Tag Archives: Eastern District

Names Matter

by Josh Meyer, Conference Naming Committee

My wife and I have two daughters. 

Our oldest is named Selah Ann.  The word selah is found as a notation in many of the Psalms.  It means something like “pause and consider.”  It was a cue for ancient worship leaders to slow down and invite the worshiping community to reflect on what they’d just heard before moving on to the rest of the psalm.  We love the idea that every time we say our daughter’s first name, we’re “pausing and considering” the goodness of God. 

Josh and family

Our youngest daughter is named Evie Joy.  Eve literally means “living” and joy comes from the same root word as grace.  Some scholars define joy as “grace acknowledged.”  Therefore, her name – Eve Joy – means “living acknowledgment of God’s grace.”  She’s been that for us, and her name reflects as much. 

The point?  Names matter.  Names have significance.  Names reveal identity and purpose and values.   

As Franconia Conference and Eastern District Conference move toward reconciliation and becoming a united conference once again, a question on many people’s minds is what the name of this new conference will be.  It’s not an insignificant question.  In one sense, what we do and who we are and how we live together is what matters most.  A name is simply what we call ourselves; God’s work among and through us is the highest priority.  Whatever we’re called, it’s our commitment to following Jesus, bearing witness to God’s peace, and experiencing transformation together that’s of primary importance. 

And yet, names matter.  Names have significance.  Names reveal identity and purpose and values. 

Josh Meyer gives an update from the Reconciliation Team at Spring Assembly 2019.

Therefore, the Structure and Identity Task Force has appointed a separate Naming Committee whose sole responsibility is to give attention to this important question.  The team is comprised of individuals from both conferences, and, for the past few months, we’ve been meeting and brainstorming and praying and listening and hoping.  It’s energizing, daunting, important work.    

The process is full of creativity and possibility.  We’re considering not only a name but potentially a logo as well.  We’ve discussed whether a descriptive tagline would be helpful.  We’ve considered input from other organizations that have changed names after a merger.  We’re talking with professional consultants.  We’ve discussed the possibility of using focus groups over the next few months.   And – here’s where we’d love for you to jump in – we’re actively seeking input and suggestions

As members of the new conference, you have a stake in this.  We want to hear from you.  If you have ideas for the Naming Committee, please send them in.  Whether it’s a specific name, a general concept (“maybe something around the theme of _____”), or a word of counsel, we are open to and intentionally asking for your thoughts.  You may send any ideas to Edie Landis and me (we’re both members of the Structure and Identity Task Force as well as helping to give leadership to the Naming Committee), and we’ll pass them on to the rest of the group.           

We’re excited about this process of discernment and discovery.  And we’re trusting with joyful expectancy that something will emerge that reflects our shared identity, purpose, and values.  Please join us in praying to that end.

Oh, and my daughters Selah and Eve?  They’re eagerly anticipating the addition of Baby #3 joining the Meyer family later this year.  They’re already letting us know their ideas for what the new baby should be called.  Evidentially, names matter—for conferences and to big sisters!

Naming Committee: Sara Kolb, Jaynie McCloskey, Aldo Siahaan, Merlin Hartman, Steve Kriss, Jim Musselman, Edie Landis (rodandedie1@verizon.net), & Josh Meyer (jmeyer@franconiamennonite.org).

God Makes All Things New

by Stephen Kriss, Executive Minister

Jesus is the center of our faith.  Community is the center of our life.  Reconciliation is the center of our work.—Palmer Becker from Anabaptist Essentials

 “Your people shall become my people.”—Ruth  1:15

Photo credit: MHEP

The Facebook post from retired Lancaster Conference Bishop Freeman Miller showed a photo of the former First Mennonite Church in Philadelphia with missing windows, a high wire fence and a notice of building violations and possible demolition.  While this building hasn’t been inhabited by the First Mennonite Church of Philadelphia for generations, I felt the pain of the possible loss.  This building had been the meetinghouse of what had been one of the largest Mennonite congregations on the East Coast, though they had relocated to the suburbs long ago.  It was the home church of Ann Allebach, the first Mennonite woman ordained for ministry in the country.  The Mennonite Historians of Eastern Pennsylvania worked to add the building to the city’s historic register.  For Eastern District, it represents a key historic spot and story.

When I came to Franconia Conference from the western half of the state over a decade ago, I learned quickly that to lead in our community meant learning our history.  I have also learned that it means learning to listen to those who are sometimes just outside of the narrative, as well as those whose stories we have not told.  For over 150 years, the stories of Franconia Conference and Eastern District Conference have been stories told in contrast:  General Conference/Mennonite Church (GC/MC) across the street, down the road, more worldly, more conservative.  The challenge for us in reconciliation will be to learn to tell our stories together in a fragmenting time.

As we move this fall toward the possibilities of reconciliation, I believe we are moving toward what is the essence of the Spirit’s work of healing and hope in our time.  The project of honestly assessing the wounds of the past and recognizing the possibilities that are unleashed through reconciliation and forgiveness gives us a strong posture for the future. 

How do we honor our experiences learned through our years alongside each other but apart?  How we do hear the stories told and untold?  How do we let our brokenness heal so that we are stronger and postured uniquely for the work and witness of God for our time?

For me, this means learning the stories of Eastern District Conference and honoring those places and spaces that are significant in their history, as well as the history of Franconia Conference.   It means emphasizing the role of God as is often de-emphasized in the story of the Prodigal Son, the one who welcomes home, who celebrates a return to family, who welcomes repentance and challenges arrogance even in faithfulness.  In the history of our story together as Conferences, at times we have both squandered our inheritance, distracted by the things of this world rather than the way of Christ’s peace.

I believe that reconciliation will make us stronger as a community.  Not because this bolsters numbers or helps with efficiencies, but because reconciliation further transforms us into the image of God revealed in Christ, who lays down privilege, who embraces incarnation, who recognizes the God who creates all things new — even 300-year-old communities of Mennonites separated for over a century.

A Glimpse Inside Eastern District’s Annual Family Reunion

by Scott Roth, Interim Executive Conference Minister of Eastern District Conference

When spring is in full swing,  Eastern District Conference (EDC) annually gathers to celebrate being family. Many times, congregations lose sight of the fact that they are not alone. In the hustle and bustle of our churches’ weekly gatherings, engaging in each other’s lives, and trying to make the world a better place by showing people the beauty of a relationship with God, we get bombarded with the concept of our local church. Many times, our local church becomes our focus and Conference turns into this “thing we do” versus this “thing we belong to”.  We even go as far as calling it family.

The Spring Assembly for EDC is not a gathering to do business, but to be family. The 10 churches of EDC have an opportunity to embrace the beauty of God’s family through the expression of the Mennonite lense. Our churches all have their local context, but this bond we have through our Mennonite Anabaptist heritage draws us together. Whether you are a congregation that is 300 or 10 years old, you are family in EDC.

Many wonder, what does this Spring Assembly look like? Over the years it has been a time of workshops, conference related ministries sharing their passions, and story-telling of God’s movement within our own contexts as congregations. Over the years we have found that Spring Assembly is a moment to pause and have a family reunion. Each year it is a time to refresh and see what God is doing amidst us!

This year the agenda was simple and interactive. 32 people gathered at Zion Mennonite Church and sat at round tables and began to engage each other. The morning was a time of reporting from Jim Musselman, Conference Moderator, and Pastor Scott Roth, Interim Executive Conference Minister. These reports talked of what is happening in the denomination, specifically in relation to the Journey Forward process and Constituency Leadership Council (CLC). We were reminded that the Journey Forward is a chance for churches to engage at a local level around what it means to be Mennonite Church USA. The hope is that every church will engage the Journey Forward study material that is being provided by Mennonite Church USA, so that when we go through the Journey Forward process in 2019 we’ll be equipped and ready to engage on how to move forward as a denomination. We, as local congregations, have this chance to interact around the materials that will shape our future denomination.

Time was then spent in circle tables reflecting and discussing the hopes and fears of joining with Franconia Conference and becoming one. This created dialogue to open up our hearts and minds to what it means to be conferences within the Mennonite context as well as being part of the Kingdom of God. Realizing that our two systems (Eastern District and Franconia) have a good working relationship, we know that at a local level, there are hurts that lie in more personal engagement stories. This being said, the hope is that we can both look at each other as conferences and view each other well when this process is all said and done, regardless of how a vote comes out.

To end the day, each church had time to share their stories of how God is working in their midst. Testimony was given to the presence that God has with us. God was seen in missions trips, community interactions, and new ways of discipling within our congregations.

When it was all said and done, EDC gathered together and had communion. They broke bread and gave witness to the daily work God is doing through us, remembering what God has done for us and continues to do with us. The Spring Assembly continues its tradition as a space for renewal, marking a moment of who we are as family in the Kingdom of God.

Life Together Gets More Interesting

Since 2011, Franconia and Eastern District Conferences have come together for an annual fall Assembly holding separate business sessions, yet enjoying joint times of worship on Friday evening and Saturday morning, sharing in the recognition of newly credentialed leaders, and lunch. This year on November 3 and 4, 2017 they gathered at Dock Mennonite Academy in Souderton, Pennsylvania to do the same. However, new this year, a time of joint meeting was held on Saturday afternoon that focused on reviewing recommendations from the Exploring Reconciliation Reference Team that the two Conferences voted to commission at the 2016 Assembly.

The Assembly was centered on Psalm 133:1,3b, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.” The theme was Life Together, as the focus of the Assembly was that while these two conference may have split 170 years ago, they continue to do life together.  A large part of the Assembly business this year was to look at whether these conferences would take the next step in their relationship, to look even more intentionally at reconciliation and what it would look like if they were to merge into one conference.

The weekend began with Friday night worship led by Tami Good of Swamp Mennonite Church, which included a worship team of folks whose first languages were Indonesian, Spanish and English and who came from congregations in South Philadelphia, New Jersey, and Upper Bucks and Montgomery Counties. The opening prayer was given in Indonesian, Spanish, English and even Pennsylvania Dutch. Videos were shown that highlighted  Souderton Mennonite Church’s Vocation as Mission internship program, “for young adults actively pursuing God’s kingdom in local communities.” Highlighted were the fact that the interns come from congregations across both conferences — most not even realizing there were two conferences — and the relationships built between the interns through Bible study, leadership and social issues trainings, as they worked side by side with local non-profits, businesses and ministries. The other video shown was about the ministries of Deep Run East and Deep Run West — one Franconia Conference church and one Eastern District church that happen to be across the street from one another. Their pastors, Ken Burkholder of Deep Run East and Rodger Schmell of Deep Run West, shared about how their congregations do ministry in such close proximity and how their relationship has changed over the years since their initial split. The worship time was followed by the annual ice cream social provided by Longacres Dairy.

Saturday morning, delegates began their day in separate Eastern District and Franconia Conference business sessions. This was a historic day for Franconia Conference as they became bi-coastal and accepted four new congregations as members, one from Flushing, New York and three from the Los Angeles, California area. Bethany Elshaddai Creative Community in New York is pastored by Hendy Stevans and has been connecting with Franconia Conference for about two years. Hendy is currently a student at Eastern Mennonite Seminary, attending classes at the Lancaster, Pennsylvania campus. The congregations in the Los Angeles area consist of Jemaat Kristen Indonesia Anugerah (JKIA) pastored by Virgo Handoyo, Indonesian Community Christian Fellowship pastored by Makmur Halim, and International Worship Church pastored by Buddy Hannarto. All three have had relationships with Franconia Conference for over a decade. The four congregations’ members are largely from Indonesia and joined with Franconia Conference pastors Aldo Siahaan of Philadelphia Praise Center and Beny Krisbianto of Nations Worship Center to share in a song. To learn more about these congregations check out their congregational profiles here. Following the 98% vote of affirmation to welcome these congregations, the delegates joined in singing songs in both English and Indonesian as a welcome.

The joint Franconia and Eastern District Conference Saturday worship was a time of song, remembering those who have passed on in the last year, and anointing 15 newly credentialed leaders. Following the anointing of the newly credentialed leaders, the leaders were dispersed throughout the auditorium and those in attendance were invited to be prayed over by them. It was truly a time of commissioning and sending forth. There was also a time of recognition of the Centennial of Mennonite Women USA and a video celebrating Eastern District and Franconia Conference’s shared Sistering Committee, a local chapter of Mennonite Women USA.

Following lunch by Landis’ Market, the delegates from Eastern District and Franconia Conferences joined one another around tables to hear from the Exploring Reconciliation Reference Team. The team reviewed their report that had been previously sent to the delegates, which can be accessed here. They also highlighted their recommendations. At their tables, the delegates were then invited to discuss any affirmations, concerns or questions they had regarding the report or the recommendations put forth. These were recorded on sheets of paper and submitted to be compiled and shared with those tasked at carrying out the recommendations, should the delegates vote to move forward with them.

The core recommendation from the team is that Eastern District and Franconia Conference “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.” In order to do this, the team recommended the forming of two teams: one to work intentionally at addressing the “spiritual and emotional components of reconciliation,” known as the “Healing and Reconciliation Team”, and the other being the “Identity Development and Structural Implementation Team,” tasked with managing “the process of forming a single unified conference, with particular attention to the structure, staffing, financial, and cultural realities of creating a single conference from the two existing conferences.”

Nancy Kauffman, Mennonite Church USA Denominational Minister for the two Conferences, closed the joint time in prayer.

After a short break, the conferences gathered in separate rooms where their delegates recorded on flip chart paper their largest affirmations and concerns regarding moving forward with the recommendations. Present were David Brubaker and Roxy Allen Kioko, consultants from Eastern Mennonite University who had been hired in 2016 and were working with the Exploring Reconciliation Reference Team. Following this and some open microphone time for questions and answers, the delegates voted. With a 90% affirmation from Franconia Conference and a 99% affirmation from Eastern District Conference, both agreed to move forward with working at reconciliation and exploring more formally what a merged conference will look like.

This means that over the next few weeks, both Conference Boards will be looking for nominations for the two teams presented in the recommendations. The goal will be to have these teams appointed no later than the end of the calendar year. According to the recommendations, there is a goal for the Healing and Reconciliation Team to hold a Reconciliation service at a Spring 2018 Assembly, and planning will therefore need to begin quickly. The Identity and Structural Development Team will, over the next two years, work to develop a shared mission and vision, a new organization chart and budget to be presented to the delegates in 2019. Therefore, a decision on whether or not these two conferences will merge will not come until 2019. Over the next few weeks, leaders of both conferences will work to address questions raised about the process. Keep your eye out for more information on that. To find out more about what is expected of these two teams and to nominate yourself or someone else for either team, click here. Nominations are due by Friday, December 1 at midnight.

To close this historic day, the two conferences joined together in song as they continue to look forward to Life Together.

For podcasts of the various business sessions and to view the videos shown at assembly, visit the Assembly page at: edc-fmc.org/assembly.

CLICK HERE to see a recap video of Conference Assembly.


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/.


When You Get Older You’ll Understand

by Ken Burkholder, pastor at Deep Run East Mennonite Church

There was a spirit of anticipation, joy, and camaraderie, at the combined worship service between the Mennonite churches of Deep Run East and Deep Run West on Sunday, August 6. Barry Schmell, who grew up at Deep Run West and is currently a hospital chaplain in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, began his sermon by telling a story about when he was a boy. As a child, Barry would ask his parents why their family drives by three other churches on the way to their church. He also asked them, “why does our family worship at Deep Run West, while many of our relatives worship at Deep Run East?” His parents responded by saying, “When you get older, you’ll understand!”

Well, whether we’re children, or adults, it’s not always easy for us to understand, nor explain, why there are two Mennonite churches across the street from each other both named Deep Run Mennonite.  I routinely hear this question from people in our local community, and those who are newer to the congregation. It’s almost as easy as trying to explain why there are two different Mennonite conferences within close geographic proximity named Franconia and Eastern District!

But, I’m grateful for opportunities, such as this joint worship service, which help to strengthen our connections with one another.  In this service, we incorporated persons from both congregations in the various elements of worship.  There was also an opportunity for people to greet one another, and to pray together in small cluster groups.  A logistical detail to arrange with this joint service is how to handle the offering!  We invited people to bring their offerings forward, and place them in the basket of their choice – one basket marked Deep Run East and one marked Deep Run West.  Our worship service was followed by an informal fellowship time with coffee and baked goods.

My prayer is that occasions such as this joint worship service help to strengthen the bonds of relationship, mutuality, and shared faith between Deep Run East and Deep Run West.  It may even help us all, whether young or older … understand …  how much we share in common!

Planting, Watering and Watching God Grow: Conferences Gather for Annual Assembly

“The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.” – 1 Corinthians 3:8-9

On November 4 and 5, 2016, Franconia Conference and Eastern District held their annual fall Conference Assembly. Since 2011, the conferences have come together for assembly holding separate business sessions, yet enjoying joint times of worship on Friday evening and Saturday morning, sharing in the recognition of newly credentialed leaders, lunch, and workshops.

plant-water-grow-colorThis year Assembly was centered on the theme of Plant, Water, Grow with 1 Corinthians 3:8-9 guiding the weekend. Over 200 members from both conferences gathered for worship and an ice cream social on Friday evening. They enjoyed being led in music by worship teams from Nueva Vida Norristown New Life, Centro de Alabanza de Filadelfia, a worship team comprised of credentialed leaders from the conferences, and a children’s choir comprised of 17 kids from congregations throughout the conferences, led by Michael Bishop from Blooming Glen Mennonite Church.

The evening was full of videos, highlighting how congregations have been planting, watering, and where they see God growing in their congregations and broader communities. There were stories of a bi-lingual women’s retreat, congregants gathering to support a refugee brother and sister as they navigate resettlement, ministry to motorcyclists, work toward being good environmental stewards, and more. All of the videos will be available for viewing on EDC-FMC.org/assembly by next week.

Timg_6106he message Friday evening was brought by Nate Stucky, Director of the Farminary at Princeton Theological Seminary. Nate is credentialed through Eastern District and spoke on “Lessons from the Garden,” including the process of death and transformation.  Nate, who thought himself a Kansas farm boy, imagined that his journey to Princeton would mean leaving behind his agrarian roots.  Instead, God used his background in farming and love of theology with his work at Princeton’s Farminary, where he integrates theological education with small-scale, sustainable agriculture.

Saturday was a historic day as over 240 delegates from Eastern District and Franconia Conferences met in separate business meetings to discuss a proposal for intentional exploration of reconciliation between the two conferences. Prior to assembly, delegates received a letter (read it here) from both Rodger Schmell, moderator of Eastern District, and John Goshow, moderator of Franconia Conference. The letter laid out some of the shared history, reasons for the split 169 years ago, and the collaboration that has been happening in the last two decades. In addition, the letter included a proposal to engage two consultants over the course of 2017 to intentionally explore what differences still exist between the two conferences and how the conferences may work toward reconciliation. Both moderators in their separate business sessions emphasized the current collaboration at a congregational and conference level. They also highlighted that the focus is on reconciliation which may or may not include a merger; however, both are hopeful that a merger may happen.

ca2016-10Table discussions from both conferences about the proposal included comments about how this is a great witness to the world and that as Mennonites “we are a people of reconciliation.” The timeline and not rushing the process was affirmed, along with the acknowledgement that the spirit is leading in this direction so it is wise to follow. At the same time, there were concerns voiced over differences in polity and views of the Confession of Faith, along with a call to ensure history of both conferences is respected and preserved.

The proposal for the intentional exploration of reconciliation between the conferences was affirmed by 96% of Franconia delegates and 100% of Eastern District delegates. This means that both conferences will now work to form a reference team representing both conferences’ diversity, that will begin to meet in January with consultants David Brubaker and Roxy Kioko from Eastern Mennonite University (EMU).

The leadership of both conferences believes that both Dave and Roxy’s extensive experience on organizational leadership and working at church conflict will be invaluable to this process. Brubaker brings both an organizational and peacebuilding background as he is both the Director of the Master of Business Administration and Master of Organizational Leadership Programs at EMU and Associate Professor of Organizational Studies for EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. Roxy brings over 10 years of experience in the social change sector and currently is a doctoral student at James Madison University’s School of Strategic Leadership Studies with a concentration in nonprofit and community leadership. A reconciliation process like this has never been attempted before and both conferences’ leadership have faith that these two are uniquely qualified to assist in exploring this path to reconciliation.

The timeline for this exploration of reconciliation includes information gathering, such as surveys, focus groups, and some individual interviews, proposed to take place between January-March 2017; a time of analysis, working to summarize what has been learned, during April-May 2017; finally, developing clear recommendations as to how both conferences might move forward together in a shared future will be done June-August 2017 and refined in September-October with key stakeholders. The goal is to present the recommendations and reasons for them to the delegates of both conferences at the November 3 and 4, 2017 Assembly. At that time, there will be conferring and discernment about accepting and implementing the recommendations.

Other business addressed during the Franconia Business session included the affirmation of several board and committee members for additional terms. All reaffirmed by over 97% of the delegates. In addition, a new board member, Smita Ruby Singh from Whitehall Mennonite Church, was voted in by 96% of the delegates and will begin her first term in January 2017.

Reports were also given to the Franconia Conference delegates by three groups that came out of the 2015 Assembly Church Together Statements. The Faith and Life Commission reported on their quarterly gathering of credentialed leaders and shared plans for the next gatherings to be held in February and March 2017. The Addressing Abuse Taskforce spoke of their work to provide support to adult survivors within the community, working to ensure appropriate policies are in place, and that there will be educational opportunities for congregations in 2017. The Israel/Palestine Taskforce reported on their work to educate the conference about the situation there in anticipation of the upcoming Mennonite Church USA (MCUSA) resolution which was tabled last year.

In addition to these reports, the Executive Minister Search Committee provided an update that they have been meeting weekly and are narrowing the list of nominees through prayer, discernment and interviews. The committee did state their hope is to have a recommendation for the next Executive Minister to the conference board by the end of December 2016.

ca2016-6This was the final assembly as Executive Minister for Ertell Whigham who has been on staff with the conference for over 14 years. In his closing remarks at the end of the Franconia business session he thanked God and the delegates for the opportunity to serve God during this season stating things he has been reminded of and thankful for. Ertell spoke of being called to the role of Franconia Conference Executive Minister for “such a time as this,” and that “this time has ended.” He offered to all present his “true love for this conference, and the grace I have felt from those who have embraced me.” Whigham will finish his role as Executive Minister in January 2017. He will remain a pastor at Nueva Vida Norristown New Life, and looks forward to continued engagement with the conference and the denomination. To hear his full remarks (and other assembly audio), CLICK HERE.

ca2016-6Following the business sessions, Eastern District and Franconia Conferences joined once again in worship led by Tami Good of Swamp, Kris Anne Swartley of Doylestown, Franco Salvatori of Rocky Ridge, and Brent Camilleri of Deep Run East. Two videos were shared highlighting the work of Ripple and Whitehall in the Allentown community as they joined forces to grow a community garden and use that as a teaching tool for local children, along with a video sharing how West Swamp is a key member of the Upper Bucks Code Blue Shelter and how their involvement there is spreading God’s love through meeting physical needs.

In the midst of Saturday worship, recognition was given to the passing of John Bender, a credentialed leader within Franconia Conference with a slideshow and the lighting of a candle by his wife Marilyn Bender and sister Rose Bender, who are also both credentialed within the conference.

ca2016-4Franconia also recognized 10 leaders who chose to have their credentials moved to retired status rather than undergo the extensive credential renewal process last year that included new background checks required by Pennsylvania Law. While 10 retired the conference welcomed 9 newly credentialed leaders including two transfers, three ordinations, one reactivation of ordination and three licensed toward ordination.

The Saturday worship closed with a joint recognition by Eastern District and Franconia Conference of Franconia Executive Minister, Ertell Whigham. Acting Eastern District Executive Minister, Scott Roth, shared how Ertell’s fathering led to his wife’s salvation, as one of Ertell’s sons was her youth leader and led her to Christ.

Following worship both conferences enjoyed a joint lunch and then participated in their choice of workshops.

One workshop was led by David Boshart, moderator-elect of MCUSA entitled “Same-sex Marriage and the Witness of the Church” where participants discussed five commitments that can help the church navigate the current conflict with faithfulness and integrity: 1) communal biblical discernment, 2) constructive biblical exegesis and theology, 3) Christocentric ways of knowing, 4) grace-based spirituality, and 5) public worship as witness.

ca2016-3Another workshop was presented by acting Executive Minister of Eastern District, Scott Roth, and Franconia LEADership Minister, Noel Santigo, called “What it means to be the Church.” They examined if the church is growing the Kingdom or just tending to those that are showing up on Sunday. Through examples from within the community they looked at what Christ did and how that transpires today in 2016. Hear the podcast of their workshop by clicking here.

Also offered was a workshop on “Youth Ministry for the Margins” by Danilo Sanchez of Ripple, Whitehall, and Vietnamese Gospel congregations, and Josh Jefferson from Souderton, where they discussed sustainable strategies for youth ministries that are “going to the margins” in both urban and suburban contexts.

The workshop “Seeking Peace in Israel/Palestine” was presented by the Franconia Conference Israel/Palestine Taskforce, offering stories from those who have participated in the Come and See Tours and ways in which the conferences can respond. They also reviewed the Kairos Palestine document and the resolution process from Kansas City 2015, looking ahead to preparing a resolution for Orlando 2017.

There is truly a lot of planting, watering and growing going on amidst Eastern District and Franconia Conferences. That is evident in the testimonies and stories shared throughout Assembly 2016. May God continue to guide both conferences as they embark on a historic journey exploring the possibility of reconciliation over the next year, while continuing to plant, water and watch the kingdom of God grow.

* For Assembly 2016 videos, podcasts and photos visit EDC-FMC.org/assembly (all items will be posted within the week)

Junior High Youth Have Late Night Blast

by John Stoltzfus, Franconia Conference Youth Minister

Whose job description includes this clause: Must be willing to have face covered in shaving cream and decorated with cheese curls? If you answered, “Junior high youth sponsor,” you are correct! Junior high youth sponsors are some of the bravest people in ministry.

At junior high youth events, helmets are sometimes necessary...
At junior high youth events, helmets are sometimes necessary…

If you were at the Late Night Blast on March 13, you would have witnessed such a scene and a lot more crazy fun. Close to 150 junior high youth and adult sponsors representing 18 churches gathered for this annual event sponsored by Franconia Conference and Eastern District Conference. It was hosted by Christopher Dock Mennonite High School.

Last year, the event was an all-night lock-in; this year it morphed into a “Late Night Blast,” ending at 11:15 p.m. While some youth lamented the loss of staying up all night, most responses to the evening were still very enthusiastic.

Part of the purpose of this annual event is to give our youth a positive and memorable experience of worshipping together, playing hard, and catching a glimpse of the larger body of Christ that makes up our conference churches. This event also gives a wonderful opportunity for our youth workers to partner together in ministry.

... As are Cheetos.
… As are Cheetos.

The evening started off with some mixer gamers led by staff from Spruce Lake and by Brent Camilleri from Deep Run East Mennonite Church. Justin Hange and a band from Calvary Church in Souderton then turned up the noise for the evening and led in a spirited time of singing and worship.

“That was awesome!” remarked one youth following the singing.

Scott Roth, pastor at Perkiomenville Mennonite Church, kept the energy flowing as he shared stories of how he sees God at work in his life and his community bringing hope and healing. He challenged the youth to bring together a knowledge of God’s Word with an active obedience to God’s Word in everyday life.

The rest of the night was full of fun activities to choose from: soccer, basketball, dodge ball, human Dutch Blitz, Wally ball, Gaga Pit ball, Nerf blasters, and more. One of the popular new games introduced this year was Human Hungry Hippos. It’s the classic board game with a much needed upgrade. One of the perks of being a junior high youth sponsor is the freedom to experiment with wild and crazy games. Of course, the policy is always safety first, and helmets were required.

The evening ended with a shower of giveaways from Mennonite colleges and camps. Thank you to everyone that helped to plan and carry out all the activities and a special thank you to all the youth leaders that commit themselves to serving with their youth. Their commitment was exemplified by one sponsor giving up her shoes to a youth who needed more appropriate athletic shoes to participate in the games.

Pastors, leaders travel to Israel and Palestine

by Brook Musselman, for the Come and See tour

This week, we are sharing several reflections from participants on the October 2014 “Come and See” tour to Israel and Palestine. The tour is part of a broader initiative by Mennonite Church USA which encourages Mennonite pastors and leaders to travel to the region, to “come and see” what daily life is like for those who live there. 

Our group of 12 pastors and leaders–from Atlantic Coast, Eastern District and Franconia Mennonite Conferences–traveled to the West Bank town of Bethlehem, having intellectually prepared ourselves by reading the history of and various perspectives on the Israel-Palestine conflict. We weren’t prepared for our encounter with the hard realities of life in this country that would shake our hope in humanity and reshape our worldview.

Photo by Sheri Wenger.
The group sits on steps outside of the Damascas gate, Jerusalem. Photo by Sheri Wenger.

One day, we were taken to a shrinking, dusty Palestinian village that sat in the shadow of a recently-built Israeli settlement. Our guide showed us the farm land that had been confiscated from the villagers for the use or disuse of the settlers. We saw the pond where the village children used to swim in the summer heat before they were chased away by armed settlers who came to the pond for their own recreation. We passed the entrance to the village where a checkpoint was often set up that made access to the outside world incredibly difficult.

We heard the perspectives of Jews who are hardened to the suffering they cause by decades and centuries of fear, persecution, and constant threat. They told us of the hope they have because of Zionism and the establishment of their homeland, but we were deeply frustrated to see the harm that this continues to cause nearly 70 years after independence.

Photo by Sheri Wenger.
The group on a tour of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The church is said to be built over the place where Jesus was born. It was site of refuge for Palestinians during recent violence. Photo by Sheri Wenger.

We also met Jews who love their country but cannot support the oppressive actions of their government, so they endure teargas, rubber bullets, beatings, and arrests by the Israeli Army to stand alongside those without power.

In our brief time touring both sides of the dividing wall, we heard stories from the people that were both encouraging and discouraging. At times, we felt like throwing up our hands and admitting that there is no hope for justice or peace in this place. Each of us felt frustrated by the discrimination, inhumanity, and senseless violence inflicted upon the Palestinian people. We also felt anger toward the international community and especially our own government that acknowledges these atrocities but doesn’t take action.

But in spite of the discouragement we so often felt, we heard story after story showing the tenacity of the Palestinian people and their hope for a future. One of our guides was a Palestinian Christian with ancestry tracing back to the earliest disciples, who works tirelessly and daily risks imprisonment to raise awareness and promote peace in the area. Stories like this inspired us to come home and tell the stories of those in need of a voice and to promote shalom at home and abroad by encouraging all to be peacemakers in our broken world.