God@Work: Conference cousins in conversation

by Warren Tyson, Eastern District Conference Minister, & Ertell Whigham, Franconia Executive Minister

Forum with Eastern DistrictWhen relatives get together who haven’t seen each other in many years, they share their stories of their journeys with each other. They share where they have been, what they have been up to, how they have occupied their time. In some ways, the last couple of years of relationship between Eastern District Conference and Franconia Mennonite Conference have felt somewhat like that.

For the last two years, moderators and conference ministers have been meeting about every two months to share stories and reflect on where God has taken us in the past and where we sense God is taking us forward. It’s been a journey of revealing what we share in common as well as our differences as we become more aware of each other’s conference systems and how they function. In the midst of this journey, we have intentionally invited God to make his presence real guiding our path.

These two conference families split 165 years ago over issues such as taking minutes, organizing Sunday Schools, educating pastors, and urban mission. Today, we are well aware that these particular issues are no longer divisive, yet as we continue to explore shared ministry, we must consider what differences do exist in our separate conference systems that the other should be attentive to.

Historically, Eastern District has had a more limited conference staff composition with greater emphasis on congregational autonomy than Franconia has. In recent years, however, this difference has lessened as Franconia has cut back some of its staff services and Eastern District has added a church plant coach.

Forum with Eastern District
Members from Eastern District and Franconia Conferences met for two forums earlier this year to discuss the conferences’ shared history and the possibility of a shared future.

A year ago, after seeking counsel of our member churches, Eastern District and Franconia Conferences partnered with Christopher Dock Mennonite High School to employ a youth minister. Early this summer, the conferences together engaged the services of a Peace and Justice Minister through the guidance and support of the Peace and Justice Committee, which has included active members from both conferences for well over ten years. Most recently, we have been in conversation around the idea of forming a joint Faith and Life Ministry Team to discern together what the Holy Spirit is saying to us about the real issues our congregations are facing.

The last few years, we have become more aware of congregations working together across conference lines, pastors finding support from one another, and outreach ministries developing as a shared vision in the local community develops.  These stories of God @ Work have invigorated our bi-monthly leadership gatherings, as we continue to seek God’s way in developing a shared vision. What this ongoing work means for our future is yet to be determined.

We look forward to hearing your stories of where you see God @ Work–where God is developing a shared vision your local community.  You will have opportunities to share your stories at this year’s united Conference Assembly, November 10, at Penn View Christian School in Souderton.  You can also share you story online or register for workshops, meals and childcare on our website, assembly.franconiaconference.org.