Tag Archives: Franconia Conference

Praying for Eric Frein at Spruce Lake Retreat

by Sharon K. Williams

Spruce Lake Retreat Center
Spruce Lake Retreat Center

On September 12, 2014, Eric Frein allegedly shot two police officers at the Pennsylvania State Police station in Blooming Grove. Bryon Dickson died and Alex Douglass was critically injured. Frein eluded a massive manhunt in the Poconos Mountains and a national media campaign for seven weeks.

The village of Canadensis, Pennsylvania became the focal point of the search, as Frein’s parents live nearby. Spruce Lake Retreat, a conference-related ministry, was four miles outside the 10-mile search area.

Outdoor education groups, a large part of Spruce Lake’s ministry in the fall, started to call. Was Spruce Lake employing security guards? How could reservations be canceled?

The Spruce Lake staff began to pray that Eric would be found quickly without further injury to anyone, and that Spruce Lake would be able to recover their guests. Christians in the area gathered daily for prayer at the local United Methodist church. They prayed for protection of the police and the local residents. When Spruce Lake’s executive director Mark Swartley and other staff openly prayed for Eric, they realized they were introducing a unique request.

Meanwhile, the search and the cancellations continued. Ertell Whigham, Franconia Mennonite Conference’s executive minister, consulted with Mark as to how the conference might be supportive. They decided to invite the intercessory prayer team to minister “on the ground.”

Four intercessors (Don Brunk, Souderton Mennonite; Sandy Landes, Doylestown Mennonite; Jeannette Phillips, Hopewell Christian Fellowship; and Noel Santiago, Franconia Conference’s minister of spiritual transformation) came forward.

“Our desire,” said Noel, “is to hear from God, believing that what emerges is from God.” As they prayed throughout the day, four directives came into focus:

  • An invitation for the Spruce Lake staff to take their eyes off “the man in the woods” (Eric) and to focus on “the man on the wood” (Jesus), the One who knows all things;
  • A petition for the people and the land—for healing, peace, and keen awareness of the presence of God;
  • Eric’s salvation—to know and accept God’s love and forgiveness;
  • Comfort and healing for the Dickson and Douglass families.

The next day, October 30, Mark excitedly phoned Noel. “Did you hear? Turn on the news! They found Eric—and no one was harmed!”

“The timing,” reported Jeannette, “was a God thing.” It had taken several days for the intercessors to make arrangements for the visit.

Spruce Lake lost $155,000 due to the cancellations of 35 outdoor school and weekend retreat groups. The retreat center did not hold deposits or force contracts. “While police assured us that we were not in the search area, we did not argue with people’s fear,” said Mark. “But we chose to honor God for what God has done and what God is doing. God is in this situation. We are in God’s care. What was out of our control was in God’s control.”

In November, Spruce Lake held a fundraising campaign to make up some of the lost income, and were able to raise $25,000 in a matching donation challenge.

“Our prayer commitment is not finished,” said Noel. “We continue to pray for Eric’s salvation, and for healing and reconciliation for all involved.”

Delegates commit to waiting, hoping, discerning at Assembly

Bob & Bonnie Stevenson
Charlie Ness (Perkiomenville) and Bonnie Stevenson pray for Bob Stevenson before he brings the message during Friday night worship. Photo by Emily Ralph

by Emily Ralph, associate director of communication

“Waiting on God is expectant and hopeful,” declared Marta Castillo, Franconia Conference’s outgoing assistant moderator, at the opening of the United Franconia and Eastern District Conferences’ 2014 Assembly.  The theme of this year’s gathering, held November 14-15 at Penn View Christian School in Souderton, Pa., was “Esperando: Waiting & Hoping.”

“We’re not waiting for something, we’re waiting for somebody,” added Bob Stevenson during Friday evening worship.  “Waiting is not just a passive sitting back.  And so the word I have is that we wait ‘until’ [we receive the power of the Spirit] and then we get up and go!”

Stevenson and his wife Bonnie were called and commissioned as missionaries to Mexico at a Franconia Conference Assembly 26 years before.  They were celebrated Friday night as they reached a milestone in their ministry: the transition from raising missionary support from the States to full funding through their congregation.  “I thank the Lord for allowing us to be a part of this conference,” Bonnie responded after she and Bob were presented with a Spanish fraktur created by Salford congregation member Roma Ruth.  “There are many times on Friday morning when we have our prayer together … that we pray for each one of your congregations by name.”

praying for Danilo Sanchez
Conference leaders pray for Danilo Sanchez, Whitehall, one of this year’s newly credentialed leaders. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

The theme of leaders raised up and called from within the Conference continued on Saturday during the joint delegate session, when the gathering recognized a number of newly credentialed leaders who were licensed out of Franconia congregations.  “Where do our pastors come from?” asked Steve Kriss, Franconia Conference director of leadership cultivation.  “They come because you invite them.”

This year also saw the credentialing of leaders from other conferences and denominational backgrounds, adding to Franconia’s increasing diversity.  “Diversity is a catalyst for growth,” reflected Jessica Hedrick, Souderton congregation, during table feedback.  Her table encouraged conference delegates to prioritize prayer and, as corporate discernment continued, to recognize “the opportunity to learn from each other instead of necessarily trying to get everyone to agree.”

KrisAnne Swartley praying
KrisAnne Swartley, Doylestown, joins in prayer for the other congregations at her table. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

The theme of listening well and together wove through many of the stories and hopes shared throughout the weekend.  Danilo Sanchez, Whitehall congregation, named three areas that it seemed the majority of delegates were wrestling with: “Listening to the Spirit, how to sit with our differences, and how to love like Christ.”

The Franconia Conference Board asked delegates to consider what kind of conversations needed to be planned leading up to the Mennonite Church USA convention in Kansas City next summer, knowing the likelihood that Convention will include decisions about denominational structure and human sexuality.  Many delegates agreed that the questions of structure and sexuality only skimmed the surface; perhaps there were other questions that should be asked instead.

delegates conferring
Delegates discussed difficult issues around tables with grace and laughter. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

Josh Meyer, Franconia congregation, wondered how the upcoming dialogue could form those participating into the image of Christ.  “How we have this conversation is just as important as any decisions that we make,” he said.  “It doesn’t matter what we decide in Kansas City; if we don’t treat each other as sisters and brothers in Christ, then we’ve missed the point.”

Throughout the weekend, conference leadership encouraged delegates to actively wait on the Spirit, to take time for stillness and listening, and to collaborate in acts of justice and mercy.  “We must not become paralyzed by the issues of the day,” encouraged Eastern District moderator Brenda Oelschlager, “but move forward in love … as God leads us along new paths.”

Several new paths highlighted included a new Lehigh Valley collaboration in hiring Sanchez as youth minister, welcoming two new Philadelphia congregations (Centro de Alabanza and Indonesian Light Church) into an exploration of membership in Franconia Conference, and the move of the Mennonite Conference Center to the campus of Christopher Dock Mennonite High School in Lansdale (Pa.).

Aldo Siahaan introduces new congregations
LEADership Minister Aldo Siahaan introduces two new congregations exploring membership in Franconia Conference: Centro de Alabanza and Indonesian Light Church. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

Although 2014 saw the beginnings of new ministries and the licensing of many new pastors, it also brought the deaths of three influential church leaders: Paul Lederach, John Drescher, and Israel Bolaños.  In reflecting on their legacies, Kriss encouraged delegates to remember them by carrying on their work of teaching, writing, and mission.

“The gospel isn’t good news until someone takes it and goes with it,” Bob Stevenson agreed.  The power which sends the church is not political or force, but “a power that is a ‘preach the gospel to the poor’ power, it’s a ‘healing the broken heart’ power….  What will change this world is us, God’s people.”

Conference center announces move to Christopher Dock

by Sharon K. Williams, for Franconia Conference

Franconia Mennonite and Eastern District conference offices will move to the Christopher Dock Mennonite High School campus in Lansdale, Pennsylvania in January 2015, in a strategic collaboration involving four conference related ministries. The offices will be on the first floor of the Rosenberger Academic Center.

Christopher Dock principal Conrad Swartzentruber speaks to students in chapel. In addition to providing space, the move will also allow more regular interaction between students, pastors and conference staff.
Christopher Dock principal Conrad Swartzentruber speaks to students in chapel. In addition to providing space, the move will also allow more regular interaction between students, pastors and conference staff.

The conference center is currently located in a building owned by the Mennonite Historians of Eastern Pennsylvania (MHEP) in Harleysville, Pennsylvania.

While MHEP and the conference offices have had an amicable partnership, MHEP had offers from other organizations that were interested in renting the whole building, which would generate additional income for MHEP.

Recently, Christopher Dock offered a viable solution.

“The reconfiguration of some classroom and office space makes this very efficient arrangement possible. But a larger significance is found in the collaboration,” said Christopher Dock principal Conrad Swartzentruber. “Dock strives to build relationships among our students, congregations, and conferences. Our hope is that this will be a lively, ongoing effort. Christopher Dock’s mission is to educate Franconia and Eastern District youth and other youth who share Anabaptist values. Our relationship to both conferences is very healthy and important to us. This new arrangement will allow us to rub shoulders with conference and congregational leaders. We look forward to sharing our campus in this way.”

Ertell Whigham, executive minister for Franconia Conference and Warren Tyson, conference minister with Eastern District Conference, affirm the move to Christopher Dock and the continued sharing of one center for both conferences. John Stoltzfus, youth minister for all three ministries, already works from an office on Christopher Dock’s campus.

“Eastern District wants to continue living into a shared vision and working relationship with Franconia, and we value this opportunity to connect with Christopher Dock, one of our conference-related ministries,” said Tyson, who also chairs the school’s board of trustees.

“The relationship between the two conferences is very beneficial, and I look forward to the possibilities of interaction between the Dock community and conference leadership,” said Whigham. “This will also encourage our pastors to visit the campus.”

Sarah Wolfgang Hefner, director of MHEP, expressed appreciation for the relationship with the conference office, saying, “I have enjoyed getting to know conference center staff over the past few years and will miss the interaction with them.”

“We are grateful for our partnerships with MHEP and all our conference related ministries,” said John Goshow, moderator of Franconia Conference. “We encourage and rejoice in creative collaboration. This particular situation is a four-way win.”

Mennonite Church USA Executive Board announces action steps: Franconia Conference stays focused on building healthy relationships

 All members of the Executive Board, with their prayer lamp centerpiece for the weekend, as well as Stella, the official Mennonite Church USA convention dove.
All members of the Executive Board, with their prayer lamp centerpiece for the weekend, as well as Stella, the official Mennonite Church USA convention dove.

by Emily Ralph, associate director of communication

The Executive Board of Mennonite Church USA met last week to review the recommendations of a task force appointed to respond to Mountain States Mennonite Conference’s decision to license Theda Good, a woman in a same-sex covenanted relationship.  The Executive Board approved eight action steps that will be taken to the Constituency Leaders Council in October.  At the same time, the board emphasized ongoing support for the foundational documents that formed Mennonite Church USA including the Confession of Faith, the Vision:  Healing and Hope statement, A Mennonite Polity for Ministerial Leadership, the denomination’s membership guidelines and bylaws, the Agreeing and Disagreeing in Love document and the more recently crafted Purposeful Plan.

The Executive Board highlighted that Mountain States did not honor its covenanted relationship with the other conferences that comprise Mennonite Church USA in the decision to license Good.  Since ordination is transferable to other conferences, the board requested that Mountain States Conference refrain from ordaining Good at this time.  The board requested that other conferences resist licensing individuals in same-sex relationships as further licensings compromise the denomination’s polity and conference membership agreements.

“I was pleased to read that the denominational leaders have come to a place that holds us accountable to our stated understanding of membership and ministry,” observed Ertell Whigham, Franconia Conference executive minister.  “I think that this does give us some sense of direction, though it still leaves some ambiguity.  They left room for conversation and some interpretation, but they definitely call for accountability.”

The Executive Board also committed to developing new processes and/or structures for the denomination “that will strive to find healthy ways to promote unity in Christ in the midst of diverse expressions of faith.”  One of the first steps toward this exploratory process will be a “survey of all credentialed ministers in preparation for a time of discernment at [Kansas City] convention in July 2015.”

The decision of the Executive Board does not change much for Franconia Conference, said Whigham.  He further elaborated a desire to stay focused on Conference priorities while the denomination tends to the conversation on sexuality.  “We will continue to prepare ourselves for open, honest, and realistic conversation in line with our objectives for strengthening relationships and building trust.”  Whigham believes that by building healthy relationships and trust, Franconia Conference leaders and communities will be better prepared to navigate difficult conversations regarding human sexuality.

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Youth Gather for Outdoor Worship

by Lora Steiner, managing editor

Youth from Franconia Conference and Eastern District gathered on Sunday, June 1, for an afternoon of worship, celebration, and inspiration.

The event, held under tents that had hosted the Mennonite Heritage Center’s Whack & Roll croquet tourney the day before, was the first of what planners hope will become an annual event.

The speaker, Luke Hartman, reflected on John 17 and Jesus’ prayer that believers would recognize their unity with each other and with God. Hartman encouraged those present to make the tent larger, for all God’s people to be a part of the kingdom. He challenged youth to be change agents in the world, and to discover their own sense of worth and calling.

A joyous, embodied worship was led by Peder Eide, a singer-songwriter from the Lutheran tradition who had the group dancing in short order.

John Stoltzfus, Franconia Conference youth minister, says that in the past, there hasn’t been an event for youth from both Franconia and Eastern District to draw together; delegates from both conferences had expressed desire to explore how members of the conferences were relating to one another and building a foundation of trust and intimacy between churches.

The event was planned by conference staff, pastors, youth workers and youth. Mennonite Church USA contributed funding. About 175 youth and adults attended the gathering.

Check out the Facebook photo album!

Youth worship event – June 1, 2014 from Franconia Conference on Vimeo.

New LEADership Ministers join Franconia Conference staff

by Sheldon C. Good

Aldo Siahaan
Aldo Siahaan

Experienced Mennonite pastors John Bender and Aldo Siahaan have joined the Franconia Conference team of LEADership Ministers, bringing experience in church planting, intercultural leadership, and congregational pastoral work.   Each will serve alongside several congregations yet to be decided and will work from home bases in southeastern Pennsylvania’s largest cities while continuing pastoral ministry assignments.

Aldo Siahaan, based in Philadelphia, helped start Philadelphia Praise Center in 2005. The congregation joined Franconia Conference in 2006, and Siahaan became credentialed as lead pastor in 2007.

Siahaan’s other ministry experience includes being a board member of Mennonite Central Committee East Coast, teaching a summer cross-cultural course at Messiah College, and being a member of the Indonesian Pastoral Network.

Siahaan hopes that in his role as a LEADership minister he can both “be a blessing” to others and “learn more about leadership in a broader way.”

John Bender
John Bender

John Bender, based in Allentown, Pa., is a graduate of Eastern Mennonite University and Eastern Mennonite Seminary. He and his wife, Marilyn Handrich Bender, started Raleigh (N.C.) Mennonite Church, where they co-pastored for 18 years. For the past nine years, John pastored Pittsburgh Mennonite Church.

In July 2013 the Benders moved to Allentown, Pa., where John is the part-time director of Ripple Community, Inc., a ministry of the RIPPLE congregation. He is also interim associate pastor of the Franconia congregation.

Bender served in a number of leadership capacities with Virginia Mennonite Conference and Allegheny Mennonite Conference and has close to 30 years of pastoral ministry experience.

“I care deeply about pastors and churches and helping them to pursue healthy relationships together, and I hope I can be a resource to pastors and a guide along the way,” Bender said.

Both Bender and Siahaan bring fresh perspectives and proven track records as they join the team of LEADership ministers resourcing congregations in mission and ministry, said Ertell Whigham, Franconia’s executive minister.  “We feel that both John and Aldo bring a variety of gifts and experience that will help us to provide the support congregations need while enabling us to continue the intercultural work that we have stated as one of our conference’s values.”

LEAD is the conference’s platform for oversight, designed to Lead, Equip, And Disciple both lay and credentialed leadership as they guide congregations. A congregation’s LEAD team is comprised of a LEADership minister, the pastor, the chair of the congregation’s governing body (when relevant), and a LEAD advisor from beyond the congregation.  LEADership ministers serve as the primary point of contact between congregations and Franconia Conference.

Conference focus groups provide feedback for national meetings

by Sheldon C. Good

Ertell WhighamTen leaders from Franconia Conference congregations voiced wide-ranging perspectives during two conference calls held recently to garner feedback on a controversial action taken by Mountain States Mennonite Conference earlier this year. In addition to those on the conference calls, about a dozen other leaders and delegates submitted written responses to Franconia Conference.

Franconia Conference executive minister Ertell Whigham convened the calls on March 15 and 16. His goal was to listen to leaders’ perspectives in preparation for a meeting of the Constituency Leadership Council, or CLC, of Mennonite Church USA held March 20-22 in North Newton, Kan.

In response to a decision by Mountain States to license a pastor in a committed same-sex relationship, the Executive Board of MC USA appointed a task force to frame questions for discussion at the CLC meeting. The conference calls included persons from across the conference invited to provide insight and counsel in preparation for the meeting.  Persons were chosen to represent a diversity of perspectives.  About half of those invited participated.

Whigham, moderator John Goshow, and board member Klaudia Smucker (Bally congregation) represented Franconia Conference at the CLC meeting.  Beny Krisbianto of Nations Worship Center also attended representing the Indonesian Mennonite Fellowship (a national group within Mennonite Church USA).

Whigham invited leaders on the calls to respond to three questions: What is your prayer for the leaders of our denomination and conference? What would be one important question that would represent the thoughts of the constituents within your congregation or community? What is one perspective of hope and one of challenge that you see within our denomination and our conference?

During the call Angela Moyer, co-pastor of RIPPLE in Allentown, Pa., said people in her congregation “have little to no awareness” about the discussions going on at the conference or denominational level.

“People at RIPPLE are concerned about having a place to sleep, food to eat, and friends that care about them,” she said in an interview reflecting on the conference call. “People know that RIPPLE is safe and caring; we treat one another with dignity as people and not statistics.  Other people on the conference call seemed surprised [when I said this] and appreciated this perspective.”

Prayers from those on the calls included that fellow church leaders would: be led by the Holy Spirit, continue to be humble, and allow Christ to be at the center of all decisions; continue to find ways to be faithful in the midst of difference; work toward unity and understanding; be bold and avoid perfectionism; be sensitive to the needs of church members; and maintain spiritual integrity and values while leading.

The leaders wondered what following Jesus in the 21st century looks like and how to respond faithfully to Micah 6:8. They wondered how many people would leave the church because of the Mountain States decision. Some expressed their hope for spaces where church members could be “real and vulnerable.” Hopes of the leaders revolved around how to practice faithful discipleship, right relationship, and the lordship of Christ. Challenges focused on whether unity is possible.

Similar themes emerged during the Kansas CLC meeting.

According to an article by Gordon Houser in TMail, Mennonite Church USA executive director Ervin Stutzman said that over the last few weeks he has received hundreds of emails, which he categorized into three groupings: 1) greater inclusion of LGBT individuals, 2) faithfulness to the traditional stance, and 3) unity. Stutzman called the CLC meetings “a referendum on the Membership Guidelines” that were adopted at Nashville 2001.

Those attending the CLC meetings, including Whigham, Goshow, Krisbianto and Smucker, participated in table-group discussion on a serious of questions related to Mountain States’ decision. The task force appointed by the MC USA Executive Board plans to draft a recommendation for consideration by the Executive Board at its June 26–28 meeting in Chicago.

The focus group invitations included credentialed and delegate representatives from 20 congregations.   Representatives from Bethany, Deep Run East, Doylestown, Finland, Franconia, Plains, Ripple, Salford and West Philadelphia participated in the calls.   Representatives from Boyertown, Blooming Glen, Line Lexington, Nueva Vida Norristown New Life, Philadelphia Praise, Rocky Ridge and Souderton congregations were also invited but unable to attend at the scheduled conference call times.  A few of those invitees who were unable to participate in the calls submitted written responses.

MC USA director booked for Conference town hall meetings

Ervin StutzmanErvin Stutzman, Mennonite Church USA Executive Director, will be the featured guest for two town-hall meetings in April.  These meetings will be a time for members of Franconia Conference congregations to engage with Stutzman around recent developments in Mennonite Church USA and to ask questions about the denomination’s future.

These meetings are open to anyone from Franconia Conference communities and are scheduled for Thursday, April 10, 7-9 pm at Swamp Mennonite Church (2125 Rosedale Road, Quakertown, PA) and Friday, April 11, 9:30-11:30 am at Salford Mennonite Church (480 Groff’s Mill Road, Harleysville, PA).

This will also be an opportunity to hear and converse directly with Stutzman regarding the Executive Board’s response to Eastern Mennonite University’s listening process around the review of hiring policies toward individuals in same-sex relationships, and to Mountain States Mennonite Conference’s licensing of a pastor who is in a covenanted same-sex relationship.

Franconia Conference members who live over 60 miles from either of these locations can join the conversation live by streaming either meeting online and submitting questions and comments through email and social media.  Those who plan to participate from a distance must RSVP by April 9 by emailing eralph@franconiaconference.org.

Comments and questions for clarity should be submitted to congregational pastors and forwarded to Franconia Conferences offices by Friday, April 4.

Shaped locally, connected widely

Steve Krissby Steve Kriss, Director of Leadership Cultivation
(reposted from Mennonite World Review)

I attended my first binational conference ministers gathering in December. This meeting happens annually with conference leaders from Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA.

It’s a closed meeting where leaders from coast to coast share the burdens and joys of their work. Conference work is lonely and difficult these days. The forces of postmodernity menace our fragile unions, which cross theological, economic, cultural and geographic boundaries.

Conference ministers gather in these times for prayer and frank conversation. As the new guy in the room, I noticed the high levels of commitment and the near impossibility of the tasks these dedicated men and women are called to do.

I wondered why in the world anyone would want to do this kind of work. I wondered whether I have the faith and fortitude it requires.

In MC USA and MC Canada, the role of conferences is increasingly pinched. Due to economics and sociopolitics, conference systems can struggle to find senses of purpose and voice. It can be hard to speak and act coherently in the midst of near constant discernment. This makes it difficult to be a conference and a cohesive denomination.

Our systems were constructed for different times — before the Internet changed how we organize and relate, before we advocated a missional framework that can encourage congregations and communities to take their contexts so seriously that the voices of the neighborhood play as loud as the voices of the denomination.

As a conference leader, I find myself situated at a perfectly impossible intersection. I work in a voluntary system with mostly decreasing financial resources to do a job that requires an ever-increasing amount of relational investment, coordination and sensitivity.

As we take the call to mission more seriously, what it means to be Mennonite is increasingly shaped locally. Bridging the gap between these localities and the conference is a task filled with tension and interpretation.

I’m writing this article at the airport in Atlanta on my way back from a congregational visit with Georgia Praise Center. It’s a Franconia Conference Indonesian-speaking congregation that meets just north of Atlanta’s Chinatown. It has strong connections to the Philadelphia Indonesian Mennonite community.

I’m here to celebrate the congregation’s third anniversary, which lands intentionally at the onset of Lunar New Year. This year Franconia adjusted a meeting date, recognizing that 10 percent of our congregations celebrate Lunar New Year. It’s these kind of realities that make the role of conferences and conference leadership tricky.

The anniversary celebration featured Chinese dance, a sermon in Indonesian from Franconia’s first Indonesian pastor and solos by high school students with music that plays on Atlanta’s contemporary Christian radio stations. Georgia Praise takes a lot of cues from Jakarta Praise, a Mennonite megachurch in Indonesia.

My job as a conference minister is to be here to bless, celebrate and live alongside the beauty at the intersection of three identities: Mennonite, Sino-Indonesian and Atlantan. For me it’s both overwhelming and invigorating.

What I’ve glimpsed in my work is that our hope is tied up with these points of intersection. It’s the unexpected juxtaposing that offers signs of the Spirit at work. We’re moving into space where God’s Good News can flourish.

My work is sustained by the Spirit in these moments. I trust that in the midst of my own lack of faith and fortitude, the reign of God still comes near.

I have the holy and seemingly impossible opportunity to notice and proclaim the intentions of the Creator. And I remember the words of Jesus, that with God even the impossible can be a reality.

Delegates discuss collaboration in time of anxiety

Candlesby Emily Ralph, associate director of communication

Franconia Conference delegates gathered February 8 at Franconia Mennonite Church, Telford, Pa., to brainstorm ways of building relationships and collaboration in ministry and mission as part of a two-year direction toward growth and discernment as a community.

After a time of worship and reflection, delegates prayed for their congregations, the conference and denomination, and institutions of the church that are in difficult processes of discernment recognizing the tensions across the denomination related to human sexuality.  Conversation then turned to identifying areas for mutual support and engagement; sharing ways that the conference community can strengthen relationships to open possibilities for healthy conversation and collaboration.

“We again recognize that God has gifted our conference with great diversity,” said Marta Castillo, assistant moderator.  “Our Anabaptist commitments to reconciliation and community invite us to stay united in the midst of diversity….  So we again today commit ourselves to live openly and with integrity as brothers and sisters.”

Conference executive Ertell Whigham shared the intention of LEADership Ministers to reintroduce the principle of leadership clusters, where pastors from diverse congregations regularly meet together for support and networking.  To make this more feasible for pastors, the School for Leadership Formation will scale back the number of other events pastors are encouraged to attend.

Table groupsSome delegates enthusiastically supported the reimplementation of clusters and encouraged conference staff to explore ways to also engage between all congregation members rather than only credentialed leaders.  Some dreamed of ways for members of diverse congregations to partner beyond ministry—to have fun together, worship, and play.  Others questioned how we discern which issues to prioritize in mission together.

“Are we taking seriously the issues that we ought to be taking seriously?” asked Josh Meyer, associate pastor of Franconia congregation.  “We were reminded of Matthew 23 where Jesus says, ‘… you neglect the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy, faithfulness.’  How can we as churches, as a conference, be more committed to justice, mercy, faithfulness?”

Meyer’s table group wondered if the conference could focus together on matters of justice instead of division, working, for instance, on an issue that many are passionate about: combatting human trafficking.  Since one goal of the morning’s gathering was to build relationships around a common area of mission and call, Whigham asked delegates whose congregations are interested in working together against human trafficking to raise their hands so that they could network on the spot.  Delegates from a dozen congregations responded.

“Sitting down and talking to one another is a good thing,” reflected conference moderator John Goshow.  “I think we’re enjoying one another’s company this morning [which] demonstrates why we need to do more of that than we’ve done in the past.”  He encouraged delegates to continue to pray for the denomination in days ahead.  “This call for prayer does not need to end today.  Our church needs the continued prayers of all of us.”

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