Tag Archives: Methacton Mennonite Church

Sacred Conversations

by Donna Merow, Methacton congregation      

Our Fall Equipping on September 19 began with a reading of Psalm 139 and a discussion about the nature of God, the foundation of the psalmist’s trust in God’s presence and providence.  The responses offered ranged from God’s inescapable scrutiny to a comparison with the pursuing mother in The Runaway Bunny.  Our speaker reminded the gathered clergy that while we are not the only reflection of God in the world, we are powerful representatives, called to reflect the divine character as fully as possible.

Our experienced presenter for this Fall Equipping was the Rev. Dr. Virginia Samuel Cetuk.  Her topic was Sacred Conversations, focused on the vital importance of confidentiality in our pastoral interactions.  A Pennsylvania native, Ginny was ordained in the United Methodist Church 45 years ago and currently serves as the Administrative Pastor at Princeton UMC.  Ginny has also served as an associate dean at Drew University and as a hospital and hospice chaplain (and with the FBI through her husband’s work and connections).  It was her years co-chairing Drew’s Sexual Harassment Committee that shaped her strong convictions about the need for confidentiality and the harm that is done when it is not kept. 

Ginny engaged us in a lively conversation about the meaning, values, expectations and limits of confidentiality, one of the pastoral issues addressed in both the United Methodist Book of Discipline and our own Shared Understanding of Ministerial Leadership.  Etymologically, trust (“fid” in Latin) is at the center of “confidential.”  Ginny used the language of betrayal to capture the internal experience of being exposed when confidantes break one’s trust and share confidences with others. 

The common understanding of confidentiality equates it with role of the parish priest—who tells no one what is shared in the confessional, often at great personal cost.  We struggled with this idea of “absolute confidentiality” and its implications for sharing with our spouses.  

Ginny offered case studies from her ministry context for discussion and invited us to do the same.  Participation was both wide and deep as we shared our stories and posed questions without easy answers.  One pastor spoke of the discomfort of keeping a confidence that was not extended to the sharer’s own family members, a decision he honored despite his disagreement.

Another pastor asked about generational shifts.  Our older members maintain a trust in their pastors that may not be true of the Boomers and beyond.  In an age of widespread therapy, struggles are often acknowledged and addressed elsewhere.  The very public life that social media affords also raised questions about our youngest members’ reality.

What are the assumptions and expectations of those who share intimacies with us?  If they don’t say, “Keep this confidential,” are we at liberty to add them to the prayer list or to announce them at church?  We were encouraged to engage with the mutual understanding that “If you are telling me, then you are telling me.”  Several pastors reported learning the hard way of the need to assume a private conversation and to ask for permission before sharing its contents wider. 

Does the disclosure come with expectations that we will do something?  One pastor cautioned that we need to be aware which of our many hats we are wearing to respond appropriately. 

Ginny affirmed that she wanted to leave us with many questions.  In this regard, her presentation was a resounding success!

Listen to the podcast on our Audio Gallery page!

Congregational Profile: Methacton Mennonite Church

by Bobbi Smisko, Methacton congregation

The word ubuntu came to mind today as I reflected on our growing church community. Ubuntu is a Nguni Bantu word that is often translated as humanity towards others, but the translation I love best is I am because you are.  This thought holds the nugget of Christian belief that without the community, we cannot be whole.  We need each other.

We at Methacton congregation are currently living into the meaning of ubuntu.  We are a diverse church community located in a middle- to upper-middle-class suburban area.  We are unlike the original founders in dress, lifestyle, and some worship forms but we hold the same inner values presented to us clearly by Jesus so many years ago—the greatest value being Love.

Photo by John Mast

Most of our members do not live near the church.  We are scattered in every direction, in some cases thirty miles from our building.  But we are never disconnected in our hearts. During the week, we are the church in various ways.  We call each other to chat, lend a hand, take meals to the sick, volunteer at a prison, feed the homeless, and support mission around the world. We come together during the week for a memoir writing group, to make knitted throws for an inner-city mission, to maintain the building and grounds, or to plan for our future.  Soon after beginning to attend Methacton, folks discover that they are needed in some way, that their gifts will help to bond us even closer.

In our small congregation of approximately fifty people, with an average of thirty-five attending on any given Sunday, we have some families who were brought up as Mennonites, a few having been in our congregation since they were children.  Others have moved from diverse faith backgrounds and easily blend into our family. One family arrived here from Tanzania several decades ago and their children were raised to adulthood here.  One couple came from Eritrea and found a safe place here after escaping as refugees from the terror in their home country. We have members who grew up as preacher’s kids and folks who are new to Christian faith and everyone in between.  And we welcome everyone through our doors. 

We also are building pathways to our neighbors.  A tragic occurrence brought us all together some months ago when our massive, historic, nearly 400-year-old oak tree suddenly spilt in two and fell to the ground, barely missing several people who had gathered to check on it after a branch had fallen.

A weaving full of Methacton’s “God Stories” – Lent 2019. (Photo by John Drescher-Lehman)

The whole neighborhood mourned the loss; they had found great joy in its beauty, grace, and history.  It had stood for generations as a beacon of hope.  We had phone calls and notes and people stopping at the church to ask how they could help.  Out of that great loss came opportunities to join in special occasions of remembering and establishing deeper relationships within the township.  In concert with the local historical society, we now hold an annual Celebration of the Oak Tree.

Seeds for this community in Fairview Village were planted years ago—280 years ago, to be exact. They took root, surviving many seasons of struggle. These days, our Sunday worship is eclectic, creative, deeply spiritual, and brought forth with great love for the God we all worship and for one another.  We listen to each other’s God Stories and are instilled with new hope about how God works within us.

We are building genuine Christian community here at Methacton.  Our goal is to answer the call of Jesus as he prayed to his father, “Make them One as you and I are One.”  I believe we are on the path to that end.

Rachel’s God-Moment

An Advent monologue written for use in worship at Methacton Mennonite Church by Marty Kolb-Wykoff.  Members of the congregation have been taking turns sharing their “God-moments” during Sunday worship.  This monologue imagines a special moment many years ago when one woman encountered God in a truly remarkable way.

My God-moment happened a very long time ago.  And while you may not be very familiar with me, you certainly know of my daughter, who figures prominently in my story.  My daughter’s name was Mary, the Mary who gave birth to Jesus.  Yes, that Mary.

It happened when Mary was just a young girl.  Mary was not like lots of other girls; yes, she had friends and she enjoyed playing with them when she wasn’t helping me.  But she also liked to be by herself.  She loved to watch the birds and was good at recognizing them by their songs.  She was also fascinated by flowers, especially wild flowers.  She would go for walks and come home with beautiful bouquets of wild flowers.

It was one afternoon after she had been gone for awhile on one of her walks that she came back pensive and thoughtful.  She said very little during the evening meal.  I could tell she was thinking about something.

After the meal was cleaned up, she asked if I could go outside by her favorite tree; she wanted to tell me what happened that afternoon.

We sat down and the first thing she said was that she had seen and talked with an angel.   I wanted to laugh, but I didn’t, for I could tell this was all very serious to her.  So, I said nothing.

She went on to tell me how she was sitting under a tree, watching a bird build a nest, when she heard a voice say, “You are highly favored; the Lord is with you.”

Mary told me how startled, troubled, and even fearful she felt by this sudden intrusion into her afternoon.  But he assured her that he was an angel from God and she had nothing to fear.

But that was just the beginning; he told her that she would have a baby who would be called the Son of God.  It was to happen through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The story is still not over.  The angel gave Mary a sign; he told her that our relative Elizabeth, an old lady who lives in Judea with her husband Zechariah, is six months pregnant.  He ended the conversation by assuring Mary that with God nothing is impossible.

I had no idea how to respond.  What was one to make of this?  We are just simple folks from Nazareth.  Finally, I said, “Let’s go to bed and we can talk tomorrow.”

In the middle of the night I awoke with a start.  I realized I, too, had just had an angel visitation.  He said to me as clearly as I am talking to you:  With God nothing is impossible.

At that moment I knew in the depths of my being that Mary’s imagination had not gotten the best of her.  What I didn’t know was how our lives were about to be forever changed.

Coming Together in New Ways

Last year Methacton Mennonite Church experienced their community knocking on their door, as they collectively grieved the loss of “The Methacton Oak” thought to be over 380 years old. Pastor Sandy Drescher-Lehman recounts this experience in New Energy Brings the Community to Celebrate and Remember, as the community came together, “remembering and celebrating the tree that belonged to all of us and to our ancestors.”

The congregation enjoyed their time with their neighbors so much and the connections the tree helped them make, that this year on September 30, the congregation once again gathered with their neighbors to celebrate their shared stories and their diversity.

Bluegrass group with Methacton Mennonite’s worship team

On that beautiful fall afternoon, more joy and peace was added to the world; from morning worship with hymns, a cappella and praise music, to an afternoon of Aztec drumming and dancing and a Bluegrass Band, God was praised in as many ways as they could invite the Spirit to be present! 

Nicolas and Jonathan with the drum they made, and the sapling from the fallen Methacton Oak

Nicolas and Jonathan Morales from Souderton Mennonite Church created a drum from The Methacton Oak utilizing Aztec tools for part of the process. That drum and the boys were part of the indigenous dance group La Danza Azteca, who, with drum beats and dancing, blessed the land where a seedling from the old oak is growing .

Dave Benner from Methacton resurrected the Bluegrass group he’s sung with, including Merle and Floss Hunsberger and Sharon Hunsberger, and invited the Methacton worship team to join them for a grand finale. 

Garrett (4th from right) and Wilson (far right)

Also honored in the day was Garrett Campbell from a local Eagle Scout troop, who re-set 130 of the toppled gravestones, and Wilson Roth, who has also done significant cemetery restoration of the old graveyard.

Music also accompanied lots of food, crafts and lawn games, and John and Charlotte Herschal’s animal wood carving demonstration.

John Herschel demonstrating his animal wood carvings

It is truly a gift to be able to celebrate the many talents and gifts of our neighbors in and outside the walls of our meetinghouse. God continues to use The Methacton Oak even in its death.

To read more about the La Danza Azteca performance at Methacton’s Block Party, visit http://www2.philly.com/philly/entertainment/arts/traditional-aztec-dance-honors-the-great-fallen-charter-oak-at-methacton-mennonite-church-20181006.html.

Partnerships Embodying Christ’s Way of Redemptive Peace

by Mary Nitzsche, Associate Executive Minister

The slogan, “Doing together what we cannot do alone,” was put into action on Friday evening, September 28, when three Franconia Conference congregations partnered in mission to assemble relief kits. After hearing about Mennonite Central Committee’s (MCC) plea to send 10,000 relief kits around the world this year, Blooming Glen Mennonite Church invited Deep Run East Mennonite Church and Perkasie Mennonite Church to join them in collecting money to purchase supplies and assemble the relief kits. Initially, the hope was to donate enough money to assemble 300 kits, but more than $9,000 was contributed, enough to buy supplies for 610 kits.

Approximately 90 people of all ages, ranging from 3 to over 80 years old, gathered to share a meal and fellowship around tables. Following the meal, each table group relocated to another table to assemble kits which included rolling and tying over 2,000 towels, packaging shampoo in plastic bags, placing an MCC sticker on the bucket, or securing the bucket lids. After nearly 1 ½ hours of this multi-generational, cooperative, “worker bee” effort, 610 buckets were loaded into trailers. The evening ended with a group picture and prayer of blessing that these kits share God’s compassion, healing, and hope to people suffering the devastation of disaster or war.

Throughout the Franconia Conference website we are reminded of partnerships that span the globe providing opportunities to learn and share resources to embody and extend Christ’s way of redemptive peace. The relief kit partnership prompted me to explore how other Franconia Conference congregations are pooling money, skills, or resources to worship together, host community forums or events, or provide ministry in their communities. Many of these events are multi-generational, cross cultural, or cross denominational, reflecting the expansiveness of God’s way of peace. Some of these local partnerships have been highlighted in Intersectings articles over the past year. Others I learned about recently and will briefly describe.

Several congregations partnered with organizations and people in their broader communities to foster awareness and understanding, promote justice, and take action to address issues. Garden Chapel partnered with their community in Morris County, New Jersey, to host a forum on opioids and addiction providing education and prevention strategies for addressing the problem. Salem, Rocky Ridge, and Swamp Mennonite congregations are partnering with community non-profit organizations and the Quakertown Borough to address the opioid crisis in their community. A meeting place is provided for adults and “directionless” youth to build relationships and engage in meaningful activities. Perkasie Mennonite partnered with trained conflict facilitators to host a community event encouraging civil and respectful conversations about gun policies.

Participants from Blooming Glen, Deep Run East and Perkasie gather together, after assembling over 600 MCC relief kits.

Other congregations planned celebrations and invited the community to participate. Plains Mennonite and Evangelical Center for Revival hosted a community Fourth of July Commemoration to celebrate and embrace diversity. Methacton Mennonite hosted a block party featuring a variety of food and music along a local dance/drum group. Ripple Church uses the sanctuary space of the St. Stephens Lutheran Community Center for worship services and shares several activities with the Christ Lutheran congregation. These activities include a Pesto Festival at the end of the summer using basil from their community garden, and a “Trunk or Treat” event in October to pass out treats from car trunks to the neighborhood children. Ripple also partners with Whitehall Mennonite to provide a Summer Bible School in the park.

Salford Mennonite and Advent Lutheran have partnered in sharing a community garden and providing food to those in their community; hosting educational events on anti-racism and other issues; worshipping together at an annual Thanksgiving service and taking an offering to support local and global ministry.

Several congregations planned joint worship services and opportunities for fellowship this summer. Nations Worship Center traveled to Deep Run East for worship and an intercultural fellowship meal. Centro de Alabanza and Towamencin Mennonite met for a joint baptism service followed by an intercultural fellowship meal. Our California congregations annually gather for worship, fellowship, and resourcing.

Some partnership stories have yet to be told, imagined, or planned. May these brief stories continue to encourage local and global opportunities to learn and share resources in our communities and beyond as we seek to embody and extend Christ’s way of redemptive peace.

Deeper Understanding Through God-Centered Decision-Making

by Bobbi Smisko, spiritual director and member of Methacton Mennonite Church

In hopes of expanding my understanding of our Anabaptist leanings in decision-making process, I attended Franconia Conference’s God-Centered Decision-Making Workshop held on April 21, 2018 at Swamp Mennonite Church. I was certainly not disappointed in the program that day. I found Sherill Hostetter to be an excellent presenter. Her information was meaty and extremely useful, her presentation was well-planned and delivered professionally, yet with a personal touch, and her use of both small group interactions and sharing in the larger group helped the attendees to discuss and practice the methods she presented.

There was a friendly buzz of conversation in the room during breaks that gave testimony to the relationship-building that was taking place. If this group of people moves into their decision-making process with the same generosity of spirit that they welcomed each other and me, a newcomer in their midst, I believe there is high hope for fruitful choices in future days. Surely, this was helped by the welcoming environment provided by the hosting congregations and the tasty snacks and delicious lunch provided by Franconia Conference.

If adopted and internalized, the material Ms. Hostetter presented will certainly help make God-centered decision-making possible. She presented such helpful information that I wish we could continue with monthly round-table discussions using her material. Not only did she talk about how to accomplish making decisions in group settings, but also she explained how folks from different backgrounds and cultures view conflict. For instance, most people do not see conflict as an opportunity but rather look at it as something to solve or manage. She pointed out that folks from some cultures come with evasive methods of interacting and others are more direct. Such differences can cause deep divisions and misunderstandings, so initially working with a group on understanding each other helps the process be more successful.

Ms. Hostetter also emphasized the fact that good planning for the decision-making process is essential for group unity, and added that unity and uniformity are two different things: unity is the Spirit among diversity (we are not all called to be alike, but we are called to be one, prays Jesus in John 17). Hostetter explained the challenge: Conflict is a visible sign of human energy. The greater the interdependence, the greater the potential for conflict; the greater the concern for inclusion in joint decision-making, the more tension is generated by the drive for harmony. For such reasons, preparation ahead of time is of great importance.

Discernment is integral to this process, so a main focus was helping people learn how to move into the spiritual practice of listening prayer. Spending time in silence and opening ourselves up to hear from God helps move people to connectedness in spirit. Ms. Hostetter suggested a book, Pursuing God’s Will Together: A Discernment Factor for Leadership Groups by Ruth Haley Barton, as a resource for this practice. She suggested other spiritual practices, such as storytelling, sharing faith stories, using silent prayer throughout discernment meetings, and listening and responding to Scripture readings.  In our roundtable group sharing time, we had an opportunity to practice listening prayer and felt the move of the Spirit as we shared what we had “received” in our silent moments of being vulnerable to the voice of God. Sharing from our hearts brought a deeper level of understanding to a group of people who barely knew each other before meeting on that day. We entered the workshop as strangers and left as friends.  How could that not be good for any family, leadership group, or congregation?

New Energy Brings the Community to Celebrate and Remember

By Sandy Drescher Lehman, Pastor at Methacton Mennonite Church

On July 21, 2017, disaster greeted the congregation of Methacton Mennonite Church as we gathered for worship. Our planned liturgy immediately turned into a service of lament, as we witnessed the crash of a huge branch of the 381 year old, white oak at the corner of our cemetery.

The next day, as an arborist — along with many of our neighbors and folks from the Worcester Historical Society — joined us to figure out a way to save the tree, it began to crack.  Everyone ran for their lives, literally, in all directions and watched, as the tree fell – a complete and decisive DO NOT RESUSCITATE! It was totally hollow except for the raccoon family who had made it their home.

The next weeks and months were filled with conversations of lament and inquiries from people who held a strong, and often spiritual, connection to this community landmark all their lives. “Can I have some of the wood?” “That’s the oldest living thing I’ve known”. “I feel like part of me died with that oak!” These were just some of the feeling expressed.

At the same time, our congregation was asking what we could do to reach out to our neighbors. Suddenly the light went on.  Forget the spaghetti dinner idea — that didn’t work anyway. Forget the yard sale that had minimal response from the neighbors. Our community was now coming to us, asking to be part of us!  This was so obviously a gift of God, using the death of “our” tree to bring the community to us!  We jumped on the lightning bolt!

November 5 was the great Community Tree Day. We invited the community to join us in remembering and celebrating the tree that belonged to all of us and to our ancestors. We began with a worship service, singing about the wonder of God’s nature – especially in trees, reading stories and scriptures about our invitation to be Oaks of Righteousness, each holding an acorn of hope in our hands.

After worship, more neighbors joined us for a rich time of story telling and sharing photos of their Methacton Oak memories, followed by soup and cookies in the shape of oak leaves and acorns for more neighbors than had ever entered our Fellowship Hall. Folks from the Worcester Historical Society joined us to offer the community an afternoon of making memories. An activity room was full of projects where people could make things out of pieces of the Old Oak’s wood and leaves. For sale were forest green mugs with an image of the tree on the front, prints and cards from a local painter, and acorn shaped Christmas tree ornaments that Ray Cooper, another neighbor, had turned out of branches from the wood.

Historians John Ruth and Leslie Griffin led a cemetery tour, telling stories about people who have been buried under the Oak since the Revolutionary War, before the day culminated with a double tree planting.  A neighbor, Bayard DeMott, donated and planted a new White Oak, and Paul Felton, a 97 year old forester came with a 3 foot baby of the original Oak that he had planted and nurtured for 6 years, for us to grow across from his Mother Oak. Hubert Swartzentruber blessed the trees and the day with a poem he wrote in response to the news of the fall of the Historic Methacton Oak.

We continue to celebrate the unique and Holy gift that “fell into our laps” to grieve and celebrate with our community. God seems to have no end to giving us ways to nurture our relationships with each other and notice Holiness in our midst.

All Together in One Place

by Chris Nickels, Pastor at Spring Mount Mennonite Church

On Sunday June 4, five Franconia Conference congregations (Wellspring, Methacton, Spring Mount, Frederick, and Providence) gathered in Skippack to worship together and have a picnic.  Skippack has some historical significance, being the place where Mennonites first settled in  Montgomery County.  A few centuries later we are still here, seeking to live out a vision of faithful witness to Jesus Christ.

In the beautiful surroundings of Hallman’s Grove, tucked within a residential neighborhood just east of the village, I was reminded of the life and Spirit that surrounds us. One’s senses could pick up the sights and sounds of creation as well as a gentle breeze— especially meaningful on this day of Pentecost that was the focal point of our gathering.

We celebrated the coming of the Holy Spirit to the first followers of Jesus (Acts 2), and the gifts of the Spirit present among us today. Worship included speaking and singing in different languages, and a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer included nine languages (Spanish, Indonesian, English, German, Greek, Italian, Kannada, French, Vietnamese). Pastor Sandy Drescher-Lehman of Methacton Mennonite Church presented a children’s story about the birth of the church—complete with birthday cake! —and she and the children led us in a fun birthday song.

We prayed for each other, for our pastors, and also for a local food pantry, all of which reminded me of our common mission in central Montgomery County.  Our pastors took turns giving a short message about how we have been living out God’s mission and how we are being empowered for ministry by the Spirit. The picnic, organized by members of each church, provided plenty of delicious food and space to build relationships with one another.

The event was a team effort among our congregations, and I think we are discovering that we really enjoy working together and are being blessed in our common activities and growing relationships. Despite the small size of our individual congregations, we are noticing that we benefit from diverse membership and from the wisdom of our elder members. We are realizing that our small congregations can be a blessing to our conference and also to our local communities. We have unique gifts to offer, and by the end of our time together I felt energized for how we might continue to share the love and light of Christ together.

Unity in Thanksgiving

By Sandy Drescher-Lehman, Pastor of Methacton Mennonite Church

Four Franconia Mennonite Conference churches met on the Sunday before Thanksgiving to proclaim the One who unifies them even amidst the diversity of opinions, theology, wealth, and political persuasions among other things. Ideas had been brewing in the hearts of several pastors of small churches in close proximity to each other for some time, to find ways to support and resource each other.  Last summer, that dream became a reality as the pastors began to meet together. One of the outcomes of those meetings was this joint Thanksgiving worship service.

The pastors and congregations of Wellspring Church of Skippack, Frederick Mennonite Church, and Spring Mount Mennonite Church gathered at Methacton Mennonite Church on November 20 for the anticipated and momentous event!  People who usually have plenty of room on their benches, were packed in like smiling sardines.  Singers who ordinarily can identify every voice, were overwhelmed with the grand blend of harmonious praise. A colorful mountain of boxes and cans and bags began to grow in the front of the sanctuary as people streamed in with their offerings of food to be shared with their neighborhood food pantry. An open conversation among the four pastors,  inspired comradery with other churches who also have an average of 15-30 members and who also each share the vibrancy of unique vision and mission intentions, centered around following Jesus Christ. Three pastors were happy to hear Mike Meneses share the Word and four song leaders led their congregations in a round of “Go now in peace,” (#429 HWB).

Friendships were lit and fanned into beautiful flames as we then spent informal time together around the tables of food and drink, with hopes of more joint ventures to come.  Emulating what was shared at Conference Assembly two weeks earlier, we celebrated what is being planted and watered in our separate congregations and were inspired to notice how God calls us to grow into the days before us.