Tag Archives: Peace

Preventing Gun Violence

Gun Violence Pastors BreakfastDrick Boyd, professor at Eastern University, and Fred Kauffman from Mennonite Central Committee (both from West Philadelphia congregation) shared stories of gun violence and redemption and encouraged leaders to engage their congregations around the topic of gun violence and gun control.  There are deeper issues in our culture, Boyd said, and getting rid of guns won’t remove those deeper issues, but “at least we’ll live long enough to address them.”

Kauffman and Boyd are available to come speak at your congregation on the topic of preventing gun violence; they also recommend the book America and Its Guns.

Intercessory Prayer about Gun Violence

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Incarnation in the suburbs

Hilltown prayer walkby KrisAnne Swartley, Doylestown congregation

My fingers and toes are still somewhat numb as I sit down to write this account of the prayer walk in Hilltown Township (Pa.). I also feel somewhat numb on the inside. I wonder how I got here… the associate pastor who was just interviewed by a local news station for walking and praying on a neighborhood street. This is weird.

Then I remember how I got here. I have been asking God to show me what it looks like to incarnate God’s love in the suburbs because it isn’t always obvious to me. My suburbs look beautiful and well-kept and peaceful when you drive around on the streets. What need is there here? It is hidden under the surface.

I got an email last Friday from my children’s school district office saying that there had been a home invasion and murder in my township and that their school would be increasing security. I quickly looked up the news story and read the report. My first instinct was to lock my doors, hunker down and pray. I felt violated and fearful.

My second instinct was to get outside and be present, to stand in the middle of the darkness and bring the light of hope and faith. I had been asking God what it looked like to do incarnational ministry in the suburbs and I felt in this moment that it meant going against any normal instinct to insulate myself or rationalize away what had happened.

A group of us from Line Lexington Mennonite, St. Peter’s Covenant, and Doylestown Mennonite have been meeting to pray once a month. We called an emergency meeting to pray specifically about this tragedy and discern a response. Lowell Delp, the pastor of Line Lexington congregation, Jim Fox, the pastor of St. Peter’s congregation, and Sandy Landes and I from Doylestown congregation decided that walking Swartley Road and praying for our neighbors there would be a faithful and redemptive way to incarnate Jesus. Lowell and Jim visited some of the residents the day before our prayer walk, to let them know what was happening and invite them to join us.

Today, a group of ten of us met in a parking lot on Route 309. One man who joined us there but could not brave the cold walk said, “I want to see our community come together after this. We can’t change anything by ourselves. Our community needs prayer and our churches need prayer.” I was sure I saw the hint of tears in his eyes and heard a tremble in his voice.

We carried candles in glass jars and sang songs of grace and God’s faithfulness. We walked against the freezing wind to “Amazing Grace” and “The Steadfast Love of the Lord Never Ceases.” We prayed for the woman and the teen boys who were traumatized by the violence, for the neighbors whose street was violated by this horrific incident. We prayed for beauty to come from these ashes, for God’s redeeming power to be at work.

I am tempted to look forward and ask “What’s next?” But maybe for now it is enough to be visible. To be present.  In a community with no sidewalks and few places to be together as neighbors, maybe even that presence is miraculously transformative.  I will keep choosing presence and incarnation over insulation. I will tell my first instincts to step aside in favor of what Jesus is prompting deep inside. And I find I am not numb anymore.

KrisAnne Swartley is pastor for the missional journey at Doylestown (Pa.) Mennonite Church.  She wrote this reflection last Thursday (January 24th).  Read the news report.

U.S. War-culture, Sacrifice and Salvation

Kelly Denton-BorhaugFollowing the events of Sept. 11, 2001, Rev. Kelly Denton-Borhaug, Associate Professor and Chair of the Religion Department at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pa., began to investigate the links between Christian understandings of sacrifice and U.S. militarism and war.

This morning, Denton-Borhaug spoke at the Pastors and CRM Leaders’ Breakfast about the topic of her book, U.S. War-culture, Sacrifice and SalvationA “war-culture,” said Denton-Borhaug, is the increasing interpenetration of the ethos and practices of war into ever-increasing facets of daily human life.  Drawing on information from economists, sociologists, and pop culture, Denton-Borhaug gave illustrations of how this war-culture has developed and overdeveloped, especially in the years since 9/11, and how the language of sacrifice fosters what can be considered a national “war religion.”

Peace advocates must talk about and study the reality of war-culture in the United States, Denton-Borhaug encouraged, to begin to diffuse the mystery that surrounds it.  This will be the topic of the upcoming Winter Peace Retreat, sponsored by the Franconia and Eastern District Conferences’ Peace & Justice Committee.

Listen to the podcast from this morning’s breakfast and view the PowerPoint presentation, which includes additional information and statistics beyond what Denton-Borhaug covered in her presentation.  Contact Kelly.


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Delivering Christ to a waiting world

by Donna Merow, Ambler

live nativity at Towamencin
The live nativity at Towamencin congregation. Photo by Casie L. Allebach.

Christmas. I have long been ambivalent about this holy season.  Don’t get me wrong.  I LOVE Christmas—the anticipation of Advent, the children’s pageant, singing “Silent Night” by candlelight with guitar accompaniment, the live nativity, the retelling of the familiar story, the making and wrapping of gifts.

But I also dread its coming—the gaudy lawn decorations, inane songs like “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” blaring from the radio, the excesses of the celebration.  I lament with Linus its commercialization and long to discover if the Grinch’s Whoville observation is farther reaching and that it can, indeed, come “without packages, boxes, or bags.”

I trace my ambivalence to singing “Will Santy Came to Shanty Town?” for a school program when I was about nine.  The song is a child’s first person wondering if Santa will visit his side of the tracks this time around or if his mother will have to repaint his toys the way she did the year before.  At the time I needed to believe in the magic of Christmas more than anything.  My parents had recently divorced, which necessitated a move, and my world was turned upside down by the addition of a stepfather who drank too much.  But Eddy Arnold’s musical autobiography captured my youthful imagination.  The revelation that Santa apparently didn’t come to all deserving children was an epiphany for me and one that has shaped my Christmas-keeping in the decades since.

The Irish have a beautiful custom of having the youngest child light a candle in the window on Christmas Eve, lest Christ should come in the guise of a stranger.  I count the strangers I have met during this time of year to be among my most treasured gifts.

One year we were able to connect with a woman we read about in The Inquirer.  She lead a group of fearless females who stood on the corner in their neighborhood with their mops and brooms to reclaim it from the drug dealers, and she often provided sanctuary to a dozen or more children in her home.

Then there was the mother of the family we had adopted through the Visiting Nurses Association who selflessly offered a sleeping bag that she had requested to another mother who showed up at the center because she had nothing to give to her little ones.

I generally avoid the mall as much as possible, but one year I was approached there by a stranger as I was enjoying a snack after a fruitful search for flannel sheets for my newly-separated father.  Within a half hour I had learned about her painful spiritual journey through divorce and the sexual abuse of her children.

Liberty Ministries Christmas
Volunteers with Liberty Ministries pack Christmas gifts for inmates.

That same year, my family traveled into Philadelphia for a performance of The Nutcracker.  A young woman struck up a conversation with me (I am an avowed introvert and rarely initiate such encounters) as we waited on the platform at Market East for the R5 to take us home.  Our conversation continued until she got off at the stop before us.  She was a recovering drug addict trying to put her life back together.  Her grandfather was dying in a nursing home in the area, and friends were taking her to visit him.  He had believed in her even when she didn’t believe in herself, she explained.

This year the world was too much with me, and I feared that Christmas might not come, “but it came just the same.”  It came through offering a ride to an elderly woman in front of me in the check-out line at the Dollar Tree store who would surely have struggled walking home with her cane and packages.  It came in attending a nursing home concert in which several members of my congregation performed.  It came shopping with a neighbor for an immigrant family facing its first Christmas without a mother/wife/daughter/sister.  It came helping to prepare nearly 2,000 brown paper packages for the inmates at Montgomery County Correctional Facility and having the privilege of joining others from Liberty Ministries in their distribution to the women who eagerly awaited them and gratefully received them.  It came with a real “baby Jesus” in the pageant this Sunday and our own costumed angels poignantly drawing us in as we mourned the slaughter of the Holy Innocents in a sleepy New England town.

Christmas.  The celebration of God with us invites us all to be open to possibility and opportunities—to “deliver” Christ to a waiting world, to serve Christ among the least of these, and to be surprised anew by the ways Christ comes to us in the midst of our isolation and loneliness, our longing for things to be different, our busyness and self-absorption, and our grief and pain, our hopes and fears.

Walking in the Way of Peace

Last spring, the Eastern District and Franconia Conference Peace and Justice Committee sent invitations to our congregations for any member, young or old, to write reflections on “Walking in the Way of Peace.” We weren’t sure what response we would receive, but we offered this as one way for people to consider and express how their experience of following Jesus in everyday life led them to reconciling conversations, or choices supporting justice for vulnerable people, or perhaps what tensions they felt in trying to live Christ’s peace. As it turned out, the best submissions did speak of struggle and uneasiness – especially the conflicted feeling of desiring the well-being and fullness of life God intends for us and all creation, and cringing in our awareness of our own part in continuing the gap between God’s dream and our present reality. Thanks be to God that we are not left alone in acknowledging the gap, but live with the Spirit within us, moving among us to create peace that eclipses human understanding! May these two honest reflections feed our common hope in the Prince of Peace, who comes to us in weakness and poverty–that the glory of the Lord would be revealed, and all people would see it together.

Brenda ShellyWalking in the Way of Peace

by Brenda Shelly, Blooming Glen

I have not opened morning eyes to a place torn by bombs or spent a night without sleep due to violence.

But I long for peace in the devastated dark corners of this trembling globe.

I have not tasted the painful bitterness of losing a loved one to war.

But my heart aches for mothers and wives bearing such a profound and agonizing sting.

The mouths of my children have never asked for bread because they could not quiet great hunger from within.

But my soul aches when I remember the millions less fortunate.  The gentle, the innocent, the starving.  Parents with no way to comfort a dying child.

Never have I been unduly pressed by a governmental or cultural authority, leaving me powerless and desperate.

How I fear for those oppressed beyond any visible hope or release.

It has not been difficult for me to turn the other cheek in my privileged middleclass neighborhood with only the sound of wind chimes and the occasional spoiled dog next door to break the silence.

I’ve had no trouble integrating my nonviolent beliefs in the peaceful way of Jesus with the realities of my tiny, sheltered, personal world. I am sometimes ashamed by my pedestrian untested faith.  How can my opinions even matter when resting alongside such global suffering?

I have no answers.  Yet my heart burns for peace.  Every fiber of my being aches for justice, longs for reconciliation, and desperately hopes that somewhere deep inside each vengeful or frightened heart, we might someday find our common humanity. A humanity in which will can all to look into the eyes of the one we fear (the one we think we hate) and see our own eyes looking back.

Why “walking in the way of peace” requires grace

Last spring, the Eastern District and Franconia Conference Peace and Justice Committee sent invitations to our congregations for any member, young or old, to write reflections on “Walking in the Way of Peace.” We weren’t sure what response we would receive, but we offered this as one way for people to consider and express how their experience of following Jesus in everyday life led them to reconciling conversations, or choices supporting justice for vulnerable people, or perhaps what tensions they felt in trying to live Christ’s peace. As it turned out, the best submissions did speak of struggle and uneasiness – especially the conflicted feeling of desiring the well-being and fullness of life God intends for us and all creation, and cringing in our awareness of our own part in continuing the gap between God’s dream and our present reality. Thanks be to God that we are not left alone in acknowledging the gap, but live with the Spirit within us, moving among us to create peace that eclipses human understanding! May these two honest reflections feed our common hope in the Prince of Peace, who comes to us in weakness and poverty–that the glory of the Lord would be revealed, and all people would see it together.

Michael Meneses

Why “walking in the way of peace” requires grace

by Michael A. Meneses, Wellspring Church of Skippack

People hurt people.  There is no exception.  There are a thousand and one ways in which we hurt one another.  And we’re all guilty.  We alienate and exclude, and distance ourselves; we give them the silent treatment or rudely dismiss them as inadequate and unimportant; we label and ridicule or nurture distain in our hearts for them; we assume superiority over them, we indulge in profiling and pre-judgment, we take advantage of them, manipulate, cheat, lie, and steal from them, and so-on and so-forth.  And so, many become wary, careful in relationships, afraid to get too close, fearful of vulnerability, quietly building invisible protective walls against others.

As such, given our present human condition, walking in the way of peace is contrary to our nature.  Why?  Upon eating the forbidden fruit, the human race declared war against God, as well as against each other.  Each of us in one form or another has declared ourselves a god in our own right in defiance of our Creator.  This is reflected in our power struggles with one another.  We want our own way.  When we don’t get it?  It’s fight or flight.  That’s our real human nature.

Because of this, walking in the way of peace actually begins with the honest acknowledgement that relationships are dangerous.  Conflict, disagreements and hurt, offenses-given and offenses-taken, are a regular occurrence in our day-to-day relations with others.  When relationships go awry, many find it much easier to drop the relationship (fight or flight) rather than stay committed to the way of love and its hard work of constructive engagement for peace building.  Thus, walking in the way of peace can be quite a challenge.

Furthermore, genuine peace is not merely the absence of open conflict between two parties.  For example, there can be much pain and agony between people even where there is no apparent conflict: silent hurt feelings, quiet misunderstandings, and self-righteous accusatory judgment, for example.  Real Biblical peace, Shalom, is actively concerned for one’s neighbor, for his or her fulfillment and completion, soundness and wholeness, serenity and tranquility, success and prosperity.  If two neighbors passively live side-by-side in distrust and with silent resentment toward each other, and never speak a word to each other unless necessary, there is no real shalom in that neighborhood.

Neither is walking in the way of peace a matter of becoming a doormat to avoid conflict.  Seeking wholeness, one-ness, and completeness for all, including one’s self, is a deliberate choice to stay connected and negotiate in and through conflict in order to find a harmonious solution as much as is humanly possible (Romans 12:18).  Being a deliberate intent to respect, care for, and consider the needs and interests of “the other,” while at the same time respecting one’s own needs and interests, walking in the way of peace maintains a self-integrity without fabricated self-effacement, a kind of false humility.  Avoiding conflict through disingenuous self-denial is motivated out of fear or cowardliness rather than genuine strength of character that is willing to stand for what is true, right, or good.  Such avoidance has little integrity and does little to address the actual source of conflict.

All this is not only difficult, it is next to impossible.  It takes super human strength.  It’s beyond human nature.  It therefore requires God’s grace, the work of the Holy Spirit within us, and a ready submission to Christ’s Lordship and Authority in our lives.  It requires God’s unconditional love working its way in and through us, toward others.  And though we don’t always get it right, we must always keep trying.  For it is the way God expands His Kingdom-Rule among us.

Ain’t gonna study war no more

by Duane Hershberger

I used to hear this little jingle during the 1964 presidential election: “In your heart you know he’s right, A-U-H-2-0.” Barry Goldwater ran against Lyndon Johnson.

Conservatives generally supported Goldwater. He appealed to a murky, inner voice that shouted fears of a nuclear bomb attack, Communism and the new era that began Nov. 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas, when President Kennedy was assassinated.

Even a little kid felt uneasy. Storms around the world threatened our peace and quiet. They told us the Communists could take over Vietnam. Then they’d take over Laos and Cambodia. On to the Philippines, Japan, India, Africa, Turkey, Europe. They’d leap at us from the east and they’d leap at us from the west and take over America. If we didn’t stop them in Vietnam, they’d soon be in Virginia. School kids girded up their loins for the leaping by crawling under their desks.

Kings and generals peddle fear to get people to fight their wars. Some people buy it. Some voters’ murky, inner fears hummed Goldwater’s little jingle, and he got votes.

Others were skeptical, so they voted for Johnson, and he won the election. But the war grew and grew until 50,000 Americans and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese died to keep the Communists and their leaping ways out of Virginia.

People in our church taught a Christian discipline called nonresistance. We wouldn’t go to war. We wouldn’t sue someone because of a bad debt. If someone hit you, you were supposed to turn the other cheek. The discipline is based on multiple biblical teachings to love your neighbors as yourselves, return good for evil and, “Thou shalt not kill.”

But lots of nonresistant, turn-the-other-cheek, plain Mennonite grownups were sympathetic to Goldwater and later with Nixon and wars on Communism. Kind words were even said about George Wallace, the famous segregationist governor who vowed to keep black people out of the University of Alabama in 1963. Conversations around lunch tables after church were often about the threats of Communists, hippies, the Black Panthers, riots, revolution and unease that something stable was slipping away.

It slipped away.
Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. The Beatles, Kent State, Robert Kennedy’s assassination and Woodstock happened. In 1968, many young people voted no on grownups and war. But politicians toss vast hunks of red meat to people’s murky, inner fears and win elections. Inner fears didn’t go hungry during the 1960s. Young people lost the 1968 election.

Sunday school teachers and major league preachers told us that the opposite of faith is unbelief. But when you think about it, there is no such thing as unbelief. Everyone believes something. Unbelief is just the label for people who don’t believe what you believe. Calling it unbelief makes it sound sinister, and sinister begets fear.

The opposite of faith is fear—fear fed by the murky, inner voice that rings alarms about undocumented immigrants, Muslim terrorists, government takeovers of this and that, gay people, growing influence of minorities and declining churches. You can get otherwise reasonable people to believe boatloads of nonsense if you make them afraid.

A whole passel of religious people lives more by fear than faith. Kings, generals and presidents are slick at grabbing those murky, inner fears, wrapping them up in religious packages, then pushing them to voters like candy to a big-eyed kid with a sweet tooth.

Plain Mennonite people in bonnets and beards eat it up as much as anyone. Adolph Hitler used church language as cover to kill Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and lots of other people whom well-intentioned church people quietly distrusted. His soldiers went to Poland, France and Auschwitz with the words, “Gott Mit Uns” engraved on their belt buckles. That’s German for “God With Us” or “Emmanuel,” as in “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”

And we must fight the things we’re afraid of, right? We must fight Communists because they might leap into Virginia. We must fight longhaired, British rock singers who wanna hold your hand because lots of people holding hands might lead to anarchy. We must fight to keep the blacks and whites separated because who knows what would happen if black people went to the university. Someday they might run a bank, and Lord only knows what could happen then. And so on. Feed those fears.

Kings and generals sit in their great houses and tell you war is about a grand cause. Millions of people in their small houses get rah-rahed up for the grand cause and march into battle. For the motherland. For freedom. To turn back evildoers. Kings and generals, with straight faces, will even tell you the grand war cause is peace.

But killing is personal.
Its between you and the other guy. You have a gun and the other guy has a gun. He has a grand cause, you have a grand cause. One of you will die for the grand cause, but the killing is personal. Suppose the other guy isn’t a Christian. Kill him and score a run for your grand cause. But you took away every future opportunity for the other guy to receive God’s grace and become a disciple. And if you believe in a hell, you just sent him there permanently. What would you say to God if God asks you why you killed the guy when God was still speaking to him, drawing him into his love, perhaps preparing him for a great work? He did that with the Apostle Paul. Are you smart enough to answer God? Or, suppose the other guy is a Christian. What would you say if God asks you why you killed someone he gave life to and loved enough to die for? Are you smart enough to answer God?

You took way too much time to think about what you might say to God, so the other guy shoots you and you die. You are immediately in God’s eternal presence. The God who looks after the lilies and the sparrows will take care of the things left behind like your family and the grand cause. And the other guy has time left on his clock to repent and become bathed in God’s love. Brutal as it sounds, that’s how it shakes out. I’d hate to be in the other guy’s shoes when God stares him down and asks hard questions about that gunshot, but that’s not my problem anymore. This all goes against the way we usually think, but that’s because our brains have a problem.

Here’s the problem. Start with the Apostle Paul, a self-proclaimed terrorist who killed Christians because he was afraid they’d spoil the Jewish religion and way of life. Suppose an overzealous disciple picked up a rock and thunked him on the head the day before he set out for Damascus and met Jesus? The disciple goes home, happy that he eliminated an evil-doing, terrorist threat. The grand cause scored a run.

But thank God Paul lived long enough to tell us in his Romans letter that the key to faithful living is to change our thinking with a big attitude adjustment. Paul calls it a mind transformation. “Be transformed by renewing your mind,” Paul wrote some years after he wasn’t thunked. A mind with the inner, murky fear is the old way of living.

Thinking with a transformed, faith-focused mind is the new way of living. Think about what we would’ve missed with an ill-timed thunking of the Apostle Paul the next time you hear someone rant about killing off all the evildoers.

Fearful people almost bask in the threats. “Did you hear about the Muslim who … ?” “Did you hear about the Mexican gang in Los Angeles that … ?” “Did you hear about the kid who tried to pray in school … ?” “Did you hear … ?” And so on. And so on. Fearful people build walls and wage war.

Faithful people build schools, communities and roads, even in their enemy’s motherland. Faithful people build medical clinics for someone who speaks another language. Faithful people show hospitality to an adversary. Faithful people pick up a sword and beat it into a plowshare. Faithful people give a soft answer to turn away wrath. Faithful people do good to their enemies and, in so doing, heap coals of fire on their enemies’ heads. Paul said that, too. Faithful people act like they have eternal life and don’t need to squeeze every last beat out of their heart muscle. Faithful people even speak out like prophets when their brothers and sisters pay too much attention to those murky, inner fears.

Instead of trying to persuade other people to start believing in Jesus, we Christians should start believing Jesus. Jesus said to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Sometimes that’s easy and sometimes it’s hard. When it’s easy, you can do good all by yourself. But when it’s hard, you need faith. When it’s hard, you can do unto others as you would have them do to you only when you follow the North Star of a faith that calls you to a higher, better place of goodness. Pay attention to that murky, inner-fear voice and you just hit back and thunk over and over. And what do you say to God then?

Jesus said, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled.” Jesus said, “Don’t worry about food and clothes because your Father will take care of you.” Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid of the one who can kill your body; be afraid of the one who tries to take your soul.” Politicians push fear of Communism or terrorism to trade your soul for a vote to keep them in power. Even in church pews, the boatloads of fear nonsense goes on. Bless us with better BS detectors, dear God.

Most world religions have peace, consideration for others and respect for our brothers and sisters as their core belief. Look at the core beliefs of Hindus, Buddhists, Jews and Muslims. Peace, consideration for others and respect for our brothers and sisters is right at the center. Their core beliefs are about giving your time, talents and treasure to make this world a better place. Jesus was quoting well-known sayings from other religions when he said the words “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Each of those religions also has its fringe of fear-minded people and the monuments they leave that soil their faith heritage. Those monuments include the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the New York Twin Towers, the Oklahoma City Federal Building, Oscar Romero’s tombstone, the Mumbai hotel and on and on.

Christians have peace, consideration for others and respect for our brothers and sisters as core beliefs. In fact, we have not only the belief, but the unique, living example of the Word from God, a child from heaven who grew up as one of us. Jesus was guided by the North Star of heaven’s truth about profound love. When he was challenged on it, he stood rooted on that North Star path. People who listened to their murky, inner fears instead of looking up to the North Star of their salvation pounded nails in his hands and hung him on a cross. But that wasn’t the story’s end. Fear’s triumph lasted three days. Faith and resurrection own every other day of history.

If any religion has an antidote—the steroids, hormones, hydrotherapy, ear plugs or whatever—to quiet the murky, inner-fear voice, it’s Christianity. You’d think we’d sit in our churches, look at the pictures of Christ healing the sick, Christ leading the lost sheep, Christ on the cross and Christ rising from the tomb and be the most courageous people in the world.

You’d think we’d sing such songs as “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, a Bulwark Never Failing” and “Blessed Assurance, Jesus is Mine” and “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” and “How Firm a Foundation” and “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me, I once was lost and now am found, was blind but now I see” and believe these profound truths and live joyful, courageous lives.

This is us. Love prevails. Because of the resurrection we lift all our time, talents and treasure to the cross. We joyfully give our bodies and lives completely to the cause of bringing God’s kingdom to earth. Christ is alive. Even death won’t stop the North Star of God’s love and light from shining its bright shine. There’s nothing to be afraid of. Nothing. We are those courageous people only when God transforms our minds.

Forgive us, dear Lord, for “Gott Mitt Uns.” Forgive us the wars we fight. Forgive us for paying attention to that murky, inner-fear voice. Lift our eyes today and guide us, like the Wise Men of old to the place where Jesus lives.

Duane Hershberger works with Habitat for Humanity and has helped pastor several Franconia Conference congregations. He worships at Germantown Mennonite Church in Philadelphia.

Making peace in the neighborhood

by Samantha E. Lioi, Minister of Peace and Justice

When congregational leaders of Nations Worship Center (NWC) chose to purchase a large old commercial building on Ritner St. in South Philadelphia, they couldn’t have guessed the disruption this would be in their lives—and the lives of the folks in that neighborhood.  The building was once home to the Knights of Columbus and a catering business.  Residents remember attending Sweet Sixteen parties and wedding receptions held there years ago.  But for the last 10 years, it’s been vacant.  When the neighbors and neighborhood association heard of NWC’s plans, Pastor Beny Krisbianto and others began hearing rumors of discontent and surprising misunderstandings.  Some worried that the congregation would allow homeless folks to stay there.  They feared this possible change in the human landscape of the place.  Many were concerned about the parking spaces worshipers would occupy.  Some saw the appearance of Nations Worship congregants mostly from Southeast Asia and assumed the building would become a Buddhist temple.

It’s an established neighborhood, a predominantly Italian neighborhood.  When I heard this, I was angry and embarrassed.  I’m half Italian, and I feel a strong identification with much of Italianness as I know it.  And, sometimes my people get carried away.  There’s of course the stereotype of fist-shaking bluster, a bark that is much worse than our bite.  In my personal and familial experience, that stereotype has been pretty true.  I remember my dad getting angry and yelling about some small thing, and the next minute he’d be whistling a happy tune around the house.  I’m not exaggerating.  Used to drive my mother crazy.

But then there’s the bite.  I admit, in some ways I’m confused by the strong reaction in the neighborhood against Nations Worship.  The Italians in my life are warm, generous, passionate about most of life.  On the other hand, I have noticed a cultural tendency to take care of our own and be wary of outsiders.  Let’s be honest: most tightly-knit communities with a history in a certain place are this way.  I’ve heard stories of Northerners moving South and never feeling accepted, after many years.  As human beings, we often give hospitality that is only skin-deep.

Then there’s this weird dynamic that many minorities experience of becoming like people who were once their enemies.  It shouldn’t be this way, but it happens over and over again.  It wasn’t so long ago that immigrants from Italy who spoke English with a strong accent were a significant percentage of Northeastern urban populations in the U.S.  My great-grandfather was one of them.  Donato Lioi (known in the States as Dan) left his home country and moved to Newark, NJ as a teenager.  Like many  immigrants, he worked as a common laborer in construction.  On Sunday mornings he would tell his young grandson (my dad), “David…meta le’Meeta d’Pressa…Walter Frankize…”—his own pronunciation of famed journalist Walter Cronkite.  My dad grew up understanding his grandfather’s Engliano as if it were an official language of the UN.  It was normal, everyday family life for him.

Now, I lean in to listen and understand English spoken with an Indonesian accent as I meet with my brothers and sisters from Nations Worship Center.  I respect their hard work learning English, and their desire to be a positive presence in whatever neighborhood they find themselves.  As they face resistance, they are not so unlike Italians who faced labels like WOP and prejudice from those who’d been here longer.  And because they are in a vulnerable position as new and recent immigrants, they do not respond to this resistance with clenched fists and a stubborn refusal to cooperate.  In some respects, they have no choice but to cooperate.

It’s understandable that folks would ask about parking; they’ve been used to parking in the unused spots for years.  It’s quite possible that many of the neighbors had never met an Indonesian Christian before.  But when Beny and other leaders—accompanied by several Anglo brothers and sisters—attended a public neighborhood meeting, they were saddened and somewhat frightened by the yelling and the accusations that faced them.  They wanted to be a blessing to their neighbors; how could they explain themselves in a way that would be heard?  Since that night, leaders of NWC have met several other neighborhood residents who have welcomed them and said they’re glad to have them around.  How to relate in loving ways with those who are still unsatisfied with their presence is an ongoing question, one they are living one conversation at a time.

It’s understandable that, having established ourselves in a place, having developed routines and deep relationships there, we want to protect all that.  It’s human.  But Christ calls us further than that.  In Christ there is no Jew or Greek, no Italian or Indonesian, male or female, citizen or non-citizen.  That can be a tough pill to swallow.  But Jesus’ teachings usually are.

Acting like Christians: Working toward justice

Samantha Lioi
Samantha Lioi, minister of peace and justice, leads a conversation about how we do justice in our conferences.

Samantha Lioi, Minister of Peace & Justice for Franconia and Eastern District Conferences led this morning’s Pastors’ and CRM Leaders’ Breakfast on the topic of Acting Like Christians: Peacemaking Within and Beyond the Body of Christ.  During the breakfast Lioi reviewed responses to her congregational visitation, facilitated conversation on future priorities, and engaged leaders in considering how we move from charity to justice.


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Broken bread for a broken system

by Emily Ralph, eralph@franconiaconference.org

communion handsIt’s a misty evening as I sit cuddled under a blanket with my laptop and a snoring dog, watching the presidential debate.  Even as I type, President Obama and Governor Romney are debating the economy.

I feel my temperature rising, and it has nothing to do with the blanket.  I grew up in a family in which “debate” sounds more like calm discussion and a stern voice feels like yelling.  Just watching the debate is feeding my anxiety.

And, if anyone else experiences conflict like I do, the election this coming November could be incredibly divisive for the church.  And how much moreso, when you mix people like me with those who are very comfortable with debate, raised voices, and hearty conversation?  How do we keep our eyes focused on our shared allegiance—to Jesus Christ—in the midst of such diversity and disagreement?

Leaders in Mennonite churches across the nation suggest a simple answer: Election Day Communion.  “Election Day Communion is a way of engaging and resisting the world,” reflected Joe Hackman, pastor at Salford (Harleysville, Pa.) congregation, who will be hosting Election Day Communion this November.  “It’s a small demonstration of being the peace of Christ in a noisy, partisan culture—a sort of countercultural statement about what we believe ultimately holds our politics together.”

“During the day of November 6, 2012, we will make different choices for different reasons, hoping for different results,” the Election Day Communion website says. “But that evening while our nation turns its attention to the outcome of the presidential election, let’s again choose differently. But this time, let’s do it together.”

Tuesday night communion is not a new idea—Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran churches have held Tuesday communion services for generations.  And Election Day Communion doesn’t just belong to Mennonites.  Doylestown (Pa.) congregation will be hosting an ecumenical service, according to associate pastor KrisAnne Swartley.  “We are inviting other area churches outside the Mennonite denomination to partner with us in planning the service,” she said.  “We want to cross all kinds of cultural dividing lines in this communion service—we know that God’s Kingdom of love also crosses all boundaries.”

Wayne Nitzsche and the elder team at Perkasie (Pa.) congregation plan to keep the service simple.  “Our church mission statement is ‘to model Jesus,’” Nitzsche said.  “As we come together the evening of November 6, we’ll model Jesus in some small way as we remember that Jesus non-violently addressed the political powers and established a new [politic] of love. We love as he loved as we eat and drink with those who voted and those who didn’t.  ALL will be welcomed at the table.”

As I type, I feel my heartbeat slowing.  Governor Romney and President Obama are still battling it out in the background, but the rhetoric no longer feeds my anxiety.  There is hope.  “God continues to demonstrate that another world is possible,” said Chris Nickels, pastor of Spring Mount (Pa.) congregation. “There is a path that leads out of a divisive cultural reality and Christ invites us to come to the table to take a step forward together.”

Where will you spend the evening on Election Day?  Find a list of congregations hosting Election Day Communion services on the official website.

Election Day Communion