Tag Archives: Emily Ralph Servant

Home for Christmas

by Emily Ralph Servant, Interim Director of Communication

The house sits on Emily Street, a three-story, red-brick townhouse whose stoop rests directly on the sidewalk along a narrow city street.

Bethany House, which sits on Emily Street in South Philadelphia, will serve as a conference-owned parsonage.

The third floor windows look out over the surrounding blocks, where brand new rowhomes, nestled between century-old houses, bear witness to the creeping gentrification of this densely populated and diverse neighborhood.  Dotted between the rows of houses are lots that won’t long be empty, neighborhood parks, and the occasional sidewalk garden planted in clusters of multicolored pots.

Its name is Bethany House, and soon this house will become a home.

For a number of years, members of the conference community have been concerned about the rising cost of housing in South Philadelphia.  As the city has experienced an influx of immigrants and a renewal of its urban core, the neighborhoods surrounding Franconia’s South Philly congregations have seen a quick and dramatic increase in housing costs.

This gentrification makes living and ministering locally more and more difficult, especially for credentialed leaders who don’t have the resources to purchase a home.  In response to growing support among the conference constituency, the board decided that now was the time to act, while the purchase could still be considered an investment in the rapidly growing housing market.

In December, upon the review and recommendation of the Properties and Finances Committees, Franconia Conference purchased the house on Emily Street to be used as a conference-owned parsonage.  This home will be available for conference congregations in South Philadelphia to use when, and for as long as, needed.

Bethany House’s first residents will be Leticia Cortes and Fernando Loyola.  The pastoral couple of Centro de Alabanza de Filadelfia, Cortes and Loyola have been struggling to find a safe and stable living arrangement for their family for eleven years.  Because Bethany House is close to their congregation’s building, Cortes and Loyola anticipate that living there will open up new possibilities for outreach in their community as they get to know their neighbors better.

This dream is shared by the South Philly congregations.  “My hope is that this house can be a blessing for the neighborhood,” said Melky Tirtasaputra, associate pastor at Nations Worship Center, who also served as an advisor during the search.  “We pray that the people of this house will bring change and peace to the people in that area.”

The purchase of this property not only shows conference support of Philadelphia churches, explained conference moderator John Goshow, but also provides an opportunity for the rest of the conference to partner with our South Philly congregations in building God’s kingdom, as “the entire Franconia Conference community works together to point people to Christ.”

The move will also put Cortes and Loyola closer to their church community—this was one of the appeals of the house, Tirtasaputra explained.  Members of Centro de Alabanza are excited about the move and have already been busily at work on the house, making repairs and painting.

Ten percent of Franconia Conference members live and worship in South Philadelphia, which makes it important to start investing in the neighborhood, suggested executive minister Steve Kriss.  While Centro de Alabanza is currently using the parsonage, Tirtasaputra reflected, it’s a gift to all of the South Philly congregations since, in the future, pastors from other congregations may also find themselves in need of a home.

“The Bethany House continues Franconia Conference’s tradition of mutual care for our pastors,” described Kriss.  “It will ensure healthy leadership for what has been a rapidly growing part of our conference community.”  The house was named after the village where Jesus went for rest, care, and friendship (John 12:1-8), Kriss said, “a place of gracious hospitality.”

The Conference’s decision to purchase a Philadelphia parsonage is more than just a financial gift, according to Cortes and Loyola; it also says something about the relationship that the wider conference has with its South Philadelphia brothers and sisters: “We feel like this investment is an affirmation of Franconia Conference’s confidence in our church ministry and in us.”

The pastoral couple’s hope is to move in by the end of the year and, it’s quite possible, they may even be home for Christmas.

Bethany House has been partially funded by estate gifts and individual contributions, but we still have funds to raise!  You or your congregation are invited to participate in this ministry by making a designated contribution to Franconia Conference online or by sending a check with “Bethany House” in the memo line to Franconia Mennonite Conference, 1000 Forty Foot Rd., Lansdale, PA 19446.

A Prophet at the Grocery Store

by Emily Ralph Servant, Leadership Minister

“You are going to make a difference.”

He stood there in the grocery store aisle, pointing at my 8-month-old daughter with a smile on his face.  She looked back at him, her eyes wide and cheeks creased by dimples.

You are going to make this world better.”

I lifted tired eyes to meet his and tried to find words to convey the depth of my gratitude.  The only ones I could find were “Thank you.  Thank you so much.”  But as he nodded at me and went on his way, those words seemed to be enough.

It was a passing encounter with a stranger in an unlikely place.  I was used to people fussing over my baby every time we went out together, but this was entirely different.

This was a prophecy, a blessing, a profound expression of hope from someone who needed a better world. It also resonated with my own heart cry, my longing for who I want, and believe, my daughter will be.  Who I hope she already is.

Our lives are full of these encounters, full of moments when God shows up right in the middle of our tired routines.  God’s Spirit is whispering, calling, shouting through the stranger.  We choose whether we slow down long enough to listen.

“There’s no way to know when [we] might get caught up in the movement of the Spirit,” says Mennonite pastor Isaac Villegas.1 “From Luke’s gospel we learn that we never know when and where the word of the Lord might happen…”  As pastors, suggests Villegas, we spend a lot of time preparing sermons for our congregations; perhaps we might be better situated for that task if we were to “put ourselves in the position of receiving the good news, of welcoming the gospel in unfamiliar settings and from unexpected tongues.”

It’s often easy for Jesus-followers to focus on all the ways that our neighborhoods need us and everything that we could do on behalf of our community.  What would happen if, instead, we would expect to see the gifts we are being offered, if we would search for where, and in whom, we see the image of God staring back at us?

Maybe then we would receive a stranger’s prophecy and accept his challenge: an invitation to join in the struggle.  Maybe then we would receive a new anointing, a pouring out of the Spirit promising that, together, we will make this world better.

1 “Worldly Sermons: Experiencing God’s Word Beyond the Church” in Fully Engaged: Missional Church in an Anabaptist Voice, pp. 210 & 215.

Remembering the Glory Days

by Emily Ralph Servant, Leadership Minister

He was one of my congregation’s “saints,” someone who had been attracted to the church decades ago because he heard that God was doing something there and he wanted to be a part of it.

Baptismal class at Haycock Church, circa 1960 (photo courtesy of MHEP)

I asked him about the old days and his eyes lit up as he told me about the boys’ and girls’ clubs, Summer Bible School, and a thriving Sunday School.

Those were the glory days of mission.

I’ve been thinking about this saint often during this past week as I talked with a number of pastors about mission in their context.  It’s so easy for us to get caught up in remembering times past when our congregations had flourishing programs, our institutions were growing by leaps and bounds, and we were sending missionaries to the “ends of the earth.”

By comparison, many of our congregations now feel like Moses, hiding his face behind a veil so that the people of Israel couldn’t see that the glory of his encounter with God was fading (2 Corinthians 3:13).  We feel discouraged, tired, and worried.  We wish that we could think up the next great initiative that will draw hundreds—or at least dozens—of people through our church doors so that our faces will once again shine with God’s glory as our congregations come to life again.

Instead, when we remember the glory days, we feel like we’re dying.  We feel like we have nothing to offer as our numbers are dwindling and our energy is waning.

Perhaps our memories of past mission have taken on a bit of a golden hue, however.  Our stories have been shaped over the years of telling to remember the highlights instead of the everyday acts of love and friendship that drew others to a relationship with God and to participate in our communities.

When I asked people who had grown up in my congregation’s neighborhood about those same years of mission, their eyes lit up when they told me how this gentle man had walked the streets on Saturday mornings, sharing coffee and donuts with them in their homes.  They remembered how he would sit with the teenagers as they smoked and drank on the church steps.

They didn’t just remember the programs; they remembered the people.

As the glory fades away, we are left only with ourselves and what a gift that is!  It’s vulnerable to put ourselves out there and risk rejection, embarrassment, or hurt.  It’s a lot messier and a whole lot more confusing.  Yet you don’t have to form a committee to share a meal (or coffee and donuts!) and you don’t have to be young and energetic to shoot the breeze for a couple hours on a Saturday morning.

It can be scary to stop hiding behind the veil, to show who we really are.  But the Spirit of the Lord is there, and where the Spirit is, there is freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17).  Freedom to stop trying so hard and just be ourselves.  Freedom to risk building relationships with no strings attached.  Freedom to trust that there may be some glory left after all.

Great Gifts Among Us

Franconia Conference continues to follow God’s call, sharing the Good News of Christ Jesus and empowering and equipping others to, as well. Executive Minister Steve Kriss said, “We have much to do and much possibility.” This work is not possible without the many gifted individuals God has blessed the Conference with.

In January, as Steve Kriss took the reins of Executive Minister, a time of transition was announced that included introducing three interim LEADership Ministers, one even serving as Interim Director of Congregational Resourcing. As the time of transition comes to a close, so too comes some changes.

One of those interim LEADership Ministers has agreed to extend their interim role. Wayne Nitzsche will continue through September in his role as interim LEADership Minister, working with Alpha, Bally and Taftsville congregations. The other two interim LEADership Ministers, Emily Ralph Servant and Randy Heacock, have agreed to stay on as contracted LEADership Ministers. Emily concludes her work as Interim Director of Congregational Equipping and Resourcing this month, but will continue to serve as a LEADership Minister with Ambler, West Philly, Plains, Methacton, Perkasie and Spring Mount congregations. Randy will continue working with Wellspring, Towamencin and Rocky Ridge congregations.

July 1 brought two new faces to the Conference office. As previously announced, Mary Nitzsche began as Associate Executive Minister. Her area of focus will include the ministerial committee, work with retired pastors, women pastors, interim pastors and chaplains.  Mary will serve to represent the Conference in times when Steve is not available and an “executive” presence would be deemed helpful and important.  Per the original announcement, Executive Minister Steve Kriss wrote, “Mary’s gifts will help add depth and care to our ministry and leadership team.  I’ve experienced Mary as someone who genuinely exhibits the fruits of the Spirit in her life and trust that she’ll bring that fruitful presence further into our life together.”

Another new addition to the Conference office in July is Juanita Nyce, who will work as an Engagement Advisor for the Conference.  Juanita will help Conference Leadership and staff look at how to develop connections with their constituency and beyond that help to extend the Conference vision and mission together.  Juanita is part of Salford congregation and previously worked at Rockhill Mennonite Community.

Franconia Conference is a blessing to have so many gifted and talented children of God to work together spreading God’s love and light in the world.

Sharing Breakfast and Life

by Emily Ralph Servant, Interim Director of Congregational Resourcing

“I was not really looking forward to the morning event.  I wasn’t even sure it had much to do with my call and work,” confessed Joy Sawatzky, a chaplain at Living Branches.  “What happened was a nice surprise.  I like surprises.”

The “morning event” was a breakfast sponsored by Living Branches and Franconia Conference exploring questions of spirituality across generations.  On February 14, a panel of leaders answered questions about calling, spiritual practices, and hope.

“What happened was heart-felt sharing from three different generations around call and how that was and is lived out, not just in the lives of those on the panel, but in the table conversations afterwards as well,” reflected Sawatzky.

Panelists Krista Showalter Ehst, John Ruth, Paula Stoltzfus, James Krabill, Josh Meyer, and Ray Hurst expressed curiosity about other generations, pondered over advice they would give to their younger selves, suggested practices that are important in the life of the Church, and confessed how their priorities in ministry have been shaped by their life experiences (listen to the podcast).

After the panelists shared, pastors gathered around tables to share their own stories, challenges, and questions.  The take away—a hope for the future of the church and a hope for more of these conversations.

Living Branches began to explore sponsoring conversations on aging after a pastor told them, “Our church is aging, however our energy is focused on family and youth; we would appreciate thinking and talking together about issues of aging. Help us.”   Living Branches believes that as a member of the community and a participating ministry of the Franconia Conference, they have a calling to connect with and resource their community and churches around the issues of aging, says Margaret Zook, Director of Church & Community Relations at Living Branches.  “We believe that joy and purpose in life is enriched through conversations at all stages of our life.”

Credentialed leaders are invited to two breakfasts this April:

  • April 19, 8-10am, at Souderton Mennonite Homes. Chaplains from Living Branches will present the documentary “Being Mortal” and facilitate a conversation around faith and end of life issues.  (RSVP to Margaret_Zook@LivingBranches.org).
  • April 25, 9-11am, at Blooming Glen Mennonite Church. Anne Kaufman Weaver will lead a conversation around her research in resiliency for women in pastoral leadership (RSVP at franconiaconference.org/events).

“Taking time to be together to learn, to network, to eat together, to drink coffee and tea together helps keep our leadership and relationships vibrant and lively,” says Franconia Conference executive minister Steve Kriss.  “While our schedules are busy, this time apart, even for a few hours, is an important respite and a significant time to strengthen both skills and relationships among us as credentialed leaders in our conference community.”

For questions related to upcoming events or to request resourcing for your congregation, contact Emily (email or 267-932-6050, ext. 117).

The Space in Between: More Than We Can Dream or Imagine

by Stephen Kriss

MiaThis past Sunday, Mia, an elementary-school-aged girl from Indonesian Light Church, told me that she thinks she might want to be a pastor.  Her mom remarked that this is a relatively new development within the last few months.   Though she tagged on that sometimes she wants to be a doctor too.  Both tough jobs, I responded.  And both things that help people, her mom said.  Her mom wondered where the pastoral desire might have originated.  There is no doubt in my mind that having Emily Ralph Servant as the congregation’s interim pastor for the past six months has something to do with it.   This young girl has experienced that women, too, might be pastors and her life is forever changed.  I look forward to the day 30 years or so from now when this young woman might be my pastor, shaped by the city, loved by a congregation, and formed as one who is loved by God.

As Franconia Conference, our focus of energy is around cultivating healthy leaders of all ages, communities and connections.   As staff, board and committees, we regularly work at this in a variety of ways.  We do this in day-to-day correspondence, strategic planning and holy conversations.   Sometimes it’s seemingly well-planned, other times it’s the Spirit’s serendipity.  I’m learning to trust that the Spirit is working out something usually beyond what we can see and often more than we can imagine, as Paul tells the early church (Ephesians 3.10).

Two research initiatives have also begun this summer that involve our Conference pastors.  As part of a project that examines the resiliency of women pastors in several Mennonite Conferences, Anne Kaufman Weaver from Lancaster County is interviewing 11 credentialed women currently serving within congregations. Currently 30% of our active credentialed pastors are women. Josh Meyer, one of the pastors at Franconia congregation, is beginning a longer examination on what sustains millennial Mennonite pastors (those born after 1980’ish).  In his initial round of research, we’ve discovered that Franconia Conference has among the highest percentages of credentialed millennial pastors in Mennonite Church USA.

Steve KrissThe Spirit is truly upon us, calling men and women, stirring the young, and giving dreams to those of us who have been on the journey longer.  May we be able to live into these possibilities that are for sure beyond even our greatest hopes and imagination.   Thanks be to God that the Spirit is undoubtedly still with us and calling among us in the space in between.