Tag Archives: Going to the Margins

God is Working God’s Purpose Out

by Marta Castillo, Leadership Minister of Intercultural Formation

When I was a child on furlough with my family, we used to visit different churches every Sunday to share our stories about Indonesia and what God was doing there.  I remember singing the song “God is working his purpose out” by Author: Arthur Campbell Ainger (1894). The lyrics say:

“God is working his purpose out, as year succeeds to year, God is working his purpose out, and the time is drawing near; nearer and nearer draws the time, the time that shall surely be, when the earth shall be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.

From utmost east to utmost west, wherever feet have trod, by the mouth of many messengers goes forth the voice of God, ‘Give ear to me, ye continents, ye isles, give ear to me, that the earth may be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.’

What can we do to work God’s work, to prosper and increase the love of God in all mankind, the reign of the Prince of peace? What can we do to hasten the time, the time that shall surely be, when the earth shall be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea?”

Garden Chapel celebrates the licensing of Pastor Hector Quinones.

Every year we join together at assembly to celebrate what God is doing, to spend time together as God’s people, and to make plans together discerning God’s purpose for us.  We discerned a few years ago to put approve a Church Together Statement Going to the Margins: Kingdom Mission Strategy stating that as followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to solidarity with those on the margins of the Christian community, our neighborhoods, and society at large, seeking transformation in ourselves, those to whom we minister, and the unjust systems we encounter. This statement was a building block on our Franconia Conference priorities of being “missional, intercultural, and formational” as we work to fulfill our mission to “equip leaders to empower others to embrace God’s mission.”

Henri Nouwen writes, “Those who are marginal in the world are central in the Church, and that is how it is supposed to be! Thus we are called as members of the Church to keep going to the margins of our society. The homeless, the starving, parentless children, people with AIDS, our emotionally disturbed brothers and sisters – they require our first attention. We can trust that when we reach out with all our energy to the margins of our society we will discover that petty disagreements, fruitless debates, and paralysing rivalries will recede and gradually vanish. The Church will always be renewed when our attention shifts from ourselves to those who need our care. The blessing of Jesus always comes to us through the poor. The most remarkable experience of those who work with the poor is that, in the end, the poor give more than they receive. They give food to us.” (henrinouwen.org/meditation/going-to-the-margins-of-the-church/)

Along with celebrating their 9th anniversary, Centro de Alabanza held a graduation ceremony for IBA (Instituto Biblico Anabautista – Anabaptist Biblical Institute).

We may or may not be consciously working out this “Kingdom Mission Strategy” in our congregations and daily lives. Our pastors and leaders may or may not even remember this conversation and agreement from even a few years ago. The conversation, however, did help us set priorities and to consider God’s plans and purposes for us in ministry and mission. Whether we recognize it or not God is working out God’s purpose.

As was stated in the Church Together Statement, “In Scripture, we see Jesus affirming the value and image of God in those on the margins of his culture and society: tax collectors, women, lepers, the ceremonially unclean, Gentiles, etc. Today, marginalized people groups include but are not limited to individuals and families experiencing mental illness, drug and alcohol addiction, physical and intellectual disabilities, incarceration, racism, poverty, war, oppression and exclusion. Who are the marginalized individuals and families in your context and how are you intentionally reaching out and entering their lives with the love and hope of Jesus Christ? If we are to be faithful disciples of Christ and make seeking God’s Kingdom our number one priority, these are the people with whom we must be in solidarity.”

Nations Worship Center held a Bible Camp for community children with the theme “Raising the Standard”, thanks to the support of a Missions Operational Grant and teaching supplies from Salford Mennonite Church.

My testimony today is that this kingdom work is happening through the work of the Holy Spirit in the congregations of our Conference. Through pictures and descriptions, we celebrate today that God is working God’s purposes out in our communities. In the last few weeks I had the privilege of witnessing this in some of our immigrant communities, who minister in communities affected by drug and alcohol addiction, and are affected by racism and injustice. 

Psalm 33:11 says, But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations. Nearer and nearer draws the time, the time that will surely be, when the earth is filled with the glory of God, as the waters cover the sea.”

Help and Hope for Morris County

In a testimony to community collaboration and an example of “going to the margins”, Garden Chapel opened their doors to leaders, law enforcement and local neighbors in Morris County, New Jersey for a special forum on opioids and addiction.

Local leaders join together with HOPE One, to bring hope and help to those struggling in New Jersey.

This free event held at Garden Chapel on Saturday, April 28 was, on the surface, a resourcing fair – raising awareness of the opiate epidemic, highlighting positive prevention strategies, and connecting people with local treatment and recovery services.  But for anyone who’s dealt with substance abuse and mental illness or knows someone who has, this event connected on a deeper, more critical level.

Data released by the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office shows that drug overdose deaths in the state to be on a record-shattering pace in 2018.  Pastor Tim Hart knows all too well the effects of the drug crisis, having lost both his brother and best friend to the epidemic. “I have participated in way too many funerals for friends, parishioners and their children due to this crisis,” he says. “I have been to at least 12 funerals in 2017 and 2018, just from opiate, fentanyl, and heroin overdoses. I believe this is the devil’s imitation of the Holy Spirit, to steal, kill and destroy lives and families.”

Over the course of the day, thirty-four individuals received free training on administering Naxalone (Narcan), which could potentially save the life of someone overdosing on opioids.  Morris County’s HOPE ONE program was on site, offering access to services and treatment facilities to anyone in need.  The entire event was presented as a part of the countywide Stigma-Free Initiative, which aims to eradicate the stigma associated with mental illness and substance use disorders.  “To truly change the way society views individuals with substance abuse and mental illness disorders, we must change our language, attitude and be more compassionate,” said Dover (NJ) Mayor James P. Dodd. “Regardless of the spectrum, we all know or have people in our lives who face these challenges.”

Volunteers greet guests with information and assistance.

Friends and pastors at Garden Chapel did their part as hosts, running a children’s program and providing Spanish translation, and are already seeing results.  The event has assisted at least 10 people to take the first step and enter detox or rehab, some of whom have direct connections to Garden Chapel, and calls are still coming in.

“We can extend our hand out to someone in need, who can grab it and get the help he or she needs,” says Victory Gardens (NJ) Mayor David L. Holeman.  Undoubtedly the hands of Garden Chapel will continue to be among those extended.  “All that know me know how dear this topic is to my heart,” says Pastor Tim, “and my passion is to never stop fighting for the lives of those struggling with this addiction.  I will continue to cry out to GOD while putting my faith into action, by partnering with anyone and everyone to make a difference.”

Staff Meeting Heads to the Margins of Vermont

By John Stoltzfus, Conference Youth Minister

As part of our ongoing practice of going to the “margins,” a contingent of Franconia Conference staff traveled to Vermont last week for a 48 hour working retreat. Of course, going to the margins can be a relative statement depending on where one places the center. Perhaps, going to the margins can actually help re-center us in the saving work of God in this world. By locating ourselves physically in other people’s spaces we are re-placed and invited to see how the Spirit is present and active in communities and people beyond our own.

Our short time in Vermont included many opportunities for centering ourselves in God’s good work in the beautiful hills and valleys of Vermont. For our first meal, we received generous hospitality and delicious food around the table at the home of Gwen Groff, a Franconia Conference Board Member, who is pastor at Bethany Mennonite Church in Bridgewater, Vermont.

The following morning, our first in Vermont, Steve McCloskey who is the new pastor at Taftsville Chapel Mennonite Fellowship led our group in devotions. We were invited to consider our calling in ministry and how we are sustained in that calling. Later we visited Taftsville Chapel, getting a glimpse of the solar panels installed last year on the church roof.

We also heard from Joe Paparone who is an organizer with the Labor-Religion Coalition of New York State, and the advocacy coordinator with the FOCUS Churches of Albany (NY). Over the past several years he has connected with Bethany Mennonite Church through his work in Albany, including leading a book study for the congregation over video conference. He led the Franconia Staff in a helpful training on Community Organizing Principles for pastoral ministry and the church.

Hearing the stories of call for Joe, Steve and Gwen and learning more about the mission and ministries of their respective communities was an encouraging and hopeful witness of God’s renewing and creative work in our church and world. These communities have many gifts to offer to the broader conference and church.

Of course Vermont has other “gifts” to offer such as cheese, maple syrup and beautiful scenery. Our retreat included a visit to the Sugarbush Cheese and Maple Farm for a delightful cheese and maple syrup tasting and we enjoyed an invigorating walk down the Quechee Gorge.

Jesus’ life and witness consistently re-centered the focus on God’s activity in the world. Henri Nouwen made the observation that “those who are marginal in the world are central in the Church.” How can we as a conference continue to receive the gifts and witness of the Spirit’s presence and activity by those at the “margins”?

See the photo gallery on the Franconia Conference Facebook page.

An Update on An Experiment in Going to the Margins

By Stephen Kriss

“The first duty of love is to listen.”—Paul Tillich

As part of our practices in this summer space in between, we’ve taken our conference staff meetings “to the margins”, which so far has meant meeting at Doylestown and Alpha congregations for an afternoon to eat, pray and learn alongside the pastors who work in those settings before engaging our regular conference staff agendas.   We’ll go to Quakertown to learn about the work of Salem congregation’s engagement with partners and neighbors yet for our last of these meetings later this month.

doylestown
Doylestown Mennonite Church

These going to the margins meetings have felt like holy disruptions of our routine.   We’ve received the gracious hospitality of Krista at Alpha, and Randy, KrisAnne and Sandy at Doylestown.  We’ve had great ice cream and burritos.   We’ve learned by listening to both the possibilities and struggles for ministry and life in one of the wealthiest communities in Bucks County, as well as what it feels like to work and hope just across the Delaware River.

Alpha Mennonite Church
Alpha Mennonite Church

I’m noticing some things that have been happening through our experiment.   Some of these things might encourage our continued journey of “going to the margins” for the sake of the Good News.   This is a small disruption, a monthly afternoon staff meeting.   But breaking our routines invigorates our conversations and builds our relationships together, differently.  We carpool.   We talk differently and about different things because we are in different spaces.  In navigating the logistics of simply going to a different location, we think differently rather than simply showing up in the same place.  Our two meetings at the margins have been times when we’ve been highly engaged with one another, even when dealing with routine tasks and procedures (seriously).   I look forward to what we’ll learn later this month.  A few staff members have asked if we can continue this kind of meeting alongside congregations’ into the future.

Admittedly, it does cost us some extra time and mileage resources to get to these places, which I’d say is well worth the effort thus far.   By eating together, we create a different rhythm of gathering that opens conversation differently.   By listening and praying with the pastors in their settings, we’ve had opportunities to both bless and to learn.   In going to the margins, we find what happens when we respond to Jesus’s declaration to go and then the transformation that happens when we listen to each other and in the midst, to sense the presence of God and discover our hearts are still strangely warmed together on the way in this time in between.

Staff Update: The Space In Between

by Stephen Kriss

We are three weeks into Executive Minister Ertell Whigham’s three month sabbatical.   In the meantime, I’m serving as acting executive minister, which so far has meant attending to both more details and broader issues and possibilities for our community of faith together.   These months will continue to provide opportunities for staff growth and engagement in new ways.   Our conference youth minister, John Stoltzfus, is also on sabbatical, which makes the staff lean and busy for the summer.

In Mennonite Church USA, our conference currently has the most advertised pastoral openings.  We are searching for diverse leaders from Taftsville in Vermont to South Philly to serve among our congregations.   With about a dozen pastoral openings across our Conference, this is a significant time of transition and focused work.  Pastoral transitions are high priorities for LEADership Minister engagement to help keep our congregations healthy and growing.

conference assembly 2015 175This summer we, the staff, begin “Going to the Margins” staff meetings which will mean the Conference office will be closed the last Wednesday of July, August, and September in the afternoons as staff engage with our congregational communities.  Our first “Going to the Margins” staff meeting will be with Doylestown Mennonite next week where we’ll engage with pastors and spend time learning there.  I look forward to each of these three afternoon times out together.

Franconia Conference is about conferring.  There are frequent meetings and there is much planning happening for meetings coming up this fall.  Office staff work hard to ensure that we are ready to gather together in ways that are meaningful and that information flows in a timely and efficient way.  We’re in process of planning for our annual assembly and continue to work to update our pastoral credentialing records.

There is much to do.  We have many good stories to tell.   We continue to work and to hope.  I invite you to join together in prayer for the conference, staff, board and everyone across our almost 7000 people conference community as together we strive to “live a life worthy of our calling.”