Tag Archives: Plains Mennonite Church

Meeting Neighbors Near and Far

by Kiron Mateti, Franconia Board Member (Plains congregation)

As a relatively new board member with below average Spanish skills, I was surprised, but honored, when Franconia’s Executive Minister Steve Kriss asked me to join him and a Pennsylvania contingent to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Anabaptist churches in Mexico City.

A portion of our Pennsylvania contingent: Mary & Danilo Sanchez, Steve Kriss, and Kiron Mateti (not pictured: David Yoder and Cathy Godshall).

I boarded the plane with the stress of work still looming over me, and the mixed feelings that come with leaving a pregnant wife and two girls at home in PA while going on an exciting trip to Mexico.  With strong encouragement from my lovely and thoughtful wife, however, we agreed that this trip would be an opportunity to meet the real people of Mexico, to put faces to the impersonal news stories I often hear, and to allow God to recalibrate my ideas of who His people are in the world.

Our gracious host Oscar drove Steve, Danilo & Mary Sanchez (Ripple congregation), and me around Mexico City in Carlos Martinez Garcia’s Toyota Avanza.  I had previously met Carlos, moderator of the Conferencia de Iglesias Evangélicas Anabautistas Menonitas de México (CIEAMM) at the “Renewing Nations & Generations” gathering before 2018 Fall Assembly.  I enjoyed getting to know Carlos more and meeting Oscar for the first time, and greatly appreciated their hospitality.

Oscar’s heart reminded me of my Uncle Ravi in India.  One day, as we were driving to someone’s house for lunch, I mentioned how fresh the fruit in the road-side stand looked.  After we arrived and greeted everyone, we didn’t notice Oscar slip out.  Then, suddenly, Oscar had come back with fresh papaya, and proceeded to cut it and personally serve me a bowl with Tajin and fresh squeezed lime.  Que bien!

My mom’s native tongue is an Indian language called Telugu.  It is one of my life’s regrets that I can’t speak Telugu. In my defense, some of my hesitation to even try stems from instances of uncontrollable laughter when attempting to speak Telugu with my mom.  I guess I have an American accent.

But with Spanish I determined it would be different.  Spanish was not new to me—I had taken four years in high school.  But that was almost two decades ago!  I decided that I would speak what little Spanish I knew, and I would welcome the laughter.

But the laughter never came.

Instead my new amigos y hermanos appreciated my feeble Spanish, and I was amazed and thankful for how many people were willing to teach me along the way. And also, thank God for Google Translate!

The celebration services at El Buen Pastor, Luz y Verdad, and Cristiana de Paz congregations were a wonderful glimpse into a thriving Anabaptist church presence in Mexico City.  I was thankful to worship with my fellow believers, my neighbors from afar, and thankful to build relationships with the churches there.

Members from Iglesia Menonita Ebenezer at the Fourth of July “You Are Welcome” event.

Back home, at our 2nd annual “You are Welcome” Fourth of July picnic, Plains Mennonite Church and the Evangelical Center for Revival joined with Iglesia Menonita Ebenezer to enjoy music, food, and games in the sun at Plains Park.  Following my trip to Mexico, I found newfound courage that day to interact with fellow believers across the language and cultural divide. God used this trip to teach me that I don’t need to travel far to meet my neighbors—I can build relationships with my neighbors right here at home.

Plains and Curious

by Jim King, Plains congregation (Lansdale, PA)

Four-year-old Jaya Mateti was immediately aware that the music in the May 19th worship service was different.  It had a beat and it was LOUD!  As soon as she saw everyone standing for the music, she asked to be lifted up so she could see.  With her feet firmly planted on the back of the bench in front of her, she looked around at our guests from Evangelical Center for Revival and exclaimed, “There’s a lot of ‘Indians’ here today and they look like me!”

At the beginning of our worship service, our worship leader Rina Rampogu reminded us that our worship time could possibly have less structure and more spontaneity.  About halfway through the service, smells of Congolese food being heated in the kitchen downstairs wafted up.

How did we get to having a combined worship service with a Congolese congregation?  And what is the point of this interaction?

During the summer of 2017, when U.S. politics seemed to focus on borders, boundaries, and walls, a small group of people met during the Sunday School hour to discuss immigration issues.  We had heard from recent immigrants that Lansdale was an immigrant-friendly community, but we wanted to do more in making people feel welcome in our church.  We noticed that our playground had already become a welcoming place for children of various cultures to come and play together.

This immigration task force, led by Rachel and Kiron Mateti (conference board member), helped us focus on ways we could be more welcoming and culturally aware of our neighbors.  We decided that a July 4 celebration in our church park could help us develop friendships with those who have come to the U.S. more recently.  To ensure that this would truly be a cross-cultural event, we asked Evangelical Center for Revival to co-sponsor this event with us.

Penny Naugle shares a story with children from both congregations.

After this experience, some Plains members indicated that they were curious about how the Congolese congregation worships, so about twelve of us attended their worship service in Elkins Park.  As Pastor Maurice Baruti and I sat together at the fellowship meal, we observed how different groups from Plains ate with members from the Center congregation and we talked about the possibility of doing a joint worship service together at Plains.  At first he wasn’t so sure it would work; their worship service starts at 11:30, ours starts at 10:15.  We ended up with a compromise of 11:00.

Pastor Maurice Baruti (L) and his wife Berthe (R) with Jim King.

Prior to the service, Pastor Baruti asked how long he should speak.  When he was told that we expected about 20-25 minutes, he smiled and said he was comfortable with speaking for an hour.  During the worship he spoke in French and was translated to English by his wife Berthe.  Rampogu said that as she looked out over the audience, “there seemed to be an expression of anticipation and curiosity on the faces of the congregation.”  Several guests from the Center congregation shared that they had just come off working a night shift but that this was a service they didn’t want to miss.

As we at Plains look to fill an Associate Pastor position, this worship service reminded us that we could me be more flexible in how we do worship.  With friendship, food, and fellowship, we will work it out.  Our pastor, Mike Derstine says, “Anytime we worship with another congregation we are stretched by new patterns and ways of doing things, new songs and differences in worship style, and fresh testimonies during sharing time from people in different work and life situations.  Then there was the stretching experience of different foods and table fellowship after the worship service, all of which serves to remind us that our concept and understanding of God is always beyond us.”

We realize we need to continue to change to be more culturally welcoming.  The last verse of our 250th Anniversary song, written by Justin Yoder, says it well: “Teach us new songs, while we hold dear the strains of long ago.  When we sing, the Spirit is here: may it be ever so!”

Beyond Our Comfort Zones

by Andrés Castillo, communication intern

Finland congregation’s CrossGen conference at Spruce Lake Retreat, with speaker Sean McDowell. The conference focused on intergenerational unity, with panels representing different generations asking questions of each other.

Every year, Franconia Conference gives Missional Operational Grants to congregations to help them think and dream about mission.  Noel Santiago, Franconia’s leadership minister for missional transformation, described his initial vision for the 2018 MOGs as providing “resources to help congregations reach out and get out of their comfort zone.”

Both executive minister Steve Kriss and Santiago have emphasized that the grants are for starting new initiatives, not sustaining them forever. By overcoming the obstacle of money, churches can begin to experiment; leaders and congregations are encouraged to be more creative. The ultimate hope is that, after the grant period ends, the new conversations and ideas started by it will continue to live on and evolve.

Last year’s MOG recipients have done a good job at what Kriss calls “honoring the legacy of Franconia’s mission to spread Christ’s peace throughout the world.” Here’s a look into what some of them did in 2018:

Indonesian Light Church (ILC) in South Philadelphia has hosted a monthly “food bazaar” to reach out to their community. “We learned that every seed planted needs nurturing and time to grow until it can grow strong roots and bear fruit,” ILC’s report reads. “Without time, love, and commitment to sowing and nurturing, there will be no significant result.” ILC plans to continue experimenting with ways to connect with the Indonesian community in south Philadelphia.

Nations Worship Center (Philadelphia) conducted a Vacation Bible School (VBS) with students from Dock Mennonite Academy (9-12) that received positive feedback and results, including new families faithfully attending church after the VBS was over. They also received help from the city of Philadelphia, Philadelphia Praise Center, and ACME. Nations Worship acknowledges that many of the children who attended their VBS come from struggling families and, “If we lose them, we lose our future.”

A Karen member of Whitehall congregation leads in prayer.

Philadelphia Praise Center (PPC) further developed the Taproot Gap Year program, an initiative for college students that involves sending them to live in Philadelphia and Indonesia. PPC maintains an office and staff in Indonesia for this purpose, which PPC pastor Aldo Siahaan says is not easy. “Thank God we have support from the conference,” he says. “Creating a program like this is not new to the conference, but it is for us.”

Whitehall (PA) congregation used their MOG for increasing leadership development among its Karen (Burmese) members. Pastors Rose Bender and Danilo Sanchez have been creatively finding new ways to integrate the various ethnicities within the church. “It isn’t as much about ‘let’s help these poor people’ as it used to be,” Bender says.  As this long process unfolds, the congregation “understands more and more how much everyone needs each other.”

Vietnamese Gospel (Allentown, PA) invited people in its surrounding community to have a large fellowship gathering, with speakers giving testimonies. The event was meant to empower their members and share the word of God with people outside of their church. Vietnamese Gospel hopes to make this an annual event to build relationships with its community.

Pastor Bruce Eglinton-Woods of Salem congregation has been working closely with the Quakertown (PA) Community Center (The Drop), an after-school and weekend program for at-risk children and teens created in response to the opioid crisis. The ministry helps attendees figure out the next steps of their lives in a judgment-free zone. Eglinton-Woods has learned how hard it is hard to gain the trust of teenagers and children and hopes to eventually grow the program to five days a week.

Ripple congregation (Allentown, PA) was able to provide training for two of their pastors, Charlene Smalls and Marilyn Bender, at the International Institute for Restorative Practices. The Ripple pastors have been using restorative practices to better meet their congregation and community’s needs.

Salem congregation has been partnering with Quakertown’s “The Drop” community center for at-risk children and youth.

Other congregations who received MOGs were Plains congregation (Hatfield, PA) for an unconventional July 4th picnic, Souderton (PA) and Doylestown (PA) congregations for the Vocation as Mission Summer Internship Program, International Worship Center (San Gabriel, CA) for technological equipment, Finland congregation (Pennsburg, PA) for their CrossGen conference, and Perkiomenville congregation for its GraceNow conference.

Every congregation has a unique, beautiful story that honors God’s mission to unite the world as one under Him. What is God doing in your congregation and community?  Share your stories by emailing communication@franconiaconference.org or check in with your congregation’s leadership minister about ways that your congregation might use an MOG to develop your missional imagination and neighborhood connections.

A Clear and Gentle Voice

by Gwen Groff, conference board member

Jim King recently finished his third three-year term as a Franconia Conference board member. 

King brought skills from his background in business and from service on other boards.  John Goshow, Franconia Conference’s moderator and board chair, describes King’s voice as clear and valuable in stressful times. “Jim did not hesitate to express his opinion,” Goshow said. “He was gentle in the way he expressed his perspective. In challenging times, he has a very steady demeanor. He is optimistic. He brought wisdom, experience and maturity to our board work. When the tension between the board and constituency exploded in 2010, Jim played a large role in finding ways for the board and constituency to move together in more healthy ways.”

Making ice cream in Plains Park

According to Goshow, King’s impact on the board has been lasting. “Jim’s footprint is really big. When he joined, the meetings were scheduled to begin at 1 pm; they didn’t really get rolling until 2, and they often lasted until 6. Jim found them to be fairly unstructured, without clear agenda, but lasting half a day. Jim was instrumental in making board meetings more organized.”

King first agreed to serve on the board in order to better understand the conference-congregation relationship. “I had come to Plains congregation from Germantown,” he said. “I knew there were issues between Germantown and Franconia Conference. I had felt critical of the conference because of the breakdown of the relationship between the congregation and the conference, and I believed it was unfair of me to be critical if I didn’t know how the conference functioned in that situation. So I agreed to be on the board.”

Visiting old friends at the plastics warehouse

King believes that cultivating face-to-face relationships is very important. During his time on the board, he visited a variety of different congregations, worshiping with them, talking with their leaders, and being present in person. “Relationships are an asset,” King said. “It’s important to be available for conversations.” 

One of his ongoing concerns is how the conference can stay connected with congregations that are new to the conference and that must relate across great geographical distances. “We struggle to ‘maintain right fellowship’ with those who are just a hundred miles apart. How can we stay connected to people across the country? Distance is hard. How do we build those connections going forward?”

Another issue that King continues to care about is nurturing relationships with the youth. He would like to see more attention to connecting the youth of different congregations. “Some congregations don’t have the resources to hire a youth pastor,” King said. “I’d love to see the conference help organize service projects for youth from various congregations to work together on peace and justice issues. It’s a good way for youth to form connections in the church and build networks that can be useful in future careers. I know I would never be working in a business in recycled plastics if I had not spent two years in voluntary service in New York City.”

King believes that the relationship between the conference and congregations is in a good place. “We have engaged and committed staff and effective Lead ministers,” he said. “I feel this is the best relationship I’ve seen in the past nine years.” He anticipates an adjustment as he steps back from a central role, knowing that he’ll hear about what’s happening through delegate reports and publications, but won’t know the background and context of the issues. “I trust the process,” he said. “But I will miss having a role in shaping the process.”

MDS project in Nebraska with his wife, Joan

Now that he has “termed out” of the FMC board, King plans to order a couple more hives to increase his bee colony.  He also hopes to do more volunteer work trips with Mennonite Disaster Service and Mennonite Central Committee’s Sharing With Appalachian People. “This is the stuff I enjoy,” he said.

 

Celebrating Nations and Generations in South Philly

by Aldo Siahaan, Leadership Minister, with Chantelle Todman Moore, Intercultural Coach

We walked silently through the streets of South Philadelphia.

Pastors and leaders gather after the prayer walk.

Pastor Joshua and Anita So from San Francisco and I focused on praying for the people and for the city. No interruption of cell phones.  No chatting. We built our relationship with one another through our prayer.  It was a dream come true for me.

A couple of years ago, when I was representing Franconia Conference on the board of Mennonite Central Committee, we held a gathering where the people of color who served on the board could talk and share our thoughts.

After this wonderful experience, I dreamed that we could do something similar for leaders of color in Franconia Conference to strengthen our relationships with one another and think together about how we could participate and experience inclusion more in the life of the conference.  On November 1, 2018, this dream became reality.

Hendy Stevan, pastor at Indonesian Light Church, and Chantelle Todman Moore, Franconia Conference Intercultural Leadership Coach

The Renewing Nations & Generations gathering met at Nations Worship Center (NWC) in Philadelphia for an afternoon and evening of prayer, worship, visioning, and connecting a diverse group of ministers, some of whom identify as Chinese, Indonesian, Mexican, Black, and persons of color within Franconia Conference.  For the first time, ministers of color in Franconia Conference had a space to hear from each other as we listened to the Holy Spirit together.

Beny Krisbianto (NWC), Kiron Mateti (Plains Mennonite Church), Marina Stevan (Indonesian Light Church), and Emmanuel Villatoro (Philadelphia Praise Center) took turns leading worship in English, Indonesian, and Spanish.  It was a taste of heaven as people from different nations sang together in different tongues.

We played together, laughing as we tried to draw portraits of one another.  We connected over Indonesian and Mexican foods.  Those of us who arrived feeling tentative or shy found courage as we made new friends and discovered that this was a safe space to be honest about our experiences in the past and our desires for the future.

We spent time in small groups, discussing our hopes, dreams, and fears.  What makes us excited about the future of the Church and our conference?  What are our dreams for our communities, our congregations, and our conference?  What do we lament?  How could our conference invest in young millennial leaders and credentialed ministers of color?  Our conversations were only the beginning, but it was a good start for ministers of color to get to know each other and dream together.

We ended the day with a hope that this could become an annual event and a commitment to value one another across generational differences: seeing and honoring our elders as we love and respect emerging leaders, co-laboring together, with God, in the mission of the Church.

As we continue our ministry in Franconia Conference in the days and months to come, I hope that all of our brothers and sisters will see that the presence of ministers of color and ethnic churches are a gift from God.  These gifts are deeply needed to complete the work that God is doing in our conference and in our world.

 

Partnerships Embodying Christ’s Way of Redemptive Peace

by Mary Nitzsche, Associate Executive Minister

The slogan, “Doing together what we cannot do alone,” was put into action on Friday evening, September 28, when three Franconia Conference congregations partnered in mission to assemble relief kits. After hearing about Mennonite Central Committee’s (MCC) plea to send 10,000 relief kits around the world this year, Blooming Glen Mennonite Church invited Deep Run East Mennonite Church and Perkasie Mennonite Church to join them in collecting money to purchase supplies and assemble the relief kits. Initially, the hope was to donate enough money to assemble 300 kits, but more than $9,000 was contributed, enough to buy supplies for 610 kits.

Approximately 90 people of all ages, ranging from 3 to over 80 years old, gathered to share a meal and fellowship around tables. Following the meal, each table group relocated to another table to assemble kits which included rolling and tying over 2,000 towels, packaging shampoo in plastic bags, placing an MCC sticker on the bucket, or securing the bucket lids. After nearly 1 ½ hours of this multi-generational, cooperative, “worker bee” effort, 610 buckets were loaded into trailers. The evening ended with a group picture and prayer of blessing that these kits share God’s compassion, healing, and hope to people suffering the devastation of disaster or war.

Throughout the Franconia Conference website we are reminded of partnerships that span the globe providing opportunities to learn and share resources to embody and extend Christ’s way of redemptive peace. The relief kit partnership prompted me to explore how other Franconia Conference congregations are pooling money, skills, or resources to worship together, host community forums or events, or provide ministry in their communities. Many of these events are multi-generational, cross cultural, or cross denominational, reflecting the expansiveness of God’s way of peace. Some of these local partnerships have been highlighted in Intersectings articles over the past year. Others I learned about recently and will briefly describe.

Several congregations partnered with organizations and people in their broader communities to foster awareness and understanding, promote justice, and take action to address issues. Garden Chapel partnered with their community in Morris County, New Jersey, to host a forum on opioids and addiction providing education and prevention strategies for addressing the problem. Salem, Rocky Ridge, and Swamp Mennonite congregations are partnering with community non-profit organizations and the Quakertown Borough to address the opioid crisis in their community. A meeting place is provided for adults and “directionless” youth to build relationships and engage in meaningful activities. Perkasie Mennonite partnered with trained conflict facilitators to host a community event encouraging civil and respectful conversations about gun policies.

Participants from Blooming Glen, Deep Run East and Perkasie gather together, after assembling over 600 MCC relief kits.

Other congregations planned celebrations and invited the community to participate. Plains Mennonite and Evangelical Center for Revival hosted a community Fourth of July Commemoration to celebrate and embrace diversity. Methacton Mennonite hosted a block party featuring a variety of food and music along a local dance/drum group. Ripple Church uses the sanctuary space of the St. Stephens Lutheran Community Center for worship services and shares several activities with the Christ Lutheran congregation. These activities include a Pesto Festival at the end of the summer using basil from their community garden, and a “Trunk or Treat” event in October to pass out treats from car trunks to the neighborhood children. Ripple also partners with Whitehall Mennonite to provide a Summer Bible School in the park.

Salford Mennonite and Advent Lutheran have partnered in sharing a community garden and providing food to those in their community; hosting educational events on anti-racism and other issues; worshipping together at an annual Thanksgiving service and taking an offering to support local and global ministry.

Several congregations planned joint worship services and opportunities for fellowship this summer. Nations Worship Center traveled to Deep Run East for worship and an intercultural fellowship meal. Centro de Alabanza and Towamencin Mennonite met for a joint baptism service followed by an intercultural fellowship meal. Our California congregations annually gather for worship, fellowship, and resourcing.

Some partnership stories have yet to be told, imagined, or planned. May these brief stories continue to encourage local and global opportunities to learn and share resources in our communities and beyond as we seek to embody and extend Christ’s way of redemptive peace.

Up For The Task

When current Franconia Conference Board member Jim King invited him over for dinner, the idea of filling a seat on the Board was not on Kiron Mateti’s radar in the least bit.  Being new to the Conference, it wasn’t a proposition he was expecting or a position that he was seeking out. With a life journey that started – figuratively speaking – quite far from Anabaptism, Kiron brings a perspective and insight that will be a welcomed addition to Conference leadership should he be affirmed as a board member. Kiron Mateti is being presented to the delegates at the fall Assembly as a nominee by the Conference Board for affirmation to join them as a first term Conference Board Member-at-Large.

Growing up in Dayton, Ohio, Kiron’s early faith life was shaped by varying degrees of Hindu belief and practice by his parents, who immigrated from India.  However, through the influence of Christian neighbors and a job in a Presbyterian church nursery, Kiron’s mother learned about the Christian faith, cleared the house of Hindu statues and began to talk to her sons about Jesus.  As a result, Kiron and his brother felt caught in the middle between their parents. 

“My brother and my dad had a pretty terrible relationship, and [my brother] got into drugs and alcohol really early on in life, and then I followed in his footsteps.” The brothers were able to sustain that lifestyle and still do well in high school and college, but eventually, tragically, the substance abuse caught up with them.  “In my 2nd semester (of grad school at Penn State), my brother died drinking and driving. That was a turning point in my life,” Kiron says. He took a semester off, returned home to Ohio … and for some reason, picked up a nice, leather-bound Bible from his mom’s shelf.  “I started reading the New Testament, and read it rather quickly.  I had so many questions.” 

When the day came to empty out his brother’s apartment, Kiron was expecting a group of his mom’s church friends to come help out. “I show up and it was just me and another guy!”, Kiron laughs. “I think he planned it, because he and I talked the whole day!  He was really strong in his faith, and we went through Genesis to Revelation.  I asked him all kinds of questions.” 

With the planted seeds of faith taking root, Kiron returned to Penn State, sought out a friend who was a Christian, and began tagging along to the Christian Student Fellowship (CSF) gatherings, various campus ministry functions and to Sunday church services.  On his first day visiting Christ Community Church in State College, he caught the eye of a fellow Indian man.  “He was really easy to talk to, and wanted to know more about me,” Kiron recalls.  “We met up, and then we started meeting up weekly and doing one-on-one Bible studies.” Kiron remembers this as an intense time of formation and growth in his faith. “It was just me and him, and we were going through some of the same tough questions, and we’d dig in.  We’d have four- or five-hour Bible studies!” Eventually friends started coming along, and by the time Kiron left Penn State, there were around 40 people attending!

Kiron’s involvement with CSF introduced him to more than just Jesus; one of the first people he met at a CSF gathering was his future wife, Rachel, originally from the Reading, PA. area.  After getting married, they began attending University Mennonite Church, where various Anabaptist values resonated with Kiron.  “I saw a contrast … it’s not ‘American Christianity’; it’s just following Jesus, it’s outside of nationalities or allegiance to a country.  That is something that I respected.”

In 2016, Kiron and Rachel committed to moving their family closer to Rachel’s extended family, and Kiron took a position at JBT Automated Guided Vehicles in Chalfont, PA., as a Research and Development Engineer.  Settling in Telford, they visited most of the area Mennonite churches, but were invited to Plains Mennonite Church by Anya Williamson, a friend from Penn State. Kiron’s mom, who now lived with them, immediately connected with the Thalathodi and Rampogu families, who also spoke her native Telugu language.  Kiron and Rachel also made connections, particularly with other families with small children, and got involved with the worship team, teaching Sunday School and leading adult classes.

As an unofficial mentor to Kiron and Rachel, Jim King connected with them through Sunday School, men’s breakfasts, and together spearheading an intercultural, multi-church picnic this past Fourth of July, and saw something in Kiron that he felt would be an asset to the Board, and approached him with the idea. “Kiron’s presence radiates joy, curiosity and openness wherever I have been with him,” Jim says. “I just have to smile when I think of how the rest of the board will receive him.”  

Those who know him tend to agree. “Kiron is a thoughtful, independent thinker with a deep commitment to the church, his family, and the way of Jesus,” says Plains’ Pastor Mike Derstine.  “While new to our congregation and conference, he is eager to learn, meet new people, and further the mission of God in our community and world.”  Executive Minister Steve Kriss also anticipates the contributions Kiron will bring. “He’s bright, engaged, will ask good questions and help us find our way into new spaces, places, possibilities,” says Steve.

Kiron feels up for the task.  He anticipates hard work, a lot of listening and learning, and hopefully the ability to contribute as one who didn’t grow up in the church. “I feel empathetic towards people who are ‘different’,” he says. “Maybe that can provide a perspective that’s needed on the board.” 

Kiron and his wife Rachel (Zimmerman) are the parents of 5-year-old Asha and almost-3-year-old Jaya, and as a family, they enjoy music, the beach, camping and are a self-proclaimed “nerdy family” who like to visit libraries when they travel. 

Faith Formation of the Next Generation

By John Stoltzfus, Conference Youth Minister

Psalm 133 states, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” My heart felt full and grateful after recently meeting for the last time with some of the youth pastors from both Eastern District and Franconia Conference congregations. This group of persons representing seasoned and new pastors and sponsors invested in youth ministry has met together on a regular basis for many years. To me, they embody the strengths and gifts of God to our broader church collaborating around a unified purpose of passing on a vibrant and living faith to the next generation. We have learned much in our journey together and deeply enjoyed one another’s company along the way.

We have discovered that we can do much more together than on our own. Particularly as the landscape of the church changes, we will need to find more ways to partner together rather than become isolated in ideological or theological siloes. The church has an opportunity to offer a compelling vision of God’s reconciliation to the next generation and beyond if we can find ways to come together in genuine humility and trust. Our youth need to see the church model a way to be authentic community together, when so much in our world is building walls of separation. 

One of the highlights of our monthly gatherings is hosting one another in different churches. We value the opportunity to be stretched and encouraged as we share the challenges and joys of our respective ministry contexts. As our conference continues to expand our borders, we can capitalize on the gifts of our diversity. We have mutual gifts and perspectives to offer in our churches in Philly, Allentown, Souderton, throughout Pennsylvania and beyond — in Vermont, New York, California, and around the globe. These gifts and perspectives can help our youth grow in their understanding of the expansive love and work of God in all people and places. Our youth need the skills of building relationships of understanding and mutual respect that cross boundaries of race, theology, culture and more. Initiatives such as the Walking the Walk program of Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia or Taproot Gap Year birthed from Philadelphia Praise Center can offer transformative faith experiences for our youth and young adults.

As we meet together we are encouraged in the reality that we are not alone in this work. Our task is to initiate young persons into mature Christian faith through relationships with numerous adults who join them in living the way of authentic discipleship. As elders we can offer youth friendship, guidance and listening ears as they make the passage through adolescence into spiritual maturity. This is the work of the whole church and not just a youth pastor or a few youth sponsors in the congregation.

Youth ministry cannot be done in a vacuum. As we consider forming faith in our young people, we cannot think that the process of discipleship begins in ninth grade, or can be relegated to a youth pastor. Youth ministry is only part of the whole life-cycle of faith formation embedded within a multi-faceted approach between home and church and the broader community.

Research shows that those youth who go off to college and beyond are more likely to hold onto their faith and become involved in church as adults based on the commitment and priority that church and spiritual matters played for their parents. Youth ministry has to include parents by supporting parents in their own faith and by helping parents model and communicate faith to their own teenagers. In addition, one of the most common factors for youth who stick with faith and church into adulthood is that they had at least five significant relationships with adults as a youth. Might the future of youth ministry be less programmatic and become more embedded into the fabric of the overall mission and life of the church?

One of the things my wife and I have appreciated about our time at Plains Mennonite Church is the investment by the whole congregation in the life and faith of our children. When we were looking for a church home, we were not looking for a church with a dynamic youth program as much as we were looking for a community of believers modeling an active faith that incorporated the nurture of children and youth into the whole life of the congregation.

What is the invitation of the church at this time? As a conference we need to continue to ask the question of how we are passing on the faith and work of the church to the next generation. How are we doing as a church in modeling a self-giving faith centered in Jesus Christ? We will need to place our trust and hope in a revealing God who has been faithful for many generations. We trust that the same Spirit that is at work in our lives will continue to live and move in our children and the next generation of the gathered body of Christ.

Commemorating the United States the Right Way

by Jerrell Williams, Associate for Leadership Cultivation

This Fourth of July I gathered with Plains Mennonite Church and Evangelical Center for Revival, a predominantly Congolese Mennonite congregation, which held a joint July Fourth commemoration. This was the first time both of the churches got together for this kind of commemoration. The event displayed the willingness of both congregations to think about how they can collaborate together and embrace diversity.

There was a picnic with everything from hot dogs and hamburgers to coconut curry. There were games of corn hole followed by games of cricket. Both sides seemed to walk into the space a little hesitant, but as things got going and people got talking (and eating), folks became more comfortable with each other.

Evangelical Center for Revival blessed everyone with music. They sung worship songs in their native languages as people clapped, sang and danced along to the music. They played a beautiful rendition of “How Great Thou Art” in their native language and integrated English so everyone could sing along. Also present was a free immigration clinic in the church building. They had two lawyers present to help people get advice and information about their immigration status.

All in all I believe the event was a great step in trying to embrace diversity. The congregations, to me, seemingly had little in common coming into the Fourth of July. At the beginning of the event things were awkward and, quite frankly, uncomfortable, though eventually people began to loosen up and have a great time enjoying each other’s company.

This event showed me that it takes willingness to embrace the other within our midst. Things might not always be smooth or go just as planned, but we as people of faith have to be willing to celebrate diversity and help our neighbors.  Said event coordinator Rachel Mateti, “The event has been months in the making and came out of our winter quarter Sunday School class focusing on hospitality and welcome and the call of God’s people to live it out. The members of the class saw this as a way to connect with people in a meaningful way on a day that ideally commemorates values like equality, freedom, and opportunity.”  

In our current political climate I believe this is of the utmost importance. While there has been rhetoric and laws created to destroy the beautiful diversity that we have in the United States, we have to remember to love and show hospitality to all people. This Fourth of July commemoration with Plains Mennonite Church and Evangelical Center for Revival is what I believe the United States is all about.

Jerrell Williams is a Master of Divinity student at Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania) Theological Seminary and is interning this summer with Franconia Mennonite Conference and The Mennonite.  Reprinted with permission by The Mennonite.

God’s Faithfulness

By Mike Derstine, Pastor at Plains Mennonite Church

Congregants from NWC and Plains gathered for a joint worship services

With illustrations from barren trees in the wintertime and personal stories of frustration around his infant daughter’s eating habits, Pastor Beny Krisbianto reminded a joint gathering of Nations Worship Center and Plains Mennonite Church on Sunday, August 27, of God’s goodness that meets us again and again in times of struggle and adversity.  The joint worship service in the Plains Park pavilion was a clear example of God’s good and surprising work.

Plains members, Sharon and Conrad Swartzentruber, have been hosting several Dock Mennonite Academy high school students from Nations Worship Center at their home from Monday to Friday during the school year.  Last year, a small group from Nations Worship Center traveled to the Swartzentruber’s home for a picnic and afternoon games.  Might Plains Church host a joint worship service and picnic in our pavilion, Sharon wondered? Somewhere along the way, Steve Diehl, Director of Advancement for the Mennonite Heritage Center, received word of our planning, and organized a Perkiomen Bus to provide transportation for many more from Nations Worship Center to attend the joint worship service, potluck fellowship meal, and an afternoon visit at the Mennonite Heritage Center.  (Read Steve’s reflections on the visit to Mennonite Heritage Center here.)

Sharon and Dr. Conrad Swartzentruber (far left) in the joint worship service.

In the worship service, a generous offering was received that was divided in half to support the ministries of both congregations, including the renovations of the second floor of the Nations Worship Center building.Preaching from Romans 8:28-39 in his native language of Indonesian, and interpreted into English by Plains member, Dr. Conrad Swartzentruber. Beny spoke about a God who works beside us in every situation we face and who met the needs of Nations Worship Center throughout the long, trying process of buying and renovating their current church building and dealing with obstacles from the city, neighbors, and contractors.  But surprisingly, Beny shared, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenny recently attended a congregational service and wants to come back!

All total, by bus, a van, and several cars, 60-70 members from Nations Worship Center in South Philadelphia made the trip to Hatfield and Harleysville. It was noted in the worship service that the Plains congregation would look forward to another joint service with Nations Worship Center, only this time in South Philadelphia, and that many of the Plains members would also appreciate the convenience of bus transportation to ease the challenges of city driving, following directions, and parking.  God is good and faithful, a reality we often experience in new situations that stretch us and take us out of our familiar routines.