Tag Archives: Conference Board

Board Welcomes Smita Singh

By Angela Moyer, co-pastor at Ripple and Conference Board Member

Smita Singh was appointed to the Franconia Conference Board by delegate affirmation at the Fall 2016 Assembly, beginning her first term with the Board in January, 2017. Smita is a member at Whitehall Mennonite Church in the Lehigh Valley since 2000, when she immigrated to the United Stated with her husband Naveen and son Ronak.

Growing up in Nagpur, India, Smita was raised in a Christian home with church and faith as an integral part of her upbringing. She was actively involved with her church youth group, Youth for Christ (YFC), Evangelical Students Union (EU), children’s ministry, National Council of Church’s in India (NCCI) and Maharashtra Village Ministries (MVM). She has led women’s groups and youth groups through BSF International (Bible Study Fellowship), and as a member of Whitehall, Smita has worked in children’s ministry, helped with fundraisers and served on the budget committee and worship planning committee.

She graduated from Nagpur University with a Bachelors in Computer Science. She then received her Master’s Degrees in Business Administration specializing in finance and marketing. Smita has experience as a Google Quality Rating Consultant and also owns an Etsy business, “Rosmina Collections.” Recently, she began working in the Customer Service Department at Nestle.

Janet Byler, Smita Singh, and Ron Bender finished out a long line of blessings and anointing for Pastor Rose Bender at her ordination in 2012.

Initially, Smita was not interested in being on the Board at Franconia Conference, but after prayer, both she and Naveen sensed that this was a call to move out of her comfort zone, especially after having an encouraging conversation with Steve Kriss, then the Director of Leadership Development.  Now, she is looking forward to discovering how she can use her gifts and experience to serve in this role and hopes to fulfill God’s calling.

Her favorite passage of Scripture is Isaiah 41:10, “Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” She says she connects to God best by having her quiet time praying and seeking His word for discernment.

Smita describes Whitehall Mennonite as an eclectic group of people filled with hospitality, diverse in speech and culture, with a common goal to serve the Lord and care for each other. Something she has learned at Whitehall is that God is faithful and always provides in unexpected ways. Transformation happens one person at a time and many times the transformation takes place years after the seed was planted.

Rose Bender, Pastor at Whitehall Mennonite Church says, “Folks at Whitehall appreciate Smita’s creativity, generosity, and delicious cooking!  Because of her life experience and background, Smita often has a different perspective to add to the conversation – a part of the rich fabric of diversity at Whitehall Mennonite Church. She is a joy to pastor and work alongside in ministry.”

Smita lives in Breinigsville, PA with her husband, and now 14-year-old son.  In her free time, she enjoys making cards, helping her son with his school projects, volunteering at church, and as a volunteer coach for Springhouse Middle School Science Olympiad Team.


Board Welcomes Paula Marolewski

By Barbie Fischer

paula-photo-3The Franconia Conference board will welcome Paula Marolewski as a new board member at their September 19 meeting. Paula has been a member of Perkiomenville Mennonite Church (Pennsylvania) for sixteen years.

As a member of Perkiomenville, Paula has served in many roles, including adult Sunday School teacher, Minister of Education, and member of the Ministry Council. She was also brought onto the Elder Team in 2013, providing her with the opportunity to contribute to the spiritual leadership and direction of the congregation.

Paula hails from the state of New York, having moved to Pennsylvania in 1995. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Creative Writing, graduating in 1993 as salutatorian from Houghton College (Houghton, NY). While very involved in her home congregation, Perkiomenville, Paula also runs her own business as a copywriter, developing marketing materials for companies to promote their products and services.

paula-photo-2In speaking of her congregation, Paula stated that she loves the people: “I have no immediate family in this area, and the people at Perk have truly stepped in and filled that role. The friendships I have developed are deep and abiding, and give me fellowship and support as we share the victories and challenges of life.”

Paula brings many gifts and talents with her to this new role as Franconia Conference board member, including her professional experience in communications. “As part of the Conference board, I hope to help lead the conference into the unity that we desire in a manner that is true to the Word of God and that honors Jesus whom we serve,” Paula said.

“Paula’s leadership skills which have been developed as an active leader at the Perkiomenville Mennonite Church as well as her communication skills will add important value to the conference board.” Stated John Goshow, conference moderator.

Paula (right) with her sister Ariane (left) in Glacier National Park.
Paula (right) with her sister Ariane (left) in Glacier National Park.

While her hobbies frequently change (she has enjoyed sculpting, ballroom dancing, and stained glass over the years, among other activities), she does enjoy a few constants, including traveling with her sister, taking photos, and tending to her garden.

Paula affirmed, “My whole desire and God’s calling on my life is summed up in II Peter 3:18: to help others ‘grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.’ As a result, my Christian walk has been characterized by a deep love for the Word of God, a hunger to learn more about God, an appreciation for theology, and a commitment to teach and disciple others.”

Paula invites those interested in knowing more about her to explore her Christian writings on www.sinkyourroots.com and her counsel on anxiety at www.thrivenowseminars.com.


Board Welcomes Kris Wint

By Colin Ingram, communication intern

KrisWint1The Franconia Conference board affirmed Kris Wint as a new member at their January meeting following his nomination by several conference delegates. He is currently lead pastor at Finland Mennonite Church in Pennsburg, PA where he has been attending since 2001 and a member since 2003.

Kris was licensed toward ordination with Franconia Conference in 2012 while still a student at Biblical Theological Seminary in Hatfield, PA. He became connected to the conference through one of his professors, Steve Kriss, conference director of leadership cultivation and congregational resourcing.  After processing theologies from across the globe through course work and travel to Asia and Israel, he graduated with a Master of Divinity in 2014.

Last year Kris’s ordination was affirmed by the conference ministerial committee.  Kris also served this past year on the board appointed church together statements committee that worked to discern with pastors, and conference board and staff which of the Church Together Statements would be brought before the delegate assembly last fall.

KrisWint3Kris was raised with a blend of Methodist and Baptist perspectives, yet found himself drawn to Anabaptism when introduced to it by his then girlfriend, now wife, Ginger as a senior in high school. After living a lifestyle of what Kris calls “practical atheism,” believing in God but acting as if God didn’t exist, Kris reports being transformed by God’s love in an Anabaptist context.

“God was leading me through a life of religion to a place of really following Jesus,” Kris says.

KrisWint2After high school, He went on to obtain a degree in Business Management with a focus in Human Resources from Pennsylvania State University and began working as a training manager for Haines & Kibblehouse. Kris stated during this time God led him to Seminary and so he began course work at Biblical Theological Seminary.

Working in Human Resources groomed Kris for communicating and “making things practical and relatable in the business world.”

As he begins his first term with the conference board, Kris says this is “another piece of the journey following where Jesus led.”

His strengths include turning vision into practical expressions and equipping others. He looks forward to assisting the board in equipping conference congregations to attain the vision the delegates have set for the conference.

KrisWint4Kris is a husband, father and pastor seeking to lead people to Jesus. His wife Ginger has strong family ties to Franconia Conference and they enjoy being near family as they are raising their four children: Chloe, age 7, Logan, age 6, Paige, age 3, and Jace, age 1.

What most energizes Kris is “hearing how lives are impacted by Jesus, stories of change, seeing God at work.” He also enjoys enjoy spending time with his wife Ginger, playing with their “kiddos,” tending to their chickens and goat, being outside, playing sports, and listening to music.

Read about Kris’s Ordination here: http://franconiaconference.org/finland-congregation-celebrates-ordination-of-kris-wint/

The story of an overactive imagination

Delegates confer around tables at Assembly 2012.  Photo by Andrew Huth.
Delegates confer around tables at Assembly 2012. Photo by Andrew Huth.

by Emily Ralph, associate director of communication

“It used to be that we all showed up at Conference Assembly to see what we were going to argue about that year,” my friend told me.  We laughed together, but I knew there was truth in her statement: our conference gatherings have not always been places for burying the hatchet or beating swords into plowshares.

And now, this year, our Conference Board has offered the delegate body a statement about diversity to discuss and discern together.

What were they thinking?

That’s when my overactive imagination jumps into full gear.  I can imagine some people preparing for battle while others run to hide in the back corner of their basement.  I can picture some people researching their arguments and creating bullet-pointed lists, using 10-point font on both sides of the page, while others research how to heat a thermometer to the perfect “fever” temperature so that they can call in sick that day.  And while my imagination goes wild, my anxiety level steadily rises.

But does it have to be that way?  Can we let our imaginations, which often fear the worst, have a Sabbath as we prepare for this year’s Assembly?  Can we join God in dreaming about the here but not-yet-here world in which the lion lays with the lamb and the child plays with the cobra, not because the lion has stopped being a lion or the cobra is no longer a cobra but because the spirit and presence of Jesus in their midst has allowed them to lay side by side without devouring one another?

Is it possible to imagine that we could talk about difficult and possibly divisive issues without, well, devouring one another?  Our Conference Board—members of Conference congregations who have been elected to leadership—suggest that we can.  “As board representatives from diverse Franconia Conference congregations, our hope and prayer is that God’s love for us and our love for each other will call us to grow together in our differences,” they say in their statement, “so that God’s healing and hope flow through us to the world.”

Is it possible for us to imagine that our conferring this November will lead to healing and hope?  It almost seems too good to be true.  But our God has already shown that he is in the business of “too good to be true:” bringing healing and hope in our relationship with Eastern District after 150 years of tension and division; bringing healing and hope to our conference after the decision-making crisis of 2010 left us shaken and distrustful; bringing healing and hope to Nueva Vida Norristown New Life last year when they were about to lose their building—and bringing healing and hope to our Conference through their witness to racial reconciliation; bringing healing and hope to Philadelphia neighborhoods where we have camped out in front of gun shops, marched on behalf of undocumented immigrants, and advocated for the homeless, veterans, our children.  These are just some of our corporate stories of times that God has worked through us to bring healing and hope to broken relationships, systems, and the world.

If God could do all that, then I imagine that God could do this, too.

“And now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is [still] @ work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!   Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)

Conference Board announces new appointment

Klaudia Smuckerby Gay Brunt Miller, Director of Administration

Franconia Conference Board members took action to appoint Klaudia Smucker as a new member of the Conference Board at the April 22 board meeting.

Smucker serves as pastor of Bally Mennonite Church, a role she assumed in 2010. She came to Franconia with extensive pastoral and conference leadership experience in Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference.  “We are thankful that Klaudia has chosen to use her considerable experience and wisdom on behalf of Franconia Conference,” said Conference Moderator and Board Chair John Goshow.

Conference Board members began discussing the addition of a few board members after Mim Book, who served as Assistant Moderator 2010-2011, resigned from her role 2011 to take an interim pastoral assignment in Nebraska. Marta Castillo, already a board member, was affirmed by delegates to fill this role, leaving the Conference Board short one member and further widening the gap of gender balance. Following a period of discernment, Smucker’s name came forward as a strong candidate. She met with the Conference Board Executive Committee in February and board members acted on the recommendation of the Executive Committee to officially affirm her at their April meeting.

Smucker’s appointment is in alignment with the Conference’s bylaws, which stipulate, “the Conference Assembly shall appoint, by affirmation, a majority of the Conference Board membersThe Conference Board may appoint several additional members to the Conference Board for overall board balance and perspective.”

“I am honored to be asked, and looking forward to working on the Franconia Conference Board with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ,” reflected Smucker.  “I know that church work at all levels is complex and can be messy.  I believe that united in prayer and through the love of Christ, God will continue to do amazing things within Franconia Conference and its churches!”

Smucker joins continuing board members Marta Castillo (Nueva Vida/Norristown New Life), John Goshow (Blooming Glen), Joe Hackman (Salford), Jim King (Plains), Beny Krisbianto (Nations Worship), Jim Laverty (Souderton), Jim Longacre (Bally), Mary Nitzsche (Blooming Glen), Randy Nyce (Salford), Rina Rampogu (Plains). With the exception of Rampogu, all other Conference Board members have been affirmed by Conference Assembly delegates.

Conference board and staff review vision & finance goals

by Emily Ralph, eralph@franconiaconference.org

board and staff discuss vision
Staff members listen intently as board members take turns in the "fishbowl," discussing the VFP. Pictured here are board members (L to R, inside) Rina Rampogu, Beny Krisbianto, Nelson Shenk, and Randy Nyce and staff members (L to R, outside) Steve Kriss, Noah Kolb, and Conrad Martin. Photo by Emily Ralph.

Franconia Conference board and staff decided last month to phase out the conference’s Vision and Finance Plan.  The two groups gathered at Wellspring Church of Skippack (Pa.) on January 30 for a day-long retreat to discuss vision for the next five years.

Board and staff members reviewed and discussed the conference’s “E-3” vision (Equipping Leaders to Empower Others to Embrace God’s Mission), priorities (formational, missional, and intercultural), and the Vision and Finance Plan (VFP).  The group moved to consensus that the VFP, which was created in 2007 to give recommendations for decision-making about properties, staffing, and the implementation of the “E-3” Vision, had served an important function but had reached the end of its helpfulness.  The VFP was due for review this year.

The VFP worked to align vision with conference resources and was adopted by delegates at the 2007 Conference Assembly, according to board member Joe Hackman, Salford congregation, an original member of the VFP team.  “The plan was intended to frame the work of conference staff – to give a better picture of what conference is doing, why they are doing it, and how they are doing it,” he said.

Some of the specific goals of the VFP have been accomplished: development rights for the Indian Creek Farm are being sold with plans to pay off a portion of the mortgage on the conference’s Souderton Center property; the conference office was relocated and downsized; new modes of continuing education for credentialed leaders have been implemented.

Other goals remain important and ongoing, specifically the emphasis on healthy and growing churches, leaders, and connections.  “This is what I believe,” said Noah Kolb, pastor of ministerial leadership, as he reflected on the E-3 vision. “God is looking for communities of believers who are able to follow Jesus as he followed God, who are able to read the signs . . . and respond in specific ministries. But who leads [the disciples] with a sense of knowing where to go and what to do and how to listen? . . . It is well equipped leaders.”

The board and staff agreed that the main role of conference structures and staff was to equip, resource, and connect congregations, conference related ministries, and leaders.  To do this, the VFP will be phased out with new immediate, short-term, and longer range priorities established.  Conference Board will develop these priorities to be reviewed and implemented by staff.

“The church is the primary vehicle for God’s expression in the world,” said board member Jim Longacre, Bally congregation, as others nodded in agreement, “not individuals, but a community.”  The role of the conference, he suggested, is to do only what congregations can’t do alone.

And, added assistant moderator Marta Castillo. Nueva Vida Norristown New Life, to focus on God’s mission. “As we pray for God’s kingdom to come and God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, we know that the church is only an instrument in God’s hand and our work is to be a part of missio Dei [mission of God],” she said.  “At this time, for Franconia Conference, it means that we have to change.”

Even in a time of change and movement, some things will remain the same, said Ertell M. Whigham Jr., executive minister.  “The ageless goals are . . . equipping healthy and growing leaders.  That doesn’t change—it doesn’t matter how many years have passed.”

February 22 (Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent) has been set aside as a day of prayer and discernment for conference board and staff as they continue to seek God’s vision for the conference together.  Please continue to be in prayer for conference leaders; contact Sandy Landes, prayer coordinator, for more information on how you can support this day in prayer.

Board members visit congregations

by Jim Laverty, Souderton & Rina Rampogu, Plains

Over the past year members of the Franconia Conference Board have been visiting Franconia congregations. During our visits we celebrated each church’s vision and mission, clarified the role of Franconia Conference and communicated the board’s desire to be servants of the conference churches, to stand beside the good work each church is doing for their members and the world and to be accountable to Franconia churches in a new and better way.

We were excited to see what is happening in conference congregations:

  • Collaborative relationships, affinity groups (or learning communities) with churches, Conference-Related Ministries (CRMs) and Partners in Ministry (PIMs).
  • Service to communities through community-building events, sports camps, support groups, pre-school programs, community gardens, and meals.
  • Opportunities for everyone (gender, age, background) to get involved inside and outside of church services.
  • Creative approaches to talking about following Jesus with people from different generations, cultures, ethnicities, and language groups.
  • Effort to get along in the body of Christ, providing mutual aid and support through Sunday School classes and increased participation in small groups.
  • Goal-setting, clarifying and reviewing roles, and aligning budget with vision and values in cooperation with LEAD teams.
  • Solid lay and pastoral leadership. Strong preaching, prayer ministry and blended worship in the spoken-language of the congregation.

Some of the challenges that congregations are facing:

  • Financial limitations, decrease in giving, and learning how to grow people who will commit to being generous with their time, talents, and treasure.
  • Fluctuation in worship attendance and coming to terms with what it means to be in fellowship with people coming and going on a regular basis as well as a loss of membership due to relocation.
  • Understanding the changing nature of our world.
  •  Communicating stories of what God is doing in congregations while respecting people’s privacy. Learning how to communicate across the generations.
  • Building community when congregation and community are made up of people who speak different languages.
  • A need for support and advocacy in facing changing immigration policies and their implications (worship service times, hospital visitation, transportation).
  • Unemployment among church members. Dealing with conflict in relationships (separation, divorce).

We discussed what it will take to continue to build confidence toward Franconia Conference:

  • Modeling healthy approaches to dealing with major conflicts and crisis. Encouraging unity in diversity.
  • Clear communication. Relational face-to-face meetings with members of conference and board.
  • Ongoing relationship with LEAD minister and guidance in pastoral searches, staff reviews, and conflict mediation.
  • Fostering relationship with CRMs.
  • Offering a prophetic voice to help us to see God at work in the world in a positive way and to witness to the world about what the body of Christ is.

We discussed what confidence will look like:

  • Celebrate the ways that diverse congregations can share in what they have in common, dialoguing on critical issues.
  • Encourage better connections (such as pulpit supply) and partnerships (such as church planting mentors) between urban, suburban and rural congregations
  • Recognize Conference Related Ministries and their missional value.
  • Clarify the rationale for introducing LEAD and the concept of the E3-vision for churches in Vermont and other locations that aren’t close to the conference offices.
  • Tell more stories to fan the flames of how Franconia Conference is living out our vision and values.
  • Train congregations in children and youth ministries as well as worship (such as blended music during worship services).
  • Provide financial aid for documented and undocumented students who have been accepted into Mennonite and non-Mennonite institutions of higher education.
  • Incorporate more non-ethnic (non-Swiss German) Mennonites into leadership positions.

Congregations expressed appreciation for the ongoing support they have received from Franconia Conference in areas of leadership development, provision of meaningful learning and sharing opportunities for pastors and leaders, and for being a point of contact for ongoing pastoral resources.

Franconia Conference board and staff gather together to listen, dream and heal at Blooming Glen

by Emily Ralph, eralph@franconiaconference.org

Blooming Glen, Pa—Franconia Mennonite Conference board and staff gathered at Blooming Glen Mennonite’s pavilion on August 22 for a time of healng prayer, sharing and dreaming for the future.

According to Conference Executive Minister, Ertell Whigham, the retreat was designed to develop a common sense of ownership and understanding of the conference’s purpose.  “Strategy without passion or commitment doesn’t get an organization anywhere,” he told the group, inviting them to share experiences that have excited them about Conference life and direction.

Noah Kolb (right) laughs with Ertell Whigham and Marta Castillo at the Franconia Conference board and staff retreat. Photo by Emily Ralph.

“Part of my deep passion is seeing young leaders develop and do all that God has created them to do,” said Noah Kolb, pastor of ministerial leadership.  He smiled across the room at Joe Hackman of Harleysville, Pa, board member-at-large.  “I look across here and see Joe, who I blessed as a baby—I followed his fascinating growth in leadership.  It’s that kind of thing that just really excites me.”

Finance Committee chair, Randy Nyce of Hatfield, Pa, sees that kind of formation as central to the church’s purpose.  “The core problem in society is our separation from God,” he said.  The role of the church is to “help people to build healthy relationships, both with each other and with God.”

Noel Santiago, LEADership Minister for spiritual transformation, asked each person to imagine that they were walking their dogs and heard someone in the park sharing a testimony of Christ’s transformation in his life.  “That’s John’s story,” he said, smiling broadly.  Just two days before, John and seven others had decided to follow Jesus after hearing the Good News at GodQuest’s Souderton (Pa) Worship in the Park (photo gallery).

And these are only some of the lives that have been touched as Franconia Conference congregations have stepped beyond their walls and entered their communities.

For Philadelphia Praise Center, said Steve Kriss, director of leadership cultivation, being missional means that, “at their block party [last week], vegans were flipping burgers for their neighbors.”

Board member Beny Krisbianto prays blessings over Conference staff. Photo by Emily Ralph.

Many of these kinds of events are made possible through conference missional grants.  Conrad Martin, director of finance, oversees the grant process.  Each grant application includes the congregation’s desired outcomes, he told the group.  “This little grant that we’re giving them,” he said excitedly, “if it’ll end in their ‘expected results,’ was well worth it!”

Rina Rampogu, board member-at-large from Quakertown, Pa, reflected on how apathetic she was to the conference’s work when she was a lay leader.  All that changed when she was nominated to her current position, she said.  “When I became a board member, it became vibrant for me. . . .  God has brought us together to see what congregations are doing.”

The board members have been introduced to congregational activities through individual gatherings with church leadership teams.  “Congregational visits are huge,” agreed Nelson Shenk of Bally, Pa, Ministerial Committee chair.  “Those visits have made us a better board,” added Jim Longacre of Barto, Pa, board member-at-large.

The conference board and staff were particularly struck by the width of cultural differences within the conference, beyond those of ethnicity: cultures of wealth, technology, generation, or theology.  “We have many different paradigms for how we understand God’s work in the world,” said Joe Hackman, “yet we can still partner together.”

“We don’t need to think alike,” pointed out LEADership Minister, Ray Yoder, “but we do need to think together.”  This means open, candid, and often difficult conversations, he added.

The foundation of these conversations is developing a culture of prayer—which could be an intercultural experience in itself, suggested Marta Beidler Castillo of Norristown, Pa, board member-at-large.  “This is a growing cultural edge for us,” she said.

Conference board and staff gather for healing prayer as the sun sets. Photo by Emily Ralph.

Conference board and staff gathered for a prayer of healing and commissioning together as a step toward a hopeful future, recognizing the last months of conflict, struggle and leadership transitions.  As the sun set quietly over Bucks County fields, board member Beny Krisbianto of Philadelphia prayed that the Conference would recognize together that a new day was beginning.  A final blessing included Ertell Whigham’s prayer, which was based in Philippians 1: 9-11: that love would overflow and that knowledge and understanding would increase toward continued fruitfulness in a way that brings glory to God.