Tag Archives: Maria Hosler Byler

Teaching Healthy Sexuality for Faithful Living

By Maria Hosler Byler, Pastor for Youth and Family Faith Formation, Salford Mennonite Church

To live out our faith requires helping our children grow into healthy, knowledgeable, and faithful adults – and this is not just for parents; this task is for the whole church. This involves how we use our money, how we treat our neighbors and how we live our lives as sexual people. As Pastor for Youth and Family Faith Formation at Salford, my role is to help families in this task. That meant opening a conversation with parents around sexuality and our human capacity for sexual feelings.

I don’t know if the participants at Salford’s “Beyond the Talk” parents’ gathering were apprehensive before we met, but I sure was. I had planned this conversation for parents about talking with their kids about sexuality with the help of some knowledgeable and experienced congregation members. I was confident we had solid, faith-based resources to offer parents about sexuality and child development. But beyond that, I had so many questions. Were parents even interested in guidance from the church as they teach their kids about sexuality? What was the guidance of the church for parents anyway? Would parents be willing to share, or would we just sit in awkward silence? Would they even come?

We ended up with a spread of parents of kids of all ages, dedicated to raising their kids in healthy sexuality and eager to interact. The night had moments of seriousness and laughter as well as lots of food for thought.

Beth Styer, a congregation member with experience teaching sexuality education, talked about all the different ways kids pick up information about sexuality. We teach them by how we hold them, by how we talk about private parts and human relationships. Then Ron Souder, a pediatrician, brought some sobering statistics about teens and sexuality. He reminded us all that kids learn about sexuality in one way or another, and it’s up to parents what kind of influence they will add to the mix. He also showed a hilariously awkward video clip of parents trying to tell their kids where babies come from – a cringe-worthy reminder that this is a topic lots of people stumble on. He followed that by giving some practical information on developmentally appropriate information for kids as they grow.

Sexuality is anything that has to do with living life as a sexual person. Like anything else in our faith lives, healthy sexuality isn’t a one-time conversation – it’s a way of life that we address over and over again. Can you imagine parents having one conversation with their kids about how to pray, for example, and then checking it off the list with a sigh of relief? Kids learn from our own attitudes and behaviors, so healthy sexuality education starts with us. Thankfully, these little teaching moments happen throughout our kids’ lives, so we have lots of chances to try again.

Throughout the evening, parents shared their own challenges and successes in teaching their kids about sexuality. They shared poignant and off-the-wall comments their toddlers made. They shared moments of confusion and trauma from their own past, and their desires to teach their kids better than they were taught.

My favorite part was when parents shared their hopes for their kids’ sexuality. Some of the hopes that were named: that their kids know deeply God’s love for their bodies and treat their own and others’ bodies with respect; that their sexuality be important to their faith, not something to be scared of but something to discern seriously. Then parents shared ways they help their kids learn these values – giving each other ideas and reminding themselves of the process that is already underway.

That evening barely scratched the surface of the topic. Just like it’s impossible to communicate everything a kid needs to know about sexuality in one talk, it’s impossible to cover everything with parents in an evening. In the end I was left with gratitude for the work that is already happening. Parents are considering where they come from and what we believe, growing in their own sexuality, and intentionally passing on their faith values to their kids. God is already working to heal our places of pain and brokenness and walk with us as the new generation grows up.

The conversation continues, and the work continues. My prayer is that this gathering be only the start of much thought, prayer, and care for human bodies as we raise up little ones in faith.

For some age appropriate books to talk to kids about sexuality, check out “Talking to Kids About Bodies and Boundaries” by Kris and Ginger Wint from the Spring 2017 issue of Intersections or find the list under the “Books to Use With Children” heading on Franconia Conference’s Church Safety webpage

 

 

Teenagers or Screenagers?

by Maria Hosler Byler, Associate Pastor for Youth and Family Faith Formation at Salford Mennonite Church  

On November 25th, 120 people gathered in Salford Mennonite Church’s sanctuary to view Screenagers, a film about teenagers and technology use. Some who walked in the doors were eager to be there, and some came because their parents made them – but all had stories of how technology has affected their lives, and many sensed the urgency of a conversation about screens and faith: How does my faith inform the enormous cultural shift technology has brought on? What actions will help me grow in relationship to God and my neighbor and what actions won’t?

Screenagers was produced by Delaney Ruston, a medical doctor and mother of two teenagers. She shows her own family’s struggles to have a healthy relationship with technology and interviews many other teens and parents. Included in the film is psychological and brain research, as well as information on addiction, multi-tasking, and how technology is affecting academics.

According to the film, the average kid spends around 6.5 hours a day looking at screens. This isn’t just limited to teenagers. During the film I found myself resonating with so much of the research and stories. When I open Facebook for just that one thing and I end up spending 20 minutes scrolling, it doesn’t help my self-esteem or mood. I get distracted from my work when I hear my phone ping. Even as an adult this film offered a chance to assess my own screen use and consider how to use technology in ways that are life-giving – without it taking over my life.

After we watched the film we divided into groups for discussion. The middle schoolers I talked with are aware of the pull of technology. They’re steeped in it from early in their development and it is truly shaping their lives. They reap the benefits as well as the challenges. They’re watching their parents, who are “digital immigrants,” set boundaries for their kids (and sometimes, though not as often, for themselves). And they’re finding their own way as “digital natives.”

Screens are affecting our society in so many ways. There are plenty of tools available to help families set healthy boundaries around screen time, and they’re worth the investment. And even with those, nothing can replace self-control and good communication. Today’s kids (and their caregivers) have to navigate the dangers of their age just as every other generation has, with only a dim picture of the consequences.

Screenagers has prompted many conversations in different settings in the weeks since the screening. In some ways the challenges are totally new. And in other ways, it’s the same question we’ve always faced: How will I live as a follower of Christ in this uncharted territory?

More information about Screenagers is available at www.screenagersmovie.com. There you can find a trailer to the film, view a list of upcoming screenings to find one in your area, and explore hosting a screening yourself. Salford co-hosted their screening of Screenagers with Advent Lutheran Church.

The Risk of Asking & Answering

by Maria Hosler Byler, Associate Pastor for Youth and Family Faith Formation

Sometimes it takes great courage to ask a question, especially if you are not sure that you can fulfill the answer. Mary Jane Hershey of Salford Mennonite Church had the courage to ask Katie Gard of the Oxford Circle Christian Community Development Association (OCCCDA) what they needed and Katie had the courage to answer, neither of them knowing what, if anything, might come of it.

Salford Mennonite Church and Advent Lutheran Church share a garden on Salford’s property that, “exists to nurture relationships with one another and with God, cultivating a piece of God’s creation, and growing good food for those who need it most.”  The produce from the garden is donated to individuals in need throughout the community, including to various non-profits. Oxford Circle Christian Community Development Association (OCCCDA) of Philadelphia is one of those non-profits.

At the annual fundraising dinner held at Salford to garner funds for seeds and supplies, Mary Jane Hershey encountered Katie Gard and asked that courageous question: what do you at OCCCDA need? She didn’t know what the response would be, or what it would cost her and her community. She didn’t know if she’d be able to fulfill whatever the answer was. Yet she stepped out and asked.

Katie took a risk, too, as she answered, asking for a visit to the Salford garden for their summer camp. The camp receives produce from the garden and Katie believed the kids would benefit from seeing where the produce comes from, and from being in the country. Katie didn’t know how it might happen. She didn’t know what it might require from Salford or Oxford Circle, but she gave her answer.

Mikaylah Price, Adele Shoup, Aubrey Andrews, and Ila Hackman (left to right) show off the carrots they harvested in the Salford Advent community garden.

That was not the end of the small acts of courage. Through collaboration and coordination, plans came together. When the buses pulled up on July 13, several Salford kids and parents were waiting hesitantly as 72 kids and 18 adults from the summer camp got organized. The summer camp kids didn’t quite know what to expect either, but their capable staff lined them up and we split up into our stations.

Between the garden tour, harvesting carrots, introducing the Oxford Circle campers to Gaga ball, and playing water games, kids from Salford and Northeast Philadelphia started to feel at home together. Teammates cheered each other on and helped each other out. Campers harvested carrots to take home. The next week, when the produce from the garden came to OCCCDA, they knew where it was from!

Asking questions and offering answers both take risk — the vulnerability of submitting one’s idea to the direction of another.  After that first risky question and answer, the questions and answers kept happening: How do we make sure the food we serve is halal? Is it ok to shorten this activity? What games do you like to play at your house? No, they shouldn’t have a second popsicle. Do you want to play with us?

The summer camp kids and adults were taking a risk, asking a question, just by getting on the buses and coming to this predominantly white country church to enjoy our space. Salford families and volunteers needed to respond by accepting the schedule and needs of the well-functioning system that is Oxford Circle Summer Camp. I saw our Salford kids offering welcome in the garden, a familiar space to them, to kids who were seeing it for the first time. I saw them experiencing being welcomed and invited into the games by strangers, needing to depend on the welcome of the summer camp kids. Questions were asked, answers were given, God moved, and the results were abundantly far more than we could have asked or imagined.

Photo: Mikaylah Price, Adele Shoup, Aubrey Andrews, and Ila Hackman (left to right) show off the carrots they harvested in the Salford Advent community garden.

 

We Need Each Other

By Maria Hosler Byler, Associate Pastor for Youth and Family Faith Formation at Salford Mennonite

“The extent to which we are surprised by the results of the election demonstrates the poverty of our relationships. The extent to which we don’t understand the need for immigration reform demonstrates the poverty of our relationships.” As I listened to Dr. Christena Cleveland at Eastern Mennonite Seminary’s School for Leadership Training (SLT), I was struck yet again by a consistent theme: we need each other, in all our differences, to glimpse the power of God and join in the work of God in the world.

One of the things I love about SLT is that it turns people of authority into students for a few days. The ones I’m used to seeing up front at conference and denominational events are sitting and listening, taking notes and asking questions. At SLT, we participants — the majority of us white church leaders with a significant amount of agency in our daily lives  — learned from keynote speakers Dr. Cleveland and Drew Hart about race in society. We were called to take our turn “at the foot of the table,” as Dr. Cleveland said.  That’s how we really live into Jesus’ upside-down kingdom.

Using illustrations from scripture and their lives, the speakers explored the depth of race’s impact on our society. They explored how our racialized society maintains itself and why it’s so hard for white people to see and confront racism — why we need people with a “view from the underside,” in Hart’s words, to recognize it. They called the largely white audience to recognize how we’ve been socialized into racial bias, and that Jesus never called us to shame but to repentance and new life together.  Dr. Cleveland showed us by example how to notice privilege in our own lives.  We were being tutored in how to reach beyond ourselves as a demonstration of respect and also of our need.

But it’s not just that we need each other’s perspective, or that we need to learn from one another to understand Jesus’ message.  No, we each have a role to play in dismantling racism, wherever we are.  When we’re uncomfortable we can benefit by staying at the table and continuing the conversation.  In fact, that’s what we were doing at the conference: listening, learning, checking our assumptions and discerning our next steps. One conference attendee asked Drew Hart, “What can I do about racism in my predominantly white community?” and Hart responded, “You’re right at the center of the action!”  Throughout the conference I heard calls to learn and act right where we are, building relationships with our literal neighbors.  I attended a workshop where we practiced listening to people we disagreed with.  In another workshop we discussed what it means to “seek the peace of the city” where you are (Jer. 29:7) and spent some time brainstorming for our own contexts.

I left SLT with a clear sense of my need for others’ perspectives, and also of my ability to make a difference where I am.  And I came home with new questions: Who might I need to listen to better in order to gain a fuller understanding of Jesus?  Where might my privilege be causing me to miss an important lesson?  And how can I stay true to what I’ve learned about power and justice right here in my daily life?

For more of this year’s School for Leadership Training check out Eastern Mennonite Seminary’s article: “School for Leadership Training addresses pastoral responses to a racialized and divided America”

Worthy of our Calling to Extend Christ’s Peace

by Stephen Kriss

During the last staff meeting in this space in between, I invited my colleagues to share their celebrations and questions for the last month.   Without exception, the celebrations and questions had to do with pastors.   We celebrate the completion of pastoral search processes, with the beginning of Mike Spinelli’s leadership at Perkiomenville; the call of Maria Hosler Byler to an associate pastor role at Salford; Josh Jefferson’s installation and licensing last Sunday at Souderton as a youth pastor; and Sandy Drescher-Lehman’s beginning as pastor at Methacton. Many of these processes were lengthy discernments.   We celebrate the new beginnings and new possibilities that leadership can bring in the life of our communities.

Conference staff took a road trip with Pastor Bruce Eglinton-Woods (Salem), to explore the community where the congregation is ministering.

Our questions had to do with how we walk with pastors and congregations through difficult times.  We wonder how God will provide with prolonged pastoral search processes at Franconia and Taftsville.  We prayed as John Bender from Allentown who was in the hospital making difficult decisions between life and death, as he was readmitted to the University of Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia (he made the decision by the time our meeting had ended).  We prayed for an upcoming surgery that Charlie Ness from Perkiomenville will be undergoing.   These are all things we attend to as staff beyond our meeting time and carry in our hearts and heads.

The last month has meant focused attention on planning for Conference Assembly — a great time to celebrate the work God is doing in our midst, and spend time discerning and equipping ourselves for the future.  Registration and the docket are available at http://edc-fmc.org/assembly/  to help us, as a conference, prepare for assembly at Penn View Christian School.  Postcard invitations and posters will be coming to your congregations in the next two weeks. We’ve hosted and gotten some feedback from our time with David Boshart (moderator-elect) from Mennonite Church USA.  We’re prepping for his return at assembly to discuss more specific issues around human sexuality that continue to challenge our capacity to be church together, while going to the margins to be and proclaim the Good News.

Our conference executive minister Ertell M. Whigham comes back on the job on Saturday, October 1.  My season of this stretch of the race as acting executive minister has passed.  I’m ready to return the baton and responsibilities back to Ertell as he navigates the next few months.  I’ve learned a lot in these months.  I’ve been busier than usual with meetings, emails, texts and phone calls.  I have lots of hope for us as a community, but recognize our fragility at the same time.  God continues to bless us with flourishing, and challenges enough to test and grow our hearts, minds, and souls.

At the beginning of these three months, I felt drawn to the text to “live a life worthy of my calling.”  This time, ending this stretch, I want to turn that text back over to us as individuals and a community, to stay focused on the things we’ve discerned together, and to live, work and minister together in such a way that honors the sense of call that exemplifies what God has invited us toward in extending the peace of Christ to each other and to neighbors nearby and faraway.