Tag Archives: Diane Bleam

Jesus is the Center

by Tim Moyer & Diane Bleam, Bally congregation, with Andrés Castillo

Over the last year, Bally (PA) Mennonite Church has been moving toward a “centered-set” rather than “bounded-set” approach to church. After about 6 months of processing on the theory of being centered-set and how it might work, we discovered the book Blue Ocean Faith by Dave Schmelzer. This book offered insights into practical applications of how churches can function as centered-set.  

Pastor Tim Moyer explains centered-set vs. bounded-set to Conference staff at a recent staff meeting held at Bally.

A bounded set can be depicted as a circle with congregational members (us) inside the circle and all other people outside (them).  Congregations spend huge amounts of energy defining and defending the boundaries.  When the boundary needs to be redrawn, people get hurt, angry, and disillusioned.  It creates a split between people.  A bounded set environment is more prone to tension. Since much energy goes into the boundary, accomplishing things can be unnecessarily hard, because some people see defending the boundary as defending their faith.

In a centered-set approach, all energy points towards Christ, who is the center. People are treated as equals and are either moving towards or away from Christ. Everyone is being constantly challenged and supported to draw closer to the center. People feel more comfortable in a supportive environment and tension diminishes.

Centered and bounded sets are not reflective of theological positions, instead, they are mindsets adopted by congregations that guide them in the way that they express their faith.

A diagram demonstrating “centered-set”

Bally congregation has intentionally shifted to a centered-set approach to expressing our faith after significant congregational processing.  For four and a half months we designated our Sunday school hour for congregational input and discussion.  We presented the centered-set concepts, facilitated discussion in small groups, collected ideas from the congregation, and envisioned new ministries.

Since adopting a centered-set model of expressing our faith, we’ve found that spontaneous ministries and changes have surfaced among us. For example, at one of our Council meetings while discussing our facility’s rental fees, we confronted ourselves with the question, “Why do we have lower rates for members than we do for all other people if we are a centered-set church?” We realized that our fees were a boundary and now charge the same for members and all other people who desire to use our facilities.

Another example would be our practice of inviting attendees to share testimonies and short sermons regarding how Christ is working in their lives.  We also launched a monthly Sunday morning breakfast where we started inviting VBS families, our church’s preschool families, and families we encounter from other ministries. The breakfast runs during Sunday School, and people are welcome to attend church; however the main purpose of the breakfasts is to establish relationships.

“Community Outreach” now seems an outdated term at Bally.  “Community Connections” is now the title for that committee which better describes how we interact with the broader community. Not only have we changed our view of the community surrounding our church, but we have also noted changes within our congregation–there seems to be much more energy and enthusiasm for ministries and relationship building.  

In centered-set congregation, the additional energy is used  to encourage all to move toward Christ. Instead of programs and rules, the focus should be on building relationships so that people can walk alongside and support each other in faith. Perhaps the most important part of a centered set, however, is to remember that Jesus is the center.

Celebrating the Creative Spirit

Desiring to enhance a sense of community and offer our hospitality, Bally Mennonite Church planned and hosted a free event, Celebrating the Creative Spirit, on May 5 & 6, 2017. The event featured 40 artists and artisans from the Bally area including professionals such as potter Roy Yoder, photographer Gordon Groff, weaver Tonya Jones, and artist/author Julie Longacre as they displayed a variety of paintings, pastels, pottery, photographs, weaving, wood work, quilts, fly-tying, needlework, fabric art, and the artwork of children. It was a Friday evening and five hours on Saturday full of visual arts, music and food.

Beginning as an idea in the Outreach Committee, the five members helped bring their idea to life.  The congregation was invited to a meeting to assess the interest; only two people showed up, but they were very enthusiastic.  As the idea was discussed, enthusiasm grew, as did the creative ideas.  What began as a simple idea for a simple art show turned into an event chock-full of musical performances and a variety of subjective art including landscapes, portraits, handcrafts, and much more.

The event was a resounding success, to which we credit:  1) Having a church structure and a church council that encourages committees to “do their own thing” as long as council feels that it fits in with the church vision and values. 2) A few people willing to risk stepping out of their own comfort zones, and encourage others to use their own creativity.  3) The donation of committed individuals to cover direct expenses, and the church providing space, a few supplies, cleaning services, and the electricity.  4) Martha Kratz drafting her friends to help her create Cafe Fleur in the fellowship hall, and Tim Longacre creating a wonderful entrance, using his gift of set design. 5) Most importantly, the blessing of the Holy Spirit, which has been present to empower, encourage, and guide the planning.  We’re counting on the Holy Spirit to continue that work and help us establish and set an example of a Christian community family.

Some people were hesitant to come to a Mennonite church; they didn’t know what to expect.  We were not surprised to hear one person say, as some have also said at our pancake breakfasts, “There is a good spirit here.”  Many offered to donate money before they left.  Some said this was the most fun they had in a year.  The children loved doing crafts.  People who had not seen one another in a long time renewed acquaintances, and in one instance, healing began in a difficult relationship. One artist from Most Blessed Sacrament Church in Bally invited a guest to her home to teach her how to do one of her art projects.  We are convinced that God was at work in the synergy that was created and will continue to use this experience to help us make more new friends.

Those who led the event had no idea how much work it was going to be or what the costs might be; they stepped out in faith that God would provide, even though there were only three months to plan it.   Some assumed that this would be a one-time event.  However, so many guests asked if we were going to do this again next year that we might do it again and extend it into Sunday morning.  Some of the stretching of our skills was not easy, but it will be easier if we decide to do it again.  We are hoping that some of our new friends will help too, because working together is so much fun.

We are grateful for the members of Bally Mennonite Church who submitted work, and the local artists,and family and friends whose hobbies and creative interests reflect their God-given talents. Without the creativity and network of Julie Longacre and the network and outreach of Gene Galligan, we would not have had as many local artist who shared their art and performed music.  We are thankful for those who assisted in supplying and serving free refreshments and lunch and the many additional people who contributed to the success of the event, including The Church of the Good Shepherd in Boyertown for the use of the art racks to display the paintings.

May we continue to recognize the Creative Spirit within us and may the Holy Spirit continue to work and help us establish and set an example of a Christian community family.

Diane Bleam, Event Coordinator
Julie Longacre, Art Coordinator

Reflections on “All You Need is Love”

All You Need is Love
In worship we were led to dance, singing “Walk into the holy fire, step into the holy flame.” Photo by Nekeisha Alexis-Baker/AMBS

by Diane Bleam, Bally congregation

A lot has changed since I last attended a Women Doing Theology Conference in Bluffton, Ohio in 1994.  I was excited to attend “Anabaptist Women Doing Theology Conference: All You Need is Love” in Leesburg, VA on February 20-22 for some theological stimulation as well as to observe how young women are experiencing theology in the church today.

The most refreshing aspect of this conference for me was sharing with women from other ethnic groups, hearing their experiences, joys, and struggles as women leaders in the church.  As one of the older attendees, most of whom were young women, I was encouraged by the energy and competency of many women and by their ability to step out and take risks.

I found that racial and ethnic differences are still an issue, although the issues are sometimes more subtle as we have become more sensitized to the long-standing oppression of many women.  I was reminded how very difficult it is to overcome historical assumptions, whether related to gender, ethnic, or sexuality biases.

The women I met were strong women, women willing to take risks, while at the same time giving and receiving affirmation and appreciation, as evidenced by many public expressions of thanks and praise of work well done.  It reminded me of the difference between a gathering led by men, with brief acknowledgements of thanks (maybe), and a women’s banquet, where everyone gets flowers.  Not that one is necessarily better than another, just different.

While I didn’t notice much anger, I did notice a lot of determination.  There was also grief and joy; many of us shed tears at different times.  There were calls for justice in the face of any kind of oppression, and calls for solidarity among women.  While I was sometimes uncomfortable being with so many women because I’ve spent most of my public ministry working with men, it was refreshing to see women learning from one another and being strong supports to one another.

Women being created in the image of God inspired rich experiences of worship and rituals.  God’s immanence was emphasized as we sought to find God’s presence within ourselves.

If the conference schedule was an indication, much is expected by and from women today.  I returned from the Conference exhausted, missing my own youthfulness, while at the same time feeling that these young women are well-prepared to go beyond those who came before.  I’m excited to see where they take us.