Tag Archives: National News

Riding for a Better Future

by Mike Ford, Blooming Glen congregation, with Rabbi Nathan Martin

In May 2019, a unique group of bicycle riders will ride from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. on behalf of Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light (PA IPL), a statewide organization dedicated to helping faith communities bring a moral voice to climate change.

There will be a mix of Quaker, Mennonite, Jewish, and nonreligious participants, riding together to promote an awareness of climate change issues and environmental stewardship. In D.C., we’ll join with a group of riders from State College and spend a day on Capitol Hill, meeting with congressional delegations to share our concerns about the need to keep environmental sustainability as a central value in their legislative work.

Mike (3rd from L.), John (4th from L.) and Ben (far R.) and their host family in Newark, DE during the 2018 ride.

Having done the ride in 2018 alongside Mennonite pastors John Stoltzfus and Ben Wideman, I found it a wonderfully educational experience. Each day along the way we met with faith communities to hear their stories of how they were working to make their communities and cities more sustainable. A Presbyterian congregation in Maryland was eager to share how they became certified as an “earth care” congregation by the Presbyterian Church USA movement; a synagogue in Baltimore shared how they are becoming a neighborhood organizing hub for community activities and urban renewal, including environmental advocacy.

Fixing a flat

I love discovering things and making new friends while on a bicycle. Riding mile after mile alongside two Jewish rabbis, we learned about each other’s faith traditions, finding many common traits such as valuing peace and justice. We were hosted by church/synagogue folks along the route and enjoyed delicious food and gracious hospitality. We met pockets of passionate environmental stewardship folks along the way, all motivated to care for the earth by different faith traditions.

It was also stimulating to meet with legislative representatives and advocate for policy to help care for the earth as the future home for my children and grandchildren. I look forward to our May 2019 adventure/advocacy trip and encourage you to follow along through the PA IPL website.

Donate online or mail donations in support of the 2019 Bike Ride to: PA Interfaith Power & Light, 210 W. Hamilton Ave. #295, State College, PA 16801.

Looking Ahead to Convention

Photo courtesy of MC USA

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

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

Photo courtesy of MC USA

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

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

I hope to see you in Kansas City this summer.

Glen Guyton, Executive Director
Mennonite Church USA

Mennonite Church USA releases video resources on leadership and polity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watch the videos.

The One Who Knocks

by Stephen Kriss, Executive Minister

This is the great seriousness of the Advent message and its great blessing. Christ stands at the door. He lives in the form of people around us. Will you therefore leave the door locked for your protection, or will you open the door?
— from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s sermon for the first Sunday in Advent of 1928 in Barcelona

As I write this, thousands of migrants are stranded at Tijuana, one of Mexico’s most dangerous cities. At times they are within shouting distance of peaceful and prosperous San Diego County, CA. There are jobs across the frontera, generated by a booming economy with low taxes and high expectations. And relative safety. They’re fleeing violence and grinding poverty. God only knows what will happen to them by the time you read this.

I’ve seen refugees before.

In Rome, at St. Paul’s in the Walls, straggling in from small boats that made it across the Mediterranean with hopes of prosperity and work.

At Calais, young men who trudged across Central Asia and some fleeing East African violence waiting to hitch a ride on a lorry to jobs at restaurants and with family and friends in the United Kingdom.

One time in a cadre, clutching what seemed like all that they had through Barajas airport at Madrid with bags marked “UNCHR” (UN Refugee Agency), the kind I’d use to carry my groceries.

“The Flight into Egypt” by Henry Ossawa Tanner (c. 1907). Public Domain.

In Mary and Joseph, running away from a violent king, crossing borders and languages and customs to save their son from certain death.

And in Mennonite churches —where the presence of refugees from Myanmar has boosted the futures of dwindling churches, where new congregations have been birthed by Indonesians fleeing violence and seeking asylum, where pews are filled by Nepalis suddenly dislodged from Bhutan, by Vietnamese and Cambodians who arrived a generation ago.

Those who knock at the door and come inside change us, deepening our gratitude and generosity, enriching the possibilities of our future.

We, as Mennonites, have been these folks as well, fleeing the Ukraine and adrift in the Atlantic until someone unlocked the door to Paraguay. Or streaming to new possibilities in North America by homesteading land to lay foundations for colonizing empires by pushing back indigenous people. It’s not always a pretty entrance.

We have at times found the doors locked ourselves. We have been fearful and hopeful, at the end of our rope, the one seeking loving kindness and mercy. We have been running from slaveholders and the legacy of white supremacy, running from abusers, persecution and poverty. We have been outsiders, too.

We have sometimes forgotten ourselves and our wandering stories.  Fear has grown in the space of our forgetting. That fear overshadows our ability to see the stranger as ourselves.

This same kind of fear drove shooters to a black church in Charleston and a synagogue in Pittsburgh.  The fear is a cycle so that we are afraid that the one at door might seek to destroy our very existence.  We become comfortable and culpable by normalizing, “it would have been better if they’d had an armed guard.”  With an armed guard, the stranger never even makes it to the door. 

We are safe.  We survive but become a shell of ourselves, shrouded in fear.  Safe and secure, we strain to hear the knock of the One who seeks shelter to be born again, even in our own hearts, homes, and communities, in this season when love and light broke in.  And we move in faith to unlock the door.

 

Immigration Community Day Held in Philadelphia

The story of Franconia Conference is rooted in faith and migration. These stories have helped shape us as a community, sensitive to the struggle of others who were also seeking a place of peace.  Currently our Conference is comprised of about 10 percent recent immigrants who have come to the United States in the last decade, and this percentage is likely to continue to grow and to shape our future.  As this is our story together — past, present, and future as God’s people – Franconia Conference recently co-sponsored Mennonite Central Committee’s Immigration Community Day in Philadelphia. Pastor Aldo Siahaan of Philadelphia Praise Center participated in the morning panel discussion. Centro de Alabanza hosted the event and assisted in providing a noon time meal. Many from across the region came to learn and celebrate. Abigail Shelly reflected on her experience at the day’s event below, in an article original published online with The Mennonite.   

(reprinted with permission)

by Abigail Shelly, Philadelphia Praise Center summer intern

As I stepped onto the upper floor of Centro de Alabanza, a humble church building in the heart of South Philly, I encountered a flood of color; blue, purple, green and orange hues hung from the ceilings and walls as lively decor, and a spectrum of dark brown to beige smiling faces filled the room. I felt the buzz of energy as people from various walks of life arrived throughout the morning to take part in Mennonite Central Committee’s Immigration Community Day on August 4 — a day set aside to gather, inform and celebrate immigrant communities in the Philadelphia area.

Saulo Padilla – photo courtesy of Dr. Calenthia Dowdy

To begin the day, Saulo Padilla, MCC immigration coordinator, gave a keynote address in which he shared his story as an immigrant and urged the audience to take seriously current issues, particularly the separation of families. Following was a panel with five active members in the Philadelphia community, all with recent immigrant backgrounds or in positions of immigrant advocacy. Topics included personal stories, experiences with the legal system and basic rights one should know about.

Chinemelu (ChiChi) Oguekwe, MCC Philadelphia program coordinator, said the morning was “about providing a space to have a discussion about what it means to be an immigrant for our community.” Considering the current administration’s immigration policies, she said, “there has been a legitimate amount of fear among immigrants in our community. And we know that a fearful community is not a healthy one.” She added that this “is why we gathered together to hear from our immigrant neighbors, leaders in the community [and] churches — to hear from one another, inform and educate each other. It’s in educating each other that we are set free, free from fear. Education empowers us.”

Volunteers from Centro de Alabanza prepare food for the event.

After a morning of education came a time of celebration. A lunch of tostadas, nasi goreng and djon djon (traditional food from Latino, Indonesian and Haitian community churches, respectively) primed the audience for spoken word, traditional Aztec and Indonesian dancing and an uplifting rhythm from the “Best African Drummer in Philadelphia.” For me it was beautiful to watch the freedom that came for these people groups with their traditional expressions. It allowed those from various backgrounds in the audience to enjoy a part of these cultures that too easily gets lost in the noise of navigating life in a completely new country while lacking basic rights.

Photo courtesy of Dr. Calenthia Dowdy

For the past 10 weeks, I have had the opportunity to live and learn with the Indonesian immigrant community here in South Philly. I have learned the power of holistic care for the “strangers” in our midst. On the one hand, it is important to know how to help someone through the new space they have entered: navigating the legal system, marching in advocacy, providing access to health care, educating them on basic rights. On the other hand, it is just as vital to spend time learning and celebrating what these cultures have to offer in this new space: language, dance, music, food and ways of worship. Learning holistic care has allowed me to see each of my immigrant neighbors not just as a set of needs to be met but as a person I am called to be a partner with in their new journey, whatever that may look like. Some days it may look like facing a daunting court date or navigating an impossible health-care system. Other days it may look like trying new foods or learning to dance or laughing at my attempts with Bahasa Indonesia. It’s a new and sometimes uncomfortable form of celebration that somehow makes sense and the “stranger” in our midst becomes a new brother or sister. 

Photo courtesy of Dr. Calenthia Dowdy

MCC’s Immigration Community Day resonated with my experience here because it held up the heaviness of the immigrant community’s reality while providing a space for celebrating these cultures. Oguekwe remarked, “My hope was that the Immigration Community Day would raise awareness on the immigrant experience, connect immigrant families to local service providers and resources, see and value the contributions of immigrants to our community and unify and strengthen our community through caring for one another.” It did exactly that.

Abigail Shelly is originally from Meridian, Mississippi, and attends Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, where she studies TESOL education and liberal arts. This summer she has been learning from and serving through the Ministry Inquiry Program with the Indonesian community at Philadelphia Praise Center, a congregation of Franconia Mennonite Conference.

A Summer Spent Exploring Ministry

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

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

 

Hot, Humid and Hope Building

Despite temperatures in the high 90’s and extreme humidity volunteers from the Eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey MDS Unit began a Partnership Housing Project (PHP) on June 30 and continued working on the home through one of the hottest weeks of the year.  Read the full article printed on the MDS website HERE

Help and Hope for Morris County

In a testimony to community collaboration and an example of “going to the margins”, Garden Chapel opened their doors to leaders, law enforcement and local neighbors in Morris County, New Jersey for a special forum on opioids and addiction.

Local leaders join together with HOPE One, to bring hope and help to those struggling in New Jersey.

This free event held at Garden Chapel on Saturday, April 28 was, on the surface, a resourcing fair – raising awareness of the opiate epidemic, highlighting positive prevention strategies, and connecting people with local treatment and recovery services.  But for anyone who’s dealt with substance abuse and mental illness or knows someone who has, this event connected on a deeper, more critical level.

Data released by the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office shows that drug overdose deaths in the state to be on a record-shattering pace in 2018.  Pastor Tim Hart knows all too well the effects of the drug crisis, having lost both his brother and best friend to the epidemic. “I have participated in way too many funerals for friends, parishioners and their children due to this crisis,” he says. “I have been to at least 12 funerals in 2017 and 2018, just from opiate, fentanyl, and heroin overdoses. I believe this is the devil’s imitation of the Holy Spirit, to steal, kill and destroy lives and families.”

Over the course of the day, thirty-four individuals received free training on administering Naxalone (Narcan), which could potentially save the life of someone overdosing on opioids.  Morris County’s HOPE ONE program was on site, offering access to services and treatment facilities to anyone in need.  The entire event was presented as a part of the countywide Stigma-Free Initiative, which aims to eradicate the stigma associated with mental illness and substance use disorders.  “To truly change the way society views individuals with substance abuse and mental illness disorders, we must change our language, attitude and be more compassionate,” said Dover (NJ) Mayor James P. Dodd. “Regardless of the spectrum, we all know or have people in our lives who face these challenges.”

Volunteers greet guests with information and assistance.

Friends and pastors at Garden Chapel did their part as hosts, running a children’s program and providing Spanish translation, and are already seeing results.  The event has assisted at least 10 people to take the first step and enter detox or rehab, some of whom have direct connections to Garden Chapel, and calls are still coming in.

“We can extend our hand out to someone in need, who can grab it and get the help he or she needs,” says Victory Gardens (NJ) Mayor David L. Holeman.  Undoubtedly the hands of Garden Chapel will continue to be among those extended.  “All that know me know how dear this topic is to my heart,” says Pastor Tim, “and my passion is to never stop fighting for the lives of those struggling with this addiction.  I will continue to cry out to GOD while putting my faith into action, by partnering with anyone and everyone to make a difference.”

Renewed Commitments Document Released

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