Tag Archives: Ben Walter

Becoming an Authentic Pastor

by Ben Walter, Ripple

I grew up attending a Church of the Nazarene congregation every Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening, well into my teenage years. Our family was at church whenever the doors were open.  My parents often sang up front, Dad playing the guitar and Mom banging the tambourine against her leg.  They asked me to join, but I was too shy and self-conscious.

I can’t tell you when I became a Christian, or when I was “born again,” because as far as I can remember, I have always looked to Jesus as Lord, savior, teacher, and friend.  Despite my semi-forced dedication to the church, becoming a pastor was not on my to-do list; standing up front, talking, and inviting people to kneel at the altar to get saved for the tenth time wasn’t my idea of a fulfilling job.

As I entered my late teens and early twenties, I drifted away from the church.  I thought about God often, and prayed occasionally, but my faith wasn’t guiding my decisions. 

After spending 3 years in the military, I prepared to start college.  I was thinking about becoming a pastor, but I felt like, if that’s what God wanted for my life, I couldn’t be obedient to that call.  A nagging feeling of guilt began following me around.  So I went to talk to my pastor.

I remember my pastor said, “You will know.”

I didn’t really “know” at the time, so I ran.  I guess I assumed God would get the message to me if I needed to hear it.

During my final year of college, like the prodigal son, I returned.  I started attending church and met some good Christians friends who helped me stay on track.  The youth pastor at my home church asked me to help with the youth.  This turned into seven years of teaching, chaperoning, and mentoring.

Over time, particularly after the start of the Iraq War, I began thinking more deeply about Jesus’ teachings on peace, justice, oppression, and solidarity.  I didn’t have a label for it, but I was on my way to becoming an Anabaptist.

In 2008, I decided to pursue a Masters of Divinity degree from Biblical Theological Seminary. I wasn’t interested in pastoring, but wanted to dedicate a few years to serious study of scripture to help in the ministry I was already doing.  

During my studies, I learned about the Anabaptists and was told by one of my close friends that I was one.  This was news to me, but I embraced the label.  I also had the opportunity to be taught by a Mennonite adjunct professor, Steve Kriss. 

Steve was the teacher for my final class at Biblical Seminary.  As I walked out the door of my last session of that class, marking the end of my seminary education, Steve stopped me to ask a few questions.  He told me that there was a church in Allentown that might interest me and wondered if I’d like to meet Tom Albright, the pastor of Ripple.  I decided I would check it out.

Ben spending time with Ayanna and Angel in Ripple’s Community Garden. Photo credit: Angela Moyer

When I got to Ripple, I saw a church that was dedicated to being a safe, welcoming place of worship for people who have been pushed to the margins of society, those with whom Jesus calls us to solidarity.  A few weeks later, Ripple called me to be one of the pastors, and I “knew.”

I initially thought I couldn’t be obedient to God’s call to be a pastor because the pastors I had known seemed to be straight-laced and uptight.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not me.  At times I still feel pressured to fit a certain pastoral mold, but for the most part, Ripple has allowed me to pastor from a place of authenticity and vulnerability.  I have learned that being a good pastor is simply about being the person God has created me to be.  I don’t have to pretend.

Thank God!

Perspective from a Veteran and a Mennonite Pastor

by Ben Walter, co-pastor at Ripple

The national anthem protests in the NFL this week  have brought everyone to the table with opinions, praises, threats, and outrage.

As a US Army veteran, I can understand why many people think it is a big deal that someone would decide to sit or kneel instead of standing for the anthem. Standing up is viewed as a way to honor those who serve in our nation’s military. Participating in the patriotic rituals of our culture is strongly linked to showing respect for the men and women who have died while serving in the armed forces.

However, there is also an inherent element of praise for our country in the singing of and standing for the national anthem. This seems to be at the root of the conflict surrounding this issue. Many Americans view our nation as the example of righteousness in the world, embodying freedom and justice for all. Others, especially people of color, look at their own history in this country and do not see much righteousness, freedom, or justice. In fact, that history is full of terror, violence, theft, and death.

You may read this and want to reply with examples of people of color who have been successful in the United States. We just had eight years with an African American president. Colin Kaepernick and others who kneel are millionaires. Though true, this does not change the fact that black folks across our country still face numerous injustices that are inextricably linked to the color of their skin: housing discrimination, lack of community support and resources, racial profiling, stop-and-frisk, police brutality, the school-to-prison pipeline, and mass incarceration.

These atrocities are part of the system of white supremacy that has been in the DNA of our nation since the beginning. This is our national original sin.  Yet, we continue to refuse to confess, repent, and work toward ending this sickness. Until things change, people of color will bear the dire consequences, and those of us who live under the shade of white supremacy continue to dehumanize others and ourselves.

When Colin Kaepernick took a knee last year during the national anthem, these were the things that weighed heavy on his mind. He was refusing to stand in honor of a nation that is failing to live up to it’s ideals of freedom and justice for all. He refused to stand in praise of a nation with police who murder black people and a justice system that allows them to go free.  This problem is bigger than a few racist cops.  It stretches all the way from the courts to the streets to our minds, and deep into our hearts.

Despite my time in the military, I take no offense when someone kneels in protest during the national anthem. Personally, I view much of our military-focused patriotism as a form of idolatry, worshiping the gods of power and pride. As a Christian, I seek to give my allegiance to God alone.  God and country are not one in the same.

Given our nation’s history of racism and ongoing racial injustice I empathize with those who refuse to give it praise. As followers of Jesus, we are called to go beyond empathy and move toward solidarity, specifically with oppressed people and communities.  Seeking to understand the protests is just the beginning.

Seeking peace in their cities, urban leaders gather in Philadelphia

by Rachel Sommer for Mennonite Central Committee East Coast and Mennonite Church USA

urban ministry conference
Chantelle Todman Moore (Philadelphia program coordinator, MCC East Coast), Freeman Miller (retired bishop, Philadelphia District of the Lancaster Mennonite Conference of Mennonite Church USA) and Glen Alexander Guyton (chief operating officer, Mennonite Church USA) pray together for peace in their cities at the Urban Anabaptist Ministry Symposium co-sponsored by MCC East Coast and Mennonite Church USA. (MCC photo/Rachel Sommer) 

In a letter to Jerusalem’s exiled leaders, the prophet Jeremiah called on them to work for the welfare of Babylon, the city to which they had been deported. “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city,” he wrote. “Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jer. 29:7).

From October 2-4, nearly 100 Anabaptist leaders gathered in Philadelphia to discuss what responding to Jeremiah’s charge looks like in the 21st century.

Participants came from cities including New York; Hampton, Virginia; Philadelphia; and Washington, D.C., to attend the Urban Anabaptist Ministry Symposium organized by Glen Alexander Guyton, chief operating officer for Mennonite Church USA, and Chantelle Todman Moore, Philadelphia program coordinator for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) East Coast.

The symposium invited urban leaders to discuss practical Anabaptist ministry in their cities. “Being a peace church isn’t just about not going to war – it’s about manifesting God’s kingdom in our own communities,” said speaker Addie Banks, executive director at The Groundswell Group in the Bronx, New York.

Banks said the symposium provided opportunities for her to learn from colleagues in new ways. “Each of us has a tool. We all need tools to do our work, and gathering here with one another is like assembling a toolkit.”

During plenary sessions, Banks along with Al Taylor, pastor of Infinity Mennonite Church (Harlem, NY), and Ertell Whigham, associate pastor of Nueva Vida Norristown New Life (Norristown, Pa.) and executive minister of Franconia Mennonite Conference, shared “best practices” from their ministries.

Whigham spoke about the need to develop personal connections in culturally diverse contexts. “To be intercultural in the church of God today means that I will recognize how God has blessed you in your life, and I will recognize the gift that you are to me,” he said. “I will allow the Jesus in you to be the Jesus in me.”

Workshop leaders drew from first-hand experience to facilitate sessions on youth and young adult ministry, education for urban leaders, immigration, developing community partnerships and dismantling oppression.

Additional event sponsors included the African American Mennonite Association, Cookman at Emerging Ministries Corporation, Franconia Mennonite Conference, Goshen (Indiana) College, Kingdom Builders Anabaptist Network of Greater Philadelphia, Mennonite Mission Network and Philadelphia FIGHT.

Symposium organizers hope that participants will continue to connect and collaborate with one another. “I’m excited about the relationships that were forged here,” said Guyton. “This gathering showed that we can all benefit from the expertise of Anabaptist leaders who are carrying out practical ministry in their own contexts.”

Ben Walter, one of the pastors at Ripple, in Allentown, Pennsylvania, said the conference was one of the best he’d ever attended. He appreciated that voices often on the margins were given ample space and emphasis, and found it “helpful and enlightening” to hear the diverse perspectives and experiences represented among attendees.

Todman Moore hopes that urban Anabaptist leaders will convene in other cities in coming years. “We’d love to hear from Anabaptist leaders in other urban areas who are interested in discussing practical ministry in their contexts,” she said. She invites leaders to contact her (215-535-3624, ChantelleTodmanMoore@mcc.org) or Guyton (574-524-5282, GlenG@MennoniteUSA.org) to discuss planning similar initiatives in other cities.

Reflections on the Conversation on Race and the Church

On September 21, Drew Hart and Ben Walter presented a conversation on race and the church at Germantown Historic Meetinghouse in Philadelphia, sponsored by the Franconia and Eastern District Conferences’ Peace & Justice Committee.  (Listen to the podcast.)  The following are reflections on this conversation from two men in very different walks of life: Mikah, a biracial young adult who is working with students in north Philadelphia, and Firman, a white pastor of over twenty-five years, ministering in a prosperous, rural setting.

“Take daring and bold steps”

mikahby Mikah Ochieng, Philadelphia Praise Center

Few people can present on the topic of race with such knowledgeable comprehension and articulation that it greatly impacts others, possibly for the first time in their lives, to open their eyes and hearts to new and positive perspectives of understanding the people with whom they come in contact everyday. PhD student at Lutheran Seminary, Drew Hart, achieved this very feat at September 21’s conversation on race at Germantown Mennonite Historic Trust.

I, for one, particularly appreciated the intentional usage of official vocabulary and language that tied thoughts, ideas, and experiences to meaningful terms that are often used in the public arena when facilitating dialogue on the topic of race. I took Hart’s usage of terminology to be a great gesture of introduction into historical and trending issues that evolved out of the topic of race. And maybe because talking about race, ethnicity, or cultural background is typically taboo in the public arena, we might need a good refresher to help us not only be conscious people of a racialized society, but active engagers of racial reconciliation.

Hart shared a glimpse into his story of growing up in a racialized society and being the target of micro aggressions, a term used to describe the subtle, non-verbalized, non-conscious marginalizing actions of others towards people of different races and cultures. Hart calls this a sort of ‘silent-killer’ in the arsenal of 21st century racism.  Like the harpoons of institutional racism, which is typically a covert form of marginalization working in the forms of our society’s institutions, micro aggressions work in such subtle ways as to not be considered existing issues in our society, but can over time, if gone unnoticed, cause great pain to its victim.

Hart tells a really great encapsulating story of when he was attending college at a well-to-do suburban Christian school and he would walk down the main path that went through the heart of the campus. Occasionally, as he would notice, when groups of white students would pass him they would walk near the opposite edge of the path, cast their eyes down or to the side and stop talking. As soon as they had crossed paths the students would go back to their conversations, laughing and joking just as casually as before.

It’s a small act that would seemingly deserve a small amount of attention, but as Hart describes, “It’s like getting a paper cut: it’s annoying at first, but when you keep receiving that type of treatment, a thousand paper cuts really adds up.”

As a biracial young person, that I was able to relate my own experience to Hart’s. I took some time to reflect and I’ve come to the undoubted conclusion that certain micro aggressions have made up the narrative of my life at a similar suburban liberal arts Christian university as well, not least of all the experience of walking along the paths of the campus and the interactions (or non-interactions) that develop between myself and white students.

Paired with micro aggressions are micro affirmations. That is, the reverse of a micro aggression, a subtle acknowledging action of another’s personal value to the other. One might make space for the other through an affirming smile or nod during a conversation that gives the other a sense of value and self-worth.

I take away from this discussion that there is hope for the Church, particularly our Anabaptist tradition, of becoming not only more racially aware, but active in reaffirmation and racial reconciliation. It is my hope, and I know from discussion with others after the event that it is the hope of many others, that the Church would take daring and bold steps to make racial reconciliation a reality in concrete steps.

Just as Hart and his conversation partner Ben Walter emphasized, reconciliation looks like being active listeners and partnering collaborators with those who share different viewpoints and experiences from our own in situations where power is concerned. A particularly pertinent issue might surround the authority of the Church and how it delegates its finances. Here, then, would be required the shared stewardship of resources across racial boundaries so that all represented peoples in the Church have a slice of dignity. It’s a hard bit to accomplish, but we at least have to try.

Firman“The radical nature of hope”

by Firman Gingerich, Blooming Glen

I am glad I attended the “Conversation on Race and the Church” held last week at the historic Germantown Meetinghouse.

Drew Hart’s comments have had me thinking a lot about my Anabaptist theological underpinnings and how they intersect with theological perspectives of people of color.

Drew reminded us that much of Black Theology comes from the perspective of people on the margins.  He correctly reminded us that much of Jesus ministry was birthed and expressed among folks who were oppressed and on the margins.  The Kingdom of God Jesus was calling people to participate in was a kingdom much at odds with the kingdom of the occupying and brutal Roman government.

Drew suggested that if we want to recover vital Anabaptist faith values, it will need to come through stories of people on the margins.  I think he is on to something that we should pay attention to.  Our Anabaptist parents were often marginalized by persecution or rejection.  Life on the margins taught us much about trusting God and the community to uphold us.  Anabaptism from the margins measured faithfulness by how we followed Jesus’ teachings.  Anabaptists were often bold in offering a prophetic witness to the culture that did not know Christ.

For many years I have felt growing tension over this in preaching.  Settled-in people don’t want faithfulness measured by how well we live the Sermon on the Mount.  We white folks often project that our faithfulness is connected to how we fulfill the American dream.  I’m reminded of what Scott Hutchinson, a pastor friend, told our staff several years ago as he was unpacking a Jesus parable to us: “There is no church in North America that would have Jesus of Nazareth as their pastor today.”    Jesus offered hope, new life, and courage to those on the margins of society and saved much of his criticism for those settled in, the religious and political leaders.

With a fresher perspective I’m wondering again how people on the margins can teach me, a white pastor, about the radical nature of hope that Jesus preached to the masses of the Galilean villages.

Several themes from Drew and Ben Walter’s conversation were helpful for again naming perspectives.  I found it valuable to ponder my white guilt, knowing that I believe deeply in the biblical themes that all of us are created in God’s image.  It was also helpful to be reminded that many people of color do not have the same privileges as I do.  I wondered about ways to model the kind of reflecting conversation between Drew and Ben in our churches.

One thing I have little to wonder about is our future.  The Germantown historic meetinghouse was filled, and mostly with folks much younger than me.  The willingness of younger leaders to have this conversation will only help us move more boldly toward the biblical themes that “we are all one In Christ Jesus.”  May we all help grow John’s dream in Revelation 7 where there is a gathered multitude worshipping at the heavenly throne made up of people from all tribes, peoples, and languages.

Conversation on Race and the Church

Race and ChurchOn September 21, Drew Hart and Ben Walter presented a conversation on race and the church at Germantown Historic Meetinghouse in Philadelphia, sponsored by the Franconia and Eastern District Conferences’ Peace & Justice Committee.  This conversation connected Anabaptist and Black Theologies and identified areas in which churches participate in both institutionalized racism as well as acts of micro aggression.

Part 1:


Download the podcast

Part 2:


Download the podcast

Salford youth extend hospitality in Allentown

by Ben Wideman, Youth Pastor, Salford

Salford congregation collected 50 bags of groceries, which the youth distributed in partnership with Ripple Allentown.

Salford Mennonite Church is a place with many resources and talents – yet we as a church are often are at a loss at how to use these resources in the world.  Every once in a while, an opportunity takes shape that touches us in a meaningful way.

During the month of February, Salford’s members collected over 50 grocery bags filled with non-perishable food items, as has been a tradition for many years.  The second part of this tradition is that Salford’s youth have delivered the groceries to a community where this can be of use.  Our youth leaders reached out to Steve Kriss at Franconia Conference, who suggested that it might be helpful to get in touch with the Ripple Allentown community.

Our inquiry was met with a quick response from Pastor Ben Walter, who explained that they would love the chance to connect with the Salford youth.  We made plans to join them during their monthly “Community Sunday” – an intentional day set aside each month to connect with their local neighborhood.

A group of Salford’s youth and a few adults loaded up a van full of grocery bags and made the short trip north to the Ripple community.  We were assigned to groups and led around by members of the Ripple family, knocking on doors and delivering groceries to anyone who needed them.  We heard stories about ways that Ripple has been able to reach out to its neighborhood and were pleasantly surprised by the response we received from the people we met.

It was incredible to experience and participate in this kind of basic service and hospitality – especially in a neighborhood that was different from our own.  Salford’s youth enjoyed meeting families from the neighborhood and connecting in inter-generational ways.  While each participant experienced the day in their own unique way, all came away with a new-found respect for the Ripple Allentown community and the passion they have for service and hospitality.  We were left wondering how we can capture this spirit of giving more fully in our own lives and how we can continue to work to bring about God’s Kingdom in our own local context.  It was certainly a day we will cherish moving forward.

Conference pastors recognized for leading and serving

by Stephen Kriss, skriss@franconiaconference.org

Tom & Carolyn Albright
Tom & Carolyn Albright

Tom Albright, lead pastor of Ripple, an emerging Anabaptist missional faith community in Center City Allentown was recognized by the Lehigh County Council of Churches with the Ecumenical Service Award for 2012.  According to the Council, “the award is not to glorify the individual, but to give witness to the important work of affirming and strengthening Christian unity. The award is given to well-known and little-known individuals, to people deeply involved in the life of the Conference and to those who have offered their gifts elsewhere.”

Ripple is a church-plant that was birthed from Franconia Conference congregation, Whitehall Mennonite Church, just outside of the city.  Tom and his wife Carolyn were honored with this award for “hearing God’s call and moving into the city.”  He accepted the award on behalf of the emerging community at Ripple, suggesting that this award wasn’t only about him but also about the community of people who gather weekly and who live the Good News every day in their hearts and on the streets of Allentown.

Earlier this year, Ripple called two additional pastors–Ben Walter and Angela Moyer—to serve alongside the Albrights in leading this growing congregation of approximately 100 people.  Albright is the first Mennonite pastor recognized by the Council with this award, given since 1981.  The award presentation was marked with a dinner on May 15 at Allentown’s Dieruff High School.

Aldo Siahaan received his award on May 22. Photo by Basil Zhu, China World News.

As part of WPVI ABC-TV’s celebration of Asian American Heritage month in Philadelphia, Aldo Siahaan, lead pastor of Philadelphia Praise Center, was honored for his commitment to the Indonesian immigrant community since arriving in Philadelphia over a decade ago, part of a wave of approximately 10,000 immigrants from Indonesia who settled in Philadelphia in the last 15 years, the majority of whom were Christians escaping religious persecution in their homeland.  Siahaan is the first Mennonite pastor to receive this award.

Siahaan was honored for his work in community service and communication among the immigrant community in South Philadelphia along with approximately ten other leaders from the diverse Asian communities in the city.  He is the founding pastor of the now multilingual, multiethnic urban Anabaptist congregation of Philadelphia Praise–approximately 250 people, the largest Mennonite Church USA congregation in the city.

An award celebration was held at the historic Joy Tsing Lau restaurant in Philadelphia’s Chinatown section on May 22.  The celebration included cultural celebrations of the Delaware Valley’s Asian communities, from Pakistani dance to Japanese Kobuki-style drama.

For Siahaan, the honor was unexpected.  But for members of the congregation at Philadelphia Praise, the honor was appropriate and even missional.   According to Adrian Suryajaya, a young adult leader from Philadelphia Praise who attended the event along with Siahaan, “The time has come for Godly leaders to rise and be recognized, to be salt and light.  Christians are called to being God’s love, passion and Good News to the community where we are placed.”