Tag Archives: Leadership Cultivation

The good news is still breaking

Steve Krissby Stephen Kriss, director of leadership cultivation

“After a sermon like that, I just want to cry,” commented octogenarian Roma Ruth, reflecting on Salford intern John Tyson’s debut sermon on Sunday.  John is an Eastern Mennonite University and Christopher Dock High School grad studying now at Princeton Seminary.  His internship represents the best of flourishing conference, congregation, and community relationships.  He is learning alongside his old high school history teacher, Joe Hackman, who is now Salford’s lead pastor.   I’m serving as John’s official supervisor for the year, a role I’m happy to fill as the conference’s director of leadership cultivation.

Roma’s family helped to start the small mission church in Somerset County, Pa., where my family first connected with the Mennonites.  Now, almost thirty years later, I am the one cultivating new generations of leaders.  In the seven years I have worked for the conference, it has been both a challenge and a joy to do this kind of work, helping a historic community navigate into the realities of next-generation leadership.  I’ve worked with dozens of interns, students, pastors.   I continue to witness amazing and sometimes disturbing things.  It’s not easy to be a next-generation leader in the church.  There are lots of bang-ups and bruises.   What amazes me, though, is the willingness of young people to invest in our broken but beautiful communities in spite of, and sometimes because of, this very brokenness.

Roma told me that her tears were from the realization that John’s sermon spoke powerfully to issues of the Good News, justice, and peace that are close to her heart.  She recognized in the sermon yet another turning of the page.  It’s a gracious realization that God continues to call forth new leaders in nearly 300-year-old congregations in a half-millennia-old tradition in ways that are both resonant and discordant with the past, but nonetheless harmonizing with the way of Christ across the generations.

I am becoming more and more aware that the Spirit is increasingly calling leaders across ethnic lines, calling women, calling people born outside of the Mennonite fold into our contexts of worship and ministry.  These men and women are highly skilled, highly committed, willing to be vulnerable, willing to contribute without thought of compensation, often living somewhere between patient and zealous, believing in both constancy and change.  Of course there are still areas of growth, but overall the gifts of next-generation leaders are like the gifts of the magi—appropriate, overwhelming, full of mystery and grace.

It is fitting that John’s sermon was on Epiphany, a time of celebrating the gifts of those coming from another place, marking the inbreaking of salvation, wise to the ways of the world, bearing with them what they hope will witness to a beautiful new beginning embedded in a real and historic story.   Our community’s challenge is to have the courage, wherewithal, and imagination, along with the spiritual rootedness, to understand and celebrate that God is still with us and that, as John said in his sermon and Roma affirmed this last Sunday at Salford, “the good news is still breaking.”

Formation class crosses into Allentown in considering the church and mission

Emily Ralph, eralph@franconiaconference.org

Allentown, PA—New Franconia Conference pastors experienced life in the city on May 14 as their Formation Class took them into the heart of Allentown.  The day included Bible study at the Zume House, a prayer walk through the neighborhood where Ripple ministers, a meal with the Vietnamese Gospel Mennonite Church, and an afternoon discussion on crossing borders.

Formation Classes are required prayer walkfor every newly credentialed pastor in Franconia Conference as well as those who are new to ministering within Franconia Conference congregations.  This class’ trip to Allentown reflects a return to the traditional function of the Formation Class—to orient new pastors to the Franconia Conference story.  “A picture is worth a thousand words,” said Gay Brunt Miller, coordinator of the School for Leadership Formation.  “Being there is so much better than sitting in a conference room hearing about it.  It’s the full sensory experience.”

The day began with a time of reflection and discussion at Zume House, an intentional community birthed out of Whitehall Mennonite congregation.  Zume’s Rose Bender and Samantha Lioi shared about their vision of being yeast in their neighborhood (“Zume” is Greek for “yeast”).  It’s a process that takes time and an image that challenged the pastors about their own contexts.  “It means that church is going into the community,” pondered Tim Moyer, pastor of Vincent Mennonite Church at Spring City, PA.  “Am I equipping my congregation to be yeast in our community?”

A highlight of the day was the prayer walk, led by Ripple pastors Tom and Carolyn Albright.  “I saw how the Lord is doing a new thing,” said Ubaldo Rodriguez who leads Nueva Esperanza—Baltimore.  “We heard each other’s stories, listened to a new generation’s dreams and hopes.”  Among their stops was Franklin Park, where Allentown Mennonites recently “planted” a peace pole, and a Thai restaurant where Peter, the owner, spoke about doing business in the city.  Connie Detwiler, associate pastor of Lakeview Mennonite in Susquehanna, PA, was particularly moved by Peter’s witness.  “He was a light in a very dark place,” she reflected.  “I felt the presence of God there.”

The pastors were warmly welcomed to share lunch with members of the Vietnamese Gospel Mennonite Church.  Pastor Hien Truong worked as a leader in the persecuted church and with human rights law in Vietnam and Cambodia before he was forced to flee to the US.  He asked his colleagues to remember his people in their prayers: “The Lord has been noticing our small congregation and caring for us.”

Vietnamese mealLuke Martin, former missionary to Vietnam and long-term Allentown resident, shared about his life of “border-crossings.”  “I went there as a missionary, I came back as a missionary,” he explained.  It only seemed natural to continue his mission work in Allentown, a place he’s called home for over 30 years.  Much has changed in that time, but he still thrives in being a part of God’s work.

“The big changes and border-crossings in his life were from mustard seeds of faith,” Fuller Theological Seminary student and guest Joe Paparone of Saratoga, New York, reflected as he listened to Luke’s story.  “We have to trust those mustard seeds of faith.”

And these border-crossings surround us in our own neighborhoods and within our relationships in Franconia Conference.  John Goshow, Conference Moderator, and Ertell Whigham, Conference Executive Minister, led a conversation on the Conference’s work to be formational, intercultural, and missional.  “We need to be able to articulate this in our own particular contexts,” explained Whigham.  The group was particularly interested in what it meant to be intercultural.  “I am glad that the Mennonite Church in the US and Canada is inviting other voices from the global south,” said Rodriguez, originally from Colombia.  “We need each other!”

Going to Allentown allowed leaders to engage with and learn from their peers in a practical way, said Steve Kriss, Director of Leadership Cultivation for Franconia Conference.  “We were offered the opportunity to be in a place that is not only historically significant in the missional journey of Franconia Conference but also where the Spirit is stirring up new things.”