by Stephen Kriss, Executive Minister
For generations, one of the primary tasks of Franconia Conference was to provide leadership accompaniment with congregations and credentialed leaders. The call to serve as a bishop was a serious call to lead, serve and offer wisdom and counsel. It was a weighty role. I grew up with a bishop in my home community in Allegheny Conference and for some of us in Franconia, we remember those days, too. Our bishop still wore a plain coat on Sundays and he preached long sermons. I still remember being surprised to see him visiting his sister one day while working on the garden to pick green beans and he was wearing a flannel shirt, conversing (not preaching) and laughing.
For almost a decade now, our conference has framed this work as leadership ministers. We have attempted to find footing alongside congregations to invite, provoke and accompany during rapid cultural changes. Our conference is now served by a team of ten leadership ministers: men and women from different generations, with different cultural backgrounds and different language capacities to continue to cultivate God’s dream among our 45 congregations. It’s a key task and incarnation of what we do together.
Our leadership ministers met the end of March, during what we hope will be the last heavy snowstorm, at Mariawald Retreat Center near Reading to review and reimagine our work together. Some of us weren’t able to get there due to the snow, so we used Zoom to connect with these colleagues. Some colleagues left early and some stayed later to wait out the storm. In the meantime, we enjoyed the lovely and hospitable space of Mariawald, hosted by Catholic nuns from Africa who are now in Berks County as part of their vocation of serving God and the church. The snow was stunningly beautiful even though we may have been ready to move onto spring. It was in some ways metaphoric of the difficulty and possibility of doing our work in this time and space.
Together we began the task of refining our work. We will continue to work around the Conference’s approach to ministry and leadership which is formational, missional and intercultural. We will continue to align our ministry staff around those ongoing priorities. We are beginning to work together to understand how to include congregations at our farthest distances now with a staff representative based in California to serve our congregations there. And we’re evaluating best practices to serve congregations that are close by to us too, sometimes just blocks from where we live or less than a mile from the Conference office at Dock Mennonite Academy.
I am grateful now for a full staff team after over a year of navigating through changes. We are beginning to learn together, to laugh, to build deeper trust. We are leaning in toward our individual gifts and callings recognizing our invitation to serve God in the way of Christ’s peace through our historic and growing community. As a Conference, we are privileged to be resourced well through ongoing generosity and wise stewardship. I continue to be grateful for the sense of care and mutuality that we have together and the divine invitation to continued transformation by the power of the Spirit in this journey of faith, hope and love together.