by Marta Castillo, Leadership Minister of Intercultural Formation
All the nations you have made will come and worship before you, Lord; they will bring glory to your name. Psalm 86:9
At our annual assembly we worshipped the Lord in song in several different languages and styles. I wonder if anyone whispered to the person beside them like someone whispered behind me many years ago, “Why do we have to sing in these different languages? Why can’t we just sing in English?” I wonder if those at the assembly worship felt comfortable and engaged in the worship songs. Were they able to enter into the intercultural space of worshipping God in ways and styles and languages that were not their own? Did it fill them with joy to worship the Lord and bring glory to God’s name with other nations that God has made, even if it was different than what they were used to?
In an intercultural community, all are transformed because everyone learns from one another and grows together. In intercultural worship, we learn to choose to continue to worship God in the styles and languages of others. For me, what began as a discipline and continues to be a choice is now also a joy as I have incorporated intercultural worship as part of who I am with the help of the Holy Spirit. John 4:23 – Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.
Several weeks ago, I attended a service at Nations Worship Center where we sang songs that had repeating lines. I appreciated the repetition while singing in a language in which I am not fluent. The repetition helped me to better understand the song and enter deeply into the spirit of worship. However, I must admit that I have not always appreciated songs with a lot of repetition. What I have learned to do is to go with the repetition rather than fight it. I can worship God in song as I repeat the same phrase over and over and meditate on the truth, just like I can pray or meditate on a phrase of Scripture.
Last weekend I attended a women’s retreat where we had a hymn sing. We sang hymn after hymn in a group of talented and passionate singers. It was beautiful. I was struck by the multitude of beautiful thoughts and word pictures that hymns contain and express in worship to God. But I had to choose to engage my mind and process the thoughts in worship to God as I sang complex music. I enjoyed the repetition of the choruses.
Matthew Westerholm, on the Desiring God website, suggests that often “our discomfort also comes from where we live, if you live in the Western world. Western culture treasures the novelty of words. It might feel like singing many words per minute is a worldwide Christian preference. But it’s not. It’s a Western oddity. If you were to listen to indigenous music from almost anywhere else in the world, you might describe it as “rhythmic, danceable, and repetitive. It may feel strange to discover that our personal preferences are a cultural anomaly. It is humbling to discover that we have something to learn from others, but not surprising. And it is the sort of humbling that, if we are willing to accept it, will bless us greatly in worship.”
Let us worship the Lord in unity, seeking to honor the worship of the nations as our own!
by Sue Conrad Howes, Eastern District Conference (West Swamp congregation), with Emily Ralph Servant, Franconia Conference (Director of Communication)
It was a potentially historic day for two Mennonite conferences that split over 170 years ago.
On November 2, 2019, delegates from Franconia Mennonite Conference and Eastern District Conference met together at Souderton (PA) Mennonite Church to determine if reconciliation, which seemed unattainable in 1847, would now be possible.
It was hard to imagine that these two groups had been divided at all, as animated conversations and joyful reunions happened throughout the crowded fellowship hall as the delegates arrived. There was even an audible groan when it was announced that the Eastern District Conference delegates needed to move to another gathering room for their morning delegate session. And so, for the morning, the two groups met separately, with the possibility of reconciliation on the afternoon horizon.
During Eastern District’s morning delegate session, leaders facilitated a discussion over the future and publicly recognized that the vote toward reconciliation was just the beginning of a new journey. They thanked everyone who had helped to bring them to this point and then led in a time of sharing stories about where delegates were seeing God working in their congregations and ministries.
Franconia’s morning delegate session included affirming Rose Bender Cook (Whitehall congregation) for a third term and KrisAnne Swartley (Doylestown congregation) for a second term on the Credentials Committee. Chris Nickels (Spring Mount congregation) was affirmed for a third term and Janet Panning (Plains congregation) for a first term on the Ministerial Committee. Swartley and Panning will serve as committee chairs. John Goshow (Blooming Glen congregation) and Beny Krisbianto (Nations Worship Center) were thanked for their nine years of service on the Conference Board.
Franconia also welcomed four new Conference Related Ministries: Peace Proclamation Ministries International (out of Plains congregation), Healthy Niños Honduras (birthed out of MAMA Project), Ripple Community Inc (out of Ripple congregation), and Taproot Gap Year (out of Philadelphia Praise Center). The delegates welcomed a new congregation, Iglesia Menonita Ebenezer (Souderton, PA) and released West Philadelphia Mennonite Fellowship to transfer to Allegheny Conference.
After a meaningful joint worship in the morning, when credentialed leaders of both conferences who had passed away during the past year were remembered and newly credentialed leaders were introduced, anointed, and then commissioned to anoint others, the two conferences joined together for the afternoon session. Joy Sutter, moderator of Mennonite Church USA (Salford congregation), expressed gratitude to the delegates for demonstrating the path of reconciliation. “You are modeling a new and inspiring path for the future. As you move forward…, may you be blessed,” said Sutter.
The three-year process toward reconciliation, led almost exclusively by conference volunteers, was introduced by the Structure and Identity Task Force. Sherri Brokopp Binder (Ripple congregation) & Rina Rampogu (Plains congregation) explained the process, the changes proposed, and the next steps, if the delegates voted affirmatively for reconciliation.
The task force had done its work, as few delegates posed questions or expressed any sense of hesitation with the proposal. The two conferences divided, for the last time, to discern and vote.
With the delegates reunited after the vote, John Goshow, Franconia Conference moderator, and Jim Musselman, Eastern District moderator (Zion congregation), shared the results of the historic vote: together, the conferences had voted unanimously for reconciliation.
Spontaneous applause and cheers of affirmation from the delegates erupted while leaders from both conferences shared hugs and broad smiles. Together, the enthusiastic group sang, “Hosanna, Let Jesus be Lifted Up” and “Praise God from Whom” with gusto and gratitude.
Following the singing, Steve Kriss, Franconia Conference executive minister, and Scott Roth, Eastern District conference minister, spoke. “I am rarely speechless,” Kriss admitted. “But we are about to do something that could not happen 150 years ago. We are about to sit together and take communion. For some of you, this split divided families, for some of you this split divided congregations. Today we celebrate the ministry of reconciliation that has been and will continue to be our life’s work.”
Roth reminisced about being charged with the ministry of reconciliation as a youth by adult leaders who knew that the reality of such a merger would be through the work of future generations. Roth shared his joy that the dream he had heard about as a youth was now being realized. “Remember,” Roth said; “although the paperwork is not completed, we are one in the Spirit and we are one in Jesus’ blood.”
In the front of the fellowship hall, a pile of rocks had sat all morning, without mention. This column was reminiscent of the Old Testament practice of raising an Ebenezer, commemorating God’s help or celebrating memorable events. This rock structure was not to remain, however. Instead, each church was instructed to take a rock home, paint it, and return with it to next year’s first assembly as a new conference. The rocks will then be formed into a fountain, representing the new conference, flowing with life.
The day’s events closed with a traditional action, which has been spoken by Franconia delegates to conclude their assemblies for more than a hundred years. On this day, however, delegates of both Franconia and Eastern District made the commitment together, as one gathered body:
“We affirm our desire to continue in and witness to the nonresistant and simple faith in Christ, looking for the blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior, Jesus Christ.”
“Kami menegaskani keinginan untuk terus ikut dan menjadi saksi kesederhanaan iman dalam Kristus dan menjadi pembawa damai, terus mencari kepada berkat pengharapan serta memperlihatkan kemuliaan dari kebesaran Tuhan dan juru selamat kami, Yesus Kristus.”
“Afirmamos nuestro deseo de seguir testificando con la fe de no resistencia y sencilla en Cristo, mirando a la esperanza bendita y la venida gloriosa de nuestro gran Dios y nuestro Salvador Jesucristo.”
“Chúng tôi xin xác nhận nguyện-vọng của chúng tôi là tiếp tục và làm chứng cho giải pháp ôn-hòa và đức-tin chân thật trong Ðấng Christ, tiềm kiếm sự hy-vọng hạnh phước, và sự vinh quang của Ðức Chúa Trời đại quyền hiện ra và Ðấng Cứu Chuộc của chúng tôi là Ðức Chúa Giê-xu Christ.”
by Brent Camilleri, Associate Pastor – Deep Run East Mennonite Church
I am filled with hope any time I find myself in a room full of those who care deeply about the lives of young people and their voice in the church today. And so, I was feeling especially hopeful on Saturday November 2 as I attended Michele Hershberger’s seminar on youth ministry in a post-Christian era entitled “100 Inches of Rain.” Michele began by telling the story of the Choluteca Bridge in Honduras. Rebuilt in 1996, the bridge was an engineering feat. However, in 1998 Hurricane Mitch brought 100 inches of rain to Honduras in a period of just a few days. When the storm passed the Choluteca Bridge was still standing strong but the river had shifted course and no longer ran beneath the bridge, rendering it useless. In many ways this is how church ministry and, in particular, youth ministry feels today. Something has shifted, and the programs and approaches that felt successful two decades ago are no longer effective.
And yet, Michele reminded us that this cultural shift isn’t cause for fear, but a challenge that can and should force us to adapt to the new flow of the river. Youth ministry is still vitally important. In fact the church needs its young people to lead today, not ten years down the road. God is in our youth right now, and the church is more resilient and effective when we minister WITH our youth, and not to them. To facilitate this type of ministry that works alongside our youth today, Michele Hershberger pointed out Four Conversions that the church needs to experience.
The first conversion is that we see youth differently. This means viewing them not as “Christians in training” but as fully integrated and vital parts of our communities. A 13-year-old 8th grader might be able to express truths about faith in a more effective way than I ever could. The second conversion that Hershberger highlighted is the need for us to see church differently. This means coming to terms with the fact that the church is not a building, it is US! As such, any time we gather, whether in a coffee shop or on a street corner, the church is there, making disciples who make more disciples…no building necessary. The third conversion that we need to undergo as we minister to youth in our post-Christian context is to see ourselves differently. Each of us is called to a mission field, no matter our age and no matter our profession. Plugged into Jesus, who is our source, we become the “wires” that carry the current of Christ with us everywhere we go. This is to be our primary calling as we follow Jesus and everything else should take a back seat! Perhaps it is a challenging call, but that is more than OK. Our young people are itching for a challenge, something that shows them just how real and important following Jesus is. And truthfully, we could all use a little more challenge in our faith. Michele brought our time to a close by highlighting the final conversion that we need, which is to see our success differently. She reminded us that this is God’s mission, not something that we own. And God invites ALL of us to make disciples, whether we are 12 or 42 or 92. Adults and young people are on this journey of faith together, and we need each other now more than ever as we work out how to faithfully follow Jesus.
The process of gathering started last night with persons coming from California, Indiana and Mexico. Partners and leaders began to stream toward Souderton Mennonite Church for our historic Assembly that begins tomorrow. We have gathered together for generations each autumn as the community now known as Franconia Mennonite Conference. It’s a massive incarnational effort involving lots of details and logistics—name tags, seating assignments, worship practice, PowerPoint slides in multiple languages and thankfully, Longacre’s Ice Cream and lunch from Landis Supermarket.
These events have certainly changed over the years from intensive discernment among credentialed leaders on the difficult topics of the day, to equipping and celebration inter-culturally and inter-generationally with a sense of family gathering, face to face listening and conversation. We’ve switched from Pennsylvania Dutch to English to quad-lingual with videos. It’s a representation of who the 7,000 of us are in less than a 24-hour timeline.
It’s hard work and it takes resources. Yet, by gathering together we underscore the importance of the Incarnation, the love of God made manifest in real time and places. We listen across our differences in culture, practice and even varied Anabaptist theological perspectives. It’s ultimately a celebration of the holy tie that binds, of commitment centered in Christ that now span the globe and yet have been rooted deeply in the soil of what has become Southeastern Pennsylvania.
We gather because we say it matters that we hear each other, that we hear the Spirit together:
That we celebrate and pray.
That we mark the passing of another year of witness, mission, and ministry.
That God continues to call and we continue to follow.
That God’s dream for us though yet unfulfilled is still unfolding.
Hasta pronto. Sampai ketemu lagi. Hẹn sớm gặp lại. 很快见到你
by Noel Santiago, Leadership Minister for Missional Transformation
As we come upon our time for Conference Assembly, we are focused on being one in the Spirit in the bond of peace.
I believe Jesus would be looking forward to this weekend with anticipation of his prayer being answered in John 17.
In this passage, he has prayed for himself, his disciples and then for all those who will believe – this includes you and me. After praying for his disciples Jesus goes on to pray these words, they may be His word for us this weekend:
I’m praying not only for them but also for those who will believe in me because of them and their witness about me. The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind— Just as you, Father, are in me and I in you, So they might be one heart and mind with us. Then the world might believe that you, in fact, sent me. The same glory you gave me, I gave them, so they’ll be as unified and together as we are— I in them and you in me. Then they’ll be mature in this oneness, and give the godless world evidence that you’ve sent me and loved them In the same way you’ve loved me.
– John 17:20- 23 MSG
May we find that Jesus’ prayer continues to be answered as we gather together in the Spirit and in peace.
Since 2011, Franconia and Eastern District Conferences have come together for an annual fall Assembly holding separate business sessions, yet enjoying joint times of worship on Friday evening and Saturday morning, sharing in the recognition of newly credentialed leaders, and lunch. This year on November 3 and 4, 2017 they gathered at Dock Mennonite Academy in Souderton, Pennsylvania to do the same. However, new this year, a time of joint meeting was held on Saturday afternoon that focused on reviewing recommendations from the Exploring Reconciliation Reference Team that the two Conferences voted to commission at the 2016 Assembly.
The Assembly was centered on Psalm 133:1,3b, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.” The theme was Life Together, as the focus of the Assembly was that while these two conference may have split 170 years ago, they continue to do life together. A large part of the Assembly business this year was to look at whether these conferences would take the next step in their relationship, to look even more intentionally at reconciliation and what it would look like if they were to merge into one conference.
The weekend began with Friday night worship led by Tami Good of Swamp Mennonite Church, which included a worship team of folks whose first languages were Indonesian, Spanish and English and who came from congregations in South Philadelphia, New Jersey, and Upper Bucks and Montgomery Counties. The opening prayer was given in Indonesian, Spanish, English and even Pennsylvania Dutch. Videos were shown that highlighted Souderton Mennonite Church’s Vocation as Mission internship program, “for young adults actively pursuing God’s kingdom in local communities.” Highlighted were the fact that the interns come from congregations across both conferences — most not even realizing there were two conferences — and the relationships built between the interns through Bible study, leadership and social issues trainings, as they worked side by side with local non-profits, businesses and ministries. The other video shown was about the ministries of Deep Run East and Deep Run West — one Franconia Conference church and one Eastern District church that happen to be across the street from one another. Their pastors, Ken Burkholder of Deep Run East and Rodger Schmell of Deep Run West, shared about how their congregations do ministry in such close proximity and how their relationship has changed over the years since their initial split. The worship time was followed by the annual ice cream social provided by Longacres Dairy.
Saturday morning, delegates began their day in separate Eastern District and Franconia Conference business sessions. This was a historic day for Franconia Conference as they became bi-coastal and accepted four new congregations as members, one from Flushing, New York and three from the Los Angeles, California area. Bethany Elshaddai Creative Community in New York is pastored by Hendy Stevans and has been connecting with Franconia Conference for about two years. Hendy is currently a student at Eastern Mennonite Seminary, attending classes at the Lancaster, Pennsylvania campus. The congregations in the Los Angeles area consist of Jemaat Kristen Indonesia Anugerah (JKIA) pastored by Virgo Handoyo, Indonesian Community Christian Fellowship pastored by Makmur Halim, and International Worship Church pastored by Buddy Hannarto. All three have had relationships with Franconia Conference for over a decade. The four congregations’ members are largely from Indonesia and joined with Franconia Conference pastors Aldo Siahaan of Philadelphia Praise Center and Beny Krisbianto of Nations Worship Center to share in a song. To learn more about these congregations check out their congregational profiles here. Following the 98% vote of affirmation to welcome these congregations, the delegates joined in singing songs in both English and Indonesian as a welcome.
The joint Franconia and Eastern District Conference Saturday worship was a time of song, remembering those who have passed on in the last year, and anointing 15 newly credentialed leaders. Following the anointing of the newly credentialed leaders, the leaders were dispersed throughout the auditorium and those in attendance were invited to be prayed over by them. It was truly a time of commissioning and sending forth. There was also a time of recognition of the Centennial of Mennonite Women USA and a video celebrating Eastern District and Franconia Conference’s shared Sistering Committee, a local chapter of Mennonite Women USA.
Following lunch by Landis’ Market, the delegates from Eastern District and Franconia Conferences joined one another around tables to hear from the Exploring Reconciliation Reference Team. The team reviewed their report that had been previously sent to the delegates, which can be accessed here. They also highlighted their recommendations. At their tables, the delegates were then invited to discuss any affirmations, concerns or questions they had regarding the report or the recommendations put forth. These were recorded on sheets of paper and submitted to be compiled and shared with those tasked at carrying out the recommendations, should the delegates vote to move forward with them.
The core recommendation from the team is that Eastern District and Franconia Conference “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.” In order to do this, the team recommended the forming of two teams: one to work intentionally at addressing the “spiritual and emotional components of reconciliation,” known as the “Healing and Reconciliation Team”, and the other being the “Identity Development and Structural Implementation Team,” tasked with managing “the process of forming a single unified conference, with particular attention to the structure, staffing, financial, and cultural realities of creating a single conference from the two existing conferences.”
Nancy Kauffman, Mennonite Church USA Denominational Minister for the two Conferences, closed the joint time in prayer.
After a short break, the conferences gathered in separate rooms where their delegates recorded on flip chart paper their largest affirmations and concerns regarding moving forward with the recommendations. Present were David Brubaker and Roxy Allen Kioko, consultants from Eastern Mennonite University who had been hired in 2016 and were working with the Exploring Reconciliation Reference Team. Following this and some open microphone time for questions and answers, the delegates voted. With a 90% affirmation from Franconia Conference and a 99% affirmation from Eastern District Conference, both agreed to move forward with working at reconciliation and exploring more formally what a merged conference will look like.
This means that over the next few weeks, both Conference Boards will be looking for nominations for the two teams presented in the recommendations. The goal will be to have these teams appointed no later than the end of the calendar year. According to the recommendations, there is a goal for the Healing and Reconciliation Team to hold a Reconciliation service at a Spring 2018 Assembly, and planning will therefore need to begin quickly. The Identity and Structural Development Team will, over the next two years, work to develop a shared mission and vision, a new organization chart and budget to be presented to the delegates in 2019. Therefore, a decision on whether or not these two conferences will merge will not come until 2019. Over the next few weeks, leaders of both conferences will work to address questions raised about the process. Keep your eye out for more information on that. To find out more about what is expected of these two teams and to nominate yourself or someone else for either team, click here. Nominations are due by Friday, December 1 at midnight.
To close this historic day, the two conferences joined together in song as they continue to look forward to Life Together.
For podcasts of the various business sessions and to view the videos shown at assembly, visit the Assembly page at: edc-fmc.org/assembly.
CLICK HERE to see a recap video of Conference 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/.
During the last staff meeting in this space in between, I invited my colleagues to share their celebrations and questions for the last month. Without exception, the celebrations and questions had to do with pastors. We celebrate the completion of pastoral search processes, with the beginning of Mike Spinelli’s leadership at Perkiomenville; the call of Maria Hosler Byler to an associate pastor role at Salford; Josh Jefferson’s installation and licensing last Sunday at Souderton as a youth pastor; and Sandy Drescher-Lehman’s beginning as pastor at Methacton. Many of these processes were lengthy discernments. We celebrate the new beginnings and new possibilities that leadership can bring in the life of our communities.
Our questions had to do with how we walk with pastors and congregations through difficult times. We wonder how God will provide with prolonged pastoral search processes at Franconia and Taftsville. We prayed as John Bender from Allentown who was in the hospital making difficult decisions between life and death, as he was readmitted to the University of Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia (he made the decision by the time our meeting had ended). We prayed for an upcoming surgery that Charlie Ness from Perkiomenville will be undergoing. These are all things we attend to as staff beyond our meeting time and carry in our hearts and heads.
The last month has meant focused attention on planning for Conference Assembly — a great time to celebrate the work God is doing in our midst, and spend time discerning and equipping ourselves for the future. Registration and the docket are available at http://edc-fmc.org/assembly/ to help us, as a conference, prepare for assembly at Penn View Christian School. Postcard invitations and posters will be coming to your congregations in the next two weeks. We’ve hosted and gotten some feedback from our time with David Boshart (moderator-elect) from Mennonite Church USA. We’re prepping for his return at assembly to discuss more specific issues around human sexuality that continue to challenge our capacity to be church together, while going to the margins to be and proclaim the Good News.
Our conference executive minister Ertell M. Whigham comes back on the job on Saturday, October 1. My season of this stretch of the race as acting executive minister has passed. I’m ready to return the baton and responsibilities back to Ertell as he navigates the next few months. I’ve learned a lot in these months. I’ve been busier than usual with meetings, emails, texts and phone calls. I have lots of hope for us as a community, but recognize our fragility at the same time. God continues to bless us with flourishing, and challenges enough to test and grow our hearts, minds, and souls.
At the beginning of these three months, I felt drawn to the text to “live a life worthy of my calling.” This time, ending this stretch, I want to turn that text back over to us as individuals and a community, to stay focused on the things we’ve discerned together, and to live, work and minister together in such a way that honors the sense of call that exemplifies what God has invited us toward in extending the peace of Christ to each other and to neighbors nearby and faraway.
On Saturday, September 10, in lieu of pre-assembly scattered meetings, members of Franconia Conference were joined by their sisters and brother from Eastern District Conference at Franconia Mennonite Church for a morning of dialogue and discernment around the topic of promises and practices. This dialogue was led by David Boshart, moderator-elect of Mennonite Church USA (MCUSA) and executive conference minister for Central Plains Mennonite Conference.
The day began with worship led by Larry and Doris Diener of the Franconia congregation, followed by David Boshart offering insight into why he has hope for MCUSA. He stated that while he has hope, he finds that his hope for a “vibrant future for Mennonite Church USA is provisional.” He offered three provisions he sees, stating, “there is a vibrant future for Mennonite Church USA provided that we:
Rekindle the gift of God’s grace that has made us alive through the power of the cross of Jesus.
Keep the good works for which we have been created in proper perspective.
Recover our joy in our common life through covenant and spiritual practice.”
In the second part of the morning, David spoke of promises and a “biblical understanding of covenant that originates with God and which we have received through our baptism.” Specifically saying that, “our mission as a church is to bear witness to this covenant by embodying together, and by God’s grace, the way of the kingdom.”
It was brought up that covenant is mentioned throughout the denominational documents both in the Confession of Faith and Membership Guidelines – a covenant being, “an offer of a holistic relationship based on an unconditional promise memorialized in a sign.”
David demonstrated how often the church seems to work out of a more contractual relationship, standing face to face, looking to Jesus on the side, rather than a covenantal relationship, standing shoulder to shoulder, looking at Jesus.
He also spoke of his own conference, Central Plains, and their search for unity, mentioning that they have asked themselves, “is it possible to find our unity in common spiritual practices?” From that, they went on to develop A Covenant of Spiritual Practices.
There was discussion times throughout the morning where attendees were asked to discuss the following three questions:
How might understanding our relationships within the denomination as covenantal be a gift to us rather than a burden?
How do our expectation for one another change when we move from face to face orientation where we are the negotiators to a shoulder to shoulder orientation where we are all trying to draw closer to Jesus?
Does covenanting to common spiritual practices offer more hope for the future of MCUSA than doctrinal uniformity? (Recognizing there is tension between the two and this is not a choice of one or the other, but perhaps a recalibration of the tension.)
Following the morning session, credentialed leaders and those pastoring Franconia Conference congregations were invited to stay for further giving and receiving counsel on relationships between congregations, conference, and MCUSA. This came as a request from the conference board who was seeking counsel and wishing to hear the perspective of Franconia Conference credentialed leaders and those pastoring the conference congregations.
As Franconia Mennonite Conference embarks on how to live together as the Church — one body in Christ — the conference board and staff will be working with congregations who are interested in drafting and submitting Church Together Statements for consideration by the delegate body at Fall Assembly. These statements are an opportunity for pastors and congregation members to shape the focus and work of the conference.
A Church Together Statement is more than just a document. It is a process where the conference engages issues with respect and Christian love. The process for the statements has been developed to aid, as the conference seeks to live out the words of scripture, that “Everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way,” (I Corinthians 14:40), and to be a discerning community so that together, the conference can reach an understanding that “seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (Acts 15:28).
The board has specifically requested statements that:
Support the conference’s mission of equipping leaders to empower others to embrace God’s mission
Propose ways in which we apply the MC USA Kansas City resolutions to our Franconia Mennonite Conference context
Propose ways for Franconia Mennonite Conference pastors and congregations to continue to deepen relationships in 2016
Once an individual has an idea for a statement, they should engage in a time of scriptural study and discernment, preferably with their congregation or Conference Related Ministry (CRM). This study should include a time for hearing differing viewpoints and it is expected that they will be heard with a spirit of seeking to understand the basis of viewpoints that may be different.
Upon drafting the statement, the individual author or group must receive affirmation for their statement from their congregational leadership body (board, elders, deacons, etc.), CRM board, or a conference-related committee. The affirmation of the statement by one of those bodies must be included at the end of the statement, along with the name and contact information of a point person. Any Church Together Statement submitted will also need to be accompanied by a written statement containing:
the purpose and/or reason for the proposed Church Together Statement
the intended consequences of the adoption of the Church Together Statement
the name and contact information of the congregation, CRM, or conference committee with a designated contact person proposing the Church Together Statement
After having drafted the Church Together Statement, receiving affirmation, and composing the written statement with the above information, the Church Together Statement should then be submitted to the conference administrative staff. Send statements to BFischer@FranconiaConference.orgby September 14, 2015. The administrative staff will then pass the statements on to the Church Together Statements Committee.
The committee will review the statements; they may ask for more information and will work with the author(s) to provide guidance and suggestions in the wording of the statement in an effort to decrease possible confusion or unintended consequences. The committee will also discern with pastors, as well as conference board and staff, which Church Together Statements should be part of our fall Conference Assembly. In order to allow ample time for delegates to discern the statements, the committee will only be putting forward a limited number at Conference Assembly.
Once the committee has identified statements for fall Assembly, those statements will be sent to the conference board, who will engage in corporate discernment regarding their suitability for consideration by the delegate body. Among questions considered by the board (but not limited to) are:
Does the proposed statement enable us to join God’s activities in the world?
Does the proposed statement enable us to live and act in ways that allow God’s healing and hope to flow through us to the world?
Does the proposed statement advance FMC’s mission, and guide us toward God’s preferred future for us?
As a result of its discernment process, the conference board may take any of the following actions:
Bless the forwarding of the Church Together Statement to the delegate body for action at the annual conference assembly
Return the Church Together Statement to the committee with recommendations for further review and editing
Not forward the Church Together Statement, if it is determined that it does not further the purposes for which statements are adopted, or that it does not have sufficient church-wide support, impact or interest to merit delegate assembly time devoted to such proposed statements. If a statement is not forwarded, the conference board may provide to the author(s) other suggested avenues for consideration
The Church Together Statements Committee, conference board and staff will be working diligently over the next few months to support all of the conference churches in this process. For more information on the Church Together Statements and the committee, see the Intersectings article Being Church Together – FMC invites Resolution/Statements at Fall Assembly. The full Church Together Statement Policy can be viewed here. Questions related to specifics about the Church Together Statements should be directed to Ertell Whigham, executive minister, or Joe Hackman, Church Together Statements Committee Chair. For assistance with drafting a Church Together Statement, contact your local LEADership Minister.