and saying, ‘how can you tell someone about Jesus and want to take their life?’” Though Whigham once sold young people on the benefits and pride of being a Marine, he’s now a committed mentor who believes in providing alternative opportunities for young people.
In 1975, Lancaster Conference licensed Whigham for ministry by lot. He was 25. “The Mennonite world was one that constantly intrigued and amazed and impressed me enough that they seemed to continually be in community,” he said. But community proved difficult.
Along with some theological disagreements, cultural differences arose, some more significant than others. For example, some people wanted Whigham to shave his mustache because it was representative of the military. But more important, he said, Lancaster Conference “passively” withdrew their support stipend for Buttonwood Mennonite, a mission church.
“So my family, for a short period of time, we were just out there,” Whigham said. “We were just literally out there, without any support from the church.”
For Whigham, it felt like a “control” move. “I vowed to my wife that I would never, ever trust my life to the church,” he said. “And even now, my income is not even fully church dependent. It’s ministry dependent, but not church dependent.” Whigham eventually got a job with Ehrlich Pest Control, and was later promoted to an executive position in Philadelphia. He spent a year traveling between Reading and Philadelphia before his family relocated to be with him in 1981.
That’s when he rediscovered Diamond Street Mennonite Church in Philadelphia whose members 20 years earlier included Emma Rudy and Alma Ruth, the mission workers who had gone door-to-door in Whigham’s neighborhood and told him Jesus loved him. While Whigham worked as a corporate executive, he enjoyed teaching Sunday school and other church service opportunities. At one point, he was informed through Diamond Street that a church in nearby Norristown needed someone to preach on a particular Sunday. So he volunteered as a guest preacher one Sunday.
“After I preached and was walking out of the church, the church ‘secretary’ walks up to me, hands me the key to the building and says, ‘We want you to be our pastor,’” Whigham said. “Now you talk about a search process that’s expedited, that is indeed.”
At the same time the Whighams had put money down on a house in the suburbs, however his wife told him “they want you; we need to be here.” The family moved to King of Prussia, and Whigham took the keys to the church. He and his wife Pat were blessed by God with complementary gifts in both children’s and pastoral ministry.
After about five years of ministering with Bethel Mennonite Church, in 1989 during a combined fellowship meal with the other two Mennonite congregations in town, Whigham envisioned how the three—Bethel, First Mennonite and Fuente de Salvación—could come together as one.
“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. “I shared my vision with the other two pastors and our congregations committed to a time of prayer and discernment.”
In 1990, they formed Norristown New Life Nueva Vida Church, an intercultural, multilingual congregation, with a three member intercultural (associate) pastoral team. In the late 1990s, Whigham also became a part-time Franconia Conference minister.
Today, Whigham remains within that community serving as associate pastor. On Feb. 3 he started an initial two-year term as executive minister of Franconia Mennonite Conference. He is believed to be the first African American to lead an area conference of Mennonite Church USA. Even with the new appointment, Whigham was committed to remaining an associate pastor with the Norristown congregation.
For at least the next two years, the conference board has prioritized for Whigham and conference staff to work at being intercultural, missional and formational, “and to bring those to the center in such a way everyone embraces them as the driving force behind why we do ministry and how we do ministry,” he said.
Whigham plans to encourage everyone from the pew to the pulpit and beyond to become 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.”
- Enough to leaven the loaf: Gospel hope rises in Allentown
- Called, affirmed, recognized: On believing and living accordingly
- Partners in mission: Gloria a Dios! Praying & praising from the mountaintop
- Living Branches names pastoral care & service team
- From the moderator: In search of grace that transforms toward hope
- Enough to leaven the loaf: Gospel hope rises in Allentown
- Youth Breezes
- Finance Update February 2011
February 1st marked the beginning of a new fiscal year for Franconia Conference. The new year brings additional financial challenges. As congregations continue to tighten their budgets, giving continues to decrease. Congregational giving is forecast to be $64,000 less than what was budgeted last fiscal year, an 11.4% decrease. Decreases in subsidies from properties owned by the conference will also contribute to another $100,000 decrease in revenue for the conference from last year’s budget. This has led to the conference tightening its belt as well; several staff persons who have left over the past year have not been replaced, their roles and tasks being spread over remaining staff.
However, we still believe God is doing great things in our conference and will continue to do so. Conference leadership is looking for a continued partnership between congregations, related ministries, and the conference staff, especially as we expand the LEAD oversight platform throughout the conference.
The budget, passed by the conference board in January, is summarized as follows:
Revenue (from all sources) $851,318
Line of Credit payment $25,000
(repayments over a three-year period for conference center
For more information see http://stewardship.franconiaconference.org.
Pittsburgh 2011: Mennonite Church USA Convention: Bridges to the cross . . . 2 Corinthians 5:15
20: Preparing young people for a youth convention experience is very important. Being intentional prepares the way for youth groups to have deeper significant relationships where youth feel like they belong, which sets young people up to believe. Creating a safe space of trust and open transparent living will welcome the challenging questioning, where biblical teaching can happen and young people’s lives could be transformed.
Become a fan of Pittsburgh 2011 on Facebook and encourage your kids to “like” it too, for updates and info.
Pray regularly for Convention 2011: Pray for speakers, youth, delegates, seminar leaders and everyone involved so that we may be inspired to welcome God’s Spirit and join God’s work in the world.
Is your Teen Almost Christian? This fall event led by Nate Stucky, current student at Princeton Theological Seminary, challenged many of us who attended and provoked questions about how we are passing on a radical Anabaptist faith to the next generation. Kenda Creasy Dean’s book “Almost Christian” gives a new challenge to the church, parents, youth leaders, teachers, and Mennonite schools.
For more information see http://youth.francoiniaconference.org
At Franconia Conference Assembly 2011 delegates were invited to complete the sentence, my hope and dream for Franconia Conference is . . . 55 people responded to the invitation with the following hopes and dreams, “to better communicate with each congregation” . . . “to welcome and include all people regardless’ . . . ‘Unity, joy and effectively spreading the love and joy of God to the outside world” . . . “that it would be a community of those who find their home in God and live in hope with one another” . . . “to build a strong unified foundation from which to
“We are committed to move forward in a way that invites all the members of our congregations to join together.” build God’s Kingdom” . . . “not afraid to embrace new things” . . . “reconnect the people of Franconia Conference” . . . “to become a model community of grace and love, providing a safe place to explore God’s purpose” . . .”that in trusting relationships with each other and with God we can move with God’s guidance into our future, welcoming all, honoring differences, but unified in our core beliefs” . . . “For grace looking back, and hope looking forward with and among the delegates/congregations and the Conference board” . . . “that trust and confidence will continue to grow better conference leadership and congregation direction”.
This sampling of quotes from the delegates is cause for celebration and hope for our community of congregations and ministries. We share a desire for unity, a wish to be open to all persons, a commitment to be welcoming, a determination to find joy in our differences and in our similarities and a strong urge to engage in meaningful, direct and transparent communication.
Ervin Stutzman, MCUSA Executive Director, speaking at last year’s Assembly said, “Trouble plus grace equals hope”. This quote has particular relevance for our conference as together we have sought grace to transform our struggle into hope for today and the future. The Conference board is finding hope as it connects in a new way with all of our member congregations. The board has committed to meeting with the leaders of all Conference congregations within the next three to six months. These meetings are beginning to occur and the dialogue between congregational leadership and conference leadership has been valuable. We’re asking:
- How can conference support the missional efforts of the congregation?
- What conference activities has your congregation found helpful?
- What additional services would be appreciated?
We are finding energy in the eagerness with which congregational leaders engage in the discussion.
We are finding hope in the recent restructuring of Conference staff and the appointment of Ertell Whigham to the role of Executive Minister. Ertell brings energy, passion, leadership skills and commitment to achieving the following priorities articulated by the Conference board and is appreciated and supported by other Conference staff.
- Engage with the Franconia Conference Board in the work of the strategic transformation of Franconia Conference toward a missional, formational and intercultural Conference.
- Build an energetic and unified staff team to support the work of Conference.
- Build confidence within the constituency.
I am optimistic that Franconia Conference will move steadily toward achieving these priorities. We are committed to move forward in a way that invites all the members in our congregations to join together in the effort. This will require careful planning, clear communication and prioritizing a path of working respectfully with a shared commitment to become a community and Conference that reflects God’s dream for us together. We appreciate the ongoing prayer of the community as we move, trusting the transformative power of the Spirit on the Way.
Franco Salvatori, Rocky Ridge firstname.lastname@example.org
When I was just a young kid my older brother and I shared a room. One night he asked me that great Campus Crusade question. “If you died tonight, would you go to heaven?” I shared with him my best understanding of God at the time—that he was like a big computer up in heaven, calculating everything I did. I almost pictured God weighing my life on a balance scale of good versus bad. If the good things I had done outweighed the bad then I had earned heaven. If the bad things came in heavy… well, you know the story. My brother took the time to explain that I could know where I would spend eternity, that all I had to do was accept Christ’s gift for me. Together, we traveled downstairs to my parent’s bedroom and I remember kneeling to pray and ask Jesus into my heart. This was only a few years after Christ had entered our family and made radical changes. My parents weren’t your average Christian family when I was born, my father was an alcoholic and my mom was just holding the family together. I was only four but I remember when life started changing in our home. One day after dad had taken a short “vacation”, he returned different. He was still a steel mill worker, but something was different. He smiled. That next year when it came time for me to start in school, my brother and I both went to a new school. My parents chose to send us to a Christian school to make sure that we grew up with a strong biblical foundation.
Life continued this way for about 3 years after my own personal experience with Christ, when another big change happened in our family. My parents sat us down to say that we were going to be moving because my 39year-old father was going to college. He felt called into ministry. It was this event in my family that displayed faith better than anything I had ever experienced. We packed up and moved, trusting God. Little did we know before the end of dad’s second semester, it wasn’t college he would be in, it was the hospital. Dad was diagnosed with a large tumor in his colon.
Besides my salvation experience, this event had the most profound effect on my spiritual journey. It was at this time in my life, when I could no longer walk in the shadow of the faith of my parents, that I had to determine whether or not I believed in a God who would “call” my parents to leave everything and then abandon them there. It was truly not a long journey, because of God’s people, and because of the truth of 2 Corinthians.
When we suffer, it gives us an opportunity to experience comfort from the God of all comfort. I quickly felt the care of many people that God brought around us, and the comfort of the God who brought us there. It was during this time that I felt the presence of God carrying not only me, but also my family, through this entire event. God eventually healed my father through surgeons and time, but without this suffering I have no idea what my spiritual life would look like today. I can truly say this journey was a start of a lifelong faith journey following the example I saw in my parents . . . believe and live your life accordingly.
During my high school years, there was little differentiation between my call to a fully surrendered lifestyle and to going into full-time ministry. As you have heard, I was privileged to be a part of a family where total abandon was modeled. When I continued to surrender more of myself to God’s will, God revealed in me a passion for serving and different gifts for ministry. As I began to think about career, God pursued me to pursue ministry. When I went to college, I entered full-time ministry to high school students, and I pursued this passion for the next eight years of my life.
From there, we followed God to Eastern Pennsylvania so that I could attend Biblical Seminary’s LEAD program. Through it all, God continues to be faithful to me, my family of origin, and the wonderful family with which God has blessed me along the way. God continues to use our family in ministry as we continually walk each leg of our journey being faithful to “believe and live accordingly.”
Sandy Landes, Doylestown
The title of this article reflected the words of our hearts, “Glory to God,” as a group returned from a journey to Mexico last fall. We truly experienced the glory of God in the worship, the teaching, the prayer times and the fellowship with Partner in Mission congregation, Iglesia de la Tierra Prometida (or informally Monte Maria) in Mexico City.
On September 9-13, 2010, a group from Franconia Conference traveled to Monte Maria, the church in Mexico City where Bob and Bonnie Stevenson serve. The group’s members, Don Brunk (Souderton Mennonite), Rick Kratz and Noel Santiago (Blooming Glen Mennonite), Jeanette Phillips (Hopewell Fellowship-Telford) and Steve and Sandy Landes (Doylestown Mennonite) traveled to Monte Maria to participate in the School of Ministry discipleship training held regularly for members of this large and growing congregation. This training is intense, held over a day or two, and involves worship, preaching and teaching on various topics related to living the Christian life: biblical studies and topical studies such as the life of Jesus, redemption and prayer. It was encouraging to see how engaged the students were with the classes as they listened attentively, took notes and shared their thoughts in discussions. Don Brunk and Noel Santiago taught two classes each and were warmly welcomed by the brothers and sisters of Monte Maria.
The focus of these classes is to build up the body of Christ to become strong in their faith and to grow in maturity. In addition to teaching, considerable time was spent each day in worship, seeking to know God through adoration and praise. One day at the end of worship the visiting pastor invited those to come forward who wanted to receive a touch from the Lord—as the woman who touched Jesus’ cloak and her bleeding stopped. As a visiting prayer team, we were invited to minister alongside of our brothers and sisters to persons who came forward, and we sensed God’s presence ministering through us and to us. Even though not all of us on the team spoke Spanish fluently, God helped us to transcend the language barrier through the bond of the Spirit and the willing translators in prayer and worship.
Other opportunities for service included Don Brunk preaching at an outdoor evangelistic service held on Sunday afternoon and a married couples’ Sunday school class that my husband and I led. Noel and Jeanette met with the leaders of their prayer teams for encouragement.
Hospitality and serving the Lord with gladness are two characteristics of the believers at Monte Maria. Every person is expected to serve in some kind of ministry capacity, whether it is as an usher, a member of the worship team, helping to maintain the facilities through cleaning or serving on their food-service team. We noticed and felt the joy that came through their service as we spent most of our time at the church and witnessed so many different gifts being used with gladness. It reminds me of Psalm 100:2, “Serve the Lord with glad-ness.”(NKJV). Julio, a young man of 16 years of age, was an example of the graciousness with which we were served. His attentiveness and ready smile were part of what made our daily meal at the church so enjoyable. We believe God will continue to use him for the kingdom because of his servant attitude. We were privileged to be blessed by their obvious joy in serving Jesus through simple acts of cleaning, cooking, worshiping, and teaching.
While we were there to minister and pray for the ministry of Monte Maria, we also enjoyed the time spent fellowshipping and sharing with Bob and Bonnie Stevenson. Their lives are full with the responsibilities of pastoring a large congregation, family life and nurturing their own walk with the Lord. Continue to uphold them in your prayers as God brings Bob and Bonnie and their children, Roberto and Rebecca, to your mind. The kingdom of God continues to flourish around the world, and we were so blessed as we witnessed the growth and joy in the church at Monte Maria.
When visionary leaders from Franconia Mennonite Conference founded Souderton Mennonite Homes and Dock Woods Community, serving older adults and families in the name of Jesus was at the heart of their mission. When the Boards of these two ministries came together to form Living Branches in 2008, we again affirmed that the vision and vitality of our shared ministry is rooted in and guided by Jesus. “Recognizing the importance of our faith heritage to our mission, we wanted to ensure that pastoral care played a prominent role in Living Branches,” explains Edward Brubaker, President/CEO. “We also felt that service to others was core to our Anabaptist Christian identity.”
This past fall, Living Branches combined Pastoral Care and Volunteer Coordination across the three campuses to create a unified Pastoral Care and Service Team. After interaction with a number of good candidates, the Pastors, Volunteer Coordinator and Living Branches leadership unanimously decided to call Ray Hurst to serve as our first Director of Pastoral Care and Service. Ray leads a gifted new team, which includes Jim Derstine, Pastor at Dock Meadows (Zion Mennonite); Lorene Derstine, Pastor at Dock Woods (Plains); Mark Derstine, Pastor at Souderton Mennonite Homes (Blooming Glen); and Lynne Allebach, our Volunteer Coordinator (Methacton).
Ray brings more than 20 years of ministry, pastoral care and social service experience to Living Branches. He began his ministry in Kansas, where he served as Co-Pastor of Tabor Mennonite Church in Newton for 11 years. Ray then became Lead Pastor of Community Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, Virginia, for a decade. Both were larger, multi-staff congregations. Ray moved to the Philadelphia area three years ago when his wife, Brenda, accepted a call to serve as Pastor of Frazer (Pa) Mennonite Church. Since moving to Pennsylvania, Ray has served autistic youth and adults living with mental illness. He also worked for a year as Executive Director of Good Samaritan Shelter in Phoenixville.
Ray earned a Master of Divinity Degree in Pastoral Counseling from Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, and a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology from Trinity College. He is an avid gardener and is passionate about the Christian call to work for peace and justice.
“We have a strong interest in nurturing the ongoing faith development of older adults,” says Ray. “Our faith isn’t finalized when we reach a certain age; rather, we can always continue to mature in our faith journey.” Ray and his team are creating spaces to talk about questions of life and faith in the context of community. Ray recently started a column in a monthly resident newsletter titled “Roast Preacher” where he invites conversation with residents around an aspect of faith that he is pondering.
With these changes, the Dock Woods and Dock Meadows chaplains are now referred to as pastors, which had already been the tradition on the Souderton Mennonite Homes campus. As Ray explains, “For some, the term ‘chaplain’ can signify a shorter-term ministry to an individual. At Living Branches, however, we’re looking to form meaningful relationships for the balance of a person’s life, and we’re also tending to the wider faith community on all three campuses. We feel this new language embraces our Anabaptist heritage of faith in the context of community.”
Another way we’re embracing our Anabaptist approach to spirituality is including Volunteer Coordination in the Pastoral Care and Service Team. “Serving others is at the heart of the Gospel,” added Ray. “By including Volunteer Coordination in our vision for Pastoral Care, we are helping others connect more fully with service as a wonderful, life-giving spiritual discipline.”
In addition to engaging our residents, their families and staff members around issues of spirituality, our Pastoral Care and Service Team strives to be a resource for area pastors and coordinators of congregational health ministries. One way we do this is through annual Pastoral Care to Seniors seminars.
As Ray summarizes, “We are here to be expressions of Christ’s love, as we minister to the needs of the whole person—mind, body and spirit.”
Samantha Lioi, Whitehall
One story below our living room window, cars swish by on Hamilton Street, spraying the brown slush which fell as snow and sleet on the main drag into downtown Allentown. There old churches, old shops, more recent Egyptian bagel-makers and the new coffee and sandwich place stand side by side amidst economic depression, trying, like the rest of us, to keep in enough heat and enough joy to carry through a long winter. Most days the living room is filled with sunlight—the warmest room in the house—and knowing that I can accept this day that feels more like the gray northern Indiana winters I left to move here just three months ago.
Downstairs on the kitchen counter, sourdough starter is bubbling. Since taking up residence at Zumé (ZOO-may) House in November, I have started baking bread again. Zumé is the Greek word for “yeast” or “leaven” in the New Testament, and the verse for which our house is named is found in Luke 13:21: “[The kingdom of God . . .] is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” As a household, we are hoping to be leaven in our neighborhood, our relationships, our city. With that in mind we have claimed three words to describe the house: faith, community, and transformation. We’re still fixing up the place, still imagining and asking God what and who we are becoming, so I will describe what has emerged so far as we continue our sometimes impatient waiting for the community dough to rise.
We are people of Christian faith.
We are followers of Jesus, disciples (students) expecting that learning to follow requires practice and ongoing learning, and apostles (those who are sent), just as we understand each of our sisters and brothers to be sent by Christ to partner with God in reconciliation. Our faith is shaped by
Mennonite Anabaptist understandings of the Gospel including simple living, peacemaking, and knowing and living the Scriptures as we discern together how that is enfleshed in our time and place.
We are a community.
Like many in the U.S. who share this vision, we are still learning what this means. We are keenly aware how deeply individualism is engraved in the grooves of our brains, the felt needs of our hearts and the raised silver numbers of our credit cards. Much of U.S. American culture thrives on our wanting and spending and self-isolating. As we learn to commit to one another in a common life, a foundation of our faithfulness to Jesus is to live in a way that counters
this individualism and carves new grooves in us, day by day. We have spoken about our desire to “submit to allowing ourselves to be challenged about how we spend our time and our money and being willing to make different choices based on encounters in community life. We know we are better disciples together, and we expect to be changed.
Transformation is the result.
Of course, this is only possible by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit of Christ, who is the original leaven. We are committed to encourage one another to expect that God’s Spirit is constantly working through the whole loaf—to continue in hope that God is making all things new—us, our neighborhood, our city, indeed all of creation.
In a way, we know exactly what this means. Like every other follower of Jesus, we are called to rely on God and expect our Creator to act in our daily lives and in the lives of our neighbors. We are to love these neighbors, pray for them, invite them into our home and visit them in theirs, share food, celebrate and grieve with them, invite them deeper into the self-giving love of God and into allegiance to Christ by the empowering of the Holy Spirit. It is also true that we have very little idea what this means. How and when do we do these things? How much time do we devote to prayer as a household? Whom do we invite to join us in prayer? What exactly do we offer our neighborhood (English classes, tutoring, Spanish classes, GED prep)? How do we choose among the many good possibilities and dreams for participating in God’s mission? What is the particular gift or charism of our house? When will we know this? For now, it’s just two of us, and thecharacter and gift of the community could bloom in any number of colors depending on who comes to join us. It’s energizing and hopeful to imagine this, and while we are inviting and waiting for others to come, it’s stretching and overwhelming to choose and focus right now, in the present, precisely what we’re committing to given who we are and what we bring.
Paul told the Ephesian church it was normal not to be able to put their finger on what and who they were becoming, for “your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Turns out, not knowing can nourish trust, and the Gospel’s full of small, ordinary, dark, daily goodness—the seed in the earth, the salt that brings flavor, the yeast invisibly working through the dough. Author Kathleen Norris in The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and “Women’s Work” invites more respect for “dailiness”—for necessary daily tasks like cooking meals and doing laundry and doing the dishes—as the very place God meets us, day in, day out.* And what is Christian community if not sharing what is daily in our lives? It sounds like a simple idea, and at its root is deeply counter-cultural: “Give us today our bread for the day.” Give us enough for this day, and we will admit our utter impotence to ensure anything about tomorrow. Be with us today, and we will try to notice your presence in this day. We pour the flour, we knead the loaf, we let it be and let it rise. We discern our life together in daily glimpses, slowly. Trusting there’s enough for each day, God help us.
Zumé House is an initiative connected with Whitehall Mennonite Church where Samantha is associate pastor for worship and mission. The house represents a coming together of Franconia Conference-related ministries in Center City Allentown, building on generations of witness and mission in Pennsylvania’s third largest city.
The house is still under renovation and welcoming groups to help create a space that not only nourished the community of persons who lives there, but also the neighborhood. Contact Rose Bender at email@example.com.