Stephen Kriss, firstname.lastname@example.org
Over 100 Franconia Mennonite Conference leaders and representatives gathered at Christopher Dock Mennonite High School near Lansdale, Pa, on August 12, 2010, to hear a report from the Conference’s Review Steering Committee; to pray with and for newly elected moderators and board members; to hear a financial update and to ask questions. The meeting began with an acknowledgment from the Review Steering Committee Co-chair, Mike Derstine (Plains congregation), “this is an unusual and difficult time for our conference—and our coming together this evening might be viewed as the first step of a long process of further understanding and conversation—a process that we hope and pray ultimately leads to broad ownership and support of our conference vision and mission.”
The Review Committee was appointed earlier this year to provide a space for feedback and follow-up for the consulting work and recommendations of LaVern Yutzy from Mennonite Health Services Alliance, who was commissioned by the Franconia Conference Board to conduct a review and set recommendations after a conflict over decision-making related to staffing, finances and future Conference earlier this year. The committee includes Donella Clemens, Perkasie congregation; Mike Derstine, Plains congregation; Beny Krisbianto, Nations Worship Center; Jim Laverty, Souderton congregation and Joy Sutter, committee co-chair from Salford congregation. Sutter outlined the Review Steering Committee’s goals and work over the last months.
Following up on the recommendations from Yutzy’s report, the board approved near-term steps to reconfigure itself which then included this summer’s nominating and affirming process of the following Conference board members: John Goshow (moderator, Blooming Glen congregation); Miriam Book (assistant moderator, Salford congregation); Randy Nyce (finance committee chairperson, Salford congregation); and at-large members—Marta Beidler Castillo (Nueva Vida Norristown New Life congregation), Joe Hackman (Salford congregation), Beny Krisbianto (Nations Worship Center), and James B. Longacre (Bally congregation). The seven new board members join remaining board members Jim King (Plains congregation), Jim Laverty (Souderton congregation), Rina Rampogu (Plains congregation) and Nelson Shenk (Boyertown congregation). Donella Clemens introduced the board and led in a commissioning prayer while the committee also sought to recognize the pain that led to the resignations of four board members including moderators, Blaine Detwiler, Lakeview congregation and Randy Heacock, Doylestown congregation along with at-large members Karen Moyer, Rocky Ridge congregation and Yvonne Platts, Nueva Vida Norristown New Life congregation.
Randy Nyce, newly affirmed finance committee chairperson, led in a brief overview and conversation that highlighted several ongoing issues with the Conference budget—including a long-term decline in congregational giving; the delayed sale of the development rights of Indian Creek Farm located near Harleysville, Pa, as was outlined in the Conference’s Vision and Financial Plan; and clarification on the integration of the Conference’s mission agency (formerly Franconia Mennonite Conference Board of Missions and Charities) to create “a missional conference” rather than a conference with a mission agency.
At the meeting’s outset, review committee co-chair Mike Derstine recognized that there were many tensions within the Conference at this time. Noting this he said, “Within our conference system, at a basic level, there has been a breakdown of trust. We have yet to hear and understand the deeper themes that tug at our Conference. We do know that there is suspicion and fear under the surface, and there are powerful voices on various sides, there is a naming of money and Mennonitism, in some cases tradition is pitted against mission. For some this new Conference Board represents a new day and fresh hopes for renewed mission and vision—and for others it feels like a step backwards into a maintenance mode that seeks to preserve the status quo.”
He continued, “As a conference, we are not all of one mind regarding these recent events and in the steps we’ve taken to move forward. And no one of us has always expressed our positions and oppositions in positive, Christ-like ways. We confess tonight that it isn’t easy for we who emphasize peacemaking and discipleship, to practice what we preach—especially when it comes to agreeing and disagreeing in love. Along the way we will all need more opportunities to listen and to speak—and we will certainly need ample time for confession and repentance—as well as large doses of God’s grace, forgiveness and healing. But tonight we begin the process forward with a small step. We know we need healing, we know we need more time to listen closely to each other, and we know all this is going to require more time and space than one meeting here in August—and yet here is where we need to start.”
The evening featured open times of question regarding the Review Steering Committee’s work along the future process of the new board. Responses included further calls to repentance and expressions of grief over the actions of the last months, more specifically letters were read and submitted to the Conference Board by Charlie Ness (Perkiomenville congregation) and Sharon Williams (Nueva Vida Norristown New Life congregation). In the questions and comments, there was a general acknowledgment that there is much work ahead that is both personal and communal; spiritual and incarnational.
The gathered community ended with a prayer of hope and commitment, led by Beny Krisbianto and Jim Laverty, “We commit to move forward in hope, loving you and growing in love for each other. Give us direction so we may know which way to choose and which to reject, which course to claim and which to refuse. Lead us to that which you will bless and that which brings honor to your name, God our Vision and our Guide.”