Tag Archives: Faith and Life Commission

Grace to Fail at Faith and Life

by Sandy Drescher-Lehman, Methacton congregation

As I abandoned my warm cozy couch by the fire on Thursday evening, February 7, to head into the cold and rainy night toward Swamp Mennonite Church, I couldn’t remember anything about why I was doing this except that I had registered for another Faith and Life gathering. The thought of being with other credentialed leaders, whoever would show up, was meaning enough for my heart and soul (think: ENFP, Enneagram 7).

Being the first to arrive, I watched Swamp’s pastor, Nathan Good, putting the final touches on a welcoming table of fruit, cookies, and chocolate bark and then enjoyed the arrival of other pastors.   These were “my people”.

As we settled down around tables and J.R. Briggs, author of the book Fail: Finding Hope and Grace in the Midst of Ministry Failure, began his talk, I finally remembered what the topic was.  I also remembered that when I had registered, I wasn’t sure why I’d need to hear about this, since everything’s been going so well for me and the community at Methacton Mennonite Church.

But that wasn’t the point really.  I had voted a few years ago at conference assembly to affirm a group of pastors to provide quarterly gatherings for study, enrichment, and fellowship around how we practice our faith in life. They have delivered and I’ve never been disappointed.

J.R. Briggs, author of “Fail: Finding Hope and Grace in the Midst of Ministry Failure”.

What I soon realized was that the points the speaker was making were good to be reminded of, because even on my best days, I do make a lot of mistakes.  We all do, of course! What we do with those failures, and the accompanying feelings of rejection—and ultimately shame—was the topic for discussion.  How do we attend to the failures that we should expect and that Jesus does not keep us from, so that we can continue to find joy in our ministries?

After reading 2 Corinthians 4:7-12 & 16-18 several times together, we  shared our definitions of failure and success and vulnerability.  What do we do when we get BLASTed (Bored, Lonely, Anxious/Afraid, Stressed, or Tired)?  We were invited to think about the lies we’re tempted to believe about ourselves when we make mistakes, and the masks we put on to cover them. Instead of defining our success by the 3 Bs (Building, Bodies and Budget), we were encouraged to find freedom in the 4 Fs (Faithfulness, Fruitfulness, Fulfillment and Fellowship).

And those are the words I left the evening with: the good news that God uses people who fail, the good news that is only available to those who have failed, and the good news that freedom is found in nothing to hide, lose, or prove. J.R. and those around my table that night, in honest and vulnerable sharing, renewed my joy of being a pastor, alongside so many other wonderful people, who all fail at times and can then talk and pray about it together.

Thank you to the Faith and Life Commission members, for another good time of study, reflection, and renewal.

If you missed J.R.’s presentation, or would like to see it again, CLICK HERE

Faith & Life gatherings for credentialed leaders are held quarterly.  This year’s topics revolve around issues of leadership.  Our next gathering will be held in several locations around eastern PA and via Zoom on May 8 & 9, focusing on women in leadership with Carolyn Custis James.

Faith and Life Through Communion

By Jerrell Williams, Associate for Leadership Cultivation

On August 8 and 9, around 30 credentialed leaders of both Franconia and Eastern District Conferences assembled for the quarterly Faith and Life gathering organized by the Faith and Life Commission. The group gathered to talk about the Mennonite perspective of communion. Our time began with prayer and introductions. We centered our time by looking at Luke 22:14-20, 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, and Article 12 of the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective.

Different table groups decided to focus on different things within their conversation. Some of us were more concerned with the amount of times our churches participate in communion, also known as the Lord’s Supper, while some were more focused on who was welcomed to partake in communion. Another group focused on the meaning of communion as a way of justice. The table becomes a place where we can all come together, no matter one’s economic class.

The table that I sat at focused heavily on how one is to prepare for communion. We discussed the concepts of confessing our sins before coming to the table for communion, as we are to be at peace with God and our brothers and sisters. We shared our experiences of how we have experienced communion and how that has impacted the way we practice today. We also discussed who could participate in the Lord’s Supper.

As the conversations were happening around the tables, two of the Faith and Life Commission members gleaned from what the tables were saying and as the conversations began to end, they summarized for the large group what they heard from the different tables. As they summarized what had been shared around the room, one of the Commission members asked an important question. They first stated that Article 12 in the Confession of Faith says, “All are invited to the Lord’s table who have been baptized into the community of faith, are living at peace with God and with their brothers and sisters in the faith and are willing to be accountable in their congregation.” The leader then asked how many of us require a person to be baptized before they partake in communion as stated in the Confession of Faith.

We ended our meeting with the unanswered question of what this means for us. Where do we go from here? What is communion and who should be able to partake? This conversation has brought to light new questions that many seemed excited to dig deeper into.

Does Church Membership Matter?

by Mark R. Wenger – Pastoral Team Leader and Pastor of Administration, Franconia Mennonite Church

How does church membership work in Franconia Conference?  How do you become a church member?  What are the requirements and benefits?  What happens to membership when someone stops attending?  What theological understandings underpin church membership? These questions, and more, formed the center of a Faith and Life Gathering of about 30 Franconia Conference credentialed leaders at Salford Mennonite Church on the morning of May 9, 2018.

Framed by Romans 12:4-5, a panel of three pastors led the way into the maze of membership. Nathan Good from Swamp Mennonite Church described their annual membership Sunday where new members are received after a 10-week preparation class, current members re-affirm a membership covenant, and the congregation shares Communion together. This keeps membership and attendance numbers aligned.

Ken Burkholder from Deep Run East Mennonite Church highlighted the importance of a public commitment for becoming a member.  His congregation has a Membership Covenant in the By-laws but stated it isn’t referenced much.  Ken observed a “definite trend” of people who are active in the congregation, but don’t become members.  Others remain members on the books but haven’t been active for years.

Danillo Sanchez spoke about commitment patterns at Ripple in Allentown and Whitehall Mennonite Church.  Typical church membership that grants certain privileges doesn’t fit their context.  Yet in each congregation, participants sign a covenant that highlights three Anabaptist church distinctives.  This annual signing intends to keep commitment current and to remind people what it means to be part of the faith community.

Discussion around tables followed the panel presentation.  A recurring theme: Understandings and practices of church membership are changing.  Earlier, more standard patterns have morphed into contextualized and individualized approaches. Questions that were raised included: can someone who lacks an understanding of core Christian beliefs and practices become a member?  How about someone who is engaged in behaviors considered inconsistent with the Bible or the Confession of Faith? Churches with cemeteries face unique challenges.  Can someone listed as a member still claim a burial benefit ten years after ceasing to attend?  What does church membership mean?  Is it a shell without any filling?  Or an antique no longer relevant? Lots of questions.  Not many answers.

As a point of comparison, I recently joined the Souderton-Telford Rotary Club.  I needed a current member to serve as my sponsor.  Membership dues are payable every month.  I must attend at least two Rotary functions each month to remain a member.

I came away from the Faith and Life Gathering discussion on membership feeling muddled, even conflicted. I agreed with the pastor who said: “We are holding to what we believe, but we’ve become more flexible in our practices.”  But, when does changing practice reveal an implicit shift of core theology?

In my view, church membership and a covenant community remain a worthy investment for congregations.  Jesus and leaders of the early church raised expectations of godly living, while also setting people free from bondage.  A liberating gospel on one side, and covenanted discipleship on the other, are not contradictory.

Congregations that expect a lot of their members tend to be more cohesive than free-for-all associations.  When high-demand churches also offer transformation to participants and engage them in a clear mission, congregations flourish.

Church membership today doesn’t look like it did fifty years ago.  Our congregations are less homogenous; we move around more; accountability feels different.  But the human need for healing and hope, for encountering God, for belonging to a group, and for sharing in bigger mission remains the same.  In my opinion, the vision of church where “each member belongs to all the others” (Rom. 12:5) remains worthy of our best creativity and commitment.

Faith and Life Gatherings Commence

pastors meeting 1At the 2015 Conference Assembly the delegate body affirmed the Faith and Life Church Together Statement that calls for “the conference to reestablish the Faith and Life Commission for the purpose of providing at least quarterly gatherings for pastors to discern and study scripture together.” The first of these Faith and Life gatherings were held this month.

The Faith and Life commission was established the first quarter of 2016 and includes Rose Bender (Whitehall) as chair, Josh Meyer (Franconia) as vice chair, Nathan Good (Swamp), Kris Wint (Finland), Verle Brubaker (Swamp), Penny Naugle (Plains), and the staff liaison is the conference executive minister. The commission has been meeting since May of this year reviewing the Church Together Statement, ministry description, and preparing for the quarterly gatherings.

This month they held their first quarterly gatherings at Plains, Salem, Indonesian Light, and one by Zoom teleconference. 60% of the conference’s credentialed leaders participated. The theme being going to the margins.

A recurring question that came up from the feedback of these gatherings was how do we think together theologically about the issues we are facing?

In September, the conference was reminded about the importance of spiritual practices when living in covenant with one another at the conference-wide gathering with MCUSA moderator-elect, David Boshart. The commission sees learning to hear God together as a spiritual practice and looks forward to the coming faith and life gatherings as a way of engaging this spiritual practice together with other credentialed leaders.

Steve Kriss, Franconia Director or Leadership Cultivation & Congregational Resourcing stated, “The gatherings offered an important time to reflect, to breathe, to share, and to pray together. These times whether face to face or virtual provide important opportunities to strengthen our relationships together and compel our calls to witness of the faith, hope and love that we know through Jesus.”

Future topics will be announced as the dates of the gatherings are announced. Currently, the commission is working on dates for gatherings in February, May, and August of 2017. Stay tuned for more specifics.