Tag Archives: Leticia Cortes

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.

 

 

Making theological formation and education relevant to urban churches

by Elizabeth M. Miller for Mennonite Education Agency, originally posted in The Mennonite

Kim-Mai Tang and Khoa Ho are part of the Year 1 Cohort (class of 2017) in Eastern Mennonite Seminary’s STEP program. Photo provided by EMU.
Kim-Mai Tang and Khoa Ho are part of the Year 1 Cohort (class of 2017) in Eastern Mennonite Seminary’s STEP program. Photo provided by EMU.

Flexibility is one of the critical ways the various schools associated with Mennonite Education Agency (MEA) are making theological formation and education accessible and relevant to urban churches.

But flexibility alone is not enough. Urban church leaders are also looking for education solidly grounded in a global context and embedded in relational networks, not just institutional structures.

In response a variety of Mennonite educational institutions have developed ser­vices meant to serve and learn from urban Anabaptists, often strongly rooted in a particular geographical center or located within a series of networks and partnerships.
1. Instituto Bíblico Anabautista
At Centro de Alabanza in Philadelphia each week, over 20 percent of the church community gathers to study and discuss courses offered by the Instituto Bíblico Anabautista (IBA, Anabaptist Biblical Institute) and facilitated by the congregation’s pastors, Fernando Loyola and Leticia Cortés.

“The advantage of the courses is that you can start whenever it best suits,” said Cortés in a recent interview. “We can study at any time.”

The IBA courses at Centro de Alabanza are held twice a week. Most of the participants at Centro de Alabanza are married couples, so men study one night and women the next. This way husbands and wives are able to swap child care during their respective class nights.

“[IBA] has total flexibility,” says Rafael Barahona, IBA and the Hispanic Pastoral and Leadership Education office director. “So [the churches] can make it work for them.” IBA provides instruction manuals for students and training for facilitators, but it does not impose an external schedule on church groups using the program.

For Centro de Alabanza, this flexibility has been key. The ability to offer courses on a schedule that equally benefits husbands and wives from within the same households has had a tremendous effect on the congregation. “In my case with the women especially, they have more confidence that they are capable, that they can use their gifts,” said Cortés.

An IBA student retreat. The 2014 retreat took place in Talladega, Ala. Photo by Violeta Ajquejay.
An IBA student retreat. The 2014 retreat took place in Talladega, Ala. Photo by Violeta Ajquejay.

Cortés has observed the women immediately putting into practice what they have been learning in the classes. Some have even started preaching in the worship services.

IBA is one of the longest-running and most expansive programs for urban Mennonite church leaders. Now in its 27th year, there are 42 centers serving around 300 students across the country, from New York City to Miami to Omaha, Neb.

2. STEP
Eastern Mennonite Seminary, a graduate division of Eastern Mennonite University,operates a campus in Lancaster, Pa., that most directly serves the eastern part of the state, including many urban churches in Lancaster and the greater metro area of Philadelphia.

“One of the things unique about the EMS program is that our programs are intended for urban dwellers,” says Steve Kriss, associate director of pastoral studies at EMS Lancaster and LEADership minister for Franconia Conference.

While EMS Lancaster offers an M.Div. track and two graduate certificate programs, they also operate Study and Training for Effective Pastoral Ministry (STEP), an undergraduate-level program for church leaders who wish to strengthen their ministry and leadership experiences.

From the beginning, STEP was designed as a collaborative program, dependent on urban church networks and experience. An advisory committee from Philadelphia-area congregations helped design the original program, and teachers and students came from area Anabaptist congregations.

“It was a very deliberate attempt to connect with the vibrant urban minority [and] recent immigrant congregations in the Philadelphia urban metro area,” says Mark Wenger, director of EMS Lancaster.

STEP is grounded in practical experience and mentoring relationships. Everyone who joins STEP must already serve in a leadership role within his or her congregation, and each student is paired with a ministry mentor.

“[It’s an] embedded model, not an academy model,” says Wenger. “What you study, what you read about, what you write about, you practice right away in your context. That works in an urban setting very well.”

By necessity STEP integrates global realities into the formal education experience.

“Global political realities sometimes come crashing down in the classroom,” says Kriss. “The world does not stay as separated as it might in a more traditional setting.”

The urban congregations that partner with EMS Lancaster include Vietnamese, Latino, Anglo, African-American and Ethiopian ones. The diverse identities of these, combined with their urban context, bring global issues to the fore.

“Urban leaders are asking us to work at ways of telling the Anabaptist story that integrate with urban and global realities. For places like Philly, it’s not just the city that we’re dealing with,” says Kriss. “We’re dealing with global realities. So our coursework needs to reflect those realities.”

It has also been important for traditional Mennonite congregations to be involved in the work that urban congregations and leaders are doing. Kriss calls this “enlivening work.” “Across the board it helps build relationships and give [traditional Mennonite congregations] new ways to look at Anabaptism.”

3. AMBS-SCUPE
Both EMS in Harrisonburg, Va., and Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) in Elkhart, Ind., offer courses in their graduate programs specifically focused on urban contexts and ministry. They also regularly receive students from nearby urban centers.

In general, however, the seminaries report that it is the partnerships in urban-based theological education that have most strengthened their programs in this regard.

AMBS, for example, is a long-standing member of the Seminary Consortium for Urban Pastoral Education (SCUPE). Rather than try to duplicate the courses and experience offered by SCUPE, AMBS encourages students to enroll in SCUPE’s courses in nearby Chicago.

Miller-and-Martin
David B. Miller, associate professor of missional leadership development and AMBS-SCUPE program liaison, meets with advisee Martin Navarro. Photo provided by AMBS.

According to Rebecca Slough, academic dean, SCUPE builds on the formation offered at AMBS while introducing students to a wider network of people.

“It puts [students] in a different theological and racial-ethnic environment,” says Slough.

Julia Gingrich, a 2014 AMBS graduate who lives and works in Elkhart, credits her SCUPE courses with giving her the tools to “exegete” her urban context.

“[They] played a significant role in forming me as a missional leader who seeks to be deeply and consciously rooted in my ministry context,” she wrote in an email.

The Urban Peacemaking course Gingrich took through SCUPE was especially helpful in preparing her for her ministry internship at St. James AME, which Gingrich described as “an African-American congregation located in a marginalized Elkhart neighborhood.”

“[In Urban Peacemaking] we studied and discussed gun violence and mass incarceration, issues that are of central concern to the members and neighbors of St. James,” wrote Gingrich. “Studying these issues helped me join St. James in [its] efforts to resist these forms of violence.”

4. Center for Intercultural and International Education
The kind of partnerships and networks that have made IBA, STEP, and SCUPE possible are also crucial to the work of the Center for Intercultural and International Education (CIIE) at Goshen (Ind.) College.

CIIE focuses on welcoming students from multicultural backgrounds—who are also often urban students—as well as working with organizations and churches that work with youth.

“Many times we think urban students are more needy than other students,” says Gilberto Pérez, CIIE director. But he notes that urban students often have a level of resiliency and network navigation skills that is helpful for college. Adjusting to college without the proximity of their home network can be daunting, however, so CIIE pairs them with a student mentor. “The mentoring gives them a place to experience what they had in their home community,” says Pérez.

While CIIE focuses much of its energy on the Goshen College community itself, it also sustains partnerships with 16 different community partners that work with students of color in locations all across the country.

Their goal, Pérez says, is “to be in relationship and offer the resources the church has available.”

5. ReconciliaAsian
ReconciliAsian, an Anabaptist peace center that works mainly with Korean-American churches in Los Angeles, recently began a partnership with CIIE. Like the Philadelphia churches who partner with EMS Lancaster, ReconciliAsian finds their focus to ultimately be a global one.

Their recent partnership with CIIE allows ReconciliAsian to reach what Park-Hur calls “invisible” youth in the Asian-American community who may not fit the “model minority myth” imposed on so many Asian-Americans.

Park-Hur also hopes to speak at more family conferences with her husband, Hyun Hur. Their respective backgrounds as a Korean-American and a Korean immigrant make them uniquely equipped to communicate a message of conflict transformation across generational boundaries.

Like many urban ministries, ReconciliAsian depends on a variety of relational networks and partnerships for its work.

As important as networks and flexibility are to theological formation and education in urban contexts, they alone cannot respond to other challenges. Some urban churches, for example, want their youth to attend Mennonite colleges, but they fear those same young people won’t return after four years away.

“Our undergraduate programs are all outside major urban areas,” says Kriss. “Some Mennonite congregations feel that to raise up good leaders and send them to Mennonite schools means the congregations lose them forever, because they don’t return.”

Cost is another hurdle. Some of the programs, like IBA, keep their costs low by using volunteer instructors. But accreditation comes with a price tag that can be particularly burdensome for urban churches and leaders.

Yet relationships can go a long way toward sharing these challenges and adapting or creating new educational structures that better serve urban churches.

“We need networks of trusted relationships,” says Kriss. “We need to spend time building relationships and being in each other’s space.”

Elizabeth Miller is a member of Berkey Avenue Mennonite Church in Goshen, Ind.