Tag Archives: Eastern Mennonite University

Immigration Community Day Held in Philadelphia

The story of Franconia Conference is rooted in faith and migration. These stories have helped shape us as a community, sensitive to the struggle of others who were also seeking a place of peace.  Currently our Conference is comprised of about 10 percent recent immigrants who have come to the United States in the last decade, and this percentage is likely to continue to grow and to shape our future.  As this is our story together — past, present, and future as God’s people – Franconia Conference recently co-sponsored Mennonite Central Committee’s Immigration Community Day in Philadelphia. Pastor Aldo Siahaan of Philadelphia Praise Center participated in the morning panel discussion. Centro de Alabanza hosted the event and assisted in providing a noon time meal. Many from across the region came to learn and celebrate. Abigail Shelly reflected on her experience at the day’s event below, in an article original published online with The Mennonite.   

(reprinted with permission)

by Abigail Shelly, Philadelphia Praise Center summer intern

As I stepped onto the upper floor of Centro de Alabanza, a humble church building in the heart of South Philly, I encountered a flood of color; blue, purple, green and orange hues hung from the ceilings and walls as lively decor, and a spectrum of dark brown to beige smiling faces filled the room. I felt the buzz of energy as people from various walks of life arrived throughout the morning to take part in Mennonite Central Committee’s Immigration Community Day on August 4 — a day set aside to gather, inform and celebrate immigrant communities in the Philadelphia area.

Saulo Padilla – photo courtesy of Dr. Calenthia Dowdy

To begin the day, Saulo Padilla, MCC immigration coordinator, gave a keynote address in which he shared his story as an immigrant and urged the audience to take seriously current issues, particularly the separation of families. Following was a panel with five active members in the Philadelphia community, all with recent immigrant backgrounds or in positions of immigrant advocacy. Topics included personal stories, experiences with the legal system and basic rights one should know about.

Chinemelu (ChiChi) Oguekwe, MCC Philadelphia program coordinator, said the morning was “about providing a space to have a discussion about what it means to be an immigrant for our community.” Considering the current administration’s immigration policies, she said, “there has been a legitimate amount of fear among immigrants in our community. And we know that a fearful community is not a healthy one.” She added that this “is why we gathered together to hear from our immigrant neighbors, leaders in the community [and] churches — to hear from one another, inform and educate each other. It’s in educating each other that we are set free, free from fear. Education empowers us.”

Volunteers from Centro de Alabanza prepare food for the event.

After a morning of education came a time of celebration. A lunch of tostadas, nasi goreng and djon djon (traditional food from Latino, Indonesian and Haitian community churches, respectively) primed the audience for spoken word, traditional Aztec and Indonesian dancing and an uplifting rhythm from the “Best African Drummer in Philadelphia.” For me it was beautiful to watch the freedom that came for these people groups with their traditional expressions. It allowed those from various backgrounds in the audience to enjoy a part of these cultures that too easily gets lost in the noise of navigating life in a completely new country while lacking basic rights.

Photo courtesy of Dr. Calenthia Dowdy

For the past 10 weeks, I have had the opportunity to live and learn with the Indonesian immigrant community here in South Philly. I have learned the power of holistic care for the “strangers” in our midst. On the one hand, it is important to know how to help someone through the new space they have entered: navigating the legal system, marching in advocacy, providing access to health care, educating them on basic rights. On the other hand, it is just as vital to spend time learning and celebrating what these cultures have to offer in this new space: language, dance, music, food and ways of worship. Learning holistic care has allowed me to see each of my immigrant neighbors not just as a set of needs to be met but as a person I am called to be a partner with in their new journey, whatever that may look like. Some days it may look like facing a daunting court date or navigating an impossible health-care system. Other days it may look like trying new foods or learning to dance or laughing at my attempts with Bahasa Indonesia. It’s a new and sometimes uncomfortable form of celebration that somehow makes sense and the “stranger” in our midst becomes a new brother or sister. 

Photo courtesy of Dr. Calenthia Dowdy

MCC’s Immigration Community Day resonated with my experience here because it held up the heaviness of the immigrant community’s reality while providing a space for celebrating these cultures. Oguekwe remarked, “My hope was that the Immigration Community Day would raise awareness on the immigrant experience, connect immigrant families to local service providers and resources, see and value the contributions of immigrants to our community and unify and strengthen our community through caring for one another.” It did exactly that.

Abigail Shelly is originally from Meridian, Mississippi, and attends Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, where she studies TESOL education and liberal arts. This summer she has been learning from and serving through the Ministry Inquiry Program with the Indonesian community at Philadelphia Praise Center, a congregation of Franconia Mennonite Conference.

A Summer Spent Exploring Ministry

The Ministry Inquiry Program is a partnership between Mennonite colleges, Mennonite Church USA and local congregations. Upon completion, students receive scholarship money. This summer one Franconia Conference congregation hosted a student, and another Franconia congregation sent a student. From Nueva Vida Norristown New Life, Lydia Haggard spent the summer working at the Coalition for Christian Outreach program in Ocean City, New Jersey. Philadelphia Praise Center hosted Abigail Shelley from Meridian, Mississippi. Read all about their experience, along with that of two other Ministry Inquiry Program participants, by clicking here.

Abigail Shelley leads an activity at Summer Peace Camp (Philadelphia Praise Center).


Studying and Remembering Calling

(Estudiando y recordando llamada)

by Steve Kriss, Executive Minister

I’ve studied Spanish off and on for nearly 40 years. My initial introduction happened via Sesame Street on TV with some Spanish interspersed between Oscar the Grouch and Big Bird. I then learned some basics at West End Elementary School. Much of that remains readily in my brain — even the crayons that were adhered to the wall of my classroom at West End Elementary.

For two years in high school, I studied Spanish with Ruth Y. Hunsberger, who after her time serving at Academia Menonita Betania, added a PA Dutch and Boricua accent to my Spanish pronunciation. I picked up more Tejano Spanish in San Antonio after serving a summer with Mennonite Mission Network in San Antonio which catapulted me into a more advanced Spanish class than probably was appropriate at Eastern Mennonite University where I studied as an undergraduate. I never got my language construction quite right after that.

Since then, I’ve studied several other languages a bit. I grew up in a household where my Grandpa spoke Slovak and snippets of other European languages. I was raised with an understanding that knowing some of the language of the neighbors could be valuable. Today, my immediate next door neighbors speak Spanish.

Earlier this year, for three weeks, I took the time to re-immerse myself in Spanish.  I chose a school removed from familiar communities so that I’d have to be a student only.  Though I did some work from Mexico, my immediate environment was school and navigating through an attempted Spanish upgrade. It was both humbling and invigorating.

After three weeks, my comprehension has improved. My colleague Noel Santiago and I are able to have conversations we haven’t had before in Spanish. I’m trying to practice every day, which so far has more often seemed endearing than annoying to those who’ve had to endure my commitment to keep practicing, even if it’s only when I’m ordering enchiladas.

While studying, I was reminded of the beauty and brokenness of the world. As a student in a secular language school, I found many people seeking and searching. My co-learners came from all over the world to a small city in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula to learn, to relax, to find something. I was invigorated by learning alongside them in their search. Admittedly, more often than not, the church was far from conversation and their search. Some were curious about my work and spirituality. Others avoided the conversation even when it surfaced.

But in these three weeks, I was reminded of my own call to serve the church as a pastor. It was a reminder of the commitments that I made to search out ways that the Gospel might really mean hope, freedom, and redemption for persons who are seeking and stumbling, for those who need comfort as well as those who need to be discomforted. It was a reminder to pay attention to all that is beautiful and broken, to find times when I might also be able to say as Jesus did, “the reign of God is near.”

I’m back with better Spanish, but I’ll have to struggle every day to maintain it. Next month, Marta Castillo will head to Indonesia to get an upgrade on her Indonesian language skills, so that she’s better able to accompany our Indonesian speaking communities as well. As a Conference, we are committed to having a multilingual ministry team, not only because it’s chido (cool) but because it also represents the work of the Spirit at Pentecost to bring the Good News to all people.

It’s our ongoing commitment as disciples, as leaders, as pastors, to extend the Good News to all people, until God’s reign comes in it’s fullness.  We are in it together.  Bersama.  Juntos. cùng với nhau. The beautiful and broken world is waiting to hear us.

Sheldon Good named Executive Director of The Mennonite, Inc.

The board of directors of The Mennonite, Inc. has named Sheldon C. Good executive director (ED) of The Mennonite, Inc., effective February 1.  Currently a member of Salford Mennonite Church, Sheldon is a 2005 graduate of Dock Mennonite Academy. From 2006-2007 he served with Franconia Conference as Associate for Communication and Leadership Development. Most recently he and his wife, Jennifer Svetlik, served as Program Coordinators with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in Erbil, Iraq. Prior to working with MCC, Good served as an employment and education team coordinator for Community of Hope, a nonprofit in Washington D.C. He also served a two-year term as the Associate Director for the Washington Community Scholars’ Center of Eastern Mennonite University, also in Washington D.C., and worked as an Assistant Editor and Web Editor for Mennonite World Review.  Sheldon also wrote pieces for Franconia Conference publications in 2012-2014.  Read the full story in The Mennonite.

Conference leaders gather for conversation about EMU listening process

Loren Swartzendruberby Emily Ralph, associate director of communication

Credentialed leaders from Franconia and Eastern District Conferences gathered on May 5, 2014 at Towamencin Mennonite Church (Kulpsville, Pa.) to dialogue with Loren Swartzendruber, president of Eastern Mennonite University (EMU).   The evening conversation focused on the University’s recent six-month listening process regarding employment policies for persons in same-sex relationships.

Swartzendruber began the meeting by sharing about experiences throughout his career that challenged him to offer pastoral care for persons struggling with questions of sexual identity. As a recent seminary graduate beginning his first pastoral assignment at Salford congregation (Harleysville, Pa.) in 1978, Swartzendruber felt ill-prepared; he doesn’t remember learning about same-sex relationships in seminary.  “I had no idea how to respond,” he recalled.  These questions continued to follow him throughout his career in Mennonite education and as president of both Hesston College and Eastern Mennonite University.

These experiences led Swartzendruber to root the University’s consideration of employment policy changes in contexts of real people and real situations.  “Your feedback is more valuable to me if I know you’ve really walked through the pain with families and individuals,” he reflected.

Swartzendruber explained that questions and perspectives from students have driven him to lead the listening process and consider change.  “For me, it’s all about the young people… I really care about the next generation,” he shared.  He is becoming increasingly aware that students’ response to the conversation is as much about the process as the result.   “I met with the pastoral staff [at EMU] and they told me, ‘The students on campus are watching how we do this … and they’re trying to decide, do I want to be a part of the church?’”

Swartzendruber explained the realities on campus that led to the listening process:

  • Currently, students and employees are asked to sign a behavioral covenant in which they commit to “refrain from sexual relationships outside of marriage.”  Swarzendruber acknowledged the difficulty of enforcing this commitment and the challenge of understanding it in the context of changing definitions of legal marriage.
  • EMU has asked new hires to express their agreement with the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective for many years, but “we’ve allowed variants from the Confession of Faith at EMU for a long time,” he said.  Some of these variants have included beliefs about divorce and remarriage, infant baptism, and the traditional Mennonite peace position.  Employees have been asked to respect official Mennonite perspectives even where variation exists.
  • Eastern Mennonite University has a number of gay and lesbian students on campus.  “They want to be a part of the church,” Swartzendruber said.  “By definition most of them wouldn’t come to EMU if they didn’t want to be part of the church.  They are your children,” he said, “sometimes literally your children, but children of your congregations.”

Swartzendruber then answered questions from conference pastors about the listening process, the relationship of the university to the denomination, and steps moving forward.  The president’s cabinet led the listening process by facilitating about 20 listening circles, with up to 20 students or faculty and staff per session, he explained.  They then brought what they heard back to the rest of the cabinet and will consider those responses, along with what they heard in a survey and other communication from alumni and church leaders. They have begun processing that feedback and will write a recommendation to send to the EMU executive board and then the board of trustees in June.  The University’s board will make the decision to accept, reject, amend, or table the proposal.

Lorie Hershey, pastor of West Philadelphia congregation, was impressed by the thoroughness and intentionality expressed in the process.  “I think we need these listening circle places,” she told Swartzendruber.  “That’s where the Spirit can move, in relationships—not changing people’s minds, but relationships…. That’s transformative.”  Her hope was that the broader church could find more places for similar conversations, she said, conversations that “give one another space to respect each other, to not pull each other into camps.”

Loren SwartzendruberSwartzendruber acknowledged that these kinds of conversations surface anxieties in the church.  “Practicing non-anxious presence doesn’t mean you don’t have anxiety,” he said, “it means you don’t lead out of that anxiety.”  Learning to manage and respond to fear in healthy ways is a missional impulse, he said. “Who wants to join people who are afraid all the time? … What kind of evangelistic strategy is that?”

As the meeting ended, the pastors gathered around Swartzendruber and other EMU staff to pray for the continued process, acknowledging the ongoing struggle and pain all church leaders face during this difficult time.

After the meeting, “I heard and saw many persons engaged in some deeper discussions and I think that leads to better understanding of one another,” observed Mike Clemmer, pastor of Towamencin congregation. “I continue to be hopeful as we struggle together…. Overall, I was reminded that we need to keep praying for one another – no matter what!”

Learn more about EMU’s listening process on their website.

Settling into our legacy

by Emily Ralph, associate director of communication

Loren Swartzendruber, president of Eastern Mennonite University.  Photo courtesy of EMU.
Loren Swartzendruber, president of Eastern Mennonite University. Photo courtesy of EMU.

All meaningful conversations should happen around a table filled with good food.    This particular Sunday afternoon, as we laughed together and swapped stories, the conversation inevitably drifted to human sexuality.

“Is this what your legacy is going to be?” I asked Loren Swartzendruber, president of Eastern Mennonite University.  The university has been in the midst of a listening process to discern the future of their hiring practices related to faculty and staff in same-sex relationships.  Just that morning, Loren had visited my congregation to share an update.

“I think it will be,” Loren responded, a little resigned.  As a former pastor of Franconia’s Salford congregation (Harleysville, Pa.) and a former president of Hesston College, Loren’s life has led him through many other challenges of leadership as well as his share of victories.  It’s not that he didn’t feel the issue of human sexuality was important, but, as he went on to explain, he had hoped that he would be remembered for more than just this one issue: as someone who was deeply committed to the Christian education and formation of his students, the development of his institution, and the future of his church.

He’s not alone in his feelings; I have heard many leaders sigh about how this topic is dominating conversation or jokingly wish that they had reached retirement before it had come to a head.  Some are concerned that the conversation is distracting us from the mission of the church while others feel that this decision is essential to our missional understanding.

It’s easy to try to outrun this conversation or to avoid it altogether.  As we look to the future, however, many of us are aware that we will be remembered not only by the decision we make but by how we behaved during this time of discernment: Did we lead toward division or unity?  Did we foster rhetoric or dialogue?  Did we model non-anxious compassion, confident humility?  Were others able to look at us and see a glimpse of Jesus?

Franconia Conference has designated a year in which we are building relationships across congregations, finding ways to share in mission and ministry, and learning to understand one another more clearly.  By investing in the difficult work of relationships, we hope that we will be able to engage in this conversation in 2015 with a deeper respect of and love for one another.

Will the controversy around same-sex orientation define our legacy as leaders?  Perhaps.  But maybe it will also be only one piece of a legacy that includes a new model of relating, a new passion for joining God in God’s mission in the world, a new commitment to unity and discernment.

May we be committed as much to the process as the outcome and may we seek our own formation as followers of Jesus gathered together in a community of faith, a sign to the watching world that we are Christ’s disciples (John 17).

Have a question for Loren Swartzendruber?  Then come out for a conversation sponsored by Eastern Mennonite University on May 15 at 7pm at Towamencin Mennonite Church (Kulpsville, Pa.).  This gathering is for all credentialed leaders in Franconia and Eastern District Conferences.

The travels of a missional minister

KrisAnne Swartleyby KrisAnne Swartley, Doylestown congregation

I am grateful for Doylestown leadership’s blessing to travel March 24-29. My first stop was at Eastern Mennonite University for three days. I met with various campus leaders including President Loren Swartzentruber, athletic director Dave King and undergraduate campus pastor Lana Miller, as well as several professors in both the college and seminary. It was a privilege to hear them talk about the passion they have for creating a learning environment that includes high quality training for vocation as well as a solid foundation of faith.

The best part of my visit was meeting students who have a desire to pursue ministry. They asked questions like: How do you find time to refresh your own soul?  What is the most difficult part of pastoring?  What is the best part? I have great hope for the future of the church after meeting these young adults. I was privileged to speak in seminary chapel on Thursday about Ruth and Naomi and Boaz, and how making space for outsiders creates space for God to work miracles in our midst. I shared several stories of what that looks like for us at Doylestown as we continue on the missional journey.

The second part of my trip took me to Alexandria, Virginia where I attended the Fresh Expressions National Gathering. The group of 200+ was made up of Southern Baptists, Anglicans, Anabaptists, Presbyterians and more!

We discussed the rapidly changing culture in the USA and how to connect with people who don’t know Jesus and have no interest in attending a church on Sunday morning. We talked about the need for discipleship and the ways the Holy Spirit leads us to “improvise” in whatever local context we find ourselves, much like the early church in Acts. I heard stories of coffee houses, single parenting groups, married couples opening their homes for family-style meals with neighbors, after-school tutoring centers, a “messy church” built around doing crafts and science experiments and a “sweaty church” built around active games and sports. It affirmed much of what we are learning at Doylestown about the missional journey, and it also inspired me to continue to encourage the ideas and dreams that are bubbling up within our congregation.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the weekend:

  • When you choose to keep company with Jesus, you give up the right to choose the rest of the company around you. You keep company with whoever Jesus chooses.
  • “These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise and its mission to seek out new life and new civilization…to boldly go where no one has gone before.” That is for us, Church! And if you can’t boldly go, then for heaven’s sake, at least GO!
  • If you are comfortable more than 70% of the time, then there is a problem, because the church in Acts was hardly EVER comfortable. They were always racing to catch up to what the Spirit was doing next.
  • Grace engages the world as it is now. The fact is, the world has changed, though we never gave it permission to do so. Acting as if it hasn’t changed and continuing to do the same old things, simply is not faithful.
  • 40% of new leaders in these new, creative ministries are LAY LEADERS–not clergy or professional ministers. These are courageous, everyday people.
  • God is into the multiplication of the small. You don’t have to lead a “mega”-anything.

Important info about the Feb 8 Delegate Meeting

  • Date: February 8, 2014
  • Time:  9 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.
  • Location: Franconia Mennonite Church

Registration:  Please click here to register your attendance. We apologize if you tried earlier and were unable to register. We have experienced some technical glitches in our website that are now fixed. Your registration will help us be better prepared for our time together.

Description: The purpose of this meeting is to share a synthesis of the information gleaned from your input at Conference Assembly in November and develop a direction for how we will live into what Conference leaders heard you say during those sessions.

 Desired Outcomes:

  • To identify areas for mutual support and engagement
  • To grow in our understanding of one another as people of mission and ministry
  • To share ideas about how we can strengthen and develop relationships that allow us to become more collaborative
  • To create opportunities to hear one another for open and generative conversation

Attached are four documents:

  1. An an overview of a Strategic Direction for 2014 and 2015.
  2. Compilations of your 2013 Conference Assembly input:
    –How you see God Still@Work.
    –Your SWOT Analysis of the Conference Board Statement for Conferring.
    –Your reflections on the future of the conference from the afternoon workshop.

Please take time to review these documents in advance in order to make better use of our time together on Feb. 8.

A number of persons have urged Conference leaders to use the February 8 meeting as a time to discuss issues of human sexuality following the recent action of Mountain States Mennonite Conference to grant pastoral credentials to a woman in a same-sex relationship and the six-month listening process begun by Eastern Mennonite University’s trustees to review the university’s employment practices as they relate to persons in same-sex relationships.

However, the focus of the February 8 gathering will not be discernment around human sexuality. Conference leaders have responded to the two incidents with recent communication.  You should have received an emailed letter (English, IndonesianSpanish, Vietnamese) from Franconia Conference moderator, John Goshow, which included a Call to Prayer by Mennonite Church USA’s executive director, Ervin Stutzman (English, Indonesian, Spanish, Vietnamese) along with the Mennonite Church USA Membership Guidelines (Spanish).  In response to Ervin’s call, we will spend time in corporate prayer on February 8.  This delegate gathering will also be the first step in the 2014-15 strategic direction that suggests ways we can work toward processing this and other potentially difficult conversations.

Franconia Mennonite Conference is all of us: congregations, delegates, pastors, and Conference Related Ministries. Your presence is important!   Be part of shaping our shared future on February 8.

Congrats to this year’s seminary grads!

Danilo Sanchez graduated from EMS this yearCongratulations to our Franconia Conference seminary graduates this year. Our conference had five individuals graduate from Eastern Mennonite Seminary: Danilo Sanchez (pictured), Boyertown congregation, graduated with a Master of Divinity; Scott Hackman, Salford congregation, graduated with a Master of Arts in Church Leadership; Emily Ralph, Salford congregation, graduated with a Master of Arts in Religion; Anne Yoder, West Philadelphia congregation, graduated with a certificate in ministry; and Tom Albright, Ripple congregation, graduated with a certificate in ministry.

HARRISONBURG, VA — The following Franconia Conference students were recognized as members of the dean’s list for the spring semester at Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Va.

Madeline Clemens, a first-year business administration major from Harleysville, Pa. She is the daughter of Douglas and Rebecca Clemens and attends Blooming Glen.

Hannah Clemmer, a senior psychology major from Harleysville, Pa. She is the daughter of Michael Clemmer and attends Towamencin.

Jonathan Drescher-Lehman, a junior biology major from Green Lane, Pa. He is the son of Jon and Sandy Drescher-Lehman and attends Souderton.

Anna Hershey, a senior biology major from Harleysville, Pa. She is the daughter of James and Brenda Hershey and attends Salford.

Brianna Kauffman, a first-year accounting major from Harleysville, Pa. She is the daughter of Steven and Lisa Kauffman and attends Franconia.

Laura Keppley, a senior biology and music major double-major from Boyertown, Pa. She is the daughter of Carl and Alice Keppley and attends Perkiomenville.

Morgan Kratz, a sophomore social work major from Souderton, Pa. She is the daughter of Douglas and Marice Kratz and attends Plains.

Samuel Moyer, a senior nursing major from Harrisonburg, Va. He is the son of Stephen and Naomi Moyer and attends Bethany.

Megan Nafziger, a sophomore nursing major from Mohnton, Pa. She is the daughter of Don and Rose Nafziger and attends Vincent.

Benjamin Nyce, a senior liberal arts and kinesiology & sport studies double-major from Perkasie, Pa. He is the ons of Timothy and Teresa Nyce and attends Deep Run East.

Matthew Nyce, a sophomore Spanish major from Perkasie, Pa. He is the son of Timothy and Teresa Nyce and attends Deep Run East.

Konrad Swartz, a senior English and writing studies double-major from Spring City, Pa. He is the son of Timothy and Rachel Martin Swartz and attends Salford.

Ryan Swartzendruber, a sophomore mathematics major from Sellersville, Pa. He is the son of Conrad and Sharon Swartzendruber and attends Plains.

Aaron Wile, a first-year psychology major from Telford, Pa. He is the son of Daniel and Kristi Wile and attends Franconia.

To qualify for the dean’s list a student must achieve a semester grade point average of at least 3.750 or above and complete at least 12 semester hours of credit.

Eastern Mennonite University is a Christian liberal arts university of about 1,500 students, located in Virginia’s scenic Shenandoah Valley. EMU is guided by the peace principles of Mennonite Church USA, educating students to serve and lead in a global context through cross-cultural study and an interdisciplinary curriculum. Established in 1917, the university offers over 40 undergraduate majors and six graduate programs offering nine master’s degrees. Eastern Mennonite Seminary is part of the university, as is the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding.  See more at: emu.edu/about.

Who am I? (To Mennonite Blog #1)

by Emily Ralph, eralph@franconiaconference.orgEmily Ralph

The rolling hills surrounding Harrisonburg, Virginia are beautiful this time of year.  In some ways, they remind me of the mountains and farmland back home in Pennsylvania and I’m not surprised that Mennonites migrated here in the 18th century—it must have felt like home!

It’s my first visit to the main campus of Eastern Mennonite University, and as I drove down the highway toward EMU’s Summer Peacebuilding Institute last week, the familiarity of the mountains and grazing cows only fed my anticipation.  I was looking forward to studying with other leaders from around the world, cradled in the arms of a warm Mennonite community of scholars and practitioners.  In other words, it would be a home away from home.

I was in for a wakeup call.  As a Pennsylvania-based Mennonite pastor participating in this event on global peacebuilding, I am an oddity.   Although I recognized, in theory, that I would be surrounded by diversity, I don’t think I truly prepared myself for what I have experienced.  I have found myself floundering, trying to figure out how I fit in here, when the people around me don’t speak the same religious language, when their eyes don’t light up in recognition after I say I’m from Franconia Conference in Pennsylvania, when I struggle to express why I’m at a peacebuilding workshop as a leader in the American church and not as an activist on the front lines of war-torn Syria.

While I am cherishing new friendships with extraordinary people from around the world, I hadn’t anticipated the loneliness, the feelings of separation from my community in a place where I expected to experience that community more strongly.  And the irony of ironies?  I’m taking a class on identity.  Never did I think that I would be struggling with mine, even as I wade through the intensity of this ten-day experience.

Our identities form how we see and are seen by the world.  They are so foundational to our lives that often we are unaware of how they color everything we say and do.  And when our understandings of who we are come into friction with others’ understandings of who they are, conflict erupts.

It’s no wonder, then, that our Mennonite identity has caused so much tension in the church.  Some hold this identity as sacred, while others argue that their identity is first and foremost as a Christian, not a Mennonite.  The rhetoric gets passionate and divisive.

This time, a year ago, I was in a different class, this one at EMU’s Lancaster campus.  We were discussing change and conflict in the church and someone asked the question: What if we saw our roles as verbs instead of nouns?

So, for instance, instead of being a father, one would father.  Or instead of being a student, one would student.  As I pondered this concept, I was struck with a much deeper question: what would it mean to Mennonite?

What if we viewed our identities as followers of Jesus who Mennonite?  What if we saw Mennonite not as our identity, but as our practice?  What would the practices for the verb Mennonite be?

There is something reconciling about using Mennonite as a verb.  It allows us to form a community around these practices, regardless of how long any one of us has been in the Mennonite denomination.  It strips away any claim of ancestry and builds bridges among us, regardless of ethnicity, gender, generation, or life experiences—we can Mennonite together.

Menno Simons, who unwillingly gave his name to this verb, was passionate about the practices of Jesus-followers.  He would have defined Mennonite as doing works of love, resisting temptation, seeking and serving God, clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, comforting the troubled, sheltering the miserable, aiding the oppressed, returning good for evil, serving and praying for persecutors, teaching and challenging with God’s Word, seeking what is lost, healing the sick and wounded, and rejoicing in persecution (Why I Do Not Cease Teaching and Writing).

And so, as I struggle with being one of the few Mennonites on campus, even as I am surrounded by ninety-two other leaders who are working for peace and justice in communities around the world, I ask myself, What makes me Mennonite?  Is it my ethnicity?  My theology?  Where I live?  Or is it a certain way of understanding Christ’s call to radical discipleship, an understanding that is lived out in practice?

This summer, leaders from all over Franconia Conference and beyond will wrestle with these same questions in a new blog series: What does it mean to Mennonite?  What practices shape us as followers of Jesus who Mennonite together?  Next week, we’ll hear from Dennis Edwards, last year’s Conference Assembly speaker and the former pastor of Peace Fellowship Church in Washington, DC.

How do you “Mennonite”?  Join the conversation on Facebook & Twitter (#fmclife) or by email.

Who am I?  (To Mennonite Blog #1)
Serving Christ with our heads and hands (To Mennonite Blog #2)
Quiet rebellion against the status quo (To Mennonite Blog #3)
Mennoniting my way (To Mennonite Blog #4)
Generations Mennoniting together (To Mennonite Blog #5)
Body, mind, heart … and feet (To Mennonite Blog #6)
We have much more to offer (To Mennonite Blog #7)
Mennonite community … and community that Mennonites (To Mennonite Blog #8)