Tag Archives: Eastern District

Historic Decisions & the Promise of God’s Good Work

by Stephen Kriss, Executive Minister

At our annual assembly earlier this month, our delegate community affirmed two historic decisions that have potential to reshape our Conference.   These were not easy and quick decisions, but rather the fruit of relationships and what we believe to be the leading of the Spirit.  The Spirit relentlessly invites us toward transformation.  We have discerned this time to say yes to the invitation.

These two movements will challenge the best of who we claim to be as followers of Jesus.  The reconciliation process with Eastern District Conference sets out to reunite our communities into one body after over a century of separation.  This kind of reconciliation work has been a hallmark of our identity as Anabaptist/ Mennonites.  However, it’s a path we’ve rarely had the courage or humility to walk to restore relationships after theological/ecclesialogical differences in a way that offers a witness of the power of Christ’s peace.  This affirmation intends to frame the work needed to restore the right fellowship that was torn asunder by disagreements and to work to acknowledge historic wounds.   Admittedly, though, the details of this path ahead are yet to be determined.

This affirmation to move toward a unified conference, likely with a new name, means embracing a new identity that honors our shared past, our divergent paths and the truth of the reconciling power of Christ that we believe can transform us and the world.  This is work that is local in the very spaces where some of our fore-parents resettled on this continent seeking a place of peace and flourishing.  This will be hard work, but also a work of grace, the work of the Spirit among us.

At the same time, our Conference affirmed four new member congregations.  All four congregations are comprised mostly of immigrants from Indonesia.   These communities are an outgrowth of our global connectivity, our commitments that began over 100 years ago to seek to share Christ’s peace cross culturally with those who are also seeking a place of peace and flourishing in this hemisphere.  These four communities extend our Conference in ways we may not have imagined before, stretching us now from southern Vermont to Southern California.

This move to welcome into membership the new congregations was shaped around our commitments to family and hospitality.  These are core values and metaphors for our understanding of ourselves as a community.  We are family — sisters and brothers.  We extend gracious hospitality because we have received the gracious hospitality of Christ.  We know that Christ again shows up when we extend that hospitality to others. Our overwhelming affirmation together of these four new communities is holy — the work that God has called us to for this time.  The Spirit continues the gift of Pentecost among us, drawing us together across ethnicity, language, tribe and geography.

At a recent lecture at Swarthmore College, I heard Eboo Patel assert that people who climb mountains should not complain that climbing a mountain is difficult.   We have discerned a path forward that is not easy and is unfamiliar.  Jesus proclaimed that it’s not the easy path but that the burden itself is light.  It is in such spaces that we rely on God, where we trust the Spirit who gives life to continue to guide us.

At the same time, we use all of our capacities.  We use our strengths.  We learn from those who have gone before us.  We prepare for the journey ahead.   We approach humbly but boldly.   We continue to work and hope.

I am not naïve, nor should any of us be.  This is a time when the church is more often being torn asunder rather than united together across differences.  We have discerned together to attempt something that is countercultural: to seek reconciliation and to continue to be reshaped as the people of God across cultural boundaries.  May God strengthen us as we continue to live the good work that Christ has begun and promised to sustain in us until the fullness of salvation.


Delegates Begin Conferring for Assembly

This year, Franconia Conference delegates are being asked to consider two main agenda items at the Fall Assembly: One being four congregations for membership, three of these congregations come from California and one from New York. All four are Indonesian congregations and have ties to Franconia’s Indonesian congregations in South Philadelphia. The second item delegates are being asked to consider is the recommendations from the Exploring Reconciliation Reference Team, which states that the team recommends that Eastern District and Franconia Conferences, “enter a formal engagement process for the purposes of healing and reconciliation and with the intention of becoming a single, unified conference by November 2019.”

Both of these items are monumental for Franconia Conference. Therefore, delegate discernment around them began this past week at two Assembly Scattered meetings. These meetings are an opportunity for delegates to gather together and discuss the agenda items and ask questions of conference leadership. The scattered meetings began last week, one being held on October 5 at Franconia Mennonite Church and a second on October 10 at Swamp Mennonite Church with combined participation of around 100 delegates. Two more scattered meetings are scheduled for this coming week: October 16 at Nueva Vida Norristown New Life and October 17 via video conference. Currently, 61% of Franconia Conference delegates have either attended or are registered to attend an assembly scattered meeting.

These scattered meetings provide vital discernment time as together, delegates work to confer around whether or not to admit four new congregations as members and whether or not to continue to envision a single united conference with Eastern District. The hope is that by the end of Assembly 2017, Franconia Conference will know if they have 4 new member churches and whether or not they will be working to implement a team to envision a united conference with Eastern District (EDC), so that in November of 2019 they will be able to vote on whether or not to merge with EDC.

Admitting the four congregations as members would make Franconia a bi-coastal conference. Modern technology makes relationships across great distance a bit easier.  At one point in Franconia’s history, leaders used to take 7-hour buggy rides to visit constituents; now, it would be a 7-hour bi-coastal plane ride. As Steve Kriss, Executive Minister, said in a recent article, “In the past, we have worked at church planting in Hawaii.  We have maintained long term partnerships with congregations in Mexico City.  For 50 years we have traveled the six-hour trip back and forth to our congregations in Vermont.  This will have some similar characteristics; there will for sure be challenges, but I believe that we’ll learn and be stronger by cultivating these partnerships together.”

Since 2011, Eastern District and Franconia Conferences have been working together more formally with their leadership, meeting on a regular basis and sharing in joint assemblies each fall. Congregations in close proximity have also worked at building relationships. At the 2016 Conference Assembly, both conferences agreed to implement an Exploring Reconciliation Reference Team (read more about that here) to see if Reconciliation was possible between the two Conferences. That team not only believes reconciliation is possible, but also believes there is a possibility for merger as laid out in their final report which can be viewed here: edc-fmc.org/exploring-reconciliation-report. However, there is still work to be done before merger can be considered. This year at Assembly, delegates will discern if they believe God is calling them to that work.

As the Conference continues to work to equip leaders to empower others to embrace God’s mission, there is much prayer and discernment to be done.

To learn more about the four new churches, check out the Congregational Profiles on the Franconia Business Tab at: edc-fmc.org/assembly/.


God@Work: Conference cousins in conversation

by Warren Tyson, Eastern District Conference Minister, & Ertell Whigham, Franconia Executive Minister

Forum with Eastern DistrictWhen relatives get together who haven’t seen each other in many years, they share their stories of their journeys with each other. They share where they have been, what they have been up to, how they have occupied their time. In some ways, the last couple of years of relationship between Eastern District Conference and Franconia Mennonite Conference have felt somewhat like that.

For the last two years, moderators and conference ministers have been meeting about every two months to share stories and reflect on where God has taken us in the past and where we sense God is taking us forward. It’s been a journey of revealing what we share in common as well as our differences as we become more aware of each other’s conference systems and how they function. In the midst of this journey, we have intentionally invited God to make his presence real guiding our path.

These two conference families split 165 years ago over issues such as taking minutes, organizing Sunday Schools, educating pastors, and urban mission. Today, we are well aware that these particular issues are no longer divisive, yet as we continue to explore shared ministry, we must consider what differences do exist in our separate conference systems that the other should be attentive to.

Historically, Eastern District has had a more limited conference staff composition with greater emphasis on congregational autonomy than Franconia has. In recent years, however, this difference has lessened as Franconia has cut back some of its staff services and Eastern District has added a church plant coach.

Forum with Eastern District
Members from Eastern District and Franconia Conferences met for two forums earlier this year to discuss the conferences’ shared history and the possibility of a shared future.

A year ago, after seeking counsel of our member churches, Eastern District and Franconia Conferences partnered with Christopher Dock Mennonite High School to employ a youth minister. Early this summer, the conferences together engaged the services of a Peace and Justice Minister through the guidance and support of the Peace and Justice Committee, which has included active members from both conferences for well over ten years. Most recently, we have been in conversation around the idea of forming a joint Faith and Life Ministry Team to discern together what the Holy Spirit is saying to us about the real issues our congregations are facing.

The last few years, we have become more aware of congregations working together across conference lines, pastors finding support from one another, and outreach ministries developing as a shared vision in the local community develops.  These stories of God @ Work have invigorated our bi-monthly leadership gatherings, as we continue to seek God’s way in developing a shared vision. What this ongoing work means for our future is yet to be determined.

We look forward to hearing your stories of where you see God @ Work–where God is developing a shared vision your local community.  You will have opportunities to share your stories at this year’s united Conference Assembly, November 10, at Penn View Christian School in Souderton.  You can also share you story online or register for workshops, meals and childcare on our website, assembly.franconiaconference.org.

Conference Assembly to build unity

Emily Ralph, Swamp, eralph@franconiaconference.org

Franconia and Eastern District Conferences will hold a joint conference assembly this November.

“We felt that this is an exciting opportunity resulting from a long standing conversation about what it means to work together for God’s purpose and ministry in our region from Georgia to Vermont,” said Ertell Whigham, Franconia Conference’s executive minister.

The planning for this annual gathering, which will be held November 11-12 at Penn View Christian School in Souderton, Pa., has already begun. Members from both conferences are working together on details of the joint worship service on Friday evening, including guest speaker Dennis Edwards (pastor of Peace Fellowship Church in Washington DC), an intercultural worship team, and exploration of this year’s theme, Unity and Maturity in the Body of Christ (from Ephesians 4:16). Although each conference will hold its own delegate sessions, Eastern District and Franconia Conferences will reunite for part of the day on Saturday to recognize new leaders and discuss future collaboration.

Franconia Conference is also planning a series of Conference Assembly Scattered gatherings, which will meet on the evenings of October 4, 9, 11, & 19 at locations throughout eastern Pennsylvania (TBA) or online streaming. The purpose of these gatherings is to prepare delegates, according to Gay Brunt Miller, director of administration. “It is an important assignment that helps to influence and shape the work of Franconia Conference and should be accepted with a real sense of God’s call,” she said.

This is not the first partnership between Franconia and Eastern District Conferences: they already share office space and staff and are in the process of hiring a shared conference youth minister. The conferences also share resources and training events, so the joint conference assembly is a logical next step. “It feels natural and timely,” said Whigham. “We are excited about the possibilities of what it will mean for our future together.”

Wednesday Morning Prayer


You are invited to join us this fall on Wednesday mornings, 9-10 a.m., at the Mennonite Conference Center on Yoder Road in Harleysville,Pa. to intercede for the work of the church in this region and the needs of local congregations and pastors of Franconia and Eastern District Conferences. As we gather, we will spend time listening and discerning together any words of encouragement for the leadership of the conferences as they continue to call us to be faithful followers of Jesus. Beginning September 7 and continuing through November 9, our corporate prayer will help to prepare the way for the joint conference assembly being held in November.

Refreshing our vision for youth ministry

by Marlene Frankenfield, Salford, mfrankenfield@franconiaconference.org

As youth leaders, pastors, and youth gathered with Eastern District and Franconia Conference leaders in the fellowship hall at Towamencin Mennonite Church on June 6, there was a buzz of energy in the air. Conference leadership invited these groups to be a part of creating a vision for youth ministry and to help bring that vision closer to the core of the vision and mission of both conferences.Youth Visioning

I was impressed at the passion and engagement of the mix of people at each table. It was great to hear the table groups invite the youth give the verbal report back to the whole gathering. There was a sense of hope as the young voices spoke.

Zion Mennonite’s Youth Pastor, Scott Benner, and I were asked to give the history of youth ministry in Franconia and Eastern District conferences to reveal some past cycles in conference leadership and programming. In the past there was more focus on intentional planned gatherings that helped to build relationships between youth groups. History shows that conference youth ministry moved away from programming to more resourcing gatherings for youth leaders and youth. Over the years there were many effective initiatives that worked toward calling and developing young leaders through intentional relationships and mentoring. Another cycle was both conferences’ connection to Christopher Dock Mennonite High School in development, teaching, and vision while inviting a close connection to congregations. This relationship benefited the church, home, and school as Anabaptist faith was woven through education.

As I listened to each table report, I heard a strong call for more gatherings where discussion and discernment can happen. There was a desire for a deeper spirituality and to create settings where young people can share about what God is doing in their lives and discuss theological issues. I have noticed over my years in conference leadership that we have moved from a “theology of answers” to more of a teaching style and discipleship that welcomes questions and discovery. This changed how we worked at faith formation in congregations and conferences.

Youth VisioningI heard the world “belonging” used many times during the evening. Young people seem to want to belong to the church. I sense church leaders are searching for ways to create a safe place for young people to feel like they belong as they surround them with adults that walk with and mentor them, while pointing the way to a relationship with Christ. This approach uses spiritual practices and story to weave faith through culture instead of teaching young people that they need to be separate from the world—a philosophy that sometimes created fear of the culture and the world. This is a change from the programming, teaching, and preaching from the past that was more of an evangelistic focus, that is, more about “saving” young people and then teaching and discipling them into belonging to the church.

As one of the youth closed the meeting with a final blessing, I was overwhelmed by the gift of this meeting as I transition out of my position as conference youth minister in July. I am leaving with deep hope as conference leaders work toward a shared vision for youth ministry. I have been truly blessed working with many youth pastors and volunteer leaders that have a passion for walking with young people, loving them unconditionally, and extending God’s grace within a faith community.


Conferences initiate intercultural worship and songwriting cohort

By Ben Sutter, benjamins5@goshen.edu, Franconia Conference Communications

As a conference embracing formational, intercultural, and missional values, Franconia Conference will join with the Eastern District Conference to offer a series of experiences exploring intercultural worship. In preparation for this year’s joint Conference Assembly, the conferences are initiating a worship and songwriting cohort open to anyone interested in playing and creating music together. Leaders hope this time of joint worship will encourage musicians in both conferences to offer their skills and creativity to the Conference Assembly in a new way.

The “jam sessions” will take place on four separate Fridays throughout the summer in the second floor of the Mennonite Conference Center in Harleysville, PA. The sessions will be held July 15, August 5, August 26, and September 16 from 7pm until 9pm.

Coordinator Emily Ralph, Associate Director of Communication for Franconia Conference, is excited about the possibilities that might emerge from this event.

“The purpose of these ‘jam sessions’ is to create a diverse community of musicians that can work out together what it means to be an intercultural worshiping community,” says Ralph. “I look forward to this being an experience that will unite musicians and songwriters across geographic, cultural, and ethnic boundaries.”

Musicians and songwriters of all instruments and ability levels are encouraged to attend. Prayer intercessors are also invited to pray during meetings, either onsite or from their homes. The cohort will join in study, worship, jamming, and songwriting to inspire times of corporate worship that are formational, intercultural and missional.

Ralph asks participants to come with an open heart and a willingness to make friends and allow the Holy Spirit to move through their musical gifts.

“I hope that we will form friendships that will allow us to minister together in the future, build relationships that will lead the way in church unity, and create a new expression ofworship that will reflect who we are as a diverse community of worshipers.”

Ralph cautions participants to release their own definitions of success for this event.

“This is an experiment,” she says. “We don’t know how it will turn out or if it will even be a ‘success’ by human standards. My definition of success is that we’re going to try and see what happens. We’re going to be finding our way, so it could get really messy.”

Defining the process as messy doesn’t scare Ralph. She is excited about the opportunities that this cohort could generate.

“Messy isn’t bad,” says Ralph. “Sometimes it takes messiness to create something new!”

Those interested should RSVP to Ralph at eralph@franconiaconference.org.

Franconia Conference and Eastern District Conference announce joint assembly

By Emily Ralph, eralph@franconiaconference.org

Franconia Conference and Eastern District Conference of Mennonite Church USA will hold a joint conference assembly this November.

“We felt that this is an exciting opportunity resulting from a long standing conversation about what it means to work together for God’s purpose and ministry in our region from Georgia to Vermont,” says Ertell Whigham, Franconia Conference’s executive minister.

The annual gathering, which will be held November 11-12 at Penn View Christian School in Souderton, Pa., will be planned by a team consisting of members from both conferences.  Although some details are still in process, the event is already scheduled to include a joint worship service on Friday evening and then separate delegate sessions on Saturday.

The purpose of this joint event, says Eastern District executive minister Warren Tyson, is to strengthen the unity of the two conferences and continue to move forward in common work in this region.  Added benefits would include costs savings and increased value for Conference Related Ministries, who would only have to set up booths at one event instead of two.

This is not the first partnership between Franconia and Eastern District Conferences: they already share office space and staff and are in the process of hiring a joint conference-wide Youth Minister.  The conferences also share resources and training events, so the joint conference assembly is a logical next step.

“It feels natural and timely,” says Whigham.  “We are excited about the possibilities of what it will mean for our future together.”

Student Leadership Event

Student Leadership Event

November 20, 2010,
8:30 a.m. – 8:30 p.m.

Philadelphia Mennonite High School

$40 per person

100 maximum participantsStudents must be accompanied by an adult

Downlaod more info:
» Schedule
» Workshop Options
» Download Reg. form
» Consent and medical form
» FAQs

Sponsored by:Franconia Conference’s School for Leadership Formation and Eastern District Conference

If you have questions contact Marlene Frankenfield

Collaborative missional learning task force formed for Indian Valley initiatives

by Stephen Kriss

blooming-glen-bapt-4.jpgLeaders from ministries and organizations connected with Eastern District Conference and Franconia Mennonite Conference of Mennonite Church USA met on April 5 at Dock Woods Community at Lansdale, Pa, to initiate a conversation about future partnerships toward collaborative missional learning. The gathering has implications for broader cooperation and included representatives from Living Branches (an affiliation of Franconia Conference-related retirement communities), Christopher Dock Mennonite High School, Eastern Mennonite Seminary in Pennsylvania and Biblical Seminary in Hatfield, Pa. The meeting included board members, business leaders, pastors, conference staff and organizational leaders in conversation together.

The group met to discuss possibilities and to engage in storytelling on the movement on education and equipping within a variety of contexts, considering from the pew to pulpit as well as later year learning. Though an informal conversation, the group named a task force to continue the conversation toward more practical realities and paths for mutual enhancement of mission and vision for extending the reign of God and missional engagement locally in Bucks and Montgomery Counties in Pennsylvania.

Franconia Conference is undergoing a conference-wide review while regional conferences of Mennonite Church USA, including Harleysville-based Eastern District Conference, continue to explore collaborative equipping and learning opportunities from an Anabaptist perspective. Christopher Dock Mennonite High School is also in the midst of a marketing review along with Penn View Christian School in nearby Souderton, Pa. Both Biblical Seminary and Eastern Mennonite Seminary in Pennsylvania are expanding options to serve emerging congregational leaders in the Philadelphia region considering both urban and suburban constituencies. With the recent affiliation of Souderton Mennonite Homes and the Dock Woods facilities under the name Living Branches, there is a new opportunity to explore lifelong living and learning among a community of 1500 residents.

The group named a task force set to include:

  • Phil Bergstresser, board member Christopher Dock Mennonite High School, broker/owner, Bergstresser Real Estate
  • David Dunbar, President, Biblical Seminary
  • Steve Kriss, Director of Leadership Cultivation for Franconia Conference of Mennonite Church USA
  • Rich McDaniel, board member Biblical Seminary, president of College Retail Alliance
  • Conrad Swartzentruber, Principal, Christopher Dock Mennonite High School
  • Mark Wenger, Director of Pastoral Studies, Eastern Mennonite Seminary at Lancaster (Pa)
  • Warren Tyson, Conference Minister, Eastern District Conference of Mennonite Church USA