Tag Archives: Jessica Walter

Climbing on: A farewell of gratitude and hope

Jessica Walter, Ambler

As I prepared to write this, my last editorial for Intersections, I decided I needed to look back at some of the writing I have done for Franconia Conference in my almost four years of work and ministry here.

I began the writing portion of my work with an article in the now retired MennoLife. I wrote about how my faith and calling journey had been like rock climbing. My journey was one of questions and confusion and while I would cry out for help on what my next move, or hold, should be I often wouldn’t listen to God’s answer. Taking the leap of faith to grab ahold of the opportunity to work at Franconia was a move toward listening for me, one I have been greatful for.

Since that first article and those first few months of work I have gained many valuable experiences and knowledge. Franconia Conference not only hired me to work with communication and leadership cultivation it also invested in my leadership. I could not have asked for a better place to explore my leadership gifts, develop useful skills and contribute to the equipping of other leaders both young and old. I have felt truly valued and respected despite my age.

And as I spent time here my journey, my rock climb, became less confusing and some questions were answered. I am leaving my post at Franconia Conference with a better sense of who God is calling me to be, answered questions or not.

It is fitting that this issue largely features stories of ministries that have begun to take root throughout the conference because though I am leaving my role at Franconia my roots in the larger conference community run deep.

So deep that I am about to begin work in two ministries connected to Franconia Conference. In June I will become both the manager of Care and Share Thrift Shoppes’ soon to be opened bookstore and an Outreach Minstry Enthusiast/Pastor of Ambler Mennontie Church.

Like the beginning harvest at Living Hope Farm I have been harvested from the soil here at Franconia Conference to be re-planted in the larger community.

Like Rose Bender, God has used many hands to help mold, shape and guide me over the last four years of my life. Interactions with pastoral leadership throughout the conference, visits to many congregations, representing conference and young adults to the larger Mennonite Church, and aid in exploring seminary education have all shaped the creativity, hospitality, and hope that informs my leadership.

Like Lorie Hershey couldn’t have imagined she would be an ordained minister ten years ago I couldn’t have imagined that I would become both a store manager and pastoral leader. And yet the opportunities I have gained from my term at conference have prepared me for these new roles.

During my time at Franconia Conference two passages in the New Testament have shaped my faith and calling journey. Matthew 22: 37-40 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

And Matthew 13: 31-32 Here is another illustration Jesus used: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed planted in a field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of garden plants; it grows into a tree, and birds come and make nests in its branches.

I leave Franconia Conference with the hope that we all will continue to invest in the leadership of young adults, to remember that its the small steps toward change and growth in our congregations that stick, to love God with all of ourselves and to let that love radiate out into love of ourselves and others and to plant the Kingdom of Heaven one mustard seed at a time.

After the earthquake: Working to bring healing and hope to Haiti

Jessica Walter, Ambler

some-of-orphans-at-orphanag-copy.jpgIn the weeks and months following the massive earthquake sustained by Haiti in January, Franconia Conference continues to collect funds to assist the Grace Assembly Network congregations in the rebuilding and reconstruction following the Haiti earthquake.

In the days following the earthquake, communication with key Grace Assembly Network leader, Pastor Lesly Bertrand, was limited, but phone calls and a visit form Mennonite Central Committee staff assured the conference of his and his family’s well-being.

Many also waited anxiously for word from the 27 member team from Souderton (Pa.) Mennonite Church who traveled to Haiti for a week long service trip with the Water for Life program located in Passe bois d’orme and the Tree of Life program in La Baleine, Haiti. The team was escorted to safety after the intial earthquake and, in the days that followed, was able to provide some medical relief in a small makeshift refugee village in Cote de Fer. The team returned to Pennsylvania safely on January 18, after an only a few days extension.

“I will never forget arriving in Port-au-Prince before the earthquake and going through the city,” reflected Christopher Dock Mennonite High School senior, Jordan Miller, during a sharing time at Souderton Mennonite. “When the earthquake struck on Tuesday, we had no idea of the magnitude of the situation. It never really hit me until we went back through Port-au-Prince and saw the same places. The destruction was terrible and it was hard to see the fairness of the earthquake happening to an already poor nation. Many of the Haitians in Passe bois d’orme were still praising God with the same vigor after the earthquake, which was really impacting. Their relationship with God was amazing and it gave me a new sense of how to worship. I like to think I have faith in God, but you never really know until it is put to the test, like it was for the Haitians who had lost family and friends, and had little reason to keep on praising God. They did anyway.”

Pastors Aaron Durso and Curt Malizzi from the Hopewell Network of Churches set out to Port-au-Prince on January 22 to learn more about the earthquake’s effects on Grace Assembly Network’s congregations and ministries. Franconia Conference sent a satellite phone with the pastors, to be delivered to Pastor Lesly to help establish more regular contact. The phone was intended to empower Pastor Lesly in his work and ministry by opening doors for conversation that would allow movement of goods and lifting of spirits as the recovery continues in Port-au-Prince.

section-of-security-wall-co-copy.jpgFrom Curt Malizzi . . . “On Saturday, January 23, we toured the site of the Grace Assembly Network orphanage and found the building to be perfectly preserved, but the perimeter security walls had two large sections fallen down and some additional walls leaning.”

To our surprise, as we arrived at the orphanage, a truck of donated food supplies arrived from the Mennonite congregations of the Dominican Republic coordinated through Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). There was much joy in the area and a first food distribution was held for the area people.”

The well at the orphanage keeps running every day to supply water to around 2,000 people. The orphanage is in the Bellanton area which is about 18km northeast of Port au Prince. In the Bellanton area I estimate that about 25% (1 of every 4) of the houses have been demolished or seriously damaged by the earthquake. The Bellanton church building and school suffered much damage, but the Christian believers showed they are staying strong in the Lord with a wonderful celebration of praise on Sunday morning attended by us and the MCC delegation. Thanks to Franconia Conference, a satellite phone was temporarily provided for Pastor Lesly to maintain outside the nation contacts until the cell phone towers began working again.”

The immediate needs are to help reconstruct the security walls and reoccupy the orphanage, then to reconstruct some of the church buildings and pastors’ houses. We appreciate and thoughts and prayers for the people of Haiti and especially the 1,500 people of the Grace Assemblies churches in Haiti.”

Mennonite Central Committee continues to partner with Grace Assembly to bring healing and hope to Haiti. Another shipment of canned meat was distributed by Grace Assembly Network through MCC in early February.

Congregations and individuals from across Franconia Conference continue to be involved in providing relief and support to Haiti.

Franconia Conference gathered funding to support Dr. James Conrad, of Blooming Glen Mennonite Church, in joining a medical team to Haiti coordinated by Virginia Mennonite Missions and MCC. The Souderton congregation has raised support for Haiti through collecting offerings, four person (or larger) tents, relief kits and bedding for MCC and holding a benefit concert on March 20th.

The earthquake halted the distribution of 3.1 million deworming pills delivered to Haiti by the Worm Project but the pills are now being administered again. During this time of limited clean water and food resources parasite removal is crucial. The Worm Project is now preparing to ship three million more pills to Haiti. For more information contact Claude Good at cgood@franconiaconference.org.

MCC continues to post regular updates on their relief efforts in Haiti, including their work with Grace Assembly Network. To get the most updated information visit www.mcc.org.

Franconia Conference continues to actively solicit contributions toward the ministry of Grace Assembly Network in this critical time for our brothers and sisters in Haiti.

Fashioned after Christ: Life after the altar call

franconia-153.jpgJessica Walter, Communication and Leadership Resources Manager

Over the last few years I’ve asked and been asked the following question: What comes after “being saved”?

I grew up with a theology that centered almost completely around the salvation experience. Over and over again I was told that what really mattered was whether or not I had committed my life to the Lord, so much so that I often questioned my own salvation. Long after I had made the choice to follow Christ and “accept him as my Lord and Savior” I would continually feel drawn to respond to altar calls. Eventually a voice inside me said, “Enough already, when will you ever feel completely perfect in your faith? The answer is never and responding to every altar call won’t change that.”

In that moment I realized I was missing an element of Christianity and I started to look for it. Soon I began to better understand faith as a journey and salvation not as the destination but rather a part of the beginning.

I discovered that discipleship comes after salvation and began looking at Christ’s relationships with his disciples with more probing eyes. This helped me see how Christ meets us where we are and then nudges, sometimes shoves, us forward. Suddenly I encountered discipleship in a more meaningful way.

In Chris Nickel’s reflection on Harold S. Bender’s The Anabaptist Vision he notes Bender’s explanation of the early Anabaptists’ understanding of discipleship as “a concept which meant the transformation of the entire way of life of the individual believer and of society so that it should be fashioned after the teachings and example of Christ.”

Our theological ancestors understood that when you welcomed the transforming power of Christ’s salvation into your life that it was the beginning of a commitment to walk the journey, to “fashion” your life after Christ.

In Matthew 25: 31-46 Jesus tells us how the Son of Man will come and separate the people of all nations to his left and right; judging them by whether they gave the hungry food, the thirsty a drink, welcomed the stranger, clothed the needy, looked after the sick and visited those in prison. “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters, you did for me.’ (verse 40)”

In these verses Christ outlines some of the expectations he has for his disciples. Bender later notes that the early Anabaptists’ also understood discipleship as the “outward expression of the inner experience.” The following pages of Intersections are filled with the stories of fellow disciples who are expressing their salvation and fulfilling the Matthew 25 expectations.

A congregation is providing financial “water” those who are experiencing the current economic “drought” through raising support for families who have recently lost their livelihoods.

Behind prison walls, inspired disciples are defying past barriers centered around fear to visit those in prison. They are finding a people hungry for a different way of life.

Immigrant disciples who share the bond of being strangers in a new land are providing each other with hospitality. Worshiping and fellowshiping together despite the distance between them.

Those who have heard the cry of the hungry, starved by intestinal worms, are working together to combat the parasite, hoping someday to rid the world of it’s existence.

Men and women are standing up for the children in their neighborhoods, speaking and acting against gun violence so that their neighbors have a chance to life long and full lives.

A dedicated disciple reflects on her years of leadership at Franconia Conference. She has seen its members through many changes and has empowered and provided space for many other disciples along the way.

These are a few examples of the many ways we live, transformed by our faith, as disciples. What are the Matthew 25 stories that surround and inspire you? How is your life being fashioned after the teachings and example of Christ?

Exchanging a free meal for a listening ear: Worm Project shares stories and inspires action

worm-project-3-copy.jpgJessica Walter, Communication and Leadership Resources ManagerOver a meal of well seasoned red beans and rice in a packed banquet hall more than 200 people sat down to hear about the work Claude Good and the Worm Warriors are doing to fight the infestation of intestinal worms that plague whole populations of children and adults across the planet.After all had a chance to enjoy the free meal and the company around their tables Good began the presentation on the Worm Project with a story of how his mother prayed that baby Claude would one day become a missionary. With a thankful spirit he asked, “Where would I be if my mother had not prayed that prayer?”The Worm Warriors then shared their stories of how they came to know Good and how they are fighting intestinal worms all over the world.The Worm Warriors who were able to attend the event included Andrew Crawford of Food for the Hungry, Howard Schiffer of Vitamin Angels, Dr. Priscilla Benner and Dr. Herman Sagastume of the MAMA Project, Sid Gholson of WOW (Wipe Out Worms) Now, Carol and Jeff Morgan of Change a Life International, and Gary Delp a member of Blooming Glen Mennonite Church and fund-raising volunteer for the Worm Project.Andrew Crawford began his portion of the presentation by awarding Good and Franconia Mennonite Conference with a plaque from Food for the Hungry for Good’s efforts to fight intestinal worms.Many stories and facts were shared about malnutrition not only in third world countries but also in the US. Plans for future distributions were also presented.Shiffer recalled his first encounters with Good and noted his respect for Good’s unreasonableness when it comes to fighting hunger.Dr. Benner shared the story of the malnurishment of a young girl named Abuole who’s mother unwittingly contributed to her debilitating disease due to lack of food and by following unhealthy traditional practices.The Morgans inspired the crowd with their determination to not only get rid of worms in Peru but also to find one plant that would feed everyone in the country.By the end of the evening $9,481 was raised for The Worm Project. Good expects more to come in as the month goes on. Good also noted that there was a 1/3 increase in attendance from last fall’s dinner and that the average donation check was almost 40% greater in spite of the current economic situation.Because Food for the Hungry pays for and handles all shipping expenses, all monies raised will go directly to purchasing the de-worming medication, Albendazole. So far this event has raised enough money to purchase 616, 200 treatments. According to research roughly five pounds of food is saved from worms with every six month treatment. So far this event has saved over 3 million pounds of food.When you ask Good how the Worm Project began and how all the Worm Warriors came together he opens with a wide smile and a joyful laugh saying, “I think that was a God thing.”

Kingdom Builders and MCC partner to meet building needs

img_2202.jpgJessica WalterKingdom Builders Anabaptist Network of Greater Philadelphia, in partnership with Mennonite Central Committee’s (MCC) Philadelphia office, has launched Kingdom Builders Construction a new renovation and construction project for the various Anabaptist churches and ministries in Philadelphia.Dan Umstead, a Spring City, Pa., resident and recent Eastern University graduate, will serve the Kingdom Builders and MCC Philadelphia office for the next two years as project coordinator of Kingdom Builders Construction. Dan is an experienced volunteer construction team leader and jobsite foreman. He has worked in areas affected by Hurricane Katrina and in the Dominican Republic.J. Fred Kauffman, MCC Philadelphia Program Coordinator, explained that this building project started very quickly beginning with a discussion of the needs of many churches and ministries in Philadelphia and an inquiry on available positions with MCC from Dan. “In a period of about a month we went from nothing to enough work to say let’s go,” said Fred.Along with immediately taking on the role of building caretaker at Franconia Conference Related Ministry Philadelphia Mennonite High School (PMHS), Dan will also work on renovating Philadelphia Praise Center’s basement to add a kitchen, renovating Oxford Circle Mennonite Church’s new building, renovating Vietnamese Mennonite Church’s fourth floor, helping a newly developing Ethiopian church purchase and renovate a building for their congregation and working with several city-based Anabaptist community ministries to assist in renovating the homes of community members in need.“Kingdom Builders Construction (KBC) is now in full swing aiding the Philly churches in their rehab projects,” says Dan, who is now a few months into the project. “KBC is actively working with Oxford Circle Mennonite Church doing a large scale remodel and has a full schedule for the next few months, between jobs with Philadelphia Praise Center, Cross Roads Community Center, and the Vietnamese Mennonite church – we will be very busy.”In addition Dan will solicit and coordinate volunteer groups to assist him in the renovation and construction projects.“All the work done by KBC is facilitated through volunteers and they are the heartbeat of this project,” notes Dan. He is making a wide appeal to all local church groups, including youth groups on up to older groups, to come and spend a week or so with him in Philadelphia building and renovating in these projects.“Through pulling volunteers from within the city as well as the outlying areas KBC has been already been a catalyst for forming relationships.”In the future Dan will also be holding construction and home improvement workshops open to all interested and a Friday Elective Service Learning class for PMHS.The congregations employing Dan have already committed funds toward the project and Fred was very excited to note that Kingdom Builders and MCC Philadelphia has already received more than half of the money needed to fund this initiative. The project’s biggest needs now are tools, funding for operating expenses and volunteers.For more information on Kingdom Builders Construction and on volunteering contact Dan Umstead at 610-574-2959.

Signs of inspiration and frustration: Wise observations from “the edges”

Jessica Walter, Associate for Communication and Leadership Cultivation

img_1441.jpgIn Linford Stutzman’s opening article he states, “While considerable effort by denominational leaders may be directed towards managing the resources from the institutional center of the denomination, it is the edges that are the most exciting, that have the most potential for either authentic renewal or colossal failure, just like all faith movements in Scripture and history demonstrate.”

These “edges”, or margins, have been identified as urban and racial/ethnic congregations as well as non-cradle Mennonites (or new Anabaptists) and young adults. In seeking to give a voice to some of these marginal perspectives I interviewed two new Anabaptist women from West Philadelphia Mennonite Fellowship (WPMF). I asked them what drew them to WPMF and the Mennonite church, where they saw hope in WPMF and what lessons they thought the broader Mennonite church could learn from WPMF.

Julie Prey Harbaugh, who was raised in the United Church of Christ, connected with Frazer Mennonite Church while attending Eastern University. “During college, my awareness was being raised about peace and justice issues of many kinds, but particularly in urban environments and with regard to feminist issues. I found myself at home with the Anabaptist theology embraced at Frazer, as well as the sense of community the congregation fostered. I have stayed Mennonite because I continue to appreciate how Mennonites act on our faith, particularly when it comes to caring for those in need in our communities, but also as we promote justice beyond our immediate sphere.”

Lynn Wetherbee grew up attending a megachurch she describes as rooting its identity in “Broadway-style drama performances and Billy Graham-style evangelistic emphasis.” Recently, after spending more than ten years as a lay leader of a small urban Presbyterian (PCUSA) congregation, she began to “feel awkward” as her theology began to develop and change while she was in seminary. “About eight months ago, my husband, our four children and I began attending WPMF. I was drawn to WPMF because I knew it to be a congregation that cares actively about peace and social justice. I wanted to participate in a faith community in my neighborhood, so that my life can naturally overlap with the lives of others from my faith community on a routine basis. I continue to be inspired by the ways I see members of WPMF living out their vision and values, and the way they seek to incorporate their Mennonite identities into their work, relationships and lives. I also continue to experience WPMF as a safe, caring community for my own ever-developing spirituality, and that of my family. ”

Julie is also inspired by the vision and values of WPMF, “I am excited about the direction of our church. I sense a deepening of the grace we are able to show to one another and accept from one another. I am always struck by the beauty of how we care for each other in times of need, and I am encouraged by how we affirm one another in the various ways we work for the ‘shalom of our city.’”

Julie sees WPMF’s deep grace and beautiful care for those in need as lessons the larger Mennonite church could learn from WPMF. She also marks the congregation’s openness to those with questions (sometimes controversial) and willingness to give leadership to people, even if they are new, as lessons the broader church could learn. The ability of WPMF to give opportunities for leadership to its congregation was a great attraction for Lynn and her family, “There are many faces and voices each Sunday morning that lead the congregation through our time together, and these faces and voices are often different from week to week.”

Lynn sees this shared leadership of Sunday morning as well as WPMF’s practice of inclusiveness and belonging, in language, worship and community involvement, as lessons WPMF has to share with the broader Mennonite church.

Julie and Lynn both noted faulty power dynamics as issues they struggle with in the broader Mennonite church. Julie noted that churches, in general, would do well to be a place where “challenging issues people ordinarily hide” could be shared and addressed and where leadership was held accountable to “our ideals of servant leadership and ‘power-with’ instead of ‘power-over.’”

“More than any other religious community in which I’ve been active, family heritage appears to be a factor in the Mennonite world,” notes Lynn. “So I fear that to some degree I might always be an outsider here, although I haven’t experienced exclusion at WPMF. But as a seminary graduate who is beginning to think about professional church leadership in this denomination, I wonder how much my lack of Mennonite cultural or family roots will impact my full inclusion into the larger denomination.”

As a young woman who grew up in the Mennonite church I share both the inspiration and frustration of these “new Anabaptists.” It is my prayer that as we begin to hear these voices from “the edges” that we not only listen but that we also act on their words of wise observation.

Inspired to connect and engage: Reminding us of who we are

Jessica Walter, Salford

jess.jpgAt this year’s Conference Assembly delegate responses to the Vision and Financial Plan update got the wheels in my head turning. I heard affirmations and frustrations, encouragements to continue the good work and challenges to do better in several areas. One of my co-workers heard a delegate exclaim, after attending the weekend assembly and interacting and conducting business with fellow conference members and staff, “Oh, so this is what conference is!”

I heard this as an encouragement—as part of the planning team for Conference Assembly it tells me I did my job well. But in my work as editor of Intersections—it’s a challenge, suggesting that I need to work harder at building the connections within this publication. So I’d like to share with you why Franconia Conference produces the publication that you are reading.

is tasked in reminding us all, as part of Franconia Conference, about who we are and how we are participating in and extending the Good News. In each issue there are articles with a re-occurring theme, like the “Call & Response” stories that invite newly credentialed leaders to share how God has led them to their current positions. Conference Related Ministries contribute reflections on the good work they are doing in and for our congregations and communities. You will also find articles of response and learning from events and interactions, like Pastor Charles Ness’ reflection on a recent gathering of Swiss and US Anabaptist leaders and the opening article on Conference Assembly.

Intersections is also meant to inspire and challenge. The masthead of Intersections states that this newsletter holds “stories of invitation to walk in the path of Jesus.” Richard Moyer’s article invites us to think critically about what Christians believe in times of war. Blaine Detwiler’s final contribution to the series on “The Seven Core Convictions that Global Mennonites Share” takes us to the unfamiliar Christmas traditions of an orthodox church and asks: What keeps us, as people, apart from each other?

intersections.jpgFinally, Intersections is meant to encourage us to engage each other. Every article, as long as it is available, includes it’s author’s congregation and email address. We include these pieces of information to provoke an ongoing conversation that each article begins. Next time an article inspires or challenges you, why not email the author and tell them what you liked or invite the author to meet for coffee and further conversation? Intersections also includes contact information for our Conference Related Ministries. This is not only a great way to get in touch with these ministries and learn about what they do but its also an opportunity to find ways, like volunteering, that you can be a part of the work they do for us all. Intersections also often includes information on ways to connect and contribute to the work of fellow conference members. For example, the March 2008 issue included an article about the Missions Operational Grants available to congregations who want to try new initiatives to find new and creative ways to engage others, seeking ways to reach out to their communities or to people around the globe. Each recipient of these grants will be asked to submit a reflection on these initiatives in future issues.

It is my hope that every time you read an issue of Intersections you are not only reminded that this is who and what the conference is, this is who and what you are a part of, but that you are also inspired enough and challenged to engage each other and the opportunities available “to walk in the path of Jesus.”

A reflection from the border: Of communion, giants and yeast

communion.jpgDo you realize you’ve just politicized your faith? Jason’s question struck me as it made profound sense. Of course I knew that taking communion from a Mexican brother through the border fence between California and Mexico was a customs violation and I was therefore breaking the law. I just hadn’t connected the fact that my decision to commit an act of civil disobedience by taking part in a religious tradition was therefore also a political act of faith.

I joined my friend and Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference colleague Jason Evans and other members of the Ecclesia Collective in San Diego’s Friendship Park that bright Sunday afternoon on World Communion Day knowing that I’d be breaking a law. Why? The righteous answer is that I did it because I was seeking to bring exposing light to the dark and increasing injustices of our country’s immigration policies. The personal answer is that I did it for my friends here in Philadelphia who struggle with immigration issues everyday, adding stress and fear to already busy lives.

If I’m truthful I knew what I was going to do long before I stepped foot in San Diego earlier that week. In my search for cheap travel reading I raided the magazine racks at the Conference Center and happened across Christian Century’s October 8th issue. This issue just so happened to include an article written by Pastor John Fanestil, the man officiating communion services at Friendship Park for several months. As I read his article on my way to California goosebumps ran down my arms. Suddenly what I would be doing on Sunday became very real and I was aware that if the Border Patrol so chose, I could be arrested for taking communion through the fence. In an instant Jennifer Knapp’s simple version of the Lord’s Prayer, entitled “Hallowed” which we sang this year at Franconia Conference Assembly, played in my head and I was calm.

In actuality the risk of arrest was slim to none. The Border Patrol stayed a good 50 yards back from the crowd of around 100 people participating in the sacrament and did not disturb us even once. Even the forceful group of Minutemen, who had harassed participants in weeks before, stayed away on World Communion Day.

So why bother with such a small act in the face of such an insurmountable giant? Pastor Fanestil began his vigil soon after he learned that despite public protest Friendship Park will be shut down for public access in the near future. In place of the chain link fence, which replaced a mere chain in the 70s, three wall-like fences, with service roads in between, will be erected. No longer will people be able to visit family and friends through the fence, no longer will global Christians be able to face each other across the border and break bread together.

communion-2.jpgJason helped officiate this service because he wishes to expose the racism that is inherent in immigration restrictions and anti-immigrant attitudes. In his blog response to the World Communion Day service, entitled The Body, The Blood, The Border, Jason revealed a more personal encounter with the racism embedded in the anti-immigrant attitudes that he grew up with. He looks back at his own beliefs and actions towards the Hispanic migrant farmers who lived nearby with dismay.

A June article in Sojourners magazine about young American Christians finding their own way in expressing their faith happened to address the issue of racism in immigration policy. The article’s author, Amy Green, followed Rusty Poulette, program director at Gainesville, Florida’s Presbyterian and Disciples of Christ Student Center, as he met with his church in a pub, over dinner and during a Sunday evening contemplative service. One of those meetings the group discussed a recent trip to Arizona where they engaged an ecumenical group of ministry leaders working to address immigration issues. “Those who participated in the trip,” reported Green, “compared the outreach [to immigrants] to the illegal but moral service Christians provided to African Americans in the late 1800s as they fled slavery through the underground railroad.”

Our Mennonite forefathers and mothers spoke against slavery when they first arrived here in the US some 300 years ago and later on there were many Mennonites who participated in the underground railroad. They committed illegal acts, some as small as helping one person find freedom, against the giant of slavery because they believed they were doing the right and faithful thing. In the Parable of the Yeast Christ tells us that the kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman works though a large amount of dough until it has permeated the whole batch. I committed the small act of accepting communion through the border fence because I believe in the yeast like power of the kingdom of heaven to spread though one voice, one action, one life committed to faithfully follow Jesus Christ.

What good is anger?

Jessica Walter, jwalter@franconiaconference.org

“What good is anger?” I wondered as I participated in the Damascus Road Anti-Racism Process. I often avoid situations that I know will provoke my anger and agitation. For example, I haven’t watched the movie “Crash” yet because I know it will leave me feeling angry and helpless toward the injustices our society perpetuates. This combination of emotions only leads me to one thing…retreat from the world around me so that I can find a way to recover. But there’s got to be something positive I can do with this emotion of anger, right?

I’m angry for good reason…I’m angry at the injustices of racism, a social construct that was created and/or promoted whether intentionally or not by my ancestors. I’m angry that this social construct has stripped away the valuable cultural resources of my Irish and German heritage only to leave a white American identity that is wrapped up in oppressive conformity devaluing those who are not “white.” I’m angry that I have unknowingly participated in the systemic racism of our society. I’m angry that people I care about are constantly oppressed and that it feels as if there is nothing I can do to truly relieve that oppression.

I have often felt disempowered–as an introvert I felt like the underdog at times out-shined by peers whose extroversion was valued over my quiet steadfastness. But going through this anti-racism process helped me become more aware of just how much power I do have…I am in a position that asks me to tell the stories of 43 churches and 24 ministries, to help shape the types of leadership training provided for the leaders of these churches and ministries and to build relationships with and provide resources for young leaders across the country. I realize that I have more opportunity to influence than I ever imagined I could as a teenager. Though I have struggles to be heard as a young woman leader in the Mennonite Church I have to acknowledge that my voice is more likely to be heard in the broader society than that of my Black, Latina or Asian counterpart.

The weekend after I participated in Damascus Road I headed to Seattle, Wa. to attend “The New Conspirators: What in the world is God doing?”, a gathering of practitioners from four new streams of “renewal” in the church: Emerging, Missional, New Monastic and Mosaic. All but Mosaic are largely expressions of renewal in Euro-centric North American, United Kingdom, Australian and New Zealand realities. That is not to downplay the leaps and bounds each of these streams contributes toward bringing the Kingdom that Jesus spoke about into our current earthly reality.

The Mosaic stream however is a largely urban movement of new churches with a missional bent started by young leaders looking for a more multi-cultural church. These churches are young, diverse and often influenced by hip-hop culture in worship expressions.

On Saturday morning of the conference, Pastor Efrem Smith, co-author of “The Hip Hop Church” and Senior Pastor of Sanctuary Covenant Church in Minneapolis, Mn., shared with us how Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of the “Beloved Community” requires a “Beloved Church.” Pastor Smith stuck it to his mostly white audience speaking on the issues of systemic racism I had just reflected on the weekend before. I sat amazed at how God was bringing my experiences together full circle.

“We have got to embrace and live in to our identity as God’s Beloved!!” he proclaimed. “Forget about trying to get your ‘white card’! Women, forget about trying to get your ‘man card’! We have lost so much of our selves and our cultures trying to all be alike when our only true identity is that of God’s Beloved!”

It was all I could do to hold back the tears coming to my eyes as Pastor Smith’s words spoke into my life. Suddenly I realized my response to “what good is anger?”

Anger is good when it makes you aware of things you hadn’t seen or could easily ignore before and motivates toward positive action. Moved by that sense of anger and loss, I will seek to embrace and re-discover my cultural heritage from the men and women who traveled from Ireland and Germany to escape religious persecution. With my anger, I will acknowledge that I do have power and influence and seek to promote and create possibilities for the variety of under-privileged and under-heard voices around me. More importantly with my anger I will remember that my identity lies in being God’s Beloved and will empower others to acknowledge their own identity as God’s Beloved.

What is missional, anyway?

What is missional, anyway? Is that really the right question? I mean, let’s break it down: the question implies that we don’t know what missional is. I think that’s more right than many would like to admit, myself included. But the inability to grasp missional is understandable. I spent half an hour today using Google’s search engine to find an easily understandable definition of the word “missional” and was sent down about five bunny holes before I gave up. Its not easily explained and I wonder why that is; perhaps it’s because asking what missional means is the wrong question. If so, then what is the right question?

A few weekends ago I took a trip to the northwest coast to attend the annual bi-national Mennonite young adult retreat, held this year at Oregon’s Drift Creek Camp. The theme of this year’s gathering was “What is missional anyway?” Our speakers were Mary Lou and Rusty Bonham, former pastors and missionaries and current developers of a community-based expression of faith in Portland, Oregon called Old Growth. The Bonhams challenged that thematic question during our first session. They proposed that by the end of the weekend we would have another question to replace this faulty one.

In fact, the whole weekend was one of questions: What are incarnational opportunities I have been overlooking? What would church look like if Sundays (church, the building, the services, the pastors) were reinvented? Am I living in a way that is reconciled with God, myself, others, and creation? Am I mechanically missional (lacking passion and intimacy with God)? How congruent is my lifestyle with my stated beliefs? Where am I challenged to more radically live what I say I believe?

I want people to know what missional is because I have seen and heard the beauty of that word. Missional is realizing that salt clumped together tastes nasty but if you mix it in well, throughout the batter, it adds just the right and needed seasoning. Missional is a church community that realizes that inviting people in to their church building isn’t really working so they go out and become church in their community. Missional is a person who doesn’t approach his neighbor as someone who needs to be saved but rather as one who can offer him just as much as the neighbor could offer back.

Saturday evening, as we were finishing up our sessions for the weekend, the “right” question was revealed to us: What is God’s mission and how can I be a part of it, anyway? I had heard this question before in conversations on the meaning of missional. I often wish that we would rephrase our conversation this way instead of getting caught up in the trendy church lingo of missional. What God’s mission is and how we can be a part of it is the real issue.

What is God’s mission for us, our neighbors, our community, our city, our state, our country, and the world? And how can we be a part of this mission? These are the questions I hope we can all ask ourselves and work to find the answers to, no matter how uncomfortable those answers may be.