Tag Archives: Faith and Life

“You Are Loved:” Reflections on Faith & Life

by KrisAnne Swartley, Pastor of Formation & Mission at Doylestown congregation

1 Corinthians 13:1-13 may be one of the most well-known passages of the Bible, but how often do we consider what it may be saying to us as leaders? At the most recent Faith and Life Gathering, we were invited to do just that.

As we sat around tables at Finland Mennonite Church, we shared the words and phrases that jumped out at us as we read. “Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not boast; it is not proud…. Love is not easily angered…. Love rejoices with the truth.” Many of us admitted our human struggle to lead from a place of love instead of leading from the desire to perform well, experience success, or receive the praise of people.

The morning’s presenter, Leonard Dow, explored the theme of love and leadership as he spoke to us from the stories of Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3:13-17) and his transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-13). He reminded all of us that Jesus was loved by God before he accomplished or achieved anything; he was loved simply because he was God’s Son. What a powerful reminder to those of us who serve in ministry week in and week out: What we accomplish or fail to accomplish does not change our identity as the beloved of God.

In table groups, we discussed questions about leading from love: When have we sensed God’s unconditional love? How did we respond to it? When have we been motivated by something other than love? What challenges do leaders who desire to lead from love face? There was a level of vulnerability to our conversation that felt healing. As we prayed for each other, God’s overwhelming love surrounded and held us.

Leonard told a story of a preacher who welcomed his congregation by saying, “I want you to know I love you and there’s nothing you can do about it.” I left that morning hearing God say to my heart, “KrisAnne, I want you to know that I love you and there’s nothing you can do about it.” If I hit a sour note in a song, preach a lousy sermon, and fail to respond well to someone—or if I play perfectly, preach an inspiring sermon, and say exactly the right thing at the right time—I am still loved as I have always been loved.  This may become my new mantra.

You are loved.

I sense that if this one truth sinks into my soul this coming year, it could have a powerful impact on my ministry, my relationships at home, and in my community. I am loved. You are loved. We are all loved. God empowers us to live and to lead from love.

Leonard Dow is the former pastor of Oxford Circle congregation in Philadelphia and now works for Everence.  Watch Leonard’s full presentation here.  Faith and Life gatherings are held quarterly so that Franconia Conference credentialed leaders can pray and study Scripture together.  The 2019 dates will be February 6 & 7, May 8 & 9, and August 7 & 8.

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.

Being Church Together

 

conference assembly 2015 153According to the Franconia Conference by-laws the vision for the conference is set by the conferring of the delegates. At the Fall 2015 Assembly, the vision of the conference was set through the passing of five Church Together Statements from congregations. Three of these statements called for either a taskforce or commission to carry out the work outlined in the statement. Therefore, the Israel/Palestine and Addressing Abuse Taskforces, along with the Faith and Life Commission have been formed. Here is an update on their work:

Faith and Life Commission

The Faith and Life Church Together Statement was approved by the delegates and 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 commission currently includes Rose Bender (Whitehall) as chair, Nathan Good (Swamp), Kris Wint (Finland), Verle Brubaker (Swamp), Penny Naugle (Plains), Josh Meyer (Franconia), and the staff liaison is the conference executive minister.

With the ministry description in mind, the commission is working on developing a covenant of cooperation for themselves and have developed the following priorities:

  1. Strengthen relationships of mutual trust and accountability between credentialed leaders
  2. Discuss Scripture, its meaning, and its application together
  3. Hear stories of how others are interpreting and applying Scripture
  4. Pray for each other and our congregations
  5. NOT intended for decision-making purposes

The commission is looking forward to kicking off the first of the quarterly gatherings for the conference credentialed leaders sometime this fall. Date to be announced in the coming weeks.

Addressing Abuse

conference assembly 2015 136The Addressing Abuse in Our Midst Church Together Statement was approved by the conference board as it provides a way for Franconia Conference to implement one of the 2015 MCUSA Kansas City Resolutions. This statement calls for the conference to “establish a task force to oversee the implementation of actions designated by the MCUSA Churchwide Statement on Sexual Abuse within Franconia Conference.

The Addressing Abuse Taskforce consists of Karen Zehr (Salford), Krista Showalter Ehst (Alpha), John Drescher-Lehman (Souderton), Wayne Speigle (Blooming Glen), and their staff liaison is Jenifer Eriksen Morales .

With their ministry description in mind, the taskforce was faced with numerous items that need to be addressed. They decided to begin where the wounds are and work from there. Currently, they are working at providing resources and support for adult survivors; then they will develop and identify resources for supporting church leaders and equipping them to prevent and respond to abuse; finally they will help provide education within congregations. Resources identified by this taskforce are available on the Conference’s Church Safety webpage (http://franconiaconference.org/church-safety/), and more resources will be added in the future.

As the taskforce begins to look at providing resources and support to adult survivors, they discovered there is little-to-no support in the area of the conference congregations. In order to ensure support is available for adult survivors, the taskforce is working to develop support groups. If you or someone you know is interested in more information or in helping with the development or facilitation of a support group, please contact Karen Zehr, zehrhead@gmail.com or Jenifer Eriksen Morales, jeriksenmorales@franconiaconference.org.

Israel/ Palestine Church Together Statement

The Church Together Statement on Israel/Palestine was also approved by the conference board as it too provides a way for Franconia Conference to implement the MCUSA 2015 Kansas City Resolutions: A statement of support for our Palestinian and Israeli partners in peacemaking. In addition, the Franconia Conference Church Together Statement says “the intended consequence of this statement [is] to educate ourselves about the people of Israel-Palestine and their problems, and thereby to prepare our congregations, pastors, and delegates to evaluate intelligently the longer [MCUSA] resolution, called “Israel- Palestine” that was tabled until Convention 2017.”

In order to best prepare the conference, a taskforce has been formed. The taskforce currently includes Andrew Bush (Methacton), Ed Brubaker (Souderton), Preston Bush (Salford), Lynelle Bush (Salford), Jeff Hackman (Plains), Mike Merryman Lotze (Ambler), Peder Wiegner (Norristown), and their staff liaison is John Stoltzfus.  They are still looking for additional members and would love to hear from anyone who has been on a Come and See Tour. Feel free to email BFischer@FranconiaConference.org if you are interested in connecting with this taskforce.

With their ministry description in mind, the taskforce is focused on providing the following resources:

  • Creating an informational packet on Israel/Palestine for the fall delegate assembly.
  • Hosting a conference on Israel/Palestine (time and date still being discussed).
  • Possible film screenings and discussion times.
  • Resource links provided at http://franconiaconference.org/israel-palestine/.

Conclusion

The taskforces and commission are hard at work to ensure resources are implemented prior to assembly 2016. For more information on the Church Together Statements, visit: http://franconiaconference.org/vision/conference-assembly/. If you have any questions or want to get involved with one of the taskforces or the commission, feel free to contact BFischer@FranconiaConference.org.