Tag Archives: Bethany Birches

Witnessing Out and About in the Villages

By Dorcas Lehman, Interim Pastor – Taftsville Chapel Mennonite Fellowship

Sometimes witness means continuing work that has lasted several generations, as it has taken root in the communities around the church.  People tell their neighbors that this is who the Mennonites are and what they do.  Then when the neighbors learn that an Interim Pastor is in the village, the witness resounds in conversations where I live, worship, and shop.

Taftsville ChapelMy Subaru was overdue for an oil change, so I took it to a local mechanic in Bridgewater Corners, Vermont.  I needed my out-of-state car to run smoothly while I serve as Interim Pastor at Taftsville Chapel Mennonite Fellowship.  “Take a good look,” I said, “this car has a lot of miles on it, over 100,000, and I am putting a lot more miles on it.”  He took one look and countered, “With that Outback, you are just getting started!” An Outback, even with PA license plate, fits right into the landscape in Vermont, and Chris the mechanic seemed happy to help.

He also smiled when he learned that I am a Mennonite pastor. All his growing up years, he camped at Bethany Birches in Plymouth, as did his mother before him, first as a camper and then as a counselor.  For fifty-plus years this Mennonite-affiliated camp and Franconia Conference Related Ministry has been part of his family story, and he tells it with delight.

I hear this in other places too:  “Have you seen the new state-of-the art pavilion?” asks another neighbor at a dinner in the village with friends, an ecumenical array of guests around the table, mostly neighboring Catholics.  He is a donor, and he admires its architecture.  The Mennonites are known for camp, and for being in the community, adds another guest. They volunteer all the time.

Resurrection Walk In a place and time when only 17% of the state’s residents regularly attend houses of worship, the lowest church attendance in the nation, it is no small witness to be known for generating a sense of community ownership of a camp that cares well for local children.  When the stories of Jesus are shared in the way of Jesus, a community will remember that camp was invitational, playful, and welcoming.

While Mennonites are also known for volunteerism in their communities, that witness seems to enrich and flow with the local culture, rather than contrasting with it.   “Vermonters by and large are a quiet people who recognize and appreciate hard work and service,” says Dave Beidler, a life-time member of the Taftsville congregation.  Vermonters readily join hand in hand with their neighbors as needs arise.

Taftsville signThere is yet another kind of witness that neighbors tell about Vermont Mennonites.  I hear it from Charlie Wilson, long-time resident and observer of Taftsville, the hamlet where my interim congregation worships.  I am sitting in a presentation at the Woodstock Historical Society, where he is telling stories about Taftsville’s recent past.  “If you walk by the Chapel on a summer Sunday morning and the windows are open,” he tells the group, “you will hear the unsurpassed acappella singing of the Mennonites, and at Christmas they serenade the village with carols.”

Sometimes witness is the quiet service of being and doing with neighbors, and sometimes it is the sounds of our singing that float out the windows into the village during our service of worship.

A Franconia Conference Summer

We asked for stories from summer activities from around the Conference and got this jewel from Kim Moyer, Blooming Glen congregation:

The theme for our Summer Bible School was “Be Bold! God is with You!” The children learned through songs, dramas, stories, crafts, and games, that God is with them, even when they are scared. 

One mother told me a story about her 5 year old son who has always been afraid to go into the basement of their home by himself.  The week after SBS, he asked his mom to go with him to the basement so that he could get his blanket.  His mom couldn’t go with him at the moment, so he decided he would try to go by himself.  When he returned to his mom with his blanket, he told her, “I was able to go down in the basement because I kept telling myself, God is always with us, God is always with us.”

A piece of SBS that caused a lot of excitement among the children was an offering project competition between the girls and the boys.  The children were raising money for a Mennonite Mission Network project, which sends children in South Africa to Bethany Bible School, a camp that teaches the children about Jesus.  It costs $20 to send one child to the camp, and the boys and girls at SBS were competing against each other to send the most children to camp.  If the boys won, then the Children’s Ministry Director (me) would get a pie in her face, and if the girl’s won, then the Lead Pastor would get the pie in his face. 

The children took this competition seriously and were bringing in their piggy banks, doing extra chores to raise money, and asking grandparents to write out checks.  By the end of the week, the 70 children at SBS collectively raised $1,162.53, sending 58 children to Bethany Bible School!  Although the boys won, and I got a pie in the face, it was decided that the real winners were the 58 children that would now be able to attend the Bible Camp.

Thanks, Kim, and everyone else who shared their photos and stories this summer!  And if you haven’t already read them, check out these stories about Peace Camps, Bethany’s anniversary celebration, a special service at Plains, Salford’s listening project, Kingdom Builders construction in Philly, Germantown Historic Trust’s painting project … and this is just some of what has been happening in our Conference this summer.

Enjoy these fun photos that were taken at camps, picnics, outdoor services, Bible Schools, and more.  If you’d like to add photos from your congregation’s summer to this gallery, send them to Emily with captions and photo credits.

View the photo album

To each according to their need: Ongoing partnership in the Vermont Mountains

Brandon Bergey, Bethany, brandon@bethanybirches.org

Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged presents ideas that are seemingly opposed to the Reign of God. Ayn Rand’s philosophy on the matter of need suggests that people should get only what they earn, regardless of their needs. If you earn it, it’s yours. If you need it, well, you can’t have it until you earn it. She believed that this would create a society full of contributing individuals. Consider that.

Now, consider Acts 4:32-35 from The Message.

The whole congregation of believers was united as one—one heart, one mind! They didn’t even claim ownership of their own possessions. No one said, “That’s mine; you can’t have it.” They shared everything. The apostles gave powerful witness to the resurrection of the Master Jesus, and grace was on all of them. And so it turned out that not a person among them was needy. Those who owned fields or houses sold them and brought the price of the sale to the apostles and made an offering of it. The apostles then distributed it according to each person’s need.

I realize that Ayn Rand may not have seriously considered the Reign of God as a legitimate economic model. That doesn’t mean Bethany Birches Camp (BBC) shouldn’t. While I’m not advocating for communism or even a reversion to the early church, I’m advocating for an acceptance of God’s spirit and way, best viewed through the person of Jesus: a person who sent his followers out to the world with almost no earthly possessions; a person who told his students to give their shirt away to someone who demanded it, rather than put up a fight; a person who taught that if two or three gather in his name and agree, whatever they ask for will be given. Jesus was not a person focused on rights and earnings. He was a person who understood that anything he had was a gift from his Father in Heaven.

Summer campers at Bethany Birches. Photo by Brandon Bergey

Since the beginning of BBC in 1965 we have tried to offer a unique camping experience, creating a community of love with whoever joins and we’ve tried to do this at a low price. While a camping community is a different version of the church than what we see in Acts, there is much similarity.

Obviously, offering something to someone for less than what it costs to provide that something runs up a deficit somewhere. Let’s put this in the context of camp. If it costs us about 400/camper, and we charge $200, there is $200 of expense remaining. Who will pay the remaining $200? Enter: donors. Donors give gifts from the riches they’ve been given.

Bethany Birches was initiated with a donation of land. And since that very first day, our story has been one of people providing money, time and other resources to make the camp possible; an ongoing illustration of God’s provision for kids to have a special, faith-developing experience.

In a board meeting in 2010 we were discussing these issues around the topic of pricing. We talked about the fact that some of our camper families have much resource and some have very little. We developed the idea of tiered pricing.

We are just now finished with the first summer season that used a tiered pricing structure. The highest tier is about what we figure it costs to have a camper at camp (no profit built in). Both of the lower tiers are donor-subsidized rates.

Could we consider this a Kingdom economic model? Or perhaps foolishness? Maybe we can just call it a system built for taking advantage of. Whatever you call it, we’re trusting that the Christ who inspired the craziness in the book of Acts will continue to inspire us and show us a way so that “not a person among them was needy.”

Conference Related Ministries

« BACK to Conference Assembly Index Page

Below is the list of Franconia Conference Related Ministries. Click on the name of a CRM below to read an update on their ministry. (Currently, not all ministries have submitted reports.)

Bethany Birches Camp
Camp Men-O-Lan
Care and Share Shoppes
Christopher Dock Mennonite High School
Community Home Services
Crossroad Gift and Thrift
Delaware Valley MEDA
Germantown Mennonite Historic Trust
Indian Creek Foundation
Liberty Ministries
Life with God Ministries
Living Branches – Dock Woods Community and Souderton Mennonite Homes
Mennonite Historians of Eastern Pennsylvania
Mennonite Disaster Service
MCC Material Resource Center of Harleysville
Peaceful Living
Penn Foundation
Penn View Christian School
Philadelphia Mennonite High School
Quakertown Christian School
Rockhill Mennonite Community
Spruce Lake