Tag Archives: Ben Wideman

Riding for a Better Future

by Mike Ford, Blooming Glen congregation, with Rabbi Nathan Martin

In May 2019, a unique group of bicycle riders will ride from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. on behalf of Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light (PA IPL), a statewide organization dedicated to helping faith communities bring a moral voice to climate change.

There will be a mix of Quaker, Mennonite, Jewish, and nonreligious participants, riding together to promote an awareness of climate change issues and environmental stewardship. In D.C., we’ll join with a group of riders from State College and spend a day on Capitol Hill, meeting with congressional delegations to share our concerns about the need to keep environmental sustainability as a central value in their legislative work.

Mike (3rd from L.), John (4th from L.) and Ben (far R.) and their host family in Newark, DE during the 2018 ride.

Having done the ride in 2018 alongside Mennonite pastors John Stoltzfus and Ben Wideman, I found it a wonderfully educational experience. Each day along the way we met with faith communities to hear their stories of how they were working to make their communities and cities more sustainable. A Presbyterian congregation in Maryland was eager to share how they became certified as an “earth care” congregation by the Presbyterian Church USA movement; a synagogue in Baltimore shared how they are becoming a neighborhood organizing hub for community activities and urban renewal, including environmental advocacy.

Fixing a flat

I love discovering things and making new friends while on a bicycle. Riding mile after mile alongside two Jewish rabbis, we learned about each other’s faith traditions, finding many common traits such as valuing peace and justice. We were hosted by church/synagogue folks along the route and enjoyed delicious food and gracious hospitality. We met pockets of passionate environmental stewardship folks along the way, all motivated to care for the earth by different faith traditions.

It was also stimulating to meet with legislative representatives and advocate for policy to help care for the earth as the future home for my children and grandchildren. I look forward to our May 2019 adventure/advocacy trip and encourage you to follow along through the PA IPL website.

Donate online or mail donations in support of the 2019 Bike Ride to: PA Interfaith Power & Light, 210 W. Hamilton Ave. #295, State College, PA 16801.

An Interfaith Creation Care Journey

by Mike Ford, Associate Pastor of Youth, Blooming Glen Mennonite Church

Philly group send-off

This past month, PA Interfaith Power and Light (PA IPL) organized two groups totaling 18 bicyclists to ride from Philadelphia and State College, PA to Washington, DC. Our cause was to gather as an interfaith group to travel to our nation’s capital to meet with our legislators, to make a moral case for long term environmental care and clean energy legislation.  Riding bikes helped create relationships within the diverse groups, as well as demonstrate to our legislators our commitment to care for the environment in our travel.  Three pastors with ties to Franconia Mennonite Conference participated in Philadelphia to DC ride, including myself, Mike Ford from Blooming Glenn Mennonite, Conference Youth Minister John Stoltzfus, and former Associate Pastor at Salford, now Campus Pastor at 3rd Way Collective at Penn State, Ben Wideman.

Philly group in DC

Ben, who rode in the past with the State College group, initiated this riding group from eastern Pennsylvania.  In addition to the three Mennonite pastors, our Philadelphia group consisted of two Jewish rabbis and a SAG (Support and Gear) wagon driven by a Unitarian Universalist minister.  Sharing with each other about our faith traditions was fascinating and enlightening.  Daily discussion and daybreak rituals mixed Christian prayer, poetry, Jewish blessings, song, scripture, and the blowing of the shofar (ram’s horn).  Particularly with our Jewish friends, we found an amazing amount of commonality in the history of our people and their persecution and migration around the world. 

Fixing a flat

Rabbi Nathan Martin summed up the trip well in commenting, “It just seemed to me like a really powerful statement, to bring different people of faith together to do something positive by getting on their bikes, by connecting with faith communities along the way and then bringing their voice to the halls of Congress and making their concerns known about climate change.”

People from various faith communities supported us along the way.  Lodging, meals, and hospitality were provided by a UCC minister’s family, a Presbyterian church, the House of Peace (Baltimore), a Jewish synagogue, and an elderly Quaker couple.  Part of the purpose of our ride was to fundraise to support the work of PA IPL, and over $15,000 was donated.

Meeting with Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick

The ride took us from the oil refineries of South Philadelphia to beautiful countryside, challenging hills, and busy city streets.  The State College crew rode 200 miles over 5 days, while the Philadelphia contingent tallied 180 miles in 3 days.  Our final day was spent off the bikes on Capitol Hill, meeting with Pennsylvania Senators and Representatives to encourage them to work on bipartisan efforts and existing bills that take a long term look at creation care and stewardship through greater support for renewable, clean energy sources.

The trip stirred in all of us a deeper desire to inspire and educate others to heed God’s directive to be good stewards of our common home.  You can read more about the trip here.

New Anabaptist ministry starts at Penn State

by Lora Steiner, managing editor

As college students head to campus this fall, one congregation, University Mennonite Church in State College, Pennsylvania, is beginning a new initiative: an Anabaptist campus pastor, called by the church to minister to students.

University Mennonite Church is located just a few miles from Penn State University. It began over 50 years ago, when faculty and staff of Penn State began gathering in a classroom on campus.

Until about four years ago, the congregation was involved in an ecumenical effort known as United Campus Ministries. But it dissolved, and the congregation began talking about the need for an Anabaptist presence on campus. For about three years, University Mennonite worked at how to make it happen, clarifying the vision for that ministry, figuring out how to fund it, and also determining how it connected larger denominational needs.

Ben Wideman
Ben Wideman

This year, they hired Ben Wideman as Anabaptist Campus Pastor, and helped to establish an officially-recognized Penn State club known as the 3rd Way Collective.

The goals are varied: To connect with Mennonite students at Penn State who want to stay connected with their faith tradition; to connect with Christian students who may be frustrated and looking for an alternative like Anabaptism; and to connect with those who are interested in peace and justice but don’t necessarily know how faith connects to that.

“There are a lot of groups [at Penn State] talking about faith formation,” says Wideman, “and a number of groups talking about peace and justice issues. But there’s almost no one pulling these two groups together.”

Wideman hopes that the 3rd Way Collective will be a bridge for such groups, and help make something new in the gap.

Wideman will have office space at the church, and is on a waiting list for an office at Penn State’s Pasquerilla Spiritual Center, which offers meeting space to some 65 multi-faith student organizations on campus.

He isn’t worried at this point about having an office to call home: he won’t need a desk to write sermons or respond to emails, and, as he notes with broadly accepted truth, “You can do a lot with coffee.”

He says that the position is so new, and so outside of the traditional box of pastoral ministry in the Mennonite church, that it still isn’t clear exactly what it will look like. One of the biggest challenges is building awareness: There are 46,000 students at Penn State, and no particular way of knowing who the Mennonite students are unless someone lets Wideman know, or shares about the 3rd Way Collective.

Pastor Marv Friesen says that University Mennonite is committed to covering all expenses for the first three years, and is exploring ways to expand that support. They’re also talking about how the initiative might be expanded in the future: owning a community house, or creating a collaborative structure where Mennonite-related university communities could connect to each other.

Wideman is finishing his role as youth pastor at Salford Mennonite Church in Harleysville, Pennsylvania, and will start his new position in State College at the end of September. He says he’s excited to see what the transition brings.

“I’ve been thinking about [campus ministry] for a long time, but never expected it to look this way.”

Introducing Salford Mennonite Church

Salford Mennonite ChurchSalford Mennonite Church, located in Harleysville, Pa., was founded in 1717.  An agrarian congregation throughout its history, the past 50 years has seen a transition to a suburban and professional lifestyle for its members.

Church leadership consists of a pastoral team of four (lead pastor Joe Hackman and three associate pastors, Maribeth Benner, Ben Wideman and Beth Yoder) with additional support staff, and a church board made up of nine members.  Present membership is 450, with an average Sunday morning attendance of 300.

Our mission statement declares our desire to be “A joyful, learning community eager to live and share the peaceable way of Jesus.”  We have a sister church relationship with Dios Con Nosotros in Mexico City, and a local neighbor relationship with Advent Lutheran Church of Harleysville.

Salford Mennonite ChurchWe have a garden ministry shared with Advent Lutheran, regularly participate in Mennonite Disaster Service trips, Chosen 300 Meal Ministry feeding the hungry in Philadelphia, and an active Justice and Peace ministry.  Our facility is active during the week with Salford Mennonite Child Care Centers (campuses at Salford and Dock Woods community).

Our congregational focus for the next few years is “Learning to Listen: across the generations, in our personal lives, and in our local community.”  See our website and our photoblog for more glimpses of life and ministry at Salford.

Youth groups move from charity to justice

by Angela Moyer, RIPPLE (Allentown, Pa.) & Ben Wideman, Salford (Harleysville, Pa.)

Salford and Ripple youthBen:  As Salford prepared to experience Mennonite Church USA’s biannual gathering in Phoenix, AZ we understood that this was going to be a different kind of experience.  We knew that there were a whole host of reasons that various churches were in favor of attending and not attending.  One of the dramatic factors of a trip to the Southwest was that several of our sister congregations would be unable to afford the travel expenses.

As we began to get a sense of what we could afford, and how much we could offer in support of other youth groups, I was pleasantly surprised to hear Angela share with a group of youth pastors that she was interested in taking a group from their congregation but needed financial assistance.  It seemed like perfect timing – not just for financial support, but for deepening relationships with a congregation we knew little about.

Angela:  The invitation for RIPPLE youth to join Salford’s youth group on their trip to Phoenix was a hope and a wish come true.  It was evidence that all of our talk about sharing power and resources had some feet.  And as we began to make plans and think about what it would take in order to make this a healthy and positive experience for both groups, I realized that this was going to be more than a simple act of generosity or charity.

I had no idea what it would be like for RIPPLE youth to experience Convention.  I knew that it would be different for them than for youth who grow up in fairly stable, middle class churches and communities but I could not anticipate what their experience would be.  What I did know was that they deserved the opportunity to go just as much as other youth, if not more.  As we began to make plans for how to make this a positive experience, we soon realized that it would be more than a one week event in Phoenix.  Relationships needed to be built prior to a week-long trip together.

Ben:  Angela and I were in agreement from the onset that this had to be a shared experience.  Salford had supported other churches in the past by simply writing a check, but this time our youth and sponsors wanted to have a deeper connection than that.  We knew that this would be challenging; the simple geographic barriers, nuanced cultural contexts, and busy schedules meant that we had to work to get just one or two opportunities on the calendar for the respective youth to connect with each other.

Angela:  Relationships between people with very different backgrounds take time and effort to develop.  After they’re developed, then true relationships need to be maintained at some level.  It’s one thing to receive one or two gifts graciously, but to continue to receive them is hard.  And to believe that the non-financial gifts that you have to offer back is just as valuable as money is hard too.

Then, in typical RIPPLE fashion, the needs grew faster than what I could keep up with.  Shortly after registering two youth and myself for Convention with Salford’s group, another responsible youth began attending and significantly contributing to RIPPLE.  Now what do we do about the youth trip to Convention?  Thankfully, in God’s abundance, Deep Run East Mennonite was willing to contribute finances for this third youth to attend Convention.

Ben:  It seems obvious now, but looking back, I was unaware of the complexity of planning a trip like this.  Families from both churches had life experiences come up that changed their summer plans.  Conference registration and payment is challenging enough for 20 people from one church.  Add in hotel reservations (and roommate assignments), plane tickets, airport transportation, and youth from a whole other church, and this trip became an interesting logistical challenge.

Angela:  But this was just the beginning of being overwhelmed with the gaps to be bridged between the two groups; this is why I think our collaborative effort begins to point towards justice rather than mere generosity.  The partnership between RIPPLE and Salford offered opportunity to those who otherwise would not have been able to engage, for both groups to learn from one another.  The relationship is ongoing; although one phase is over, much is still unfinished.  This collaboration was and continues to be overwhelming on a variety of layers requiring more than what can be anticipated and offered.  And yet this is the space where God’s Spirit seems to be moving and providing.

Ben:  The relationship between Salford and RIPPLE will continue to be a work in progress.  We are two sister congregations, but we are made up of a huge cross-section of families and perspectives.  Oftentimes it is uncomfortable to have to work through what it means to be relating to people beyond the walls of our church building, but we trust that there will be a blessing and growth in this process.  We hope to continue to build this relationship so that our youth will begin to see themselves as a part of something larger than our respective church family.  I hope Salford and RIPPLE (and many other churches too!) will reach a point where relating with people from other contexts is not simply tolerated, but expected and valued.

Church as an extension of family

Ben-Widemanby Ben Wideman, Salford

I am a child of the Mennonite world – my parents met while doing Voluntary Service in Mississippi and were married soon after.   Believe it or not, I was even born on the day of our area Mennonite Central Committee relief sale!  My parents recognized the value in bringing me up with the church as an extension of my family system.

The church (no joke: WIDEMAN Mennonite) was where I found my biggest supporters, best friends, and strongest mentors.  From an early age I was given the opportunity to participate in the life of the church through handing out bulletins, participating as an usher or greeter, reading scripture, and then transitioning into helping with music and worship leading.

Looking back, I am certain that those church leaders who tapped me on the shoulder were extremely influential in shaping my calling.  They provided me with confidence, encouragement, and a belief that there was real value in an authentic church community.  However it wasn’t until leaving that my home congregation that I felt a more direct sense of calling toward church ministry.

As I prepared to head off to college, I found myself wondering what path I would take.  I originally applied to Eastern Mennonite University as a business major, but was unsure of how that would unfold.  I clearly remember the Nashville Youth Convention as an experience where I felt a strong sense that God was directing me toward pastoral ministry, and after that week was over, I contacted EMU to switch my intended major to Biblical Studies.  As I began to share this decision with my friends and family, I was surprised by how many people affirmed this decision as if they had expected it all along!  From that point on, I have seen God at work shaping this call through a variety of people and experiences in my life.

I graduated from EMU and began to work at the Admissions Office on campus.  I spent three years in that role as a college recruiter and inadvertently explored and experienced the denomination as I traveled throughout the country.  After I left my position at EMU and moved to California, my experience at Fuller Theological Seminary allowed me to dig deeper into my faith tradition and theological convictions in a multi-denominational environment.  It was an incredible experience and one that has continued to shape who I am today.

My calling to Franconia Conference and Salford Mennonite Church was an unexpected transition.  My wife Meredith and I had all but ruled out this area as an option for ministry, preferring to find a congregation in an urban, non-traditional Mennonite context.  It was the pastoral leadership at Salford who reached out to us and began the conversation that eventually led to our arrival.  We did not expect to find a home here, but we have been blessed by a wonderful faith community and a new church family.

My new role as associate pastor of youth and young adults allows me to experience many different aspects of pastoral ministry, while continuing to develop who I am as a new pastor.  I look forward to God’s continued guidance in my life, wherever that may take me in the future.

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.