Tag Archives: editorial

May our stories abound

Emily Ralph, Salford, eralph@franconiaconference.org

"Unexpected hard places will always be with us—may the reaching out stories abound." —Jeff Knightly

Unexpected hard places seem to be more common these days. No matter where we turn, we’re surrounded by hard stories—budget cuts, layoffs, natural disasters, school shootings, illness, and broken dreams. It’s unavoidable.

Yet in the midst of difficulty and trouble, the reaching out stories abound. The overwhelming mutual support of conference congregations who have been blessed by the ministry of Nueva Vida Norristown (Pa) New Life. Missional experiments in gardening and block parties and dance teams and computer labs. Schools and camps that are discipling children to be radical followers of Jesus. New and emerging leaders who have a passion for the way of Jesus, even as they enter ministry in challenging times.

As I read through the stories in this issue of Intersections, I am struck by our need for one another. Would people like John and Sheryl be leaders today if their families and church friends had not identified and encouraged their leadership gifts? From the individuals, congregations, and businesses that stepped up to join Nueva Vida Norristown’s capital campaign, I heard a motivation to join the Kingdom work that is happening in that setting, as described by Rose Bender, pastor of Whitehall (Pa) congregation.

And why would a church near Allentown want to participate in the work of a congregation that’s over an hour away?

Because we don’t find our identity in our geography, our ethnicities, or our place in the world’s economy—we are God’s people, “a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, [we] can show others the goodness of God, for he called [us] out of the darkness into his wonderful light.” (2 Peter 2:9-10, NLT)

God has formed us into a community. And we need each other.

Earlier this year, Conference board and staff met together to discuss the purpose of Franconia Conference structures and staffing. A growing consensus was that “Conference” is more of a network than an institution, here to connect and train congregations and leaders for God’s mission in the world.

And as a network, it is so important that we share our stories with one another. We cheer when others celebrate, we mourn when others grieve, we give when others are in need. And in our time, we also receive.

In the coming months, you may notice some changes in the communication coming from the conference office:

  • A weekly email newsletter to pastors (also available on our website: franconiaconference.org/intersectings) that contains the latest news, blogs, and social media updates from around our conference.
  • A new 4-page format to Intersections that will be published in English, Indonesian, Spanish, and Vietnamese.
  • Connections: a new podcast celebrating our connections in Christ through stories and interviews.
  • Continued experimentation with technologies that allow us to connect with one another despite time, distance, and language barriers, using video, podcasting, and social media.

Unexpected hard places will always be with us. But that isn’t the end of the story. There are also unexpected places of joy, understanding, and growth. May our reaching out stories abound!

Does your congregation have a story to share? E-mail stories, photos, videos, or blogs to ERalph@franconiaconference.org. And don’t forget to share meaningful moments from congregational life using #fmclife on Twitter!

God’s new thing in 2012

by Ertell Whigham, Executive Minister, ewhigham@franconiaconference.org

As I think through all of the ways that we have heard and seen the testimony of God working among us in our communities and congregations in 2011, I continue to be encouraged by the unlimited possibilities of what can be accomplished when we share our God-given time, talent and resources with a genuine spirit of cooperation. In this issue we recount some of what has come about over the last year and I notice that God is continually calling some new movement forward.

Revelation 21:1-8 tells the story of God doing a new thing. It’s a new Heaven, new earth, new relationships and more. This is not merely recycled, but fresh, recent, unused, unworn. The basic message is that through an encounter with God–nothing has to remain the same. We are not merely stretched or reconstituted but transformed. It is important that we understand that my suggestion of a new experience is not in any way saying that what God is doing or has done needs to be updated or improved but should be seen as an invitation to allow our total being to be transformed by God’s new thing. We also know that God alone brings forth new creations, even in our new human inventions we are simply repurposing elements that God has made in the past. New creations require the Spirit to bring life.

This past year much has happened that has enabled us get a taste of God’s new thing. Sometimes what may seem to be the same experience is indeed new when we allow God to give us a new attitude or help us to see through new lenses. For example when I read the story of how the community worked together in Vermont following the devastation of Hurricane Irene, for me, it gave a new meaning to the history and tradition of “barnraising”. Or when I see the collaborative efforts of Plains and Perkasie congregations and our Conference partnership with Eastern District as we work through our shared vision for youth ministry, it opens the ways for many new possibilities and models for ministry. In reading of Indian Creek’s initiative and listening to the experiences of all of our CRM’s, I know that even with long and faithful ministries, it’s possible for God to interrupt and create something new.

In this issue, Jim Laverty and Rina Rampogu write of what Conference board and staff heard over this last year of listening carefully to the life of congregations in the Conference. We are a varied assortment of God’s expressions of love, struggle and faith. In this same struggle, a long struggle at that, we notice that congregations are also feeling God call forth new things from their midst. It is this very thing that Franconia Conference, as we are together, must nurture to call forth, to do our best to be prepared for and transformed by God’s new thing among us. This means new relationships. This means seeing differently. This means changed perspectives. This doesn’t mean that our past is discredited, but recognizes that God is in fact asking us in this space and time to be transformed, to let that new thing occur, to no longer simply be stretched like elastic only to snap back into the same shape, but to be transformed like alchemy through the touch of God that makes all things new.

The year 2012 is not an ending as the world claims around us, rather a beginning in which God makes everything fresh and full of hope again through the life of Christ, the power of the Spirit and the ongoing witness of God’s people. Isn’t it amazing, our God, the same yesterday, today and forever, makes every day new, can renew all things and is even expecting to transform our lives, our hearts, our congregations, our ministries, and our relationships so that the message of Jesus Christ might break forth through us even in 2012.

Editorial: Working together to forward the Reign of God

by John Goshow & Ron White, Moderators, Franconia & Eastern District Conferences

The Mennonite Church is a church of peace and reconciliation, yet we hold the record for splits, said historian John Ruth in the video produced for our last Conference Assembly. The 1847 split between Franconia and Eastern District Conferences was a defining moment in the history of Mennonites living in eastern Pennsylvania. The question for our conferences now is whether we should continue to walk different roads.

On Saturday morning of our joint assembly, Warren Tyson, Eastern District Conference Minister, and Ertell Whigham, Franconia Conference Executive Minister explored this question with the delegates of both conferences. They pointed out the numerous ways that we share a similar vision. Both place value on maintaining an Anabaptist/Mennonite peace witness. Both share Christ’s message of peace with God and fellow humans through nurturing vital congregations, which in turn plant new churches. Both embrace an intercultural identity that clearly identifies cultural bias and racism as sin and works to populate healthy, dynamic, intercultural congregations. Both provide accountability, connection, and resources for our pastors and church leaders. Both are working to develop intercultural systems that welcome new language groups and embrace development of culturally diverse congregations of one body; we continue to grow what it means for dominant people groups to let go of
established patterns of how churches function and what are acceptable expressions of music and faith.

The table group conferring and reporting that followed this presentation clearly indicated a desire for Franconia and Eastern District Conferences to continue to work together cooperatively. Conference leadership will now take this strong affirmation to engage in dialogue on developing further ways of working together to forward the Reign of God.

Conference Assembly 2011 found many ways of modeling the values of both conferences. Our conferences worshiped together on Friday evening and heard an inspiring message on Unity and Maturity in the Body of Christ by Dennis Edwards, pastor of Peace Fellowship Church in Washington D.C. The assembly planning team consisted of members of both conferences. The worship teams included individuals from both conferences and represented the diverse languages of our conferences including English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Indonesian and Creole. The Peace and Justice Committee presented Walking in the Way of Peace 2012, a year-long emphasis on the Gospel of Peace that includes Bible study, bridging intercultural boundaries and teaching on becoming salt and light through peace witness. The Ministerial Committees of our two conferences introduced individuals who were credentialed for ministry in the past year. The Saturday afternoon service integrated worship and business in a seamless and inspiring way.

Luke and Dorothy Beidler received the Everence National Journey award, which was presented by Randy Nyce, an Everence Church Relations Representative and a member of the Franconia Conference Board. This issue of Intersections includes an article that celebrates Luke and Dot’s life-long commitment to serve Jesus in whatever way he leads.

Assembly 2011 provided the first opportunity since 1999 for Eastern District Conference and Franconia Conference to come together for business and worship. The blending together of two conferences, different cultures and five languages was both inspiring and energizing. Someone suggested that this experience may be a small glimpse of what Heaven will be like:
After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. (Rev. 7:9)

Delegates from both conferences overwhelmingly support continued conversation on partnership between Eastern District Conference and Franconia Conference. Photo by Emily Ralph