Tag Archives: formational

Waiting on That New Thing

by Mike Clemmer, leadership minister

On Sunday, June 30, I preached my last sermon as the pastor of Towamencin Mennonite Church.

I had the privilege of serving at Towamencin for 14 wonderful years, yet, in the past year, my wife and I have sensed the Lord’s call on our lives to transition into a new ministry opportunity. For Towamencin, this means that they will now to need seek out and call a new pastor. For April and me, it is beginning a journey of exploring the unknown lands of the Lancaster area so that we can use our gifts of ministry in a church near our family.

Leaving Towamencin and the Franconia area are certainly big changes for me – but I am also aware that it is a big change for the congregation. We always say, “transition and change are both part of life,” but, in reality, change hits us all hard.

We as Eastern District and Franconia Conferences are also in the midst of change as we move towards a reconciled and merged conference this Fall. Unfortunately, times of change often bring about a period of anxiety and fear.  I have seen some of these emotions at times in my own life, at Towamencin, and within both Conferences.

In the midst of transition, however, I am also amazed at how often I have seen God at work – in my own life, but also growth and renewal at Towamencin – as well as in the Conferences. It is helpful to remember that God is always at work and promises to be with us always. So perhaps, in times of transition, we need to lay aside our anxieties and simply celebrate what God has already done and put more of an effort into anticipating what God is about to do.  

My wife April recently wrote these words in a Lenten devotional regarding change:

On this journey of life, I find myself once again in a place of waiting on God: for direction, for clarity, for peace.  Change is on the horizon, and with that comes excitement, but also some anxiety and fear.  In my humanness, I like to know “the plan,” … to have a picture of what’s ahead … to be in control.  But we don’t always have the luxury of these things. Change isn’t always easy, but I’ve heard it said that growth doesn’t come without change.  During this time of waiting, I see that God is helping me grow by building a deeper trust in Him and a humility in me.  I’m reminded that this isn’t about “me,” but about what God is planning to do. And I’m seeing this as a time of preparation for whatever lies ahead.

The words “waiting” and “preparation” are great words to reflect on as we deal with the emotions that transition and change bring into our life.  Psalm 27:14 says, “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”  Isn’t it amazing how God knows we often need to hear that reminder twice … Wait for the Lord!

As we continue to pray for our churches and our upcoming reconciliation of Conferences, may we also approach these uncertain times by preparing for what God is about to do by simply waiting on the Lord! Wait … Wait … “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:19)

 

Churches of Misfit Toys

by Marta Castillo, Leadership Minister of Intercultural Formation

“At this church, we are like the island of misfit toys.”

Since I started attending at Wellspring Church of Skippack, I have heard this comment several times.  I smile when I hear it because a picture forms in my imagination of the rich yet strange collection of people, backgrounds, and personalities that we find at Wellspring—and at most churches, really.  I sigh because I also hear people acknowledging their brokenness and doubting their adequacy and suitability to be together as the body of Christ. 

I had to do a little research on this cultural reference to “misfit toys.”  What I found is that the story of the Island of the Misfit Toys is a tale of a young red-nosed reindeer (Rudolph) who is bullied for being different. He and an elf, Hermey (who wants to be a dentist), set out on an adventure to find a place that will accept them. They discover an island filled with misfit toys that have been tossed aside due to the slight ‘defects’ they possess, including Charlie, who was discarded because, instead of being a Jack-in-the-Box, he is Charlie-in-the-Box and Dolly Sue, a doll who wants to be loved.  In the end, Rudolph saves the day by finding a home for each misfit toy. 

Is there a parallel between the Island of Misfit Toys and churches?  Well, surely your church has people who have been tossed aside by the world because of the defects they possess.  Surely your church has people who have been made to feel inadequate or mislabeled.  Surely your church has people who are lost in this world and feel unsuccessful and unloved.   

In the time that Jesus spent here on earth, he took special interest in the misfits.  In Mark 2, his disciples are asked, “Why does he eat with the tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”  Abigail Van Buren once said, “The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.” 

In 1 Corinthians 12 we are reminded, “Those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together … that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.  Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”

In the story, Rudolph saves the day by finding homes for the misfit toys.  As churches, we become “home” for all sorts of misfits (ourselves included), treating those who are weaker as indispensable and those who have experienced little honor with special honor.  We cover those who are unpresentable with special modesty and our presentable parts with clarity and honesty.  We can save the day because all misfits fit in the body of Christ. 

In the body of Christ, together, we can experience belonging, healing, reconciliation, transformation, shalom, and love.  We may continue to be misfits in this world, but in Christ, we are home, accepted, and beloved.

Male and Female, in the Image of God

by Doris Diener, Franconia congregation & Danilo Sanchez, Ripple congregation

On May 8 & 9, credentialed leaders from Franconia conference gathered for a Faith & Life Gathering to talk about women in leadership, with input from Carolyn Custis James.  In response, Danilo Sanchez and Doris Diener reflect on what they heard.

Danilo:
As a family, we often take walks around our Allentown neighborhood. My two daughters love playing “follow the leader.” We each take turns being at the front of the group, calling out commands like “march,” “act like a dinosaur,” and “neigh like a horse.” Everyone must follow what the leader says, and my girls get so much joy out of making mommy and daddy be silly in public. This may seem like a simple game, but I want my daughters to know from a young age that they are leaders. I don’t know if enough young women hear that message of leadership from their fathers or male leaders at home. Unfortunately, the likelihood that they’ll hear the invitation to be a pastor or leader is even less in the church.

Doris:
The impetus for Carolyn Custis James to seek God’s intention for gendered humans emerged when marriage did not appear on the horizon throughout her twenties.  She wondered what God’s purpose was for young females prior to marriage, or those who were single and widowed.  She sought a scriptural answer that is globally relevant for all women everywhere and always.

Carolyn Custis James

Carolyn focused on Genesis 1 and 2 for God’s blueprint for his image-bearers.  She discovered the meaning of ezer (Genesis 2:18) as it is used in twenty-one “warrior” contexts in the Old Testament: an ezer is an active intervening warrior that partners in a battle for God’s people.  The powerful message is the imperative significance of male and female working together for God’s kingdom. 

The incredible ingenuity of the tempter in Genesis 3 destroyed God’s original intentions for this earth: It ruined human potential to be his image-bearers as well as it shattered the “blessed alliance” between male and female.  “This was a spiritual equivalent of a nuclear weapon to destroy what was intended to be God’s kingdom strategy for the life-giving maintenance of the earth,” Custis James said.  Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and His empowering gift of the Holy Spirit provide opportunity for his people to live into his original design.

Danilo:
This makes sense to me. The women and female pastors that I know are warriors. God created male and female in God’s own image (Gen. 1:27). Men and women both carry the image of God and can be God-bearers in the world. This means both men and women have equal worth in the kingdom, equal honor to share the gospel, and equal right to leadership and authority.

From the beginning of creation, we see God reversing cultural norms. But we male pastors and leaders have not carried on a similar empowerment. We have allowed sexism and patriarchy to thrive in the church. I cannot escape culpability because there have been times that I have not spoken up on behalf of women in an all-male room or provided ministry and leadership opportunities for my sisters in Christ. But I am learning and I want to do better because I believe God created male and female in God’s own image. And I believe that God wants to use both men and women for the work of his kingdom.

Our next Faith and Life Gathering will be August 7-8. We will be considering the dynamics of Intercultural Leadership.  CLICK HERE to register now to attend on Wednesday, August 7, from 10am-12pm (EST) at Indonesian Light Church or join the August 8 Zoom event.

Learning and Celebrating Along the Way

by Randy Heacock, Leadership Minister

In my work both as a pastor and for the conference, one of my greatest rewards is the opportunity to learn from and with others working in God’s Kingdom.

This display from Sandy Landes’ ordination represents God‘s power to transform what was once a barren desert into a lush land.

In the first congregation I served as a young minister in the United Methodist Church, the board of ordained ministry was wise enough to pair me with an older minister (younger than my current age) to mentor me.  Charles and I were very different both in our theological perspective and in our view of worship; however, he taught me the importance of accepting affirmation and “to let it sink deeply into your entire being.  Challenges and criticism will come frequently enough and you will need to have a strong bank account of affirmation to keep your balance.”  Fast forward to my current work, I file notes of affirmation and appreciation with a prayer of gratitude as evidence of God’s grace.

More recently, in working with the pastoral search committee at Towamencin, a person called to share concern regarding our process.  As I listened, I gained a fuller understanding both of what happened at our last meeting and how we could find our way forward.  Grateful for the honest feedback, I reached out to some other people for wisdom and discerned an approach for our next meeting.  The meeting was vastly improved with more vigorous engagement.  On the ride home, I thanked God for the varied gifts people contribute to the church. 

I recently met with Tim Moyer, pastor of Bally congregation, for breakfast at his house.  Let me first say that Tim knows how to fix breakfast!  As we talked, his excitement and energy was contagious.  The Bally congregation is working to learn about and practice a centered-set approach.  Tim shared how this focus is uniting the congregation.  They are also rethinking and reshaping who they are as a church.   I give thanks for the fresh wind of God creating new expressions.  I look forward to what God is yet to do at and through Bally. 

At Doylestown, where I serve as pastor, we recently celebrated the ordination of Sandy Landes.  Sandy’s ordination was a tribute to God’s constant pursuit and Sandy’s willingness to say “yes.”  Many people present would have witnessed Sandy’s transformation through the process of refusing, then reluctantly leading, and now leading boldly in a public setting.  Former members, family, neighbors, colleagues, and friends celebrated Sandy’s faithful example of answering God’s call.   The day after Sandy’s ordination, I rejoiced for the many people who nurtured and participated in this work of God. 

The photo above is a display that was present during Sandy’s ordination.  It represents God‘s power to transform what was once a barren desert into a lush land.  As in the little stories I have shared, it visually reminds us of God’s life-giving power.  May we all give thanks for the ways we have witnessed God’s transformational power.  May we continually learn to wait on God. 

 

 

Jr. High Bash – Practicing His Presence

by Jen Hunsberger, Children/Jr. High Director, Blooming Glen Mennonite Church

The annual Jr. High Late Night Bash took place at Dock Mennonite Academy on Friday, March 15, and the house was packed with 190 youth/adults from 15 churches, near and far. The evening was full of games, recreation, music, food, and spiritual encouragement. The night started out with each of us checking out what activities we wanted to try and which friends we wanted to pal around with. We were soon gathered on the main gym bleachers to get an introduction to the night and our first big group game. The game leaders from Spruce Lake showed us what we should do and all of us got onto the gym floor whether we were ready or not! Soon balls were flying and kids were scattered in all directions.

After a few big group games, we filled Dock’s theater for the worship time. It started out with brave volunteers, youth and sponsors, that played minute-to-win-it type games directed by Kyle Rodgers from Franconia Mennonite Church, with the crowd cheering for their favorite competitor. Believe it or not, there may or may not have been some cheating from a certain competitive male youth leader named Mike from Bally (but of course cheaters never prosper and Jess McQuade, Souderton Mennonite Church Jr. High Director, came away with the win!) We then warmly welcomed Brent Camilleri from Deep Run East Mennonite Church to the stage with his band and some lively worship music. The music resonated well with the youth and they were lifting their voices and clapping their hands in time, or not so much, to the music. It was life-giving to say the least.

Next to take the stage was speaker Todd Pearage. He offered a humorous, real-life, you can’t make this stuff up, story that captivated the audience and had us gasping and laughing out loud. He then shared some of his life story and how God works through him to be a “good youth leader” to those he leads. He encouraged us to “Practice His Presence” according to Psalms 139. God knows us, He knows our thoughts, He knows our hearts, He know our ways! Do we act and speak like God is standing next to us all the time? We concluded our worship time with more singing and encouragement to get to know someone new during the night, and to keep our eye out for those that look like they may need a friend and invite them to play!

All participants had the next chunk of time to pick a game of our choice. The inflatable Gaga Pit, 9 square-in-the-air, soccer, basketball, walleyball, dodgeball, Spike ball, giant Dutch Blitz, Nerf games and the inflatable bubble soccer balls were all buzzing with excitement and competition. Midway through the night the smell of pizza filled the building and the snack area was the place to be! There were also table games taking place as snacks were being inhaled by these growing middle schoolers. After we were fueled, we were ready for round two of games and more sweat. All in all, it was a night of action, relationship-building, worshiping our Creator and being encouraged to take part in being a free-spirited youth, if only for a few hours!

Sparking Joy by Letting Go

by Emily Ralph Servant, Leadership Minister & Interim Director of Communications 

(originally published in The Mennonite)

“Hold each item, one by one,” Marie Kondo instructs families on her Netflix show. Then she says, “Only keep what sparks joy for you.” Everything else can be thanked and let go.

Sparks joy. That concept resonates for me as I have sought to live a whole and abundant life. Yet it’s an idea fraught with danger in a culture that equates happiness with indulgence.

Kondo’s method strikes a chord in me as she practices mindfulness and gratitude. I appreciate the way she gently encourages families to confront their overabundance and to do the hard work of letting go of anything that isn’t life-giving for them.

This technique alone may not be enough to transform American culture, however. I’ve heard stories of people who found the KonMari method life-changing when her book showed up on U.S. bookshelves in 2014 but who discovered that their tidy spaces had already refilled in the years that followed.

Perhaps the act of letting go doesn’t spark enough joy to keep us from accumulating more.

Kondo suggests that most people need practice to recognize what joy feels like. Christian mystics have long agreed that cultivating our awareness of joy can be a spiritual practice, one that draws us closer to the Spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

Letting go sparks joy for me because it connects to a deeper sense of purpose. God’s dream for our world is that everyone have enough, yet many of us consume more than our fair share of the world’s resources. What would happen if we took Jesus’ teachings seriously, if we truly lived what we say we believe, if we allowed love to drive us to radical, countercultural choices?

Ryan Servant breaks down an old piano. The family plans to repurpose it outside as a flower planter. Photo provided by author.

For my family, this has led to a journey of mindfulness: finding ways to reduce our waste by limiting what we purchase, avoiding packaging when possible, composting, recycling and reusing; prioritizing second-hand purchases, welcoming hand-me-downs and participating in the “gift economy” through local Buy Nothing groups; choosing to live well within our means in a small house; tapping into our creativity by “upcycling” what we have into what we need; and cultivating a lifestyle that wonders if we can do “more with less.”

And yes, this journey has included simplifying what we own and letting go of things that, a few years ago, we never thought we could release. We’ve found that letting go has grown easier as our motivation has emerged: to make space in our home to expand our family through foster care and adoption. Love for the children we have yet to meet overpowers our sense of loss; we have so much to gain by letting go.

Love motivates and sustains me on this journey. Love for the hurting children in our city and for the children of the world. God’s love compels me to care about how my choices affect the poor, the disenfranchised, the oppressed. We live in an interconnected world where our choices matter.

At the same time, I know our ability to choose is a sign of our privilege. We choose to do more with less. We choose to live in a small house. We choose to buy second-hand items. We can also choose to purchase sustainable products and shop at bulk-food stores. We have an overabundance to give away. We aren’t forced into these choices; we have the privilege of a middle-class income, reliable transportation and free time for hobbies, and we benefit from systems that advantage us at the expense of others.

Letting go also means accepting our responsibility to use our privilege to advocate for and alongside others who don’t have access to those choices. It means allocating part of our grocery budget to bring produce to food deserts in our city. It means advocating for the right to repair and for clean-energy incentives. It means working for safe and walkable neighborhoods. It means opening our home to a child who needs a safe, stable and loving family.

This journey is a long one, and it’s one I’m just beginning. It has led me to let go of my need for speed and embrace patience, to let go of my selfishness and learn kindness and generosity, to let go of my impulsiveness as I practice self-control. It’s a struggle, and I don’t always make good choices. But God’s Spirit is present, shaping me into the image of Jesus, who showed humanity how to let go for the sake of love (Philippians 2).

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a little Marie Kondo on Netflix—I certainly do—but we are called to something more than tidy houses. God’s Spirit is inviting us to commit to our neighborhoods and our world, letting go and embracing so that we love deeply and work for justice.

Only then will we truly spark joy.

If Marie Kondo has inspired you to tidy up this spring, consider these tips from Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) … CLICK HERE!

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.”

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.

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.

Together, We’re Still Fans

by Mike Clemmer, Leadership Minister

I am a life-long fan of the Philadelphia Eagles.

This has not always been a joyful endeavor, especially during seasons filled with disappointments, injuries, and without Super Bowl victories. That is, until February 4, 2018, when, in a state of disbelief, I watched as we won Super Bowl LII.

The celebration of that victory still feels like it is alive and ongoing within my heart today, even though this season has already ended without a championship. Yet, as a fan, I am already looking forward to all the great possibilities of the 2019 season. No matter what, I believe in this team and I will always cheer them on.

I am also a fan of the Church.

This has not always been a joyful pursuit. There have been disappointments along the way, people have been hurt, and we have not yet seen the kingdom being fully fulfilled with Christ’s return. We often get side-tracked from pursuing the main purpose of the church by our personal preferences as to how the church should look and what its focus should be.

We are called to proclaim and to be a sign of the kingdom of God through our worship, discipleship, and life together.  I long for the possibility of the church being “all together in one accord” (Acts 2) so that the Spirit can fill us anew. Yet despite its shortcomings, as a fan of the church, I always have hope.

This fall, my son and I had an opportunity to attend the Eagles/Texans game at Lincoln Financial Field. It was a close game that the Eagles eventually won. But what I noticed, as I sat amidst 65,000 fans, was that we were “all in one accord.” The fans sitting around me were women and men, young and old, and from every ethnic background possible. We did not always agree on what plays the Eagles should call, or what players should be on the field at a certain time, but we cheered together with passion and energy.

We all were seeking the same result—a win.

So we cheered together at good plays, booed together when we felt that the officials were not treating our team well, and sang the Eagles’ fight song together after each touchdown. We even hugged and high-fived complete strangers, because, at that game, the differences between us did not matter at all. We were simply expressing ourselves as fans of the Eagles.

As I think of the new 2019 “season” of the church, I also have the same feeling of positivity. There are many things happening, both in our individual churches as well as within the Franconia Conference—things I am hopeful and excited about.

Of course, there will be some set-backs and disappointments along the way, but each new year is an opportunity for everything to fall together and perhaps even have the opportunity for us to experience what it means to be “in one accord.”

My prayer is that, as fans of the Church, we can spur one another on as we passionately celebrate, together, what God is going to do.

Joining the Dance: Three Spiritual Disciplines for 2019

by Gwen Groff, pastor of Bethany congregation

I have accumulated spiritual disciplines slowly, over decades. They are a source of joy in times of fear and sorrow.

Spiritual Direction

A monthly discipline that brings me deep joy is spiritual direction. When I began working as director of women’s concerns at Mennonite Central Committee 25 years ago, my wise predecessor told me not to try to work with issues of abuse without being in spiritual direction. At seminary, a professor said something similar about pastoral ministry.  Any work within systems of power, any public role that might distort your own sense of yourself, any role that makes you ask, “Am I crazy, or is it them?” — don’t try to do it without having someone you trust to talk to. Find someone who has no vested interest, who understands but is outside the system, and who has the eyes to see the divine in daily life.

The essence of the role of a spiritual director is to listen and to ask, in various creative ways, “Where is God in this?”

I believe in the healing power of thinking out loud. I journal regularly because I learn from unfiltered reflection on my experience. But there is something about speaking and being heard that is different from writing in solitude.

Centering prayer

I have been sitting in silence for 20 minutes a day for more than two decades, and my restless mind is still noisy. But of all spiritual disciplines, I believe my “bad” centering prayer has made the most practical difference in my life.

A walk up the road beside Bethany Mennonite Church. Photo by Gwen Groff.

The practice of centering prayer involves sitting in silence, using a silent word to return my mind to stillness whenever I notice it has wandered off in pursuit of an interesting thought or compelling feeling. It is that practice of noticing and turning back to the silence that is so valuable. I’m reassured by the fact that the more often I get distracted during a time of attempted stillness, the more exercise that returning-to-quiet muscle gets.

That ability to turn away from a shiny distraction, a compulsive thought, an explosive emotion, is useful in daily life. My daughter says I stopped yelling at her when I started meditating. I know centering prayer makes a practical difference in how attached I am to my fleeting emotions and compelling dramas.

Physical movement

I have a mostly sedentary job—I could do a lot of it at home without getting out of bed. I have to be intentional about moving my body, not only for my physical health but also for my spiritual health.

2018 labyrinth behind Bethany Mennonite Church. Photo by Owen Astbury.

I try to do some of my pastoral care on the move. Our rural sanctuary has a labyrinth mowed into the field. Next to our sanctuary is a river and beside the river is a dirt road that leads through the woods to surrounding hills. I often meet congregants at the church and ask whether they would like to sit inside or walk outside. Most people choose to walk while talking.

Bodily movement can bring joy even in times of intense sorrow. Recently, when Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life community experienced a violent massacre, our local rabbi invited clergy and friends to come to their synagogue to be together in prayer and solidarity the following Sunday morning. The songs were often in a minor key, and the words lamented the horrific occasion we marked, but by the closing song people were standing and clapping, holding hands and making a human chain around the sanctuary, dancing in the joy that transcended the sorrow. As a middle-aged woman who grew up in a non-dancing Mennonite culture, I am a late comer to this discipline of finding joy in movement.

I am grateful to learn from others and join in the dance.

This article has been excerpted from “Three spiritual disciplines: A source of joy in times of fear and sorrow” on TheMennonite.org. Financial assistance is available for conference pastors seeking spiritual direction.  For more information, please talk with your Leadership Minister.