Tag Archives: Nueva Vida Norristown New Life

A Community of Sisters for the Journey/Una Comunidad de Hermanas en el Camino

By Marta Castillo, Leadership Minister of Intercultural Formation

She thought for a moment then pulled off her bright pink scarf and laid it down in the rough form of a cross on the narrow space between the beds.  Then she instructed one of us to go outside and get some dirt to place by the cross.  The two symbols, the bright pink cross and the dirt lay there together as a powerful visual of life, death, salvation, and freedom.  We began to pray, attentive to the Spirit and to our sister, as she talked, wept, and prayed through a process letting go of the crippling guilt she carried after her father’s death five years before.  We anointed her with oil and with our prayers of blessings, believing that the power of Jesus would bring transformation and freedom in her life and walk with God.  I suppose we could have listened to her story and prayed for her without the symbols but there was power in the visual and physical additions to the accompaniment of her sisters. This is one story of many from a powerful weekend of sisters walking alongside one another. 

During the weekend of the Cuidandonos Entre Mujeres (Sister Care) Retreat attended by 72 women from 15 congregations, Pastor Ofelia Garcia filled our hearts and minds with powerful teaching through shared activities and symbols.  We walked in each other’s’ shoes, determined the boundaries of our personal space, and committed ourselves to caring for each other in the safety, wisdom and confidentiality of the red tent (a symbolic place of sisterhood and caring for each other we used throughout the weekend).  On Saturday night, we dressed up, celebrated our beauty as women, decorated crowns, and then gave our uniquely created crown to a sister in Christ with words of affirmation and blessing.  Then on Sunday morning, we celebrated communion together and in a ceremony of blessing we blessed one another.  I was reminded of how Jesus used parables, symbols, and ceremony to deeply root the truth in people’s hearts and minds.  The holistic ministry of teaching and practice using our spirit, mind, and body will leave an impact greater than teaching alone. 

This was the first all-Spanish SisterCare Retreat held in the United States. It was more than we had hoped for, a true experience of the joy of seeing God’s Spirit going above and beyond what we could have hoped for or imagined.  Since our own training in Sister Care (in Spanish) with Mennonite Women USA last year, Pastor Letty Castro of Centro de Alabanza de Filadelfia, and I had dreamed of an event where Spanish-speaking women in Franconia and Eastern District could come, relax, share their stories, pray together, and receive teaching about healing and self-care.  It was truly a team effort.  Pastor Ofelia Garcia agreed to come from Mexico City to be the speaker since she helped develop and present Sister Care materials in many places. Franconia Conference agreed to support our efforts to reach women within the churches of the conference and Eastern District.  Congregations like Zion, Salford, Doylestown, Centro de Alabanza, and Nueva Vida Norristown New Life supported us with scholarships for women to attend.  Pastors helped to get the word out to their Spanish speaking members.  A group from Centro de Alabanza worked hard to bring the program and details together.  Staff from Spruce Lake Retreat Center supported us through the registration process and retreat planning. 

Within hours of being together, women from over fifteen different churches and at least ten different countries were sharing with a depth that took us by surprise.  When we shared in small groups, we heard stories of parental and spousal abandonment, verbal, physical, sexual abuse, marriage difficulties, un-forgiveness, anger, loss of a child, and so much more.  We heard faith stories of God’s grace and love reaching down to bring forgiveness, freedom, healing, hope, love, and a future.   We cried, we smiled, we laughed, we hugged, and we listened.  We were encouraged not to give counsel or advice unless it was asked for specifically so we listened some more and we prayed for ourselves and for each other.  The space felt safe and we surrendered ourselves to the experience and the community.

The invitation was extended and the women came.  We enjoyed the beauty of the mountains, trees, and God’s creation.  We stepped away from our work, homes, families, and responsibilities to care for ourselves and others women like us.  We shared deeply and encouraged each other.  As we left and went home, we will continue to invite each other to “Come, walk with us. The journey is long.” 

Luke 10:27 (NIV)  He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Por Marta Castillo, Ministro de Liderazgo en Formacion Intercultural

La pastora pensó por un momento, luego se quitó la bufanda rosada brillante y la tendió en forma de una cruz en el espacio estrecho entre las camas. Luego, ella nos pidió a una de nosotras que saliera y consiguiera algo de tierra para colocar junto a la cruz. Los dos símbolos, la cruz de color rosada brillante y la tierra yacen juntos como una poderosa imagen de la vida, la muerte, la salvación y la libertad. Comenzamos a orar, atentas al Espíritu y a nuestra hermana, mientras ella hablaba, lloraba y oraba para dejar ir la culpa paralizante que llevaba después de la muerte de su padre cinco años antes. La ungimos con aceite y con nuestras oraciones de bendición, creyendo que el poder de Jesús traería transformación y libertad en su vida y caminaría con Dios. Supongo que podríamos haber escuchado su historia y haber orado por ella sin los símbolos, pero había poder en las adiciones físicas y visuales al acompañamiento de las hermanas.  Esta es una historia entre muchas historias de un fin de semana poderoso de hermanas acompañando una a la otra. 

Durante el primer retiro (solamente en español) de Cuidándonos Entre Mujeres asistieron 72 mujeres de 15 congregaciones, la Pastora Ofelia García llenó nuestros corazones y mentes con una enseñanza poderosa a través de actividades y símbolos compartidos. Caminamos en los zapatos de los demás, determinamos los límites de nuestro espacio personal y nos comprometimos a cuidarnos mutuamente en la seguridad, la sabiduría y la confidencialidad de la tienda roja (un lugar simbólico de hermandad y cuidando una a la otra que usamos durante el fin de semana).  El sábado por la noche, nos vestimos, celebramos nuestra belleza como mujeres, decoramos coronas y luego entregamos nuestra corona de creación única a una hermana en Cristo con palabras de afirmación y bendición. Luego, el domingo por la mañana, celebramos juntas la comunión y nos bendijimos mutuamente con una ceremonia de bendición. Recordé cómo Jesús usó parábolas, símbolos y ceremonias para enraizar profundamente la verdad en los corazones y las mentes de las personas. El ministerio holístico de enseñanza y práctica que usa nuestro espíritu, mente y cuerpo dejará un impacto mayor que la enseñanza sola.

Fue más de lo que esperábamos, una verdadera experiencia de la alegría de ver al Espíritu de Dios ir más allá de lo que podríamos haber esperado o imaginado. Desde nuestro taller de Cuidándonos Entre Mujeres (Sister Care) con las Mujeres Menonitas EEUU el año pasado, la pastora Letty Castro de Centro de Alabanza, Filadelfia y yo habíamos soñado con un evento en que las mujeres de habla hispana en Franconia y el Distrito Este pudieran venir, relajarse, compartir sus historias, orar juntas y recibir enseñanza sobre la curación y el cuidado personal. Fue realmente un esfuerzo de equipo. La pastora Ofelia García aceptó venir de la ciudad de México para ser la presentadora porque ella había apoyado el desarrollo de los materiales de Cuidándonos Entre Mujeres y tenía mucha experiencia en presentarlos en diferentes países. La Conferencia de Franconia acordó apoyar nuestros esfuerzos para alcanzar a las mujeres dentro de las iglesias de la conferencia y el Distrito Este. Congregaciones como Zion, Salford, Doylestown, Centro de Alabanza y Nueva Vida Norristown New Life nos apoyaron con becas. Los pastores ayudaron a correr la voz a sus miembros que hablan español. Un grupo del Centro de Alabanza trabajó duro para reunir el programa y los detalles. El personal del Spruce Lake Retreat Center nos apoyó a través del proceso de registro y la planificación del retiro.

A las pocas horas de estar juntas, setenta y dos mujeres de más de quince iglesias diferentes y al menos diez países diferentes compartían con una profundidad que nos sorprendió. Cuando compartimos en pequeños grupos, escuchamos historias de abandono de padres y cónyugues, abuso verbal, físico, sexual, dificultades matrimoniales, falta de perdón, enojo, pérdida de un hijo y mucho más. Escuchamos historias de fe de la gracia y el amor de Dios que se acercan para traer perdón, libertad, sanidad, esperanza, amor y un futuro. Lloramos, sonreímos, reímos, nos abrazamos y escuchamos. Nos animaron a no dar consejos ni sugerencias a menos que se pidiera específicamente, así que escuchamos un poco más y oramos por nosotras mismas y por los demás. El espacio se sintió seguro y nos entregamos a la experiencia y la comunidad.

Se extendió la invitación y llegaron las mujeres. Disfrutamos de la belleza de las montañas, los árboles y la creación de Dios. Nos alejamos de nuestro trabajo, hogares, familias y responsabilidades para cuidarnos a nosotras mismas y a otras mujeres iguales que nosotras. Compartimos profundamente y nos animamos mutuamente. Cuando nos fuimos y regresamos a casa, continuaremos invitándonos mutuamente a “Ven, camina con nosotros. El viaje es largo.”

Lucas 10:27 (NVI) ….“Ama al Señor tu Dios con todo tu corazón, con todo tu ser, con todas tus fuerzas y con toda tu mente”, y: “Ama a tu prójimo como a ti mismo”

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).

 

Interspace – Courage to Stand Between

By Marta Castillo, Leadership Minister of Intercultural Formation

“Inter” words are familiar to most of us – interact, interdependent, intermission, intertwine, international, intercede, intercultural, etc.  Based on the Latin, “inter” means “between,” “in the midst of,” “mutually,” “reciprocally,” “together”.  Interspace is an adventure of new learnings, a place of possibility, sharing, rest, and reconciliation, but it is also a space that is unnerving, humbling, uncomfortable, and challenging.

Since the end of 2017, when I resigned from a pastoral role at Nueva Vida Norristown New Life, I have been living in the space between church homes and between work roles. It was strange and exciting to know that in this in between space, I could visit other churches and experience worship and Word in new ways. However, there was no church home because I was “in between”. The ministry that I was involved in was my responsibility no longer and it was freeing to dream and envision what shape my role will take as Leadership Minister of Intercultural Formation with Franconia Conference, but hard to leave behind the relationships that I had nurtured for years. In the first two months of 2018, I was in interspace, in between, waiting for my new role to begin. Then in the beginning of March, I began my international adventure with a trip to Indonesia with the purpose of studying Indonesian, a language that I had once learned and spoken as a child, to enhance my future intercultural ministry within the conference.

What an experience! The food, the culture, the language, and the people brought my childhood in Indonesia flooding back. I kept moving between being so comfortable and so uncomfortable, so quickly it was disorienting. I was delighted to experience familiar tastes, words, and culture while feeling so humbled as a person who was learning a language and speaking it so poorly and who didn’t know the cultural expectations, so I embarrassed myself. This interspace of being in a different country required courage, creativity, willingness to fail, and engagement with people who were different. It was the perfect connecting space between my past experiences and my future hopes and ministry.

A young friend of mine shared with me recently of her journey towards learning to stay in the interspace, the space between, like the Saturday between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, holding onto the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross while celebrating the power of the resurrection.  It takes courage to stand “between”.  Isn’t that exactly what Jesus has done through his life, death, and resurrection?  Even now, Jesus “intercedes” comes and goes between God and us, to keep that interspace holy and righteous.  Romans 8:34, “Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”

Furthermore, we are invited to share the same interspace of intercession, interrelationship, and interconnectedness for deeper relationship with others.  1 Timothy 2:1-3, I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”

In our conference, we have a shared priority to be intercultural, meaning that we seek to connect, stand, and live in the space between the cultures represented in our conference and the world.  This is different than being multicultural which advocates for equal respect and promoting cultural diversity.  When “multi” is not enough, we seek “inter”. With multicultural, we still have a sense of “us and them”.  With intercultural, a between space is created where “we” belong. Our conference priority is for networking and cultivating intercultural ministry relationships. This process is described as “including an assessment of current and emerging relationships that work cross-culturally while building further capacity toward mutually-beneficial relationships among ministries and congregations. Increasingly, these relationships will be defined by reciprocity and transformation rather than paternalism and patronization.  Relationships will be built around both work and celebration, both doing and being together.” Read this and other priorities hereread more about some of Franconia Conference’s intercultural and multicultural work here.

Anniversary Celebration

Norristown4What is now Nueva Vida Norristown New Life (NVNNL) formed from one of the first mission outreaches of Franconia Conference in 1919. The conference would see two initiatives in Bridgeport and in Conshohocken come and go. Then there was the development of First Mennonite, predominately of Anglo ethnicity; Bethel Mennonite under African-American leadership; and Iglesia Menonita Hispana Fuentes de Salvación.  These three congregations with a vision to be intercultural would join together in 1990 to become Nueva Vida Norristown New Life.

The Missional Operations Grant that was received by NVNNL was to show the continued support of the conference to the work of God in Norristown. The grant added in providing for the 25th Anniversary Community Fiesta and Concert in July 2015.

Norristown1With a tent perched in their parking lot, NVNNL hosted a couple hundred of present and former members, greatly enriched by their Norristown neighbors for gospel worship, led by acclaimed pianist James Crumbly, a concert with Crumbly and Friends and a pig roast and fiesta. The celebration was essentially an elaboration of what NVNNL does each month during the summer season, as Jim Williams, a long-time lay leader, “We canvass the neighborhood, hand out flyers inviting everyone to outdoor worship and a congregational meal.” As Marta Castillo, one of three pastors, remarked, “From the beginning it was in our DNA, first reaching out to Jewish, then African-American, then Spanish. And that day Pastor Beny from the Indonesian church in Philadelphia brought about two dozen folks, so it was more of a cultural mix than usual.”

Read more about the celebration here.

Listen here to John Ruth, historian, talking about the history of Nueva Vida Norristown New Life at the 2015 conference assembly.

Leadership Development in Cuba

Pastor Angel Cordero, president of CIMPEC.
Pastor Angel Cordero, president of CIMPEC.

In 2015, Franconia Conference provided a Missional Operations Grant to assist Nueva Vida Norristown New Life in a partnership with CIMPEC (Cuba’s national pastors’ and ministers’ association). According to CIMPEC president, Pastor Angel Cordero, 70% of the pastors in Cuba have never attended a Bible school or seminary. This MOG was able to assist in providing 6 days of training for these pastors.

Franconia Conference & Eastern District Women Gather  

by Doris Diener 

TestimonyaOn the morning of Saturday, March 7, approximately fifty women joined together at Nueva Vida Norristown New Life congregation to “set the day apart” for worship, learning, and fellowship. The theme of the day was “Shattering Our Mirrors,” releasing the false image we see and embracing the image God sees when our Creator looks at us. Sandra Dresher-Lehman shared that God’s creativity in His creation of women may not always fit the mold the community has prepared for us and encouraged each to be authentic followers of Jesus. Christine Waanders challenged each to own her personality and to see positive possibilities in what may considered our downsides.

Reflecting2aOther speakers included Kristi Wile, Donna Merow, and Ana Giron. Thanks to Marta Castillo and Karisa Barlow who translated, everyone was able to understand. During the time together, the women learned to know new friends, made origami boats, sang, discussed, prayed, looked inside themselves and were challenged on their journeys of faith, washed hands together, and blessed each other. The women enjoyed a delicious lunch, provided by the congregation, over lots of chatter and laughter. What a refreshing, insightful, delightful day!WorshipDancea

The conference Sistering Committee is made up of Anne Yoder (chairperson), Donna Merow, Bobby Smisko, Kristi Wile, and Doris Diener. This event was the fourth Franconia/Eastern District Conference Women’s gathering since the 2012 Sister Care event.

“Make the Crooked Path Straight”: Witness & justice within MCC

by Sharon K. Williams

Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is recognized around the world for its stellar work, as its tagline says, in “relief, development and peace in the name of Christ.” MCC’s distinct commitment to following biblical principles of peace, justice, and nonviolence makes it somewhat unique. Other organizations aspire to MCC’s example and are grateful for MCC’s partnerships. MCC staff and workers are attracted and committed to the clear articulation of these principles.

Ewuare Osayande speaks about justice and witness within Mennonite Central Committee at Nueva Vida Norristown New Life Mennonite Church.
Ewuare Osayande speaks about justice and witness within Mennonite Central Committee at Nueva Vida Norristown New Life Mennonite Church.

But MCC staff persons of color have had a different experience within the organization. When problems or disagreements arise, they often find themselves bound by a system that refuses change, and maintaining the status quo so as not to disturb some constituents becomes more important than following MCC’s own just policies. This is especially the case for persons who are called to lead antiracism and anti-oppression ministries within the institution.

Ewuare Osayande, MCC US’s anti-oppression coordinator, has experienced this firsthand. In a public meeting held at Nueva Vida Norristown New Life (Norristown, Pennsylvania) on January 31, Osayande spoke of a “crooked path” where people of color and some white people as well have often been the focal point of practices within MCC that contradict its stated values and policies.

Osayande was aware of MCC’s justice commitments when he applied for the position. He also came to MCC with his eyes “wide open,” knowing of the previous struggles of people of color who have worked there. When another person was dismissed without due process last summer, Osayande had already been documenting stories from as far back as the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 60s, as well as MCC’s broken relationships with Vincent and Rosemarie Harding, the first MCC staff persons of color. Osayande began to draw the leadership’s attention to the overall lack of integrity in the employment relationships and processes—this call to accountability is one of the stated roles in the anti-oppression coordinator’s job description. Osayande’s concerns were met with attempts to silence him, and a letter of reprimand was placed in his personnel file without due process.

Osayande carefully followed the organization’s grievance policy step-by-step over a two-month period. Requests for conversation and explanation of the charges in the letter were denied. Left with no recourse, he began to go public with this situation and the historical experiences of people of color inside MCC. Only then did the leadership respond. Thus far, it’s been positively. Conversations have begun, and the letter has been removed.

During his talk Osayande identified three tiers of white privilege inside MCC. People who are white, Mennonite, and connected in the local area of the MCC offices generally receive the benefits of Matthew 18:15-18 principles of reconciliation and of giving and receiving counsel when problems arise. Persons of color, those from other Christian traditions, and who are not from the local MCC community often do not experience the same spirit of welcome and respect. People of color and white people who have called MCC toward a more authentic witness for justice within its own house are met with a double standard of expectations and micro acts of aggression that often result in burnout and/or dismissal.

As Osayande clarified throughout his presentation, this is not unusual behavior for Christian organizations and churches that are predominantly white in leadership and constituency. Addressing the hidden roots of systemic racism and oppression that still rise up is one of the greatest challenges. Few do it well. The most painful part, for those caught in its sweep, is the unawareness, silence, denial and oppression that results from unjust in-house practices.

“People of color are not looking for perfect white people, but for white people who are so connected to their hearts, who are willing to make mistakes and ask for forgiveness, knowing God’s grace is sufficient,” Osayande explained.

“It’s about the quality of white people’s hearts, about building capacity for a willingness to work for change, to truly create the ‘beloved community,’” he said, referencing a phrase coined by Vincent Harding and preached by Martin Luther King, Jr.

“The commitment of people of color in MCC is to follow our God, whose power is greater than white supremacy. Our commitment is to follow Jesus, to extend mercy, to show God’s love, to honor the God who spoke to the prophets saying, ‘I love justice.’ Isn’t this at least part of what it means to be Anabaptist?

“MCC leadership has shown signs of the possibility of change in the past few weeks. I am committed to establishing a more appropriate accountability process as long as MCC and its constituents are committed to it.”

Osayande encouraged MCC constituents to pray for the leaders of MCC, and to commit our support for just practices within the organization. The call to MCC is to “be true to what you said on paper” (Martin Luther King Jr., “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” April 3, 1968). Constituents understand that maintaining healthy employer/employee relationships can be difficult, because people’s very lives are affected by decisions made. It’s important to acknowledge that constituents do not agree on everything. But MCC supporters can strengthen MCC’s witness by humbly holding leaders accountable for justice with integrity, and encourage the organization as it works toward becoming antiracist and anti-oppressive in every aspect of its work—even when it’s uncomfortable. It’s work for the sake of God’s kingdom.

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.

Waiting and hoping on the One who is faithful

by Marta Castillo, assistant moderator (Nueva Vida Norristown New Life)

Marta CastilloI have been delighted to read the previous blogs in this series, “Esperando: Waiting and Hoping.” When the leadership group chose this theme of waiting and hoping, we imagined that it would take some explaining and enlarging. There was the potential for delegates expressing concern, believing that now is the time to act and respond rather than wait and hope. After all, isn’t waiting and hoping like delaying and wishing? Isn’t waiting and hoping what one does when one is unsure how to proceed?

In this series, the writers have created a wonderful way for all of us to consider the breadth, depth, and potential of waiting on God in hope. If you have not read this blogs series and plan to attend the joint conference assembly with Eastern District Conference, I encourage you to read them in preparation for our time together.

John Stoltzfus wrote about waiting in the cold in community and noticing signs of hope. Michael Meneses focused on waiting in the pain, noting that “even as we hurt and carry what seems to be unbearable pain in our lives, we remain steadfast with great expectancy.”

Beny Krisbianto told a story about how Indonesian Christians were waiting for the impossible, encouraging us to “continue our prayer and hope in God until those impossible prayers are answered.”

Krista Showalter Ehst reflected on waiting when it’s hard to explain why and her hope for the church. “Because it is only in experiencing small-yet-profound tastes of a kin-dom where God’s love abounds and all find wholeness that we can muster the patience to wait for that kin-dom to be realized in full.”

Danilo Sanchez reminds us that waiting is often accompanied by doubt but even when we doubt, God is faithful to fulfill His promises.

We are esperando: waiting and hoping on GOD. It is not like waiting in the doctor’s office, alone and unsure. When we wait on God, God is present with us. It is not like waiting with anxiety for the other shoe to drop. When we wait on the Lord, we can expect to be led in the right direction and God’s will to be done. It is not like waiting to see what other people will do so we can follow them. When we wait on the Lord, God’s Spirit can do a transforming work in us.

Waiting on God is expectant and hopeful. Waiting on God is active. We pray, read our Bibles, and listen for God’s voice. Waiting on God is believing in the assurance of things hoped for, with a conviction of things not seen. Waiting on God helps us go deeper into God’s reality and gives the permission to let go of our anxiety and choose God’s peace. Waiting on God is an act of surrendering to God’s will.

You may know that Nueva Vida Norristown New Life bought a building in 2008 in faith that we were acting in obedience to God’s call and vision. For five years, we waited on the Lord. The tenants that we had moved out, the economy went downhill, and our church ran out of money. As we waited, God did sustain us with hope and manna provision, unexpected gifts here and there from churches and individuals. We prayed. The situation became progressively worse. In December 2013, our buildings were up for sheriff’s sale. We still waited. We wondered. We did everything that we could think of doing. We surrendered. We hoped, believing that God is faithful.

In the winter of 2013, God’s Spirit moved hearts and minds of church leaders, business persons, and other people and miraculously our wait was over. The night of the sheriff’s sale, we held a service of thanksgiving. Our minds were blown by the way that God answered our prayers and had honored our waiting on Him.

In our conferences, we are not sitting around delaying and wishing that things will all work out. People are praying. Churches are actively moving forward with the mission and vision for what God is calling them to do and to be. The conference is moving forward by supporting congregations in ministry through missional operational grants, church transitions, credentialing new persons, supporting current pastors, and connecting congregations with common callings.

We are hopefully waiting for God to work all things out according to God’s will and purposes. When we meet together, let’s remember to celebrate what God is doing and let us wait on God together in the cold and the pain, for the impossible, even if we aren’t quite sure why and have doubts. Hebrews reminds us to hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.

Our theme for this year’s joint Conference Assembly with Eastern District Conference is “Esperando: Waiting & Hoping.”  Conference Assembly will be held November 14-15 at Penn View Christian School in Souderton, Pa.  For more information: assembly.franconiaconference.org.

Seeking peace in their cities, urban leaders gather in Philadelphia

by Rachel Sommer for Mennonite Central Committee East Coast and Mennonite Church USA

urban ministry conference
Chantelle Todman Moore (Philadelphia program coordinator, MCC East Coast), Freeman Miller (retired bishop, Philadelphia District of the Lancaster Mennonite Conference of Mennonite Church USA) and Glen Alexander Guyton (chief operating officer, Mennonite Church USA) pray together for peace in their cities at the Urban Anabaptist Ministry Symposium co-sponsored by MCC East Coast and Mennonite Church USA. (MCC photo/Rachel Sommer) 

In a letter to Jerusalem’s exiled leaders, the prophet Jeremiah called on them to work for the welfare of Babylon, the city to which they had been deported. “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city,” he wrote. “Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jer. 29:7).

From October 2-4, nearly 100 Anabaptist leaders gathered in Philadelphia to discuss what responding to Jeremiah’s charge looks like in the 21st century.

Participants came from cities including New York; Hampton, Virginia; Philadelphia; and Washington, D.C., to attend the Urban Anabaptist Ministry Symposium organized by Glen Alexander Guyton, chief operating officer for Mennonite Church USA, and Chantelle Todman Moore, Philadelphia program coordinator for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) East Coast.

The symposium invited urban leaders to discuss practical Anabaptist ministry in their cities. “Being a peace church isn’t just about not going to war – it’s about manifesting God’s kingdom in our own communities,” said speaker Addie Banks, executive director at The Groundswell Group in the Bronx, New York.

Banks said the symposium provided opportunities for her to learn from colleagues in new ways. “Each of us has a tool. We all need tools to do our work, and gathering here with one another is like assembling a toolkit.”

During plenary sessions, Banks along with Al Taylor, pastor of Infinity Mennonite Church (Harlem, NY), and Ertell Whigham, associate pastor of Nueva Vida Norristown New Life (Norristown, Pa.) and executive minister of Franconia Mennonite Conference, shared “best practices” from their ministries.

Whigham spoke about the need to develop personal connections in culturally diverse contexts. “To be intercultural in the church of God today means that I will recognize how God has blessed you in your life, and I will recognize the gift that you are to me,” he said. “I will allow the Jesus in you to be the Jesus in me.”

Workshop leaders drew from first-hand experience to facilitate sessions on youth and young adult ministry, education for urban leaders, immigration, developing community partnerships and dismantling oppression.

Additional event sponsors included the African American Mennonite Association, Cookman at Emerging Ministries Corporation, Franconia Mennonite Conference, Goshen (Indiana) College, Kingdom Builders Anabaptist Network of Greater Philadelphia, Mennonite Mission Network and Philadelphia FIGHT.

Symposium organizers hope that participants will continue to connect and collaborate with one another. “I’m excited about the relationships that were forged here,” said Guyton. “This gathering showed that we can all benefit from the expertise of Anabaptist leaders who are carrying out practical ministry in their own contexts.”

Ben Walter, one of the pastors at Ripple, in Allentown, Pennsylvania, said the conference was one of the best he’d ever attended. He appreciated that voices often on the margins were given ample space and emphasis, and found it “helpful and enlightening” to hear the diverse perspectives and experiences represented among attendees.

Todman Moore hopes that urban Anabaptist leaders will convene in other cities in coming years. “We’d love to hear from Anabaptist leaders in other urban areas who are interested in discussing practical ministry in their contexts,” she said. She invites leaders to contact her (215-535-3624, ChantelleTodmanMoore@mcc.org) or Guyton (574-524-5282, GlenG@MennoniteUSA.org) to discuss planning similar initiatives in other cities.

Norristown congregation celebrates new life

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NVNNL Sept 2013by Emily Ralph, associate director of communication

On the day that their meetinghouse and office building, New Life Plaza, was scheduled to be sold at sheriff’s sale, members and friends of Nueva Vida Norristown (Pa.) New Life gathered for a celebration.  Instead of an impending foreclosure, the congregation experienced God’s miraculous intervention and, on the evening of December 18th, they met to worship, pray, testify, and burn the sheriff sale signs.

Nueva Vida Norristown New Life (NVNNL) is a multilingual and multiethnic congregation in Franconia Conference that provides over a quarter-million-dollars’ worth of social services for its community including a child care center, youth center, internet café, photo ID application services, and a discipleship housing ministry.  The congregation formed in 1990 with the merger of three Mennonite congregations: one Latino, one African American, and one Anglo and African American.  Their vision for racial reconciliation and justice has led to ongoing witness in their community and within the regional and national Mennonite church.

NVNNL bought New Life Plaza in 2007 as part of their “Enlarging Our Place in God’s World” campaign.  The office building, located next door to their church facilities, provided space for new and growing ministries as well as offices that could be leased to generate income for the congregation’s vision of ministry and outreach.  Soon after, however, the United States entered a recession and New Life Plaza slowly lost tenants until it was nearly empty.

Interest rates on the Plaza’s mortgage remained high and the mortgage payments became impossible to pay.  By summer of 2013, the bank had decided to foreclose.

NVNNL
Photo by Tim Moyer.

NVNNL, whose vision is to be a “house of prayer for all people,” continued to bring their need to God.  As they fervently prayed,   “God moved people to get involved in ways and for reasons they didn’t understand,” said Jim Williams, chair of the stewardship ministry team. “A group slowly came together who said, ‘We can’t allow this foreclosure to happen.’”

Congregational leaders and business people from Franconia Conference began meeting in the summer of 2013 to discern what the next steps might be.  All agreed that the ministry and witness of NVNNL was too important in the life of the conference to lose.

“People appreciate the mission that NVNNL has in their community, the way they serve the folks in their neighborhood,” said John Goshow, Franconia Conference moderator and one of the leaders who initiated the gathering.  “There’s also a historical connection here—folks had been hearing about Norristown for a long time and affirmed the vital role that the congregation has played in Franconia Conference over the years.”

One leader in the group was Paul Lederach, a former bishop from Franconia Conference who, born and raised in the Norristown mission church, continued to advocate on the community’s behalf until his death on January 6, 2014.  He was 88.

The conference partners began negotiating with the bank and gathering pledges; by that fall, they had collected nearly $350,000 from congregations and individuals in gifts and loans.  In December, they bought out the mortgage on New Life Plaza, settling on December 30th.  NVNNL will have three years interest-free on part of the mortgage and five years interest-free on the rest, with the understanding that the mortgage must be paid off by the end of that time. Two loans with the bank also remain, with more manageable payments.

Nueva Vida Norristown New Life
NVNNL gathered to worship in the parking lot of the New Life Plaza to celebrate the congregation’s 20th anniversary in 2010. Photo by Tim Moyer.

“The new partnership in ministry between some Franconia Conference people and churches and NVNNL is what we have envisioned for several years,” said Adamino Ortiz, NVNNL council chair.  “It is a great opportunity for everyone involved to know each other better, to share talents, ideas, and resources [that will] develop the vision and mission of the church for years to come. It is an opportunity to continue the vision and legacy of Brother Paul Lederach and others who ministered in Norristown before us.”

Moving into 2014, the future looks brighter, with the possibility of new tenants and a slowly improving economy in Norristown.  “The ministry that started here in 1918 will continue,” Williams said, “and everything we have done to gain a more stable financial situation will benefit future generations.”  In the immediate future, the congregation will begin raising funds to pay off the loans, work on renovations in the Plaza, meetinghouse, and youth center, and continue to expand and grow deeper in their intercultural ministry.

“We have renewed energy to continue the hopes and plans that we had,” said Yvonne Platts, a member of the steering team for Enlarging Our Place in God’s World.  “We have a bigger story to tell–who we are, who God has called us to be, living into the vision of having a larger presence in God’s world.”

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Congregación en Norristown Celebra Nueva Vida

NVNNL Sept 2013

por Emily Ralph, Franconia Mennonite Conference; traducido por Julio Castillo, NVNNL

El día en que estaba prevista para ser vendidos en la venta del alguacil su centro de reuniones y edificio de oficinas de Plaza Nueva Vida,  miembros y amigos de Nueva Vida Norristown ( PA) se reunieron en una celebración. En lugar de una ejecución hipotecaria inminente, la congregación experimentó la intervención milagrosa de Dios y, en la tarde del 18 de diciembre, se reunieron para adorar, orar, testificar,  y quemar las muestras de la venta del sheriff.

Nueva Vida Nueva Vida Norristown ( NVNNL ) es una congregación multilingüe y multiétnica, en la conferencia de Franconia que proporciona un poco más de un cuarto de millon de dolares en servicios sociales para la comunidad, incluyendo un centro de cuidado infantil, centro juvenil, internet café, las fotos de los servicios de aplicaciones de identificación, y un ministerio de vivienda de discipulado. La congregación se formó en 1990 con la fusión de tres congregaciones menonitas: una latina, una afroamericana, y una anglo. Su visión de la reconciliación racial y la justicia ha llevado a testimonio continuo en su comunidad y en la Iglesia Menonita regional y nacional.

NVNNL compró Vida Nueva Plaza en 2007 como parte de la campaña “Ampliando Nuestro lugar en el mundo de Dios.” El edificio de oficinas,  situado al lado de sus instalaciones de la iglesia, con la condición de espacio para los ministerios nuevos y en crecimiento, así como oficinas que podrían ser alquilados para generar ingresos para la visión de la congregación del ministerio y la divulgación. Poco después, sin embargo, los Estados Unidos entró en recesión y Nueva Vida Plaza perdió lentamente inquilinos hasta que estaba casi vacío.

Las tasas de interés sobre la hipoteca de la Plaza se mantuvieron altos y los pagos de la hipoteca se hicieron imposibles de pagar. Para el verano del 2013, el banco había decidido ejecutar la hipoteca.

NVNNL
Photo by Tim Moyer.

NVNNL,  cuya visión es ser una “casa de oración para todas las personas”, continuó trayendo su necesidad a Dios. Mientras oraban fervientemente, “Dios movió a la gente a involucrarse en formas y por razones que no se entendían”, dijo Jim Williams,  presidente del Equipo del ministerio de Administración. “Un grupo se acercó lentamente a nosotros que dijo, ‘No podemos permitir que esto suceda’’’.

Líderes congregacionales y empresarios de la Conferencia de Franconia comenzaron a reunirse en el verano del 2013 para discernir cuáles podrían ser los próximos pasos. Todos estuvieron de acuerdo que el ministerio y el testimonio de NVNNL era demasiado importante en la vida de la conferencia para dejar perderse.

“La gente aprecia la misión que NVNNL tiene en su comunidad, la manera en que sirven a la gente en su barrio”, dijo John Goshow,  moderador de la Conferencia de Franconia y uno de los líderes que iniciaron la reunión. “También hay una conexión histórica aquí—la gente oía constantemente acerca de Norristown durante mucho tiempo y afirmó el papel vital que la congregación ha desempeñado en la Conferencia de Franconia en estos años”. Uno de los líderes en el grupo era Paul Lederach, un ex obispo de la Conferencia de Franconia que, nacido y criado en la iglesia de la misión Norristown, continuó abogando en nombre de la comunidad hasta su muerte el 6 de enero de 2014. Tenía 88 años.

Los socios de la conferencia comenzaron a negociar con los compromisos bancarios y las promesas; durante el otoño,  se habían recaudado casi $ 350,000 de las congregaciones e individuos en los regalos y préstamos. En diciembre,  compraron la hipoteca sobre New Life Plaza,  estableciéndose el 30 de diciembre. NVNNL tendrá tres años, sin intereses por parte de la hipoteca a cinco años sin intereses sobre el resto,  en el entendimiento de que la hipoteca debe ser pagada por el final de ese tiempo. Dos préstamos con el banco también se mantienen,  con pagos más manejables.

Nueva Vida Norristown New Life
NVNNL gathered to worship in the parking lot of the New Life Plaza to celebrate the congregation’s 20th anniversary in 2010. Photo by Tim Moyer.

“La nueva asociación en el ministerio entre algunas personas e iglesias de la Conferencia de Franconia y NVNNL es lo que hemos imaginado durante varios años”, dijo Adamino Ortiz, presidente del concilio de NVNNL. “Es una gran oportunidad para todos los involucrados a conocernos mejor,  de compartir talentos,  ideas y recursos [que será] el desarrollo de la visión y misión de la iglesia en los años venideros. Es una oportunidad para continuar con la visión y el legado del Hermano Paul Lederach y otros que servían en Norristown ante nosotros”.

Entrando en el 2014,  el futuro parece más brillante, con la posibilidad de nuevos inquilinos y una economía que mejora lentamente en Norristown.

“El ministerio que comenzó aquí en 1918 continuará”, dijo Williams, “y todo lo que hemos hecho para tener una situación financiera más estable beneficiará a las generaciones futuras”. En el futuro inmediato, la congregación iniciará la recaudación de fondos para pagar los préstamos, trabajar en las renovaciones en la Plaza, centro de reuniones y un centro de la juventud, y continuará expandiéndose y profundizándose en su ministerio intercultural.

“Hemos renovado la energía para continuar con las esperanzas y los planes que teníamos”, dijo Yvonne Platts,  un miembro del equipo directivo de Ampliando Nuestro lugar en el mundo de Dios. “Tenemos una gran historia que contar—lo que somos,  y que Dios nos ha llamado a ser, viviendo en la visión de tener una mayor presencia en el mundo de Dios”.