As more and more young men and women return home from war, the Mennonite church is faced with more of those people entering their congregations. As a peace church should we not be working toward helping all people find peace, including our veterans returning home from war?
Read a reflection on the training by Pastor Chris Nickels at Spring Mount Mennonite Church here.
As a peace church that speaks out against, acts against, and prays against violence, But as the men and women who experience that violence return home, our mandate grows to include helping them find peace and healing.
Franconia Conference delegates and leaders gathered November 2 at Penn View Christian School in Souderton, Pa. to celebrate God still at work. With a packed auditorium for a third united assembly with Eastern District Conference, representatives gathered to listen and pray, to celebrate newly credentialed and ordained pastoral leaders, and to work alongside one another after an over 150-year rift created two separate Mennonite entities. The theme “God still @ work” was an extension of the 2012 theme, “God @ work.”
With singing in Indonesian, Spanish, and English led by Samantha Lioi (Peace and Justice Minister for both conferences) and Bobby Wibowo (Philadelphia Praise Center) and translation into Franconia Conference’s worshipping languages, delegates and representatives from nearly all of the Conference’s congregations from Georgia to Vermont gathered to confer around a board-crafted statement on the Conference’s increasing diversity in ethnicity, experiences, faith practice, and expression. The gathering was punctuated with points of celebration including testimony from Peaceful Living led by Joe Landis and Louis Cowell from Salford congregation, a youth choir from the revitalizing Garden Chapel in Victory Gardens, NJ, and a moment to mark the upcoming November retirement of Franconia Conference Pastor of Ministerial Leadership Noah Kolb after 45 years of ministry, which was met with rousing applause and a standing ovation.
In a shortened one-day event, delegates spent the morning together around tables with Eastern District Conference to continue to deepen relationships across conference lines. Business sessions were separate, and Franconia’s included a significant amount of time in conversations among table groups, conferring over the board statement and then reporting on those conversations to the whole body. Delegates and representatives were encouraged to mix across congregational lines to better hear and experience the diversity of conference relationships.
For many, including Tami Good, Souderton (Pa.) congregation’s Pastor of Music & Worship, who was attending Conference Assembly for the first time, the table conversations were holy spaces. Each person at her table was from a different congregation. “I saw God at work in the gracious listening, especially in the time when we talked about the conferring statement,” Good reflected. “There were disagreements, but everyone was graciously listening and hearing. Everyone actually wanted to hear each other. It was a beautiful time.”
The conferring time, along with an afternoon workshop led by the Franconia Conference board, focused on prayer and visioning for the Conference into the future. Conference board members Jim Longacre (Bally congregation), Rina Rampogu (Plains congregation), Jim Laverty (Souderton congregation), and Klaudia Smucker (Bally congregation) served as a listening committee for the daylong event. They reported seven themes of consistent and continued conversation: engagement, diversity, shared convictions, authority, polity, the role of conference, and the reality of changing relationships and engagement. Board members noted that there is much response work to do to continue the conversation and discernment process.
Bruce Eglinton-Woods, pastor of Salem congregation (Quakertown, Pa.), said, “The challenge is speaking clearly on what we believe and where we are at, which is often a challenge for Mennonite leaders. My hope and prayer is that we can trust God and release the idea of keeping it all together. We need to let God do the holding together.”
According to Rampogu, one of the longest standing Conference board members, “the hardest part about this kind of meeting is that there isn’t enough time. We want to share and to talk together,” she said. “That is a positive sign. People want to connect. My hope and prayer is that we keep our goal in mind, keeping our mission focused on equipping leaders to empower others to embrace God’s mission, with Christ in the center and churches focused on missional activity.”
In business sessions, delegates selected a number of positions by 97% affirmation including a 2nd term for conference moderator John Goshow (Blooming Glen congregation) along with board member Beny Krisbianto (Nations Worship Center), as well as ministerial and credentialing committee members Rose Bender (Whitehall congregation), Ken Burkholder (Deep Run East congregation), Mike Clemmer (Towamencin congregation) and Chris Nickels (Spring Mount congregation). Randy Nyce (Salford congregation) who is completing a term as finance committee chair and board member reported on Conference finances, noting an 11% decrease in financial contributions from congregations.
“I was surprised and pleased that the attendance at Assembly 2013 was so strong; seeing the room filled to capacity was an affirmation of how much the delegates and guests in attendance care for our conference,” Goshow noted. “Franconia Conference is all of us who are members of our 42 churches and our Conference Related Ministries. It is my hope and prayer that together we chart a course that will advance God’s Kingdom in exciting and wonderful ways.”
by John Stoltzfus, Franconia & Eastern District Youth Minister, for the Conference Assembly 2012 workshop planning team
Where is the life of your congregation intersecting with the life of our broader conference fellowship? In what ways are you seeking to grow into the life of the emerging kingdom of God among us? In the new one day schedule for our upcoming Conference Assembly, we each have the wonderful privilege of participating in a workshop addressing a relevant issue and shared mission in our life together as the body of Christ. Everyone, delegates and non-delegates, is invited to consider attending one of these workshops as a way of helping us catch a greater glimpse and vision of what God is doing among us. We invite you to spread the word in your congregation and invite others to attend both the workshops and the evening worship service.
We hope one of the four offered workshops will be relevant to the needs of your congregational life. We also desire that they give opportunity to build deeper connections with other congregations who are working on the same issues. The workshops will be offered from 10:00-11:30am on the morning of Conference Assembly. Be sure to register by October 31. We will hold these workshops based on sufficient registration.
It Takes A Congregation…. Restoration, Connection, and Belonging for People with Disabilities
This workshop will focus on how, by including persons who are marginalized, the whole congregation benefits. Stories of how congregations are responding to people with disabilities including those with autism and intellectual disabilities and veterans with disabilities will be featured. Materials will be provided to enable congregations to focus on belonging for all people.
Joe Landis is the founder and Executive Director of Peaceful Living, established in 2000, a not-for-profit agency located in southeastern PA. Peaceful Living serves 80 families in community-based services and offers a congregational coaching program. Joe has been an avid advocate for individuals with intellectual disabilities for 40 years. Joe is a member at Salford Mennonite Church.
The coordinator of the Friendship Connection, Loretta Moyer, has been with the program since its start in 2007. Loretta is a member of Rockhill Mennonite Church.
Patricia A. Hedrick (B.S. Special Education, M. Ed.), Zion congregation, recently received National Board Teacher Certification as an Exceptional Needs Specialist. She is currently on sabbatical from her position as a life skills support teacher in the Souderton Area School District. While on sabbatical, she will be studying toward a certificate in Special Education Supervision and working as a volunteer for Peaceful Living.
Missions and New Church Development
This workshop will focus on five areas of missions and new church development: establishing a prayer-filled missional vision; sustaining and sustainable models of ministry; succession planning; communication; and project-based vs. committee-based funding.
Samuel Claudio Jr. is currently the co-pastor of Christ Fellowship Church, Allentown, Pa., an inner-city Anabaptist body of believers seeking to manifest Christ in their community. He has worked as a church planter over the past five years in both the Eastern District Conference and previous ministry areas.
With over thirty years of urban ministry experience, Jeff Wright serves as New Church Development Coach and Consultant for the Eastern District Conference of Mennonite Church USA through an arrangement with Urban Expression North America. Since it was launched in 2009, Urban Expression North America has worked with over thirty urban church planting projects in cities located in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Jeff currently resides in Riverside, California.
Music – It’s Not Really a Universal Language
This seminar will focus on the biblical vision for God’s people. It will include practical suggestions on how the church can begin “worshipping its way into God’s future” (Rev. 7) by reflecting on current congregational worship patterns and by developing a keener sense of the global faith family through worship that is transcultural, contextual, counter-cultural, and multi-cultural. Time will be given for group sharing of congregational worship experiences.
Presenter: James R. Krabill served for 14 years as a Bible and church history teacher in West Africa. He is author/editor of various articles and books, including his most recent, Worship and Mission for the Global Church (2012). He currently serves as Senior Executive for Global Ministries at Mennonite Mission Network.
Believers Baptism: Faith Formation of Children and Youth
What does faith formation of children and youth with a goal of genuine Believers Baptism look like? Does faith formation look the same as it did 10 or 20 years ago? This workshop will highlight several contemporary children and youth ministry models and integrate them into conversations and observations of youth and children within our churches. This material originates from Angela’s Seminary Capstone Project and she is anticipating not only sharing pieces of her work but also hearing from other voices within the Conference community in regards to this topic. All are welcome to attend including Sunday School class teachers, youth sponsors, pastors, and anyone relating to youth and children.
Presenter:Angela Moyer works on the pastoral team at Ripple-Allentown and as a pediatric occupational therapist (OT) at Good Shepherd Rehab in Allentown, Pa. She recently moved from Telford to the Zume House (intentional community) in Allentown after graduating from Eastern Mennonite Seminary-PA campus this summer.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructs us to pray, “…Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)
These words guide Peaceful Living Executive Director Joe Landis in his work with people with disabilities and their families whose lives, when pushed to the fringes of society, often unfold as less than heavenly. He sees his job as “helping to build God’s kingdom here on earth” by reaching out to these families, congregations, and the community at large to join together to seek peace.
“The word that best expresses what peace can be for Peaceful Living is shalom,” Joe says. “It suggests a wholeness, a completeness in relationship with God, and with yourself as a person fully integrated with your group, your town, and the world. It starts with every individual and every act of kindness we do, regardless of how small.”
Those acts of kindness, or living shalom, are demonstrated through the nonprofit’s Friendship Connection Program that connects a person with a disability with a caring friend in the community. Friendship Connection director Loretta Moyer, Rockhill congregation (Telford, Pa.), has facilitated matches for 80 individuals.
One such friendship developed between Phillip, who is served by Peaceful Living, and Aaron Leatherman, Towamencin congregation (Lansdale, Pa.). When they had been friends for about three years, Phillip underwent major surgery. Aaron visited Phillip regularly while he was in the hospital. “It meant so much to me to have Aaron there,” Phillip told Loretta.
“When I visited Phillip in the hospital, he got tears when I arrived…,” Aaron commented. Aaron had never had a close connection to a person with a disability, but he noted that a short time after their matching they had established a “real” friendship. Aaron said, “We are friends now, and there is no going back.”
Everyone reached by Peaceful Living is continually giving and receiving these sometimes small, sometimes large, acts of kindness. Another way Joe Landis says his organization pursues peace is by listening to each other. He includes everyone: staff, people served and their families, board members, stakeholders, and community partners. Open-hearted, open-minded listening is a rare gift that Joe fosters throughout the organization. He believes careful listening allows us to uncover the God-given gifts in others and ourselves so that each person can feel the satisfaction of contributing to, as well as receiving the benefits of, an inclusive community.
Dictionary.com provides a useful definition of peace in the context of Peaceful Living’s work. It defines peace as, “a state of mutual harmony between people or groups, especially in personal relations.” The word, “mutual,” is crucial to the work of Joe and his staff. At the very heart of the organization’s philosophy lies the premise that serving people with disabilities and their families provides mutual benefit such that the line between the servant and the served becomes blurred. Another Friendship Connection story sheds light on this idea.
In 2008, Loretta Moyer shepherded a friendship match between Bob, a person with a disability, and Jeff Metz. Jeff soon made Bob a part of his family. Whatever fun activities Jeff’s family was doing – picnics, Eagles or Phillies games – Bob was right in the middle of things. Then came the bad news. Jeff had cancer. It was fast moving, and he soon passed away.
Jeff’s widow Janet confirmed her family’s desire to maintain their connection with Bob. So strong is their love for Bob that when Jeff and Janet’s daughter Elisabeth was planning her wedding, she asked Bob to walk her down the aisle in her father’s place. The wedding took place in 2011 with Bob fully involved in wedding party activities. As the planning was taking place, Janet said, “I am looking forward to Bob walking my precious daughter down the aisle…If Jeff can’t do it, then Bob is the next best person to do it.”
The beauty of this relationship is that both Bob and the Metz family mutually exchanged love and support for one another as equals – not as someone better than reaching down to help someone less than. True friendship, real harmony, living shalom emerges in the moment when we look into the eyes of another, and the Christ in them (regardless of religion) touches the Christ in us.
About Peaceful Living
Peaceful Living, a Conference Related Ministry of Franconia Conference, works to build lifelong relationships for individuals with disabilities within congregations and the community. Peaceful Living provides a Congregational Coaching program with area faith communities. The 12-year-old Harleysville-based nonprofit has grown from serving one person in 2000 to serving 75 people each day through in-home services, small residential homes, and the Creative Gifts Program. Creative Gifts gives individuals the opportunity to explore the arts as a vocation or a hobby. The Friendship Connection program has matched 80 individuals with disabilities with caring friends in the community. Led by executive director Joe Landis, Peaceful Living serves primarily residents of Montgomery, Bucks, and Berks counties. Contact Peaceful Living at 610-287-1200.
From September 24 to 26, Peaceful Living will hold its biennial conference on honoring a place for people with disabilities and their families in the faith community. This year’s theme is “The Divine Power of Friendship.” In addition to presentations by renowned experts in the disabilities field, representatives of seven congregations will share their journey over the past two years as part of a Congregational Coaching pilot project. They signed on at the conclusion of the 2008 “Honoring a Place” conference, agreeing to work together to foster inclusion within their congregations with assistance from Loretta Moyer, Peaceful Living’s Congregational Coach. Since then, these faith communities – including several Christian denominations, a Jewish synagogue, and a Hindu temple – have been confiding in one another on the successes and challenges of inclusion. On September 25, they will recount their valuable experiences and invite more faith communities to join them.
Internationally known ethicist Hans Reinders, Ph.D., will provide the keynote speeches on September 24 and 25 at Souderton Mennonite Church and a sermon on September 26 at Salford Mennonite. Dr. Reinders is the Willem van der Bergh Professor of Ethics and Mental Disability at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam. He is the author of “Receiving the Gift of Friendship: Profound Disability, Theological Anthropology and Ethics,” published in 2008. Dr. Reinders is the parent of a child with a disability.
Friday’s schedule will target professionals involved in the delivery of care for people with disabilities. These professionals include CEOs, directors, direct care staff, state and county agency staff, and Individual Service Plan (ISP) teams. Dr. Reinders will discuss the application of ethics to workplace dilemmas. He will also explore the gift of friendship for people with disabilities. During the breakout session, attendees will discuss and begin to develop a practical implementation plan based upon Hans’ teaching. Alternatively ISP teams may apply learning directly to the creation of an ISP.
Saturday will be geared toward faith community staff and lay leadership as well as people with disabilities and their families. Keynote speeches and workshops will offer tips, tools, and wisdom on developing or continuing your congregation’s progress toward becoming a community that truly welcomes people with disabilities and taps into the unique gifts they bring. A distinct track, led by Dr. Ed Tick, author of “War and the Soul,” will offer guidance on developing a ministry to veterans. Twenty-four practical breakout sessions are available from which attendees may choose three to attend.
Saturday evening will feature a celebration of Peaceful Living’s 10th Anniversary to be held at the Franconia Heritage Restaurant. All are welcome to help us honor those who have made possible this decade of growth. An auction of artwork made in Peaceful Living’s Creative Gifts Program will take place at the dinner.
On Sunday Dr. Reinders will deliver the morning sermon and lead a discussion of it during the Christian Education Hour that follows the sermon.
All facilities used throughout the conference and accompanying activities are handicapped accessible.
Learn the full details of the conference by visiting www.peacefulliving.org. Check out the Peaceful Living Friendship Pilgrimage Blog on the website as well.