Tag Archives: Doylestown Mennonite Church

Lifting Up the Gifts of Others

by Jennifer Svetlik, Salford congregation

Randy Heacock particularly enjoys helping congregations think through their communications processes. “Many congregations tend to do a lot of informal communication, which can privilege the inner, familiar circles and unintentionally leave a lot of people out,” he reflects.  “It is lifegiving to help congregations better understand what they’re trying to accomplish and to communicate more effectively.” 

Randy serves as a leadership minister for Bally, Rocky Ridge, Towamencin and Wellspring congregations. In this role, he seeks to accompany and encourage not only the congregation’s pastors, but the congregation as a whole. He occasionally speaks in these congregations and meets bimonthly with their pastors and annually with church leadership.

“I enjoy watching congregations own their decisions, lean into them, and try to be faithful to what God is calling them to do,” Randy says. Recently he has been an observer and cheerleader to Tim Moyer at Bally as the church seeks to move to from a membership-driven to a “centered set” approach to church life. 

As a leadership minister he also seeks to be available to the congregation during times of transition, such as with Towamencin, where he serves on a search committee looking for a new lead pastor. Accompanying congregations through transition includes being available during times of crisis or loss.

“In December 2018, [Pastor] Mike Meneses passed away, and that was an intense time of walking alongside Mike as well as the Wellspring congregation,” Randy reflects. 

Randy became a leadership minister in January 2017. He had served as lead pastor of Doylestown congregation since 2001 and was drawn to the leadership minister position as an opportunity to share what he has learned with other pastors, as well as to bring back to Doylestown what he learns from other congregations.

Previously, Randy served in ministry with the United Methodist Church (UMC). “The faith I was raised with was more intellectual and theological, and I found myself attracted to the more relational approach of the Mennonite Church, as well as the call to love our enemies and those different from us.” 

Randy and wife Nancy

His time with the UMC still influences the way that he sees leadership. “As pastors we do have authority and we shouldn’t be afraid to exercise it. At times the servant leadership model in the Mennonite church has made us shy away from the responsibility we have to exercise that authority for the good of the community.”  

In 2000, Randy had a “gap year” between pastorates, something that he recommends for every pastor. Through a year working in a chime factory, Randy developed a deep appreciation of entrepreneurs and small business owners who treat their employees respectfully and carry the stress of providing jobs and creating a successful business.  

The experience prompted him to identify ways to lift up the gifts of small business owners. “We have not known well in the church how to engage entrepreneurs and their creativity. We are risk-averse and afraid of failure in the church, and that tends to choke out entrepreneurs. Businesses move on from failure much better than churches,” he reflects.

More broadly, working outside of ministry has helped remind Randy of what daily life looks like for most churchgoers, and how to better serve them. “As pastors we focus too much on what happens in church. Church is a small piece of what people do. We should instead focus on how to help people connect their experience in church with how they engage in the world.” 

Randy also emphasizes the importance of pastors having a life outside of work. “I think it’s vital for pastors to have circles outside of their church to be themselves and have fun. It’s not healthy to be too identified to your work,” Randy encourages. 

For Randy, this looks like playing trivia weekly at a local establishment with a group of friends, hiking, being outdoors, and fixing things. Notably, he finds regularly waxing his car enjoyable and relaxing. 

Called as (Youth) Leaders

by Heidi Swartley, Doylestown congregation, and Kate Hockman, Deep Run East congregation

Over the first weekend of September, we had the wonderful opportunity to attend  Franconia & Eastern District Conference’s youth leadership retreat. During this retreat we learned many lessons and met many people who we probably wouldn’t have met otherwise. It was a fantastic feeling to spend time with other people from separate churches in our conference who had the same willingness to lead. The weekend included a wonderful speaker, awesome team building exercises, and an overall feeling of excitement to learn and lead.

One of the first things we recognized on our retreat is just how hard leadership is. Showing up, being present, putting yourself out there, and trying with all of who you are, is taking a huge risk. Our doubt and fear will convince us that it is not a risk worth taking, and we are not the right people for the job. This doubt is a part of life. Our speaker for the weekend, Pastor Joe Hackman (Salford congregation), assured us that all leaders experience doubt—a reality we don’t often name or recognize. But as leaders, we do not stand alone, relying on our own strength.

Our theme for the weekend, “I Am Called”, grounded us in the confidence that we have been called: He will never leave us nor forsake us, and He will go with us as we work for the glory of His kingdom.

Scripture. As Pastor Joe talked to us about how we stay grounded in our faith in the midst of our doubt, he turned us to Scripture. The Bible tells the stories of many great spiritual leaders, who all grappled with doubt the same way we do today. Our theme verse from the weekend was 1 Timothy 4:12, in which Paul comforts Timothy in the midst of doubt over his young age. Timothy also had struggles with his family and his health, which likely contributed to the doubt. Jeremiah, in the Old Testament, tells the story of God using people, even in their doubt. God calls Jeremiah, and Jeremiah retreats into doubt saying: “I don’t know how…” and “I’m only….” Scripture not only tells us about the doubt of past leaders, but also provides verses of comfort and instruction in what to do with our doubt.

Values. Everybody has them, but sometimes it’s hard to tell what they are. Joe suggested saying the following statement. “If I took away___ from ___, they would cease to exist.” For example, If I took away empathy from Kate or love from Heidi, they would cease to exist. Identifying and knowing what your core values are is another way to handle our doubt. In order to identify our core values as leaders, we were given small cards with different values on them, values such as freedom, empathy, and helpfulness. After Pastor Joe told us to split our cards into different groups based on their importance, he asked us to pick three to five core values that were important to us. We realized that if we were ever experiencing doubt, we could fall back on the values that we picked. 

Community. Community is one of the most powerful ways to cope with doubt, and as Pastor Joe told us, “fear fears community.” In order to be a successful leader, we need to realize that somebody is always on our side. Our church community is always there to support us in any way they can, especially in times of doubt; they’re right there, cheering us on from the sidelines. Community helps to root us in the truth, in how truly loved, supported, and valued we are. Community is patient with us, in our fear, brokenness, and weakness. Seeing Christ’s love reflected in another’s love for us is a powerful thing. 

Overall, this experience taught us so much, and we are grateful we had the opportunity to go to this retreat. We learned so much about God and what it means to be a leader.

What Binds Us Together?

by Mark Reiff, Doylestown congregation

When I was in seminary, I had a professor start a class by sharing with us the background of the word “religion” (or in the Latin, religaire): “to bind.”  He then asked us, What does it mean for our religion to bind us together?

The Structure & Identity Task Force (L to R): Scott Roth (Eastern District Conference), Mike Clemmer (Towamencin), Mark Reiff (Doylestown), Rina Rampogu (Plains), Ron White (Church of the Good Samaritans), Sherri Brokopp Binder (Ripple) and Josh Meyer (Franconia) – missing from photo, Edie Landis (Zion).

I can’t remember where the conversation went after that question, but as I have participated in the Structure and Identity Task Force for the new, reconciled Conference, this has been the driving question in my mind:

“What binds us together as a conference?”

For many generations, this question has been answered by some geographic grouping, both at the conference level and at the congregational level. I have often been reminded by older members at Doylestown congregation about how many of the families who are still connected to our congregation have or have had farms near the church’s building. In the same way, conferences in our denomination generally grouped congregations based on geographic proximity.

Another significant piece of Mennonite church history was the work of bishops or overseers, who were responsible for ensuring that the congregations and households within their sphere conformed to a shared understanding of Christlike living. I have been told stories by older members of my congregation about their families hiding TVs or other “worldly” things when the bishop visited. These bishops played a significant role in binding up a shared identity through setting boundaries and disciplining congregations and families.

As technology has made our world smaller and allowed information to travel faster and as our lives have become more visible through social media, our attention has shifted towards binding our shared identity around other factors. As we continue to discern a way forward in our life together as a new Conference, a few reflections stick out in my mind:

  • How we figure out a shared belief system will require more reflection, nuance, and grace given our polarized context. To some extent, when we declare that Jesus is Lord and the center of our faith, we are anchored together in that belief.  Yet theological and ecclesial fault lines exist between and within our congregations; our cultural tendency is to take the convenient road of blasting someone with whom we disagree instead of doing the hard work of self-reflection on why their contrary belief bothers us so much. I imagine the work of Franconia’s Faith and Life Commission could offer us some further wisdom in this area.
  • Even a completely successful reconciliation process could result in feelings of loss and/or grief. Many of the congregations forming this new conference have already experienced seasons of loss and grief because of broken relationships and shifting affiliations. As we come together to chart a new shared journey, it is likely that many congregations will encounter new losses, which could range from missing some past traditions to saying good-bye to familiar and beloved congregations who feel God’s call to connect elsewhere within the Church.
  • God is good and can be trusted with our shared life. This work of creating a new conference is hard because of the energy it requires and scary because we might not always know what the end result will be. Since we have entered into this process through mutual discernment and prayer, however, we can have confidence that God will provide for us as a conference and as congregational families.

As we continue to discern our way forward as a new Conference, I invite you to reflect on your sense of belonging, both on congregational and conference levels. What binds you to your faith community and why? What binds your faith community to other faith communities and why?

As we reflect honestly on this and hear from one another, God’s path forward for us will become more clear and we will be better equipped to connect with others on the journey.

Learning and Celebrating Along the Way

by Randy Heacock, Leadership Minister

In my work both as a pastor and for the conference, one of my greatest rewards is the opportunity to learn from and with others working in God’s Kingdom.

This display from Sandy Landes’ ordination represents God‘s power to transform what was once a barren desert into a lush land.

In the first congregation I served as a young minister in the United Methodist Church, the board of ordained ministry was wise enough to pair me with an older minister (younger than my current age) to mentor me.  Charles and I were very different both in our theological perspective and in our view of worship; however, he taught me the importance of accepting affirmation and “to let it sink deeply into your entire being.  Challenges and criticism will come frequently enough and you will need to have a strong bank account of affirmation to keep your balance.”  Fast forward to my current work, I file notes of affirmation and appreciation with a prayer of gratitude as evidence of God’s grace.

More recently, in working with the pastoral search committee at Towamencin, a person called to share concern regarding our process.  As I listened, I gained a fuller understanding both of what happened at our last meeting and how we could find our way forward.  Grateful for the honest feedback, I reached out to some other people for wisdom and discerned an approach for our next meeting.  The meeting was vastly improved with more vigorous engagement.  On the ride home, I thanked God for the varied gifts people contribute to the church. 

I recently met with Tim Moyer, pastor of Bally congregation, for breakfast at his house.  Let me first say that Tim knows how to fix breakfast!  As we talked, his excitement and energy was contagious.  The Bally congregation is working to learn about and practice a centered-set approach.  Tim shared how this focus is uniting the congregation.  They are also rethinking and reshaping who they are as a church.   I give thanks for the fresh wind of God creating new expressions.  I look forward to what God is yet to do at and through Bally. 

At Doylestown, where I serve as pastor, we recently celebrated the ordination of Sandy Landes.  Sandy’s ordination was a tribute to God’s constant pursuit and Sandy’s willingness to say “yes.”  Many people present would have witnessed Sandy’s transformation through the process of refusing, then reluctantly leading, and now leading boldly in a public setting.  Former members, family, neighbors, colleagues, and friends celebrated Sandy’s faithful example of answering God’s call.   The day after Sandy’s ordination, I rejoiced for the many people who nurtured and participated in this work of God. 

The photo above is a display that was present during Sandy’s ordination.  It represents God‘s power to transform what was once a barren desert into a lush land.  As in the little stories I have shared, it visually reminds us of God’s life-giving power.  May we all give thanks for the ways we have witnessed God’s transformational power.  May we continually learn to wait on God. 

 

 

“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.