Tag Archives: Bethany Elshaddai Creative Community

Historic Decisions & the Promise of God’s Good Work

by Stephen Kriss, Executive Minister

At our annual assembly earlier this month, our delegate community affirmed two historic decisions that have potential to reshape our Conference.   These were not easy and quick decisions, but rather the fruit of relationships and what we believe to be the leading of the Spirit.  The Spirit relentlessly invites us toward transformation.  We have discerned this time to say yes to the invitation.

These two movements will challenge the best of who we claim to be as followers of Jesus.  The reconciliation process with Eastern District Conference sets out to reunite our communities into one body after over a century of separation.  This kind of reconciliation work has been a hallmark of our identity as Anabaptist/ Mennonites.  However, it’s a path we’ve rarely had the courage or humility to walk to restore relationships after theological/ecclesialogical differences in a way that offers a witness of the power of Christ’s peace.  This affirmation intends to frame the work needed to restore the right fellowship that was torn asunder by disagreements and to work to acknowledge historic wounds.   Admittedly, though, the details of this path ahead are yet to be determined.

This affirmation to move toward a unified conference, likely with a new name, means embracing a new identity that honors our shared past, our divergent paths and the truth of the reconciling power of Christ that we believe can transform us and the world.  This is work that is local in the very spaces where some of our fore-parents resettled on this continent seeking a place of peace and flourishing.  This will be hard work, but also a work of grace, the work of the Spirit among us.

At the same time, our Conference affirmed four new member congregations.  All four congregations are comprised mostly of immigrants from Indonesia.   These communities are an outgrowth of our global connectivity, our commitments that began over 100 years ago to seek to share Christ’s peace cross culturally with those who are also seeking a place of peace and flourishing in this hemisphere.  These four communities extend our Conference in ways we may not have imagined before, stretching us now from southern Vermont to Southern California.

This move to welcome into membership the new congregations was shaped around our commitments to family and hospitality.  These are core values and metaphors for our understanding of ourselves as a community.  We are family — sisters and brothers.  We extend gracious hospitality because we have received the gracious hospitality of Christ.  We know that Christ again shows up when we extend that hospitality to others. Our overwhelming affirmation together of these four new communities is holy — the work that God has called us to for this time.  The Spirit continues the gift of Pentecost among us, drawing us together across ethnicity, language, tribe and geography.

At a recent lecture at Swarthmore College, I heard Eboo Patel assert that people who climb mountains should not complain that climbing a mountain is difficult.   We have discerned a path forward that is not easy and is unfamiliar.  Jesus proclaimed that it’s not the easy path but that the burden itself is light.  It is in such spaces that we rely on God, where we trust the Spirit who gives life to continue to guide us.

At the same time, we use all of our capacities.  We use our strengths.  We learn from those who have gone before us.  We prepare for the journey ahead.   We approach humbly but boldly.   We continue to work and hope.

I am not naïve, nor should any of us be.  This is a time when the church is more often being torn asunder rather than united together across differences.  We have discerned together to attempt something that is countercultural: to seek reconciliation and to continue to be reshaped as the people of God across cultural boundaries.  May God strengthen us as we continue to live the good work that Christ has begun and promised to sustain in us until the fullness of salvation.

 

Delegates Begin Conferring for Assembly

This year, Franconia Conference delegates are being asked to consider two main agenda items at the Fall Assembly: One being four congregations for membership, three of these congregations come from California and one from New York. All four are Indonesian congregations and have ties to Franconia’s Indonesian congregations in South Philadelphia. The second item delegates are being asked to consider is the recommendations from the Exploring Reconciliation Reference Team, which states that the team recommends that Eastern District and Franconia Conferences, “enter a formal engagement process for the purposes of healing and reconciliation and with the intention of becoming a single, unified conference by November 2019.”

Both of these items are monumental for Franconia Conference. Therefore, delegate discernment around them began this past week at two Assembly Scattered meetings. These meetings are an opportunity for delegates to gather together and discuss the agenda items and ask questions of conference leadership. The scattered meetings began last week, one being held on October 5 at Franconia Mennonite Church and a second on October 10 at Swamp Mennonite Church with combined participation of around 100 delegates. Two more scattered meetings are scheduled for this coming week: October 16 at Nueva Vida Norristown New Life and October 17 via video conference. Currently, 61% of Franconia Conference delegates have either attended or are registered to attend an assembly scattered meeting.

These scattered meetings provide vital discernment time as together, delegates work to confer around whether or not to admit four new congregations as members and whether or not to continue to envision a single united conference with Eastern District. The hope is that by the end of Assembly 2017, Franconia Conference will know if they have 4 new member churches and whether or not they will be working to implement a team to envision a united conference with Eastern District (EDC), so that in November of 2019 they will be able to vote on whether or not to merge with EDC.

Admitting the four congregations as members would make Franconia a bi-coastal conference. Modern technology makes relationships across great distance a bit easier.  At one point in Franconia’s history, leaders used to take 7-hour buggy rides to visit constituents; now, it would be a 7-hour bi-coastal plane ride. As Steve Kriss, Executive Minister, said in a recent article, “In the past, we have worked at church planting in Hawaii.  We have maintained long term partnerships with congregations in Mexico City.  For 50 years we have traveled the six-hour trip back and forth to our congregations in Vermont.  This will have some similar characteristics; there will for sure be challenges, but I believe that we’ll learn and be stronger by cultivating these partnerships together.”

Since 2011, Eastern District and Franconia Conferences have been working together more formally with their leadership, meeting on a regular basis and sharing in joint assemblies each fall. Congregations in close proximity have also worked at building relationships. At the 2016 Conference Assembly, both conferences agreed to implement an Exploring Reconciliation Reference Team (read more about that here) to see if Reconciliation was possible between the two Conferences. That team not only believes reconciliation is possible, but also believes there is a possibility for merger as laid out in their final report which can be viewed here: edc-fmc.org/exploring-reconciliation-report. However, there is still work to be done before merger can be considered. This year at Assembly, delegates will discern if they believe God is calling them to that work.

As the Conference continues to work to equip leaders to empower others to embrace God’s mission, there is much prayer and discernment to be done.

To learn more about the four new churches, check out the Congregational Profiles on the Franconia Business Tab at: edc-fmc.org/assembly/.

 

From Sea to Shining Sea?

by Stephen Kriss, Executive Minister

Four congregations have requested to join our Conference in time to be considered for membership at assembly this fall. This has been – and is – a season where many communities are looking for new alignments related to changes across the Anabaptist landscape. We’ve been in conversation with a dozen different communities stretched from Queens (NY) to San Francisco (CA). For me, it’s been a challenging wave to ride for the first months of my work as executive minister.  It’s been both an invigorating and exhausting time. While I believe the Spirit is at work in this time of tumultuousness, it’s hard to know exactly where it’s all going.

This is adaptive change and paradigm change. This kind of growth wasn’t in any strategic planning. Though change sometimes comes upon us and we find ourselves testing what the Spirit is doing in the midst of it all. Finding our hearts “strangely warmed” as the disciples did on the Emmaus Road with the resurrected Jesus.

As we approach assembly this fall, we will be inviting delegates to affirm four new congregations as members in our Conference.   These four congregations have some familiarity with us already and their leaders have already established relationships with other leaders in our Conference.  These churches (one in Queens, New York and three in the Los Angeles, California area) will add to our urban and multi-ethnic realities.   These congregations will continue to enrich and challenge our life together as Franconia Conference into the future. I’m hoping that we’ll find ways to embrace all that means as we seek to share God’s amazing grace and peace together.

Members of Jemaat Kristen Indonesia Anugerah (JKI) at the Mennonite Festival & Sale

The three California congregations seek to be admitted as a group together.  This enables us to provide better accompaniment and assistance along with them.  All three had been previous members of Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference until earlier this year when the conference reorganized and these three congregations sought a new affiliation.  The three churches –Jemaat Kristen Indonesia Anugerah (JKI or Grace Indonesian Christian Congregation) in Sierra Madre, Indonesian Worship Church in San Gabriel, and International Christian Community Fellowship in San Bernardino – have strong and long-term Anabaptist commitments.   Each congregation worships in a mix of Indonesian and English.

These congregations have strong ties to our Philadelphia Indonesian speaking congregations as Nations Worship Center and Philadelphia Praise Center have found a sense of home and family within our Conference.  Leaders of our Philadelphia Indonesian-speaking congregations have shared their experiences with their West Coast colleagues which has made the California congregations wonder if they too might find family with us in Franconia Conference.  For many within the Indonesian community, the idea of relationships that span the continent seems easy to maintain; it’s only half as far away as Indonesia.

In our age of ready communication technologies and easy bi-coastal travel, I believe that we can effectively, though differently, accompany and partner with these congregations.   We’ve estimated a cost of about $10,000 in annual expenses to begin this partnership with the California congregations, which would include some staffing support and the hiring of an additional stipend leadership minister to work specifically with these congregations.   We’d intend to review this within three years together.

In the past, we have worked at church planting in Hawaii.  We have maintained long term partnerships with congregations in Mexico City.  For 50 years we have traveled the six-hour trip back and forth to our congregations in Vermont.  This will have some similar characteristics; there will for sure be challenges, but I believe that we’ll learn and be stronger by cultivating these partnerships together.  Each of these congregations brings vibrant gifts of leadership and service.  They’ve been invited to share their resources with us as we seek to multiply our gifts together for the sake of the God’s Kingdom on earth.

Steve Kriss & Aldo Siahaan with Hendy Stevan (top row, 3rd from left) and some of the leaders of Bethany

The fourth congregation, Bethany New York – a congregation in Queens – has been in a dating relationship with our Conference for over a year.   The congregation’s founding pastor has moved toward retirement and the emerging pastoral leader, Hendy Stevan, is currently a full-time student at Eastern Mennonite Seminary (EMS).  Though planted in affiliation with the Church of God, the church identifies with Anabaptism and has completed a teaching period on the seven core convictions of Mennonite World Conference.

Though this would be our first congregation in New York City, we’ve had previous conference member congregations in Long Island that were planted out of mid-20th century initiatives, connecting with alternative service for conscientious objectors.   With Hendy’s ongoing studies at EMS and ongoing strengthening of relationships with other Pennsylvania congregations, along with the broader Mennonite Church USA body at Convention, Bethany is ready to become a full conference member and to participate in our life together.

These four churches total a membership of approximately 400 people and would add approximately 12 possible additional delegates to our discernment body.   Each church has been invited to consider sharing 3-10% of their annual income with the Conference.   We commit, then, to walking together, to giving and receiving counsel and to extending the right fellowship which we have maintained for hundreds of years in our Conference community.

These new member congregations will continue to re-shape our Conference community.  Each is seeking the broader relationships that are accessible through membership in Mennonite Church USA and our connections with Mennonite World Conference.   I believe that this is God’s invitation for us to continue to be transformed and to continue to live together in seeking justice, with a great love of mercy and a willingness to walk humbly toward God’s dream.

Congregational Profiles for each of these churches mentioned will be coming out in the weeks leading to assembly. In addition, look for stories from our Philadelphia Indonesian communities regarding their connections to the California congregations.

Delegates will have a time to discuss and discern affirming these congregations for membership at our annual Assembly Scattered Meetings. If you are a delegate please be sure to register and attend one of those.

Also, please feel free to contact me anytime for more conversation as we move toward this time of further discernment together.

 

Five Signs of Hope in a 300 Year Old Community

by Stephen Kriss, Executive Minister

At our board retreat last week, our California-based consultant, Jeff Wright, suggested that we are living in a time when we often say, “that hasn’t happened before.”  For a 300 year old Conference community to contend with rapid changes requires flexibility and nimbleness that isn’t always characteristic of mature organizational systems.  However, we are more than an organization; we are the people of God.  This is both a challenge and a hope in times where change is rapid, confusing and often disorienting.  Here are five signs of change we haven’t seen before that give me hope and assure me that even though we don’t know a way, there is a way that the Spirit is working out for our ancient faith to thrive into the future.

  1. The summer ministry internship program that was envisioned by Souderton Mennonite Church pastor Tim Bentch and is staffed by Sarah Freeman from the Souderton congregation is giving opportunities for young adults from our Conference and Eastern District Conference to serve alongside their congregations and in nearby communities to extend the peace of Christ. This year’s group of women and one young man remind me that God is still calling and that opportunities to connect to each other are always around us no matter our neighborhood.
  2. In the last weeks, Bethany Church in Queens, New York officially requested membership with our Conference. We are in the midst of a teaching series on Global Anabaptism with the congregation and I had the privilege of preaching there last month on the centrality of Jesus.   The congregation’s pastor is a full-time Eastern Mennonite Seminary student, Hendy Matahelemual, who brings energy, passion and deep care.  If affirmed as a new member this fall, it will be our Conference’s first worshipping community in New York City.
  3. At our Conference Board Retreat, this past weekend, we spent time praying through the lists of our member churches, our Conference Related Ministries (CRMs) and our nearly 100 active credentialed leaders. Reading these lists reminds me of the gifted leaders, our diverse congregations, and the vibrant ministries that receive support and encouragement mutually through our life together.  It was a bit of an old school practice brought to new life with the diversity of who we are becoming, visible on paper.
  4. Franconia congregation pastor Josh Meyer’s recent doctoral research took a glimpse at the callings of millennial pastors in our Conference community. At this time across Mennonite Church USA, we have one of the highest percentages of younger pastors.  At the end of our morning time together, Josh invited us to pray with the millennial pastors who had gathered that morning at Perkiomenville Mennonite’s Christian Life Center.  The tenderness and care of our experienced pastors as they gathered around the five young pastors who were there was moving and beautiful.
  5. Next week a delegation from our Conference is spending time listening to the congregations in California who have sought to become new members of our Conference. We are seeking to spend some time together, to understand past wounds and to imagine new possibilities.  As we go, we will eat, listen, preach and continue to build on the relationships already established.  What might the Spirit be calling us toward as we consider these bi-coastal relationships?

There is growth and challenge across our Conference community these days.   A new thing is becoming; on a daily basis, I am increasingly aware of it.  At the same time, God’s intention is to continue the transformative work that Christ has done in each of us through these things that haven’t happened before.  There is new possibility, each day, for us to encounter the Risen Christ through the things that haven’t happened before in our world.  And there is assurance that there are things that will remain; faith, hope, love.