Tag Archives: InFocus

Meet Dennis Edwards, speaker for Conference Assembly

by Randy Heacock, Doylestown Mennonite Church

Franconia Conference Annual Assembly focuses this year on Unity and Maturity in the Body of Christ, from Ephesians 4.  As we gather together on Friday, November 11, we will worship in song, through story and in listening to the word of God communicated in a fresh and compelling way through Dennis Edwards, pastor of Peace Fellowship Church in Washington, DC, a Partner in Mission of Franconia Conference.

Dennis is credentialed as a Mennonite minister through Franconia Conference.  He is married to Susan and together they have four adult children.  Dennis plays several instruments and enjoys the sax the most.  If you follow Dennis on Facebook, you’ll know that he regularly checks-in at Gold’s Gym.  Originally from Queens, NYC, he is a faithful fan of the New York Jets.

Dennis is a Biblical scholar: he received a master’s degree and doctorate in New Testament Studies from Catholic University and holds a Masters of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.  (He has a bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering from Cornell, by the way).    Dennis has taught for Eastern Mennonite Seminary along with other schools of higher education, and currently serves as adjunct professor at The Ecumenical Institute of Theology and Bethel Seminary of the East.   Even with his busy schedule, Dennis still finds time to serve with community pastors, coordinate meetings with local Mennonite workers, and write.

I have known Dennis for 15 years as a friend and colleague and, while some may appropriately be impressed with his academic achievement, his keen intellect, or his musical giftedness, I can easily say above all else he is a gift to us as a faith community.    As a scholar both of the Bible and culture, Dennis is able to provide keen insights about what it means to be a follower of Jesus today.    Dennis has a distinctly Anabaptist perspective both in his teaching and practice of Christian faith.    He continually communicates and demonstrates a desire for people both individually and corporately to experience more fully the kingdom and presence of God.

Though a powerful preacher, Dennis is a gentle and loving man.   His love for God is easily witnessed in his love for people.   My wife and I both noticed this when first getting to know Dennis and his family.   The way he interacted with his family and in turn the respect and kindness that his two sons extended to their two younger sisters spoke clearly that love was the foundation of their family.   I have had the privilege of watching that love flourish in his children, his faith community, and in all his interactions.

If you want to meet and hear from someone who follows Jesus, is a Biblical scholar, and is able to encourage others on their own path in following Jesus, I suggest you attend the worship service during Conference Assembly on Friday, November 11, 7pm at Penn View Christian School in Souderton (or streaming online at franconiaconference.org).   Please join me in beginning to pray for Dennis as he comes to share and for our hearts and minds to be open to what God has for us.   I am sure God will show up!

September 11: A decade later

Remembering at Salford Mennonite Meetinghouse
6:30 pm; Harleysville, Pa

by Anne Yoder, West Philadelphia Mennonite Fellowship

Our country is preparing to commemorate the events of September 11, 2001 in a big way. What stories and images will be re-told over and over, what memories will be evoked, what responses will be expected? Will the secular media and the church differ in its handling of these?

Many of us have vivid memories of the destruction we witnessed and heard about on 9/11, when aggression against the United States killed 2,976 persons. We experienced fear and foreboding, and hardly knew how to react to it all. When our country went to war against in the Middle East, most Americans were all right with it, thinking that it would teach the terrorists a lesson they would never forget. Many vowed to never let 9/11/01 fade from their memories.

In the intervening years, life has gone on for us. We have been able to forget 9/11 almost completely, and even forget the war that has been waged in Iraq and Afghanistan ever since 2003. But the cost of this forgetting is very high. The war in Iraq alone has killed over 101,900 civilians and the Afghanistan incursion has cost untold numbers of lives as well.   And then we must consider the cost to the United States and it’s allies in the lives of soldiers and billions of dollars spent every year.

The 10th year anniversary of 9/11/01 provides the followers of Jesus with the opportunity to look back, to examine our response to the events of that day and its aftermath in the light of Christ’s love and mercy, and to commit or recommit ourselves to the reconciliation and shalom that is so much a part of the Good News. A sample worship service was developed for September 11th, which may be used as it is written, or adapted to suit specific congregations. A service of sung and spoken prayer will be held at Salford Mennonite Church at 6:30 p.m. on September 11th, to which all in Eastern District Conference and Franconia Mennonite Conference are welcome.

Proverbs 3:31 reads: “Do not emulate the violent; never model your conduct on theirs.” May the Church take this as its guiding principle for this important anniversary in our history.

Church Lives

By Ben Sutter, benjamins5@goshen.edu

What is Church? This summer, as a ministry inquiry intern with Franconia Conference, I have seen Church live in so many ways. I’ve interacted and reacted to people, thoughts, and spiritual movements around me. I’ve asked questions. I have seen the incredible similarities and vast differences between what people call ‘Church.’

Can a conference be Church? What about a denomination? Can one person start Church? Can Church be one person? What is Church anyway? Am I a part of Church? How do I even start to define it?

The first encounter I had with Church this summer was at a Fund for Theological Education Conference in New Orleans. I spent five days with other undergraduate and graduate students talking about the role of Church in our lives and how it will continue to shape our futures.

During a tour of the city, we visited First Grace Methodist Church, a post-Katrina congregation born in the merging of a historically black congregation with a historically white congregation. One of our guides suggested that Church is like gumbo. She described this gumbo-Church as a bunch of stuff all thrown together that makes something wonderful—butyou don’t really want to know what’s in it.

Church can feel like that sometimes.

Pittsburgh convention this July offered another view of Church, this time within the denominational structure of Mennonite Church USA. People joined together from across the country to define where the denomination now finds itself. There were discussions, conversation rooms, and delegate sessions full of people sharing their stories. Many of these stories included pain. People and institutions can habitually and unintentionally harm those around them.

Does Church hurt people?

After convention, I traveled to Baltimore to visit Nueva Esperanza Baltimore, a Spanish-speaking church plant. The neighborhood of the church plant was desolate; it didn’t take much effort to spot a drug deal, a fist fight, or a prostitute—all in the middle of the day. Ubaldo Rodriguez, Nueva Esperanza’s pastor, hopes to build something from that desolation. But when does it become more than a pastor trying to build a congregation?

When does it become Church?

I also traveled with a group to Mexico City to build relationships with Church. The Bible School we helped with was an outreach that impacted the neighborhood. Alicia Alvarez and Ariel Avila, our hosts, had hearts for God and an incredible work ethic. But Fraternidad Christiana Prensa, their congregation, is in the midst of conflict. The long-time families of the church find themselves on opposing sides of many different issues and unable to agree.

Does Church argue?

Last Sunday evening I was driving home with my roommate, Ardi. When I told him I was writing a blog post about Church, he chimed in.

“Many people think that church is the building, that it’s just what they do on Sunday morning,” he said. “Each one of us is Church. Church happens every day, all the time, whenever we connect with God. We become sanctuaries for God, the Church.”

Cutting through all my questions, an unanticipated comment provides an answer. What is Church? These moments are Church. Church is something beautiful, something beautiful that lives.

We are Church.

Franconia Conference contributes, leads, speaks at Pittsburgh 2011

by Emily Ralph, eralph@franconiaconference.org, and Steve Kriss, skriss@franconiaconference.org

Pittsburgh skylineMembers of Franconia Conference descended on Pittsburgh last week for Mennonite Church USA’s Convention, “Bridges to the Cross.”  In addition to participating as delegates and youth groups, Franconia Conference members contributed to important conversations about the life of our church.  A few highlights:

Yvonne Platts, a leader from Nueva Vida Norristown New Life, spoke up at a delegate session on holistic witness. “Usually in Mennonite circles we hear of peace as keeping kids out of the military,” she said. “What I don’t hear is how we keep our kids on the streets from killing one another, from fighting one another.”

The first gathering of the North American Indonesian Mennonite Leaders group from all over the United States met at Franconia Conference member congregation Greensburg (Pa) Worship Center about 30 miles outside of Pittsburgh to fellowship and dream for the future.  When he introduced Franconia Conference (which helped to sponsor the event), LEADership Minister Steve Kriss challenged the California Indonesian churches, “We look forward to the networking and vining of Indonesian Anabaptist congregations that will link from both coasts across the country.   Like the transcontinental railroad, we’re bulding inward from both sides and to our brothers and sisters in California, we hope that we will meet somewhere in the middle.” Conversations included discussion of the possible new congregations in Denver and Birmingham, AL.

Aldo Siahaan at Greensburg Worship Center
Pastor Aldo Siahaan addresses North American Indonesian Mennonite Leaders during Convention. Photo by Emily Ralph.

Jim Ostlund, youth pastor at Blooming Glen, taught a workshop on technology and communication, encouraging teens that the greatest technology ever created is our human body.  “We can use new media to connect,” he said, “but it will not replace face to face in real time.”   The Blooming Glen youth group was the largest at convention this year.

Michael King, member at Salford Mennonite Church and dean of Eastern Mennonite Seminary, presented on the need for Biblical literacy: “We tend to operate within a Bible that fits our lens. On God’s level, the Bible is big enough for us all.”

Franconia Conference Youth Minister Marlene Frankenfield delighted youth sponsors with goodies and giveaways as part of a workshop she co-led with Merv Stoltzfus on creative ways of using resources to enhance youth ministry.

Michael Bishop, part of the pastoral team at Blooming Glen, helped lead hymns and international music during adult worship and hymn sing.  He led alongside a worship team from the largest Mennonite Church USA congregation– Calvary Community Church of Hampton, Va.

Beny Krisbianto, pastor at Nations Worship Center in Philadelphia, led a workshop on being a relevant church.  “The mission of evangelism is about persuading people to stop, look, and listen,” he said.   Maria Byler and Aldo Siahaan of Philadelphia Praise Center helped to lead a workshop on building healthy intercultural relationships and communication along with Virgo Handoyo, pastor of Jemaat Kristen Indonesia Anugerah (Sierra Madre, CA), a member congregation of Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference.

Franconia Conference Executive Minister Ertell Whigham served on the convention listening committee, providing feedback to the convention’s organizers. “It has been said that with every experience in life we continue to learn.  This is especially true when it comes to the gathering of God’s people.  We learn something about ourselves, other people, and especially about God.”

What other Franconia Conference voices did you hear at Convention?  Leave your comment on our Facebook page!

Holy Hospitality

By Ben Sutter, benjamins5@goshen.edu, Franconia Conference CommunicationsBen in the coffee shop

One thing I’ve experienced this first week of living in Philadelphia is hospitality. I arrived last Monday at one in the morning and was picked up by my boss, Steve Kriss. Steve took me to his own house, because my more permanent housing arrangements hadn’t been settled yet. He welcomed me into his life and his work for three days, allowing me to live with him. He embraced my questions and my musings as he began to describe the city and the conference. He helped me start recognizing and thinking about the nuances and characteristics that I would run into in this new setting. I felt acknowledged and accepted into his work in the conference. Steve showed me only the beginning of the incredible hospitality that I have encountered in my first eleven days in Philly.

Last Wednesday I was welcomed into the home of Pastor Aldo, one of the pastors of Philadelphia Praise Center. Aldo lives in a home with five other Indonesian young men and an older woman we call “Ibu” or “mother”. I’ve come to dearly love staying in this house, even though I’ve barely been there a week. Everyone in the house is busy, but they’re all interested in each other’s lives. Food is a very important part of how we relate to each other. Almost every time I open the front door and come back to the house, the first question I’m asked is if I’ve eaten yet. Whoever is home at mealtime eats together. I fill my plate with rice and noodles and Ibu always tells me that I need more. She takes my plate from me and adds at least one more heaping spoonful.

My roommates Yonathan and Ardi have embraced me as a friend and brother in Christ. They’ve taken me around the city and shown me the ropes. Yonathan showed off Chinatown and the Redding Market, while Ardi explained the train system to me and took me to the train station to buy my ticket to work. They’ve treated me to food, buying me McDonalds and Phileo Yogurt. We hang out together in the evenings, watching TV in the house and walking around the city.

This past Sunday, I attended my first services at Philadelphia Praise Center, one in Indonesian and a second in Spanish. I was amazed at everyone’s willingness to include me. People welcomed me as I walked into the sanctuary, shaking my hand and saying “hello,” “hola,” or just giving me a big smile. Even though languages were different, communication was possible.

In the Indonesian service, I listened to the message through a translator speaking into a head set. The songs weren’t translated, however, and many were sung in Indonesian. Most of the songs showed English translations alongside the Indonesian words on the screen in the front of the church, but I found myself drawn to singing the Indonesian. It was too hard to follow both the English translation and the Indonesian words sung by the congregation. Singing the Indonesian words, even in my poor pronunciation, made me feel apart of the community. It didn’t matter if I knew exactly what I was singing or even if I was doing it well. All that mattered was that I was joining the community in praising God. I could tell that at the core of whatever I was singing, God was being praised—God received the glory.

I’m excited to see where this summer takes me. I have felt embraced by the conference and supported by its people. I recognize the presence of God in the relationships that I’ve begun to foster and the barriers that I’m beginning to help break down. I pray that as I continue my work, I will continue to see God’s dream for the world revealed in authentic and tangible ways.


On flattening the Mennonite world: a view from Singapore

by Steve Kriss

New York Times writer Thomas Friedman Singaporesuggested in the World is Flat that flourishing businesses would need to be both global and local in the emerging interconnected age.  It’s a comment that I’ve taken pretty seriously as a pastoral leader trying to imagine how local congregations might flourish and thrive in this time as well.  In my work over the past five years in Franconia Conference, it’s been easy to see lively connections that link our largely Pennsylvania-based congregations to far flung places like Jakarta, Mexico City, London and the Mekong Delta.   Sometimes, the conversations I’ve had in those places are as pertinent and relevant to congregational life in the States as what happens at the Conference Center in Harleysville.

As part of my Franconia Conference position focusing on leadership cultivation, Biblical Seminary contracts with a portion of my time to build on the foundations of our global relationships to help in the formation of their students toward missional leadership.   Several times over the last three years, I’ve had the privilege to travel for 10 days with a group of about a dozen students, most of whom aren’t Mennonite, and to offer an Anabaptist way of engaging the world.   We traveled this year to Vietnam and Cambodia.

SingaporeOn the way back, I stopped in Singapore—a glistening, overly perfected city/nation/island on the straits between Malaysia and Indonesia.  It’s safe, clean and tightly controlled but with a fascinating cultural mix that represents both the west and the east.   I was energized by the city despite its Truman Show-like (un)reality.  While there, I met with two young Mennonite leaders who give a hopeful and thoughtful glimpse of future church leadership.   Both embody the face and soul of global Anabaptist movement with savvy, integrity and intelligence.   It was a gift to spend time with Elina and Wilson—these cosmopolitan business leaders who travel between their Singapore residences, their respective native lands (Indonesia and China), and the United States.

One conversation that lingers for me was a request to understand where the upcoming Mennonite World Conference gathering would be, an attempt to understand the significance and importance of meeting in Harrisburg (which I said is close to Philadelphia and in the one of the world’s largest concentrations of Anabaptists and had to clarify again that it’s “close to New York”).    What I heard in this question was a desire to understand the US American church as a partner, not a parent. For global Mennonite leaders, Harrisburg and Philadelphia are just another Bulawayo or Ascunsion.  In these questions, though, I sensed a hope that the American church would understand how costly and potentially difficult this decision to meet in Pennsylvania will be for the global church community.

One thing that I’ve learned is that incarnation and making things real is costly and complicated.   After my Singapore conversations (where we also talked about partnerships to initiate new Indonesian-speaking Anabaptist congregations on the Arabian peninsula), I’ve realized that the global church is set to come to Pennsylvania not because it holds us in esteem—but because it wants to help the church here to understand a global reality.  This upcoming gathering can help the us begin to grasp how deep, how wide, how long, how far the message of the Good News has spread and rooted.   It’s an opportunity to invite US American Anabaptists to situate ourselves in this new space—not as the center of activity or authority–rather as part of a global and local movement called to be wise as serpents, innocent as doves and a glimpse of the Real Eternal One in the midst of a flattening world.

Perfect Fellowship

by Emily Ralph

“We didn’t grow up hearing about this,” one of the bishop’s staff members told me.

Some of the leaders gathered at the Southeast Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s assembly had heard about the reconciliation process, but for others, this was a brand new story.  “In the 16th century, the early Lutheran reformers, furious that the so-called Anabaptists did not share the same theology of baptism, used their influence and power to persecute Mennonite Christians,” Lutheran Bishop Claire Burkat said.  Her words were greeted with an audible response and she nodded her acknowledgement at the horror.  “Not just harass,” she added, “but torture and murder those with whom they disagreed theologically.”

The familiar platform at Franconia Mennonite Meetinghouse was covered by the symbols of the Lutheran faith: the bread and the cup on the altar, the staff and the cross, the large bowl of incense, and candles, lots of candles.  The room was packed with people of all shapes and sizes, men and women, white-haired clergy in collars and trendy young adults.

Pastor Charlie Ness and Bishop Claire Burkat share tears and exchange symbols of reconciliation. Photo by Emily Ralph.

Bishop Burkat was emotional as she offered Pastor Charlie Ness from Perkiomenville Mennonite Church an apology on behalf of her Synod.  And as Pastor Ness accepted and extended forgiveness, he too choked up with the power of this moment.  Twice, the congregation spontaneously rose to their feet to join in with applause.  This action was not just one of denominational leadership—the Lutheran laypeople wanted to participate in the healing as well.

And as I stood there, frantically snapping pictures of their smiles and tears, I felt loved.  Truly and completely loved.

Growing up, I was aware of my heritage.  I was proud of my ancestors who stood firm in the face of persecution and terror.  I ached to have the same strength, the same passion.  I struggled to respect Martin Luther as a hero of the faith when in my eyes he was tarnished by the persecution he endorsed.

I knew the story and I knew it well.  And here I was, surrounded by brothers and sisters in Christ some of whom had only discovered this story in the last decade.  Their hearts were broken as they came to grips with an ugly chapter of their history.  And they were reaching out to us for restoration.

As Mennonites, we’ve always identified ourselves as the martyrs.  Our peoplehood is wrapped up in being the oppressed, the rejected.  But as I experienced the grace of these lovely people, saw the seats of honor they gave to our pastors, their submission as we worked on crafting common language, I realized that, for the first time in nearly five hundred years, we were respected, accepted, and loved.  Truly and completely loved.

There is disequilibrium in this place.  How do we function here?  If forgiveness means releasing others from their experience of guilt, if it means no longer lingering in the pain of the past, then how can we forge a new identity that still honors the sacrifices of our ancestors while recognizing that we are no longer rejected, but loved?

This is the task of God’s people, said Bishop Burkat.  “In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us (2 Corinthians 5). . . it means [reconciling] those who are at odds with each other, to return to a state of harmony, and receive a former enemy into good favor.”

That morning, we were surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, both Lutheran and Mennonite, who, in the presence of Jesus, have found that Christ’s blood brings about complete reconciliation.  As they worship God together, these former enemies—saints—of long ago are no longer broken by doctrinal or political differences; they are, even now, in perfect fellowship with the Father . . . and with one another.  What they have experienced for five hundred years, we now realize on earth.

We are no longer persecuted; we are called to defend the oppressed.  We are no longer rejected; we are called to love the forsaken.  “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5 NIV)  May we become a people who extend our healing to the world!

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