On April 14 approximately 80 women from across Franconia and Eastern District Conferences joined together at Towamencin Mennonite Church for the annual Sister Care Gathering. The theme was “Darkness Unfolding as Light,” with the book of Ruth as the Biblical text. Cathy Spory, Elementary Principal at Johnstown Christian School, took on the character of Naomi and gave insightful first-person monologues. Marilyn Bender, one of four co-pastors at Ripple Church in Allentown and Rose Bender Cook, Marilyn’s sister-in-law and a bi-vocational pastor at Whitehall Mennonite Church, shared their personal and Biblical reflections including speaking of the illness and loss of Marilyn’s husband John, Rose’s brother.
The women were invited to string beads, with knots representing the rough places and the iridescent beads representing those light-filled moments. There was time for conversation and prayer with each other at our tables, and an opportunity to experiment with different ways to pray including praying with color, walking prayer, healing prayer and anointing.
Pastor Letty Cortes from Centro de Alabanza led the women in activities to get to know one another. There was much singing together and the women enjoyed a delicious lunch including a wonderful cake gifted to them from MCUSA out-going Executive Director, Ervin Stutzman, from his retirement party the night before. It was bi-lingual day, with everything presented in English and Spanish, and was a deeply moving day, culminating in the women giving testimony as to where God had unfolded their darkness into light.
Many thanks to the planning committee: Anne M. Yoder, Coordinator; Pastor Donna Merow; Pastor Doris Diener; Pastor Letty Castro; and Pastor Marta Castillo. Special thanks to Pastor Marilyn Bender, Pastor Rose Bender Cook and Cathy Spory for all their energy and all they shared with the women of our Conferences.
Desplácese hacia abajo para la traducción al español / Scroll down for Spanish translation
By Gwen Groff, Pastor at Bethany Mennonite Church, and FMC Board Member
We were just one or two days into our Mexico trip when Steve Kriss, Executive Minister of Franconia Conference, said, “I think all they really are asking for from us is for relationship.”
In the end, I believe that was the purpose of our Franconia Conference visit to Mexico: exploring and deepening relationships. Two Franconia Conference board members, Angela Moyer and I, and our Executive Minister, Steve Kriss, traveled to Mexico City, Puebla, Oaxaca, and Toluca and visited various congregations, pastors and leaders of Conferencia de Iglesias Evangélicas Anabautistas Menonitas de México (CIEAMM) for a week.
Franconia Conference had helped to create CIEAMM in 1958, but the formal relationship ended about a decade ago. Our hosts for the week were CIEAMM’s conference moderator, Carlos Martinez Garcia and one of CIEAMM’s pastors, Oscar Jaime Dominguez Martinez. Together we visited congregations that had been planted and supported by Franconia Conference sixty years ago, as well as new ministries that have been emerging.
We first worshiped with Iglesia Maranatha in Puebla. Children and youth were fully involved in leading the service. Over a meal of tostadas they enthusiastically invited Franconia Conference youth to please come and help them with their summer Bible School this July.
The following day we traveled to Casa de Esperanza in Oaxaca, where the congregation meets in the home of Luis R. Matias. We sang and had a short Bible study and a long meal of the local tortilla-based, tlayudas. We met with college students and young adults who are strongly committed to working for justice. We heard about their dream of a place to help meet the needs of Central American refugees passing through their town. The Oaxacan leaders wish for more training in conflict transformation. The musical gifts in this community were abundant, and their warmth and joy were immense. We ended the day with tea with Luis at a cafe where his daughter Paloma was singing and playing guitar. Luis said, “How good is this? My daughter is being paid to sing to me while I eat!”
The following day was a travel day back to Mexico City ending with a taco meal with the congregation at Fraternidad Cristiana Nueva Vida Espartaco.
On Sunday, we worshiped with six of the congregations of CIEAMM. Steve shared a sermon on 1 Corinthians 12:12-26 “In the body of Christ, there are different parts, but not walls.” As usual, our worship concluded with a delicious meal together, and gifted musicians sang, drummed, bowed, plucked and strummed while we fellowshipped. We were overjoyed to see Ofelia Garcia and Victor Pedroza who had recently returned from 8 years of ministry in Chihuahua with colony Mennonites. Ofelia will be coming to Franconia Conference this September to share a weekend Sistering retreat with our Spanish-speaking sisters. During our time here, one seasoned Mennonite agency staff person shared with Steve some concrete advice about partnerships between the United States and Mexican church groups: Always relate as equals; never make the relationship about money; if money is exchanged, let it pass through conferences and congregations, not individuals; if you visit with a group, always include youth in the group.
A visit to Toluca was our last journey. We met with Juan Carlos Maya and Sara Zuniga, leaders at Centro Cristiano. Sara’s mother was one of the first Mennonites Ken Seitz baptized, just before Sara was born. In the evening, we relaxed together, a small group of Anabaptists, sitting around an outdoor table in the plaza, listening to a band, watching the dancers, reminiscing about parents who gave up rumba and salsa dancing when they became Mennonites. At breakfast Sara showed us photo albums of her family that included Mennonites we know as Franconia Conference missionaries.
On Monday, we visited their community center and listened to a passionate power-point presentation (it’s not an oxymoron). These Anabaptists in Toluca teach children to play musical instruments as a part of an orchestra, as a way of understanding the body of Christ. With group music lessons they are building a community. Juan Carlos and Sara showed us plans for their building expansion and introduced us to a neighbor with a brick-making operation. When Juan Carlos walked the dusty streets of Toluca, children ran to him and hugged him and walked arm in arm with him. Angela observed, “He is what Jesus would have been like if Jesus had made it to 60.” His understanding of ministry is a movement from “solidarity first, then Jesus Christ, ultimately Koininia.” He said the opposite of this is “ego first, then hedonism, which ultimately leads to capitalism.”
Elders in these Anabaptist congregations who have been in leadership positions in their churches since they were young are intentionally stepping back in order to make space for new young leaders and to mentor them.
Our visits ended Monday evening with a meeting and meal with leaders from the congregations in Mexico City. They talked about their dreams for their congregations. Women pastors were especially warm in their welcome and enthusiastic about sharing their work and interest in receiving more training in theology and ministry.
What if all we want is relationship? People repeatedly told us, “You have to come back. I can’t visit you, you must come here.” This was Angela’s fourth trip to CIEAMM congregations in Mexico, Steve’s third visit, my first. I learned much from my more fluent Franconia traveling companions. We three were grateful for the generous, meticulous planning of our CIEAMM hosts, Carlos and Oscar. We in Franconia Conference have much to learn much from our Anabaptist sisters and brothers in Mexico.
I was grateful for one theological observation Carlos made in passing. He said, “Christianity is a religion of travel.” A cynical person might suggest that Carlos’ assertion is a bit self-serving. After all, he is a well-traveled Mexican Conference Moderator, journeying through Mexico, visiting churches with a group of Mennonites from the United States, about to embark on a visit to Kenya next week; of course he would believe Christianity is a religion of travel. A cynic might also suspect that my enthusiastic agreement with Carlos is colored by the fact that I’m the Franconia Conference board member from Vermont, grateful for a trip to sunny Mexico in early April when there’s still a foot of snow on the ground at home. Of course we all want to believe Christianity endorses travel!
But I believe without cynicism that Carlos is right. Christianity started with journeys. Jesus walked hundreds of miles, and he and his disciples got in a boat and “crossed over to the other side” of the lake far more often than was strictly necessary. Think of the apostle Paul, Carlos said, who undertook many missionary journeys to spread the good news of Christ. In addition to what we bring when we visit, travel puts us in a new position to receive.
Traveling makes us curious, vulnerable, and open to being wrong. Our bodies get tired. We may get a bit sick. We do not fully understand the language. We listen hard. We may break cultural rules we don’t even know exist. We laugh at our mistakes. All this is a good posture for sharing the story of the self-emptying Christ, for deepening our own faith, and for building relationships.
PHOTO GALLERY (click to see larger images)
Cristianismo: una religión de viajes
Por Gwen Groff, pastor de la Iglesia Menonita Bethany y miembro de la Junta de la FMC. (traducción Luis Rey Matías-Cruz)
Teníamos apenas uno o dos días en nuestro viaje a México cuando Steve Kriss, Ministro Ejecutivo de la Conferencia de Franconia, dijo: “Creo que todo lo que realmente piden ellos/ellas es una relación”.
Al final, creo que ese fue el propósito de nuestra visita de la Conferencia de Franconia en México: explorar y profundizar las relaciones. Dos miembros de la junta de la Conferencia de Franconia, Angela Moyer y yo, y nuestro Ministro ejecutivo, Steve Kriss, viajamos a la ciudad de México, Puebla, Oaxaca y Toluca y visitamos varias congregaciones, pastores y líderes de la Conferencia de Iglesias Evangélicas Anabautistas Menonitas de México (CIEAMM) durante una semana.
La Conferencia de Franconia había ayudado a crear CIEAMM en 1958, pero la relación formal terminó hace una década. Nuestros anfitriones de la semana fueron el moderador de la conferencia de CIEAMM, Carlos Martínez García y uno de los pastores de CIEAMM, Oscar Jaime Domínguez Martínez. Juntos visitamos congregaciones que habían sido plantadas y apoyadas por la Conferencia de Franconia hace sesenta años, así como nuevos ministerios que han estado surgiendo.
Primero alabamos al Señor en la Iglesia Maranatha en Puebla. Los niños y los jóvenes se involucraron completamente en dirigir el servicio. Durante una comida de tostadas, invitaron con entusiasmo a los jóvenes de la Conferencia de Franconia a venir y ayudarlos con su Escuela Bíblica de verano este julio.
Al día siguiente viajamos a Casa de Esperanza en Oaxaca, donde la congregación se reúne en la casa de Luis R. Matias. Cantamos y tuvimos un breve estudio de la Biblia y una larga comida de tlayudas, una tortilla local. Nos reunimos con estudiantes universitarios y adultos jóvenes que están fuertemente comprometidos con trabajar por la justicia. Escuchamos acerca de su sueño de un lugar para ayudar a satisfacer las necesidades de los refugiados centroamericanos que pasan por su pueblo. Los líderes oaxaqueños desean más capacitación en la transformación de conflictos. Los dones musicales en esta comunidad eran abundantes, y su calidez y alegría eran inmensos. Terminamos el día con el té con Luis en un café donde su hija Paloma cantaba y tocaba la guitarra. Luis dijo: “¿No es esto muy bueno9? A mi hija le pagan para que me cante mientras yo como “.
El día siguiente fue un día de viaje de regreso a la Ciudad de México, terminando con una comida de tacos con la congregación Fraternidad Cristiana Nueva Vida Espartaco.
El domingo, rendimos culto seis de las congregaciones de CIEAMM. Steve compartió un sermón en 1 Corintios 12: 12-26 “En el cuerpo de Cristo, hay diferentes partes, pero no paredes”. Como de costumbre, nuestra adoración concluyó con una deliciosa comida en conjunto, y los músicos talentosos cantaron, tocaron, hicieron una reverencia, puntearon y rasguearon mientras nosotros compartíamos. Nos llenó de alegría ver a Ofelia García y Víctor Pedroza que habían regresado recientemente de 8 años de ministerio en Chihuahua con colonos menonitas. Ofelia vendrá a la Conferencia de Franconia este septiembre para compartir un retiro de hermandad de fin de semana con nuestras hermanas hablantes del español. Durante nuestro tiempo aquí, un miembro experimentado de la agencia menonita compartió con Steve algunos consejos concretos sobre las asociaciones entre los Estados Unidos y los grupos eclesiales mexicanos: relacionarse siempre como iguales; nunca hagas la relación en base al dinero; si se intercambia dinero, déjalo pasar por conferencias y congregaciones, no por individuos; si visitas con un grupo, siempre incluye a los jóvenes en el grupo.
Una visita a Toluca fue nuestro último viaje. Nos reunimos con Juan Carlos Maya y Sara Zuniga, líderes del Centro Cristiano. La madre de Sara fue una de las primeros menonitas bautizados por Ken Seitz, justo antes de que Sara naciera. Por la tarde, nos relajamos juntos, éramos un pequeño grupo de anabautistas, sentados alrededor de una mesa al aire libre en la plaza, escuchando a una banda, mirando a los bailarines, recordando a los padres que abandonaron la rumba y la salsa cuando se convirtieron en menonitas. Durante el desayuno, Sara nos mostró álbumes de fotos de su familia que incluían menonitas que conocemos como misioneros de la Conferencia de Franconia. El lunes, visitamos su centro comunitario y escuchamos una apasionada presentación en power-point (no es un oxímoron). Estos anabautistas en Toluca enseñan a los niños a tocar instrumentos musicales como parte de una orquesta, como una forma de entender el cuerpo de Cristo. Con lecciones de música en grupo, están construyendo una comunidad. Juan Carlos y Sara nos mostraron los planes para la expansión de sus edificios y nos presentaron a un vecino con una operación de fabricación de ladrillos. Cuando Juan Carlos caminó por las polvorientas calles de Toluca, los niños corrieron hacia él, lo abrazaron y caminaron cogidos del brazo con él. Ángela dijo acerca de Juan Carlos: ” Él es lo que Jesús hubiera sido, si Jesús hubiera llegado a los 60.” Su comprensión del ministerio (de Juan Carlos) es un movimiento desde la “solidaridad primero, luego a Jesucristo, en última instancia a Koininia”. Dijo que lo opuesto a esto es “ego” primero, luego el hedonismo, que finalmente conduce al capitalismo “.
Los ancianos en estas congregaciones anabautistas que han estado en posiciones de liderazgo en sus iglesias desde que eran pequeños están retrocediendo intencionalmente para dejar espacio para nuevos líderes jóvenes y para ser mentores de ellos.
Nuestras visitas finalizaron el lunes por la noche con una reunión y comida con los líderes de las congregaciones en la Ciudad de México. Estos hablaron sobre sus sueños para sus congregaciones. Las pastoras fueron especialmente cálidas en su acogida y entusiastas de compartir su trabajo y su interés en recibir más capacitación en teología y ministerio.
¿Qué pasa si todo lo que queremos es una relación? La gente repetidamente nos dijo: “Tienes que volver. No puedo visitarte, debes venir aquí “. Este fue el cuarto viaje de Angela a las congregaciones de CIEAMM en México, la tercera visita de Steve, la primera para mi. Aprendí mucho de mis compañeros de viaje más francos de Franconia. Los tres estábamos agradecidos por la planificación generosa y meticulosa de nuestros anfitriones de CIEAMM, Carlos y Oscar. Nosotros en la Conferencia de Franconia tenemos mucho que aprender mucho de nuestras hermanas y hermanos anabautistas en México.
Agradecí una observación teológica de pasada que hizo Carlos: “El cristianismo es una religión de viajes”. Una persona cínica podría sugerir que la afirmación de Carlos era un poco egoísta. Después de todo, es un Moderador de la Conferencia Mexicana muy viajado, viaja a través de México, visitando iglesias con un grupo de menonitas de los Estados Unidos, a punto de emprender una visita a Kenia la próxima semana; por supuesto, él creería que el cristianismo es una religión de viajes. Un cínico también podría sospechar que mi entusiasta acuerdo con Carlos está teñido por el hecho de que soy miembro de la junta directiva de Franconia Conference de Vermont, agradecida por un viaje al soleado México a principios de abril, cuando aún queda un pie de nieve en el suelo en casa. . ¡Por supuesto, todos queremos creer que el cristianismo aprueba el viaje!
Pero creo, sin cinismo, que Carlos tiene razón. El cristianismo comenzó con los viajes. Jesús caminó cientos de millas, y él y sus discípulos subieron a un bote y “cruzaron al otro lado” del lago con mucha más frecuencia de lo necesario, estrictamente hablando. Piensa en el apóstol Pablo, dijo Carlos, quien emprendió muchos viajes misioneros para difundir las buenas nuevas de Cristo. Además de lo que traemos cuando viajamos, viajar nos pone en una nueva situación para recibir.
Viajar nos hace curiosos, vulnerables y abiertos a estar equivocados. Nuestros cuerpos se cansan. Podemos ponernos un poco enfermos. No comprendemos completamente el lenguaje. Escuchamos mucho. Podemos romper las reglas culturales que ni siquiera sabemos que existen. Nos reímos de nuestros errores. Todo esto es una buena postura para compartir la historia del Cristo que se vació a si mismo, para profundizar nuestra propia fe y para construir relaciones. (traducción Luis Rey Matias-Cruz)
Since Ripple Church opened its doors to the city of Allentown in 2011, it’s seen a steady influx of neighbors seeking God’s transformation and community. This diverse gathering of people comes from a variety of racial, economic and educational backgrounds, and many who have been traditionally marginalized now find community and connection in the sanctuary, on the front steps, and in the fellowship hall of Ripple Church.
In order to take the gifts of Ripple Church out into the broader community, Ripple Community, Inc. was established in 2015. Their Community Building Center opened its doors to provide not just a community center, but a place of support and connection for socially and economically marginalized residents of Allentown – those living with mental illness, multiple disabilities, addiction, or histories of incarceration, or for those marginalized due to income, housing or abuse issues. Today, the CBC is a safe haven for more than 190 of Allentown’s most vulnerable residents.
Being an inner-city ministry comes with a unique set of challenges. “It’s really hard to build relationships and develop leaders in the church when people are constantly moving in and out of the city,” says Angela Moyer, co-Pastor at Ripple. “Additionally, as we have asked and listened to folks about what God’s peace, life, freedom, and healing looks like in their lives, time and time again people have talked about the stress and hardship of unstable housing.”
Ripple and RCI often describe their friends as being “precariously housed”. Affordable, safe, stable housing in the Lehigh Valley, as well as in communities across the country, has become increasingly unattainable. A study by the National Low Income Housing Coalition reported that in order to afford the average two-bedroom apartment in the Lehigh Valley ($1,038 per month), a minimum wage worker would need to work 110 hours per week. “We work with people who are paying $800 or more a month for apartments with doors that don’t lock, or windows that don’t close, or plumbing that doesn’t work,” explains RCI Executive Director Sherri Brokopp Binder. “For many of our most vulnerable neighbors, the only alternative to a substandard apartment is homelessness. They are caught in an unending cycle between homelessness and temporary housing solutions that don’t work or don’t last.”
In order to address this growing need, RCI is following their call to launch the RCI Village. Based on a model in Washington, DC called Jubilee Housing, this initiative will be the first permanent, supportive housing program in Allentown. RCI Village will take an innovative approach to addressing the need by not only providing quality, affordable housing, but also by connecting residents to established social support networks, community building opportunities, and other resources. “It isn’t just about housing,” says Sherri. “It’s about home and community. It’s about stability and belonging. Those are the basic building blocks of a good life.”
RCI recently reached an agreement to obtain a former funeral home property, which will provide 13 rental units in four connected rowhomes, as well as space for the Community Building Center. This acquisition will allow RCI Village to move ahead with the program later this spring, but in the meantime, funds are being raised to cover minor renovations, launch the program, and operate for the first year. The estimated expense during this phase of the project is $100,000, and RCI welcomes any and all contributions to support this exciting endeavor.
Says Pastor Angela, “Ripple has been praying about affordable housing options for several YEARS, and God has answered our prayers! Ripple folks always encourage one another by saying, ‘you can’t rush God because God is always right on time.’ We trust that God is right on time with this opportunity for quality, permanent, and affordable housing. Praise the Lord for what is in store for Allentown!”
On February 9 to 11, around 50 participants gathered at St Mary of Providence Retreat Center in Elverson, PA to participate in the 2018 Eastern District and Franconia Conference Winter Peace Retreat. This year’s theme was “Immigration, Sanctuary, and the Church”.
The weekend began with a family activity led by Tammy Alexander, Senior Legislative Associate for Domestic Affairs in the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Washington, Office: “People on the Move: A Migration Exercise”. The activity sparked conversation around what people go through when they are uprooted from their homelands, the sacrifices they are forced to make, the struggles they endure and the questions they carry with them about safety and what they may encounter in a new land.
Peter Pedemonti, co-founder and Director of New Sanctuary Movement Philadelphia, shared about his own family’s migration journey, his father from Italy and his mother from England. Settling in Hartford, CT, Peter grew up with stories of why his family left Italy and some of the struggles they had when they came to this country. He shared how people often took advantage of his grandmother because she didn’t speak English. This is a frequent experience today for immigrants of color in the U.S. when compared to the relatively privileged status of white immigrants.
Peter also shared the origins of New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, a grassroots organization led by affected immigrants to “win immigrant justice campaigns with our members across nationality, faith, class, and immigration status.” When Peter came to the Philadelphia to join the House of Grace Catholic Worker, it was at a time when there were growing rates of workplace raids and immigrant deportations, and proposed legislation in the U.S. Congress was hostile to immigrants. During this time a small group of clergy, immigrants, and allies started coming together about the situation. They discovered that a lot of people in Philadelphia were engaged with immigration issues, but nobody was organizing in the faith community. So, little by little, they began organizing in coffee shops and in living rooms, until one day they had a movement. Peter then left the Catholic Worker and started to do this full time.
According to their website, New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia is “an interfaith, multicultural immigrant justice movement organizing communities to end injustices against immigrants, regardless of status”. This is done through partnering and educating faith communities. Currently working with 28 congregations including two Franconia Conference congregations, member congregations assist in trainings, workshops, campaigns, and accompanying families facing deportation.
One of the ways presented to participants at the retreat that congregations can get involved is accompaniment – walking with families facing deportation. Accompaniment is not to provide legal representation. People who provide accompaniment aren’t lawyers; what they do is stand in solidarity. Much of it is going to court – just showing up in immigration court or criminal court or probation check-in with a group of 5, 10 or 15 people, as a witness. They form a little prayer circle in front of the court. They come in and wait in front of the court room with two goals in mind: (1) surround the person with community, and really have their back in that situation; and (2) command accountability, because the people in the court know that folks are watching them. It’s not that the presence of NSM will automatically win the case, but there have been occasions when after the person’s case is presented and seven people stand up to leave, the judge asks, “Oh, is that the New Sanctuary Movement?”
There is something uplifting about having that visual representation of God’s presence in the courtroom. Bringing the power of God’s love into that environment does something to bring people hope. There are many times when NSM has seen people win cases that they did not think were possible – when people come out of it saying, “This is a miracle; this is God.” For those of us who are immigrant allies not directly affected by immigration law, this is an opportunity to see how the system works and moves us into exploring why so many people are in detention and deportation.
Immigration is a large part of the Franconia Conference and Eastern District story. Our ancestors were immigrants to the Franconia area and we are honored to learn from and walk with our more recent immigrant brothers and sisters. If you are interested in learning more about the immigration stories in Franconia Conference, contact the Conference Office for a copy of a short documentary complete with discussion guide that can be used in Sunday School or other formats.
Read about Philadelphia Praise Center’s Pastor Aldo Siahaan’s involvement in A New Sanctuary Movement Action HERE.
Read the Pastoral Response from Franconia Conference Leadership Regarding DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) HERE.
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!