by John Goshow & Ron White, Moderators, Franconia & Eastern District Conferences
The Mennonite Church is a church of peace and reconciliation, yet we hold the record for splits, said historian John Ruth in the video produced for our last Conference Assembly. The 1847 split between Franconia and Eastern District Conferences was a defining moment in the history of Mennonites living in eastern Pennsylvania. The question for our conferences now is whether we should continue to walk different roads.
On Saturday morning of our joint assembly, Warren Tyson, Eastern District Conference Minister, and Ertell Whigham, Franconia Conference Executive Minister explored this question with the delegates of both conferences. They pointed out the numerous ways that we share a similar vision. Both place value on maintaining an Anabaptist/Mennonite peace witness. Both share Christ’s message of peace with God and fellow humans through nurturing vital congregations, which in turn plant new churches. Both embrace an intercultural identity that clearly identifies cultural bias and racism as sin and works to populate healthy, dynamic, intercultural congregations. Both provide accountability, connection, and resources for our pastors and church leaders. Both are working to develop intercultural systems that welcome new language groups and embrace development of culturally diverse congregations of one body; we continue to grow what it means for dominant people groups to let go of
established patterns of how churches function and what are acceptable expressions of music and faith.
The table group conferring and reporting that followed this presentation clearly indicated a desire for Franconia and Eastern District Conferences to continue to work together cooperatively. Conference leadership will now take this strong affirmation to engage in dialogue on developing further ways of working together to forward the Reign of God.
Conference Assembly 2011 found many ways of modeling the values of both conferences. Our conferences worshiped together on Friday evening and heard an inspiring message on Unity and Maturity in the Body of Christ by Dennis Edwards, pastor of Peace Fellowship Church in Washington D.C. The assembly planning team consisted of members of both conferences. The worship teams included individuals from both conferences and represented the diverse languages of our conferences including English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Indonesian and Creole. The Peace and Justice Committee presented Walking in the Way of Peace 2012, a year-long emphasis on the Gospel of Peace that includes Bible study, bridging intercultural boundaries and teaching on becoming salt and light through peace witness. The Ministerial Committees of our two conferences introduced individuals who were credentialed for ministry in the past year. The Saturday afternoon service integrated worship and business in a seamless and inspiring way.
Luke and Dorothy Beidler received the Everence National Journey award, which was presented by Randy Nyce, an Everence Church Relations Representative and a member of the Franconia Conference Board. This issue of Intersections includes an article that celebrates Luke and Dot’s life-long commitment to serve Jesus in whatever way he leads.
Assembly 2011 provided the first opportunity since 1999 for Eastern District Conference and Franconia Conference to come together for business and worship. The blending together of two conferences, different cultures and five languages was both inspiring and energizing. Someone suggested that this experience may be a small glimpse of what Heaven will be like:
After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. (Rev. 7:9)