Tag Archives: Jim Longacre

Representing Jesus in West Virginia / Representando a Jesús en West Virginia

(Desplácese hacia abajo para español)

by Andres Castillo

Micah Kratz and Nicole Gourley prepare a wall for siding at the home near Jenkinjones, WV. (Photo by Adriana Santiago, posted on MCC SWAP Facebook page)

It took three days to dig the ditch that would divert water away from Gary, West Virginia homeowner Lucretia Ford’s house, but it was worth every second. “It wasn’t fun even though we tried to make it fun,” Bally (PA) congregation’s Jim Longacre admits. “In the same way, serving God sometimes isn’t fun and can be hard work, but in the end is very rewarding.”

The reward for the hard work comes in the form of relationships with those the SWAP volunteers come to help. Congregations haven’t been just serving Appalachian people through SWAP (Sharing With Appalachian People), but mutually sharing gifts with them.

An organization of the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), SWAP has endeavored to make houses safer, warmer, and drier for the Appalachian community in the United States for over 30 years. In the summer of 2018, groups from Bally and Blooming Glen (PA) congregations both served at SWAP’s West Virginia location. There, they experienced the one-week service program that emphasizes relationships as much as fixing houses.

The homeowner in Gary, WV poses with volunteers from Blooming Glen who are working on her home repairs. (Photo by Mike Ford, posted on MCC SWAP Facebook page)

For a long time, the West Virginia SWAP ministry typically rented and did not own permanent property. Following SWAP’s move from Elkhorn to Kimball, however, Houston United Methodist Church offered them the opportunity to purchase their own facility. After experiencing this ministry firsthand, both Bally and Blooming Glen stepped in to help. “When we learned of the opportunity extended to SWAP to purchase this residence, it struck us that maybe we could assist them with it,” Bally’s youth leader Mike Gehman says. Since then, members of both congregations, especially youth, have raised funds so that SWAP can purchase the house.

Mike Gehman and Zoe Longacre prepare soffet for installation. (Courtesy of MCC SWAP Facebook page)

In addition to housing volunteers, the facility will provide more flexibility for SWAP and send a positive message to the community. “By putting this anchor down, it says that we intend to be here with roots that can’t be uprooted,” SWAP’s location coordinator Lee Martin states. The people of Appalachia are important to SWAP, he adds. Every time SWAP and the community members share meals and stories, they touch each others’ lives. They strive to “blow judgmental thoughts [of Appalachian residents] out of the water,” share about Jesus, and build strong relationships with the members of the community.

During one of Bally’s work days, one of their youth, Zack, went missing for some time. He wasn’t escaping the work but was inside talking to Ford. By the end of the day, she had “basically labeled him her adopted grandson,” says Longacre.

Volunteers from Bally gather around homeowner Lucretia Ford as she tells stories after dinner at the SWAP house. (MCC SWAP Facebook page)

“If you have the opportunity to sit down and talk with a homeowner, that isn’t taking you away from your work. That is your work,” says Martin. “The work acts as a venue to build relationships.” This philosophy is one reason the two congregations were moved to work together to help SWAP purchase their new facility.

MCC’s mission to spread “relief, development, and peace in the name of Christ,” as described by Martin, lives on through ministries like SWAP and those who support them. “As odd as it sounds,” he says, “representing Jesus is our job.”

 


Se necesitaron tres días para cavar la zanja que desvía el agua lejos de la casa de Lucretia Ford que vive en West Virginia, pero valió la pena cada segundo. “Aunque tratamos de divertirnos, no fue divertido.” Jim Longacre de la iglesia Menonita de Bally (PA) admite. “De la misma manera, sirviendo a Dios a veces no es divertido y puede ser mucho trabajo, pero es muy gratificante.”

La recompensa por el trabajo viene en forma de relaciones que los voluntarios de SWAP forman con aquellos que ayudan. Las congregaciones que se ofrecieron a través de SWAP (Compartiendo con la Gente de los Montes Apalaches) no sólo han estado sirviendo a la gente de los montes Apalaches, pero mutuamente compartiendo regalos con ellos.

SWAP, que es una organización del Comité Central Menonita (MCC), ha tratado de hacer las casas más seguras, más cálidas y secas para la  comunidad de los montes Apalaches por más de treinta años. En el verano del año 2018, unos grupos de las congregaciones de Bally y Blooming Glen (PA) sirvieron en la ubicación de SWAP en West Virginia. Allí, ellos completaron el programa de servicio de una semana que enfatiza las relaciones tanto como la reparación de casas.

Por mucho tiempo, el ministerio de SWAP en West Virginia normalmente alquilaron propiedades y no las compraron. Sin embargo, después de que SWAP se mudó de la ciudad de Elkhorn para la ciudad de Kimball, la iglesia Metodista Unida Houston le ofreció una oportunidad para comprar un edificio. Porque las congregaciones de Bally y Blooming Glen vieron este ministerio directamente, ellos decidieron ayudarles a comprarlo. “Cuando oímos de esta oportunidad que le dieron a ellos, nos dimos cuenta de que tal vez podíamos ayudarles con esto,” dijo Mike Gehman, que es líder de la juventud. Desde entonces, los miembros de ambas congregaciones, especialmente los jóvenes, han recaudado fondos para que SWAP pueda comprar la casa.

Además de alojar a los voluntarios, la casa proporcionará más flexibilidad para SWAP y enviará un mensaje positivo a la comunidad. “Al poner esto como un ancla, le decimos a la gente que tenemos la intención de quedarnos aquí,” dice Lee Martin, que es el coordinador de ubicación de SWAP. El también dijo que la gente de los Apalaches son muy importante para SWAP. Dondequiera que van, ellos escuchan historias, comparten comida, tocan las vidas y también tienen sus vidas tocadas por los miembros de la comunidad. Ellos tratan de deshacerse de las nociones preconcebidas de la gente sobre los montes Apalaches, compartir acerca de Jesús, y formar relaciones buenas con los miembros de la comunidad. 

Durante uno de los días de trabajo de Bally, uno de sus jóvenes que se llama Zack desapareció por algún tiempo. No estaba escapando del trabajo, pero estaba dentro hablando con la sra. Ford. Al final del día, ella lo había “básicamente etiquetado como su nieto adoptivo”, dice el sr. Longacre.

“Si tienes la oportunidad de sentarte y hablar con un propietario, eso no te aleja de tu trabajo. Ese es tu trabajo”, dice el sr. Martin. “El trabajo actúa como un lugar para construir relaciones”. Esta filosofía es una de las razones por las que las dos congregaciones fueron trasladadas para trabajar juntas para ayudar a SWAP a comprar sus nuevas instalaciones.

La misión de MCC de difundir “alivio, desarrollo y paz en el nombre de Cristo”, como lo describe el sr. Martin continúa a través de ministerios como el SWAP y quienes los apoyan. “Por extraño que parezca”, él dice, “representar a Jesús es nuestro trabajo”.

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.

Conference board and staff review vision & finance goals

by Emily Ralph, eralph@franconiaconference.org

board and staff discuss vision
Staff members listen intently as board members take turns in the "fishbowl," discussing the VFP. Pictured here are board members (L to R, inside) Rina Rampogu, Beny Krisbianto, Nelson Shenk, and Randy Nyce and staff members (L to R, outside) Steve Kriss, Noah Kolb, and Conrad Martin. Photo by Emily Ralph.

Franconia Conference board and staff decided last month to phase out the conference’s Vision and Finance Plan.  The two groups gathered at Wellspring Church of Skippack (Pa.) on January 30 for a day-long retreat to discuss vision for the next five years.

Board and staff members reviewed and discussed the conference’s “E-3” vision (Equipping Leaders to Empower Others to Embrace God’s Mission), priorities (formational, missional, and intercultural), and the Vision and Finance Plan (VFP).  The group moved to consensus that the VFP, which was created in 2007 to give recommendations for decision-making about properties, staffing, and the implementation of the “E-3” Vision, had served an important function but had reached the end of its helpfulness.  The VFP was due for review this year.

The VFP worked to align vision with conference resources and was adopted by delegates at the 2007 Conference Assembly, according to board member Joe Hackman, Salford congregation, an original member of the VFP team.  “The plan was intended to frame the work of conference staff – to give a better picture of what conference is doing, why they are doing it, and how they are doing it,” he said.

Some of the specific goals of the VFP have been accomplished: development rights for the Indian Creek Farm are being sold with plans to pay off a portion of the mortgage on the conference’s Souderton Center property; the conference office was relocated and downsized; new modes of continuing education for credentialed leaders have been implemented.

Other goals remain important and ongoing, specifically the emphasis on healthy and growing churches, leaders, and connections.  “This is what I believe,” said Noah Kolb, pastor of ministerial leadership, as he reflected on the E-3 vision. “God is looking for communities of believers who are able to follow Jesus as he followed God, who are able to read the signs . . . and respond in specific ministries. But who leads [the disciples] with a sense of knowing where to go and what to do and how to listen? . . . It is well equipped leaders.”

The board and staff agreed that the main role of conference structures and staff was to equip, resource, and connect congregations, conference related ministries, and leaders.  To do this, the VFP will be phased out with new immediate, short-term, and longer range priorities established.  Conference Board will develop these priorities to be reviewed and implemented by staff.

“The church is the primary vehicle for God’s expression in the world,” said board member Jim Longacre, Bally congregation, as others nodded in agreement, “not individuals, but a community.”  The role of the conference, he suggested, is to do only what congregations can’t do alone.

And, added assistant moderator Marta Castillo. Nueva Vida Norristown New Life, to focus on God’s mission. “As we pray for God’s kingdom to come and God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, we know that the church is only an instrument in God’s hand and our work is to be a part of missio Dei [mission of God],” she said.  “At this time, for Franconia Conference, it means that we have to change.”

Even in a time of change and movement, some things will remain the same, said Ertell M. Whigham Jr., executive minister.  “The ageless goals are . . . equipping healthy and growing leaders.  That doesn’t change—it doesn’t matter how many years have passed.”


February 22 (Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent) has been set aside as a day of prayer and discernment for conference board and staff as they continue to seek God’s vision for the conference together.  Please continue to be in prayer for conference leaders; contact Sandy Landes, prayer coordinator, for more information on how you can support this day in prayer.