Ministry in “thin places” marks Frankenfield’s journey

by Sheldon C. Good, Salford, with Stephen Kriss, Philadelphia Praise Center,

After dropping her young children off for Sunday school, Marlene Frankenfield often sat on the sidewalk outside Salford Mennonite Church. She was “going through a time of disillusionment with the church,” and didn’t want anything to do with institutionalized religion. Instead, she wanted church to be “real.”

While lounging outside Salford, youth frequently walked past Frankenfield on the way to Sunday school. They soon began greeting her and making small talk.

“It wasn’t long before they’d sometimes skip Sunday school to come chat with me, sharing their real lives,” Frankenfield said. “That was the very thing I was longing for. Soon they were stopping by my house on Saturday nights.” That was over 20 years ago. Marlene’s journey moved from congregationally based youth ministry to collaborative work with Franconia Conference and Christopher Dock High School for over a dozen years.

Relationships with Salford youth awakened Frankenfield to the possibility of ministry and brought her back into congregational life. Her initial formal call to serve came shortly after those interactions with teenagers on the church sidewalk when the church invited her to serve alongside of a growing youth ministry. After eight years at Salford, she began in the joint role of conference youth minister and campus pastor. She was licensed for ministry in June 2002 and ordained in May 2007.

Frankenfield found herself ministering in what she calls the “thin spaces” between classes at Dock and working doggedly to bring youth ministry to the center of congregational life and faith formation across the Conference.

“For young people, there is so much going on in their faith and in life, you need to be a person that can listen,” she said. “You need to be a God bearer, listening through God’s ears.” A quotation from Douglas Steere shapes her work. “To listen another’s soul into a condition of disclosure and discovery may be almost the greatest service that any human being ever performs for another.”

As she moves on, Franconia Conference and Eastern District Conference have named a shared youth minister alongside the campus pastor role at Christopher Dock. Frankenfield says this is a sign that church leaders have noticed the need for steady youth leadership. “For so long, I felt like I worked in something separate from the vision of the conference, so to see so many people excited about youth, that other people are catching the vision, as I step away, is the biggest gift I could have,” she said.

Marlene offered this prayer and dream as she completed her work in consideration of the ongoing possibilities for youth ministry in and beyond Franconia Conference, “That adults will listen to our youth—the underrepresented, and pay attention to the diverse places where the Holy Spirit is at work. That Franconia Conference would provide ways for women young and old to be mentored and empowered. That Franconia Conference see to it that all people who work with children and youth be educated in child safety, which will provide a safe healthy environment for all. That God’s spirit would be present in each young person to feel God’s unconditional love and experience God’s grace within a faith community.”

As Marlene considered her decision to end in her dual roles, she said, “I made this decision to transition with much prayer and discernment and I felt like it was the right time to explore something new. I have faith that God will have a plan for me for the future and God also has a plan for the places where I’ve ministered. One of my goals when I started was to lead in a way that invited others to lead—to step out of the way and be a mentor and encourager for others—to create a safe place for students to explore leadership.”

After these years of leadership development at Christopher Dock and Franconia Conference through chapel-planning, retreat planning, walking with youth pastors, and calling forth new youth ministers and leaders, Marlene’s work shaped space for new leaders, even now, collaboratively, across boundaries and in-between spaces, with real hope and committed service even in the midst of questions.