Tag Archives: Barbie Fischer

A Sacred Trust Maintained By Healthy Boundaries

By Josh Meyer, Pastor of Discipling and Preaching at Franconia Mennonite Church

 To serve in the role of spiritual leader is a sacred trust.  Sometimes, without intending to, we exploit and hurt those we want to teach and nurture by inappropriately crossing boundaries.

This was, in a nutshell, my major takeaway from the recent Healthy Boundaries 101 training provided by Franconia Mennonite Conference.  The training consisted of resourcing from trained facilitators, DVD instruction, small group discussion, large-group sharing, and personal assessments.  I’ll admit: I wasn’t particularly looking forward to a full-day of training when I had so much other work to do.  It seemed excessive and came during a particularly busy time in my schedule.  However, the experience proved not only worthwhile, but stimulating and enjoyable as well.

As spiritual leaders, we hold power – it is given to us whether we want it or not.  Therefore, it is important to understand and establish proper relational boundaries.  Such boundaries help us maintain clear professional relationships and signal to others that it is safe to trust us.  They aren’t intended to shackle us but to free us in our work as pastors and leaders.  Healthy boundaries protect both us and our congregations: us from other people’s problems becoming overwhelming, and congregants’ from our unintentional misuse of power.

While the concepts of power and boundaries may seem abstract, the training itself was quite practical.  I walked away with a number of concrete tools for guarding against violating boundaries inappropriately:

Awareness.  Be aware of my own needs and find healthy ways of having them met other than by people I am supposed to be serving.

Motivation.  Ask myself these questions when engaging in care for people: “What is my role here?”  “Who is this for – is this in the best interest of the other person or does it only satisfy my needs?” “Would I be comfortable if all my acquaintances knew I was doing this?”

Accountability.  Establish a system of accountability.  One practical way of doing this would be to arrange to meet regularly with a spiritual director or colleague with whom to share honestly.

Something from vs something for.  The teacher should never want something from the student, other than for them to be their full self.  When I start wanting something from a person I am leading, I need to reassess.

 Prevention.  It is my responsibility to ensure prevention.  The obligation is always on the pastor/leader – not the congregant – to set proper, healthy boundaries.

Intervention.  When prevention fails, intervention is necessary.  Having established policies and procedures can be very useful in these situations.

Discernment.  Boundaries are not always easy to discern and there are often no clear guidelines for the best action to take when confronted with an issue.  Therefore, we need spiritual wisdom, divine prudence, and godly insight to help us faithfully navigate such encounters.

To serve in the role of spiritual leader is a sacred trust.  As a result of this training, I have a greater appreciation for the power I hold as a leader and a greater awareness of how I can appropriately use this power to serve, bless, and protect those God has entrusted to my care.

Healthy Boundary 101 Trainings are being offered by Franconia Conference to anyone who would like to attend. All those in a leadership role within their congregations are encouraged to attend. Credentialed leaders in Franconia Conference are required to complete the training for their 2018 credential renewal cycle.  For more information and to register for a training click here.

Nathan Good, Pastor at Swamp Mennonite Church had this to say about the training held on March 15: “I was not at all excited about attending the mandatory boundary training event held two weeks before Easter in the midst of my busy schedule.  I have already been trained on boundaries multiple times and have even taught others about healthy boundaries.  But, it was the only training session that fit into my schedule and it was required for maintaining my ordination credentials, so I went.  At the end of the day, despite the sacrifices I needed to make to be there, I was glad that I had attended.  Barbie and John did an excellent job presenting the material and creating a safe space for open storytelling.  It was encouraging and helpful to hear how other leaders wrestle with boundary questions within their role and to realize that I am not alone.  Even though most of the material was not new, it was presented and facilitated in a way that was refreshing, brought healthy reminders, and served as a sounding board for real life scenarios I found myself in at that time.  Despite my reservations about attending an 8 hour training event on boundaries, it was time well spent and I am glad I attended.”

Our Brothers and Sisters Are Wandering, What Will We Do?

By Barbie Fischer

“Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to a city to dwell in;
hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.
He led them by a straight way till they reached a city to dwell in.
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love…”

Psalm 107: 4-8 (ESV)

Over the last several weeks the news has been overwhelmed with stories of people dying as they wander the land looking for a city to dwell in, a city of hope, free from fear of war, persecution and death. These stories can often be overwhelming and easily dismissed. I have even found myself avoiding the news in the last two weeks, especially after three year old Aylan Kurdi’s lifeless body washed up on a Turkish shore. His parents had tried to join relatives in Canada, but were denied. Their boat capsized as they fled the war in Syria and Aylan, his five year old brother, and 35 year old mother lost their lives. His father had been coping with the loss of their home and possessions to the war in Syria, now he has lost his wife and children as well. It reminded me of the story of Job.

What is being called the “European Migrant Crisis” has brought to mind many Bible Stories of people forced from their homes because of conflict, persecution, or natural disaster. Even Jesus as a child was forced from his home with his Mother and Father, taking refuge in Egypt from political persecution.

The news stories of refugees dying in a quest for a place of peace and my own mixed reactions to them have lead me to a time of contemplation and two questions keep coming to mind: How are we as Christians responding to this crisis? What do we see when we look at the faces of those fleeing?

In August it seemed most of the people entering Europe were fleeing from Libya, Nigeria, and other conflict ridden countries in Africa. More recently reports are saying the majority of those fleeing are doing so from Syria. The crisis in Syria has been raging for almost five years now and it is one that hits close to home.

syria6As the “Arab Spring” began in the fall of 2010, I had just begun classes at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University. One of my classmates is my brother Mohammed, who had left his family, the comforts of home and his job as a professor at the University of Damascus to study peacebuilding in a foreign land.  Mohammed towers over me, with his height, yet has one of the kindest spirits I have ever encountered. We came to find we share many of the same values, including family, faith and peace. Over the past five years I have watched Mohammed put his own life at risk to help bring attention to the plight of the Syrian people, his brothers and sisters. He has gone days without sleep, and has given close to everything to seek peace for his home land. We do not share a native tongue or home country, yet I count Mohammed as my brother.

Scripture is clear that we are all created by God (Colossians 1:16), and whether we recognize that or not that makes us all brothers and sisters. Mohammed is my brother and in the people I see on the television or my computer screen climbing through barbed wire barricades on the Hungarian border, crying and clutching their loved ones as they climb the shores of Greece, and those detained in “migrant camps” which function as prisons, they too are my brothers and sisters.

I have one biological sister, she is older than me, and very protective of me. I can remember getting hurt as a child and she would run to my aid. Is that our response to the current crisis we see in Europe? Do we see our brothers and sisters in the people fleeing the violence in their homelands? Do we see Christ in them?

Matthew 25:34-40, Jesus speaks of those who will enter the Kingdom of God as those who have fed him when he was hungry, gave him drink when he was thirsty, invited him in when he was a stranger, clothed him, looked after him as he was sick, and visited him in prison. He says in verse 40, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of mine, even the least of them, you did it to me.”

There are stories of people clothing and feeding the refugees, thousands left shoes at a Hungarian train station for refugees; those reaching Munich are being greeted with food and teddy bears; a family has used their own money and time to operate the Migrant Offshore Aid Station, patrolling the waters helping migrants make it to land safely; people around the world are taking a stand saying refugees are welcome here. Yet, I still wonder, how many refugees would our churches take in? How many would you take in? After all they are our brothers and sisters.

While I hope we will do anything and everything we can for our family, one thing we can do is pray for their safety, for God’s guidance in how we can respond, pray for peace. Beyond that may we also act on their behalf, advocating for peace in their countries and giving as we can to agencies working on the ground offering support such as Mennonite Central Committee’s Syria and Iraq Crisis Response.

Romans 15:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” No matter what I do, how I respond, right now I mourn. I mourn with the refugees, my brothers and sisters.

Fischer Named as Conference Communication Manager & Administration Coordinator

Lora Steiner

barbie photo 4-23-15Barbie Fischer has joined Franconia Mennonite Conference staff as communication manager and administration coordinator. Departures by Emily Ralph, associate director of communication, and Gay Brunt Miller, director of administration, paved the way for the new position.

Barbie brings extensive experience in connecting churches to mission and ministries in their communities and globally. She first began working in mission when she was 17, on issues related to child soldiers in Uganda. She continued that work for five years, developing reintegration programs for girl child soldiers, who’d experiences the same training and fighting as the boys, but also had to deal with trafficking and sexual abuse. In that capacity, she connected  the nonprofit she helped form with churches in the United States for funding and volunteer support.

She later worked with the Africa Faith and Justice Network in Washington, D.C., a group of Catholic organizations that advocates for policies that will benefit brothers and sisters in Sub-Saharan Africa. While Barbie lived in the D.C. area, she also helped do outreach for an arts-based faith community known as Convergence, running a gallery that was a part of the church building. Part of her role was to find artists whose work, whether explicitly religious or not—provoked conversations about faith and theology. She planned various community events, talkbacks with artists, and documentary screenings.

Barbie was born in Illinois and has lived “a little bit of everywhere” but considers Michigan to be most home; both her parents were raised in Sturgis, Michigan.

Barbie was raised in the Church of Christ, and first recalls encountering Mennonites through trips to Das Essenhaus in Shipshewana, Indiana. She later encountered them again when she was searching for a master’s program in conflict transformation. She found the program at Eastern Mennonite University, which drew her in for its teachings of healing and restoration that she valued from her faith, and a holistic approach she hadn’t found in other contexts.

For Barbie, many aspects of faith she found among Mennonites resonate: she places high value on adult baptism, and the belief that faith is a choice to be made voluntarily.  And one of the things she has most valued about her faith journey is community.

“When I read the book of Acts, it wasn’t just a service, it was a community that took care of one another, kind of like a large extended family,” she says.

For several years, while she was in college and living in Lansing, Michigan, she was a part of a house church  that for her, embodied that community. She appreciated the way the congregation reached out to the community, partnered with other churches, and the intentionality with which they planned gatherings and worship services.

She also valued being able to wrestle with her own sense of being called to ministry, after growing up in churches that didn’t allow women to lead.

In her work with the Conference, Barbie is looking forward to working with churches to fulfill the mission and vision that Christ has for them.  She is most excited, she says, “about helping churches be the best they can be.”

In her free time, Barbie likes to paint and be outside. She is also passionate about issues of prison reform and incarceration, and facilitates victim-offender dialogues for the Pennsylvania Office of Victim Advocates.

She lives in Northwest Philadelphia and has been connecting with Ambler Mennonite Church.