Tag Archives: Doylestown Mennonite Church

“You Are Loved:” Reflections on Faith & Life

by KrisAnne Swartley, Pastor of Formation & Mission at Doylestown congregation

1 Corinthians 13:1-13 may be one of the most well-known passages of the Bible, but how often do we consider what it may be saying to us as leaders? At the most recent Faith and Life Gathering, we were invited to do just that.

As we sat around tables at Finland Mennonite Church, we shared the words and phrases that jumped out at us as we read. “Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not boast; it is not proud…. Love is not easily angered…. Love rejoices with the truth.” Many of us admitted our human struggle to lead from a place of love instead of leading from the desire to perform well, experience success, or receive the praise of people.

The morning’s presenter, Leonard Dow, explored the theme of love and leadership as he spoke to us from the stories of Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3:13-17) and his transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-13). He reminded all of us that Jesus was loved by God before he accomplished or achieved anything; he was loved simply because he was God’s Son. What a powerful reminder to those of us who serve in ministry week in and week out: What we accomplish or fail to accomplish does not change our identity as the beloved of God.

In table groups, we discussed questions about leading from love: When have we sensed God’s unconditional love? How did we respond to it? When have we been motivated by something other than love? What challenges do leaders who desire to lead from love face? There was a level of vulnerability to our conversation that felt healing. As we prayed for each other, God’s overwhelming love surrounded and held us.

Leonard told a story of a preacher who welcomed his congregation by saying, “I want you to know I love you and there’s nothing you can do about it.” I left that morning hearing God say to my heart, “KrisAnne, I want you to know that I love you and there’s nothing you can do about it.” If I hit a sour note in a song, preach a lousy sermon, and fail to respond well to someone—or if I play perfectly, preach an inspiring sermon, and say exactly the right thing at the right time—I am still loved as I have always been loved.  This may become my new mantra.

You are loved.

I sense that if this one truth sinks into my soul this coming year, it could have a powerful impact on my ministry, my relationships at home, and in my community. I am loved. You are loved. We are all loved. God empowers us to live and to lead from love.

Leonard Dow is the former pastor of Oxford Circle congregation in Philadelphia and now works for Everence.  Watch Leonard’s full presentation here.  Faith and Life gatherings are held quarterly so that Franconia Conference credentialed leaders can pray and study Scripture together.  The 2019 dates will be February 6 & 7, May 8 & 9, and August 7 & 8.

A Community of Sisters for the Journey/Una Comunidad de Hermanas en el Camino

By Marta Castillo, Leadership Minister of Intercultural Formation

She thought for a moment then pulled off her bright pink scarf and laid it down in the rough form of a cross on the narrow space between the beds.  Then she instructed one of us to go outside and get some dirt to place by the cross.  The two symbols, the bright pink cross and the dirt lay there together as a powerful visual of life, death, salvation, and freedom.  We began to pray, attentive to the Spirit and to our sister, as she talked, wept, and prayed through a process letting go of the crippling guilt she carried after her father’s death five years before.  We anointed her with oil and with our prayers of blessings, believing that the power of Jesus would bring transformation and freedom in her life and walk with God.  I suppose we could have listened to her story and prayed for her without the symbols but there was power in the visual and physical additions to the accompaniment of her sisters. This is one story of many from a powerful weekend of sisters walking alongside one another. 

During the weekend of the Cuidandonos Entre Mujeres (Sister Care) Retreat attended by 72 women from 15 congregations, Pastor Ofelia Garcia filled our hearts and minds with powerful teaching through shared activities and symbols.  We walked in each other’s’ shoes, determined the boundaries of our personal space, and committed ourselves to caring for each other in the safety, wisdom and confidentiality of the red tent (a symbolic place of sisterhood and caring for each other we used throughout the weekend).  On Saturday night, we dressed up, celebrated our beauty as women, decorated crowns, and then gave our uniquely created crown to a sister in Christ with words of affirmation and blessing.  Then on Sunday morning, we celebrated communion together and in a ceremony of blessing we blessed one another.  I was reminded of how Jesus used parables, symbols, and ceremony to deeply root the truth in people’s hearts and minds.  The holistic ministry of teaching and practice using our spirit, mind, and body will leave an impact greater than teaching alone. 

This was the first all-Spanish SisterCare Retreat held in the United States. It was more than we had hoped for, a true experience of the joy of seeing God’s Spirit going above and beyond what we could have hoped for or imagined.  Since our own training in Sister Care (in Spanish) with Mennonite Women USA last year, Pastor Letty Castro of Centro de Alabanza de Filadelfia, and I had dreamed of an event where Spanish-speaking women in Franconia and Eastern District could come, relax, share their stories, pray together, and receive teaching about healing and self-care.  It was truly a team effort.  Pastor Ofelia Garcia agreed to come from Mexico City to be the speaker since she helped develop and present Sister Care materials in many places. Franconia Conference agreed to support our efforts to reach women within the churches of the conference and Eastern District.  Congregations like Zion, Salford, Doylestown, Centro de Alabanza, and Nueva Vida Norristown New Life supported us with scholarships for women to attend.  Pastors helped to get the word out to their Spanish speaking members.  A group from Centro de Alabanza worked hard to bring the program and details together.  Staff from Spruce Lake Retreat Center supported us through the registration process and retreat planning. 

Within hours of being together, women from over fifteen different churches and at least ten different countries were sharing with a depth that took us by surprise.  When we shared in small groups, we heard stories of parental and spousal abandonment, verbal, physical, sexual abuse, marriage difficulties, un-forgiveness, anger, loss of a child, and so much more.  We heard faith stories of God’s grace and love reaching down to bring forgiveness, freedom, healing, hope, love, and a future.   We cried, we smiled, we laughed, we hugged, and we listened.  We were encouraged not to give counsel or advice unless it was asked for specifically so we listened some more and we prayed for ourselves and for each other.  The space felt safe and we surrendered ourselves to the experience and the community.

The invitation was extended and the women came.  We enjoyed the beauty of the mountains, trees, and God’s creation.  We stepped away from our work, homes, families, and responsibilities to care for ourselves and others women like us.  We shared deeply and encouraged each other.  As we left and went home, we will continue to invite each other to “Come, walk with us. The journey is long.” 

Luke 10:27 (NIV)  He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Por Marta Castillo, Ministro de Liderazgo en Formacion Intercultural

La pastora pensó por un momento, luego se quitó la bufanda rosada brillante y la tendió en forma de una cruz en el espacio estrecho entre las camas. Luego, ella nos pidió a una de nosotras que saliera y consiguiera algo de tierra para colocar junto a la cruz. Los dos símbolos, la cruz de color rosada brillante y la tierra yacen juntos como una poderosa imagen de la vida, la muerte, la salvación y la libertad. Comenzamos a orar, atentas al Espíritu y a nuestra hermana, mientras ella hablaba, lloraba y oraba para dejar ir la culpa paralizante que llevaba después de la muerte de su padre cinco años antes. La ungimos con aceite y con nuestras oraciones de bendición, creyendo que el poder de Jesús traería transformación y libertad en su vida y caminaría con Dios. Supongo que podríamos haber escuchado su historia y haber orado por ella sin los símbolos, pero había poder en las adiciones físicas y visuales al acompañamiento de las hermanas.  Esta es una historia entre muchas historias de un fin de semana poderoso de hermanas acompañando una a la otra. 

Durante el primer retiro (solamente en español) de Cuidándonos Entre Mujeres asistieron 72 mujeres de 15 congregaciones, la Pastora Ofelia García llenó nuestros corazones y mentes con una enseñanza poderosa a través de actividades y símbolos compartidos. Caminamos en los zapatos de los demás, determinamos los límites de nuestro espacio personal y nos comprometimos a cuidarnos mutuamente en la seguridad, la sabiduría y la confidencialidad de la tienda roja (un lugar simbólico de hermandad y cuidando una a la otra que usamos durante el fin de semana).  El sábado por la noche, nos vestimos, celebramos nuestra belleza como mujeres, decoramos coronas y luego entregamos nuestra corona de creación única a una hermana en Cristo con palabras de afirmación y bendición. Luego, el domingo por la mañana, celebramos juntas la comunión y nos bendijimos mutuamente con una ceremonia de bendición. Recordé cómo Jesús usó parábolas, símbolos y ceremonias para enraizar profundamente la verdad en los corazones y las mentes de las personas. El ministerio holístico de enseñanza y práctica que usa nuestro espíritu, mente y cuerpo dejará un impacto mayor que la enseñanza sola.

Fue más de lo que esperábamos, una verdadera experiencia de la alegría de ver al Espíritu de Dios ir más allá de lo que podríamos haber esperado o imaginado. Desde nuestro taller de Cuidándonos Entre Mujeres (Sister Care) con las Mujeres Menonitas EEUU el año pasado, la pastora Letty Castro de Centro de Alabanza, Filadelfia y yo habíamos soñado con un evento en que las mujeres de habla hispana en Franconia y el Distrito Este pudieran venir, relajarse, compartir sus historias, orar juntas y recibir enseñanza sobre la curación y el cuidado personal. Fue realmente un esfuerzo de equipo. La pastora Ofelia García aceptó venir de la ciudad de México para ser la presentadora porque ella había apoyado el desarrollo de los materiales de Cuidándonos Entre Mujeres y tenía mucha experiencia en presentarlos en diferentes países. La Conferencia de Franconia acordó apoyar nuestros esfuerzos para alcanzar a las mujeres dentro de las iglesias de la conferencia y el Distrito Este. Congregaciones como Zion, Salford, Doylestown, Centro de Alabanza y Nueva Vida Norristown New Life nos apoyaron con becas. Los pastores ayudaron a correr la voz a sus miembros que hablan español. Un grupo del Centro de Alabanza trabajó duro para reunir el programa y los detalles. El personal del Spruce Lake Retreat Center nos apoyó a través del proceso de registro y la planificación del retiro.

A las pocas horas de estar juntas, setenta y dos mujeres de más de quince iglesias diferentes y al menos diez países diferentes compartían con una profundidad que nos sorprendió. Cuando compartimos en pequeños grupos, escuchamos historias de abandono de padres y cónyugues, abuso verbal, físico, sexual, dificultades matrimoniales, falta de perdón, enojo, pérdida de un hijo y mucho más. Escuchamos historias de fe de la gracia y el amor de Dios que se acercan para traer perdón, libertad, sanidad, esperanza, amor y un futuro. Lloramos, sonreímos, reímos, nos abrazamos y escuchamos. Nos animaron a no dar consejos ni sugerencias a menos que se pidiera específicamente, así que escuchamos un poco más y oramos por nosotras mismas y por los demás. El espacio se sintió seguro y nos entregamos a la experiencia y la comunidad.

Se extendió la invitación y llegaron las mujeres. Disfrutamos de la belleza de las montañas, los árboles y la creación de Dios. Nos alejamos de nuestro trabajo, hogares, familias y responsabilidades para cuidarnos a nosotras mismas y a otras mujeres iguales que nosotras. Compartimos profundamente y nos animamos mutuamente. Cuando nos fuimos y regresamos a casa, continuaremos invitándonos mutuamente a “Ven, camina con nosotros. El viaje es largo.”

Lucas 10:27 (NVI) ….“Ama al Señor tu Dios con todo tu corazón, con todo tu ser, con todas tus fuerzas y con toda tu mente”, y: “Ama a tu prójimo como a ti mismo”

Learning to Pray In New Ways

By Randy Heacock, Leadership Minister and Pastor at Doylestown Mennonite Church

Is it possible to teach an old dog new tricks?  Many of us have heard or said this phrase over our lifetime. We say this to state the challenge when trying to change patterns or habits. Those of us in congregational leadership can name our fair share of experiences that indicate old dogs do not learn new tricks. However, I want to celebrate a congregation that is learning to pray in new ways.

For some time I have been disturbed by the focus of our prayers. Back in 2013 while on sabbatical, I visited 10 congregations to see how they did prayer on a Sunday morning and to discover what their practice communicated about the purpose of prayer. Though some churches were quite liturgical and others more informal, my overall conclusion of the purpose of congregational prayer was that God needed to be directed what and how to help those we love. In talking with individuals, I discovered people had formulas and for some, their prayers were bargaining sessions with God.

I struggled to align this with Jesus’ teaching, “thy kingdom come and thy will be done.”  Our prayers seem to call on God to make our will be done and our kingdom be ordered as we see fit. However, I knew changing our prayer habits would not be easy. Even the suggestion that our practice of prayer needed to be altered raised some eyebrows. For the past several years, we at Doylestown Mennonite have tried a few different ways to pray. I preached differently about prayer and we offered some additional training.

Recently, we invited Noel Santiago, Franconia Conference Leadership Minister for Missional Transformation, to lead us in four sessions on prayer. Though we have only had two of the four sessions thus far, there is clear evidence that we are learning to pray in new ways. Noel quickly developed a level of trust with those present and encouraged us to believe for our time together that God will speak to us if we listen.  Rather than starting with our need, Noel encouraged us to seek what God wanted and then pray for that rather than our own desire. While it would be too lengthy of an article if I went into all that Noel has shared in our two sessions, I can tell you people are being changed.

People from the age of 18 to 89 are reflecting together on what God has said to them.   Tears have been shed for prayers people have crafted for one another. A younger person declared only God could have given those specific words of encouragement. Noel then pointed out that we prophesied over one another. We are a long way from mastering this new way to pray as we raise questions and acknowledge some awkwardness. Yet there is no doubt the Spirit is moving and God is stirring deep within us.

Please pray for us as we have two sessions yet to complete, but also as we seek to continue to practice and learn what God has for us in prayer. I am grateful that Franconia Conference is willing to hire such people like Noel with different gifts to equip us as churches. I have witnessed people of all ages, learning new ways to approach God in prayer!

 

Bitter or Sweet

By Randy Heacock, Interim LEADership Minister

In the family in which I was raised, going to the theater was not acceptable. The one exception that was granted was to see “Mary Poppins” for a friend’s birthday party.   The line, “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down,” I have never forgotten. As a kid, the idea of taking nasty tasting medicine in order to feel better had little value. However, mix that same medicine with a little sweetness and somehow it was doable.

I grew up using my fair share of sugar. A good bowl of cereal ended with drinking the milk from the bowl with its clumps of sugar. I married into a Mennonite family who loves to bake and sugar was not sprinkled, but rather dumped into the homemade applesauce.    Even fresh strawberries needed a little touch of sugar to bring out the flavor. No Mennonite gathering seems complete without food in general and specifically sweet baked goods. It seems many of us have a pretty large sweet tooth.

As much as I love sweets, I draw the line with coffee.  I like it black. No sugar and no flavored creams. Though I love ice cream, I do not like any coffee flavors.  Coffee is best when bitter.   When a friend recently heard of my preference to keep sweetener out of my coffee, he commented that it fits my personality and pastoral approach.  Perhaps this should offend me but his explanation seemed accurate.   He suggested that I do not sugar-coat my observations and understandings. My friend affirmed me for being bitter and for providing space in which others can share of life’s bitterness.

An old movie, my love of sweets, and coffee preference seems like an odd combination to write about. However, it has given me much to think on. While I do not strive to be bitter, I do wish to be open to the bitter truth God has for me.  I want to find ways to lower my defenses regarding what others say about me to hear the truth they offer.  I long to expand my palate to those experiences that may not seem sugar-coated.  I hope to increase my ability to sit with others in their bitterness without needing to eat shoe fly pie.

I am pretty sure I will keep enjoying sweets.  I pray I can grow to embrace bitter as being equally good.  I believe it is time for a good cup of coffee!

An Update on An Experiment in Going to the Margins

By Stephen Kriss

“The first duty of love is to listen.”—Paul Tillich

As part of our practices in this summer space in between, we’ve taken our conference staff meetings “to the margins”, which so far has meant meeting at Doylestown and Alpha congregations for an afternoon to eat, pray and learn alongside the pastors who work in those settings before engaging our regular conference staff agendas.   We’ll go to Quakertown to learn about the work of Salem congregation’s engagement with partners and neighbors yet for our last of these meetings later this month.

doylestown
Doylestown Mennonite Church

These going to the margins meetings have felt like holy disruptions of our routine.   We’ve received the gracious hospitality of Krista at Alpha, and Randy, KrisAnne and Sandy at Doylestown.  We’ve had great ice cream and burritos.   We’ve learned by listening to both the possibilities and struggles for ministry and life in one of the wealthiest communities in Bucks County, as well as what it feels like to work and hope just across the Delaware River.

Alpha Mennonite Church
Alpha Mennonite Church

I’m noticing some things that have been happening through our experiment.   Some of these things might encourage our continued journey of “going to the margins” for the sake of the Good News.   This is a small disruption, a monthly afternoon staff meeting.   But breaking our routines invigorates our conversations and builds our relationships together, differently.  We carpool.   We talk differently and about different things because we are in different spaces.  In navigating the logistics of simply going to a different location, we think differently rather than simply showing up in the same place.  Our two meetings at the margins have been times when we’ve been highly engaged with one another, even when dealing with routine tasks and procedures (seriously).   I look forward to what we’ll learn later this month.  A few staff members have asked if we can continue this kind of meeting alongside congregations’ into the future.

Admittedly, it does cost us some extra time and mileage resources to get to these places, which I’d say is well worth the effort thus far.   By eating together, we create a different rhythm of gathering that opens conversation differently.   By listening and praying with the pastors in their settings, we’ve had opportunities to both bless and to learn.   In going to the margins, we find what happens when we respond to Jesus’s declaration to go and then the transformation that happens when we listen to each other and in the midst, to sense the presence of God and discover our hearts are still strangely warmed together on the way in this time in between.

Loving Our Muslim Neighbors

by Esther Good

Following the terrorist attacks in Paris, France in November, and in San Bernardino, California in December, many have struggled with the question of how we should relate to our Muslim neighbors. Tensions have remained high, exacerbated by the election season, and the answer to this question has reared its head in the form of some ugly anti-Islamic sentiment, including harassment and acts of vandalism against mosques in the Philadelphia area and around the country. Several congregations in Franconia Conference have asked this question in a different way: How can we relate to our Muslim neighbors in a way that is Christ-like?

LovingMuslimNeighbors
Photo by Preston Sean Photography, orig. published by Mennonite World Review, Sept. 16, 2013

Philadelphia Praise Center (PPC) is one congregation that has a long history of interacting with its surrounding Muslim community.  Shortly after PPC was first started in 2006, Pastor Aldo Siahaan, himself an immigrant from Indonesia, reached out to the Imam of a group of Indonesian Muslims and offered them the use of the church building for evening prayers during Ramadan.  They didn’t accept his invitation that year, but called back the following year and asked to use the space, beginning a longstanding friendship between PPC and what is now Masjid Al Falah.

Lindy Backues, an elder at PPC, joined the church when he and his family were deported from Indonesia after living there for 18 years. “I’ve been ‘sent home’. I know what that feels like,” he says in response to national comments against Muslim immigrants. “I don’t want to send Muslims ‘home’.  They’re my friends. So at PPC, we’re trying to be different—to reach out to visitors and guests and the sojourner in our midst. In the process of receiving the other, we become who we are, because God received us when we were the other.”

Salford Mennonite Church also has a longstanding relationship with its Muslim neighbors which began when Salford reached out to them in friendship after the events of 9/11.  Out of that gesture began a close relationship with a family from Lebanon who lives nearby. And in turn, that family has walked alongside and assisted Salford as it has resettled Muslim refugees from Iraq and Iran.

After recent Islamophobic rhetoric hit national news, Salford contacted the Imam of North Penn Mosque.  “We had a meeting to express that as Christians we desire to have a relationship with him and his community,” says Joe Hackman, Lead Pastor.  “We want to let them know that we’re there for them to offer support in whatever form they might need. As Anabaptists, we know what it is to be persecuted because of our faith. So it makes sense that we would want to protect other religious minorities who are experiencing persecution.”

lamp-and-peace-sign.jpgFor Doylestown Mennonite Church, which has recently become a co-sponsor for a Muslim refugee family from Afghanistan, the decision to reach out was simply an act of love, says KrisAnne Swartley, Minister for the Missional Journey. “This is just a way for us to live out faithfulness to Jesus.”

The Bible is full of verses regarding loving our neighbors. In Mark 12 as Jesus is questioned by the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem they ask what the greatest commandment is, to which Jesus answers in verse 30-31, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” It is great to see Franconia Conference churches living their faith by loving their neighbors.

Esther Good is a member at Whitehall Mennonite Church.

The New Parish comes to Doylestown

by Kris Anne Swartley

In the spring of 2014, Doylestown Mennonite Church’s three-year experiment, called the missional journey, came to an end. We celebrated the many ways we tried our hand at living out God’s mission in our neighborhood, from soccer camps to storm kitchens during power outages, to community days to outdoor worship New Parish Symposiumservices, to prayer walking at our work places. With that part of our journey concluded, we began to ask, “What’s next?”

Leadership discerned that more equipping was necessary in order for us to move forward. At the same time, I heard that Tim Soerens and Paul Sparks, from Seattle Washington and The Parish Collective ministry, were doing tours and training all across North America and the United Kingdom. This was in conjunction with their new book, The New Parish: How Neighborhood Churches Are Transforming Mission, Discipleship and Community. We contacted them and set up a training day.

On Saturday, February 28, people from Doylestown Mennonite gathered with attendees from seven churches and two conferences. We mapped out our neighborhoods and reflected on what being faithfully present might look like there. Scattered throughout the day were stories of entering into God’s mission at work, at play, through our talents and passions, and through surprising moments when someone’s need connected with our abundance. Many of us began networking with others who live and work nearby, and whom we could partner with for God’s mission.

A significant take-away for our congregation is that formation and mission cannot be separated. We will be transformed as we continue to follow Jesus into our local parishes. Our lives will be changed, and that might feel uncomfortable to us. At times it is easy to approach mission, whether local or international, as something we do with the answers. Tim and Paul encouraged us to approach mission as listeners and learners, watching for where God was already at work, trusting that people’s deepest desires are God-given and good. As we listen and watch and learn, as we rub shoulders with people outside our usual social groups, we will certainly find God revealing new things to us and inviting us to see ourselves and others in new ways.

Another take-away for us is that this is slow work. Faithful neighborhood presence is not a program and it is not an event. Faithful presence is for the long haul. It is a long-term commitment to place and to people, to listening and connecting, to earning trust by being there over time, to working for the common good with our neighbors. Gone are the days when you could advertise an event or a special Sunday service and people would flock to the church to be part of the program, and a large part of me is thankful those days are gone. I’m becoming convinced that it is small things over large amounts of time, that yield the deep fruit of salvation, for those outside “the church,” and also for me. We are transformed as we journey along the way. All of us are. I am thankful that this weekend of training and fellowship marked another milestone along the journey of entering into God’s mission and being changed, for Doylestown Mennonite congregation and others as well.

Kris Anne Swartley is the minister for missional journey at Doylestown Mennonite Church. 

Doylestown congregation to host missional training

New Parish SymposiumOn Saturday, February 28, Doylestown Mennonite Church will host a day-long conference called “The New Parish: How Neighborhood Churches Are Transforming Mission, Discipleship and Community.”

The training will be led by Tim Soerens and Paul Sparks, who, along with Dwight J. Friesen, co-authored The New Parish. Soerens and Sparks are founders of The Parish Collective and Inhabit Conference.

The event grew out of Doylestown Mennonite’s own missional journey and looking ahead to what could come next for the congregation. Kris Anne Swartley, the main organizer of the event, says that she was interested in having Soerens and Sparks for a training day because they have listened to and learned from church leaders across North America, in churches working at local mission in their neighborhoods.

Tickets for the day are $25, and lunch will be provided. Space is limited, so early registration is encouraged. Register by calling or emailing the Doylestown Mennonite church office at 215-345-6377 or info@doylestownmc.org.

Partnership with MCC builds diverse leadership

by Lora Steiner, managing editor

Mikah
Mikah Ochieng was a Summer Service Worker this year at Philadelphia Praise Center.

When people think “urban,” chances are pretty good that Doylestown, Pennsylvania is not a place that comes to mind. Thirty years ago, it was a traditional farming community; now, it’s a well-off, artsy, suburban Philadelphia town. And yet, one congregation, Doylestown Mennonite, is incorporating a program traditionally geared towards urban congregations—the Mennonite Central Committee Summer Service Worker Program—to also reach out to a radically-changed surrounding community.

For the Doylestown congregation, having an MCC summer service worker is one of a number of initiatives they’ve begun in order to meaningfully connect with people in the community, moves that have at times felt stretching, and even risky. Over the last several years, says Pastor Randy Heacock, the church has opened its doors to various local initiatives, including a community garden and a peace camp, taking place this month. Derrick Garrido, who attends Doylestown Mennonite and is a student at Cairn University, spent the summer connecting with artists in the community, working to create space for artistic expression within the community and connect with those who might not have a faith community.

MCC started the summer service program in the ’80s, with the same focus it has today: To work in urban areas and provide employment and leadership opportunities to people of color. The goal, says program coordinator Danilo Sanchez (Whitehall congregation), is to allow people opportunities to stay in their home communities and churches and make a difference where they’re living now. Participants must be a person of color between the ages of 18 and 30, preferably enrolled in a university or college, and be connected with a constituent church of MCC, such as Mennonite Church USA or Brethren in Christ members. Some participants come through Mennonite Mission Network and Mennonite colleges. Generally, a congregation submits a proposal first, and regional MCC coordinators review the application. If it is approved, applicants are then invited to apply to the MCC U.S. program. In the past, both Franconia and Lancaster Mennonite conferences have contributed financial support, and a number of congregations, such as Philadelphia Praise Center, have had someone in the program for the last several years.

This year, Mikah Ochieng worked at Philadelphia Praise Center, under the supervision of pastor Aldo Siahaan. Ochieng says he’s grateful for the opportunity to have been both a learner and a teacher in a community that has been so hospitable to him, and the one he calls home. When asked about challenges, Ochieng said that of course there had been obstacles, such as a small number of volunteers, but his experience has been that “what we lack in such resources we make up in our commitment to serve one another.”

“It’s a quality-over-quantity type of thing.”

IMAG0306
Derrick Garrido kneels beside soccer camp participant Ben Swartley.

New Hope Fellowship, in Alexandria, Virginia, has also participated in MCC’s Summer Service Program for many years. This year, Alex Torres worked with the church’s kid’s club, helped a friend of the congregation with a hip hop school, and assisted the Spanish-speaking community in a variety of ways.

Torres says he’d known others from the congregation who had participated in the summer service worker program, and wanted to make an impact in his community. He says his favorite part was working with the kids, and that he wanted to show them a different, more positive route than the one that’s laid out for many children in his community.

“Where I come from, there’s always a lot of not-so-good things happening… I pay a lot of attention to the youth around here.”

Over the last seven years, summer service worker participants at New Hope have chosen different areas: One worked in a homeless shelter, in part because that’s where he lived. Others who are bilingual have helped people navigate the system.

For New Hope’s pastor, Kirk Hanger, the one of the many benefits of the program is that thepeace camp 2 young adults are from the congregation—they know the context, the congregation and the community, and when it’s done, they stay.

“We get to continue to walk with these young adults and mentor them… and experience more of the fruit of what they’ve learned and done.”

Heacock says that his congregation has worked hard to figure out what it means to be missional—both in the community with relationships that already exist, but also, as he puts it, “How do we not just preserve it for us, but also use our space to be an outpost for the kingdom?”

“If the goal is to learn what God has for us in the midst of it, I really think there’s very little failure.”