Tag Archives: Jeff Wright

Encouragement in the Bay

by Jerrell Williams, Associate for Leadership Cultivation

Joshua So, pastor of San Francisco Chinese Mennonite Church, second from left, along with his wife, Anita So, with Steve Kriss, Leadership Minister Jeff Wright, and Jerrell Williams. 

(Reprinted with permission from The Mennonite)

This past week I got the chance to accompany Steve Kriss, Franconia Mennonite Conference executive minister, and Jeff Wright, Franconia Conference Leadership minister, on a trip to San Francisco to visit San Francisco Chinese Mennonite Church (SFCMC). This is a Cantonese-speaking congregation of around 35 members that is considering joining Franconia Mennonite Conference.

After worship, we talked with Pastor Joshua about his expectations of Franconia Conference and how he envisioned the relationship. The theme of encouragement came up repeatedly. Pastor Joshua wanted encouragement and support from Franconia Conference. He wanted to know if Franconia Conference would be in relationship with his church and continue to encourage the members, even though they are far away. If it joins Franconia Conference, SFCMC would be the only Cantonese-speaking congregation in the conference. We attended worship with the congregation and spent a day with Pastor Joshua and Anita, his wife, in the Bay area. The congregation was lively and hospitable; everyone greeted us when we came. We met several members of the congregation during lunch and heard their stories and experiences in the United States.

This experience showed me the importance of encouragement for churches. SFCMC has felt alone for a long time. Its biggest request from us on this trip was that we check in with them and encourage them. Whether we’re there physically or we send them a text on a Sunday morning, they want to know we are praying for them and thinking of them.

Worship at San Francisco Chinese Mennonite Church.

 

Hearing of the needs of this congregation made me think of Paul and how he wrote letters to different churches. These letters sometimes were ones of correction for when the church lost its way, but many of them included words of encouragement to congregations. Paul saw it as important to send encouragement to the church whenever he got the chance.

All churches at times need support and encouragement from other churches. Franconia Conference can play a huge role in encouraging and connecting its congregations. Being a conference isn’t only about keeping churches in order or in line. Most of the work is being willing to be present with them. Churches need to know they are being prayed for, thought of and loved. Sometimes a reminder is all we need.

Leadership Ministers Reflect and Refine

by Stephen Kriss, Executive Minister

For generations, one of the primary tasks of Franconia Conference was to provide leadership accompaniment with congregations and credentialed leaders.  The call to serve as a bishop was a serious call to lead, serve and offer wisdom and counsel.  It was a weighty role.  I grew up with a bishop in my home community in Allegheny Conference and for some of us in Franconia, we remember those days, too.   Our bishop still wore a plain coat on Sundays and he preached long sermons.  I still remember being surprised to see him visiting his sister one day while working on the garden to pick green beans and he was wearing a flannel shirt, conversing (not preaching) and laughing.

For almost a decade now, our conference has framed this work as leadership ministers.  We have attempted to find footing alongside congregations to invite, provoke and accompany during rapid cultural changes.  Our conference is now served by a team of ten leadership ministers: men and women from different generations, with different cultural backgrounds and different language capacities to continue to cultivate God’s dream among our 45 congregations.  It’s a key task and incarnation of what we do together.

Our leadership ministers met the end of March, during what we hope will be the last heavy snowstorm, at Mariawald Retreat Center near Reading to review and reimagine our work together.  Some of us weren’t able to get there due to the snow, so we used Zoom to connect with these colleagues.  Some colleagues left early and some stayed later to wait out the storm.  In the meantime, we enjoyed the lovely and hospitable space of Mariawald, hosted by Catholic nuns from Africa who are now in Berks County as part of their vocation of serving God and the church.  The snow was stunningly beautiful even though we may have been ready to move onto spring.  It was in some ways metaphoric of the difficulty and possibility of doing our work in this time and space.

Together we began the task of refining our work.  We will continue to work around the Conference’s approach to ministry and leadership which is formational, missional and intercultural.  We will continue to align our ministry staff around those ongoing priorities.  We are beginning to work together to understand how to include congregations at our farthest distances now with a staff representative based in California to serve our congregations there.  And we’re evaluating best practices to serve congregations that are close by to us too, sometimes just blocks from where we live or less than a mile from the Conference office at Dock Mennonite Academy.

Franconia staff: (front) Aldo Siahaan, (L to R) Mary Nitzsche, Wayne Nitzsche, Noel Santiago, John Stoltzfus, Jeff Wright, Mike Clemmer, Randy Heacock and Steve Kriss.

I am grateful now for a full staff team after over a year of navigating through changes.   We are beginning to learn together, to laugh, to build deeper trust.  We are leaning in toward our individual gifts and callings recognizing our invitation to serve God in the way of Christ’s peace through our historic and growing community.   As a Conference, we are privileged to be resourced well through ongoing generosity and wise stewardship.   I continue to be grateful for the sense of care and mutuality that we have together and the divine invitation to continued transformation by the power of the Spirit in this journey of faith, hope and love together.

New Members Join the Conference Team

As 1 Corinthians 12:14 states, “For the body is not one member, but many,” and as it is said in Ecclesiastes 4:9, “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labor.” So too, is it with Franconia Conference. Each member of the Franconia Conference team being a vital piece, bringing their gifts and talents to further the work of the Lord. This month Franconia Conference welcomed several new members to the team including two new board members and new staff.

At the March 19 Conference Board Meeting, Yvonne Platts of Nueva Vida Norristown New Life and Cory Longacre of Souderton Mennonite Church were welcomed as new board members. Yvonne was affirmed by board vote. Cory was affirmed by the board to replace the assembly-appointed board member Smita Singh who resigned this past fall. He will therefore be on the ballot at the fall 2018 Assembly for delegate affirmation. Both Yvonne and Cory bring long-standing Anabaptist roots within Franconia Conference and deep connections to their local communities.

Yvonne Platts was baptized at an early age in the Mennonite church and has grown up at Nueva Vida Norristown New Life. Yvonne serves within her congregation on the Enlarging Our Place in Gods World Leadership Team. Her primary work is with Family Services of Montgomery County as a Community Outreach Worker with the Norristown Violence Prevention Initiative, from whom she received the Outstanding Service Award in November 2017.  She is also a member of Roots of Justice Inc. which addresses issues of racism and other oppressions, creating awareness, understanding and knowledge toward building a just society for people groups in churches, organizations, and community. Currently, she is actively working within the Norristown School District to train Circle Keepers for Restorative Justice Peace Circles. Training and equipping community members to become Circle Keepers is a deep passion of Yvonne’s, as she hopes for the establishment of community based alternatives to juvenile detention.

Yvonne is a graduate of The Center for Urban Theological Studies and holds a Master of Science in Restorative Practices and Youth and Family Counseling from The International Institute of Restorative Practices. There is no doubt that Yvonne Platts has a deep drive for peace and justice and will bring her dedication to social justice to her work with Franconia Conference.

Pastor Angela Moyer of Ripple in Allentown and a member of the Conference Board stated that she has volumes of admiration and respect for the work Yvonne does in the community. Executive Minister Steve Kriss says, “Yvonne is well equipped to think and respond in the best interest of the whole of the Conference with her long history at Nueva Vida Norristown New Life.”

Cory Longacre comes to the Conference Board recently finishing his third-and-final three year term on the Souderton Mennonite Church Board where he spent the last three years as chair. Cory grew up at Swamp Mennonite Church,  settling in after college at Souderton with his wife Linda. He first accepted Jesus at Spruce Lake Camp around the age of 13 and was then baptized at age 15 at Swamp. He is a graduate of Dock Mennonite Academy, both the former Penn View Christian School and Christopher Dock Mennonite High School. He also received his Bachelors in Business Management from Eastern Mennonite University where he met his wife Linda, whom he married in 1993. They have 3 children: Olyvia, age 19, Davry, age 15, and Zeke, age 11.

Cory currently co-owns TNC Self Storage and is Fleet Operations Manager at Perkiomen Tours. Previously he spent 20 years with Farm & Home Oil Company where he started in sales, then after 4 years transitioned to management, moving his way to Vice President where he spent several years before ending his time with the company.

“Cory brings a wealth of experience as both a community and business leader. He is both reflective and entrepreneurial — assets for our Conference,” said Steve Kriss.

Cory is grateful for the opportunity to serve.  “I look forward to joining Franconia Conference Board,” he says, “to help guide and discern as our conference continues to grow and evolve while maintaining our Anabaptist values.”

Joining the Franconia Conference in staff roles, are Jeff Wright as a LEADership Minister, Chantelle Todman Moore as Intercultural Leadership Coach, and current LEADership Minister Marta Castillo, who is increasing her time with the Conference and becoming the LEADership Minister of Intercultural Formation.

Jeff Wright will serve as a LEADership Minister, specifically working with Franconia Conference’s three congregations in Southern California: Indonesian Community Christian Fellowship, International Worship Church, and Jemaat Kristen Indonesia Anugerah (JKIA or Grace Indonesian Christian Fellowship). Jeff has served in a dual role as pastor of Madison Street Church, a Brethren-in-Christ congregation in Riverside, California and as president of viaShalom, a small not-for-profit, since 2009. viaShalom is a not-for-profit missional resource agency that currently operates three ministries: commonGood, a local, asset-based community development effort; viaGLobal, which support St. Francis Primary School located in Morsul, Rajshahi in Bangladesh serving approximately 80 Christian families belonging to the Santal minority; and Urban Expression North America, “a consultancy specializing in creating and sustaining urban incarnational experiments, and affiliated with similar ministries across Europe.” Bike and Sol, run by Pastor Scott Roth of Perkiomenville Mennonite Church, is a project of Urban Expression and has worked closely with Jeff. Jeff has also done consultancy work with various congregations both in Franconia and Eastern District Conferences.

Jeff holds a Bachelor of Arts from Tabor College, a Master’s of Divinity from Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary and earned his Masters of Business Administration with a focus in church management from the Graduate Theological Foundation. In addition, he has a Post-graduate Diploma in Applied Theology from Spurgeon’s College in London. He lives in Riverside, California with his best friend/wife Debbie. They have two adult children who he said also married their best friends. Jeff enjoys time with three grandchildren and the “church mascot/beagle-terrier puppy, Madison”, who lives with them and constantly digs up their backyard!

Steve Kriss says, “Jeff has long term relationship working as a Mennonite Church USA Conference leader. His experience and commitment to California and his capacity at developing new leaders will be a gift to our Conference, as we live into our bi-coastal reality.”

Jeff says, “I’m very excited to be part of a larger and diverse team that works collaboratively toward a common vision of being the church. It is a unique privilege to work with Franconia Conference among the new member Indonesian churches in Southern California.”

Chantelle Todman Moore comes to Franconia Conference as Intercultural Leadership Coach, where she will focus her work with our 15 urban congregations, looking at cultivating next generation leaders, focusing on persons age 15-35. She has also been tasked to think about what it takes for persons of color in ministry leadership to flourish and how that can be cultivated within Franconia congregations.

In addition to taking on this role with Franconia Conference, Chantelle is the co-founder of unlock Ngenuity a consulting, coaching and therapy business. She previously served as the Philadelphia Program Coordinator for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and as a Program Director at both Oxford Circle Christian Community Development Association and Eastern University. Chantelle holds a Bachelors of Arts in International Community Development from Oral Roberts University, a Masters of Business Administration in International Economic Development from Eastern University, and is a Qualified Administrator for the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI).

She says she is “passionate about embracing diversity and difference as a gift, seeking justice as a mandate and being moved to act by love.” Chantelle lives in Philadelphia with her spouse, Sam, and their three daughters.

Pastor Aldo Siahaan of Philadelphia Praise Center and a member of the Conference LEADership Minister team was on the board of MCC East Coast at the time of Chantelle’s employment there. He says, “Chantelle is a hard worker, full of creativity and always mixes her work with laughter.”

When asked about bringing Chantelle on in this new role for Franconia Conference, Steve Kriss stated, “Our Conference has become increasingly urban and intercultural over the last decade. Chantelle’s experience in working with urban leaders and congregations will strengthen our capacities in cultivating and accompanying current and emerging leaders. Her energy, honesty, commitment to the church, and willingness to ask hard questions are traits I appreciate about her and look forward to her bringing to her work with Franconia.”

Marta Castillo is not new to the Franconia team, but will be increasing her time. After serving almost five years on the Conference Board, Marta joined Franconia Conference as a LEADership Minister in in 2016, while simultaneously serving as co-pastor at Nueva Vida Norristown New Life.  She stepped away from the position at Nueva Vida in December, as she felt the Spirit leading her elsewhere.  At the time she did not know that “elsewhere” would include increased time with Franconia Conference. The Conference is grateful to have Marta move into the role of LEADership Minister of Intercultural Formation. The daughter of Franconia Conference-rooted mission workers, she has been shaped by all four of the linguistic cultures in Franconia Conference, growing up in both Vietnam and Indonesia. While being a primary English speaker, she lives in a bilingual family and community of English/Spanish speakers.

Marta is committed to prayer, along with active engagement of diverse neighborhoods with the message of Christ’s Good News. She is passionate about the intercultural work of unity in cultural diversity, antiracism, and racial reconciliation. She graduated from Eastern Mennonite College with a major in Elementary Education and is currently taking classes at Eastern Mennonite Seminary. Marta lives in Norristown, PA, with her husband, Julio and two teenage children, Andres and Daniel.

“Marta’s flexibility and linguistic capacity, her depth of spiritual practice and her experience working with pastoral teams combine to make her a uniquely gifted leader in our Conference,” said Steve Kriss.  You can read more about Marta here.

The staff and board of Franconia Conference are well-equipped to continue to lead the Conference into whatever God has in store. As Executive Minister, Steve Kriss stated, “these additions complement an already strongly gifted staff and strengthen our capacity to serve our growing Conference.”

Five Signs of Hope in a 300 Year Old Community

by Stephen Kriss, Executive Minister

At our board retreat last week, our California-based consultant, Jeff Wright, suggested that we are living in a time when we often say, “that hasn’t happened before.”  For a 300 year old Conference community to contend with rapid changes requires flexibility and nimbleness that isn’t always characteristic of mature organizational systems.  However, we are more than an organization; we are the people of God.  This is both a challenge and a hope in times where change is rapid, confusing and often disorienting.  Here are five signs of change we haven’t seen before that give me hope and assure me that even though we don’t know a way, there is a way that the Spirit is working out for our ancient faith to thrive into the future.

  1. The summer ministry internship program that was envisioned by Souderton Mennonite Church pastor Tim Bentch and is staffed by Sarah Freeman from the Souderton congregation is giving opportunities for young adults from our Conference and Eastern District Conference to serve alongside their congregations and in nearby communities to extend the peace of Christ. This year’s group of women and one young man remind me that God is still calling and that opportunities to connect to each other are always around us no matter our neighborhood.
  2. In the last weeks, Bethany Church in Queens, New York officially requested membership with our Conference. We are in the midst of a teaching series on Global Anabaptism with the congregation and I had the privilege of preaching there last month on the centrality of Jesus.   The congregation’s pastor is a full-time Eastern Mennonite Seminary student, Hendy Matahelemual, who brings energy, passion and deep care.  If affirmed as a new member this fall, it will be our Conference’s first worshipping community in New York City.
  3. At our Conference Board Retreat, this past weekend, we spent time praying through the lists of our member churches, our Conference Related Ministries (CRMs) and our nearly 100 active credentialed leaders. Reading these lists reminds me of the gifted leaders, our diverse congregations, and the vibrant ministries that receive support and encouragement mutually through our life together.  It was a bit of an old school practice brought to new life with the diversity of who we are becoming, visible on paper.
  4. Franconia congregation pastor Josh Meyer’s recent doctoral research took a glimpse at the callings of millennial pastors in our Conference community. At this time across Mennonite Church USA, we have one of the highest percentages of younger pastors.  At the end of our morning time together, Josh invited us to pray with the millennial pastors who had gathered that morning at Perkiomenville Mennonite’s Christian Life Center.  The tenderness and care of our experienced pastors as they gathered around the five young pastors who were there was moving and beautiful.
  5. Next week a delegation from our Conference is spending time listening to the congregations in California who have sought to become new members of our Conference. We are seeking to spend some time together, to understand past wounds and to imagine new possibilities.  As we go, we will eat, listen, preach and continue to build on the relationships already established.  What might the Spirit be calling us toward as we consider these bi-coastal relationships?

There is growth and challenge across our Conference community these days.   A new thing is becoming; on a daily basis, I am increasingly aware of it.  At the same time, God’s intention is to continue the transformative work that Christ has done in each of us through these things that haven’t happened before.  There is new possibility, each day, for us to encounter the Risen Christ through the things that haven’t happened before in our world.  And there is assurance that there are things that will remain; faith, hope, love.

You are invited to God@Work…shops!

by John Stoltzfus, Franconia & Eastern District Youth Minister, for the Conference Assembly 2012 workshop planning team

Where is the life of your congregation intersecting with the life of our broader conference fellowship? In what ways are you seeking to grow into the life of the emerging kingdom of God among us? In the new one day schedule for our upcoming Conference Assembly, we each have the wonderful privilege of participating in a workshop addressing a relevant issue and shared mission in our life together as the body of Christ. Everyone, delegates and non-delegates, is invited to consider attending one of these workshops as a way of helping us catch a greater glimpse and vision of what God is doing among us.   We invite you to spread the word in your congregation and invite others to attend both the workshops and the evening worship service.

We hope one of the four offered workshops will be relevant to the needs of your congregational life. We also desire that they give opportunity to build deeper connections with other congregations who are working on the same issues. The workshops will be offered from 10:00-11:30am on the morning of Conference Assembly.  Be sure to register by October 31. We will hold these workshops based on sufficient registration.

It Takes A Congregation…. Restoration, Connection, and Belonging for People with Disabilities

This workshop will focus on how, by including persons who are marginalized, the whole congregation benefits.  Stories of how congregations are responding to people with disabilities including those with autism and intellectual disabilities and veterans with disabilities will be featured. Materials will be provided to enable congregations to focus on belonging for all people.

Presenters:

  • Joe Landis is the founder and Executive Director of Peaceful Living, established in 2000, a not-for-profit agency located in southeastern PA. Peaceful Living serves 80 families in community-based services and offers a congregational coaching program. Joe has been an avid advocate for individuals with intellectual disabilities for 40 years. Joe is a member at Salford Mennonite Church.
  • The coordinator of the Friendship Connection, Loretta Moyer, has been with the program since its start in 2007. Loretta is a member of Rockhill Mennonite Church.
  • Patricia A. Hedrick (B.S. Special Education, M. Ed.), Zion congregation, recently received National Board Teacher Certification as an Exceptional Needs Specialist.  She is currently on sabbatical from her position as a life skills support teacher in the Souderton Area School District. While on sabbatical, she will be studying toward a certificate in Special Education Supervision and working as a volunteer for Peaceful Living.

Missions and New Church Development

This workshop will focus on five areas of missions and new church development:  establishing a prayer-filled missional vision; sustaining and sustainable models of ministry; succession planning; communication; and project-based vs. committee-based funding.

Presenters:

  • Samuel Claudio Jr. is currently the co-pastor of Christ Fellowship Church, Allentown, Pa., an inner-city Anabaptist body of believers seeking to manifest Christ in their community. He has worked as a church planter over the past five years in both the Eastern District Conference and previous ministry areas.
  • With over thirty years of urban ministry experience, Jeff Wright serves as New Church Development Coach and Consultant for the Eastern District Conference of Mennonite Church USA through an arrangement with Urban Expression North America.  Since it was launched in 2009, Urban Expression North America has worked with over thirty urban church planting projects in cities located in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.  Jeff currently resides in Riverside, California.

Music – It’s Not Really a Universal Language

This seminar will focus on the biblical vision for God’s people. It will include practical suggestions on how the church can begin “worshipping its way into God’s future” (Rev. 7) by reflecting on current congregational worship patterns and by developing a keener sense of the global faith family through worship that is transcultural, contextual, counter-cultural, and multi-cultural. Time will be given for group sharing of congregational worship experiences.

Presenter: James R. Krabill served for 14 years as a Bible and church history teacher in West Africa. He is author/editor of various articles and books, including his most recent, Worship and Mission for the Global Church (2012).  He currently serves as Senior Executive for Global Ministries at Mennonite Mission Network.

Believers Baptism:  Faith Formation of Children and Youth

What does faith formation of children and youth with a goal of genuine Believers Baptism look like?  Does faith formation look the same as it did 10 or 20 years ago?  This workshop will highlight several contemporary children and youth ministry models and integrate them into conversations and observations of youth and children within our churches.  This material originates from Angela’s Seminary Capstone Project and she is anticipating not only sharing pieces of her work but also hearing from other voices within the Conference community in regards to this topic. All are welcome to attend including Sunday School class teachers, youth sponsors, pastors, and anyone relating to youth and children.

Presenter: Angela Moyer works on the pastoral team at Ripple-Allentown and as a pediatric occupational therapist (OT) at Good Shepherd Rehab in Allentown, Pa.  She recently moved from Telford to the Zume House (intentional community) in Allentown after graduating from Eastern Mennonite Seminary-PA campus this summer.