Tag Archives: Mennonite Church USA

Work and Hope in Florida/ Trabajo y Esperanza en Florida

by Steve Kriss, Executive Minister

Tomorrow I’m leaving for a meeting with Mennonites in Fort Myers, Florida.  Noel Santiago and I will represent our conference in a conversation with congregations who are interested in remaining in relationship with Mennonite Church USA after the withdrawal of their conference.  They are discerning their future together as a community.  

Last month, Southeast Mennonite Conference removed itself from our national body.   In recent years, we have had growing ties to some of these communities in Miami, Tampa, and Sarasota.  Some of us spend part of our winter in Florida; some of us have pastored there; some of us have relatives in these communities.  Florida is an easy flight away from the part of our conference that is rooted in the Northeast corridor.

Several years ago, Angela Moyer (our current conference assistant moderator), Ertell Whigham (then executive minister), and I helped to lead an equipping event with Southeast Conference leaders in Sarasota.  We recognized a resonance between our conferences. There’s been a warmth between some of our conference leaders and these Floridian communities since then.  In the last weeks, we received a request to come alongside a part of what had been Southeast Conference to provide additional leadership resources and accompaniment.

Sandra and Marco Guete worship during a Southeast Mennonite Conference annual assembly. Photo by Andrew Bodden.

Last month, we invited Marco Guete to begin serving as a stipended leadership minister to work alongside the communities in Florida for six months.  Marco joined our conference staff retreat at Spruce Lake last week.  His wisdom, insights, experience, and salsa lessons were a welcome gift to our team while we were together.  I expect these deep, lively, and wise contributions to continue in the months ahead.

Where is this going?  We don’t know.  We anticipate meeting with leaders from about ten congregations in Florida this weekend; these leaders may either decide to form their own group in Florida in order to remain a part of Mennonite Church USA or express a desire to join our conference.  It’s a time of fluidity and change in church structures, with the previously unimagined becoming the new normal.

We want to be open-handed in relating to the communities in Florida.   I believe strongly that “to those whom much is given, much is required.”  We had available financial resources to offer assistance to our sibling communities in Florida from within our budget this year due to unfilled staff roles.  When the need in Florida became clear through a phone call with former MCUSA moderator Roy Williams from Tampa, we responded.  Our multilingual conference staff will continue to work to accompany the Florida communities as they discern their future.  Marco will work in this role for six months.  We are in conversation with Mennonite Church USA leadership about how this may evolve.

The Spirit continues to shake up the structures of the church.  Meanwhile, we are still willing to bear witness to the way of Christ’s peace.  And God continues to bring new possibilities for relationships and renewal that might extend right fellowship to people both near and far.   We will continue to work and hope.  Seguiremos trabajando y esperando.

Mennonite Church USA releases video resources on leadership and polity

Joy Sutter, MC USA moderator-elect, hails from Salford Mennonite Church.

(Mennonite Church USA) — People across Mennonite Church USA are invited to take a closer look at the denomination’s structure and healthy ways of functioning with a newly released video series featuring presentations by Michael Danner, associate executive director for Church Vitality and Engagement, David Boshart, MC USA moderator, and Joy Sutter (from Salford congregation), MC USA moderator-elect. Each speaker focuses on different topics for how leaders can understand MC USA polity and engage with one another in healthy and meaningful ways.

“I would highly encourage our church leaders, pastors and board members to watch this videos series,” said Glen Guyton, executive director of MC USA. “For a people who promote simple living, we sure developed a complex way of relating to each other. Michael, Dave, and Joy do an excellent job of pulling back the veil in these videos on how the parts of MC USA work.”

MC USA polity, or organizational way of functioning, developed through the 2002 merger of the Mennonite Church and the General Conference Mennonite Church, and this video tool aims to clarify elements of its polity as MC USA faces shifts in membership and questions of how to respond to disagreement.

In the video series, Danner poses several questions for leaders within MC USA, including how to focus on finding a “sweet spot” of involvement. “Given my roles within the structure, what am I responsible for and what am I not responsible for?” he asks.

“Polity is not the most important thing that the church does,” Boshart says in his presentation. “But a good, functional polity will make our life more predictable, enabling us to know what we can expect of one another, and that contributes to a stronger base.”

Sutter’s presentation addresses the function of the Executive Board, the 14-member volunteer board that guides the denomination and is accountable to congregational and area conference delegates, and the function of the Constituency Leaders Council, a group consisting of Executive Board representatives, area conference leaders, constituency group representatives and agency and Executive Board staff that meets semiannually to listen, discern and advise the denomination on issues facing the church. Sutter reviews how each is responsible for contributing to positive functioning for MC USA.

The video series is available in three sessions on MC USA’s YouTube channel, and leaders are invited to watch and share them widely.

“The denomination is here to serve you. Accessing the power and benefits in our system should not be a secret,” said Guyton. “Learn where the power and authority lies in our system, so that you understand how to successfully navigate MC USA and tap into its resources and global network. These videos are a great resource for those seeking to change the church, engage the church or support the church in meaningful and lasting ways.”

Watch the videos.

A Summer Spent Exploring Ministry

The Ministry Inquiry Program is a partnership between Mennonite colleges, Mennonite Church USA and local congregations. Upon completion, students receive scholarship money. This summer one Franconia Conference congregation hosted a student, and another Franconia congregation sent a student. From Nueva Vida Norristown New Life, Lydia Haggard spent the summer working at the Coalition for Christian Outreach program in Ocean City, New Jersey. Philadelphia Praise Center hosted Abigail Shelley from Meridian, Mississippi. Read all about their experience, along with that of two other Ministry Inquiry Program participants, by clicking here.

Abigail Shelley leads an activity at Summer Peace Camp (Philadelphia Praise Center).

 

Love in Action at Mennonite Church USA Convention 2017

This year thousands of Mennonites from across the United States gathered in Orlando, Florida for the biennial Mennonite Church USA (MCUSA) Convention. The purpose of convention is to empower the church to achieve its vision, purpose and mission. Over the four days, members of congregations from across the country attend daily worship, workshops/seminars, participate in servant projects and delegates from MCUSA Congregations and Conferences attend business sessions. This year there was also the Future Church Summit, “a generative, open space for denomination-wide conversation — to dream together, reset priorities and engage one another in answering the question: How will we follow Jesus as Anabaptists in the 21st century?”

The week began on Tuesday evening, July 4; several offered greetings, including Mennonite Church Canada’s Executive Minister, Will Metrzger. Recognizing July 4 as the United States’ Independence Day he stated, “while some are celebrating with bombs bursting in air, we are celebrating the explosion of God’s grace.”

The theme for this year’s convention was Love is a Verb. Worship speakers focused on this theme, and workshops spoke of how we can live out the love of God, covering topics of church safety, patriarchy, racism, Israel Palestine,  “Keeping the Church Weird” and hearing God’s call, among others.

Sometimes love as a verb means recognizing and acknowledging when we have not loved. Ted & Company, in their new show Discovery: A Comic Lament, shared the Doctrine of Discovery and how even we as Mennonites have played a role in justifying the taking of land from the indigenous people here in the United States. It was a sobering reminder as we began the week.

Maria Hosler Byler and Joe Hackman, Salford congregation, celebrate their nomination.

Wednesday brought the Dove’s Nest awards celebration, recognizing churches “that did something courageous to keep children safe.” Salford Mennonite Church was one of the three nominee finalists. They were nominated for their service that happened at the end of March, which focused on the journey of abuse and healing as reflected by the Ezekiel 37 passage about the valley of dry bones. This service included voices of lament, hope and direct statements from survivors of childhood sexual abuse. More resources and information on how this service was put together can be found at http://franconiaconference.org/church-safety/. Wednesday also brought a time of connecting for those from across Franconia Conference, as we gathered together for food, fellowship, and music by The Walking Roots.

Thursday contained two big events: voting on the Seeking Peace in Israel Palestine Resolution and the kick off of the Future Church Summit.  Two years ago at the Kansas City Convention, a resolution regarding Israel Palestine was tabled. Since then a three-person writing team and a ten-person reference team worked to draft a new resolution, the Seeking Peace in Israel Palestine Resolution. Prior to the vote on the resolution, delegates heard from the writing team, discussed in their table groups, and then heard comments, concerns and questions. There were overwhelming comments of support for the resolution which ultimately passed with 97% in favor.

The Future Church Summit was a new addition this year to Convention. It was a time of dreaming and visioning, and discerning how God is leading us to follow Jesus. Delegates were joined by others from throughout MCUSA including high school students who had been chosen to be part of the Summit. The first day was spent getting to know one another by answering questions such as “When did you feel most connected to the Mennonite Church? What nourishes your spirit by being Anabaptist?” There was also a time of grounding participants in the history of Anabaptism and Mennonites, drawing learnings from our past.

Convention continues Friday and Saturday morning. You can find out more about each of the days’ highlights on the Franconia Conference Facebook page .

Love is a Verb and So Much More

by Wayne Nitzsche, Interim LEADership Minister and Pastor of Perkasie Mennonite Church

When taking elementary Greek as a seminary student, suddenly it dawned on me that my knowledge of the English language was woefully inadequate. I might not have been able to tell you that a verb “is a word used to describe an action, state, or occurrence, and forming the main part of the predicate of a sentence, such as hearbecomehappen,” as Google says. But I’d have been able to say that is an action word!

So when I learned the theme for Mennonite Church USA for 2017, launched on Valentine’s Day, was: “Love is a Verb” I knew about verbs. I’m just glad they didn’t go with: “Love is a predicate noun.”

As followers of Christ we believe that God is love and that we are called to participate in God’s love. Not by the cheap “I’ll love you if you love me” ways of our culture, but in the gritty work of loving God, ourselves and our neighbors.

This theme of Love is a Verb will be the theme at our denominational assembly in Orlando in early July. As we lead up to that, Perkasie Mennonite (PMC), and perhaps other Franconia Conference congregations have recently engaged this theme. Here at PMC we developed a six week worship series focusing on: love is… a verb, … obeying Christ, … mutual, …. fear-less, ….of God, and …. life-giving. The series has been a study of the book of First John.

“This word of life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us…so that our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” (1 John 1:2-3)

For the writer, the love of God is expressed in the revealed “word of life” (Jesus Christ) so that we might have fellowship (koinonia) with God and with each other. That love we’ve received is then expressed in love for each other in the local fellowship. Yet, scholars believe this struggling church was fractured because of theological diversity and a refusal to love in word and deed. In a series employing sharp contrasts comes the command to do the hard work of love.

Our love has been put to the test in very specific ways as we have walked with congregation members in life and death. I witnessed people expressing their love by sharing meals, sending cards, sitting in silence, in unceasing prayer and in many other acts of love. I know this happens on a daily basis, not only at PMC but in all the churches spread out over our conference.

We have members demonstrate active love – love as a verb – by urging us to speak into the political process with a voice of concern for peace and justice. We had hard discussions in our Sunday morning second hour around the issue of racism, and talked about what steps we might take to become allies.

As an Interim LEADership Minister with Franconia Conference, I’ve been relating to Alpha, Bally and Taftsville congregations. It’s been a joy to hear stories of love in action. Bally created a large banner with the words from the Welcoming Your Neighbors posters: “No matter where you are from, we are glad you are our neighbor” written in Arabic, Spanish and English. During a committee meeting, a stranger entered and expressed his appreciation for the sign. He is a recent immigrant from the Middle East and had been feeling very vulnerable.

Love in action is expressed at Taftsville in their recent addition of solar panels on the roof of their meeting place.  They are now generating electricity that goes back onto the grid, as they continue to implement steps to care for God’s creation. I could go on with other illustrations just in these three congregations.

Let’s continue to challenge ourselves and our congregations to make Christ’s love known in our local communities. May we also celebrate and testify to the ways it is already happening in small ways in the wonderful diversity that is Franconia Mennonite Conference.

“We know love by this that he laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” (1 John 3:16)

Living God’s Great Shalom

by Stephen Kriss, Executive Minister

In our commitments for credentialing as pastors within Franconia Conference, we agree to giving and receiving counsel.  This week I am here in Indiana as part of our process of giving and receiving counsel through Mennonite Church USA’s Constituency Leader Council (CLC).

It’s not been an easy time in Mennonite Church USA (MCUSA).   Three conferences have seceded from MCUSA and several have lost significant membership numbers.  Three conferences have moved toward credentialing gay and lesbian persons which puts them at variance with our official confessional/polity positions.   We are not alone in our turmoil as similar processes have been playing out among United Methodists, Presbyterian Church USA and the Episcopalians.   Nonetheless we are here to keep trying to work it out.    At times, it feels like we are at our wits end with each other.

Franconia Conference was a founding body in MCUSA. We remain engaged thus far because we believe that we can do more together than we can on our own.  I recognize, though, that some of us question our relationship with MCUSA because of the tensions felt around our theology and practice thereof.   I understand both the acts of conscience and the levels of frustration that have meant Conferences have seceded and that others have landed at variance.

I believe in the kind of love that Paul wrote about that is patient, kind and enduring.   As a Conference, we have an enduring history. Unfortunately, it hasn’t always been marked with enduring love that has been witness of the reconciling power of Christ’s peace.   Our current exploration of a possible reconciliation process with Eastern District Conference evidences our lack of patience with one another, that now is being addressed over a century later.  Randy Heacock’s story from the last Intersectings reminds us of the sad reality that reconciliation work on an interpersonal level is still a rarity.   So, I’m committed this week to sit at these tables on our behalf, and to find ways to engage constructively and generatively, along with John Goshow, our Conference moderator, and Mary Nitzsche, chair of our Ministerial Committee.

In these few days, for the sake of all of us, I commit to believing and hoping, of seeking the Spirit’s stirring.  Of continuing to live into my ordination vows of giving and receiving counsel.  Whether around tables in Elkhart or at the kitchen table or the communion table, this is our invitation.  It’s an invitation that endures; a recognition that love never fails, a way of living God’s great shalom, even through day long meetings.

KC2015 registration opens; presenters, exhibitors announced

MCUSA-AlanDebHirsch
Alan and Debra Hirsch, currently of Los Angeles, will offer several presentations on church planting and building missional movements.

Although it’s still more than five months away, Mennonite Church USA’s 2015 biennial convention is taking shape.

Registration opened Jan. 15 for the June 30–July 5 event in Kansas City, Mo. Hotel registration opens March 3.

Convention planners are lining up special presenters and exhibitors in addition to a full slate of worship speakers.

Recent decisions made in consultation with the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board have included accepting the Brethren Mennonite Council for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Interests’ (BMC) application for exhibit space at KC2015, as well as allowing convention planners to work with leaders of the Pink Menno campaign to negotiate rental of a meeting room on site at the convention center.

“My team and I are ready and excited for everyone to join us in Kansas City this summer,” says Glen Alexander Guyton, chief operating officer and convention planning director for Mennonite Church USA. “We want everyone who attends KC2015 to be able to engage in worship and experience the healing power of Christ at some point during convention.”

Speakers Alex Awad, Drew Hart, and Alan and Debra Hirsch will share with participants at KC2015:

MCUSA AwadA04

Alex Awad of Jerusalem, pastor of East Jerusalem Baptist Church and a professor at Bethlehem Bible College in Palestine, will be a featured speaker throughout the convention week. Awad and Bethlehem Bible College are longtime Mennonite partners in Palestine.

“Alex Awad is an evangelical Christian deeply committed to Jesus and to the way of peace in the midst of intense suffering and injustice,” says André Gingerich Stoner, director of interchurch relations and holistic witness for Mennonite Church USA. “He and Bethlehem Bible College are a sign of hope. We have much to learn from their witness.”

After KC2015, Awad will travel to Harrisburg, Pa., to participate in Mennonite World Conference’s Assembly Gathered. Awad’s presence at convention is also made possible by support from Mennonite Central Committee U.S.

Drew Hart

Drew Hart will be available throughout the convention week, offering several seminars focused on liberation theology and strategies for addressing racism in local congregational settings. Hart is a Ph.D. candidate at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, and his research focuses on intersections between black theology and Anabaptism. He is a part-time pastor and a regular blogger for The Christian Century.

Alan and Debra Hirsch, currently of Los Angeles, (photo above) will offer several presentations on church planting and building missional movements. The Hirsches are the founding directors of the Forge Mission Training Network.

Alan also co-leads Future Travelers, a learning program to help churches become missional movements, and is co-founder and adjunct faculty for the M.A. in Missional Church Movements at Wheaton (Ill.) College. He has written The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church, among other books.

Exhibit space granted for BMC
The Brethren Mennonite Council has applied for exhibit space at previous conventions; this is the first year that their request has been approved. Pink Menno applied to be an exhibitor at convention for the first time this year; the group’s request for exhibit space was denied, although convention planning staff members hope to work with the group to negotiate the rental of a meeting room inside the convention center.

“The decision to grant exhibit space to BMC is not a radical one,” says Guyton. “BMC has long been part of our conventions. They are an established organization with clear points of authority. We have had good conversations with BMC leaders about our shared expectations for the exhibit hall at convention.”

All convention attendees are expected to abide by the expectations for convention attendees and exhibitor guidelines.

“Conversations about sexuality are happening all across the church right now,” says Ervin Stutzman, executive director for Mennonite Church USA. “Our leadership team felt it was the right time for the Executive Board to revisit our policies about the use of convention space. We desire to be proactive, rather than reactive, in the conversations that need to take place among us as followers of Jesus Christ.

“This move does not represent a change in our church’s commitments but grows out of our desire to remain in loving conversation with people who have been a part of our church and our conventions for many years. We desire that every person who attends our convention will be treated with respect and care, in the exhibit hall and everywhere else.”

Other approved exhibitors include all of the Mennonite Church USA agencies and higher education institutions, as well as Mennonite Central Committee, Mennonite Disaster Service, Mennonite Economic Development Associates, and a variety of other faith-based organizations.

The convention offers programming for people ages 0 and older. Special programs are planned for infants, preschoolers, elementary-school students, junior high youth and high school youth. For more information about convention events and speakers, and to register on Jan. 15, visit convention.mennoniteusa.org.

Toward a pro-Jesus approach: Visiting Israel & Palestine

by Yvonne Platts, Nueva Vida Norristown New Life

This week, we are sharing several reflections from participants on the October 2014 “Come and See” tour to Israel and Palestine. The tour is part of a broader initiative by Mennonite Church USA which encourages Mennonite pastors and leaders to travel to the region, to “come and see” what daily life is like for those who live there. 

Yvonne Platts. Photo by Sheri Wenger.
Yvonne Platts on the Mount of Olives, overlooking Jerusalem. Photo by Sheri Wenger.

In reflecting on my experience on the Come and See learning tour to Israel-Palestine this October, I find my heart pounding and thoughts racing. They are racing over what feels like an overwhelming sense of duty to help others connect to the struggle and plight that our Palestinian sisters and brothers are enduring.

I went on the tour in response to an invitation to Mennonite Church USA leaders (pastors, denominational leaders, others) to join learning tours to Israel-Palestine in response to the Kairos Palestine document. This document serves as a call to Christians throughout the world to come and see what is happening in Palestine and to stand with Palestinian Christians against injustice and apartheid in their region.

I was excited to have the opportunity to visit holy places such as the birthplace of Jesus, the Sea of Galilee and the Mount of Olives, and I was filled with curiosity about what was really going on in Israel and Palestine. I have come to realize that our U.S. news media does not always provide the most accurate reporting on the issues.

I was very intrigued by our goal of meeting with people “on the ground” to gain a better understanding of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and realities, as well as learning about Palestinian and Israeli organizations that are working for peace and justice—including those with whom Mennonite agencies are partnering.

Another goal/expectation was that we would return home with a commitment to engage in education and advocacy regarding justice issues in Palestine and Israel, with the hope of moving toward a pro-justice, pro-peace and pro-Jesus approach—rather than simply a pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian one.

Prior to this invitation, I never considered visiting the region and was mostly unaware of the degree to which Palestinians are subjected to injustices on a daily basis. Right away, my mind, body and soul identified similar patterns of oppression, abuse, labeling and discrimination that African Americans in the United States experienced during Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras. I was reminded of the times of slavery, where families were separated and there was a deliberate movement by slave owners and the dominant culture to destroy people’s language and culture.

I can relate to the cries of people asking for justice to be done. What good are international laws if they cannot hold the government accountable?

What I saw and recognized was that despite an intentional and strategic plan to force people from a land and inflict upon them daily humiliation through checkpoints, to create purposeful hardships through the closing of significant streets, and more, a fearless spirit abounded of resistance and hope that people will be able to overcome these struggles.

Palestinian Christians are counting on people like me and you to support their efforts for peace. If you haven’t yet read the Kairos Palestine document, please do so. I encourage you also to support Mennonite Central Committee and their partner organizations that are doing good work in helping to restore humanity in the region.

Yvonne Platts is the minister of youth and community outreach at Nueva Vida Norristown New Life Mennonite Church in Norristown, Pennsylvania. This piece originally appeared in “On the Way,” a publication of Mennonite Church USA. Reposted with permission. 

Pastors, leaders travel to Israel and Palestine

by Brook Musselman, for the Come and See tour

This week, we are sharing several reflections from participants on the October 2014 “Come and See” tour to Israel and Palestine. The tour is part of a broader initiative by Mennonite Church USA which encourages Mennonite pastors and leaders to travel to the region, to “come and see” what daily life is like for those who live there. 

Our group of 12 pastors and leaders–from Atlantic Coast, Eastern District and Franconia Mennonite Conferences–traveled to the West Bank town of Bethlehem, having intellectually prepared ourselves by reading the history of and various perspectives on the Israel-Palestine conflict. We weren’t prepared for our encounter with the hard realities of life in this country that would shake our hope in humanity and reshape our worldview.

Photo by Sheri Wenger.
The group sits on steps outside of the Damascas gate, Jerusalem. Photo by Sheri Wenger.

One day, we were taken to a shrinking, dusty Palestinian village that sat in the shadow of a recently-built Israeli settlement. Our guide showed us the farm land that had been confiscated from the villagers for the use or disuse of the settlers. We saw the pond where the village children used to swim in the summer heat before they were chased away by armed settlers who came to the pond for their own recreation. We passed the entrance to the village where a checkpoint was often set up that made access to the outside world incredibly difficult.

We heard the perspectives of Jews who are hardened to the suffering they cause by decades and centuries of fear, persecution, and constant threat. They told us of the hope they have because of Zionism and the establishment of their homeland, but we were deeply frustrated to see the harm that this continues to cause nearly 70 years after independence.

Photo by Sheri Wenger.
The group on a tour of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The church is said to be built over the place where Jesus was born. It was site of refuge for Palestinians during recent violence. Photo by Sheri Wenger.

We also met Jews who love their country but cannot support the oppressive actions of their government, so they endure teargas, rubber bullets, beatings, and arrests by the Israeli Army to stand alongside those without power.

In our brief time touring both sides of the dividing wall, we heard stories from the people that were both encouraging and discouraging. At times, we felt like throwing up our hands and admitting that there is no hope for justice or peace in this place. Each of us felt frustrated by the discrimination, inhumanity, and senseless violence inflicted upon the Palestinian people. We also felt anger toward the international community and especially our own government that acknowledges these atrocities but doesn’t take action.

But in spite of the discouragement we so often felt, we heard story after story showing the tenacity of the Palestinian people and their hope for a future. One of our guides was a Palestinian Christian with ancestry tracing back to the earliest disciples, who works tirelessly and daily risks imprisonment to raise awareness and promote peace in the area. Stories like this inspired us to come home and tell the stories of those in need of a voice and to promote shalom at home and abroad by encouraging all to be peacemakers in our broken world.