Last summer my family spent some vacation time at our cabin in Central Pennsylvania’s Big Valley. I always love going there to visit my grandmother, which often means returning home with some sort of sinfully sugary gooey treat, most often a pecan pie that I’m certain would bring the highest bid at any of our church youth auctions.
On this most recent trip, however, I returned with something different. My grandmother has been downsizing for several years and this time she asked me if I wanted the woodbox. The woodbox has been in our family since 1837, or so we’re told, and has held firewood for Yoder families in the Valley for generations.
Our Harleysville townhouse has a propane gas fireplace, so my family doesn’t need a box to hold wood. We do, however, need a box to hold toys. With a three-year-old who seems to have an endless supply of dolls, stuffed animals, and countless forms of colorful molded plastic, I’m always looking for something — anything — that can contain our avalanche of toys. Our handed down woodbox has become a toy chest resting next to our bay window and is now the home of Dora and Pooh Bear.
Franconia Conference has a lot in common with wood boxes that have been converted into toy chests. The first bishops of our conference could not have imagined what we’ve become today — a network of theologically and culturally diverse congregations spanning the East Coast from Vermont to Georgia who worship in four languages. We communicate with both hashtags and snail mail. We gather at both the Heritage Restaurant in Franconia and Umai Royal in Center City Philadelphia. We raise our hands to worship and wash one another’s feet. We are a people blessed with diversity.
The board statement for conferring (see your docket if you don’t know what I’m talking about) is an affirmation of God’s gift of diversity and a signal that this diversity will increase in coming years — praise be to God! How do we continue to be a united church amid increased diversity?
For 300 years, our Franconia Conference ancestors have passed on to us a legacy of faithful Christian witness, and this history of faithful witness is a gift that we must treasure and use. But to continue adding to and strengthening this witness, we also must acknowledge the changing world around us. What is most needed to continue being a faithful conference– a woodbox or a toy chest?
Our board believes the future of our conference is bright because our leaders and congregations are made up of people who truly believe Paul’s words to the Ephesians — that we serve a God who is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine. God is [still] at work within us, throughout all generations. This is our hope! I encourage you to come to Conference Assembly this year ready to confer and to ask and imagine where God is still at work in this beautiful, faithful, diverse network of congregations that we call Franconia Conference.