Tag Archives: Jim Laverty

Credentialed Leaders Gather to Discuss MCUSA Survey

by Lisa Rand, Bally Mennonite Church

lisa rand 2 cropped 3-26-15Last year, Mennonite Church USA surveyed credentialed leaders on a variety of issues and questions, covering demographics, conferences, the denomination, and the currently difficult issue of attitudes toward homosexuality and the status in the church of individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ). The research, led by Last year, Mennonite Church USA surveyed credentialed leaders on a variety of issues and questions … Conrad Kanagy of Elizabethtown College, offered a glimpse into the perspectives of leaders from coast to coast.

Franconia Conference contracted with Kanagy to provide additional analysis of his material for our conference community. On Saturday, March 14, Kanagy delved more deeply into the data with about three dozen conference pastors at Covenant Community Fellowship in Lansdale.

lisa rand 1 3-26-15The morning’s work began with prayerful worship, with music led by Marilyn Bender (of Ripple Allentown) and Samantha Lioi (Whitehall congregation). John Bender, interim associate pastor at Franconia Mennonite Church, led a guiding reflection. He referred to Romans 14:3, where followers of Jesus are advised not to pass judgment on the servant of another: “Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them.” Bender asked leaders to consider what might result from a daily prayer for oneness, and a concerted effort to see each person as a sister or brother in Christ.

To begin his presentation, Conrad Kanagy invited leaders to consider the wisdom of Paul in Colossians 3:1-15, highlighting Paul’s emphasis on magnanimity, charity, and generosity in relationship with one another. These spiritual values were lifted up throughout the presentation.

“This morning is about understanding what has shaped our differences, the implications of those differences, and where we can go in the future,” said Kanagy. With frankness, he said he was “not even suggesting we can keep living together,” but asserting that we can be kind and gracious.

Leaders recognized this conversation as a beginning, an opening. Even while thanking Kanagy for his time and effort on data analysis, several leaders suggested it might be helpful to invite additional interpretations of the data.

“Surveys are imperfect,” Kanagy acknowledged, “but they bring us around the table together.”

Conference board member Jim Laverty expressed gratitude for Kanagy’s honesty about the cultural differences that separate us.

“He helped me to better appreciate the different worldviews represented in the survey results so that I might better appreciate just how profound these cultural differences are. I felt, overall, that the meeting drew together credentialed leaders from across the spectrum of worldviews and that as we met around round tables that we genuinely desired to listen and understand each other. I was grateful that at my table I could express my concern about how these differences will impact local congregations and how we choose to use or not use our power and influence as leaders to sway the opinion of others,” said Laverty.

Though no specific solutions were proposed, many leaders wondered about Conrad Kanagy’s questions: “What if the Holy Spirit is dismantling the church? What if the structures we have put in place are getting in the way? How can we work with the Holy Spirit?”

Despite the differences among conference leaders, there is critical common ground in the belief that God is active present is in our midst, even in the turmoil caused by feelings of disunity. As we move forward, Laverty suggested “that we equip and train our conference staff especially as they walk with churches who represent a diversity of perspectives. I would also suggest that despite our differences we explore ways to continue to collaborate on our call as a people to participate in God’s mission in the world.”

Franconia Conference gathers to celebrate, pray, confer, listen

Garden Chapel Children's Choir
Garden Chapel’s children’s choir led a rousing rendition of “Our God” at Conference Assembly 2013. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

Franconia Conference delegates and leaders gathered November 2 at Penn View Christian School in Souderton, Pa. to celebrate God still at work.   With a packed auditorium for a third united assembly with Eastern District Conference, representatives gathered to listen and pray, to celebrate newly credentialed and ordained pastoral leaders, and to work alongside one another after an over 150-year rift created two separate Mennonite entities.  The theme “God still @ work” was an extension of the 2012 theme, “God @ work.”

With singing in Indonesian, Spanish, and English led by Samantha Lioi (Peace and Justice Minister for both conferences) and Bobby Wibowo (Philadelphia Praise Center) and translation into Franconia Conference’s worshipping languages, delegates and representatives from nearly all of the Conference’s congregations from Georgia to Vermont gathered to confer around a board-crafted statement on the Conference’s increasing diversity in ethnicity, experiences, faith practice, and expression.   The gathering was punctuated with points of celebration including testimony from Peaceful Living led by Joe Landis and Louis Cowell from Salford congregation, a youth choir from the revitalizing Garden Chapel in Victory Gardens, NJ, and a moment to mark the upcoming November retirement of Franconia Conference Pastor of Ministerial Leadership Noah Kolb after 45 years of ministry, which was met with rousing applause and a standing ovation.

Noah blessing 2013
Noah Kolb was recognized and blessed for 45 years of ministry. He will retire in November. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

In a shortened one-day event, delegates spent the morning together around tables with Eastern District Conference to continue to deepen relationships across conference lines.  Business sessions were separate, and Franconia’s included a significant amount of time in conversations among table groups, conferring over the board statement and then reporting on those conversations to the whole body.  Delegates and representatives were encouraged to mix across congregational lines to better hear and experience the diversity of conference relationships.

For many, including Tami Good, Souderton (Pa.) congregation’s Pastor of Music & Worship, who was attending Conference Assembly for the first time, the table conversations were holy spaces.  Each person at her table was from a different congregation.   “I saw God at work in the gracious listening, especially in the time when we talked about the conferring statement,” Good reflected. “There were disagreements, but everyone was graciously listening and hearing.  Everyone actually wanted to hear each other.  It was a beautiful time.”

The conferring time, along with an afternoon workshop led by the Franconia Conference board, focused on prayer and visioning for the Conference into the future.   Conference board members Jim Longacre (Bally congregation), Rina Rampogu (Plains congregation), Jim Laverty (Souderton congregation), and Klaudia Smucker (Bally congregation) served as a listening committee for the daylong event.  They reported seven themes of consistent and continued conversation: engagement, diversity, shared convictions, authority, polity, the role of conference, and the reality of changing relationships and engagement.  Board members noted that there is much response work to do to continue the conversation and discernment process.

Bruce Eglinton-Woods, pastor of Salem congregation (Quakertown, Pa.), said, “The challenge is speaking clearly on what we believe and where we are at, which is often a challenge for Mennonite leaders. My hope and prayer is that we can trust God and release the idea of keeping it all together. We need to let God do the holding together.”

Franconia Conference delegates spent time conferring and praying together.  Photo by Bam Tribuwono.
Franconia Conference delegates spent time conferring and praying together. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

According to Rampogu, one of the longest standing Conference board members, “the hardest part about this kind of meeting is that there isn’t enough time. We want to share and to talk together,” she said.  “That is a positive sign.  People want to connect.  My hope and prayer is that we keep our goal in mind, keeping our mission focused on equipping leaders to empower others to embrace God’s mission, with Christ in the center and churches focused on missional activity.”

In business sessions, delegates selected a number of positions by 97% affirmation including a 2nd term for conference moderator John Goshow (Blooming Glen congregation) along with board member Beny Krisbianto (Nations Worship Center), as well as ministerial and credentialing committee members Rose Bender (Whitehall congregation), Ken Burkholder (Deep Run East congregation), Mike Clemmer (Towamencin congregation) and Chris Nickels (Spring Mount congregation).   Randy Nyce (Salford congregation) who is completing a term as finance committee chair and board member reported on Conference finances, noting an 11% decrease in financial contributions from congregations.

“I was surprised and pleased that the attendance at Assembly 2013 was so strong; seeing the room filled to capacity was an affirmation of how much the delegates and guests in attendance care for our conference,” Goshow noted.  “Franconia Conference is all of us who are members of our 42 churches and our Conference Related Ministries.  It is my hope and prayer that together we chart a course that will advance God’s Kingdom in exciting and wonderful ways.”

Listen to the podcast.

Conference Assembly 2013 Highlight Video from Franconia Conference on Vimeo.

My journey isn’t over: talking about teen cancer

by Lindsey Laverty, Souderton congregation

Teen Cancer Awareness Night
Teen Cancer Awareness Night included a coffee house of assorted desserts and artwork created by students. (left to right) Christopher Dock students Vanessa Miller, Abigail Anderson, and Melissa Glass.

In February, I was privileged to have my vision for a Teen Cancer Awareness Night come true.  The event was held on February 23 at Christopher Dock Mennonite High School, where I am a junior, in honor of my 19 year old sister Emilee, who passed away on November 1 of dedifferentiated chordoma.

At first, my only hope for the night was that it would inspire people to talk about teen cancer, a topic people generally avoid. As I researched teen cancer further, however, I was shocked to find that teens and young adults with cancer have been ignored. Research shows that when it comes to cancer, the medical field is not quite sure what to do with this age group.

My purpose for the night blossomed into the idea that not only did people need to begin to talk about teen cancer, they needed to learn more about it. Originally, my plan was to have someone from the medical field come talk, but I realized that hearing the facts would not be as helpful as hearing the stories and experiences of teens themselves.

Thus began the process of assembling a student panel, which would act as a voice for all teens with cancer. As I got into contact with students it became clear to me that God had already hand picked them. Each of them had a different perspective, a unique story, and an inspiring message. In the end, the student panel was made up of Chad Burger, a 2012 graduate of Souderton High School who is still undergoing treatment for Ewing’s Sarcoma, Kayla McClanahan, a freshman at Upper Bucks Christian School who lost her sister to brain cancer, Leah Moore, a 2010 graduate of Christopher Dock who was diagnosed with nodular melanoma and is currently cancer free, and myself.

Teen Cancer Awareness Night
(left to right) Lindsey Laverty, Kayla McClanahan, Leah Moore, Chad Burger, and interviewer Jessica Finlayson.

After the event, I had many come up to me and tell me the student panel is what impressed them most. The topics ranged from planned interview questions to audience questions. In fact, the audience was so involved that their questions took more than an hour.  Each student contributed stories, advice, and reflections that I will never forget.

Kayla confronted the belief that because it’s been a year since her sister passed away, she should get over it. “Just because my sister died doesn’t mean that it’s over,” she said.  “My journey isn’t over, it’s still every day.”

Chad encouraged people to be honest with teens that have cancer, saying, “Don’t shy away from things, talking-wise and question-wise.”

Leah expressed how many times when she tried to talk to her friends about how she was doing or what she was feeling, they often seemed uninterested and consumed in their own lives. “They seemed to just want to talk about their lives,” she shared.  “To me that was like, excuse me?” All of us agreed that feeling a sense of normalcy was what we all strived for most.

Teen Cancer Awareness Night was attended by more than 250 people and raised $5000 for cancer research. It went beyond my wildest dreams and I can confidently say it is because of God: He brought together the student panel, the creation and donation of the student artwork, and all the desserts for the coffee house. God blessed the night and, through my work on organizing it, showed me what happens when my passion meets the world’s need.

Find out more about teen cancer at teenslivingwithcancer.org.

Board members visit congregations

by Jim Laverty, Souderton & Rina Rampogu, Plains

Over the past year members of the Franconia Conference Board have been visiting Franconia congregations. During our visits we celebrated each church’s vision and mission, clarified the role of Franconia Conference and communicated the board’s desire to be servants of the conference churches, to stand beside the good work each church is doing for their members and the world and to be accountable to Franconia churches in a new and better way.

We were excited to see what is happening in conference congregations:

  • Collaborative relationships, affinity groups (or learning communities) with churches, Conference-Related Ministries (CRMs) and Partners in Ministry (PIMs).
  • Service to communities through community-building events, sports camps, support groups, pre-school programs, community gardens, and meals.
  • Opportunities for everyone (gender, age, background) to get involved inside and outside of church services.
  • Creative approaches to talking about following Jesus with people from different generations, cultures, ethnicities, and language groups.
  • Effort to get along in the body of Christ, providing mutual aid and support through Sunday School classes and increased participation in small groups.
  • Goal-setting, clarifying and reviewing roles, and aligning budget with vision and values in cooperation with LEAD teams.
  • Solid lay and pastoral leadership. Strong preaching, prayer ministry and blended worship in the spoken-language of the congregation.

Some of the challenges that congregations are facing:

  • Financial limitations, decrease in giving, and learning how to grow people who will commit to being generous with their time, talents, and treasure.
  • Fluctuation in worship attendance and coming to terms with what it means to be in fellowship with people coming and going on a regular basis as well as a loss of membership due to relocation.
  • Understanding the changing nature of our world.
  •  Communicating stories of what God is doing in congregations while respecting people’s privacy. Learning how to communicate across the generations.
  • Building community when congregation and community are made up of people who speak different languages.
  • A need for support and advocacy in facing changing immigration policies and their implications (worship service times, hospital visitation, transportation).
  • Unemployment among church members. Dealing with conflict in relationships (separation, divorce).

We discussed what it will take to continue to build confidence toward Franconia Conference:

  • Modeling healthy approaches to dealing with major conflicts and crisis. Encouraging unity in diversity.
  • Clear communication. Relational face-to-face meetings with members of conference and board.
  • Ongoing relationship with LEAD minister and guidance in pastoral searches, staff reviews, and conflict mediation.
  • Fostering relationship with CRMs.
  • Offering a prophetic voice to help us to see God at work in the world in a positive way and to witness to the world about what the body of Christ is.

We discussed what confidence will look like:

  • Celebrate the ways that diverse congregations can share in what they have in common, dialoguing on critical issues.
  • Encourage better connections (such as pulpit supply) and partnerships (such as church planting mentors) between urban, suburban and rural congregations
  • Recognize Conference Related Ministries and their missional value.
  • Clarify the rationale for introducing LEAD and the concept of the E3-vision for churches in Vermont and other locations that aren’t close to the conference offices.
  • Tell more stories to fan the flames of how Franconia Conference is living out our vision and values.
  • Train congregations in children and youth ministries as well as worship (such as blended music during worship services).
  • Provide financial aid for documented and undocumented students who have been accepted into Mennonite and non-Mennonite institutions of higher education.
  • Incorporate more non-ethnic (non-Swiss German) Mennonites into leadership positions.

Congregations expressed appreciation for the ongoing support they have received from Franconia Conference in areas of leadership development, provision of meaningful learning and sharing opportunities for pastors and leaders, and for being a point of contact for ongoing pastoral resources.