Tag Archives: Conference Assembly

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/.

 

Worthy of our Calling to Extend Christ’s Peace

by Stephen Kriss

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.

Conference staff took a road trip with Pastor Bruce Eglinton-Woods (Salem), to explore the community where the congregation is ministering.

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.

Promises & Practices: Recap of the Conference-Wide Gathering

By Barbie Fischer

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.

boshart2The 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:

  1. Rekindle the gift of God’s grace that has made us alive through the power of the cross of Jesus.
  2. Keep the good works for which we have been created in proper perspective.
  3. 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.”

boshart1It 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:

  1. How might understanding our relationships within the denomination as covenantal be a gift to us rather than a burden?
  2. 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?
  3. 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.

Boshart_David_2014To hear the full audio of David Boshart’s presentation and view his PowerPoint, visit: http://franconiaconference.org/media/audio-gallery/.

Submitting a Church Together Statement

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.

Church together photo 8-6-15A 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:

  1. the purpose and/or reason for the proposed Church Together Statement
  2. the intended consequences of the adoption of the Church Together Statement
  3. 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.org by 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:

  1. Bless the forwarding of the Church Together Statement to the delegate body for action at the annual conference assembly
  2. Return the Church Together Statement to the committee with recommendations for further review and editing
  3. 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.

Being Church Together – FMC invites Resolution/Statements at Fall Assembly

_MG_2504Franconia Mennonite Conference is one body in Christ, as 1 Corinthians 12:13-14 says. Yet living as one body, is not always easy as there are many parts to the whole.

Throughout Franconia Mennonite Conference we see the different parts of the body of Christ as we have differences in perspectives, mindsets and convictions. Yet, as one body, it is important to be able to move forward together.

This year, the conference board has decided to invite resolutions for discernment at conference assembly. In the Franconia Mennonite Conference context these “resolutions” will be known as Church Together Statements. These statements give pastors, delegates, and congregations a way to shape the focus and work of the conference, proposing to the body how to live and move forward as we are church together.

In a letter sent earlier this week to pastors, _MG_2333Ertell Whigham, executive minister, and Joe Hackman, Church Together Statements committee chair, stated, “At this year’s assembly we will not entertain Church Together Statements that recommend changes to Franconia Mennonite Conference bylaws or polity. Rather, we seek statements that continue to foster a deepening of relationship and witness between pastors and congregations. We appreciate all you have been doing to build relationships through the conference and hope this spirit of one body is reflected in the Church Together Statements.”

The letter goes on to say, Church Together Statements are invited that:

  • Support the conference’s mission of equipping leaders to empower others to embrace God’s mission.
  • Propose ways in which to apply the MC USA Kansas City resolutions to the Franconia Mennonite Conference context.
  • Propose ways for Franconia Mennonite Conference pastors and congregations to continue to deepen relationships in 2016.

All Church Together Statements will be submitted to the conference administrative coordinator to be reviewed by the Church Together Statements committee. This committee represents some of the geographical, cultural, and theological diversity present in the conference. The committee consists of Joe Hackman (Salford) as chair, Angela Moyer (Ripple) as co-chair, Aldo Siahann (Philadelphia Praise Center), Robin Long (Blooming Glen), Ken Burkholder (Deep Run East), Kris Wint (Finland), and Donella Clemens (Perkasie).

This committee will discern with pastors, and conference board and staff which of the Church Together Statements should be brought before the delegate assembly this fall. For more information on Church Together Statements and the process for submission take a look at the Church Together Statements Policy for Franconia Mennonite Conference Delegate Discussion and Action.

The Calling of a Delegate

By Barbie Fischer

delegates photo-webAs Conference Assembly is approaching, it’s time that we discern who within our midst is called to be a delegate for our congregations. All ordained and licensed leaders who hold active credentials in Franconia Mennonite Conference are called to be delegates. All conference board members are called to be delegates. In addition, congregations are given the opportunity to discern who from their elders and deacons may be called to be a delegate and also who amongst their congregation members may be called to be a lay delegate.

A delegate is defined as one who is chosen or elected to vote or act on behalf of, or for, others. In the context of the conference, a delegate is not just a role — it is a call. A call to represent a piece of the body of Christ. A call to represent a congregation or conference related ministry. Delegates are a vital piece to the functioning of the conference.

1 Corinthians 12: 13-14 says “For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.”

The fact that the body of Christ is made up of different parts is evident in Franconia Mennonite Conference as we have differences in perspectives, mindsets and convictions. Yet, as we are all part of one body, it is important that we are able to move forward together. In order to do this we must confer with one another, listen and hear from the different parts of the body.

Every year, Conference Assembly is set aside for delegates from each congregation and conference related ministries to listen, hear, and “discern the direction of the conference vision and objectives by conferring together.” (Franconia Mennonite Conference bylaws Article IV, Section 1).

To aid delegates in their call, Franconia Mennonite Conference has created a Delegate Ministry Description, outlining that delegates are expected to:

  • pray for God’s Spirit to lead us all in being a faithful and worshipping community.
  • keep aware of what is happening within Franconia Mennonite Conference between assembly sessions and facilitate two-way communication between their congregation and the conference.
  • attend and participate in all regular and special conference assembly sessions.
  • provide a post-assembly report to their congregation.

Deacon/Elder and lay delegates are chosen by their congregations. In order for the conference to assist in equipping these delegates for Assembly, it is important that they are identified by their congregations on an annual basis and that the congregations affirm that their appointed delegate(s) are able to attend the Conference Assembly, scheduled this year for November 14th.

As Conference Assembly is quickly approaching, the conference will be supplying congregational leaders with information to assist in discerning their deacon or elder, and lay delegates.  A delegate selection worksheet and guidelines can be found HERE and a copy of the delegate ministry description can be seen HERE.

May the Holy Spirit guide us as we discern who is called to represent our piece of the body of Christ. May the Spirit grant us wisdom as we discern together as the body of Christ the next steps for our conference.

Delegates commit to waiting, hoping, discerning at Assembly

Bob & Bonnie Stevenson
Charlie Ness (Perkiomenville) and Bonnie Stevenson pray for Bob Stevenson before he brings the message during Friday night worship. Photo by Emily Ralph

by Emily Ralph, associate director of communication

“Waiting on God is expectant and hopeful,” declared Marta Castillo, Franconia Conference’s outgoing assistant moderator, at the opening of the United Franconia and Eastern District Conferences’ 2014 Assembly.  The theme of this year’s gathering, held November 14-15 at Penn View Christian School in Souderton, Pa., was “Esperando: Waiting & Hoping.”

“We’re not waiting for something, we’re waiting for somebody,” added Bob Stevenson during Friday evening worship.  “Waiting is not just a passive sitting back.  And so the word I have is that we wait ‘until’ [we receive the power of the Spirit] and then we get up and go!”

Stevenson and his wife Bonnie were called and commissioned as missionaries to Mexico at a Franconia Conference Assembly 26 years before.  They were celebrated Friday night as they reached a milestone in their ministry: the transition from raising missionary support from the States to full funding through their congregation.  “I thank the Lord for allowing us to be a part of this conference,” Bonnie responded after she and Bob were presented with a Spanish fraktur created by Salford congregation member Roma Ruth.  “There are many times on Friday morning when we have our prayer together … that we pray for each one of your congregations by name.”

praying for Danilo Sanchez
Conference leaders pray for Danilo Sanchez, Whitehall, one of this year’s newly credentialed leaders. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

The theme of leaders raised up and called from within the Conference continued on Saturday during the joint delegate session, when the gathering recognized a number of newly credentialed leaders who were licensed out of Franconia congregations.  “Where do our pastors come from?” asked Steve Kriss, Franconia Conference director of leadership cultivation.  “They come because you invite them.”

This year also saw the credentialing of leaders from other conferences and denominational backgrounds, adding to Franconia’s increasing diversity.  “Diversity is a catalyst for growth,” reflected Jessica Hedrick, Souderton congregation, during table feedback.  Her table encouraged conference delegates to prioritize prayer and, as corporate discernment continued, to recognize “the opportunity to learn from each other instead of necessarily trying to get everyone to agree.”

KrisAnne Swartley praying
KrisAnne Swartley, Doylestown, joins in prayer for the other congregations at her table. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

The theme of listening well and together wove through many of the stories and hopes shared throughout the weekend.  Danilo Sanchez, Whitehall congregation, named three areas that it seemed the majority of delegates were wrestling with: “Listening to the Spirit, how to sit with our differences, and how to love like Christ.”

The Franconia Conference Board asked delegates to consider what kind of conversations needed to be planned leading up to the Mennonite Church USA convention in Kansas City next summer, knowing the likelihood that Convention will include decisions about denominational structure and human sexuality.  Many delegates agreed that the questions of structure and sexuality only skimmed the surface; perhaps there were other questions that should be asked instead.

delegates conferring
Delegates discussed difficult issues around tables with grace and laughter. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

Josh Meyer, Franconia congregation, wondered how the upcoming dialogue could form those participating into the image of Christ.  “How we have this conversation is just as important as any decisions that we make,” he said.  “It doesn’t matter what we decide in Kansas City; if we don’t treat each other as sisters and brothers in Christ, then we’ve missed the point.”

Throughout the weekend, conference leadership encouraged delegates to actively wait on the Spirit, to take time for stillness and listening, and to collaborate in acts of justice and mercy.  “We must not become paralyzed by the issues of the day,” encouraged Eastern District moderator Brenda Oelschlager, “but move forward in love … as God leads us along new paths.”

Several new paths highlighted included a new Lehigh Valley collaboration in hiring Sanchez as youth minister, welcoming two new Philadelphia congregations (Centro de Alabanza and Indonesian Light Church) into an exploration of membership in Franconia Conference, and the move of the Mennonite Conference Center to the campus of Christopher Dock Mennonite High School in Lansdale (Pa.).

Aldo Siahaan introduces new congregations
LEADership Minister Aldo Siahaan introduces two new congregations exploring membership in Franconia Conference: Centro de Alabanza and Indonesian Light Church. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

Although 2014 saw the beginnings of new ministries and the licensing of many new pastors, it also brought the deaths of three influential church leaders: Paul Lederach, John Drescher, and Israel Bolaños.  In reflecting on their legacies, Kriss encouraged delegates to remember them by carrying on their work of teaching, writing, and mission.

“The gospel isn’t good news until someone takes it and goes with it,” Bob Stevenson agreed.  The power which sends the church is not political or force, but “a power that is a ‘preach the gospel to the poor’ power, it’s a ‘healing the broken heart’ power….  What will change this world is us, God’s people.”

Why should we wait for the impossible?

by Beny Krisbianto, Nations Worship

Beny KrisbiantoThe words “waiting” and “impossible” aren’t fun words to discuss. The word “boring” is usually associated with the word “waiting” and the word “finished” or “dead” are often related to the word “impossible.” Why do we have to wait, if the thing that we are waiting for is impossible? It seems like acting in vain.

Not too long ago, I experienced a long period of waiting when I traveled back to my hometown of Jember, Indonesia. It takes at least twenty-eight hours in flight and four hours by car to get to this town in East Java, Indonesia. I still remember that in my time of waiting, I did everything that I could think of on the airplane, include praying, reading, reflecting, etc, to kill the time, so that I could enjoy my flight. But it still felt boring. Waiting is not fun, but sometimes it’s necessary.

In 1998, we had riot in Jakarta, the capitol city of Indonesia. In that tragedy, almost 3000 Chinese Christians were killed by radical Muslims. Since then, Indonesian Christians have been praying for justice and peace in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country on earth. For almost a decade, the Christians’ prayer has seemed impossible: no result and no progress. In some places in Indonesia, the persecution is even worse than before.

But surprisingly, God is answering the impossible prayer request of the Christians. Today, the Indonesian government passed a law that Christians should have the same opportunities as everyone else in Indonesia, and as I am writing this blog, the people of Jakarta just elected the first Chinese Christian governor. He will lead almost 15 million people in Jakarta in the next few years. Many people mentioned that he could also became the next president of Indonesia.

Nobody ever thought the day would come when a Chinese Christian would sit in the one of the most important public offices in a Muslim country like Indonesia. Indonesian Christians are giving thanks to the Lord for this historic moment. He is truly the God of the impossible. With God all things are possible.

The Word of God encourages us to wait upon the Lord. Before experiencing a great thing in life, most of the time, a process of waiting is required. Some times, God makes even his children wait, especially when we are waiting for things that are impossible for humans like us. I believe that waiting on the Lord is not passive, but an active action. Waiting on the Lord also includes praying, hoping, and believing that those things will come to pass. Several times, I’ve faced some impossible situations in life and ministry; however, when we didn’t give up, it finally changed. Let’s continue our prayer and hope in God until those impossible prayers are answered.

Our theme for this year’s joint Conference Assembly with Eastern District Conference is “Esperando: Waiting & Hoping.”  Conference Assembly will be held November 14-15 at Penn View Christian School in Souderton, Pa.  For more information: assembly.franconiaconference.org.

Waiting for the pain to end

by Michael A. Meneses, Wellspring Church of SkippackMichael Meneses

It was a cold Sunday morning. It had snowed the day before, and though the church parking lot had been plowed, there were ice puddles everywhere. I was walking across the lot in a no-nonsense, got-business-to-take-care-of way when it happened: my right foot landed on a patch of ice. My foot twisted backward, facing the opposite direction as the rest of my body.

It was the most excruciating pain I’ve ever experienced. I laid there on the icy ground until someone found me and an ambulance took me away.

Yet that’s nothing compared to the pain I experienced when my brother died in January 1984. He would have turned 30 that March; I was nearly 28. How does one explain that kind of pain, the pain of a heart cut through by great loss?

Call it soul pain, a shattered heart: pitch-dark, deeply penetrating waves of grief that leave you raw and exposed. Your heart spasms and you can’t breathe. Dizzy with disbelief, you want to shout and cry out: “It can’t be! Can it? How could it? This is not real! Is it?” It’s as if your soul has swallowed some horrible, ugly truth that you want to vomit out, but you can’t.

There are other hurts: the pain of scorn or rejection. The hurt of ridicule and shame. And you, too, have been hurt in one way or another; all of us have. Indeed, many are hurting even now, as I write these words.

Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am.” I might have said, “I hurt, therefore I am.” For some, it hurts just to live. And without hope, a Comforter, something better to look forward to, how can anyone bear the pain of it all?

Yet, when it comes to suffering, the Apostle Paul, who was no stranger to the pangs of suffering, said that the sufferings of this present time are not even worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed to us in the end. Indeed, all of creation, which suffers along with us, eagerly awaits its freedom “from its bondage to decay” when we come into the fullness of our redemption (Romans 8:18-25).

The interesting thing about suffering, and perhaps most frustrating, is this: God does not promise to prevent pain and suffering in our lives. No matter how faithful we are, or how spiritually deep we become, God gives us no guarantee that he will relieve us from suffering in this life. In fact, the very opposite may be true: growing deeper and more faithful with God may actually result in more earthly suffering. Nevertheless, God does promise to be with us as we endure suffering.

Perhaps our hurts and our ever-present sufferings fall under the category of Christ’s command to pick up the cross and follow Him. Jesus Himself was no stranger to extreme pain and suffering, having endured the sufferings of the cross. Thus, Jesus is no alien to what we feel and experience in our own earthly sufferings (Hebrews 2:18; 1 Peter 3:18). Perhaps Jesus knows more about the depths of our sufferings than we do ourselves.

Therefore, we are not to live life avoiding suffering at all cost, running from suffering at every turn, or numbing ourselves from suffering by any means, such as the use of drugs and alcohol. In many ways, we are expected to readily face the painful experiences of our lives head-on, especially the inner, emotional pain of spirit and soul, heart and mind. And while we do, we are to allow the Lord to do his work within us, to change, renew, and transform us by its means.

And so, even as we hurt and carry what seems to be unbearable pain in our lives, we remain steadfast with great expectancy. We look forward to something better. Even as we deal with what may appear to be unendurable agony, our trust, our faith, our hope, and our promise is that it will end in due time. And it will have been worth it, once we find ourselves on the other side of it.

Like Paul, Peter also encourages us with the promise and eager anticipation of final relief in the face of suffering: “And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.” (2 Peter 5:10-11).

Our theme for this year’s joint Conference Assembly with Eastern District Conference is “Esperando: Waiting & Hoping.”  Conference Assembly will be held November 14-15 at Penn View Christian School in Souderton, Pa.  For more information: assembly.franconiaconference.org.

Waiting together in the cold

by John Stoltzfus, conference youth minister

John M StoltzfusRecently, I spent three days with a group of conference leaders who work in youth ministry. This is an annual gathering at a beach house that has no agenda other than to be with one another, share what is happening in our lives and ministries, and eat some good food. Let’s just say that youth workers know how to have a good time when we get together!

What dominated our conversation this time, however, was a lament of the current state of affairs in Mennonite Church USA: the dwindling numbers and interest in the events we plan for youth and youth workers; the fracturing of churches and conferences; the passive aggressive behavior which is so prevalent in conflicts; a lack of healthy leadership (including disappointment in ourselves); the church caving to cultural patterns of polarizing behavior; a lack of the empathy and forbearance in our church relationships that love requires; the list could go on. As we dug our toes into the sand, we waited with one another and sought to listen deeply in our grief and disappointment.

One of us commented that it feels like we are in a waiting period. We are waiting for what will be torn down and what will emerge. It didn’t help the mood that the weather was overcast and there was a chill to the wind coming off the ocean. Someone volunteered to go and collect coats and blankets so that we could stay warm.

Yet, as we huddled together, we also noticed signs of hope. We shared stories of emerging faith and maturity in our children. The more seasoned parents among us noted that this can take a long time. We noticed signs of new life and emerging ministries in our churches and conferences. We rejoiced in the collaborative spirit we often see among youth pastors and workers. We reflected on the increased interest in Anabaptist thought and practice from groups and churches outside the Mennonite Church. We chuckled with holy amazement as we swapped stories of “problem” youth in our youth groups who grow up to be effective and mature Christian leaders.

We need places in our faith community where we can grieve together and share our disappointments. We also need community to help us move beyond ourselves and notice where God is stirring on the edges. We can choose to focus on the fears and anxieties of what we perceive is being lost or we can lean into the assurance that what God is bringing about is good even if we have a hard time imagining what it might look like.

In this time of uncertainty, I long for a renewed sense of community to emerge that is willing to wait with one another until Christ returns. Each generation in the church has a new set of perplexing issues and challenges and we are fooling ourselves if we think we can ever come to a final resolution to settle our differences. Our youth need to see the church model a way to be authentic community together when so much in our world is fragmenting and tearing apart.  I long for a church that has a vision of the community that will one day gather around God’s banquet table and then seeks to live into that community today.

I long for a community that is willing to simply be with one another even when the weather is overcast and cold.

Our theme for this year’s joint Conference Assembly with Eastern District Conference is “Esperando: Waiting & Hoping.”  Conference Assembly will be held November 14-15 at Penn View Christian School in Souderton, Pa.  For more information: assembly.franconiaconference.org.