Tag Archives: Interns

Young leaders build relationships with Mexico City churches

Benjamin Sutter, Franconia Conference Communications Intern, benjamins5@goshen.edu

Rockhill Mennonite (Telford, Pa) youth pastor, Angela Moyer, had taken groups of high school youth to Mexico City to do mission work before, but this time was different. This time, Moyer wanted to bring young adults and focus on building relationships. This past July, she traveled with a Franconia Conference-sponsored team to do just that.

(from left to right) Benjamin Sutter, Rachel Spory, Janine Bergey, Oliver, Deanne Delp, Hezrael, and Angela Moyer.

Moyer was joined by Janine Bergey, also from Rockhill, Deanne Delp, from Laurel Street Mennonite in Lancaster, Pa., Rachel Spory, from First Mennonite in Johnstown, Pa., and Benjamin Sutter from Kern Road Mennonite in South Bend, Ind. Although most of the team spent their time at Iglesia Anabauptisa Menonita Fraternidad Christiana Prensa, Moyer and Spory also traveled to Iglesia Anabauptisa Menonita Fraternidad Christiana Espartaco for five days of the trip to assist with a shortened Bible School week there.

“Espartaco was a joyful and kind church,” said Moyer. They even moved the site of their Bible School to a location closer to a community with more children, she said.

While in Prensa, the group connected with Alicia Alvarez Uzcango and Ariel Avila Muñoz, a couple who serve on the Prensa leadership team. Alvarez and Avila, who also organized Bible School, emphasized lives of Christian service, along with the importance of Scripture.

“We understand that we need to have a balance of both the theology and living it out,” said Muñoz, through a translator.

“Service is something that has characterized this church,” Alvarez added through translation. “In spite of not having a lot of money resources, [in the past, the church was] able to hand out food, clothes, and help to refugees. … We’re in the process of helping others [in the church] to understand, to make it part of their lives.”

Hosting a week of Bible School during the summer is one way the church is reaching out to the surrounding neighborhood; only five of the forty kids who participated in Bible School attend the church regularly.

“Bible School is not just for the kids, it’s for the families of the kids,” said Alvarez.

Kids from the bible school color paper cakes to attach to paper aprons and chef hats.

One man who attends the church, Manwell, brought his sobrinos (nephews and nieces) to Bible School for the first time. He told Avila that they sang the Bible School songs at home all evening.

“I told him, ‘God is using you, because you are bringing your sobrinos [to church],’” Avila said. “’What would your life have been like if you would’ve known Jesus as a child? This is your responsibility, so that they won’t go through the same things.’ And he got it!”

Overall, the relationships left an impact on the Franconia Conference group.

“Each time I visit the churches in Mexico City, I’m overwhelmed by their generosity, hospitality, and love for the people in their communities,” Moyer said. “I’m encouraged by their passion for the Anabaptist and Mennonite witness in their communities and world.”

“[Prensa is] a small congregation with much potential for growth, impact and outreach in their community,” added Bergey.

The team, as well as leadership in both churches, is hopeful about future relationships between Franconia Conference and CIEAMM.

“Each conference has gifts that God has given to the people there,” said Delp.

“I’m encouraged that each conference, as a whole, is interested in a continuing relationship with the other,” Bergey added. “There is much to be learned from each other in areas of vision, mission, hospitality, outreach, and more. I’m eager to see what dreams may come from the interactions between the CIEAMM and Franconia Conference.”

Mi familia es tu familia,” said Avila. “We are all a part of the Body of Christ.”

View the photo album

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.

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 Christmas, community and diversity: The Good News in East London

Krista Ehst, Perkasie

krista1.jpgThere is only one Mennonite church here in the United Kingdom, which I have yet to attend. Not surprisingly, then, I’ve recently been trying to explain my Mennonite faith identity to some very curious and sometimes very confused Brits. Somewhere near the beginning of those conversations, I often mention the strong emphasis that Mennonites place on community. It’s this sense of community that I miss here in London. I miss gathered congregations singing deeply rooted convictions of discipleship and peacemaking in effortless four-part harmony, familiar pie and bread recipes handed from one generational table to the next, rich farmland evoking memories of a strong agrarian history, and long lines of families and neighbors who quietly seek to serve God and one another. I do try to offer the general disclaimer that Mennonite communities are rapidly changing and diversifying, and that these rather cliche descriptions would fail to describe many contemporary Mennonite churches. But as a young Mennonite woman growing up in southeastern Pennsylvania, they are traditions and associations that are undeniably embedded in my experience of Mennonite community.

Community is a word that is also frequently used in the neighborhood where I’m now living in East London, but it takes a much different shape than I’m accustomed to experience. I’m currently part of a tiny church called E1 Community Church, a church that was planted here 10 years ago by a group of people who had the neighborhood community at the heart of their mission. Knowing that this area tends to be comparatively poor, under-churched, diverse and transient, they slowly sought to find ways of forming a church community that would be relevant and would meet the needs of this context. Several people in the church also take part in a local group called the Geoff Ashcroft Community, where I’ve been spending a few days a week. True to its name, this group is also centered around community, seeking to provide a sense of community and support for those in the area who are isolated and who struggle with mental health issues.

Given this common emphasis on community, then, it seems almost ironic that many of the people I now interact with on a daily basis have no way of comprehending the form of community that I grew up with and often take for granted. Although I perhaps would not have always said this, I am realizing that much of my sense of community is linked with sharing things in common with a tightly knit group of people: a shared history, shared traditions, shared political views, shared core values, a shared understanding of faith and belief in God. Yes, Mennonites of course struggle with disagreements and divisions over theological and political differences, but it seems that there are many places of commonality and shared faith at our core.

krista2.jpgThere is something beautiful about our strong communal identities, and I think it is one of the gifts that Mennonites can bring to a far too individualized and fragmented world. But it does beg the question of how and whether we can create communities without the presence of shared worldviews and core values. At E1 Community Church and at the Geoff Ashcroft Community, small groups of people come together from radically different worldviews and backgrounds. There is a man who spent most of his adult life in the military, and whose identity is still largely defined by those military experiences; a man who spent 17 years in prison and who is estranged from his family; a woman who has such intense social anxiety that she only ventures outside her home for a few hours each week; another woman who struggles with drug and alcohol addiction while trying raise three kids and to get herself a decent education. Relationships are downright tough in this context, not only because I am interacting with people who have quite traumatic pasts, but also because our lives have simply been so different. I cannot assume anything, let alone assume that people will share my pacifist stance or the approach I take to studying scripture.

There are, however, also incredible blessings that come from this struggle to form community in the midst of diversity. A few days ago, a group of us gathered at Geoff Ashcroft for a Christmas celebration lunch. As we sat together, laughing and sharing food and genuinely enjoying each others’ company, I was moved by what felt like a true sense of gathered community; by what I imagined as being a bit like the meals that Jesus shared throughout his ministry. In such moments, I am consistently amazed by how vulnerable people are with one another, and with the honest transparency with which they enter those spaces. Out of that transparency and vulnerability comes the opportunity to serve and support one another, and to become stronger as a community of faith.

There are blessings in both the shared community and the more radically diverse community, just as there are ways that both need to be challenged. I am just beginning to realize the extent of the difficulties that face the church community here in London, in its quest to form an authentic, common Christian identity while still embracing those with such varied personal identities and experiences. And back home in Pennsylvania, I have a feeling that many churches are struggling to reach beyond narrowly defined identities, to find ways of sharing the blessings of their communities with wider circles of people. I keep wondering how we might find ways to learn from one another. And how we might discover ways to authentically express our Christ-centered, communal identities, while remaining ever attuned to how the Spirit might be stirring new paths in our midst.

Krista Ehst is spending several months learning, serving and visiting among communities connected with the Anabaptist Network in the United Kingdom. She’s a recent graduate of Goshen College and a 2004 graduate of Christopher Dock Mennonite High School. She’s supported by a network of Franconia Conference congregations and individuals while on site across the pond.

Toward a bright future

by John Tyson

stones.jpgAmerican philosopher Calvin O. Schrag in his book The Self After Postmodernity describes the emerging “self” as “a praxis-oriented self, defined by its communicative practices, oriented toward understanding itself in its discourse, its action, its being with others.” In less philosophical terms, our understanding of who we are as people is given meaning and direction by our daily conversations with others and the opportunities for action that are created. As humans, we are always making conversation, sometimes even without words. We are always communicating, we are always moving, going somewhere.

The joy of my work this summer has been the privilege to create new webs of conversations and simultaneously jump in the middle of webs that have long been woven. Within these webs of conversation and communication, I’ve been able to further discern God’s speaking in my interconnected spiritual, social, and political life, but more importantly, I’ve witnessed the movement of God’s reign in the midst of communities of women and men striving to follow the ways of Christ in today’s ever-evolving, ever-expanding world. The questions are unending and the challenges never cease, but if in nothing else, the continued conversation leads to hope. As more webs of conversation flower and build hope, the old weeds of pessimism wither and can be forgotten.

The conversations I’ve taken part in are hopeful but they don’t ignore the intense reality of confusion and struggle that is evident in all congregations and their respective local communities. A church willing to jump into the webs of conversation circulating in the communities of the world will no doubt encounter vast struggle and loss. Yet a church that takes this challenge on will recognize the exciting possibilities for creative, transformative ministry. For when conversations lead to redemption in Christ, hope lives on.

My conversations this summer have been all across the spectrum, from discussions about frakturs to globalization to opening the door of hospitality to kids who like vampires. These webs of continued conversation, however bizarre or practical, sustain hope. They give meaning and direction to us as Christian individuals and communities seeking to shed light onto the healing reign of God in our beautifully tragic world awaiting its redemption.

I’ve been in conversation with other young leaders finding their niche in the midst of their immersion into church ministry. I’ve worshiped while in conversation with sisters and brothers translating sermons and songs in a diversity of languages. I’ve been in conversations with subversive Christians seeking to rescue people from our politically numb society. I’ve been in conversations with our elderly folk, learning to reciprocate Anabaptist Christianity in the 21st century, finding that we have much commonality.

As I have learned personally this summer, conversations are hopeful because they breed interconnectedness, solidarity, and communication. They make webs, between those of us who are Christian and our neighbors whom we seek to embrace. These webs of conversation are endlessly loaded with potential and ensure that, if treated with care, the church has a future, a bright one.

John Tyson is a senior at Eastern Mennonite University who attends Souderton Mennonite Church. He interned this summer with Franconia Conference working in leadership cultivation and communication.

So you’re going to be a pastor?

Emily Graber

writing.jpgLast summer I was part of the !Explore program with Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary and worked at Methacton Mennonite Church as a pastoral intern. This summer, with one year of college completed, I have returned to Methacton through Goshen College’s Ministry Inquiry Program (MIP). I was excited to be invited back to Methacton this summer and I am grateful for the opportunity to continue my “exploration” or “inquiry” into pastoral ministry. I have never enjoyed my work as much as I do when working with the church.

Nearly everyone I meet asks me what I do and the answer is a bit complex. The short version is this: I do a lot of the things a pastor does. In other words, I preach, teach children’s Sunday school some, go to a number of meetings, read a lot of literature, write articles for the local church magazine, and do some other smaller, though equally important tasks.

In the first three weeks of my internship this summer, I have rediscovered my love for preaching. Even more than the actual delivery of my sermons, I love the researching and writing that a good sermon requires. Writing sermons gives me the perfect opportunity to learn about things I want to without the extremely full and busy schedule of school, which takes up most of my year. So far I’ve written and preached two sermons. This summer, Methacton is following the series “Things that Make for Peace” from the Leader magazine. Last summer, I chose what I wanted to learn and preach about, but this summer, with the sermon series, it has been much more stretching for me. For me, it’s harder to write a sermon on a pre-chosen text and tie it into a larger theme. It’s been a different experience, but it has certainly been fun and valuable and has made me see a number of Old Testament texts from a new perspective.

The importance of prayer and silence have also been reinforced this summer. Dawn Ruth Nelson, lead pastor and my supervisor at Methacton, has a heart for spiritual formation, silence and prayer. During the last few days of the group portion of the !Explore program, the group had a few hours of silence. To my surprise, I really enjoyed being silent and surrounded by nature, with no technology (not even my watch or ipod). Because of that positive experience and Dawn’s encouragement, I went on a silent retreat near the end last summer’s internship. This summer, just a few weeks after beginning my work with Methacton, several people from the church, including Dawn went to Mariawald Retreat Center for a silent retreat. The retreat was 24 hours long, and included several group sessions to help people focus on a specific theme. There was also the opportunity to have spiritual direction which was something that I knew about but had never participated in. The retreat helped me get out of “school mode,” or the mindset of due dates, papers, and grades, and helped me connect more closely with God and others in the congregation. It was the perfect way to truly begin my summer work. It was an incredibly positive experience and reinforced the importance of silence which gives rest and renewal. This retreat has been the highlight of my summer thus far.

As a second year pastoral intern, I get a lot of questions similar to, “So, you’re going to be a pastor then, right?” I usually smile and answer with an evasive, “I don’t know,” because I honestly don’t know. I love the work I’m doing this summer—the fact that I have returned for a second summer of pastoral work speaks to that, and as I continue this work, I have learned to truly enjoy my job much more than I thought I could enjoy a job. So is this a calling? Perhaps. Is this my only calling? I don’t think so. For now, I’ll just enjoy working closely with God, the pastoral team, and my wonderful congregation, appreciating the learning that happens on all sides, and leave the future up to God.

Emily Graber of Red Hill, Pa. completed her Ministry Inquiry Program experience this month after serving with Methacton Mennonite Church and Franconia Conference. She returns to Goshen College this fall and calls Methacton her home congregation.