Cultivating both courageous and tentative emerging leaders:Following into surprising places

Stephen Kriss

Fifteen years ago, I served with the Ministry Inquiry Program in my home congregation. That summer I realized that pastoring and leading a congregation required daunting levels of commitment and work. As part of that inquiry experience, my home church gave me space to initiate a worship exchange with my predominantly Euro-American home congregation and an African Methodist Episcopal congregation in a mostly unfamiliar neighborhood about ten miles away. The exchange involved each congregation visiting the other and leading a worship experience.

On a warm Sunday night, about 80 Euro-American Mennonites ventured to the Bethel AME Church in Johnstown’s Prospect neighborhood, perched above the Conemaugh River. Having parallel parked our cars on New Street, I remember walking toward the small church as neighbors watched us. I was walking with two women, Novelda and Evelyn, who were wearing white prayer coverings. A boy who must have been about 10 asked, “What are you people doing here?” I remember one of them responding, “We’re here to go to church.”

That was true, we were there to worship with Bethel AME congregation. Though I know that Novelda and Evelyn were there because of the church, they were also there because of me. They went into an unfamiliar neighborhood to worship because of my initiative as a young intern. They carpooled and we went together to a place where we may have not imagined. I will always appreciate that both congregations explored God’s call to worship together and in that action affirmed my emerging leadership abilities and hopes.

In the last issue of Intersections, Jim Lapp reflected on his own call and response to God in ministry. In reflecting on his legacy of ministry, he also offered kind and telling words for emerging young leaders within Franconia Conference. In the on-line publication of his article, Sheldon Good of the Salford congregation who is working with Franconia Conference this summer responded pointedly to something that Jim pondered. Is the church less willing to risk with young leaders now? Sheldon responded adamantly, “yes.”

I think Sheldon might be right in his response. Taking risks with new, and young leaders is increasingly unfamiliar to established faith communities who may have the very rootedness that would allow that risk to both be possible and optimal. But in that risk, we may find ourselves walking with them into unfamiliar places that force us to rethink
our perspectives and experiences. In working with young leaders, I am learning to expect to get to new places while finding ways for the church to“show up” in surprising ways and times. It’s the best of what our shared work of leadership cultivation and the incarnation of the Good News means. Creating a culture of call is more than giving space to hear God, its also creating space where emerging leaders are affirmed and challenged in the midst of hopeful, sometimes courageous and sometimes tentative, response.

In this issue, Emily Derstine experiences new places and a different pace in suburban DC and we glimpse the array of experiences that will unfold for the dozen young adults serving in inquiry and learning experiences through Franconia Conference this summer. Greg Yoder helps us to hear God speak in translated Khmer. We learn about young Indonesians who are able to gain asylum in our own country and find we’re present in that struggle with religious persecution. Jessica Goshow goes to DC and finds that Mennonite roots run deep enough even to sustain in a new city. Andrew Foderaro’s experience in Pittsburgh carries hope and witness for peace in the Middle East. Cory Suter writes about New Urbanism and we’re invited to think about how it represents the best of Anabapitist practice. Young adults in West Philadelphia witness the rise in housing costs and initiate a new neighborhood initiative.

And we glimpse the stories of call and response that continue to emerge through all stages of life with Marlene Frankenfield and Joy Sawatzky. These are each holy and hopeful stories, finding space and opening possibilities for response. We’re going to new places together in the midst of all of this. Thanks be to God.

In reading these stories, may the courage rise within us to cultivate together the call and response of our sons and daugthers who as the prophet Joel writes will have the dreams and visions that will lead us into God’s hopeful future.