Tag Archives: Franconia Mennonite Church

Congregational Profile: Franconia Mennonite Church

by Mark Wenger, Franconia congregation

The Brown Family

Timothy and Toni Lynn Brown both grew up in devout and close-knit Roman Catholic families. About three years ago they developed a strong desire to renew their commitment to the Christian faith, for themselves and their teenage children, Rebecca and Tim. 

The children enrolled at Dock Academy; the family began coming to Franconia.  “It was a truly beautiful experience for all of us.  Our children enjoyed church again for the first time in years,” comments Timothy.  “I refer to it as my ‘charismatic renewal.’”

Toni echoes this: “The pastors give their sermons and speak to the congregation like we are equals, not below them.  To be able to take away something from the worship service and incorporate it into my daily life is something I never had before, and I truly enjoy it.”

Timothy and Toni were baptized into the Franconia congregation on November 26, 2017.   They are literally Anabaptists – “rebaptized” – in the original definition of the word.  Newcomers, they are sharing their gifts in a congregation that’s been meeting at the same location for almost 300 years.

Franconia congregation is currently led by a team of four pastors, Larry Diener, Josh Meyer, Kyle Rodgers, and Mark Wenger.  Attendance for Sunday morning worship in 2019 has averaged 350.  The Sunday School program is vibrant with about 265 children, youth and adults participating each week.

Worship Drama – Photo by Doris Diener

Franconia is blessed with strong multi-generational family networks. This feature lends itself to a sense of identity and a culture that is purposely Anabaptist-Mennonite.   About 85% of Franconia adults grew up in Mennonite homes.  Tradition and faithfulness are important.  The roots are deep. 

A vision the pastors believe that God has brought into focus for Franconia, however, speaks of going deep and wide: “A rooted Anabaptist congregation willing to do whatever it takes to connect with our neighbors so they feel at home and grow in Jesus.”  Timothy and Toni Brown and their family are a good example.

Franconia has a strong commitment to mission: Curtis and Eva Kratz visiting inmates; the Women’s Sewing Circle knotting and quilting covers for refugees; partnering with congregations in Liberia for education and development work; supporting mission workers at Christian camps.  

Curt Kratz at HOPE Festival – Photo by Renita Leatherman

But a calling for being sent into our local community and connecting with next-door neighbors is coming into sharper focus.  Like through Celebrate Recovery (a Christ- centered, 12-step recovery program) that meets on Mondays; like serving supper monthly to homeless neighbors in Pottstown; like hosting a live-nativity at Christmas.

The pastors have recently formed a “2020 Vision Team” to join them in giving creative energy for investing in this community-connecting vision for the next year.   Timothy Brown was invited to be a member of the Vision Team and he agreed!

What will it take to hear God’s call and adopt a new mindset that shifts from trying to keep each other happy, toward equipping each other to pray for and connect with our neighbors?

A vision-grounding Scripture text that has emerged prayerfully is 1 Corinthians 9:19-22:

“Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible…” 

FMC stands for Franconia Mennonite Church.  What else could FMC stand for in 2020 and beyond? 

  • Finding Meaning in Christ?
  • Friends Meeting Christ?
  • Families Magnifying Christ?


Prayer requests:

  • for wisdom on follow-up connections resulting from the recent Necessary Conversations series.
  • for the Search process to call a Director of Music & Worship, and a Director of Children’s Ministries.
  • for God’s anointing upon the 2020 Vision Team and initiative

Called to Worship

by Larry Diener, Franconia congregation

Larry Diener leading worship at Conference Assembly

My sense of call has always been to the church, to the Body of Christ, and my primary area of ministry has been in music and worship.  When I was a youngster, someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I answered—a “working preacher”.  My dad was a bi-vocational pastor, and I guess I wanted to be like him.  He worked hard at carpentry, and was a pastor/preacher for many, many years.

As I grew older, the “work” part stuck with me, but the “preacher” part didn’t.  Even though I currently serve as a pastor at Franconia Mennonite Church, I have never felt called or gifted to be a preacher.  Serving in music and worship as well as pastoral care are the areas into which I have felt called and equipped. 

For much of my adult life, I was employed as a music teacher.  I taught both vocal and instrumental music in elementary, junior high, and senior high schools.  During that time, I was heavily involved in music and worship in various congregations.  Sometimes it was in the form of a part-time job, but often it was on a voluntary basis.  I have served in Brethren, Methodist, and American Baptist churches as well as several different Mennonite churches in different states.

So how did my sense of call to the church develop?  I have no clear or precise answer to that question.  I would simply say that as I matured in my faith during my teen years and early 20’s, I gradually developed a passion for music and worship in the congregational setting, and volunteered to serve in various capacities in whatever church I happened to be involved with.  While in college, I took a part-time job as minister of music in a local church, and found that I loved the work, loved the people, and felt a deep sense of meaning and fulfillment in leading people in worship. 

After I retired from teaching music, I was employed at Bahia Vista Mennonite Church in Sarasota, FL as the minister of music and worship.  My wife, Doris, and I moved to this area in the fall of 2014, and I am currently serving at Franconia Mennonite Church in music and worship, and pastoral care.  This call to church ministry has been very meaningful, humbling, and fulfilling.

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.”

Does Church Membership Matter?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celebrating John Bender

John BenderOn Sunday, October 9, John Bender, former conference minister with Franconia Conference, beloved brother in Christ, and congregant of Ripple went to meet the Lord after a fierce battle with cancer. John served the church with grace, hope, and compassion.  His ministry will be remembered for a conscientious care for the cities, neighborhoods, congregations and people where he served and led in the way of Jesus.  We were privileged to have John’s last year’s of earthly ministry to be among us in Franconia Conference.   We mourn his untimely death with his family while celebrating his life as one who sought to live justly, to extend mercy and to walk humbly with our God.

The funeral will be held Saturday, October 15 at 10:30 am at Franconia Mennonite Church. To read the obituary visit: http://www.eliasfuneralhome.com/view_obituary.cfm?id=13572

Promises & Practices: Recap of the Conference-Wide Gathering

By Barbie Fischer

On Saturday, September 10, in lieu of pre-assembly scattered meetings, members of Franconia Conference were joined by their sisters and brother from Eastern District Conference at Franconia Mennonite Church for a morning of dialogue and discernment around the topic of promises and practices. This dialogue was led by David Boshart, moderator-elect of Mennonite Church USA (MCUSA) and executive conference minister for Central Plains Mennonite Conference.

boshart2The day began with worship led by Larry and Doris Diener of the Franconia congregation, followed by David Boshart offering insight into why he has hope for MCUSA. He stated that while he has hope, he finds that his hope for a “vibrant future for Mennonite Church USA is provisional.” He offered three provisions he sees, stating, “there is a vibrant future for Mennonite Church USA provided that we:

  1. Rekindle the gift of God’s grace that has made us alive through the power of the cross of Jesus.
  2. Keep the good works for which we have been created in proper perspective.
  3. Recover our joy in our common life through covenant and spiritual practice.”

In the second part of the morning, David spoke of promises and a “biblical understanding of covenant that originates with God and which we have received through our baptism.” Specifically saying that, “our mission as a church is to bear witness to this covenant by embodying together, and by God’s grace, the way of the kingdom.”

boshart1It was brought up that covenant is mentioned throughout the denominational documents both in the Confession of Faith and Membership Guidelines – a covenant being, “an offer of a holistic relationship based on an unconditional promise memorialized in a sign.”

David demonstrated how often the church seems to work out of a more contractual relationship, standing face to face, looking to Jesus on the side, rather than a covenantal relationship, standing shoulder to shoulder, looking at Jesus.

He also spoke of his own conference, Central Plains, and their search for unity, mentioning that they have asked themselves, “is it possible to find our unity in common spiritual practices?” From that, they went on to develop A Covenant of Spiritual Practices.

There was discussion times throughout the morning where attendees were asked to discuss the following three questions:

  1. How might understanding our relationships within the denomination as covenantal be a gift to us rather than a burden?
  2. How do our expectation for one another change when we move from face to face orientation where we are the negotiators to a shoulder to shoulder orientation where we are all trying to draw closer to Jesus?
  3. Does covenanting to common spiritual practices offer more hope for the future of MCUSA than doctrinal uniformity? (Recognizing there is tension between the two and this is not a choice of one or the other, but perhaps a recalibration of the tension.)

Following the morning session, credentialed leaders and those pastoring Franconia Conference congregations were invited to stay for further giving and receiving counsel on relationships between congregations, conference, and MCUSA. This came as a request from the conference board who was seeking counsel and wishing to hear the perspective of Franconia Conference credentialed leaders and those pastoring the conference congregations.

Boshart_David_2014To hear the full audio of David Boshart’s presentation and view his PowerPoint, visit: http://mennoniteconferencex.org/media/audio-gallery/.