Tag Archives: John Goshow

A Clear and Gentle Voice

by Gwen Groff, conference board member

Jim King recently finished his third three-year term as a Franconia Conference board member. 

King brought skills from his background in business and from service on other boards.  John Goshow, Franconia Conference’s moderator and board chair, describes King’s voice as clear and valuable in stressful times. “Jim did not hesitate to express his opinion,” Goshow said. “He was gentle in the way he expressed his perspective. In challenging times, he has a very steady demeanor. He is optimistic. He brought wisdom, experience and maturity to our board work. When the tension between the board and constituency exploded in 2010, Jim played a large role in finding ways for the board and constituency to move together in more healthy ways.”

Making ice cream in Plains Park

According to Goshow, King’s impact on the board has been lasting. “Jim’s footprint is really big. When he joined, the meetings were scheduled to begin at 1 pm; they didn’t really get rolling until 2, and they often lasted until 6. Jim found them to be fairly unstructured, without clear agenda, but lasting half a day. Jim was instrumental in making board meetings more organized.”

King first agreed to serve on the board in order to better understand the conference-congregation relationship. “I had come to Plains congregation from Germantown,” he said. “I knew there were issues between Germantown and Franconia Conference. I had felt critical of the conference because of the breakdown of the relationship between the congregation and the conference, and I believed it was unfair of me to be critical if I didn’t know how the conference functioned in that situation. So I agreed to be on the board.”

Visiting old friends at the plastics warehouse

King believes that cultivating face-to-face relationships is very important. During his time on the board, he visited a variety of different congregations, worshiping with them, talking with their leaders, and being present in person. “Relationships are an asset,” King said. “It’s important to be available for conversations.” 

One of his ongoing concerns is how the conference can stay connected with congregations that are new to the conference and that must relate across great geographical distances. “We struggle to ‘maintain right fellowship’ with those who are just a hundred miles apart. How can we stay connected to people across the country? Distance is hard. How do we build those connections going forward?”

Another issue that King continues to care about is nurturing relationships with the youth. He would like to see more attention to connecting the youth of different congregations. “Some congregations don’t have the resources to hire a youth pastor,” King said. “I’d love to see the conference help organize service projects for youth from various congregations to work together on peace and justice issues. It’s a good way for youth to form connections in the church and build networks that can be useful in future careers. I know I would never be working in a business in recycled plastics if I had not spent two years in voluntary service in New York City.”

King believes that the relationship between the conference and congregations is in a good place. “We have engaged and committed staff and effective Lead ministers,” he said. “I feel this is the best relationship I’ve seen in the past nine years.” He anticipates an adjustment as he steps back from a central role, knowing that he’ll hear about what’s happening through delegate reports and publications, but won’t know the background and context of the issues. “I trust the process,” he said. “But I will miss having a role in shaping the process.”

MDS project in Nebraska with his wife, Joan

Now that he has “termed out” of the FMC board, King plans to order a couple more hives to increase his bee colony.  He also hopes to do more volunteer work trips with Mennonite Disaster Service and Mennonite Central Committee’s Sharing With Appalachian People. “This is the stuff I enjoy,” he said.

 

Home for Christmas

by Emily Ralph Servant, Interim Director of Communication

The house sits on Emily Street, a three-story, red-brick townhouse whose stoop rests directly on the sidewalk along a narrow city street.

Bethany House, which sits on Emily Street in South Philadelphia, will serve as a conference-owned parsonage.

The third floor windows look out over the surrounding blocks, where brand new rowhomes, nestled between century-old houses, bear witness to the creeping gentrification of this densely populated and diverse neighborhood.  Dotted between the rows of houses are lots that won’t long be empty, neighborhood parks, and the occasional sidewalk garden planted in clusters of multicolored pots.

Its name is Bethany House, and soon this house will become a home.

For a number of years, members of the conference community have been concerned about the rising cost of housing in South Philadelphia.  As the city has experienced an influx of immigrants and a renewal of its urban core, the neighborhoods surrounding Franconia’s South Philly congregations have seen a quick and dramatic increase in housing costs.

This gentrification makes living and ministering locally more and more difficult, especially for credentialed leaders who don’t have the resources to purchase a home.  In response to growing support among the conference constituency, the board decided that now was the time to act, while the purchase could still be considered an investment in the rapidly growing housing market.

In December, upon the review and recommendation of the Properties and Finances Committees, Franconia Conference purchased the house on Emily Street to be used as a conference-owned parsonage.  This home will be available for conference congregations in South Philadelphia to use when, and for as long as, needed.

Bethany House’s first residents will be Leticia Cortes and Fernando Loyola.  The pastoral couple of Centro de Alabanza de Filadelfia, Cortes and Loyola have been struggling to find a safe and stable living arrangement for their family for eleven years.  Because Bethany House is close to their congregation’s building, Cortes and Loyola anticipate that living there will open up new possibilities for outreach in their community as they get to know their neighbors better.

This dream is shared by the South Philly congregations.  “My hope is that this house can be a blessing for the neighborhood,” said Melky Tirtasaputra, associate pastor at Nations Worship Center, who also served as an advisor during the search.  “We pray that the people of this house will bring change and peace to the people in that area.”

The purchase of this property not only shows conference support of Philadelphia churches, explained conference moderator John Goshow, but also provides an opportunity for the rest of the conference to partner with our South Philly congregations in building God’s kingdom, as “the entire Franconia Conference community works together to point people to Christ.”

The move will also put Cortes and Loyola closer to their church community—this was one of the appeals of the house, Tirtasaputra explained.  Members of Centro de Alabanza are excited about the move and have already been busily at work on the house, making repairs and painting.

Ten percent of Franconia Conference members live and worship in South Philadelphia, which makes it important to start investing in the neighborhood, suggested executive minister Steve Kriss.  While Centro de Alabanza is currently using the parsonage, Tirtasaputra reflected, it’s a gift to all of the South Philly congregations since, in the future, pastors from other congregations may also find themselves in need of a home.

“The Bethany House continues Franconia Conference’s tradition of mutual care for our pastors,” described Kriss.  “It will ensure healthy leadership for what has been a rapidly growing part of our conference community.”  The house was named after the village where Jesus went for rest, care, and friendship (John 12:1-8), Kriss said, “a place of gracious hospitality.”

The Conference’s decision to purchase a Philadelphia parsonage is more than just a financial gift, according to Cortes and Loyola; it also says something about the relationship that the wider conference has with its South Philadelphia brothers and sisters: “We feel like this investment is an affirmation of Franconia Conference’s confidence in our church ministry and in us.”

The pastoral couple’s hope is to move in by the end of the year and, it’s quite possible, they may even be home for Christmas.

Bethany House has been partially funded by estate gifts and individual contributions, but we still have funds to raise!  You or your congregation are invited to participate in this ministry by making a designated contribution to Franconia Conference online or by sending a check with “Bethany House” in the memo line to Franconia Mennonite Conference, 1000 Forty Foot Rd., Lansdale, PA 19446.

Retreat Before Moving Forward

by Paula Marolewski, Franconia Conference Board Member and Elder at Perkiomenville Mennonite Church

What characterizes the culture of Franconia Mennonite Conference (FMC) today? How do we respond to the crowded, complex, fast-paced culture of society around us? How do Conference member churches experience being valued and valuing the whole of the larger conference?

The grounds of Fatima House Retreat Center provided a peaceful backdrop for the Board Retreat.

These were some of the many questions the Conference Board discussed on July 28th and 29th as they met together for a retreat at Fatima House in Ottsville, Pennsylvania. All eleven of the board members were present*, representing eleven different congregations – a quarter of all the churches that comprise the conference. Facilitating the meeting was Jeff Wright of Riverside, CA, Executive Consultant for Urban Expression North America.  Jeff had served as a guide for the Conference’s Vision and Financial Plan a decade ago.

During the time together, the Board spent time in spiritual reflection, as three of the board members (Beny Krisbianto, Angela Moyer, and Ken Burkholder) shared devotions on Jesus’ parables and how the parables spoke to various situations and needs within the Conference. The devotional times flowed into discussions about colliding cultures, conflict and hope, and the future of Franconia Conference and Mennonite Church USA.

One of the key conversations centered on three central questions that everyone – individuals, churches, the conference, and the denomination – should answer:

  1. Who is Jesus to us? [Christology]
  2. What does Jesus want us to do? [missiology]
  3. How does Jesus want us to do it? [ecclesiology]

Jeff emphasized that it is critical to approach these questions in this order. For example, we as Franconia Conference need to first determine who Jesus is to us. The answer to that will become the foundation for our shared culture. Only then can we ask what Jesus wants us to do and how to go about it – these are questions of strategy that build on the foundation of culture.

The Board grappled with all these questions and more – and will continue to do so with the goal of advancing the Kingdom of God in our fallen world. That, after all, is the purpose of a retreat: to prepare to move forward.

*The Board is composed of John Goshow, moderator (Blooming Glen), Angela Moyer (Co-Pastor at Ripple), Beny Krisbianto (Pastor at Nations Worship Center), Gwen Groff (Pastor at Bethany), Jim King (Plains), Paula Marolewski (Perkiomenville), Ken Burkholder, interim chair of the Ministerial Committee (Pastor at Deep Run East), Kris Wint (Pastor at Finland), Smita Singh (Whitehall), Merlin Harman (Franconia), and Steve Kriss, Conference Executive Minister (Philadelphia Praise Center).

Board Names Interim Chair of the Ministerial Committee

There is much work that is done within the Conference and each person, committee, taskforce, congregations and Conference Related Ministry plays a role in that work. On April 13, Franconia Conference announced that Mary Nitzsche’s role in the work of the Conference would be changing as she joins Conference Staff, stepping down from the Chair of the Ministerial Committee and her role as a pastor at Blooming Glen Mennonite Church. While Blooming Glen enters a process of discernment to fill the role left by Mary, so too the Conference has been discerning who God might be calling to fill the role of Chair of the Ministerial Committee.

The Chair of the Ministerial Committee also would serve on the Franconia Conference Board and oversee the Credentialing Committee which conducts interviews of credentialing candidates. This is a large role, as the Ministerial Committee is responsible for overall policies related to the calling, credentialing, training, and disciplining of those persons being credentialed by the Conference, along with the granting of ministerial credentials in keeping with A Mennonite Polity for Ministerial Leadership.

Through much discernment the Board invited current Ministerial Committee member Ken Burkholder to serve as interim Chair of the Ministerial Committee. According to the Conference bylaws, this is a role that is to be appointed by the delegate assembly which does not meet until November 4. In order to ensure that the work of the Conference can continue, the Board agreed that Ken would be able to easily step into the role of chair and would be a good fit for the position long term.

Conference Moderator John Goshow stated, “Ken’s six years of experience serving on the Conference’s Ministerial Committee makes him uniquely qualified to fill the role of chair for this important committee.”

Ken’s name will be presented to the delegates at the Fall 2017 Assembly for the role of Ministerial Committee Chair and subsequently a member of the Conference Board.

Ken was originally appointed by the Conference Delegate Assembly to the Ministerial Committee in 2011.  He attended Eastern Mennonite Seminary (EMS) and received his Masters in Divinity in 2005 after working in the business world for 11½ years. Since his graduation from EMS he has been serving as lead pastor at Deep Run East Mennonite Church. He and his wife Karen (Frankenfield) Burkholder have two children – Alyssa (20) and Justin (17), a recent graduate of Dock Academy.

Executive Minister, Steve Kriss, says, “Ken brings pastoral and professional experience that offers significant wisdom and insight to lead the important work of the ministerial committee.  He will be a valuable board member as well helping to represent the current needs and possibilities of our Conference’s credentialed leaders. I’m grateful for his willingness to accept this position and responsibility in this time of transition to help offer stability and strength to our ongoing work together.”

When asked about his new role as interim chair Ken stated, “It’s an honor and privilege to respond to this call – serving God, and the church, as interim chair.  I look forward to continuing to work with a terrific team of people on the Ministerial Committee, as we, together, give leadership to the credentialing of persons across Franconia Mennonite Conference.”

In his spare time, Ken enjoys being with family, cheering for the Phillies, reading, and running.

Living God’s Great Shalom

by Stephen Kriss, Executive Minister

In our commitments for credentialing as pastors within Franconia Conference, we agree to giving and receiving counsel.  This week I am here in Indiana as part of our process of giving and receiving counsel through Mennonite Church USA’s Constituency Leader Council (CLC).

It’s not been an easy time in Mennonite Church USA (MCUSA).   Three conferences have seceded from MCUSA and several have lost significant membership numbers.  Three conferences have moved toward credentialing gay and lesbian persons which puts them at variance with our official confessional/polity positions.   We are not alone in our turmoil as similar processes have been playing out among United Methodists, Presbyterian Church USA and the Episcopalians.   Nonetheless we are here to keep trying to work it out.    At times, it feels like we are at our wits end with each other.

Franconia Conference was a founding body in MCUSA. We remain engaged thus far because we believe that we can do more together than we can on our own.  I recognize, though, that some of us question our relationship with MCUSA because of the tensions felt around our theology and practice thereof.   I understand both the acts of conscience and the levels of frustration that have meant Conferences have seceded and that others have landed at variance.

I believe in the kind of love that Paul wrote about that is patient, kind and enduring.   As a Conference, we have an enduring history. Unfortunately, it hasn’t always been marked with enduring love that has been witness of the reconciling power of Christ’s peace.   Our current exploration of a possible reconciliation process with Eastern District Conference evidences our lack of patience with one another, that now is being addressed over a century later.  Randy Heacock’s story from the last Intersectings reminds us of the sad reality that reconciliation work on an interpersonal level is still a rarity.   So, I’m committed this week to sit at these tables on our behalf, and to find ways to engage constructively and generatively, along with John Goshow, our Conference moderator, and Mary Nitzsche, chair of our Ministerial Committee.

In these few days, for the sake of all of us, I commit to believing and hoping, of seeking the Spirit’s stirring.  Of continuing to live into my ordination vows of giving and receiving counsel.  Whether around tables in Elkhart or at the kitchen table or the communion table, this is our invitation.  It’s an invitation that endures; a recognition that love never fails, a way of living God’s great shalom, even through day long meetings.

Board Welcomes Paula Marolewski

By Barbie Fischer

paula-photo-3The Franconia Conference board will welcome Paula Marolewski as a new board member at their September 19 meeting. Paula has been a member of Perkiomenville Mennonite Church (Pennsylvania) for sixteen years.

As a member of Perkiomenville, Paula has served in many roles, including adult Sunday School teacher, Minister of Education, and member of the Ministry Council. She was also brought onto the Elder Team in 2013, providing her with the opportunity to contribute to the spiritual leadership and direction of the congregation.

Paula hails from the state of New York, having moved to Pennsylvania in 1995. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Creative Writing, graduating in 1993 as salutatorian from Houghton College (Houghton, NY). While very involved in her home congregation, Perkiomenville, Paula also runs her own business as a copywriter, developing marketing materials for companies to promote their products and services.

paula-photo-2In speaking of her congregation, Paula stated that she loves the people: “I have no immediate family in this area, and the people at Perk have truly stepped in and filled that role. The friendships I have developed are deep and abiding, and give me fellowship and support as we share the victories and challenges of life.”

Paula brings many gifts and talents with her to this new role as Franconia Conference board member, including her professional experience in communications. “As part of the Conference board, I hope to help lead the conference into the unity that we desire in a manner that is true to the Word of God and that honors Jesus whom we serve,” Paula said.

“Paula’s leadership skills which have been developed as an active leader at the Perkiomenville Mennonite Church as well as her communication skills will add important value to the conference board.” Stated John Goshow, conference moderator.

Paula (right) with her sister Ariane (left) in Glacier National Park.
Paula (right) with her sister Ariane (left) in Glacier National Park.

While her hobbies frequently change (she has enjoyed sculpting, ballroom dancing, and stained glass over the years, among other activities), she does enjoy a few constants, including traveling with her sister, taking photos, and tending to her garden.

Paula affirmed, “My whole desire and God’s calling on my life is summed up in II Peter 3:18: to help others ‘grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.’ As a result, my Christian walk has been characterized by a deep love for the Word of God, a hunger to learn more about God, an appreciation for theology, and a commitment to teach and disciple others.”

Paula invites those interested in knowing more about her to explore her Christian writings on www.sinkyourroots.com and her counsel on anxiety at www.thrivenowseminars.com.

 

Executive Search Update

Franconia Conference logoOn May 19, Franconia Mennonite Conference (FMC) Moderator, John Goshow, announced to the conference delegates and conference related ministry (CRM) leaders that the board had accepted the resignation of Executive Minister, Ertell Whigham, to be effective January 31, 2017. Ertell states in his resignation letter, “it continues to be a blessing and honor to serve as the Executive Minister and CEO of FMC. On behalf of the conference, I have enjoyed the opportunities and collaborative relationships that have developed and been strengthened among our constituency and MCUSA affiliates. However, as I sense time for a change in responsibility and ministry focus, I believe that the season approaches for me to step out of my current conference role as Executive Minister and CEO of FMC.”

With that the Conference Board Executive Committee began engaging Franconia Conference pastors, CRM leaders, board and staff for their input on what they desire from the next Executive Minister.  A survey was sent out to these constituency groups and resulted in 22 pages of feedback. Three meetings were then held where pastors, CRM leaders, board and staff were invited to dialogue with the Executive Committee about their hopes and expectations of the next Executive Minister. The survey results and notes from these meetings have been shared with the search committee.

As communicated in a letter from the conference moderator on July 1, Joy Sutter of Salford Mennonite Church, has agreed to chair the search committee. Joy is also a member of the MCUSA board, and the Associate Administrator for the Cancer Service Line at University of Pennsylvania Health System. She brings extensive administrative and executive experience to this process. Five additional people have also been named to the search committee in the last few weeks. These individuals have been appointed by the board with input from some conference pastors. The other members include Angela Moyer (Ripple) who will serve as the board representative on the committee, Henry Longacre (Swamp), Glen Nemath (Blooming Glen), Doris Diener (Franconia Mennonite Church), and Michael Meneses (Wellspring Church of Skippack). The search committee is scheduled to have their first meeting on July 21.

The conference board desires not to rush this process and wants to ensure that the search committee has all the time they need to discern the person God has for this role. At the same time, it is hoped that the next Executive Minister would be named by December 31. Further communication regarding the process will be released as it is available via Intersectings and possible letters from the Moderator. Questions regarding the process can be directed to the Conference Moderator.

Blessing and Appreciation

IMG_6026On Wednesday, March 23rd, Franconia Conference hosted an appreciation luncheon for the Conference’s 19 Conference Related Ministries (CRMs). Representatives from the organizations enjoyed lunch in the Fisher Auditorium at Dock Woods, part of Living Branches. Welcome remarks were given by Ertell Whigham, conference executive minister. John Goshow, conference moderator, reflected on his time as a leader at Penn Foundation, a CRM, and offered his perspective now from a conference stand point, highlighting all the CRMs offer to the conference and conference congregations. It was noted that through the CRMs, well over 50,000 people are reached annually.

IMG_6030As a token of appreciation, each CRM was gifted by the conference a Pennsylvania Redware plate handcrafted by Denise Wilz and customized with the CRM’s name. In addition, Mim Book and Jim Lapp, credentialed leaders within Franconia Conference offered a blessing over the CRMs.

CRM Lunch - photo 1
Click to enlarge

To learn more about who the Conference Related Ministries and how you and your congregation can get involved with them, visit http://franconiaconference.org/directory/conference-related-ministries/.

 

Prayer of Blessing
Conference Related Ministries Appreciation Luncheon
March 23, 2016

Offered by Mim Book and Jim Lapp, credentialed leaders with Franconia Conference

IMG_6033It is an honor to be with you today and to offer a blessing for you in your varied ministries in behalf of our conference and congregations.

Thank you for the important service you each provide that enriches the body of Christ in such diverse ways. Please pray with us. 

Gracious God, you have blessed your church with a rich abundance of gifts for service through these sisters and brothers, and the boards, leaders and staff in each of these ministries.

We praise you for the women and men with vision who gave pioneering leadership these past 100 years to bring into existence these many forms of service that extend the mission of our congregations. 

We give thanks for those who contributed their finances and time, often sacrificially, for the good of children, youth, older people, those with disabilities,  those well and not well, the newly born and those dying, the incarcerated, and those with physical and mental illnesses.

We are grateful for those who brought business experience and wisdom to their leadership as they invested their gifts and resources in these creative ways.  We thank you for pastors and church leaders who offered spiritual insight and wisdom to help make these ministries flourish.

We now pray your blessing upon those who give leadership to our camps and retreat centers – Bethany Birches in Vermont, Camp Men-O-Lan, and Spruce Lake.   We pray that in each setting the spirit of Christ would infuse those who serve with love, and transform all the participants in these ministries.

We pray your power and blessing on our schools – The City School, Quakertown Christian, Penn View and Christopher Dock high school.  May the administration, faculty and boards of directors serve with clarity of purpose and conviction in the nurture and formation of our children and youth.

We pray grace upon all who serve with the Indian Creek Foundation and Peaceful Living who provide opportunities and care for those with special challenges in life.  May each one be treated with dignity, compassion and love. 

We pray your gracious presence upon all who serve with the Penn Foundation and Liberty Ministries.  Let your healing mercy and love shine through the staff and contribute growth and stability to those who too often are stigmatized in our society.

We pray for those who lead us in gathering and managing historical resources through the Germantown Historic Trust and the Mennonite Historians of Eastern Pennsylvania.  Through these ministries may the faith of our ancestors continue to enrich and guide our churches in the 21st century.

We pray your continued strength on the ministries of the Care and Share Shoppes and the MCC Material Resource Center and all who lead and volunteer in these ministries.  Bless these labors of love and sharing as a means of ministering in the name of Christ to those local and global who experience special needs.

We pray the Delaware Valley MEDA, the Eastern PA Mennonite Disaster Service, and Life with God program will continue to offer resources that touch the spiritual and physical needs of people with the hope and peace of Christ. 

We pray for all our ministries that serve the aging – Living Branches on its various campuses, and the Community at Rockhill.  We pray the staff, administrators, chaplains, and boards of directors will have wisdom to foster communities of healing and peace, with respect for the spirituals sages who reside there, and for those with limited family and other resources. 

Our God, we also ask your Divine blessing on our conference leaders who seek to show support and encouragement to those in these ministries.

With the apostle Paul we exclaim, “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!”

With the saints of all ages we pray, “Now to God who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly in these ministries, far more than we can ask or imagine, to this God be glory in the church, in all our church related ministries, and in Christ Jesus, to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

Conference focus groups provide feedback for national meetings

by Sheldon C. Good

Ertell WhighamTen leaders from Franconia Conference congregations voiced wide-ranging perspectives during two conference calls held recently to garner feedback on a controversial action taken by Mountain States Mennonite Conference earlier this year. In addition to those on the conference calls, about a dozen other leaders and delegates submitted written responses to Franconia Conference.

Franconia Conference executive minister Ertell Whigham convened the calls on March 15 and 16. His goal was to listen to leaders’ perspectives in preparation for a meeting of the Constituency Leadership Council, or CLC, of Mennonite Church USA held March 20-22 in North Newton, Kan.

In response to a decision by Mountain States to license a pastor in a committed same-sex relationship, the Executive Board of MC USA appointed a task force to frame questions for discussion at the CLC meeting. The conference calls included persons from across the conference invited to provide insight and counsel in preparation for the meeting.  Persons were chosen to represent a diversity of perspectives.  About half of those invited participated.

Whigham, moderator John Goshow, and board member Klaudia Smucker (Bally congregation) represented Franconia Conference at the CLC meeting.  Beny Krisbianto of Nations Worship Center also attended representing the Indonesian Mennonite Fellowship (a national group within Mennonite Church USA).

Whigham invited leaders on the calls to respond to three questions: What is your prayer for the leaders of our denomination and conference? What would be one important question that would represent the thoughts of the constituents within your congregation or community? What is one perspective of hope and one of challenge that you see within our denomination and our conference?

During the call Angela Moyer, co-pastor of RIPPLE in Allentown, Pa., said people in her congregation “have little to no awareness” about the discussions going on at the conference or denominational level.

“People at RIPPLE are concerned about having a place to sleep, food to eat, and friends that care about them,” she said in an interview reflecting on the conference call. “People know that RIPPLE is safe and caring; we treat one another with dignity as people and not statistics.  Other people on the conference call seemed surprised [when I said this] and appreciated this perspective.”

Prayers from those on the calls included that fellow church leaders would: be led by the Holy Spirit, continue to be humble, and allow Christ to be at the center of all decisions; continue to find ways to be faithful in the midst of difference; work toward unity and understanding; be bold and avoid perfectionism; be sensitive to the needs of church members; and maintain spiritual integrity and values while leading.

The leaders wondered what following Jesus in the 21st century looks like and how to respond faithfully to Micah 6:8. They wondered how many people would leave the church because of the Mountain States decision. Some expressed their hope for spaces where church members could be “real and vulnerable.” Hopes of the leaders revolved around how to practice faithful discipleship, right relationship, and the lordship of Christ. Challenges focused on whether unity is possible.

Similar themes emerged during the Kansas CLC meeting.

According to an article by Gordon Houser in TMail, Mennonite Church USA executive director Ervin Stutzman said that over the last few weeks he has received hundreds of emails, which he categorized into three groupings: 1) greater inclusion of LGBT individuals, 2) faithfulness to the traditional stance, and 3) unity. Stutzman called the CLC meetings “a referendum on the Membership Guidelines” that were adopted at Nashville 2001.

Those attending the CLC meetings, including Whigham, Goshow, Krisbianto and Smucker, participated in table-group discussion on a serious of questions related to Mountain States’ decision. The task force appointed by the MC USA Executive Board plans to draft a recommendation for consideration by the Executive Board at its June 26–28 meeting in Chicago.

The focus group invitations included credentialed and delegate representatives from 20 congregations.   Representatives from Bethany, Deep Run East, Doylestown, Finland, Franconia, Plains, Ripple, Salford and West Philadelphia participated in the calls.   Representatives from Boyertown, Blooming Glen, Line Lexington, Nueva Vida Norristown New Life, Philadelphia Praise, Rocky Ridge and Souderton congregations were also invited but unable to attend at the scheduled conference call times.  A few of those invitees who were unable to participate in the calls submitted written responses.

Delegates discuss collaboration in time of anxiety

Candlesby Emily Ralph, associate director of communication

Franconia Conference delegates gathered February 8 at Franconia Mennonite Church, Telford, Pa., to brainstorm ways of building relationships and collaboration in ministry and mission as part of a two-year direction toward growth and discernment as a community.

After a time of worship and reflection, delegates prayed for their congregations, the conference and denomination, and institutions of the church that are in difficult processes of discernment recognizing the tensions across the denomination related to human sexuality.  Conversation then turned to identifying areas for mutual support and engagement; sharing ways that the conference community can strengthen relationships to open possibilities for healthy conversation and collaboration.

“We again recognize that God has gifted our conference with great diversity,” said Marta Castillo, assistant moderator.  “Our Anabaptist commitments to reconciliation and community invite us to stay united in the midst of diversity….  So we again today commit ourselves to live openly and with integrity as brothers and sisters.”

Conference executive Ertell Whigham shared the intention of LEADership Ministers to reintroduce the principle of leadership clusters, where pastors from diverse congregations regularly meet together for support and networking.  To make this more feasible for pastors, the School for Leadership Formation will scale back the number of other events pastors are encouraged to attend.

Table groupsSome delegates enthusiastically supported the reimplementation of clusters and encouraged conference staff to explore ways to also engage between all congregation members rather than only credentialed leaders.  Some dreamed of ways for members of diverse congregations to partner beyond ministry—to have fun together, worship, and play.  Others questioned how we discern which issues to prioritize in mission together.

“Are we taking seriously the issues that we ought to be taking seriously?” asked Josh Meyer, associate pastor of Franconia congregation.  “We were reminded of Matthew 23 where Jesus says, ‘… you neglect the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy, faithfulness.’  How can we as churches, as a conference, be more committed to justice, mercy, faithfulness?”

Meyer’s table group wondered if the conference could focus together on matters of justice instead of division, working, for instance, on an issue that many are passionate about: combatting human trafficking.  Since one goal of the morning’s gathering was to build relationships around a common area of mission and call, Whigham asked delegates whose congregations are interested in working together against human trafficking to raise their hands so that they could network on the spot.  Delegates from a dozen congregations responded.

“Sitting down and talking to one another is a good thing,” reflected conference moderator John Goshow.  “I think we’re enjoying one another’s company this morning [which] demonstrates why we need to do more of that than we’ve done in the past.”  He encouraged delegates to continue to pray for the denomination in days ahead.  “This call for prayer does not need to end today.  Our church needs the continued prayers of all of us.”

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