Tag Archives: MC USA

There is Always Hope in God

by Wendy Wong, Souderton congregation 

Sue Park-Hur, denominational minister for leadership development, introduces the cross of reconciliation during Wednesday worship. Photo courtesy of MC USA.

This was my first experience attending Mennonite Convention.  3000 attendees were among us.  I attended all the worship services and I was very impressed by the energy the worship leaders had and the amazing resonance from the attendees.  I loved the inspirational songs and the fact that the leaders were ethnically diverse.  The emerging intergenerational worship created an atmosphere of joy & unity.  The unique stories from each speaker touched the audience’s heart.  Pastor Sue Park-Hur talked about how they reached out to North Koreans, a country that many might consider to be like Nineveh back in Jonah’s time.

I loved the teaching from Tom Yoder Neufeld.  He said, “Church is a mess;” we responded, “Thanks be to God!” He taught that “unity doesn’t mean harmony.”  He showed a picture of a drawing of Jesus who gathers our diversity (physical and mental) into His womb to create new human beings.  Churches should have vision, be open, pray for each other, show hospitality, and be transformed.  Forbearance means long-suffering and forgiveness and always watching the horizon like the father of the prodigal son.  There is always hope in God.

Wendy’s table group. Photo courtesy of Wendy Wong.

It is an excellent idea to have youth delegates and I am absolutely confident of what they can do for the kingdom of God.  Nowadays youth are a lot smarter than my generation. In my opinion, a youth board member and a youth in the pastoral search team may not be a bad idea. 

I totally agree on the resolution against the abuse of child migrants on the border.  Churches should be loving our neighbor through lobbying for family unification and policy change, sending members to witness the conditions of migrants and sending immigration detention kits, and even sending concern letters to the Southern Baptists so they can raise the concern to the president of the United States.

Wendy joins in the conga line during delegate worship. Photo courtesy of MC USA.

At my table, I heard that delegates were still very bothered by issues like LGBTQ and women in leadership roles, and some were not sure they will come next time.  I like the delegates from my table, however, and it felt like a family reunion.  We had Russian, German, Swiss, and Chinese Mennonites at our table. We prayed for each other and shared each other’s burden in just a few days of knowing each other.

Without coming to this convention, I would never have known how much we can be the light of the world for Jesus as an individual church or conference because we are a part of MC USA.  Sue Park-Hur challenged us to go wherever the Spirit leads us with the Spirit’s peace.  Leonard Dow challenged us to receive the Spirit and follow His guidance to overcome the challenges in our life.  Glen Guyton challenged us to humbly serve the body of Christ and to go, disarmed, to witness to the world.

The Unfathomable Movement of the Spirit

by Justin Burkholder, South Philly summer intern

Mennonite Convention 2019 was a fresh experience providing fruitful conversations, an open space to connect with God, and learning from one another about how God is moving, particularly through the Mennonite churches in this country.

Delegate sessions were fulfilling because of the unique opportunity to unite in Kansas City as brothers and sisters of various ages across the country. Conversations circled around shortcomings, mountain-top experiences, future challenges, and the unity of the Spirit laid out in Ephesians. Through three sessions on Ephesians, delegates were equipped with the charge of living cohesively amidst the reality that the church is messy; both locally and globally. The church was reinvigorated to praise God instead of allowing the differences to divide or define us. Tension or chaffing can be helpful because uniformity does not allow the space for challenging one another. In a world stained by sin, complete uniformity is not an option. Living together in harmony is encouraged, however, as Paul heavily emphasizes in Romans 12:18. The call to the church in Ephesus to “maintain the unity of the Spirit” (Eph. 4:3) has powerful relevance to the church in the twenty-first century.

Meghan Good teaches on the breath of the Spirit. Photo courtesy of Mennonite Church USA.

A speaker I thoroughly enjoyed was Meghan Good. Her sermon was titled He Breathed on Them. One story she highlighted was the unexpected call from God in her life. It was an ordinary afternoon when she felt an unquestionable revelation from God asking her to show up in a room for an unknown purpose. Waiting for her were two friends who were eager to pray for her life and calling. She felt the Spirit pour over her and comfort her in unfamiliar ways. It was a moment she felt renewed by God and credits it to the breath God breathed in her.

Meghan emphasized that much of our church has been running on empty, not seeking the source of our energy, our breath, our ruach. In scripture, God’s Spirit is also translated as wind, breath, energy. Meghan highlighted Genesis 2:7 which describes God breathing life into Adam. This is the original design and source of energy for humankind who believe in God as the creator. She gave the analogy of a hot air balloon because the balloon must be fueled by a consistent release of air or it will crash. Running through life without this source is exhausting and frustrating, but I—we—have learned to adopt the routine of faking it until it becomes too difficult on our own. God did not intend it to be this way.

Tom Yoder Neufeld led equipping times for the delegates on Ephesians. Photo by Vada Snider.

I believe our church must do a better job of accountability and vulnerability, because we have mastered and become comfortable with going through the motions. These motions are built to eventually return emotions of guilt, shame, and loneliness. God instead demands freedom. As Leonard Dow taught, the chains suddently fell off for Paul and Silas in prison when the wind-energy was released through the space (Acts 16:25-27). I believe God intends to release that energy through the church today so that we all witness and experience the power of God’s Spirit working through us. God is waiting with his arms wide open, ready for us to receive him. When we take one step towards him, he runs, eager to embrace us (Luke 15).

I was encouraged at convention to seek him directly. I do not want to run on my own and grow weary. We are not asked to go through any religious hoops to access him. Thanks be to God for the gift of his church and his Spirit.

              

              

Transformative Experiences at MC USA Convention 2019

by Justin Burkholder, South Philly summer intern

Mennonite Church USA (MC USA) held their biennial convention July 2-6 in Kansas City, Missouri. Three thousand energetic youth, children, and adults assembled for a week of learning, worship, serving, fellowship, and fun. The convention aims to build the vision and mission of MC USA as the church together embarks on God’s mission in the world.

Adult delegates met to discern the vision of the church together and for times of equipping.  Youth groups shared worship time with the adults and attended seminars during delegate sessions. Servant projects were also available each day for those who chose to join the efforts in the local community. The worship band was led by Seth Crissman (Walking Roots Band) and included various instruments, which created magnificent harmonies.

Youth worship in front of the stage at #MennoCon19. Photo courtesy of Mennonite Church USA.

Chuck Tirtasaputra was a youth attendee from Philadelphia Praise Center and found the worship especially meaningful. “There is something about a group of people singing together to worship God that moves me,” he reflected.  Youth crowded in front of the stage each worship session to gain the full experience of worshiping side by side with believers from all over the country. Mike Spinelli, pastor of Perkiomenville (PA) congregation, appreciated the passion of his church’s youth group: “The worship was a breath of fresh air as the youth enthusiastically moved to the front of the stage and full-on sang and jumped to the rhythms of grace.”

Beny Krisbianto (Nations Worship Center, Philadelphia, PA) in table discussions during #MennoCon19 delegate sessions. Photo by MC USA.

Worship also included a speaker each session who captivated the audience with an appealing story or message of God’s moving in their life. Speakers Dustin Galyon, Hesston College basketball coach, and Meghan Good, teaching pastor at Trinity Mennonite Church (Glendale, Arizona), were inspiring to Kyle Rodgers, youth pastor of Franconia (PA) congregation. Galyon emphasized that fear hates community, while Good highlighted that the breath of God is required to sustain our lives, in contrast to our own breath or the breath of others.

Delegate sessions were introduced on Wednesday morning with the formation of table groups. Tom Yoder Neufeld, professor emeritus at Conrad Grebel University, led three sessions from Ephesians titled Gathered as One on the unity of the Spirit. There was time for table discussions and eventually question and answer following each teaching session.

Justin Burkholder and Graciella Odelia become Franconia Conference’s first voting youth delegates. They were attending #MennoCon19 through the Step Up program. Photo by Emily Ralph Servant.

In the afternoon delegate sessions, table discussions centered around the Journey Forward, a conversation continued from convention in 2017. One discussion prompt read, “Identify one part of our shared peace witness we should work on together for the next biennium.” A variety of perspectives were discussed, including shared belief that our church must care for the migrants at the Mexico-United States border who are experiencing inhumane treatment. This focus was reflected in the passage of a resolution that condemned “the treatment of immigrants families and children at the border, as well as around the nation, [as] a horrific violation of the Image of God and God-given human rights.”

Another resolution that passed was the opportunity for congregations, churchwide agencies, and conferences to send additional voting youth delegates (age 16-21) to future conventions.

The next convention will be held in Cincinnati, Ohio, in the summer of 2021. As attendees reflect on lessons to share and ways to integrate what we experienced with our congregations and communities, the divisiveness in relationships remains an area for which the church yearns for God’s healing. Franconia Conference board member Yvonne Platts of Nueva Vida Norristown (PA) New Life echoed this thought as a significant take away from convention. She voiced that our churches and relationships are broken due to decisions and splits.  Tom Yoder Neufeld called this “checking the horizons” and still seeing the hope that is there. May we, as one body, look upon the horizons and see Jesus calling us closer to him despite our shortcomings.

Read further reflections on #MennoCon19 from Justin Burkholder and Wendy Wong (Souderton congregation):

Representing Conference in National Conversations

by Mary Nitzsche, Associate Executive Minister

Angela Moyer, assistant moderator, Danilo Sanchez, Youth Formation Pastor, and I represented Franconia Mennonite Conference at the biannual Constituency Leadership Council (CLC) February 28-March 2. Others attending from Franconia Conference included Joy Sutter, Moderator Elect of Mennonite Church USA, and Buddy Hannanto, representing the Indonesian Mennonite Association.

(L to R) Buddy Hannanto, Mary Nitzsche, Danilo Sanchez, Joy Sutter and Angela Moyer.

The CLC is comprised of representatives from each area conference, churchwide program agency, and constituent group. While not a decision-making body, CLC serves as a forum for discernment, conversation, and networking. This group of 50-60 persons function as denominational elders offering counsel to the Executive Board on issues of faith, life and churchwide statements. Glen Guyton, Executive Director of MC USA, emphasized CLC’s importance, acknowledging that our “concerns are heard and taken seriously.”

An emphasis of CLC is building relationships of trust among executive board representatives, conferences, racial/ethnic groups, and churchwide program agency leaders. Sitting around tables, sharing personal and ministry stories, worshipping and sharing communion, eating meals together, discussing important matters of our common life, and playing group games remind us of the covenant we hold—to be the presence of Christ and share in Christ’s reconciling mission with each other and in our communities and places of ministry.

Angela Moyer commented that, “attending CLC helped me learn to know our new denominational leaders. God has given us a gift in these leaders, who have passion for God and the church, and a vision for our denomination.”

Lively, yet respectful, conversations centered around two key issues: a review of the MC USA membership guidelines and an update of the potential merger of The Mennonite and Mennonite World Review (a decision delayed last fall to process the concerns raised by CLC).

Barth Hague, chair of The Mennonite’s board, gave a brief update to inform CLC of the recent decision to resume the merger process.

The membership guidelines, which were implemented in 2001 and reviewed in 2013 and 2015, are once again an issue for the MC USA delegate body to consider at MennoCon19 in Kansas City this summer. Eight recommendations for the Executive Board’s consideration were discerned around eight table groups utilizing the “Six Thinking Hats” approach to decision-making. This approach provided opportunity to depart from a predictable pattern of debate. Instead, the guidelines were processed from six different perspectives: neutral, optimistic, critical, emotional, innovative, and process oriented. I found this process helpful since everyone at the table was speaking from the same perspective for an allotted time, allowing us to shape a unified recommendation. In Danilo’s words, “Even though there were disagreements around the table, everyone was respected and valued.”

Angela, Danilo, and I were honored to serve as Franconia Conference representatives at CLC. Danilo summarized our shared experience and reflections well, “Throughout our meetings, it was evident that every pastor and leader who attended CLC loves the church and loves Jesus. Through CLC, I gained a trust and confidence in our denominational leadership. I believe their desire is for MC USA to be faithful followers of Jesus and to be an Anabaptist witness to the world.”

Looking Ahead to Convention

Photo courtesy of MC USA

It is time once again for our biennial Delegate Assembly, scheduled for July 2-6 in Kansas City. The Delegate Assembly provides the opportunity for our MC USA family to assemble for worship, fellowship, prophecy, relationship building, understanding and deepening our commitment to Christ and each other. In 2019 we will focus on equipping our church leaders for mission while we discuss major issues of policy and discern next steps for the national conference. It is important that the voice of our constituency be heard as we gather together from all parts of the church. The Delegate Assembly is your opportunity to not only speak to the establishment of general policies and the development of programs to carry out those policies. But it is an opportunity for you to connect with and listen to the various members in our great and diverse denomination.  Come see and hear what is next for MC USA. Join in helping our denomination live into its call. Meet Mennonites from all over the United States and learn how they are living into the commitments of the Journey Forward process.

Select your delegates now!  Refer to the Information for Delegates to learn about the delegate selection process and registration.

Photo courtesy of MC USA

Other materials for the delegate assembly will be posted on this webpage as they become available. 

In addition to delegate business, the delegate session at Menno-Con 19 will be featuring a teaching session each day with Tom Yoder Neufeld.  Tom is Professor Emeritus from the University of Waterloo.  He is the author of the commentary on Ephesians part of The Believers Church Bible Commentary series.  The delegate session will also feature stories from congregations across our denomination that give life to our Renewed Commitments from the Journey Forward.

I hope to see you in Kansas City this summer.

Glen Guyton, Executive Director
Mennonite Church USA

Renewed Commitments Document Released

Based on the outcomes of the Future Church Summit in Orlando 2017, the Journey Forward process began. Mennonite Church USA  executive director-to-be Glen Guyton says this process, “fulfills a promise to engage the denomination and give voice to the members of MC USA as they live out the mission of the church in their context.” Birthed from this process, a draft document Renewed Commitments for MC USA has been released by MC USA. The Renewed Commitments document, along with a study guide, will be sent to all congregations on June 1.  Read more about the document release in The Mennonite, or see the Journey Forward FAQ here.

Doing Kingdom Work

By Noel Santiago

Hope for the Future is a unique gathering in that it brings together leaders of color and white leaders who work and serve in MCUSA agencies, institutions and organizations, to intentionally focus the work of intercultural transformation in the church. While it’s primarily focused on the agencies, institutions and organizations of MCUSA, the hope is to eventually impact all parts of the church. This gathering grew out of needs being felt by people of color in church-wide leadership positions who continually encounter systemic racism in a multiplicity of ways.

Franconia Conference leaders of color attendees included Danilo Sanchez, Ertell Whigham, Colleen Whigham-Brockington and Noel Santiago

This year, the sixth Hope for the Future gathering took place February 2-5, 2017 in Hampton, Virginia. Approximately 75 persons gathered from across the United States. Persons of Native American, African American, Asian, Hispanic, and other backgrounds as well as Swiss, Germanic, Dutch, and other ethnicities were present.

The theme of this year’s gathering was “Doing Kingdom Work”. Carlos Romero, Executive Director of Mennonite Education Agency and member of the Hope for the Future planning committee, framed the work for the weekend stating, “We have come together for such a time as this,” speaking to today’s political climate.

These tensions felt today are not new. In the 1970’s, when there seemed to be momentum among people of color in leadership within the denomination, most of the positions of people of color were eliminated under what was called “restructuring.”  This led to a handful of leaders of color in the Mennonite Church feeling the need to meet for mutual support and counsel.  When other leaders of color became aware of this gathering, they voiced an interest in participating in such a forum/conversation.  Out of this grew Hope for the Future.

The purpose for these gatherings was formulated as follows:

  • To gather as a worshiping community of faith to discern what the Holy Spirit is saying to the church through the leaders of color within Mennonite Church USA system.
  • To provide a safe setting to assess the present reality and experiences for leaders of color within Mennonite Church USA system.
  • To put forth a plan/strategy/call for deepening awareness and ownership of the ongoing transformation of Mennonite Church USA.
  • To collect learnings from leaders of color to create a forum to bring about the next level of transformation for Mennonite Church USA.

To not have history repeat itself it is important for both people of color and the white culture, to be intentional about inviting and retaining people of color.  Hope for the Future allows space for discussion on how various things impact people in different ways.  This year, discussions focused on what it means to be a peace church in consideration of the lived reality of people of color in this country, how to monitor and change when policies are being implemented inconsistently, and visioning for Hope for the Future.

Because of the work being done through Hope for the Future since 2011, this year’s gathering also called for reporting by MCUSA agencies, institutions and organizations on their progress on policies and practices that address the hiring and retaining of persons of color within their respective organizations. While much progress has been made, there is still much to do.

Hope for the Future is not a one-time event, gathering, conference or what have you. It is about the lived experiential realities people of color encounter on a day to day basis in our church. Our hope is that the ‘kin-dom’ of God will come on earth, in our church, as it is in heaven. To this end, we hope for the future!

For more about the 2017 gathering, check out Hope for the Future: Together For a Time Such as This, in The Mennonite.

Franconia Conference’s Joy Sutter Nominated as MCUSA Moderator-elect

joysutterFor the past few months, Joy Sutter of Salford Mennonite Church has been chairing the executive minister search committee for Franconia Conference. This past week it was announced that she is the nominee for moderator-elect of MCUSA. Her name was put forward by the MCUSA executive committee and affirmed by the Constituency Leadership Council (CLC) this past week. If affirmed by the delegates at the 2017 Convention, Joy will serve for two years as moderator-elect and then two years a s moderator.

For more information and to hear why her name was put forward visit: http://mennoniteusa.org/news/sutter-nominated-as-mennonite-church-usa-moderator-elect/.

Delegates Discuss Hot Topics During Heatwave

by Colin Ingram, Conference Communication intern

“I’m glad that you took time out on our first heatwave of the summer to talk about some potentially hot topics,” Steve Kriss, LEADership Minister at Franconia Conference said to Conference delegates on Thursday, June 11th. The delegates had gathered at Christopher Dock High School to review delegate responsibilities and discuss MCUSA Convention 2015 resolutions. Some were delegates for Convention, while others were delegates for Conference Assembly.

With only two weeks left until Convention, the delegates sat at five tables discussing upcoming resolutions to be voted on at Convention.  The 36 attendees also reviewed the roll and call of a delegate. A total of 230 delegates will represent the Conference between Convention and Conference Assembly.

“We have gathered here this evening to discuss important matters in the Mennonite Church,” Conference LEADership Minister Noel Santiago said.

After opening remarks from Conference Moderator, John Goshow, Santiago led the delegates through a reflection on the role of delegates leading into a time of Scripture-based devotion.

Questions were then posed to the delegates in a time of table discussion facilitated by John Stoltzfus, Conference Youth Minister.

“Together, [with] our collective wisdom we can come together and new insights and revelations can emerge as we lean into each other,” Stoltzfus said.

DelegateMeeting 6-18-15Moving between tables they discussed five questions World Café style, a discussion engagement style that seeks to obtain different perspectives between persons. Particularly, the delegates discussed the Status of the Membership Guidelines and Forbearance in the Midst of Difference resolutions.

“What we discussed here tonight was the resolutions,” John Nyce, conference delegate for Franconia Mennonite Church, said. “Depending on how those are either rejected [or] accepted will certainly set the agenda for November (Conference Assembly).”

Multiple concerns were expressed on the Membership Guidelines Resolution. In general, the resolution was considered by some as complex, unclear, and unneeded, while others found it values mutual accountability,  the Confession of Faith, and common commitment to mission. However, some expressed concern that four years is too long for the delegate assembly to set aside considering changes to the Membership Guidelines.

Opinions on the Forbearance Resolution ranged between beliefs that it is a call for patience with each other and that it is “kicking the can down the road.” Some delegates found it wise and a seemingly biblical image of unity. However, some expressed that the ambiguity leaves them wondering how far it goes.  Concerns regarding the Forbearance Resolution included that it may open the way for people to do “what they want”, though some believe the resolution reflects the value to search for wisdom with love and unity, having Christ as the center.

Overall, the discussion allowed delegates to further understand the resolutions and hear one another’s perspectives.

A lot of questions still remain from delegates, but the Conference is working on clarifying as much as they can before Convention. The Conference has begun planning for Conference Assembly preparing for how to address what may or may not happen in Kansas City. Communication will be shared with constituents as it becomes available.

Kendra Rittenhouse, Salford Mennonite Church, believed the discussion will bring Franconia Conference unity despite differing views. Moreover, as a first time delegate, she has a positive outlook on Kansas City Convention and the anticipated delegate interactions.

“I am expecting God to work. I am hoping that we can still hold onto one another even though we don’t agree, and that somehow we can roll through this new era [and] still have Christ as our focus,” Rittenhouse said.

A video of the event can be found here. Also, a transcript of the discussion question responses can be found here.

No doubt the outcome of this summer’s resolutions will spark further discussion amongst Conference delegates.