Tag Archives: Equipping

Sacred Conversations

by Donna Merow, Methacton congregation      

Our Fall Equipping on September 19 began with a reading of Psalm 139 and a discussion about the nature of God, the foundation of the psalmist’s trust in God’s presence and providence.  The responses offered ranged from God’s inescapable scrutiny to a comparison with the pursuing mother in The Runaway Bunny.  Our speaker reminded the gathered clergy that while we are not the only reflection of God in the world, we are powerful representatives, called to reflect the divine character as fully as possible.

Our experienced presenter for this Fall Equipping was the Rev. Dr. Virginia Samuel Cetuk.  Her topic was Sacred Conversations, focused on the vital importance of confidentiality in our pastoral interactions.  A Pennsylvania native, Ginny was ordained in the United Methodist Church 45 years ago and currently serves as the Administrative Pastor at Princeton UMC.  Ginny has also served as an associate dean at Drew University and as a hospital and hospice chaplain (and with the FBI through her husband’s work and connections).  It was her years co-chairing Drew’s Sexual Harassment Committee that shaped her strong convictions about the need for confidentiality and the harm that is done when it is not kept. 

Ginny engaged us in a lively conversation about the meaning, values, expectations and limits of confidentiality, one of the pastoral issues addressed in both the United Methodist Book of Discipline and our own Shared Understanding of Ministerial Leadership.  Etymologically, trust (“fid” in Latin) is at the center of “confidential.”  Ginny used the language of betrayal to capture the internal experience of being exposed when confidantes break one’s trust and share confidences with others. 

The common understanding of confidentiality equates it with role of the parish priest—who tells no one what is shared in the confessional, often at great personal cost.  We struggled with this idea of “absolute confidentiality” and its implications for sharing with our spouses.  

Ginny offered case studies from her ministry context for discussion and invited us to do the same.  Participation was both wide and deep as we shared our stories and posed questions without easy answers.  One pastor spoke of the discomfort of keeping a confidence that was not extended to the sharer’s own family members, a decision he honored despite his disagreement.

Another pastor asked about generational shifts.  Our older members maintain a trust in their pastors that may not be true of the Boomers and beyond.  In an age of widespread therapy, struggles are often acknowledged and addressed elsewhere.  The very public life that social media affords also raised questions about our youngest members’ reality.

What are the assumptions and expectations of those who share intimacies with us?  If they don’t say, “Keep this confidential,” are we at liberty to add them to the prayer list or to announce them at church?  We were encouraged to engage with the mutual understanding that “If you are telling me, then you are telling me.”  Several pastors reported learning the hard way of the need to assume a private conversation and to ask for permission before sharing its contents wider. 

Does the disclosure come with expectations that we will do something?  One pastor cautioned that we need to be aware which of our many hats we are wearing to respond appropriately. 

Ginny affirmed that she wanted to leave us with many questions.  In this regard, her presentation was a resounding success!

Listen to the podcast on our Audio Gallery page!

Conference Begins Building Youth Formation Team

by Emily Ralph Servant, Interim Director of Communication

Franconia Conference has begun building an intercultural youth formation team to resource youth leaders and to connect youth across congregations, geographies, and cultures.

In February, the conference called Danilo Sanchez and Brooke Martin as the initial members of this team, implementing the recommendations of a two-year youth ministry study.  This study emphasized the need for providing more depth of resources to urban congregations (which make up a third of the conference) as well as to continue the good work of resourcing suburban and rural congregations, expanding these possibilities through the creation of a diverse team.

Danilo Sanchez, of Allentown, PA, will serve as a youth formation pastor for both congregations in the greater Lehigh Valley (PA) region (including New Jersey and New York) and congregations that have significant youth from Spanish-speaking households.

“Danilo is uniquely positioned in his experiences, gifts, and language abilities to serve our conference at this time,” reflects Steve Kriss, Franconia’s executive minister.  “Danilo has ministered in urban settings but also grew up in more suburban, rural parts of the conference, and his experience working with young adults as the director of Mennonite Central Committee’s Summer Service Program helped him to build connections with the Anabaptist community across the country.”

Sanchez also serves on the pastoral teams of Ripple and Whitehall congregations and as the Community Life Director for RCI Village.  He has a degree in youth ministry from Eastern University and a Master of Divinity from Eastern Mennonite Seminary.  In addition to resourcing youth pastors, Sanchez will serve as a liaison for youth ministry within Mennonite Church USA.

 “Danilo cares deeply for the church, young leaders, and youth, which is a perfect fit for this new Conference role,” says Pastor Angela Moyer of Ripple congregation, assistant moderator of the conference board.  “On our Ripple pastoral team, he is a thoughtful, passionate, and dedicated presence, which I have appreciated.”

Brooke Martin, of Telford, PA, will serve as Community Formation Coordinator, which includes providing administrative support for youth activities like the Jr High Blast, Mission Impossible, and other upcoming initiatives.  In addition to her work with the youth formation team, Martin will assist with planning and implementing conference events like equipping seminars, delegate trainings, and networking gatherings, with special attention given to Franconia’s annual Conference Assembly.

Martin is a member of Salford congregation and has extensive experience in administration and event planning as well as a degree in youth ministry from Hesston College.  Mary Nitzsche, Franconia’s associate executive minister, anticipates that Martin’s experience and love for planning, organizing, and coordinating events will be a good match for the conference during this time of expansion and community-building.  “Brooke is a person with contagious energy, confidence, and motivation to begin her new role as Community Formation Coordinator,” Nitzsche observes.

Before joining the conference staff, Martin served as the interim youth ministry leader at Franconia congregation, where Pastor Josh Meyer benefited greatly from her servant heart.  “Her commitment to the Church, her passion for Jesus, her effectiveness in ministry, her graciousness in difficult situations, her ability to meaningfully connect with both students and adults, and her humility of spirit coupled with quiet confidence were all incredible blessings to us,” Meyer reflects.  “I’m confident that our conference will benefit from the gifts Brooke brings and look forward to seeing how God continues using her calling for Kingdom good.”

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 How of Giving

by Conrad Martin

gift-1278395_640The subject of giving comes up many times in the scriptures, but do you know how we are supposed to give?  Here are just a few of the scriptures on how we are to give:

Cheerfully – 2 Corinthians 9:7
Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

Expectantly – Luke 6:38
Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.

Extravagantly – Mark 12:41-44
 Sitting across from the offering box, he was observing how the crowd tossed money in for the collection. Many of the rich were making large contributions. One poor widow came up and put in two small coins—a measly two cents. Jesus called his disciples over and said, “The truth is that this poor widow gave more to the collection than all the others put together. All the others gave what they’ll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn’t afford—she gave her all.”

Freely – Proverbs 11:24
One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.

Honorably – Psalms 112:9
They give freely to the poor.  The things they do are right and will continue forever.  They will be given great honor.

Joyfully – 2 Corinthians 8:2
They are being tested by many troubles, and they are very poor. But they are also filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed in rich generosity.

Proportionately – Deuteronomy 16:17
All must give as they are able, according to the blessings given to them by the Lord your God.

Regularly – 1 Corinthians 16:2
On the first day of each week, you should each put aside a portion of the money you have earned. Don’t wait until I get there and then try to collect it all at once.

Reverently – Matthew 2:11
On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Secretly – Matthew 6:3-4
But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.  Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.

Willingly – 2 Corinthians 8:12
If a man is ready and willing to give, he should give of what he has, not of what he does not have.

And finally…

Eternally – Matthew 6:19-20
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal.

Did You Know?

Did you know these legal and financial tidbits?

by C. Conrad Martin

Are churches a 501c3 charity?

dollar-questionmarkDid you know that churches are automatically a charitable organization (or a 501c3 organization) and do not need to apply for their own 501c3 status?  According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) the only requirements for a church to be considered a charity is that they be organized and operating exclusively for charitable or religious purposes, not sharing earnings with individuals, and not influencing legislation.  So in simple terms, if your church is following the above then your church is a charity.

Sometimes donors want proof that a church is indeed a charity.  How can you prove that your church is a charity?  If your church is a member congregation of Franconia Conference, conference staff can provide your church with a document stating that your church is in fact a church as defined by the IRS and therefore a charity.  This document works to satisfy the needs of donors.

What is a ministers housing allowance, who is eligible to claim this, and how much can be claimed?

Did you know that ministers, as defined by the IRS, can designate a portion of their gross salary as a housing allowance which is not subject to federal income taxes?  In the past churches used to provide housing for their ministers, however in more recent years ministers often have their own housing arrangements.  Therefore a housing allowance was created to provide a similar benefit for those ministers.

Who is a minister as defined by the IRS?  A person who: 1) is ordained, commissioned or licensed, 2) administers the sacraments of the church, 3) conducts religious worship, 4) has management responsibilities in the local church or parent denomination, and 5) is considered to be a religious leader by the church or parent denomination.  Number 1 is definitely required and some balance of the other four is factored in.

How much can a minister claim for housing allowance?  If the minister rents their home, then the fair market rental value can be included.  If they own their own home, then the down payment, mortgage payments, real estate taxes, and property insurance can be included.  Also included in the calculation of housing allowance can be utilities, furnishings and appliances, structural repairs and remodeling, yard maintenance and improvements, maintenance items and homeowners association dues.

Who designates this housing allowance?  The governing body of the church designates how much of the minister(s) income is allowed to be designated for housing.  This is to be done by official action prior to January 1.  If a church fails to do this in a timely manner, housing allowance deductions are not retroactive, but can be applied from the approval date forward.  How does the governing body know how much to declare?  The minister should calculate their housing costs, as mentioned above, and submit this request to the governing body.

For more details on these and other legal and financial tidbits, contact Conrad Martin, Director of Finance, Franconia Mennonite Conference.



Formation class crosses into Allentown in considering the church and mission

Emily Ralph, eralph@franconiaconference.org

Allentown, PA—New Franconia Conference pastors experienced life in the city on May 14 as their Formation Class took them into the heart of Allentown.  The day included Bible study at the Zume House, a prayer walk through the neighborhood where Ripple ministers, a meal with the Vietnamese Gospel Mennonite Church, and an afternoon discussion on crossing borders.

Formation Classes are required prayer walkfor every newly credentialed pastor in Franconia Conference as well as those who are new to ministering within Franconia Conference congregations.  This class’ trip to Allentown reflects a return to the traditional function of the Formation Class—to orient new pastors to the Franconia Conference story.  “A picture is worth a thousand words,” said Gay Brunt Miller, coordinator of the School for Leadership Formation.  “Being there is so much better than sitting in a conference room hearing about it.  It’s the full sensory experience.”

The day began with a time of reflection and discussion at Zume House, an intentional community birthed out of Whitehall Mennonite congregation.  Zume’s Rose Bender and Samantha Lioi shared about their vision of being yeast in their neighborhood (“Zume” is Greek for “yeast”).  It’s a process that takes time and an image that challenged the pastors about their own contexts.  “It means that church is going into the community,” pondered Tim Moyer, pastor of Vincent Mennonite Church at Spring City, PA.  “Am I equipping my congregation to be yeast in our community?”

A highlight of the day was the prayer walk, led by Ripple pastors Tom and Carolyn Albright.  “I saw how the Lord is doing a new thing,” said Ubaldo Rodriguez who leads Nueva Esperanza—Baltimore.  “We heard each other’s stories, listened to a new generation’s dreams and hopes.”  Among their stops was Franklin Park, where Allentown Mennonites recently “planted” a peace pole, and a Thai restaurant where Peter, the owner, spoke about doing business in the city.  Connie Detwiler, associate pastor of Lakeview Mennonite in Susquehanna, PA, was particularly moved by Peter’s witness.  “He was a light in a very dark place,” she reflected.  “I felt the presence of God there.”

The pastors were warmly welcomed to share lunch with members of the Vietnamese Gospel Mennonite Church.  Pastor Hien Truong worked as a leader in the persecuted church and with human rights law in Vietnam and Cambodia before he was forced to flee to the US.  He asked his colleagues to remember his people in their prayers: “The Lord has been noticing our small congregation and caring for us.”

Vietnamese mealLuke Martin, former missionary to Vietnam and long-term Allentown resident, shared about his life of “border-crossings.”  “I went there as a missionary, I came back as a missionary,” he explained.  It only seemed natural to continue his mission work in Allentown, a place he’s called home for over 30 years.  Much has changed in that time, but he still thrives in being a part of God’s work.

“The big changes and border-crossings in his life were from mustard seeds of faith,” Fuller Theological Seminary student and guest Joe Paparone of Saratoga, New York, reflected as he listened to Luke’s story.  “We have to trust those mustard seeds of faith.”

And these border-crossings surround us in our own neighborhoods and within our relationships in Franconia Conference.  John Goshow, Conference Moderator, and Ertell Whigham, Conference Executive Minister, led a conversation on the Conference’s work to be formational, intercultural, and missional.  “We need to be able to articulate this in our own particular contexts,” explained Whigham.  The group was particularly interested in what it meant to be intercultural.  “I am glad that the Mennonite Church in the US and Canada is inviting other voices from the global south,” said Rodriguez, originally from Colombia.  “We need each other!”

Going to Allentown allowed leaders to engage with and learn from their peers in a practical way, said Steve Kriss, Director of Leadership Cultivation for Franconia Conference.  “We were offered the opportunity to be in a place that is not only historically significant in the missional journey of Franconia Conference but also where the Spirit is stirring up new things.”