by Emily Ralph, associate director of communication
“Waiting on God is expectant and hopeful,” declared Marta Castillo, Franconia Conference’s outgoing assistant moderator, at the opening of the United Franconia and Eastern District Conferences’ 2014 Assembly. The theme of this year’s gathering, held November 14-15 at Penn View Christian School in Souderton, Pa., was “Esperando: Waiting & Hoping.”
“We’re not waiting for something, we’re waiting for somebody,” added Bob Stevenson during Friday evening worship. “Waiting is not just a passive sitting back. And so the word I have is that we wait ‘until’ [we receive the power of the Spirit] and then we get up and go!”
Stevenson and his wife Bonnie were called and commissioned as missionaries to Mexico at a Franconia Conference Assembly 26 years before. They were celebrated Friday night as they reached a milestone in their ministry: the transition from raising missionary support from the States to full funding through their congregation. “I thank the Lord for allowing us to be a part of this conference,” Bonnie responded after she and Bob were presented with a Spanish fraktur created by Salford congregation member Roma Ruth. “There are many times on Friday morning when we have our prayer together … that we pray for each one of your congregations by name.”
The theme of leaders raised up and called from within the Conference continued on Saturday during the joint delegate session, when the gathering recognized a number of newly credentialed leaders who were licensed out of Franconia congregations. “Where do our pastors come from?” asked Steve Kriss, Franconia Conference director of leadership cultivation. “They come because you invite them.”
This year also saw the credentialing of leaders from other conferences and denominational backgrounds, adding to Franconia’s increasing diversity. “Diversity is a catalyst for growth,” reflected Jessica Hedrick, Souderton congregation, during table feedback. Her table encouraged conference delegates to prioritize prayer and, as corporate discernment continued, to recognize “the opportunity to learn from each other instead of necessarily trying to get everyone to agree.”
The theme of listening well and together wove through many of the stories and hopes shared throughout the weekend. Danilo Sanchez, Whitehall congregation, named three areas that it seemed the majority of delegates were wrestling with: “Listening to the Spirit, how to sit with our differences, and how to love like Christ.”
The Franconia Conference Board asked delegates to consider what kind of conversations needed to be planned leading up to the Mennonite Church USA convention in Kansas City next summer, knowing the likelihood that Convention will include decisions about denominational structure and human sexuality. Many delegates agreed that the questions of structure and sexuality only skimmed the surface; perhaps there were other questions that should be asked instead.
Josh Meyer, Franconia congregation, wondered how the upcoming dialogue could form those participating into the image of Christ. “How we have this conversation is just as important as any decisions that we make,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what we decide in Kansas City; if we don’t treat each other as sisters and brothers in Christ, then we’ve missed the point.”
Throughout the weekend, conference leadership encouraged delegates to actively wait on the Spirit, to take time for stillness and listening, and to collaborate in acts of justice and mercy. “We must not become paralyzed by the issues of the day,” encouraged Eastern District moderator Brenda Oelschlager, “but move forward in love … as God leads us along new paths.”
Several new paths highlighted included a new Lehigh Valley collaboration in hiring Sanchez as youth minister, welcoming two new Philadelphia congregations (Centro de Alabanza and Indonesian Light Church) into an exploration of membership in Franconia Conference, and the move of the Mennonite Conference Center to the campus of Christopher Dock Mennonite High School in Lansdale (Pa.).
Although 2014 saw the beginnings of new ministries and the licensing of many new pastors, it also brought the deaths of three influential church leaders: Paul Lederach, John Drescher, and Israel Bolaños. In reflecting on their legacies, Kriss encouraged delegates to remember them by carrying on their work of teaching, writing, and mission.
“The gospel isn’t good news until someone takes it and goes with it,” Bob Stevenson agreed. The power which sends the church is not political or force, but “a power that is a ‘preach the gospel to the poor’ power, it’s a ‘healing the broken heart’ power…. What will change this world is us, God’s people.”
by 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, 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.
“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.”
Congregación en Norristown Celebra Nueva Vida
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, 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.
“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”.
The passing of Paul Mensch Lederach (1925-2014) on Monday morning, January 6, brings to an earthly close one of the most admirable, valuable and lengthy life-stories in the three-century history of the Franconia Mennonite Conference. Not only Paul’s wife Mary (Slagell) and their children and grandchildren, but the Dock retirement community, the conference, and the Mennonite Church USA are now saying farewell to a far-reaching presence and influence.
Born as the oldest living child of a young mission-worker couple in Norristown, Paul grew up in an epicenter of Mennonite life, whose themes captivated his soul. Ordained a minister by the casting of lots when only halfway through his years at Goshen College, the tall, handsome nineteen-year-old could electrify a traditional Mennonite audience. The respect the aging bishops had for this newcomer was such that only five years later, when he was 24, and a graduate of a Baptist seminary, they could endorse him in the office of bishop. I myself, at the age of 20, was ordained by the laying on of his hands at Norristown in August of 1950.
Paul’s completion of a doctoral degree in Christian Education had led immediately to a call to work in that field at the Mennonite Publishing House in Scottdale, PA. This was another epicenter, this time of the wider church. But his second ordination called him back home, where the bishops asked him to help the Blooming Glen congregation through its recovery from the loss of members to the recently born “Calvary Mennonite” (later independent “Calvary”) church. One of his tasks in this role, he found, was to persuade members to remove wedding rings. Many years later he would observe that he had never seen a decade without major debate in the church on one issue or another.
But the wider Mennonite Church renewed its call for Paul’s exceptional training and gifts, with the result that shortly before marrying Oklahoma-born schoolteacher Mary, he returned to Scottdale. There too he would serve as a bishop in the Allegheny Conference, while supervising the Christian Education work of our entire denomination. For a quarter century, with four children growing up in Scottdale, Paul’s name was increasingly synonymous with curricular themes and projects in not only our own churches, but those of related denominations.
Some twenty-plus titles from Paul’s pen are still available on Amazon.com. One with which every member of our Conference should be familiar is his little classic of 1980, A Third Way. Written at the close of his Scottdale career, it placed in simple language the key insights and convictions of the Mennonite faith tradition and shows how deeply Paul, no follower of fads, was rooted in scripture. The breadth of this biblical orientation became overwhelmingly evident in his commentary on the book of Daniel, now spread to over 500 libraries nationwide and beyond.
Though not narrow in mentality, Paul represented insight into the reasons for being the kind of Christians implicit in our tradition. When a respected sister in our conference began to wear a cross necklace, describing it as a spiritual ornament, he asked, “Would you wear an electric chair?” When in 1995 at a historic and somewhat tense meeting in Wichita, Kansas, the Mennonite Church and General Conference jointly accepted our groundbreaking “Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective,” Paul soberly counseled, just before the vote was taken, against a demonstrative, triumphant response that would insult those who in good conscience voted negatively.
In his return to the Franconia Conference area Paul not only served as an appreciated elder statesman, but poured his talents into a sequence of pastoral interims and major historical writings. A quarter-century later he was still growing spiritually, confessing that his mind was changing under the influence of the Gospel he loved. And, on the day before his sudden final illness, he was back at Norristown, encouraging a plan to support the congregation into which he had been born 88 years before. His legacy will continue initiating and steadying our life as a Christian fellowship.
Paul Lederach passed away on Monday, January 6. Relatives and friends may call after 1:30 p.m., Saturday, January 11, 2014 at Blooming Glen Mennonite Church, 713 Blooming Glen Road, Blooming Glen, PA 18911. A Memorial Service will follow at 3:00 p.m. Interment will be in the church columbarium.