Formation class crosses into Allentown in considering the church and mission

Emily Ralph, eralph@franconiaconference.org

Allentown, PA—New Franconia Conference pastors experienced life in the city on May 14 as their Formation Class took them into the heart of Allentown.  The day included Bible study at the Zume House, a prayer walk through the neighborhood where Ripple ministers, a meal with the Vietnamese Gospel Mennonite Church, and an afternoon discussion on crossing borders.

Formation Classes are required prayer walkfor every newly credentialed pastor in Franconia Conference as well as those who are new to ministering within Franconia Conference congregations.  This class’ trip to Allentown reflects a return to the traditional function of the Formation Class—to orient new pastors to the Franconia Conference story.  “A picture is worth a thousand words,” said Gay Brunt Miller, coordinator of the School for Leadership Formation.  “Being there is so much better than sitting in a conference room hearing about it.  It’s the full sensory experience.”

The day began with a time of reflection and discussion at Zume House, an intentional community birthed out of Whitehall Mennonite congregation.  Zume’s Rose Bender and Samantha Lioi shared about their vision of being yeast in their neighborhood (“Zume” is Greek for “yeast”).  It’s a process that takes time and an image that challenged the pastors about their own contexts.  “It means that church is going into the community,” pondered Tim Moyer, pastor of Vincent Mennonite Church at Spring City, PA.  “Am I equipping my congregation to be yeast in our community?”

A highlight of the day was the prayer walk, led by Ripple pastors Tom and Carolyn Albright.  “I saw how the Lord is doing a new thing,” said Ubaldo Rodriguez who leads Nueva Esperanza—Baltimore.  “We heard each other’s stories, listened to a new generation’s dreams and hopes.”  Among their stops was Franklin Park, where Allentown Mennonites recently “planted” a peace pole, and a Thai restaurant where Peter, the owner, spoke about doing business in the city.  Connie Detwiler, associate pastor of Lakeview Mennonite in Susquehanna, PA, was particularly moved by Peter’s witness.  “He was a light in a very dark place,” she reflected.  “I felt the presence of God there.”

The pastors were warmly welcomed to share lunch with members of the Vietnamese Gospel Mennonite Church.  Pastor Hien Truong worked as a leader in the persecuted church and with human rights law in Vietnam and Cambodia before he was forced to flee to the US.  He asked his colleagues to remember his people in their prayers: “The Lord has been noticing our small congregation and caring for us.”

Vietnamese mealLuke Martin, former missionary to Vietnam and long-term Allentown resident, shared about his life of “border-crossings.”  “I went there as a missionary, I came back as a missionary,” he explained.  It only seemed natural to continue his mission work in Allentown, a place he’s called home for over 30 years.  Much has changed in that time, but he still thrives in being a part of God’s work.

“The big changes and border-crossings in his life were from mustard seeds of faith,” Fuller Theological Seminary student and guest Joe Paparone of Saratoga, New York, reflected as he listened to Luke’s story.  “We have to trust those mustard seeds of faith.”

And these border-crossings surround us in our own neighborhoods and within our relationships in Franconia Conference.  John Goshow, Conference Moderator, and Ertell Whigham, Conference Executive Minister, led a conversation on the Conference’s work to be formational, intercultural, and missional.  “We need to be able to articulate this in our own particular contexts,” explained Whigham.  The group was particularly interested in what it meant to be intercultural.  “I am glad that the Mennonite Church in the US and Canada is inviting other voices from the global south,” said Rodriguez, originally from Colombia.  “We need each other!”

Going to Allentown allowed leaders to engage with and learn from their peers in a practical way, said Steve Kriss, Director of Leadership Cultivation for Franconia Conference.  “We were offered the opportunity to be in a place that is not only historically significant in the missional journey of Franconia Conference but also where the Spirit is stirring up new things.”