Tag Archives: Leticia Cortes

Standing in the Gap at the Border and at Home

by Emily Ralph Servant, Director of Communication

For the last month, Philadelphia Praise Center pastor Aldo Siahaan has been reminding his congregation of their rights during each Sunday morning worship service.

In expectation of, and response to, a recent wave of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids, immigrants in Philadelphia and other US cities—both documented and not—are living in fear.  “I’ve been like them,” reflects Siahaan, who migrated to the United States in 1998 after riots in Indonesia: “I know what they feel like, living like this.”

Questions and concern around immigration have become increasingly important for members of Franconia Conference, which has seen a increase in immigrant congregations over the past decade.  Currently, close to fifteen percent of the conference are first-generation immigrants, many coming from Indonesia, Mexico, Tanzania, Myanmar, Hong Kong, and India.

Some of Franconia’s Latin brothers and sisters originally entered the US by way of the southern border.  Recent news reports have highlighted tragic conditions in detention camps there, where some families are separated, and others are turned away before they can even apply for asylum.  Many Franconia congregations have been asking what they can do to help.

A Direct Response

MCC is collecting Immigrant Detainee Care Kits with supplies that will provide immigrants who are being released from detainment centers along the US’ southern border with basic hygiene supplies. Photo provided by MCC Central States.

“Having been to the border several years ago to see key Mennonite partners there, I recognize that there are some basic practical needs that people require after they’ve been released from detention,” reflects Franconia’s executive minister Steve Kriss.  Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is meeting some of these needs by making and distributing Immigrant Detainee Care Kits.  “The kit response feels hands-on and important as the kind of thing Mennonites do to directly respond to human needs,” observes Kriss.

In order to provide additional kits, Franconia’s board has allocated a $5000 grant to match contributions from Franconia and Eastern District congregations to the MCC East Coast’s Material Resource Center (MRC) in Harleysville, PA.   The MRC will make the care kits to send for distribution in Texas and New Mexico through MCC Central States.  The grant will also match gifts given by Franconia congregations to MCC West Coast for transporting kits distributed in California and Arizona.  The deadline for matching is August 31.

Already at Work

Even as Franconia and Eastern District congregations raise financial support around the border crisis, we remember that the struggle continues closer to home. “We ARE immigrant communities,” Kriss acknowledges.  “We are communities that are responding on a regular basis to the challenges of receiving people who are seeking safety and asylum in places across the country.”  Many pastors in our congregations are regularly responding to crises of migration, he observes.  In these cases, these are not programs of the church; they are pastoral responses to real needs in our communities.

The border fence between Tijuana and California adjoins a city neighborhood and is covered in lively artwork and graffiti. Photo by Steve Kriss.

When a large migrant caravan began making its way through Mexico in 2018, the Conferencia de Iglesias Evangélicas Anabautistas Menonitas de México (CIEAMM), a Franconia Partner in Ministry, decided to open their arms and hearts to the “temporary refugees” in Mexico by providing aid.  “We take seriously the teaching of Jesus, who invites us to the [kind of] love and solidarity that feeds the hungry, dresses the naked, gives water to the thirsty, protects the helpless, takes care of the sick, and visits the incarcerated,” described moderator Carlos Martínez García at Mennonite World Conference’s Renewal 2019 event in Costa Rica.  “We did a work of compassion, putting ourselves in the place of needy migrants, and acting to bring some accompaniment and comfort.” (Read his full remarks.)

Fernando Loyola and Letty Cortes pastor Centro de Alabanza de Filadelfia, a congregation of Latinx immigrants, and have seen a recent wave of immigrants from Guatemala arriving in their neighborhood.  Their congregation provides food, clothing, funds, and help navigating the new American culture.  They refer families to immigration lawyers and to Juntos, a community-led immigrant non-profit that fights for human rights in South Philly.

Philadelphia Praise Center has been renovating its building to become a sanctuary church, where immigrants fearing deportation can live safely during ICE raids.  Siahaan has walked with many individuals and families who need help navigating the complex legal channels involved in applying for visas or green cards.  Just this last week, he was called to help someone from the community who was picked up in an ICE raid.

Unfortunately, once someone has been detained by ICE, there isn’t much that can be done, he explains—within a couple of weeks, they’ll be deported.  The need is greater before that happens; what immigrants need most, he suggests, is for their Franconia brothers and sisters to be their voice: “Call or write to your congressperson and say, ‘Hey, you need to do something about this situation, these immigration raids!’”

Advocacy to Prevent Tragedy

Advocacy work includes contacting representatives on both state and national levels.  Steve Wilburn, teaching pastor at Covenant Community congregation in Lansdale, PA, has been involved with International Justice Mission (IJM) since he traveled to Cambodia and Vietnam in seminary and saw IJM’s work in battling human trafficking.  Currently, he’s partnering with IJM to advocate for the “Central American Women and Children Protection Act of 2019,” which is legislation that commits US funds, in partnership with the governments of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, to help them restore their justice systems in order to protect women and children from abuse.  Several Franconia Conference leaders have signed a letter in support of this legislation.

Most US government efforts in those countries have been focused on drugs and gang violence, Wilburn explains, but that doesn’t help protect children and women: “Those are some of the reasons that people are leaving and trying to escape violence there, becoming refugees,” he says.  Most would rather stay home if home were a safe place for them and their children.

Real People, Real Suffering

Siahaan recently went on an MCC borderlands tour to meet migrants and see the situation for himself.  On his trip, he met a young mother with two children who were waiting to apply for asylum.  They had fled Colombia after her husband had been shot by a gang.

It was eye-opening for Siahaan.  He had read books and heard stories but meeting real people on the border face-to-face affirmed for him that the work the South Philly congregations were doing mattered.  It encouraged him to keep going.

Beny Krisbianto, pastor of Nations Worship Center in Philadelphia, is a member of the conference executive board.  The decision to allocate the funds for the matching grant was easy for him when he considered the children who are daily affected by both the “border crisis” and the local ICE raids.  It’s not a political issue, he emphasizes, but a call to care for real children who had no control over the decision to come in the first place.  “These are real people, who are already here, who are suffering and may die,” he says.  “These kits will help.”

His congregation supports conference advocacy for migrants at the southern border because they, too, are daily experiencing the fear and uncertainty of the country’s broken immigration system.  It’s not just a story you see on CNN or ABC News, he reminds the conference community; for immigrants in South Philadelphia, “It’s our everyday life.”

Ways to Help

  • Pray for migrants on the southern border, for immigrants living in our communities, and for those who are working alongside them for health, healing, and wholeness. Pray for just immigration laws, merciful immigration practices, and a path to citizenship that will keep families together.
  • To receive a matching grant for the making and/or transporting of Immigrant Detainee Care Kits, send checks labeled “Immigrant Detainee Care Kits” directly to the MCC Material Resource Center of Harleysville, 737 Hagey Center Drive, Unit C, Souderton, PA 18964 OR directly to West Coast MCC Office, 1010 G Street, Reedley, CA 93654. For West Coast donations only: email Conrad Martin (ccmartin@franconiaconference.org) at the conference office with the date and amount of the gift.  Deadline for matching funds is August 31.
  • Read the Churchwide Statement on the Abuse of Child Migrants passed at Mennonite Church USA convention in Kansas City (July 2019) and Carlos Martínez García’s full reflection on CIEAMM’s ministry caring for some of the migrants traveling through Mexico.
  • Advocate with your legislators to support asylum seekers and the American Dream and Promise Act and to restrict ICE raids.
  • Sign a faith leaders’ letter of support for the “Central American Women and Children Protection Act of 2019” or become an IJM volunteer by contacting Steve Wilburn at swilburn@ijmvolunteers.org. Register for a 2-day advocacy summit in Washington D.C. in October.
  • A significant focus of MCC East Coast’s domestic work is related to immigration advocacy: in Miami, through the New York Mennonite Immigration Program, and in direct services to those who have been trying to find a legal pathway to stay in the US. Find out moreWest Coast MCC is in the process of offering “Know Your Rights” trainings for Franconia’s West Coast congregations.

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.

A Community of Sisters for the Journey/Una Comunidad de Hermanas en el Camino

By Marta Castillo, Leadership Minister of Intercultural Formation

She thought for a moment then pulled off her bright pink scarf and laid it down in the rough form of a cross on the narrow space between the beds.  Then she instructed one of us to go outside and get some dirt to place by the cross.  The two symbols, the bright pink cross and the dirt lay there together as a powerful visual of life, death, salvation, and freedom.  We began to pray, attentive to the Spirit and to our sister, as she talked, wept, and prayed through a process letting go of the crippling guilt she carried after her father’s death five years before.  We anointed her with oil and with our prayers of blessings, believing that the power of Jesus would bring transformation and freedom in her life and walk with God.  I suppose we could have listened to her story and prayed for her without the symbols but there was power in the visual and physical additions to the accompaniment of her sisters. This is one story of many from a powerful weekend of sisters walking alongside one another. 

During the weekend of the Cuidandonos Entre Mujeres (Sister Care) Retreat attended by 72 women from 15 congregations, Pastor Ofelia Garcia filled our hearts and minds with powerful teaching through shared activities and symbols.  We walked in each other’s’ shoes, determined the boundaries of our personal space, and committed ourselves to caring for each other in the safety, wisdom and confidentiality of the red tent (a symbolic place of sisterhood and caring for each other we used throughout the weekend).  On Saturday night, we dressed up, celebrated our beauty as women, decorated crowns, and then gave our uniquely created crown to a sister in Christ with words of affirmation and blessing.  Then on Sunday morning, we celebrated communion together and in a ceremony of blessing we blessed one another.  I was reminded of how Jesus used parables, symbols, and ceremony to deeply root the truth in people’s hearts and minds.  The holistic ministry of teaching and practice using our spirit, mind, and body will leave an impact greater than teaching alone. 

This was the first all-Spanish SisterCare Retreat held in the United States. It was more than we had hoped for, a true experience of the joy of seeing God’s Spirit going above and beyond what we could have hoped for or imagined.  Since our own training in Sister Care (in Spanish) with Mennonite Women USA last year, Pastor Letty Castro of Centro de Alabanza de Filadelfia, and I had dreamed of an event where Spanish-speaking women in Franconia and Eastern District could come, relax, share their stories, pray together, and receive teaching about healing and self-care.  It was truly a team effort.  Pastor Ofelia Garcia agreed to come from Mexico City to be the speaker since she helped develop and present Sister Care materials in many places. Franconia Conference agreed to support our efforts to reach women within the churches of the conference and Eastern District.  Congregations like Zion, Salford, Doylestown, Centro de Alabanza, and Nueva Vida Norristown New Life supported us with scholarships for women to attend.  Pastors helped to get the word out to their Spanish speaking members.  A group from Centro de Alabanza worked hard to bring the program and details together.  Staff from Spruce Lake Retreat Center supported us through the registration process and retreat planning. 

Within hours of being together, women from over fifteen different churches and at least ten different countries were sharing with a depth that took us by surprise.  When we shared in small groups, we heard stories of parental and spousal abandonment, verbal, physical, sexual abuse, marriage difficulties, un-forgiveness, anger, loss of a child, and so much more.  We heard faith stories of God’s grace and love reaching down to bring forgiveness, freedom, healing, hope, love, and a future.   We cried, we smiled, we laughed, we hugged, and we listened.  We were encouraged not to give counsel or advice unless it was asked for specifically so we listened some more and we prayed for ourselves and for each other.  The space felt safe and we surrendered ourselves to the experience and the community.

The invitation was extended and the women came.  We enjoyed the beauty of the mountains, trees, and God’s creation.  We stepped away from our work, homes, families, and responsibilities to care for ourselves and others women like us.  We shared deeply and encouraged each other.  As we left and went home, we will continue to invite each other to “Come, walk with us. The journey is long.” 

Luke 10:27 (NIV)  He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Por Marta Castillo, Ministro de Liderazgo en Formacion Intercultural

La pastora pensó por un momento, luego se quitó la bufanda rosada brillante y la tendió en forma de una cruz en el espacio estrecho entre las camas. Luego, ella nos pidió a una de nosotras que saliera y consiguiera algo de tierra para colocar junto a la cruz. Los dos símbolos, la cruz de color rosada brillante y la tierra yacen juntos como una poderosa imagen de la vida, la muerte, la salvación y la libertad. Comenzamos a orar, atentas al Espíritu y a nuestra hermana, mientras ella hablaba, lloraba y oraba para dejar ir la culpa paralizante que llevaba después de la muerte de su padre cinco años antes. La ungimos con aceite y con nuestras oraciones de bendición, creyendo que el poder de Jesús traería transformación y libertad en su vida y caminaría con Dios. Supongo que podríamos haber escuchado su historia y haber orado por ella sin los símbolos, pero había poder en las adiciones físicas y visuales al acompañamiento de las hermanas.  Esta es una historia entre muchas historias de un fin de semana poderoso de hermanas acompañando una a la otra. 

Durante el primer retiro (solamente en español) de Cuidándonos Entre Mujeres asistieron 72 mujeres de 15 congregaciones, la Pastora Ofelia García llenó nuestros corazones y mentes con una enseñanza poderosa a través de actividades y símbolos compartidos. Caminamos en los zapatos de los demás, determinamos los límites de nuestro espacio personal y nos comprometimos a cuidarnos mutuamente en la seguridad, la sabiduría y la confidencialidad de la tienda roja (un lugar simbólico de hermandad y cuidando una a la otra que usamos durante el fin de semana).  El sábado por la noche, nos vestimos, celebramos nuestra belleza como mujeres, decoramos coronas y luego entregamos nuestra corona de creación única a una hermana en Cristo con palabras de afirmación y bendición. Luego, el domingo por la mañana, celebramos juntas la comunión y nos bendijimos mutuamente con una ceremonia de bendición. Recordé cómo Jesús usó parábolas, símbolos y ceremonias para enraizar profundamente la verdad en los corazones y las mentes de las personas. El ministerio holístico de enseñanza y práctica que usa nuestro espíritu, mente y cuerpo dejará un impacto mayor que la enseñanza sola.

Fue más de lo que esperábamos, una verdadera experiencia de la alegría de ver al Espíritu de Dios ir más allá de lo que podríamos haber esperado o imaginado. Desde nuestro taller de Cuidándonos Entre Mujeres (Sister Care) con las Mujeres Menonitas EEUU el año pasado, la pastora Letty Castro de Centro de Alabanza, Filadelfia y yo habíamos soñado con un evento en que las mujeres de habla hispana en Franconia y el Distrito Este pudieran venir, relajarse, compartir sus historias, orar juntas y recibir enseñanza sobre la curación y el cuidado personal. Fue realmente un esfuerzo de equipo. La pastora Ofelia García aceptó venir de la ciudad de México para ser la presentadora porque ella había apoyado el desarrollo de los materiales de Cuidándonos Entre Mujeres y tenía mucha experiencia en presentarlos en diferentes países. La Conferencia de Franconia acordó apoyar nuestros esfuerzos para alcanzar a las mujeres dentro de las iglesias de la conferencia y el Distrito Este. Congregaciones como Zion, Salford, Doylestown, Centro de Alabanza y Nueva Vida Norristown New Life nos apoyaron con becas. Los pastores ayudaron a correr la voz a sus miembros que hablan español. Un grupo del Centro de Alabanza trabajó duro para reunir el programa y los detalles. El personal del Spruce Lake Retreat Center nos apoyó a través del proceso de registro y la planificación del retiro.

A las pocas horas de estar juntas, setenta y dos mujeres de más de quince iglesias diferentes y al menos diez países diferentes compartían con una profundidad que nos sorprendió. Cuando compartimos en pequeños grupos, escuchamos historias de abandono de padres y cónyugues, abuso verbal, físico, sexual, dificultades matrimoniales, falta de perdón, enojo, pérdida de un hijo y mucho más. Escuchamos historias de fe de la gracia y el amor de Dios que se acercan para traer perdón, libertad, sanidad, esperanza, amor y un futuro. Lloramos, sonreímos, reímos, nos abrazamos y escuchamos. Nos animaron a no dar consejos ni sugerencias a menos que se pidiera específicamente, así que escuchamos un poco más y oramos por nosotras mismas y por los demás. El espacio se sintió seguro y nos entregamos a la experiencia y la comunidad.

Se extendió la invitación y llegaron las mujeres. Disfrutamos de la belleza de las montañas, los árboles y la creación de Dios. Nos alejamos de nuestro trabajo, hogares, familias y responsabilidades para cuidarnos a nosotras mismas y a otras mujeres iguales que nosotras. Compartimos profundamente y nos animamos mutuamente. Cuando nos fuimos y regresamos a casa, continuaremos invitándonos mutuamente a “Ven, camina con nosotros. El viaje es largo.”

Lucas 10:27 (NVI) ….“Ama al Señor tu Dios con todo tu corazón, con todo tu ser, con todas tus fuerzas y con toda tu mente”, y: “Ama a tu prójimo como a ti mismo”

A Journey Towards Intercultural Engagement

by Mike Clemmer, Leadership Minister

One of the priorities of Franconia Conference as put forth in 2012, is to be more focused in our congregational work on intercultural engagement. Specifically, as stated on our website, it is “networking and cultivating intercultural ministry relationships that work cross-culturally while building further capacity toward mutually-beneficial relationships among ministries and congregations.” I wondered, as I read this statement, “How are we doing at that?”

My mind goes to the early church in Acts. They modeled this same type of intercultural engagement that is envisioned by our Conference leaders. Along the way, the Church in Acts experienced some messiness and struggled in areas of communication, arrogance, and life practice as they worked at developing mutually-beneficial relationships that cared for people of all cultures equally. Indeed, they were aided greatly by an amazing filling of the Holy Spirit, but as they engaged with their call to make disciples of all nations, the result was that the church grew quickly. Is the church in Acts an accurate model as to what our intercultural engagement in Franconia Conference is supposed to look like?

There is no doubt that the make-up of our Conference has changed dramatically in the past several decades. We are becoming more and more urban, more white-collar, less “white” then before and definitely less Swiss-German – at least ethnically speaking. These changes have caused 

some small bumps in the road for Conference, related to communication and the practice of worship amidst the diversity, but it has also led to some rich new understandings of our faith and life together. I believe this diversity is a direct result of the vision put forth from the Conference. I applaud many of our congregations for their intentional approach to connecting with other churches that are completely different, culturally. Indeed, we have worshipped together, ate together, and prayed together – and everyone involved is better for our continued work at intercultural engagement.

My congregation, Towamencin Mennonite Church, recently partnered with Centro de Alabanza de Filadelfia for an outdoor baptism service. Centro’s pastors – Fernando and Letty – and I spent a lot of time working out the details of the worship, translation,  transportation needs and the details of a joint meal together. There seemed to be so many hurdles to jump over in the planning process. Yet, we all desired to be together and believed that through this service, both of our congregations would experience God in a powerful way. The commitment of the Centro congregation to this service touched the people of Towamencin greatly, as 130 persons made the trek from South Philly to Telford and joined another 130 persons from Towamencin. The balance in the attendance numbers may have just been a coincidence, but for us as pastors, it was God’s reminder that we both bring value to the table in equal ways and we have a lot to learn from each other.

We baptized 10 persons in the Branch Creek on that beautiful July morning. We had earlier agreed that the words spoken during the baptisms would not be translated as to not disrupt the flow of the event. So, we all watched and cheered each other on in English and in Spanish, as persons declared publicly their commitment to Jesus. Then the Spirit interrupted the service in a powerful way. Just as Pastors Fernando and Letty were preparing to baptize their own daughter, Pastor Fernando abruptly stopped speaking in Spanish and with a tear-soaked face spoke in English and said, “I am sorry for my emotion – but you must understand how great this event is for us: to baptize our own daughter!” Every person from Towamencin connected instantly with the human condition of being a parent and seeing our children make a public faith commitment. At that moment, there were no intercultural differences, no struggles with language – only a coming together fully as two churches, one without any barriers.

Following the baptisms we enjoyed a feast together: chicken BBQ along with the best guacamole ever and salsa. We also agreed together that this will be a yearly happening.

In the weeks after this service, I have been talking to many pastors and congregations who have had similar awesome experiences of intercultural engagement. My question to them is, “Now what?” Do we just go back into our weekly routines as individual churches serving in our local communities, or do we dare to be more regular with our interactions with one another? The Acts church certainly broke down many cultural barriers along the way, yet still displayed many incidents where the church flourished in its own cultural space. In fact, for the early church, intercultural engagement was still always a work in progress.

Perhaps that is how we should look at the vision of our Conference towards intercultural connectedness – as a continual, ongoing work in progress. There is no question that we have much to learn from one another. I think we simply need to recognize the value of being with one another, and then the opportunities to do things together will happen. Most of all, we need to see each other as partners in the same vision with all sides bringing the gifts and abilities to the table equally, on a level playing field. This is the biggest part of the journey of bridging cultures together. It is a necessary one, and at times a messy one. I am thankful that our Conference reminds us all that it is a highly valuable and important journey for our Conference churches to engage in. 

Darkness Unfolding As Light

On April 14 approximately 80 women from across Franconia and Eastern District Conferences joined together at Towamencin Mennonite Church for the annual Sister Care Gathering. The theme was “Darkness Unfolding as Light,” with the book of Ruth as the Biblical text.  Cathy Spory, Elementary Principal at Johnstown Christian School, took on the character of Naomi and gave insightful first-person monologues.  Marilyn Bender, one of four co-pastors at Ripple Church in Allentown and Rose Bender Cook, Marilyn’s sister-in-law and a bi-vocational pastor at Whitehall Mennonite Church, shared their personal and Biblical reflections including speaking of the illness and loss of Marilyn’s husband John, Rose’s brother.

The women were invited to string beads, with knots representing the rough places and the iridescent beads representing those light-filled moments. There was time for conversation and prayer with each other at our tables, and an opportunity to experiment with different ways to pray including praying with color, walking prayer, healing prayer and anointing.

Pastor Letty Cortes from Centro de Alabanza led the women in activities to get to know  one another. There was much singing together and the women enjoyed a delicious lunch including a wonderful cake gifted to them from MCUSA out-going Executive Director, Ervin Stutzman, from his retirement party the night before.  It was bi-lingual day, with everything presented in English and Spanish, and was a deeply moving day, culminating in the women giving testimony as to where God had unfolded their darkness into light.

Many thanks to the planning committee: Anne M. Yoder, Coordinator; Pastor Donna Merow; Pastor Doris Diener; Pastor Letty Castro; and Pastor Marta Castillo. Special thanks to Pastor Marilyn Bender, Pastor Rose Bender Cook and Cathy Spory for all their energy and all they shared with the women of our Conferences.

Faithful Resilience

By Barbie Fischer, Communication Manager

Franconia Mennonite Conference Delegates voted at the 1987 Assembly to allow congregations to request credentialing for female leaders. That vote led to two women entering the credentialing process. One of those women would not be ordained for another 29 years. The other, Marty Kolb Wykoff, was credentialed in 1988, at which time she was serving at Taftsville Chapel Mennonite Fellowship. Since Marty’s credentialing, Franconia Mennonite Conference has credentialed numerous women. Currently, 30% of Franconia Conference active credentialed leaders are women. In 2015, Franconia Conference credentialed their first woman of color, Leticia Cortes. Still, within Franconia Conference there is only one instance where a woman serves as lead pastor with an associate she oversees. All other credentialed women in the conference who hold pastoral roles are either solo pastors or associates. While women receive the call from God to ministry, they still face many earthly obstacles. With all of this in mind, it led some to question what the credentialing process is like for women and how they remain resilient in ministry when some still object to them being in ministry.

Anne Kaufman Weaver

In the summer of 2016, with the blessing of the Conference Ministerial Committee, then-Director of Leadership Cultivation, Steve Kriss, invited Anne Kaufman Weaver to interview 11 active female credentialed leaders within Franconia Conference. The purpose was to look at women’s pastoral resiliency. This was an extension of research Anne began in Atlantic Coast and Lancaster Conferences. While co-teaching a course at Eastern Mennonite Seminary, Anne discovered a book regarding pastoral resiliency that only voiced male pastors. This made her wonder, what resiliency looks like for female pastors and ultimately lead to her research.

On, April 25, 30 people from around Franconia Conference – 14 men and 16 women – met at Blooming Glen Mennonite Church to hear Anne report from her Women’s Pastoral Resiliency research in Franconia Conference. There were six themes that emerged from her research regarding important elements to women’s pastoral resiliency: 1) spiritual formation, 2) self-care, 3) emotional intelligence, 4) cultural intelligence, 5) family and relationships, and 6) leadership. Anne’s questions to the women she interviewed focused on their calling, the credentialing process, areas of self-care, resources, obstacles, and what the conference and seminaries should know.

Throughout the morning , Anne discussed key points in the areas of credentialing, calling, self-care, and obstacles. Credentialed women from the Conference also shared some of their experiences.

Kris Anne Swartley, Minister for the Missional Journey at Doylestown Mennonite Church, shared about her experience in the credentialing process, where licensing was fine for the congregation, but when it came time for ordination, the congregation was reluctant. She spoke of the need to separate her personal process from that of the congregation, the importance of open communication with the congregational leadership, and the chance to share one-on-one and in small groups about her call story.

Mary Nitzsche, Pastor of Pastoral Care and Spiritual Formation at Blooming Glen, shared about her calling experience. She spoke of the way others seemed to recognize a calling in her before she did, even though she would play the “preacher” to all her dolls when she was four years old. She shared about wrestling with the call as it came when she was married with children. How would stepping into her call impact her family?

Speaking about self-care was Sandy Drescher-Lehman, Pastor at Methacton Mennonite Church. She spoke of the support of her husband, and being renewed in nature. Anne’s research shows that exercise and relaxation was key to the women interviewed, along with opportunities to meet with other women in ministry, engage in hobbies, and spend time with family and friends.

Newly credentialed women – and men – at Conference Assembly 2016.

The morning ended with Anne sharing some of the obstacles faced by women in ministry, including patronizing language and stereotypes, being expected to take minutes or help in the kitchen. Even the size of the pulpit, having to stand on a stool to see over it, and the constant thought of appropriate clothing that accommodates a clip-on microphone can be obstacles. A challenge Franconia Conference is specifically seeing is that it takes women longer to move through the credentialing process than their male counterparts. Younger women don’t seem to be named to conference-wide positions as often as younger men. Congregations in Franconia Conference still differ on their interpretation of the Confession of Faith; there is a zeal to uphold the article regarding sexuality, but not the same zeal to uphold the article on credentialing women.

Anne shares her report on women’s pastoral LEADership and resiliency with the Franconia Conference leadership ministry team.

The Franconia Conference Ministerial Committee, Conference Board and staff have read and discussed Anne’s research and are working to implement ways to better support women in ministry. The congregations in Franconia Conference are also taking steps to examine this topic. Last fall, Franconia Mennonite Church held a series of discussions and studies on women in ministry. Franconia Conference continues to work to support all those who are a part of the Body of Christ. In the 30 years since affirming women in ministry, the Conference has come a great distance, yet there is still a long way to go.

Read Women’s Pastoral Resiliency Research by Anne Kauffman Weaver here.

Hear the Podcast of Anne’s presentation at Blooming Glen here.

Cuidándonos entre Mujeres / Sister Care

por Marta Castillo

La experiencia de sentarse, aprender, reír, llorar y compartir en un grupo de 30 líderes y pastoras de habla hispana es una experiencia que no tiene comparación. El Espíritu del Dios viviente fluía libremente y poderosamente, las voces se elevaban en ánimo, las oraciones se hablaban y las experiencias de vida fueran compartidas en alegría a través del dolor. Tuve el privilegio de ser incluida en la invitación y estoy agradecida de que la Conferencia de Franconia me apoyara,  Pastora Marta Castillo (Nueva Vida Norristown Nueva Vida) y Pastora Leticia Cortes (Centro de Alabanza), en nuestro viaje a Oregón el mes pasado para participar en el taller Cuidándonos entre Mujeres  en español. El entrenamiento trajo sanación y el encuentro de líderes de mujeres hispanas fuertes de todo Estados Unidos, incluyendo Florida, Texas, California, Iowa y Pennsylvania fue una fuente de inspiración.


Como dice el sitio web de Menonite Women USA, “los talleres proveen a las mujeres con herramientas para la sanación personal continua, el reconocimiento y la celebración de la gracia de Dios en sus vidas, y respondiendo con más confianza y efectividad a las necesidades de otros en sus familias, congregaciones y comunidades”. Se ha sido utilizado en todo el mundo y se ha traducido en varios idiomas, pero esta es la primera vez que se imparte el curso en español con la esperanza de llevar los materiales y habilidades a nuestras conferencias y congregaciones.  La Pastora Leticia Cortes Castro y yo estamos comprometidas a compartir lo que hemos aprendido con otras mujeres en nuestras iglesias y en nuestra  conferencia.

La Pastora Leticia envió una nota a la Conferencia de Franconia para expresar su agradecimiento. Como miembros de la Conferencia de Franconia aquí están sus palabras para ustedes:

Para la Conferencia de Franconia:

Por este medio quiero agradecer todo el apoyo que se nos dio a Marta Castillo y su servidora, para viajar a Portland Oregon, y poder tomar el taller de “Cuidado de mujeres” que fue de gran bendición para nuestras vidas, en lo personal me siento fortalecida y animada para compartir con otras lo aprendido, los temas son de gran interés para nuestra comunidad Hispana, y pudimos identificar que muchos de los temas que se compartieron, son necesarios para ayudarnos entre nostras como mujeres, me toco la lectura bíblica de la samaritana, y algo paso en ese tiempo de compartir ese pasaje,  fue algo especial para mí, me sentí tan identificada con la mujer samaritana, de sentir el perdón y amada directamente por el Mesías, otra parte del taller fue maravilloso porque los temas fueron  en mi idioma, lo extraordinario fue que lo aprendido lo pude poner en práctica con una Hermana que se sentía mal espiritualmente, y pude compartir con ella y orar juntas, y sentimos como Dios uso ese momento para darle paz , y gozo en su vida, quedamos tan agradecidas con Dios, que vamos a continuar con nuestra hermandad y amistad a la distancia,

Gracias nuevamente, en Cristo
Pastora Letty Cortes Castro
Centro de Alabanza de Filadelfia

by Marta Castillo

Sitting, learning, laughing, crying, and sharing in a group of 30 Spanish-speaking women leaders and pastors is an experience that is unrivaled.  The Spirit of the living God flowed freely and powerfully, voices were raised in excitement, prayers were spoken, and life experiences shared in joy through the pain.  I was privileged (as a white Spanish-speaking woman) to be included in the invitation and I am thankful that Franconia Conference supported myself, Pastor Marta Castillo (Nueva Vida Norristown New Life), and Pastor Leticia Cortes (Centro de Alabanza), in our trip to Oregon last month to participate in the Sister Care Seminar in Spanish.  Going through the training was healing and meeting strong Hispanic women leaders from all over the United States, including Florida, Texas, California, Iowa, and Pennsylvania was inspirational.

As the Mennonite Women USA website says, “seminars provide women with tools for ongoing personal healing, recognizing and celebrating God’s grace in their lives, and responding more confidently and effectively to the needs of others in their families, congregations and communities.” It has been used all over the world and been translated in several languages, but this is the first time that the training was held in Spanish with the hope that we would take the materials and skills to our conferences and congregations.  Pastor Leticia Cortes Castro and I are committed to sharing what we have learned with other women in our churches and in our conference.


Pastor Leticia sent a note to Franconia Conference to express her appreciation. As members of Franconia Conference here are her words to you:

I want to thank all the support that was given to Marta Castillo and me, God’s servant, to travel to Portland, Oregon, and to be able to take the workshop “Sister Care” in Spanish. That was a great blessing for our lives.  Personally, I feel strengthened and encouraged to share with others what I learned.  The topics are of great interest to our Hispanic community and we were able to identify that many of the themes that were shared are necessary to help us as women.   I shared a monologue of the biblical reading of the Samaritan woman and it touched me deeply.  Something happened during that time that I shared that passage and it is very special for me.   I identified with the Samaritan woman, feeling forgiveness and loved directly by the Messiah.  Another part of the workshop that was wonderful was that the teaching was in my own Spanish language.  The extraordinary thing was that what I learned I could put into practice immediately with a sister in Christ who felt bad spiritually and I could share with her and pray together.  We felt like God used that moment to give her peace and joy in her life.  We are so grateful to God for all the wonderful women that we met and that we will continue our sisterhood and friendship at a distance.

Thank you again, in Christ
Pastor Letty Cortes Castro
Centro de Alabanza

 

Thy Kingdom Come

By Aldo Siaahan

 As a part of an annual event of Kingdom Builders network of Philadelphia, the Pentecost Worship service was held at Philadelphia Praise Center on July 2, 2016. The service started with a fellowship over different traditional meals. There was a Vietnamese noodles and meatball dish, traditional tacos, Indonesian empanadas, sushi and much more. We did not expect to have a big crowd because it was a holiday weekend. Yet, to our surprise so many people came and brought food to the point where we were overflowing.

 We opened the service at 6:30 pm with a prayer, followed by songs in Creole, Spanish, English, and other languages. We listened to a short message by Chantelle Todman Moore, Philadelphia Program Coordinator at Mennonite Central Committee. The service was divided into 3 sections. The first was, “Hallowed Be Thy Name”, then “Thy Kingdom Come”, and lastly “Thy Will Be Done”. During the service, Fred Kauffman, Methacton Mennonite, and Calenthia Dowdy, Professor and Director of Faith Initiatives at Eastern University, led occasional conversations by throwing a question to discuss in small groups about why our ancestors came to the United States. Some reasons given were “escaping persecution”, “economic opportunities”, “education”, and “slavery”.  A big lesson learned was that we are all displaced (desplazados, terlantar, verschoben). We closed the service with a holy communion led by Bernard Sejour, pastor at Eglise Evangelique Solidarite and Harmonie, and Fernando Loyola and Leticia Cortez, co-pastors at Centro de Alabanza.

I am very grateful to be a part of a diverse community in the city of Philadelphia that can give me a little sneak peak of Heaven.

Note: The Kingdom Builders Network is a Mennonite Anabaptist Network around Philadelphia. They have meetings every month on the second Thursday. During the meetings, they read scriptures, discuss the word of God, and pray for each other. They have meetings in different locations although most of the time the meeting is held in Oxford Circle Mennonite Church.

Aldo Siaahan is a LEADership Minister and Pastor at Philadelphia Praise Center.

Women Meet to Tell Their Sacred Stories

By Anne M. Yoder, Coordinator, EDC/FMC Sistering Committee
On March 12, over 35 women met together for a Day Apart, held at Towamencin Mennonite Church. Attendees came from various Mennonite churches in Eastern District and Franconia Mennonite Conferences. A large group coming from Centro de Alabanza de Filadelfia, a South Philadelphia congregation that is made up primarily of immigrants from Mexico, Central America, and Latin America.

This gathering was a bilingual retreat that gave the oSistering1pportunity to reflect on the theme “Sistering for Life.” The term “sistering” refers to a practice in carpentry in which structural repairs are made by attaching new wood beams to weak (sagging, cracked or twisted) joists to make the original stronger. All of us are strong at times and can help those who are weak; all of us find it difficult to make it on our own at times and need others to support us. Sistering is a gift that we embody as God’s women who are following Jesus throughout our lives.

The program’s theme was fleshed out in various ways. Songs were led in Spanish and English by a team from Centro de Alabanza and by Dorothy Beidler from Norristown New Life. A meditation was given by Ana Rosa Hernandez, a member at Centro de Alabanza, on Proverbs 17:17 (“A friend loves at all times, and a [sister] is born for a time of adversity.”) and Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 (“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor; if either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.”) Four women — Linda Esh, Dania Hernandez, and Ligia Canavan, from Centro de Alabanza, and Jenny Duskey of Ambler Mennonite – were designated to tell a story of being sistered. From them came accounts of loss, sexual abuse, stepping into unknown territory during a move, and finding faith in the midst of struggle, along with the spiritual, emotional and physical help they found along the way.

Sistering3A children’s story, “Four Feet, Two Sandals”, was read to illustrate how something as simple as sharing a pair of sandals at a refugee camp can build sisterhood. Leticia Cortes, pastor at Centro de Alabanza, led us in activities that required teamwork and seeing how we felt in each other’s shoes. A sandal was given to each participant to decorate and to write a message on; these were then exchanged with another woman, with whom a prayer and blessing were shared.

Throughout the day we sat in table groups getting to know six or seven other women in a deeper way as we reflected together on our experiences of being sistered by Jesus and by girls/women at different stages of our lives. Women who could interpret between Spanish and English were each assigned to a table so that all of us could understand each other.

Sistering4I felt great joy in spending time with the women who gathered on March 12th. Not knowing Spanish, I had the opportunity to experience what it’s like to be in the minority for once, but also to listen to a beautifully expressive language. Hearing the stories of women often moved me to tears and to laughter, and I marveled at the deep, and often exuberant faith that has emerged in spite of, or perhaps because of, difficult circumstances in their lives. Each year, this event challenges my faith journey and stretches my world-view. The Holy Spirit is alive and well and very evident as we meet. It is a privilege to take part in creating a holy space for this gathering to happen and to take part in it.

The Sistering Committee is working to hold annual gatherings like this and are planning for another one in 2017 Keep watch for announcements about it!

The Sistering Committee is especially grateful to Mike Clemmer and his team at Towamencin Mennonite Church for allowing us to use their facility and giving so much help in bringing our event to fruition. And I, Anne Yoder, want to thank the other members of the Sistering Committee for their wisdom and prayers and efforts: Marta Castillo, pastor at Norristown New Life, Leticia Cortes, pastor at Centro de Alabanza, and Doris Diener, of Franconia Mennonite Church.

The Sistering Committee represents Mennonite Women USA for eastern Pennsylvania (and the conferences’ outlying congregations) and looks forward to serving the women of our area. If you are interested in serving on the committee, please contact Anne Yoder at ayoder1@swarthmore.edu.

God Multiplies the Small Things

by Stephen Kriss

I was struck by the powerful words of the songs that we were singing together on Sunday in this former-thrift-store-turned-worship-space packed to nearly overflowing: we are not afraid… we believe… The words were punctuated with amens, raised hands, “Gloria A Dios.” This is Centro De Alabanza, an outgrowth of Philadelphia Praise Center, now a congregation of its own among the growing Spanish-speaking population in South Philadelphia. We were singing redemption songs that add strength and meaning to immigrant life in this thriving and sometimes dangerous city.

Centro 8On Sunday we celebrated the pastoral licensing of Fernando Loyola and Letty Cortes as ministers in Franconia Conference. Letty was radiant, clothed elegantly with gifts she said were from women in the congregation. Fernando, steady, firm, serious as usual in the task of leading. They lead together as a team, the boomerang of the fruit of Mennonite mission efforts from Franconia Conference to Mexico City in the 90’s.  No one would have expected that support for Kirk Hanger, who left his role at Methacton Mennonite to work at church-planting in Mexico City, would have meant that Centro de Alabanza would emerge to join Franconia Conference.

God multiples the small things and the licensing of Fernando and Letty are proof of that.  Fernando tells the story of his conversion as one that takes a lifetime. Letty is the first woman of color recognized as a pastoral leader in Franconia Conference, over 25 years after the first woman (Marty Kolb-Wycoff) was credentialed for ministry in Vermont.

Centro 1In working with credentialing new leaders and in the slow work that we do in establishing new congregations, I cannot help but see all of the connections that make new things possible.  I notice the small things along the way that when invested in the dream of God, result in unexpected blessing and possibility. It is the widow’s mite given in faith and generosity, the mustard seed that grows into a tree, the leaven that transforms the whole loaf of bread.

We ate together after the two-hour plus worship. There was chicken, rice and beans, Coke along with orange, grape and pineapple soda.  I thought of how similar it felt to the times I’ve visited with Mennonite Churches in Mexico City, yet I was still in my home city in the state where I was born.  I fumbled through conversations in Spanish, but remembered best the words that I learned from Ruth Hunsberger, my Spanish teacher at Johnstown Christian School, who learned Spanish herself while working in Puerto Rico in the 40’s.  My Spanish will thus always sound both a bit Pennsylvania Dutch and a bit Puerto Rican.

Centro 3We bring all of those gifts and parts, all of who we are, all of the possibilities and relationships into the great Matrix of God … and they are used. Nothing is lost, everything is found and even the smallest thing can mean real transformation.  Kirk told the story of meeting Letty while washing dishes in Mexico City. A wholly ordinary conversation that has led eventually to this new community flourishing in South Philadelphia and the naming of the first Latina Mennonite minister in Franconia Conference.  And for those small things, which become eternally significant, and the ability to notice them later and to celebrate together over pollo, frijoles y arroz, I am grateful.

Stephen Kriss is Director of Leadership Cultivation & Congregational Resourcing at Franconia Conference.