By Mike Derstine, Pastor at Plains Mennonite Church
With illustrations from barren trees in the wintertime and personal stories of frustration around his infant daughter’s eating habits, Pastor Beny Krisbianto reminded a joint gathering of Nations Worship Center and Plains Mennonite Church on Sunday, August 27, of God’s goodness that meets us again and again in times of struggle and adversity. The joint worship service in the Plains Park pavilion was a clear example of God’s good and surprising work.
Plains members, Sharon and Conrad Swartzentruber, have been hosting several Dock Mennonite Academy high school students from Nations Worship Center at their home from Monday to Friday during the school year. Last year, a small group from Nations Worship Center traveled to the Swartzentruber’s home for a picnic and afternoon games. Might Plains Church host a joint worship service and picnic in our pavilion, Sharon wondered? Somewhere along the way, Steve Diehl, Director of Advancement for the Mennonite Heritage Center, received word of our planning, and organized a Perkiomen Bus to provide transportation for many more from Nations Worship Center to attend the joint worship service, potluck fellowship meal, and an afternoon visit at the Mennonite Heritage Center. (Read Steve’s reflections on the visit to Mennonite Heritage Center here.)
In the worship service, a generous offering was received that was divided in half to support the ministries of both congregations, including the renovations of the second floor of the Nations Worship Center building.Preaching from Romans 8:28-39 in his native language of Indonesian, and interpreted into English by Plains member, Dr. Conrad Swartzentruber. Beny spoke about a God who works beside us in every situation we face and who met the needs of Nations Worship Center throughout the long, trying process of buying and renovating their current church building and dealing with obstacles from the city, neighbors, and contractors. But surprisingly, Beny shared, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenny recently attended a congregational service and wants to come back!
All total, by bus, a van, and several cars, 60-70 members from Nations Worship Center in South Philadelphia made the trip to Hatfield and Harleysville. It was noted in the worship service that the Plains congregation would look forward to another joint service with Nations Worship Center, only this time in South Philadelphia, and that many of the Plains members would also appreciate the convenience of bus transportation to ease the challenges of city driving, following directions, and parking. God is good and faithful, a reality we often experience in new situations that stretch us and take us out of our familiar routines.
Four congregations have requested to join our Conference in time to be considered for membership at assembly this fall. This has been – and is – a season where many communities are looking for new alignments related to changes across the Anabaptist landscape. We’ve been in conversation with a dozen different communities stretched from Queens (NY) to San Francisco (CA). For me, it’s been a challenging wave to ride for the first months of my work as executive minister. It’s been both an invigorating and exhausting time. While I believe the Spirit is at work in this time of tumultuousness, it’s hard to know exactly where it’s all going.
This is adaptive change and paradigm change. This kind of growth wasn’t in any strategic planning. Though change sometimes comes upon us and we find ourselves testing what the Spirit is doing in the midst of it all. Finding our hearts “strangely warmed” as the disciples did on the Emmaus Road with the resurrected Jesus.
As we approach assembly this fall, we will be inviting delegates to affirm four new congregations as members in our Conference. These four congregations have some familiarity with us already and their leaders have already established relationships with other leaders in our Conference. These churches (one in Queens, New York and three in the Los Angeles, California area) will add to our urban and multi-ethnic realities. These congregations will continue to enrich and challenge our life together as Franconia Conference into the future. I’m hoping that we’ll find ways to embrace all that means as we seek to share God’s amazing grace and peace together.
The three California congregations seek to be admitted as a group together. This enables us to provide better accompaniment and assistance along with them. All three had been previous members of Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference until earlier this year when the conference reorganized and these three congregations sought a new affiliation. The three churches –Jemaat Kristen Indonesia Anugerah (JKI or Grace Indonesian Christian Congregation) in Sierra Madre, Indonesian Worship Church in San Gabriel, and International Christian Community Fellowship in San Bernardino – have strong and long-term Anabaptist commitments. Each congregation worships in a mix of Indonesian and English.
These congregations have strong ties to our Philadelphia Indonesian speaking congregations as Nations Worship Center and Philadelphia Praise Center have found a sense of home and family within our Conference. Leaders of our Philadelphia Indonesian-speaking congregations have shared their experiences with their West Coast colleagues which has made the California congregations wonder if they too might find family with us in Franconia Conference. For many within the Indonesian community, the idea of relationships that span the continent seems easy to maintain; it’s only half as far away as Indonesia.
In our age of ready communication technologies and easy bi-coastal travel, I believe that we can effectively, though differently, accompany and partner with these congregations. We’ve estimated a cost of about $10,000 in annual expenses to begin this partnership with the California congregations, which would include some staffing support and the hiring of an additional stipend leadership minister to work specifically with these congregations. We’d intend to review this within three years together.
In the past, we have worked at church planting in Hawaii. We have maintained long term partnerships with congregations in Mexico City. For 50 years we have traveled the six-hour trip back and forth to our congregations in Vermont. This will have some similar characteristics; there will for sure be challenges, but I believe that we’ll learn and be stronger by cultivating these partnerships together. Each of these congregations brings vibrant gifts of leadership and service. They’ve been invited to share their resources with us as we seek to multiply our gifts together for the sake of the God’s Kingdom on earth.
The fourth congregation, Bethany New York – a congregation in Queens – has been in a dating relationship with our Conference for over a year. The congregation’s founding pastor has moved toward retirement and the emerging pastoral leader, Hendy Stevan, is currently a full-time student at Eastern Mennonite Seminary (EMS). Though planted in affiliation with the Church of God, the church identifies with Anabaptism and has completed a teaching period on the seven core convictions of Mennonite World Conference.
Though this would be our first congregation in New York City, we’ve had previous conference member congregations in Long Island that were planted out of mid-20th century initiatives, connecting with alternative service for conscientious objectors. With Hendy’s ongoing studies at EMS and ongoing strengthening of relationships with other Pennsylvania congregations, along with the broader Mennonite Church USA body at Convention, Bethany is ready to become a full conference member and to participate in our life together.
These four churches total a membership of approximately 400 people and would add approximately 12 possible additional delegates to our discernment body. Each church has been invited to consider sharing 3-10% of their annual income with the Conference. We commit, then, to walking together, to giving and receiving counsel and to extending the right fellowship which we have maintained for hundreds of years in our Conference community.
These new member congregations will continue to re-shape our Conference community. Each is seeking the broader relationships that are accessible through membership in Mennonite Church USA and our connections with Mennonite World Conference. I believe that this is God’s invitation for us to continue to be transformed and to continue to live together in seeking justice, with a great love of mercy and a willingness to walk humbly toward God’s dream.
Congregational Profiles for each of these churches mentioned will be coming out in the weeks leading to assembly. In addition, look for stories from our Philadelphia Indonesian communities regarding their connections to the California congregations.
Delegates will have a time to discuss and discern affirming these congregations for membership at our annual Assembly Scattered Meetings. If you are a delegate please be sure to register and attend one of those.
Also, please feel free to contact me anytime for more conversation as we move toward this time of further discernment together.
The Friday following the presidential election, leaders from Franconia Conference’s south Philadelphia churches asked for representatives from the conference to be present with them on the following Sunday for worship. Each of these congregations — Centro de Alabanza, Indonesian Light, Nations Worship Center, and Philadelphia Praise Center –have members who have immigrated to the United States. Some have been here for decades, others only a few months. Regardless of the length of time, there is a new sense of anxiety and fear following the recent elections. Many brothers and sisters in Christ no longer feel welcome, some fear for their safety, separation from family, and continue “praying so that God gives us the peace and wisdom to get through all of this situation.”
As representatives of Franconia Conference, Mary Nitzsche, the Franconia Conference Ministerial Committee Chair, and Jenifer Eriksen Morales, a Franconia Conference LEADership Minister, attended all four worship services to offer support and prayer. Some of the words they shared include:
We are here today on behalf of the sisters and brothers of Franconia Conference. We are here today to remind you that you are not alone. We are in this together. Our commitments to your congregation are un-wavered. We will walk through this time together…We are here with love, to recognize that you might be feeling particularly vulnerable. We do not have all the answers. We do have the words that the Bible repeatedly says, “to not be afraid.” We recognize that those words can seem hollow, without a real sense of support. We are here today to offer that support, to make sure that you know that you are loved. That the God who promises to not leave us is with us for sure. But that we are also in this time together. Your pastors and leaders have access to Conference staff for questions, for support. Other persons in Franconia Conference congregations have already begun to ask how they can support you in prayer and in other more tangible ways. In the meantime, we are committed to being part of the work that God has begun with us. We will seek the peace of the city, and of this land where God has sent us. We want to offer a prayer with you…that God might keep you in perfect peace.
Mary stated, “Our south Philly churches warmly welcomed us and offered generous hospitality. Appreciation was expressed in word, facial expression, and hugs for our presence and support. The worship was vibrant and hopeful even as fears for the future were expressed. I was reminded of our need for each other as Christ’s ambassadors of love, peace, and hope.”
“In spite of their feelings they worshiped with gusto and sincerity. Placing their hope and trust in Jesus, the King of Kings,” said Jenifer. “I was blessed by the opportunity to be a small beacon of hope to my brothers and sisters during this tumultuous and uncertain time.”
Pastor Aldo Siahaan, Philadelphia Praise Center, stated that their presence and words reminded him and his congregation that they are “part of a big family” and it made them feel cared for.
As this time of uncertainty moves forward, ways to express support can be through prayer, words of encouragement to the leadership of the congregations, visiting their worship times and taking part in activities the communities host. Become informed about immigration laws and offer a voice for our brothers and sisters with legislatures. Support New Sanctuary Movement and maybe even have your meetinghouse become a sanctuary.
“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself,” Leviticus 19:33-34a.
Joyful, heartfelt praise to God filled the new home for Nations Worship Center (NWC) on Sunday afternoon, November 20. The house was packed as the congregation gathered with sister congregations and friends to dedicate their newly renovated building at 1506 Ritner Street in south Philadelphia. Pastor Beny Krisbianto and the NWC worship team led a full house of worshipers in songs and prayers.
The congregation has faced many challenges in establishing a home base for worship, discipleship, and mission in their south Philly neighborhood. In August 2012, they purchased Paradise Gardens, a catering hall with offices and an apartment on the 2nd and 3rd floors. The building had been abandoned and empty for 12 years. With much prayer and faith, NWC faced strong opposition from the local community, red tape from city government, contractor woes, and financial challenges. Each step was embraced with grace and dignity, trusting that God would accomplish the impossible mission.
Steve Kriss, Franconia Conference Director of Leadership Cultivation and Congregational Resourcing, offered a greeting from the conference. He connected the congregation’s testimony to that of the first immigrant Mennonites in Philadelphia who embraced an ethic of “work and hope” as part of their witness. In a recent meeting with community residents, someone inquired about the use of government funds for the building’s transformation. “Oh no,” Kriss replied, “this is a result of the congregation’s hard work, prayers, and partnerships — all made possible by God’s grace.”
Pastor Timotius Hardono, Beny’s pastor from Indonesia, shared a message about God’s impossible missions made possible through immigrants such as Moses and Daniel, and Mary, the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:26-38). NWC will continue to fulfill Jesus’ Great Commission, making disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20). Many worshipers rededicated themselves to being used for God’s mission: I’m possible!
Sharon K. Williams is a musician, editor and congregational/non-profit consultant. She serves the Lord with the Nueva Vida Norristown New Life congregation as minister of worship.
Over the last month Philadelphia has been abuzz with the news that Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter planned to reverse the city’s “sanctuary order” that has been in place since April 2014. The sanctuary order protects Philadelphia residents from deportation by preventing the police from collaborating and sharing information with the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. This news impacts the Conference’s city-based congregations, particularly those with significant numbers of recent immigrants including Centro de Alabanza de Filadelfia, Indonesian Light Church, Nations Worship Center and Philadelphia Praise Center (PPC).
Pastor Aldo Siahaan, Philadelphia Praise Center and Conference LEADership Minister, stated that the reversal of this order “affects the safety of our congregation and community.”
As a largely immigrant congregation, Philadelphia Praise Center became a member of the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia more than five years ago. The New Sanctuary Movement is a faith-based immigrant rights organization whose mission is to “build community across faith, ethnicity, and class in [their] work to end injustices against immigrants regardless of status, express radical welcome for all, and ensure that values of dignity, justice, and hospitality are lived out in practice and upheld in policy.”
Pastor Aldo said, “The New Sanctuary Movement is answering and helping with the needs of PPC in terms of immigration matters.”
On December 11, when Mayor Nutter was to sign the reversal of the sanctuary order, New Sanctuary Movement called on faith leaders to join an action at City Hall to show the disagreement with the reversal of the sanctuary order which organizers of the action said puts families at risk of being torn apart and the language used by the Mayor’s administration about the reversal has perpetuated Islamaphobia that is currently widespread in the country.
Pastor Aldo, along with others from PPC, Fred Kauffman, interim pastor at Methacton congregation and Amy Yoder McLaughlin, pastor at Germantown Mennonite Church, with many others from Philadelphia and the surrounding area, immigrants and non-immigrants, documented and undocumented, answered the call.
Bam Tribuwono, a member of PPC and a photojournalist, was one of those who answered the call to action on December 11th. He said, “As an immigrant and Christian, I have been in situations where I’ve faced the possibilities of being deported. The immigration system is so broken. For me it’s pretty simple, let’s get back to what Jesus said in Ephesians 2:19-22. Jesus clearly said that we are no longer strangers and foreigners but fellow citizens and members of the household of God. We are all family and we have to protect each other. To give sanctuary for those who need protection.”
The action included speakers at a rally in front of City Hall, along with a time of prayer. A few New Sanctuary Movement leaders went into City Hall and requested to speak with Mayor Nutter. At that time, others in the movement blocked the entrances to the building to raise awareness about the possibility of Mayor Nutter signing the reversal of the sanctuary order.
“I’ve been attending a few New Sanctuary Movement rallies,” said Pastor Aldo, “but at this one the police were very harsh and I had never seen this before, how the police pulled on the protestors.”
When asked about his reasons for attending the action, Pastor Aldo said, “As a Christian this is the way that we show our care about foreigners and strangers. From Matthew 25, we are told to welcome strangers and foreigners; maybe we are entertaining angels or Jesus. As a Mennonite and a Christian we need to act the words of God — not just read them and meditate on them. That is why it is important for Christians to support this kind of movement, standing with our immigrant brothers and sisters.”
Fred Kauffman, stated the he had heard of the action being planned at City Hall but had not planned on going until the night before at a Kingdom Builders Network Bible study when he learned of Pastor Aldo’s involvement with the organization coordinating the action. He said, “At that point I knew that I had to go, because this was an important action to Pastor Aldo and the people in his congregation. At the action I was pleased to see Pastor Amy Yoder-McGlaughlin as well as Pastor Aldo and other friends that I knew. I prayed for the protesters risking arrest, ‘May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.’”
Mayor Nutter did not sign the reversal on December 11th, but did do so three days later. Without the sanctuary order, Pastor Aldo says, “we live in fear and live under the radar. We hide. I need to comfort and protect my congregation and make sure they are ok. How can I tell them to be a blessing if they live in fear and hide themselves?”
With a new year, came new hope, and a new mayor. Mayor Jim Kenney took office on Monday, January 4th and one of his first actions as mayor was to reinstate the sanctuary order. Many rejoiced over this news.
Pastor Aldo has said it is important that those among us who are immigrants feel welcome and supported. This can be done through prayer, fellowship and supporting the efforts of people like the those in the New Sanctuary Movement.
A current campaign of the New Sanctuary Movement that could use support is their efforts to have driver licenses accessible to undocumented people in Pennsylvania. Eleven states, Washington, DC and Puerto Rico currently offer driver licenses to those who are undocumented. Not having access to a driver’s license means that a person undocumented risks deportation anytime they drive — whether to go to work, school, to access health care, or to buy groceries.
To learn more about New Sanctuary Movement visit: http://www.sanctuaryphiladelphia.org/. To visit PPC, Indonesian Light Church, Centro de Alabanza or Nations Worship Center, visit the conference directory here for service times and locations; all are willing to translate their services into English as needed.
Six Franconia Conference congregations banded together to organize an intercultural worship service called “The Gathering”. Several hundred people from different ethnic backgrounds, speaking different languages, gathered for this worship service at Souderton Mennonite Church on Sunday, July 19. In attendance were other Franconia Conference Church members, the members of Indonesian Light Church, along with the host families and around 30 participants from the Global Education Conference, a week-long Mennonite World Conference global educators’ meeting that was held the week before at Christopher Dock Mennonite High School.
People gathered to worship, hear Scripture, listen to a sermon, and fellowship over food.
The service included Indonesian, Spanish, and English languages with the call to worship and sermon both being translated. The scripture reading was done in Hindi, French, and English. The event was a chance to “learn other cultures,” according to Carlos Aguirre, from Centro de Alabanza. He was impressed by the other Christians in attendance.
“I will take away the joy that I have in my heart, to know that there’s other people helping the body of Christ to grow,” Aguirre said.
The Gathering was organized by Bally Mennonite Church, Centro de Alabanza de Filadelfia, Nations Worship Center, Philadelphia Praise Center, Salford Mennonite Church, and Souderton Mennonite Church. It was sponsored by the Franconia Mennonite Conference.
The sermon was given by Dr. Paulus Wadjaja, professor and program director at Universitas Kristen Duta Wacana in Indonesia and member of the Mennonite World Conference Commission.
“I think we all left the service sensing God’s presence, realizing how God speaks in multiple ways through multiple people and recognizing that even if we’re not hearing our own language we can still lift our hands and be able to worship together knowing we’re worshipping the same God,” pastor Jim Laverty, Souderton Mennonite Church, said.
Worship songs, including English hymns led by Rob Yoder, Salford Mennonite, and Spanish contemporary songs lead by the Centro de Alabanza worship team, were among the worship sets. Nations Worship Center closed out the service by leading the congregation in “How Great Thou Art.” The first verse was sung in Indonesian. The tune was familiar enough for English-speakers to sing along in English, or they could join in by reading the Indonesian words from two large screens. The team then led the second verse in English.
Herald Bazuki, Nations Worship, said, “It was very good [to gather in a multicultural environment] because we came from a very small Indonesian community, so mostly we speak our own language and now we can hear other languages as well. But everybody speaks the same ‘Christ’.”
Juanita Nyce, Salford, said, “I have an 11-year-old son and I think that sometimes the church doesn’t look like the world actually is, and I want him to stay in the church. Today I think this is a vision of what’s possible.”
Following the worship service, all were invited to partake in a fellowship meal that included some Indonesian and Hispanic foods. People fellowshipped with one another while enjoying music played by members of Philadelphia Praise Center, Centro de Alabanza, and Indonesian Light.
A multi-congregational event like this is a possibility for next year and following years, according to Laverty, who helped plan The Gathering.
Franconia Mennonite Conference is looking forward to continuing to support churches in multi-congregational worship services throughout the year.
Barbie Fischer, Franconia Mennonite Conference, said, “This time together has made me even more excited for our conference assembly worship service this fall.”
The conference assembly worship service is a time for Franconia Mennonite and Eastern District Conference members to join together in worshiping the Lord. This year’s conference assembly worship is scheduled for 7:00 pm, Friday, November 13th at Penn View Christian School.
by Samantha Lioi, minister of peace & justice, Franconia Mennonite Conference
Pastor Beny Krisbianto and other leaders of Nations Worship Center in Philadelphia are celebrating a milestone in their long journey toward a new space for worship.
Since the congregation purchased a building a few years ago in an historic Italian neighborhood in South Philly, renovation has been slow and relationships with their new neighbors challenging. Now, Pastor Beny has moved in to the renovated apartment above what will become the congregation’s new worship space, and the tone of interactions in the neighborhood has shifted. On July 19, they will celebrate this next step with a parsonage warming in the new space! Brothers and sisters of Franconia Conference are invited to come tour the building, see the parsonage apartment, and eat and worship with Nations Worship Center. Tours start at 5:00 p.m., and a light meal and worship will follow.
Beny took some time—just after moving in—to talk with me about the changes, hope, and opportunities the congregation is seeing.
Samantha Lioi (S): I hear you’ve moved into your new living space, the “parsonage” section of your new building. How does that affect you, the congregation, and your ministry?
Beny (B): I did move last week; it finally happened, and the congregation is excited. We’ve been waiting and praying for this. We waited longer than we expected, but God always has a perfect time for us. When we moved to the new parsonage, I connected with some nice people in the neighborhood. [Now that I’m living here] I have the chance to know more people and more families—so those are good things that have been happening.
S: Some folks may remember that your neighbors were not excited to welcome you at first. Can you talk a little more about this relationship with your neighbors and how that’s going?
B: We have a saying in Indonesian: “If you don’t know them, you will never love them.” Once the people got to know us—that we are good people, that we are Mennonite, Christian people, then people started responding nicely to us. When we first came, people had false information, or maybe they were just uncomfortable with new people coming to their community. Eventually, people came to us and wanted to know us. Now that they’ve gotten to know us, everything is better.
S: How you have seen God moving throughout this experience?
B: He is faithful. One-and-a-half years ago we were facing a very difficult situation—discrimination, injustice, rejection. But God is faithful when we respond to rejection the right way: we didn’t get mad, we didn’t scream, we just prayed and loved them and showed up and showed them we are good people, not doing anything wrong (and of course we fulfilled all the city codes for the property and construction). And God opened up the door for us move.
Now I feel the congregation has more energy to finish up the worship space of the building. We have felt God with us the last few months, and that same strength, that same grace will be with us to continue the work.
Last Sunday the congregation was so excited because we moved into the new parsonage, so they were more ready to pledge and give toward finishing the project. We do believe that God will not leave us in the middle of the journey.
S: I know you still have a lot of renovating to do. What are your hopes and dreams for the new space, and what stands in your way at this point?
B: Our dream is to celebrate Christmas in the new space. We want to see more souls come to know Christ. Now we are only able to gather for worship on Sunday morning, but in the new space, we can have youth worship, music practice, midday prayer—many possibilities during the week.
We want to reach out to the neighbors. We have already opened our building for free on Saturdays for music lessons for the local kids—and we have plans to host dancing lessons as well.
S: How did that happen?
B: Three of our youth went to music school, and they found out that their teacher lived a half block away from our building—so we had some conversations about having them use our facility without charge for music lessons. So we can be a blessing to the community as well.
S: And as for what stands in your way…
B: We’re using Kingdom Builders Construction, which is connected with Mennonite Central Committee, for the renovation. They estimate we need an additional $120,000 to finish the worship space. So we have to raise that money.
S: Is there anything else you would like brothers and sisters in Franconia Conference to know or pray about as they think of you and others in Philadelphia?
B: Please pray for us that God will give us provision in trying to finish. If they have the desire or heart to support us, they could send people, send youth to work in our building—they are very welcome. This summer we hope to be busy with construction—so the more volunteers we have, the more it will help us stick to our budget.
Lots of people from Asia and other parts of the world have come to Philadelphia. Many different nations have come to the city—pray they will come to worship and come to know Christ. That’s why we called ourselves Nations Worship.
What: Tours of Nations Worship’s new space, a light meal and worship service.
When: Saturday, July 19, 2014. Tours start at 5, and a light meal and worship service will follow.
Where: Nations Worship Center, 1506 Ritner St., Philadelphia
by Emily Ralph, associate director of communication
Greensburg Worship Center has closed its doors as of December 2013. Greensburg, which joined the conference in 2010, was a predominantly Indonesian congregation located in the suburbs of Pittsburgh.
“Greensburg closed for similar reasons that it opened—the economic migration of Indonesian immigrants due to employment opportunities elsewhere,” explained Steve Kriss, Greensburg’s LEADership Minister. “The congregation grew at the height of the economic downturn, when there were more employment opportunities in Pittsburgh than in other areas. As the economy recovered, individuals moved back to larger Indonesian communities on the east coast.”
Many of the people who were part of Greensburg congregation moved to Philadelphia and are actively participating in Nations Worship Center, a sister congregation.
It may be difficult for some in a conference community that includes established, centuries-old congregations to grasp the kind of fluidity that leads a congregation to close after only four years, but for congregations working mostly with individuals who have recently immigrated, the forces of the economy are felt more intensely. “It’s possible these kinds of stories will become less unusual,” said Kriss. “We celebrate the conference Indonesian community’s responsiveness to the increased presence of Indonesian immigrants in Pittsburgh and in facilitating transitions back to Philadelphia.”
Although Pittsburgh is beyond the geographic boundaries usually associated with Franconia Conference, the conference has a history of flexibility when it comes to church planting, equipping and supporting church plants by Franconia Conference members who have migrated elsewhere—even as far away as Mexico or Hawaii. “Franconia Conference has a tradition of extending its ministry to where its people have gone,” said Kriss. “It’s part of our missional, entrepreneurial, and pastoral DNA as a community.”
Franconia Conference delegates and leaders gathered November 2 at Penn View Christian School in Souderton, Pa. to celebrate God still at work. With a packed auditorium for a third united assembly with Eastern District Conference, representatives gathered to listen and pray, to celebrate newly credentialed and ordained pastoral leaders, and to work alongside one another after an over 150-year rift created two separate Mennonite entities. The theme “God still @ work” was an extension of the 2012 theme, “God @ work.”
With singing in Indonesian, Spanish, and English led by Samantha Lioi (Peace and Justice Minister for both conferences) and Bobby Wibowo (Philadelphia Praise Center) and translation into Franconia Conference’s worshipping languages, delegates and representatives from nearly all of the Conference’s congregations from Georgia to Vermont gathered to confer around a board-crafted statement on the Conference’s increasing diversity in ethnicity, experiences, faith practice, and expression. The gathering was punctuated with points of celebration including testimony from Peaceful Living led by Joe Landis and Louis Cowell from Salford congregation, a youth choir from the revitalizing Garden Chapel in Victory Gardens, NJ, and a moment to mark the upcoming November retirement of Franconia Conference Pastor of Ministerial Leadership Noah Kolb after 45 years of ministry, which was met with rousing applause and a standing ovation.
In a shortened one-day event, delegates spent the morning together around tables with Eastern District Conference to continue to deepen relationships across conference lines. Business sessions were separate, and Franconia’s included a significant amount of time in conversations among table groups, conferring over the board statement and then reporting on those conversations to the whole body. Delegates and representatives were encouraged to mix across congregational lines to better hear and experience the diversity of conference relationships.
For many, including Tami Good, Souderton (Pa.) congregation’s Pastor of Music & Worship, who was attending Conference Assembly for the first time, the table conversations were holy spaces. Each person at her table was from a different congregation. “I saw God at work in the gracious listening, especially in the time when we talked about the conferring statement,” Good reflected. “There were disagreements, but everyone was graciously listening and hearing. Everyone actually wanted to hear each other. It was a beautiful time.”
The conferring time, along with an afternoon workshop led by the Franconia Conference board, focused on prayer and visioning for the Conference into the future. Conference board members Jim Longacre (Bally congregation), Rina Rampogu (Plains congregation), Jim Laverty (Souderton congregation), and Klaudia Smucker (Bally congregation) served as a listening committee for the daylong event. They reported seven themes of consistent and continued conversation: engagement, diversity, shared convictions, authority, polity, the role of conference, and the reality of changing relationships and engagement. Board members noted that there is much response work to do to continue the conversation and discernment process.
Bruce Eglinton-Woods, pastor of Salem congregation (Quakertown, Pa.), said, “The challenge is speaking clearly on what we believe and where we are at, which is often a challenge for Mennonite leaders. My hope and prayer is that we can trust God and release the idea of keeping it all together. We need to let God do the holding together.”
According to Rampogu, one of the longest standing Conference board members, “the hardest part about this kind of meeting is that there isn’t enough time. We want to share and to talk together,” she said. “That is a positive sign. People want to connect. My hope and prayer is that we keep our goal in mind, keeping our mission focused on equipping leaders to empower others to embrace God’s mission, with Christ in the center and churches focused on missional activity.”
In business sessions, delegates selected a number of positions by 97% affirmation including a 2nd term for conference moderator John Goshow (Blooming Glen congregation) along with board member Beny Krisbianto (Nations Worship Center), as well as ministerial and credentialing committee members Rose Bender (Whitehall congregation), Ken Burkholder (Deep Run East congregation), Mike Clemmer (Towamencin congregation) and Chris Nickels (Spring Mount congregation). Randy Nyce (Salford congregation) who is completing a term as finance committee chair and board member reported on Conference finances, noting an 11% decrease in financial contributions from congregations.
“I was surprised and pleased that the attendance at Assembly 2013 was so strong; seeing the room filled to capacity was an affirmation of how much the delegates and guests in attendance care for our conference,” Goshow noted. “Franconia Conference is all of us who are members of our 42 churches and our Conference Related Ministries. It is my hope and prayer that together we chart a course that will advance God’s Kingdom in exciting and wonderful ways.”
A decade ago, Franconia Mennonite Conference leadership noticed a critical problem: seminary-trained leaders were increasingly in short supply. So when Delaware Valley Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA), a conference-related ministry, turned over a well-funded college tuition scholarship program to the conference, a solution soon emerged.
Conrad Martin and Donella Clemens of Franconia Conference partnered with Henry Rosenberger and Dave Landis of MEDA to form a committee charged with developing a plan for the use of the newly-received asset. According to Rosenberger, it became quickly apparent that continuing to use the fund for its previous purpose of providing small college tuition scholarships was becoming less meaningful in light of the meteoric rise of college costs.
“At the same time in our Conference history, there seemed to be an increasing number of pastors being called to congregations with little or no Anabaptist training or cultural knowledge of Mennonites,” said Rosenberger. “Concern for the effects this lack of training had in our congregations, I believe, prompted the Board of MEDA to see this fund as a way to enhance the training for persons moving into leadership.”
As a result, the Area Conference Leadership Fund (ACLF) was born. Future leaders from both the Franconia and Eastern District conferences now had a new financial option to help address the costs of seminary and higher education. The committee chose to accept ACLF applications from members in both the Franconia and Eastern District conferences to recognize the involvement of the two conferences in Delaware Valley MEDA.
In 2002, the first scholarships were disbursed and over the past decade, 60 leaders have received financial assistance from the fund. Soon, scholarship recipients began to reflect emerging shifts in the leadership demographics of Franconia Conference: twenty percent of recipients were people of color and one-third of recipients were women. The ACLF allowed Franconia Conference to invest in the future.
As Franconia Conference’s director of communication and leadership cultivation, Stephen Kriss immediately recognized the value of ACLF. “The amazing thing is how many people ACLF assisted who are serving the church both within and beyond Franconia and Eastern District conferences. These gifts were amazing investments in current and future leadership. ACLF enabled us to call forth, train, and equip dozens of leaders effectively, generously, open-handedly,” said Kriss.
Recipients of ACLF scholarships appreciate the confidence and support of the broader church community. For Angela Moyer, a member of the pastoral team of Ripple congregation, (Allentown, Pa.), the support of ACLF provided the freedom to explore seminary at a comfortable pace. “I never thought I would go to seminary. I started by just taking two classes at a time—I just had a few questions… I had no interest in pursuing a graduate degree. Little did I know how formative seminary would be in finding my identity as a pastor. Receiving funds from the ACLF was the broader church community nudging me, telling me it was okay to pursue this call even when I didn’t believe it myself.”
As the Lead Pastor of Salford congregation (Harleysville, Pa.), Joe Hackman believes that his leadership abilities have been significantly nurtured by the ACLF scholarship. “The ACLF fund allowed me to feel the support of the wider church community. The financial investment the church made for my education has helped me enter into my current leadership role with a greater sense of preparedness and confidence.”
In the words of Rosenberger, a core aspect of the original ACLF vision is to ensure that emerging “leadership was firmly based in Anabaptist theology and nonresistance.” This vision is coming to fruition in the work of Beny Krisbianto, Lead Pastor of Nations Worship Center (Philadelphia). “ACLF is helping me to finish my Capstone Project at Eastern Mennonite Seminary. My capstone project has taught me how to believe that ‘The Culture of Peace’ is still possible,” says Krisbianto. “Inspired by the struggles, prejudices, and broken relationships in my context of ministry in Philadelphia, peace is not theory, too big or unrealistic, but it is God’s calling and it does still work today.”
Despite occasional contributions, the size of the ACLF scholarship was considerably reduced in 2012 and leaders will no longer have access to substantial ACLF scholarships. This, however, does not mean that there is no longer a need for talented future church leaders. According to the Conrad Martin, Franconia Conference’s director of finance, the need for future church leaders is still there, as is the need to assist them financially so that they can pursue a quality Anabaptist education. Contributions into the ACLF continue to be welcomed.