As Mennonites, we have a strong heritage of nonviolence, often referred to as pacifism, as we work to embody and live out the words of Christ to “love our enemies,” Matthew 5:44. In an age where violence is seen all around, on television (even in cartoons), in actions and words, it can be difficult to know how to live out the value we hold to, especially if we face the threat of violence ourselves.
Christian Peacemaker Teams will be at Salford Mennonite Church on Saturday, February 17 to train those who are interested in how to live our nonviolence. From 9:00 am to 3:00 pm, for a registration fee of $10, participants will learn the spiritual roots of nonviolence, what nonviolence is, protest as a form of nonviolence, and what it means to live nonviolence.
Formed in the mid-1980s out of a gathering of historic peace churches, Christian Peacemakers “seeks to embody an inclusive, diverse, multi-faith community of spiritually guided peacemakers.” They place teams at the invitation of local peacemakers to accompany and support the confrontation of situations of lethal conflicts around the world. If you are interested in being in trained in nonviolence, these are the people to learn from. They have worked alongside local peacemakers and human rights workers in Colombia, Iraq, Palestine, Democratic Republic of Congo, the US/Mexico Borderlands, and various places across the United States, among others.
For more information about the training, check out the flyer here.
To register for the February 17th training, click here.
To whom much is given … much is also expected. -Jesus of Nazareth
Over the last few weeks we began to project the numbers for our work together at Franconia Conference: next year’s budget. This is an act of faith and commitment together in imagining our shared work for the year. Our budget also tells the stories of our priorities. It was my first time in the role of executive minister working through each of these items to allocate our resources in ways that fit our priorities, particularly in working to equip leaders around our shared values of work that is missional, intercultural and (trans)formational.
Our Conference budget has remained steady over the last few years, though with an increasing percentage contributed by individuals and received through designated funds. With changes in congregational life and demographics, our congregational contributions, though still healthy, have declined over the last decades. The Conference has continued to focus work around leadership development and less on programs; therefore, some giving changes have been appropriate and expected. Also, with the reduction of overseas mission workers, congregations have focused giving internationally in different ways.
This year some important things will emerge in our budget that tell of our changing realities. We will begin to do further collaborative staffing arrangements with Eastern District Conference and expect to provide staff for our new member congregations in California. These are both direct outcomes of the discernment at Conference Assembly this fall. We will also set aside funds as requested by our Addressing Abuse Taskforce to be available should our Conference need to support survivors in receiving counseling if they suffer clergy abuse, or to help congregations that need assistance in providing counseling for members who suffer abuse by others in their congregation. This is an absolute priority as we seek healing and recovery related to actions of clergy misconduct and work to prevent and heal all forms of abuse in our community.
I hope, as we move forward, that we will be able to seek the Spirit further toward generosity and openness in understanding our gifts, and that in whatever way we have been gifted, we might partake fully in God’s intention for the full redemption of all creation.
As seek further generosity, we can look to the lives of Norm and Alice Rittenhouse, who at the end of November were highlighted by Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) for their generosity and sharing of resources from their life of faith and farming. This is a story that is at the heart of our history as a community, shaped by our work and hope. In working with our newest member congregations, that kind of generosity is vibrant as well. This past fall they joined with many of our existing immigrant congregations to share in assisting Houston Mennonite Church, as they reached out to work alongside immigrants in Houston following Hurricane Harvey. This was sharing that we helped facilitate as a Conference through our global networks. Norm said in the article for EMU, “we worked to give.” This has been and will be what we are about in Franconia Conference. I look forward to continuing to provoke and steward the ways that we share our gifts, knowing that all that we have been given is from God.
As we approach this season of giving, following Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday, I feel deeply privileged to be a part of stewarding our gifts toward the call that God has given us as a community and individually. Thanks to your gifts shared through our Conference, from congregations, individuals and ministries, we are able to continue the good work that God has begun in us. I’m glad to talk more, any time, with congregations or leaders on how we can continue to best share our gifts for the sake of mutuality while we continue to live into God’s commission to us, to extend Christ’s peace with neighbors, enemies, friends and all of God’s children both near and far.
by Mike Clemmer, LEADership Minister & Pastor at Towamencin Mennonite Church
This past week, I had the wonderful opportunity of leading a litany of blessing and rededication for the Souderton Mennonite Homes’ Living Branches 100th Anniversary. This service was the final event of a year-long series of activities that gratefully acknowledged the past 100 years, while also casting a vision for serving the community in the years to come. Living Branches is the first and oldest established partnership in ministry with the Franconia Conference. Currently, there are 18 Conference Related Ministries (CRMs) that represent an array of extensions of the reign of God into local communities through nurture, witness, care and discipling. After my experience at this service, I wondered, how are we doing in supporting our CRMs?
At their core, Conference Related Ministries have a unique collaborative relationship with Franconia Conference and represent a fruit of faithfulness in the church’s history and future. CRMs have usually been born out of a deep desire to care for people in need, both in church communities as well as the physical community in which they reside. All the CRMs also have their own stories to tell. This is true of Souderton Mennonite Homes.
In the early 1900s there were no local retirement communities. Leaders in the Mennonite community wanted to find a way to care for the aging population in their congregations. They saw a need and collectively asked, how can we care for our community? Prior to this point, care for the aging happened within families. Although there was a heartfelt sense of love and responsibility for their older members, and care was provided for grandparents and parents by the younger generation – this often meant that the sick or elderly lived out their days confined to a bed, without easy access to proper care. At this time in our country, making ends meet was hard enough for many families and some simply could not provide adequate care. Much like in Acts 6, Franconia Conference leaders conferred about this great need and the seeds of the possibility of forming this “ministry” together were planted. On October 7, 1915, the Conference approved the project and appointed 12 trustees – all who understood that they would not be creating an institution, but rather, a “home,” embraced by the church. The Conference then looked to its congregations to help support the project financially, and the goal of $6,000 was surpassed as the trustees collected over $19,000. Shortly thereafter, the “Eastern Mennonite Home of the Franconia District” opened its doors in 1917 and the partnership with Franconia Conference has continued.
Stories like this one could be told by many other Conference Related Ministries. Indeed, the Conference has partnered with a variety of ministries in many areas of need including bringing help to disabled or special needs persons, collaborating in areas of aging and mental health, engaging together in camps and retreat centers, as well as working together in creating educational facilities and church plantings. By ministering together, our churches are achieving a synergy of missional engagement in our communities. We are truly the church when many members are working together to form one body in Christ – a body that shares resources and invites collaboration with many gifted volunteers – as we together exercise mutual care and love in showing hospitality to all those in need. After all, the church exists to benefit others. How are we doing at supporting our Conference related ministries?
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.
These last few days I’ve been in California with a delegation of leaders from Franconia Conference. We are here to cultivate further relationships with a group of churches who have expressed a desire to join our Conference. All four congregations are immigrant churches who have been connected with the Anabaptist movement for years. We find ourselves in this space together to build on past informal collaborations, to build relationships and trust.
Meanwhile, at the same time that we are here, all hell seemed to break loose in Charlottesville, Virginia. The east coast felt very far away from this side of the country. Yet, reading on my iPhone and following social media meant that the scenario wasn’t far from my mind as we met together. Most of these initial meetings have involved a lot of listening. As we are listening, I am reminded again that the process of transforming racism and xenophobia begins with a willingness to listen, to be challenged and to be changed.
As the days have built, they’ve also involved a lot of eating together and extensive travel time on the freeways that crisscross the massive urban sprawl of Southern California. Yet in the middle of the conversations, I sensed more and more the possibility that emerges through honest listening that allows some vulnerability. Our delegation, John Goshow (board moderator), Mary Nitzsche (Associate Executive Minister), Aldo Siahaan (LEADership Minister) and I, represent one of the oldest configurations of Mennonite-ness in the hemisphere. Largely shaped by the experience of Germanic people, here we were listening to the experiences of immigrants and people of color on the West Coast. We were challenged to recognize that our systems aren’t always friendly to people who speak English as a second or third language. We were challenged again that our established patterns aren’t always reflective of the movement of the Spirit that had and continues to stir a global movement of people who live in the way of Jesus. In the meantime, we were served lovely meals and received gracious hospitality.
This is not always easy work. Those of us attached to these systems sometimes feel a need to defend them. Taking a listening posture rather than a defensive one allows us to hear both critiques and affirmations. I find that often as a white dude who is leading in this system, I want to protect our organizational process and the validity of the way that we do things. I don’t think that we have constructed systems with an intention to be oppressive or biased, yet often times they are. There is still work to do as we seek to be representative of the reign of God yet to come with persons from every tongue, tribe and nation. Recognizing that the journey toward reconciliation of all people is more than I will ever accomplish doesn’t allow me to sit idly; it requires each of us in our time, place and space to do the work that we are invited toward that represents God’s Pentecost intent.
In the meantime, we are being transformed by relationships with people who open their lives and stories with us. The pain and the celebrations are real. We can bear witness to these things together along with Christ who weeps and who also rejoices.
This fall we will have opportunity to continue to be transformed as a Conference community as at least five immigrant congregations seek to join us as new members. We will have ongoing opportunity to listen together, to extend Christ’s great shalom intended for us and for the whole world. This is will likely be our work for our time as a community together.
NOTE: Stay tuned for more information on the congregations looking to join Franconia Conference. Also, delegates – be sure to register for Assembly Scattered Meetings which will be a time of listening and discerning together regarding these congregations.
by Ken Burkholder, pastor at Deep Run East Mennonite Church
There was a spirit of anticipation, joy, and camaraderie, at the combined worship service between the Mennonite churches of Deep Run East and Deep Run West on Sunday, August 6. Barry Schmell, who grew up at Deep Run West and is currently a hospital chaplain in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, began his sermon by telling a story about when he was a boy. As a child, Barry would ask his parents why their family drives by three other churches on the way to their church. He also asked them, “why does our family worship at Deep Run West, while many of our relatives worship at Deep Run East?” His parents responded by saying, “When you get older, you’ll understand!”
Well, whether we’re children, or adults, it’s not always easy for us to understand, nor explain, why there are two Mennonite churches across the street from each other both named Deep Run Mennonite. I routinely hear this question from people in our local community, and those who are newer to the congregation. It’s almost as easy as trying to explain why there are two different Mennonite conferences within close geographic proximity named Franconia and Eastern District!
But, I’m grateful for opportunities, such as this joint worship service, which help to strengthen our connections with one another. In this service, we incorporated persons from both congregations in the various elements of worship. There was also an opportunity for people to greet one another, and to pray together in small cluster groups. A logistical detail to arrange with this joint service is how to handle the offering! We invited people to bring their offerings forward, and place them in the basket of their choice – one basket marked Deep Run East and one marked Deep Run West. Our worship service was followed by an informal fellowship time with coffee and baked goods.
My prayer is that occasions such as this joint worship service help to strengthen the bonds of relationship, mutuality, and shared faith between Deep Run East and Deep Run West. It may even help us all, whether young or older … understand … how much we share in common!
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.
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.
As the world we live in continues to change within our congregations, we still seem to expect people to come to us. As a city on a hill, the light of the world (Matt. 5:14-16), it seems we are content to stay on our hill tops, but what if we take the lamp into the streets?
As quoted in the article, Scott says, “I don’t think that we, as believers, should be sitting in our churches on Sunday morning waiting for people to come into our buildings for us to tell them about Jesus and show them a better way of life.”
In a recent article, “On Scattering, Gathering and California Dreamin”, Steve Kriss wrote regarding the inquiries we have received from congregations requesting to join our conference. I was struck by his last statement: “the one thing that I know about Franconia Conference is that the Spirit is relentless in inviting us to be transformed anew … I invite your prayers as we together consider and discern God’s best direction while honoring our past, accepting our limitations, and trusting also the Spirit’s movement … to give us a future with great hope.”
In times of decision-making and Spirit nudging to move forward in a new space, it helps to revisit “the calling and vision” that God has already put into place and that we have already proclaimed. “The conference’s mission is to equip leaders to empower others to embrace God’s mission.” In 2012, the conference board discerned that our conference work is focused on three priorities. “We are called to be missional, intercultural, and formational.” Congregations are invited take risks for the sake of the Gospel through creative partnerships and new possibilities for missional engagement. They are invited to network and cultivate intercultural ministry relationships. The people of the conference are recognized as our greatest resource and we are committed to build leadership capacity across geographies and generations. In these priorities, God already laid a strong foundation, preparing us in 2012 for what was coming in 2017. God is like that, always graciously preparing the way ahead of us and preparing us for the way ahead.
Our preparedness to move into a new space, in my opinion, is limited not by money or distance or human resources but may be limited by attitudes and beliefs ingrained in our system. I invite you to consider that we as a conference must overcome a historical tendency “to maintain what is” and to keep what is different from truly changing or impacting our systems and procedures. Ethnic Mennonite culture is often curious and welcoming to an international person from Latin America or Africa or Asia but we struggle to allow for the African American, the more recent immigrant Latin American or Asian American voices to bring about change and revival.
We are limited by a sense of many leaders and congregations in our conference, that they are on the margins of conference life. This sense comes from leaders and members from churches all over the conference. How can we all be on the margin? If a Franconia area church feels like it is on the margin, what about the churches who may join us from far away in California? I believe that we must embrace our participation in the conference and learn to say, “We are Franconia Conference. God is the center that pulls us ever closer together through the power of the Holy Spirit and in the name of Jesus.”
My first trip in my role with Franconia Conference over a decade ago was to Guatemala. I traveled with a group of persons from our Conference who began to invest in the lives of communities in rural indigenous villages through Agros International. It was my first glimpse into the global-mindedness of our Conference in both official programs as well as through individual or familial relationships. Though we are rooted firmly in Bucks and Montgomery County, wedged between the metro areas of Allentown, New York City and Philadelphia, we think often like global citizens.
Thomas Friedman, in his well-known book about global economics, The World is Flat, suggests that to survive and flourish into the new millennium, organizations will need to think of themselves as both global and local. This is not new for us. Our immigrant and settler mindset remains with us in many ways, though we’ve been in Pennsylvania for hundreds of years and in some areas the road names bear our familial surnames and reference even our own congregations and faith (see Mennonite Road in Collegeville).
In a time of America first, we know and live otherwise. We live with a sense of the reality of “to whom much is given much is required”. For us in Franconia Conference, as the world became more accessible, we became more aware. Our unusual geography and clusters near major cities on the East Coast provide us ready access to transportation that can take us around the world in 24 hours. With the massive migration of the last decades, the world has also come to us. Sometimes these changes make our heads and hearts spin as we listen to unfamiliar languages in the aisles while shopping at Landis Supermarkets.
As a community in Franconia Conference, we honor the legacy of those from our heartlands who in the early 20th Century, saw the world coming closer and felt compelled to take and live the story in places like Norristown, Rocky Ridge and Bristol. We honor the story of people like Clayton Kratz who in the early 20th century, disappeared in the Ukraine while trying to find ways to assist Mennonites in a time of intense realities. We tell the story of Lois Gunden Clemens, who is recognized as “Among the Righteous” by the state of Israel for her work among refugees during World War II in France. These are our stories and our blessed heritage.
We have invested heavily in the Anabaptist community in Mexico City. Through the MAMA Project, we continually support the health and wellness of communities in Honduras. We’ve built bridges with Anabaptist communities in Indonesia that have transformed us here in the States. We support workers in diverse places through various organizations, as well as regularly sending and supporting longer term initiatives through Mennonite Mission Network and Mennonite Central Committee. Currently, we have four credentialed pastors who are working outside of the United States in Indonesia, the Philippines, Cambodia and Mexico. We regularly produce publications in English, Indonesian, Spanish and Vietnamese and all of the translation is done by partners who live in Asia.
This is one of the things that continues to intrigue me about us. It makes me wonder how we might continue to use these legacies of global connection and our ready points of access through increased ease of transportation and communication, financial resources, along with our communal and individual astuteness and acumen, in our sense of calling as followers of Christ to be both wise as serpents and as innocent as doves in extending the Good News to all people.
This week I returned from London, building on relationships that we have cultivated through the Anabaptist community there. I was there days after the Manchester bombing and preached in London the morning after the incident at London Bridge. The Gospel of Christ’s peace that we know, that we have been given, continues to be brilliantly relevant in these tough times.
God has uniquely situated us at Franconia Conference with global connections and global capacities, hearts provoked to love and care for the places where we are from like Bally and Bridgewater Corners, Souderton and South Philly, while at the same time connecting us to places, people and possibilities globally. In a time when much of the world retreats into fear, we remain people of hope, continually willing to share with neighbors both nearby and faraway, to share this peace that goes beyond comprehension with family, with friends, and even with those who might be called our enemies.