Tag Archives: Conference Board

Up For The Task

When current Franconia Conference Board member Jim King invited him over for dinner, the idea of filling a seat on the Board was not on Kiron Mateti’s radar in the least bit.  Being new to the Conference, it wasn’t a proposition he was expecting or a position that he was seeking out. With a life journey that started – figuratively speaking – quite far from Anabaptism, Kiron brings a perspective and insight that will be a welcomed addition to Conference leadership should he be affirmed as a board member. Kiron Mateti is being presented to the delegates at the fall Assembly as a nominee by the Conference Board for affirmation to join them as a first term Conference Board Member-at-Large.

Growing up in Dayton, Ohio, Kiron’s early faith life was shaped by varying degrees of Hindu belief and practice by his parents, who immigrated from India.  However, through the influence of Christian neighbors and a job in a Presbyterian church nursery, Kiron’s mother learned about the Christian faith, cleared the house of Hindu statues and began to talk to her sons about Jesus.  As a result, Kiron and his brother felt caught in the middle between their parents. 

“My brother and my dad had a pretty terrible relationship, and [my brother] got into drugs and alcohol really early on in life, and then I followed in his footsteps.” The brothers were able to sustain that lifestyle and still do well in high school and college, but eventually, tragically, the substance abuse caught up with them.  “In my 2nd semester (of grad school at Penn State), my brother died drinking and driving. That was a turning point in my life,” Kiron says. He took a semester off, returned home to Ohio … and for some reason, picked up a nice, leather-bound Bible from his mom’s shelf.  “I started reading the New Testament, and read it rather quickly.  I had so many questions.” 

When the day came to empty out his brother’s apartment, Kiron was expecting a group of his mom’s church friends to come help out. “I show up and it was just me and another guy!”, Kiron laughs. “I think he planned it, because he and I talked the whole day!  He was really strong in his faith, and we went through Genesis to Revelation.  I asked him all kinds of questions.” 

With the planted seeds of faith taking root, Kiron returned to Penn State, sought out a friend who was a Christian, and began tagging along to the Christian Student Fellowship (CSF) gatherings, various campus ministry functions and to Sunday church services.  On his first day visiting Christ Community Church in State College, he caught the eye of a fellow Indian man.  “He was really easy to talk to, and wanted to know more about me,” Kiron recalls.  “We met up, and then we started meeting up weekly and doing one-on-one Bible studies.” Kiron remembers this as an intense time of formation and growth in his faith. “It was just me and him, and we were going through some of the same tough questions, and we’d dig in.  We’d have four- or five-hour Bible studies!” Eventually friends started coming along, and by the time Kiron left Penn State, there were around 40 people attending!

Kiron’s involvement with CSF introduced him to more than just Jesus; one of the first people he met at a CSF gathering was his future wife, Rachel, originally from the Reading, PA. area.  After getting married, they began attending University Mennonite Church, where various Anabaptist values resonated with Kiron.  “I saw a contrast … it’s not ‘American Christianity’; it’s just following Jesus, it’s outside of nationalities or allegiance to a country.  That is something that I respected.”

In 2016, Kiron and Rachel committed to moving their family closer to Rachel’s extended family, and Kiron took a position at JBT Automated Guided Vehicles in Chalfont, PA., as a Research and Development Engineer.  Settling in Telford, they visited most of the area Mennonite churches, but were invited to Plains Mennonite Church by Anya Williamson, a friend from Penn State. Kiron’s mom, who now lived with them, immediately connected with the Thalathodi and Rampogu families, who also spoke her native Telugu language.  Kiron and Rachel also made connections, particularly with other families with small children, and got involved with the worship team, teaching Sunday School and leading adult classes.

As an unofficial mentor to Kiron and Rachel, Jim King connected with them through Sunday School, men’s breakfasts, and together spearheading an intercultural, multi-church picnic this past Fourth of July, and saw something in Kiron that he felt would be an asset to the Board, and approached him with the idea. “Kiron’s presence radiates joy, curiosity and openness wherever I have been with him,” Jim says. “I just have to smile when I think of how the rest of the board will receive him.”  

Those who know him tend to agree. “Kiron is a thoughtful, independent thinker with a deep commitment to the church, his family, and the way of Jesus,” says Plains’ Pastor Mike Derstine.  “While new to our congregation and conference, he is eager to learn, meet new people, and further the mission of God in our community and world.”  Executive Minister Steve Kriss also anticipates the contributions Kiron will bring. “He’s bright, engaged, will ask good questions and help us find our way into new spaces, places, possibilities,” says Steve.

Kiron feels up for the task.  He anticipates hard work, a lot of listening and learning, and hopefully the ability to contribute as one who didn’t grow up in the church. “I feel empathetic towards people who are ‘different’,” he says. “Maybe that can provide a perspective that’s needed on the board.” 

Kiron and his wife Rachel (Zimmerman) are the parents of 5-year-old Asha and almost-3-year-old Jaya, and as a family, they enjoy music, the beach, camping and are a self-proclaimed “nerdy family” who like to visit libraries when they travel. 

Angela Moyer Named Interim Assistant Moderator

On July 16, the Franconia Conference Board appointed Angela Moyer as interim assistant moderator. This position is interim pending affirmation by the Conference delegates at the November 2-3 assembly. With this new role Angela will sit on the Conference Board Executive Committee as vice-chair and be vice-chair of the Conference Board.

Angela grew up in Franconia Conference and served as youth pastor at Rockhill Mennonite Church from 2005 to 2011. During that time, she sensed God calling her deeper into ministry and enrolled at Eastern Mennonite Seminary (EMS), Lancaster, PA to pursue her Master of Divinity which she acquired in 2012.  Angela then went on to serve at Ripple in Allentown where she is currently one of five co-pastors. Throughout her career she has been bi-vocational, working as pastor and also as an occupational therapist. Currently, while serving the Ripple community she also works in Early Intervention at Good Shepherd Rehabilitation.

“Franconia Conference shaped me significantly as a child and youth at Penn View, Christopher Dock, and Rockhill Mennonite Church,” Angela said. “Then the Conference invested in me further when I attended seminary at Eastern Mennonite Seminary and through mentoring when I was a new pastor. I am humbled to be invited to share my gifts through this role. I serve with gratitude for the encouragement and nurture that the Conference has offered to me throughout my life.  I am encouraged by the ways in which the Conference continues to bear witness to the upside down kingdom of God as taught to us by Jesus.”  

Conference moderator John Goshow noted Angela’s involvement and outstanding service as a member of the Conference board since 2015 and on the executive minister search committee in 2016.

“Angela is deeply rooted in our Conference community with broad relationships in our urban and historic congregations.  She knows our story, our ministries and our global partners.  She’s a measured and thoughtful next generation leader who will bring wisdom, insight and hope to our work and witness together,” said Executive Minister, Steve Kriss.

Executive committee member, Jim King added, “Angela has a keen awareness and passion for the margins in our faith communities.  She holds her core values with the ability to communicate across generational and ethnic lines.  I think she will do well in facilitating our group process.”

With her roots in Telford and as an urban and bi-vocational pastor, her gifts and background are well-suited for this new role on the board.  For more about Angela, check out the article that welcomed her to the board in 2015.


New Members Join the Conference Team

As 1 Corinthians 12:14 states, “For the body is not one member, but many,” and as it is said in Ecclesiastes 4:9, “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labor.” So too, is it with Franconia Conference. Each member of the Franconia Conference team being a vital piece, bringing their gifts and talents to further the work of the Lord. This month Franconia Conference welcomed several new members to the team including two new board members and new staff.

At the March 19 Conference Board Meeting, Yvonne Platts of Nueva Vida Norristown New Life and Cory Longacre of Souderton Mennonite Church were welcomed as new board members. Yvonne was affirmed by board vote. Cory was affirmed by the board to replace the assembly-appointed board member Smita Singh who resigned this past fall. He will therefore be on the ballot at the fall 2018 Assembly for delegate affirmation. Both Yvonne and Cory bring long-standing Anabaptist roots within Franconia Conference and deep connections to their local communities.

Yvonne Platts was baptized at an early age in the Mennonite church and has grown up at Nueva Vida Norristown New Life. Yvonne serves within her congregation on the Enlarging Our Place in Gods World Leadership Team. Her primary work is with Family Services of Montgomery County as a Community Outreach Worker with the Norristown Violence Prevention Initiative, from whom she received the Outstanding Service Award in November 2017.  She is also a member of Roots of Justice Inc. which addresses issues of racism and other oppressions, creating awareness, understanding and knowledge toward building a just society for people groups in churches, organizations, and community. Currently, she is actively working within the Norristown School District to train Circle Keepers for Restorative Justice Peace Circles. Training and equipping community members to become Circle Keepers is a deep passion of Yvonne’s, as she hopes for the establishment of community based alternatives to juvenile detention.

Yvonne is a graduate of The Center for Urban Theological Studies and holds a Master of Science in Restorative Practices and Youth and Family Counseling from The International Institute of Restorative Practices. There is no doubt that Yvonne Platts has a deep drive for peace and justice and will bring her dedication to social justice to her work with Franconia Conference.

Pastor Angela Moyer of Ripple in Allentown and a member of the Conference Board stated that she has volumes of admiration and respect for the work Yvonne does in the community. Executive Minister Steve Kriss says, “Yvonne is well equipped to think and respond in the best interest of the whole of the Conference with her long history at Nueva Vida Norristown New Life.”

Cory Longacre comes to the Conference Board recently finishing his third-and-final three year term on the Souderton Mennonite Church Board where he spent the last three years as chair. Cory grew up at Swamp Mennonite Church,  settling in after college at Souderton with his wife Linda. He first accepted Jesus at Spruce Lake Camp around the age of 13 and was then baptized at age 15 at Swamp. He is a graduate of Dock Mennonite Academy, both the former Penn View Christian School and Christopher Dock Mennonite High School. He also received his Bachelors in Business Management from Eastern Mennonite University where he met his wife Linda, whom he married in 1993. They have 3 children: Olyvia, age 19, Davry, age 15, and Zeke, age 11.

Cory currently co-owns TNC Self Storage and is Fleet Operations Manager at Perkiomen Tours. Previously he spent 20 years with Farm & Home Oil Company where he started in sales, then after 4 years transitioned to management, moving his way to Vice President where he spent several years before ending his time with the company.

“Cory brings a wealth of experience as both a community and business leader. He is both reflective and entrepreneurial — assets for our Conference,” said Steve Kriss.

Cory is grateful for the opportunity to serve.  “I look forward to joining Franconia Conference Board,” he says, “to help guide and discern as our conference continues to grow and evolve while maintaining our Anabaptist values.”

Joining the Franconia Conference in staff roles, are Jeff Wright as a LEADership Minister, Chantelle Todman Moore as Intercultural Leadership Coach, and current LEADership Minister Marta Castillo, who is increasing her time with the Conference and becoming the LEADership Minister of Intercultural Formation.

Jeff Wright will serve as a LEADership Minister, specifically working with Franconia Conference’s three congregations in Southern California: Indonesian Community Christian Fellowship, International Worship Church, and Jemaat Kristen Indonesia Anugerah (JKIA or Grace Indonesian Christian Fellowship). Jeff has served in a dual role as pastor of Madison Street Church, a Brethren-in-Christ congregation in Riverside, California and as president of viaShalom, a small not-for-profit, since 2009. viaShalom is a not-for-profit missional resource agency that currently operates three ministries: commonGood, a local, asset-based community development effort; viaGLobal, which support St. Francis Primary School located in Morsul, Rajshahi in Bangladesh serving approximately 80 Christian families belonging to the Santal minority; and Urban Expression North America, “a consultancy specializing in creating and sustaining urban incarnational experiments, and affiliated with similar ministries across Europe.” Bike and Sol, run by Pastor Scott Roth of Perkiomenville Mennonite Church, is a project of Urban Expression and has worked closely with Jeff. Jeff has also done consultancy work with various congregations both in Franconia and Eastern District Conferences.

Jeff holds a Bachelor of Arts from Tabor College, a Master’s of Divinity from Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary and earned his Masters of Business Administration with a focus in church management from the Graduate Theological Foundation. In addition, he has a Post-graduate Diploma in Applied Theology from Spurgeon’s College in London. He lives in Riverside, California with his best friend/wife Debbie. They have two adult children who he said also married their best friends. Jeff enjoys time with three grandchildren and the “church mascot/beagle-terrier puppy, Madison”, who lives with them and constantly digs up their backyard!

Steve Kriss says, “Jeff has long term relationship working as a Mennonite Church USA Conference leader. His experience and commitment to California and his capacity at developing new leaders will be a gift to our Conference, as we live into our bi-coastal reality.”

Jeff says, “I’m very excited to be part of a larger and diverse team that works collaboratively toward a common vision of being the church. It is a unique privilege to work with Franconia Conference among the new member Indonesian churches in Southern California.”

Chantelle Todman Moore comes to Franconia Conference as Intercultural Leadership Coach, where she will focus her work with our 15 urban congregations, looking at cultivating next generation leaders, focusing on persons age 15-35. She has also been tasked to think about what it takes for persons of color in ministry leadership to flourish and how that can be cultivated within Franconia congregations.

In addition to taking on this role with Franconia Conference, Chantelle is the co-founder of unlock Ngenuity a consulting, coaching and therapy business. She previously served as the Philadelphia Program Coordinator for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and as a Program Director at both Oxford Circle Christian Community Development Association and Eastern University. Chantelle holds a Bachelors of Arts in International Community Development from Oral Roberts University, a Masters of Business Administration in International Economic Development from Eastern University, and is a Qualified Administrator for the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI).

She says she is “passionate about embracing diversity and difference as a gift, seeking justice as a mandate and being moved to act by love.” Chantelle lives in Philadelphia with her spouse, Sam, and their three daughters.

Pastor Aldo Siahaan of Philadelphia Praise Center and a member of the Conference LEADership Minister team was on the board of MCC East Coast at the time of Chantelle’s employment there. He says, “Chantelle is a hard worker, full of creativity and always mixes her work with laughter.”

When asked about bringing Chantelle on in this new role for Franconia Conference, Steve Kriss stated, “Our Conference has become increasingly urban and intercultural over the last decade. Chantelle’s experience in working with urban leaders and congregations will strengthen our capacities in cultivating and accompanying current and emerging leaders. Her energy, honesty, commitment to the church, and willingness to ask hard questions are traits I appreciate about her and look forward to her bringing to her work with Franconia.”

Marta Castillo is not new to the Franconia team, but will be increasing her time. After serving almost five years on the Conference Board, Marta joined Franconia Conference as a LEADership Minister in in 2016, while simultaneously serving as co-pastor at Nueva Vida Norristown New Life.  She stepped away from the position at Nueva Vida in December, as she felt the Spirit leading her elsewhere.  At the time she did not know that “elsewhere” would include increased time with Franconia Conference. The Conference is grateful to have Marta move into the role of LEADership Minister of Intercultural Formation. The daughter of Franconia Conference-rooted mission workers, she has been shaped by all four of the linguistic cultures in Franconia Conference, growing up in both Vietnam and Indonesia. While being a primary English speaker, she lives in a bilingual family and community of English/Spanish speakers.

Marta is committed to prayer, along with active engagement of diverse neighborhoods with the message of Christ’s Good News. She is passionate about the intercultural work of unity in cultural diversity, antiracism, and racial reconciliation. She graduated from Eastern Mennonite College with a major in Elementary Education and is currently taking classes at Eastern Mennonite Seminary. Marta lives in Norristown, PA, with her husband, Julio and two teenage children, Andres and Daniel.

“Marta’s flexibility and linguistic capacity, her depth of spiritual practice and her experience working with pastoral teams combine to make her a uniquely gifted leader in our Conference,” said Steve Kriss.  You can read more about Marta here.

The staff and board of Franconia Conference are well-equipped to continue to lead the Conference into whatever God has in store. As Executive Minister, Steve Kriss stated, “these additions complement an already strongly gifted staff and strengthen our capacity to serve our growing Conference.”

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://mennoniteconferencex.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.