Tag Archives: formational

Partial Vision

By Marta Castillo, LEADership Minister

One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” When faced with new situations, unexpected challenges, decision-making, or new information, my mind starts to try to make sense of it using my senses, my past experiences, and my knowledge. It is natural for us to try to problem solve and to find a space for information within our framework of understanding.

However, as followers of Jesus Christ, children of God, and saints led by the Spirit, we are called to look beyond our own understanding and to trust in the Lord and submit to God’s wisdom and way. When we look at the gospels, we see how many times Jesus says to people, “You do not understand.” As he washes the disciples’ feet, Jesus says in John 13:7, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” To Nicodemus, in John 3, Jesus answers, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?” When Jesus told parables, and talked about his upcoming death to the disciples, the ones closest to Him, did not understand. John 12:16 says, “His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him.”

Richard Rohr uses the term “partial vision”, the need to recognize that we understand only in part. Our acknowledgement that we know only in part (1 Corinthians 13:12) allows us to “lean not on our own understanding,” to trust in God, and to submit our ways to God so that God can direct our paths. Our confession that we have “partial vision” humbles us and allows us to listen to others who have “partial vision” and seek God who fully sees and knows all things.

In Franconia Conference, we are facing all kinds of new situations, receiving new congregations, facing unexpected challenges, deciding about possible reconciliation, and making new kinds of decisions. I believe that we will all benefit from confessing together that we have “partial vision” and that there are numerous ways that God is working that are outside of our understanding and comprehension. I believe that we will benefit in committing and submitting together to walk in trust of the Lord, following the footsteps of Jesus, and relying heavily on the lead of the Holy Spirit.

I  Corinthians 13:12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

 

God is at Work

By Aldo Siahaan, LEADership Minister and pastor at Philadelphia Praise Center

Each year Philadelphia Praise Center (PPC) holds Summer Peace Camp, a program similar to Vacation Bible School. This four-week camp led by a Mennonite Central Committee Summer Service Worker is a program that supports young people of color in developing their leadership skills through working with their local churches and communities. This year Amos Himawan was PPC’s summer service worker and he took on the challenging responsibility of assisting me in coordinating and running the Summer Peace Camp. There were two situations that happened during Peace Camp that showed me God is at work among us, if we will look to him. Thankfully, Amos was keeping God as his focus during these difficult moments at Summer Peace Camp.

Amos put so much thought into preparing a good program with various activities that the 40 children, ages 7 to 12 years old,  did not want to miss a moment. One day we took the kids to visit the Philadelphia Museum of Art where they have Art Splash programs, which are drop-in creative play activities. Amos contacted the museum to ensure that he could bring a large group, and the museum instructed him to just come, there was no need to make a reservation. The morning we arrived at the window to check in for Art Splash, the museum officer noticed 40 children and said that space was limited and not all the kids could join. Amos was silent because he did not know how to explain this situation to the kids. In his silence, Amos also prayed to God for help. In the middle of his silent prayer, the same officer said that since they were there, they could not turn them away and so some of the kids could explore the museum while others took part in the Art Splash. Not only that, but as an apology the officer gave us free tickets for all the kids and their families. Wow, God is at work.

Another story of God at work took place when we brought the Summer Peace Camp kids to the pool for swimming.  There are two pools that are not far from PPC, so we chose the pool that had a good playground. That morning, the vans dropped the kids off to play at the playground as they awaited their turn to swim. As their turn quickly approached, a pool staff member came and said that we had too many kids and would not be allowed to swim. Some of the kids who heard the rejection were disappointed and began to cry and express their anger. God gave Amos wisdom to take the kids to the other pool immediately, but did not have big enough vans to take them.  After Amos made a few calls, God sent a driver with a big van to bring the kids to the pool. Indeed, God is at work.

From these two stories, through the example of our Summer Service Worker, Amos, God has taught me a basic and yet deep attitude of putting my trust in Him. One Bible verse from Philippians 2:13 comes to mind, as it says, “For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” May we all continue to look for moments God is at work and may we continue to allow God to work in and through us.

 

Next Generation Ministry

On July 20th, over forty credentialed leaders from Franconia Conference and a few from the broader community including all the way from Lancaster, PA, gathered to hear about “Next Generation Ministry” from Josh Meyer, Pastor of Discipling and Preaching at Franconia Mennonite Church.  This credentialed leader’s breakfast was hosted by Perkiomenville Mennonite Church.

Credentialed leaders gathered around a breakfast of pancakes, bacon, and scrambled eggs courtesy of chickens raised by some of the Perkiomenville youth, and began the morning by engaging in table discussion about where they serve, how they came to be in ministry, and what they have found most fulfilling and most challenging.

Josh MeyerJosh Meyer took on researching millennials in ministry as his dissertation project for his Doctor of Ministry program at Biblical Seminary. With Franconia Conference having one of the highest percentages of millennial credentialed leaders (those born after 1980 and before the mid-1990s) at 11% of all active credentialed leaders, Josh utilized Franconia Conference as his case study. His goal was to identify factors that cultivate and confirm calling among millennial leaders. The project focused on the intersection of three distinct areas: 1) millennial generation dynamics, 2) the biblical concept of calling, and 3) experience within in pastoral ministry. Overall, what leads young people in to ministry and what keeps young people in ministry.

Following the table discussion time, Josh shared a video that went viral at the end of 2016 where Simon Sienk, an author and marketing consultant, speaks about millennials in the workplace. Josh asked those present, “as you watch, keep in mind: if what he is saying is true, what impact might that have on how young people are called to an experienced ministry?”

In the video, Sienk mentions that millennials have grown up in an environment of addictive social media, instant gratification and participation medals that has led to a lack of coping mechanisms to deal with stress and a lack of knowledge on how to form deep meaningful relationships. He is quick to point out these shortcomings are no fault of the millennials themselves as it is a result of the environment. Upon graduation and being thrust into the workforce, corporate environments continue to hinder this generation from learning the skills of cooperation, and that trust forms over time in slow, steady, consistent interactions.

Josh quoted Tim Elmore (2010) as saying, “The rapid changes in American society over the past century have contributed to the diverse perspectives of the four generational cohorts represented in the workplace today.”

Therefore, if millennials are having a different experience, how does that impact young pastors?

Noted in the presentation is the fact that MCUSA as a denomination has a shortage of young leaders, with a large number of leaders at or reaching retirement age. Many young leaders seem to only last seven years. Through focus groups and interviews with an equal number of millennials and older experienced pastors within Franconia Conference, Josh compiled a chart of similarities and differences between these two groups that included looking at: what leads persons into pastoral ministry and what keeps persons engaged in pastoral ministry.

Going through the chart provided in a handout, it was noted that for both generations ministry is broadly defined and Conference Leaders played a large role in their path to ministry. A distinct difference between the generations was their view of seminary. The millennials viewing it as a place of ongoing discernment and the preceding generations attending seminary as a result of discernment. As for discerning the call, the millennials seems to have a stronger outward call (others noticing and affirming it in them) than the preceding generations who are noted as having a stronger inward call. Both generations noted that being invited to lead in their home congregations as they were growing up played a role in their discernment.

Items noted in aspects of pastoral ministry included that no matter the generation, all were surprised by the amount of administration work; not that they couldn’t or didn’t have the skills to complete it, just that the quantity was unforeseen. Millennials noted the pressure and expectations along with the “lack of freedom to lead” as unexpected aspects of their pastoral ministry. Josh explained that this “lack of freedom to lead,” was felt as millennials are often being brought in to help congregations grow and change, yet the congregation is resistant to change. Also of note, as a result of being in ministry, millennials feel less tied to denomination affiliations where preceding generations feel less tied to local church structure.

As for what keeps these generations engaged in pastoral ministry, Josh’s research notes that it is stories of transformation, the continued sense of the Holy Spirit calling, and seeing the impact of their ministry. Noted differences are that millennials report seeing a counselor/spiritual director and having a persistent commitment to Christ and the church as helping them continue to say yes to ministry. Preceding generations noted healthy church structures, being sustained by relationships, and a lack of other employment options/ need for income, among other things.

Check out the handout for more on these generations’ perspectives on things that play into contemplating leaving ministry, challenges and opportunities for the church.

The event ended with those from the preceding generations praying over the millennial leaders in their midst.

Franconia Conference is grateful to Josh for taking on this project. The Conference board and staff continue to analyze and contemplate how this information can inform calling and sustaining younger and up-and-coming leaders.

To view the slide presentation including recommendations as a result of Josh’s research click here.

Visioning for Conference-wide Youth Ministry

In a time of significant changes with youth ministry staffing and high school age youth demographics, last month Franconia Conference began a Youth Ministry Review/Visioning taskforce. The Taskforce will be working on a six month process reflecting on our Conference’s youth ministry initiatives. The members were by the Conference Board to review past and present youth ministry staffing and work at setting a vision for Conference youth ministry in the near future.

Taskforce members include Mary Keller (Zion/Eastern District representative), Jim King (Plains/Conference Board representative), Joe Hackman (Salford, facilitator), Brooke Martin (Franconia), Danilo Sanchez (Ripple/Whitehall) and Adrian Suryajaya (Philadelphia Praise Center).  The diverse team seeks to understand current and emerging needs for congregations and youth across our conference community.

“I am glad to do this work because the youth are the future of our Church (as in the whole Christian body, not just denomination),” said Adrian. “We need to cultivate and guide them to fulfill the purpose of the Church in the future.”

In a time of changing demographics and priorities, the review and visioning process gives space to appreciate what past and current work while imagining upcoming possibilities and challenges.

 

Love is a Verb and So Much More

by Wayne Nitzsche, Interim LEADership Minister and Pastor of Perkasie Mennonite Church

When taking elementary Greek as a seminary student, suddenly it dawned on me that my knowledge of the English language was woefully inadequate. I might not have been able to tell you that a verb “is a word used to describe an action, state, or occurrence, and forming the main part of the predicate of a sentence, such as hearbecomehappen,” as Google says. But I’d have been able to say that is an action word!

So when I learned the theme for Mennonite Church USA for 2017, launched on Valentine’s Day, was: “Love is a Verb” I knew about verbs. I’m just glad they didn’t go with: “Love is a predicate noun.”

As followers of Christ we believe that God is love and that we are called to participate in God’s love. Not by the cheap “I’ll love you if you love me” ways of our culture, but in the gritty work of loving God, ourselves and our neighbors.

This theme of Love is a Verb will be the theme at our denominational assembly in Orlando in early July. As we lead up to that, Perkasie Mennonite (PMC), and perhaps other Franconia Conference congregations have recently engaged this theme. Here at PMC we developed a six week worship series focusing on: love is… a verb, … obeying Christ, … mutual, …. fear-less, ….of God, and …. life-giving. The series has been a study of the book of First John.

“This word of life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us…so that our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” (1 John 1:2-3)

For the writer, the love of God is expressed in the revealed “word of life” (Jesus Christ) so that we might have fellowship (koinonia) with God and with each other. That love we’ve received is then expressed in love for each other in the local fellowship. Yet, scholars believe this struggling church was fractured because of theological diversity and a refusal to love in word and deed. In a series employing sharp contrasts comes the command to do the hard work of love.

Our love has been put to the test in very specific ways as we have walked with congregation members in life and death. I witnessed people expressing their love by sharing meals, sending cards, sitting in silence, in unceasing prayer and in many other acts of love. I know this happens on a daily basis, not only at PMC but in all the churches spread out over our conference.

We have members demonstrate active love – love as a verb – by urging us to speak into the political process with a voice of concern for peace and justice. We had hard discussions in our Sunday morning second hour around the issue of racism, and talked about what steps we might take to become allies.

As an Interim LEADership Minister with Franconia Conference, I’ve been relating to Alpha, Bally and Taftsville congregations. It’s been a joy to hear stories of love in action. Bally created a large banner with the words from the Welcoming Your Neighbors posters: “No matter where you are from, we are glad you are our neighbor” written in Arabic, Spanish and English. During a committee meeting, a stranger entered and expressed his appreciation for the sign. He is a recent immigrant from the Middle East and had been feeling very vulnerable.

Love in action is expressed at Taftsville in their recent addition of solar panels on the roof of their meeting place.  They are now generating electricity that goes back onto the grid, as they continue to implement steps to care for God’s creation. I could go on with other illustrations just in these three congregations.

Let’s continue to challenge ourselves and our congregations to make Christ’s love known in our local communities. May we also celebrate and testify to the ways it is already happening in small ways in the wonderful diversity that is Franconia Mennonite Conference.

“We know love by this that he laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” (1 John 3:16)

The Gift of Receiving

By Mike Clemmer, LEADership Minister

I was intrigued by something that was said by one of the National Football League (NFL) analysts, about what it would take for this year’s new draft picks to be successful in the NFL. He said, “these star college players need to do something that they never really have had to do before – that is to be willing to receive coaching and critique, because their talent will only take them so far.”  I reflected on this statement and wondered how this might relate to our churches in Franconia Conference. I was taught from as early as I can remember that “it is better to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). As an adult, this makes sense. We as Christians are called to pursue mutual aid and to use our gifts and talents to help those who are in need. As I look around at our Franconia Conference churches, mutual aid and supporting those in need is clearly in the forefront of our missional focus, and rightfully so. Whenever there are financial needs or physical needs, churches and individuals are quick to deliver – often in the biblical mode of “not letting the right hand know what the left hand is doing.” We definitely have built up a good track record on giving.

But lately, I have been drawn to perhaps an equally important Christian posture –  that it is just as important to be able to receive. Our track record on being grateful receivers is not as stellar as our giving record. When people ask me if they can help me, my response is almost always, “No, I (or we) have things under control.” I wonder if we are not, at times, blocking others from receiving the blessing of giving to us. Do we find ourselves “above” the possibility of receiving from others?

I recently watched two of our churches experience times of crisis. When they were asked by Conference Leadership and by other churches what they needed to help them the most, instead of acting like they could handle things on their own, their leadership opened their arms to receive a variety of help and kindness that was offered to them. These churches were truly refreshed and encouraged by their ability to receive, and I was amazed at their openness to these blessings.

Receiving can be a lot more than just financial help. This is where it gets tricky. Though probably the greatest thing that both we and the new NFL players can receive is coaching and critique, neither is generally welcomed with open arms. The churches in the New Testament all were a work in progress. Dialogue, teaching, and coaching were needed as part of the growth process, but not all were open to receiving. Are we open to receiving help or coaching in areas of finances, racism, immigration, helping the poor, and a whole lot of other areas of need? I believe that when churches are open to seeing themselves as a work in progress and intentionally place themselves in a position to receive, blessings are poured out in abundance. I would challenge us to continue to look not only at the ways that we can give, but also to the people and places from which we can receive.

Story Project: A Faith Nurtured and Renewed

By John Stoltzfus, Conference Youth Minister

How are we doing as a broader faith community in passing on faith to the next generation? Where is faith being lived out loud in such a way that our children and youth are catching a vision of what it means to be follower of Jesus today? The title of John H. Westerhoff’s book Will Our Children Have Faith, first published in 1976, is a question that reverberates with every generation of the church.

In some of our churches we are noticing emptier pews and smaller youth groups, decreasing engagement in the life of worship, and greater divides in cross generational life. I hear both anxiety and fear in response to these trends.

The reasons for these trends are as multi-faceted as is the diversity of our conference congregations. We also don’t live in a bubble from larger societal trends. Many studies reveal that more millennials are choosing to opt out of traditional church participation. This drop in traditional religious engagement and identity spans every demographic group.

We often talk about passing on faith to the next generation as if it was a one way street. A more apt metaphor may be one of a journey in which faith comes alive for each one of us in new ways as each generation shares in common experiences and practices of the Christian life. Unless we as adults are growing in our faith how can we expect our children and youth to grow into a faith that lasts and matures in adulthood?

Several years ago in my neighborhood there were several boys who were ringing doorbells late at night and then dashing away. My anger got the best of me one night and I chased them through the streets after they rang our doorbell waking the whole household. Much to my chagrin, my seven year old daughter heard what I did. Thankfully, she showed me a better, and more Christ-like way, to respond. The next evening she suggested that we set out a plate of freshly baked cookies that we had made that day so that the boys could have something to eat if they came again that night.

Our children may have something to teach us about being peacemakers if we as adults are willing to listen!

What is the invitation of the church at this time? What are the deeper questions we need to be asking of ourselves and how we live as disciples of Christ? We may need to look to the edges of our institutions and faith communities to see the Spirit moving. We will need to place our trust and hope in a revealing God who has been faithful for many generations.

I believe we have stories and practices that we can share with one another to spur us on in this grand journey and narrative of God’s revealing salvation. We have signs of hope if we look closely enough. We have a rich heritage of faith that can inspire us to live anew into the emerging shape of the people of God.

Along the way, we may be called to let go of some things. In order for the new to arise some ways of doing things in the church may need to die that the church may be resurrected to new life. Are we willing to allow our church structures to change to support and embrace the new shapes of faith of the next generation? As our demographics change and as our world around us changes we will need to imagine new wineskins. We also may be called to reclaim pieces of our faith heritage that we have neglected.

Over the next year, we want to highlight stories from across our conference of how faith across generations is being renewed and lives transformed. Let’s tell on each other in the best possible way to highlight the good news of God at work in our young and old. What models do we have, both new and old, of renewing faith intergenerationally? Contact me if you have a story to tell of a faith nurtured or renewed in your congregation or larger community.

Cuidándonos entre Mujeres / Sister Care

por Marta Castillo

La experiencia de sentarse, aprender, reír, llorar y compartir en un grupo de 30 líderes y pastoras de habla hispana es una experiencia que no tiene comparación. El Espíritu del Dios viviente fluía libremente y poderosamente, las voces se elevaban en ánimo, las oraciones se hablaban y las experiencias de vida fueran compartidas en alegría a través del dolor. Tuve el privilegio de ser incluida en la invitación y estoy agradecida de que la Conferencia de Franconia me apoyara,  Pastora Marta Castillo (Nueva Vida Norristown Nueva Vida) y Pastora Leticia Cortes (Centro de Alabanza), en nuestro viaje a Oregón el mes pasado para participar en el taller Cuidándonos entre Mujeres  en español. El entrenamiento trajo sanación y el encuentro de líderes de mujeres hispanas fuertes de todo Estados Unidos, incluyendo Florida, Texas, California, Iowa y Pennsylvania fue una fuente de inspiración.


Como dice el sitio web de Menonite Women USA, “los talleres proveen a las mujeres con herramientas para la sanación personal continua, el reconocimiento y la celebración de la gracia de Dios en sus vidas, y respondiendo con más confianza y efectividad a las necesidades de otros en sus familias, congregaciones y comunidades”. Se ha sido utilizado en todo el mundo y se ha traducido en varios idiomas, pero esta es la primera vez que se imparte el curso en español con la esperanza de llevar los materiales y habilidades a nuestras conferencias y congregaciones.  La Pastora Leticia Cortes Castro y yo estamos comprometidas a compartir lo que hemos aprendido con otras mujeres en nuestras iglesias y en nuestra  conferencia.

La Pastora Leticia envió una nota a la Conferencia de Franconia para expresar su agradecimiento. Como miembros de la Conferencia de Franconia aquí están sus palabras para ustedes:

Para la Conferencia de Franconia:

Por este medio quiero agradecer todo el apoyo que se nos dio a Marta Castillo y su servidora, para viajar a Portland Oregon, y poder tomar el taller de “Cuidado de mujeres” que fue de gran bendición para nuestras vidas, en lo personal me siento fortalecida y animada para compartir con otras lo aprendido, los temas son de gran interés para nuestra comunidad Hispana, y pudimos identificar que muchos de los temas que se compartieron, son necesarios para ayudarnos entre nostras como mujeres, me toco la lectura bíblica de la samaritana, y algo paso en ese tiempo de compartir ese pasaje,  fue algo especial para mí, me sentí tan identificada con la mujer samaritana, de sentir el perdón y amada directamente por el Mesías, otra parte del taller fue maravilloso porque los temas fueron  en mi idioma, lo extraordinario fue que lo aprendido lo pude poner en práctica con una Hermana que se sentía mal espiritualmente, y pude compartir con ella y orar juntas, y sentimos como Dios uso ese momento para darle paz , y gozo en su vida, quedamos tan agradecidas con Dios, que vamos a continuar con nuestra hermandad y amistad a la distancia,

Gracias nuevamente, en Cristo
Pastora Letty Cortes Castro
Centro de Alabanza de Filadelfia

by Marta Castillo

Sitting, learning, laughing, crying, and sharing in a group of 30 Spanish-speaking women leaders and pastors is an experience that is unrivaled.  The Spirit of the living God flowed freely and powerfully, voices were raised in excitement, prayers were spoken, and life experiences shared in joy through the pain.  I was privileged (as a white Spanish-speaking woman) to be included in the invitation and I am thankful that Franconia Conference supported myself, Pastor Marta Castillo (Nueva Vida Norristown New Life), and Pastor Leticia Cortes (Centro de Alabanza), in our trip to Oregon last month to participate in the Sister Care Seminar in Spanish.  Going through the training was healing and meeting strong Hispanic women leaders from all over the United States, including Florida, Texas, California, Iowa, and Pennsylvania was inspirational.

As the Mennonite Women USA website says, “seminars provide women with tools for ongoing personal healing, recognizing and celebrating God’s grace in their lives, and responding more confidently and effectively to the needs of others in their families, congregations and communities.” It has been used all over the world and been translated in several languages, but this is the first time that the training was held in Spanish with the hope that we would take the materials and skills to our conferences and congregations.  Pastor Leticia Cortes Castro and I are committed to sharing what we have learned with other women in our churches and in our conference.


Pastor Leticia sent a note to Franconia Conference to express her appreciation. As members of Franconia Conference here are her words to you:

I want to thank all the support that was given to Marta Castillo and me, God’s servant, to travel to Portland, Oregon, and to be able to take the workshop “Sister Care” in Spanish. That was a great blessing for our lives.  Personally, I feel strengthened and encouraged to share with others what I learned.  The topics are of great interest to our Hispanic community and we were able to identify that many of the themes that were shared are necessary to help us as women.   I shared a monologue of the biblical reading of the Samaritan woman and it touched me deeply.  Something happened during that time that I shared that passage and it is very special for me.   I identified with the Samaritan woman, feeling forgiveness and loved directly by the Messiah.  Another part of the workshop that was wonderful was that the teaching was in my own Spanish language.  The extraordinary thing was that what I learned I could put into practice immediately with a sister in Christ who felt bad spiritually and I could share with her and pray together.  We felt like God used that moment to give her peace and joy in her life.  We are so grateful to God for all the wonderful women that we met and that we will continue our sisterhood and friendship at a distance.

Thank you again, in Christ
Pastor Letty Cortes Castro
Centro de Alabanza

 

Binding Together What is Seen and Unseen

by Noel Santiago

Matt 16:19 (NIV) – “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

In the verses before the text above, Simon (later called Peter) has declared that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, the awaited Messiah. Jesus’ response is to declare Simon as blessed because of the revelation he has not only received, but declared!

There is more going on here than meets the eye, because Jesus doesn’t stop there. He goes on to change Simon’s name to Peter and declare that he is going to build His church and that the gates of hades will not prevail against it. Furthermore, Jesus gives him keys to the kingdom and declares that whatever is bound on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever is loosed on earth will be loosed in heaven! Wow! Who would of thought all this would have happened from a seemingly simple declaration! What’s going on here?

It would seem that there is an interplay being established here that is binding together what is not seen to what is seen. The agent of what is visible will become what we know today as the church at work on the earth, but what about the agents of what is not seen? Did he say it would be earth that decides what is bound or loosed in heaven? Is that right? Well, if this is so it makes me wonder then what is it we bind up on earth that causes heaven to bind it up there and what is it we loose on earth that causes heaven to loose that?

Jesus continually interacted with what was seen and not seen in dealing with people’s needs and bondages in the realm of the spirit. When Jesus laid down His life on the cross, we are told that the veil in the temple was torn from top to bottom. The veil was what separated God in the most holy place from humankind; heaven and earth would be one again and the binding agent would be Jesus the Christ, the Son of the living God. Paul, would later write to the Ephesians saying that “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.”

Is it possible that there is an entangled connection between earth and heaven; a binding together of what is seen and unseen? If so, what is the nature of this interplay? Is it possible that God in Christ, is calling us to help bring heaven to earth today?

Healing Through Truth Telling and Open Ears

By Barbie Fischer and an anonymous member of Salford Mennonite Church

Abuse takes many forms and is a topic often shied away from. Yet, our communities of faith should be safe and healing places for all of God’s children … and how can they be if abuse is not discussed and actions not taken to prevent it? April is both Child Abuse Prevention month and Sexual Abuse Awareness Month. Both Franconia Conference and Dove’s Nest encourage congregations to step into the space of talking about healthy relationships to prevent abuse, and discuss ways of healing when abuse does happen. While April is one month a year set aside to focus on these topics, these should be discussions all year long.

One of our local congregations recently took on the task of addressing child abuse within their service. Salford Mennonite Church held a service on March 26th dedicated to celebrating the joy and life of children — past and present — within their congregation, while at the same time acknowledging, naming, and lamenting that amid the joy and life, there is injury, trauma, and loss of trust. The scriptural focus for the day was Ezekiel 37:1-14, the story of dry bones coming to life.

Organization of the service and including the voices of survivors was spearheaded by Maria Hosler Byler, Associate Pastor for Youth and Family Faith Formation, and Beth Ranck Yoder, Associate Pastor. The day included singing from the children, times for the congregation to name their joys in the children, the vulnerability of the children among them, and their vision for safety for their children. The day also included words from survivors in the congregation who were invited to submit their stories and offer words of both lament and hope.

The service was a time of healing for those who have survived abuse and is evident through a letter received from one of Salford’s congregants following the service. This church member has allowed us to share their letter here. Through it, one can see that while the topic may be difficult, healing comes from bringing these things into the light, bringing life back to the dry bones.

 

Dear Beloved Church Family at Salford,                                                                            March 28, 2017

Thank you for the meaningful service on Sunday, March 26 in preparation for National Child Abuse Prevention Month in April.  Sunday’s service was clearly dedicated to the protection of children and to the restoration of those who have suffered from abuse.  Each aspect of the service was moving, and I want to thank the leadership team for listening to the guidance of the Spirit as you prepared for the service.  We participated in worship as we lifted our voices in song, listened to the children sing, prayed for the children, said prayers of confession, and heard voices of lament and of hope.  The worship service was inspiring and moving.  

I am grateful to have been asked to reflect on the Dry Bones passage from Ezekiel and share some of my story, anonymously.  The questions which were provided as guidance were helpful for me as I thought about what might be helpful for others to hear from my story.  As I wrote, the Valley of the Dry Bones from my past began to appear in my mind, and I could visualize the stages of healing that had taken place in recent years.  The image of healing after many, many years was helpful for me as I reflected on what would be meaningful to share.

During the week before the service, when I had the chance to read reflections that other survivors of abuse had sent in, I started to feel nervous about hearing their words, and my words, spoken to the congregation. By Saturday, I began to think about volunteering to help with the children during the service instead of sitting in the sanctuary.  While courage was needed for individuals to share their stories, even anonymously, courage was also needed to hear the words spoken.  I am very glad that I made the decision to attend the service.  Salford Mennonite, thank you for giving survivors the opportunity to share their stories with the congregation, and thank you for being willing to hear their stories.

At the beginning of the service, as I sat watching and listening, I felt numb, as though I were observing everything from a distance.  Toward the end of the service, I realized that I was indeed a part of the fellowship. I felt a keen sense of belonging to the body of believers at Salford.  Thank you for being a caring, loving, accepting, and even a risk-taking community of believers.  I believe that through the beloved community of Salford Mennonite Church, steps will continue to be taken to safely care for children, and restoration will continue to take place among the broken.

During the Sundays in Lent, I have been watching the transformation of the broken pottery at the front of the sanctuary.  Philip Hosler Byler carefully crafted the large and broken clay pot.  Each week, two people come forward and attach a broken piece to the base, and I watch in wonder.  Years ago I had told my counselor that I felt as though my journey of healing from abuse was like the journey of a broken vase being glued together—the vase might be functional, but the cracks will always be there, destroying its beauty.  My counselor told me that in some areas of Asia, when a vase is cracked, it is filled with gold, making it both beautiful and valuable.  During this week’s service, I could visualize the completed clay pot once all of the pieces are joined. Thank you, Philip, for crafting a pot that demonstrates how God can restore our lives, piece by piece.

After the children left the sanctuary, we heard the statistics that have been in the news in recent years, that 1 in 4 girls will be abused before adulthood and 1 in 6 boys will be abused before reaching adulthood.  The numbers are startling.  We were able to visualize those numbers by having people in appointed rows stand.  We as a congregation now have a deeper understanding of just how many 1 in 4 is.  Seeing half of the left side of the sanctuary standing was astounding.  Many survivors’ stories remain hidden.

I appreciated the themes of “Lament” and “Hope” through which survivors’ stories were shared.  As the four voices at the back of the sanctuary took turns reading the words of lament, I sensed that actual voices of the survivors were being heard.  (I did not turn around to see who the four people were who read, but I do want to thank them for their roles in the service.) The congregation seemed to really be listening to the words of sadness and grief. Toward the end of the service, when the four voices read the words of hope and anticipation which survivors of abuse had shared, I sensed that God was in our midst, caring, healing, loving, and encouraging. Thank you, Salford family, for being attentive to the journeys of these survivors in our midst.

I am thankful for the guidance through prayer for the children, the prayer of confession, and the spoken responses following the voices of lament and of hope.  I am grateful to you, our pastoral team, for reading together the confession of the church leaders.  I sensed your earnest desire to protect children and to restore those who have been “harmed by the evils of abuse.”  Healing and restoration will continue to take place in our church as we strive to move forward, trusting in God to show us the way.  Thank you for your willingness to lead our congregation in the way of healing.

The sermon I am grateful for, as it took an old Bible story, familiar for many of us, and brought it to life, allowing me to visualize the transformation of the Valley of Dry Bones and to see how God desires for us to move from a place of despair to a place of abundant living.  We as a congregation were given the opportunity to visualize the healing taking place within our church.  My Valley of Dry Bones took place years ago, but I can still see it. In that desolate place I was unable to get off of the couch, unable to go and pick up one item at the grocery store, unable to enjoy my favorite foods, unable to connect with my family in healthy ways. Sleep was my escape, feeling unable to do anything, just as the dry bones in the valley were unable to do anything.  The Valley of Dry Bones is a desolate place of despair, and no one wants to stay there; yet without help from God and from others, it is hard to find a way to leave.

There are so many things to be grateful for with the service. For the child protection policy being distributed in everyone’s church mailboxes prior to the service and for our Child/Youth Safety Team. For those who cared for the children during this important service. For our Pastors Joe, Beth, and Maria who guided our congregation through the Valley of Dry Bones.  Thank you for your leadership as you strive to make Salford a place of healing and of hope.  God does not want for us to stay in the Valley of Dry Bones, for Jesus came so that we might have abundant life, and our God is a God of hope.

Sunday’s service was truly beautiful.  I firmly believe that God is at work at Salford to restore the broken. My prayer is that God will continue to work in our congregation as we are committed to protect children and to restore those who have been abused.  May we serve one another in God’s love, and may we be a light in our community. My hope is that all congregations would be able to experience the healing power of a service of restoration.

God’s peace be with you.
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To hear the sermon from the March 26th service visit http://www.salfordmc.org/recent-sermons.

DVDs of the service can be requested from Salford Mennonite Church.

Also, a list of resources utilized for the service can be found here: http://franconiaconference.org/church-safety/.