Tag Archives: Salford Mennonite Church

An Interfaith Creation Care Journey

by Mike Ford, Associate Pastor of Youth, Blooming Glen Mennonite Church

Philly group send-off

This past month, PA Interfaith Power and Light (PA IPL) organized two groups totaling 18 bicyclists to ride from Philadelphia and State College, PA to Washington, DC. Our cause was to gather as an interfaith group to travel to our nation’s capital to meet with our legislators, to make a moral case for long term environmental care and clean energy legislation.  Riding bikes helped create relationships within the diverse groups, as well as demonstrate to our legislators our commitment to care for the environment in our travel.  Three pastors with ties to Franconia Mennonite Conference participated in Philadelphia to DC ride, including myself, Mike Ford from Blooming Glenn Mennonite, Conference Youth Minister John Stoltzfus, and former Associate Pastor at Salford, now Campus Pastor at 3rd Way Collective at Penn State, Ben Wideman.

Philly group in DC

Ben, who rode in the past with the State College group, initiated this riding group from eastern Pennsylvania.  In addition to the three Mennonite pastors, our Philadelphia group consisted of two Jewish rabbis and a SAG (Support and Gear) wagon driven by a Unitarian Universalist minister.  Sharing with each other about our faith traditions was fascinating and enlightening.  Daily discussion and daybreak rituals mixed Christian prayer, poetry, Jewish blessings, song, scripture, and the blowing of the shofar (ram’s horn).  Particularly with our Jewish friends, we found an amazing amount of commonality in the history of our people and their persecution and migration around the world. 

Fixing a flat

Rabbi Nathan Martin summed up the trip well in commenting, “It just seemed to me like a really powerful statement, to bring different people of faith together to do something positive by getting on their bikes, by connecting with faith communities along the way and then bringing their voice to the halls of Congress and making their concerns known about climate change.”

People from various faith communities supported us along the way.  Lodging, meals, and hospitality were provided by a UCC minister’s family, a Presbyterian church, the House of Peace (Baltimore), a Jewish synagogue, and an elderly Quaker couple.  Part of the purpose of our ride was to fundraise to support the work of PA IPL, and over $15,000 was donated.

Meeting with Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick

The ride took us from the oil refineries of South Philadelphia to beautiful countryside, challenging hills, and busy city streets.  The State College crew rode 200 miles over 5 days, while the Philadelphia contingent tallied 180 miles in 3 days.  Our final day was spent off the bikes on Capitol Hill, meeting with Pennsylvania Senators and Representatives to encourage them to work on bipartisan efforts and existing bills that take a long term look at creation care and stewardship through greater support for renewable, clean energy sources.

The trip stirred in all of us a deeper desire to inspire and educate others to heed God’s directive to be good stewards of our common home.  You can read more about the trip here.

Does Church Membership Matter?

by Mark R. Wenger – Pastoral Team Leader and Pastor of Administration, Franconia Mennonite Church

How does church membership work in Franconia Conference?  How do you become a church member?  What are the requirements and benefits?  What happens to membership when someone stops attending?  What theological understandings underpin church membership? These questions, and more, formed the center of a Faith and Life Gathering of about 30 Franconia Conference credentialed leaders at Salford Mennonite Church on the morning of May 9, 2018.

Framed by Romans 12:4-5, a panel of three pastors led the way into the maze of membership. Nathan Good from Swamp Mennonite Churchdescribed their annual membership Sunday where new members are received after a 10-week preparation class, current members re-affirm a membership covenant, and the congregation shares Communion together. This keeps membership and attendance numbers aligned.

Ken Burkholder from Deep Run East Mennonite Church highlighted the importance of a public commitment for becoming a member.  His congregation has a Membership Covenant in the By-laws but stated it isn’t referenced much.  Ken observed a “definite trend” of people who are active in the congregation, but don’t become members.  Others remain members on the books but haven’t been active for years.

Danillo Sanchez spoke about commitment patterns at Ripple in Allentown and Whitehall Mennonite Church.  Typical church membership that grants certain privileges doesn’t fit their context.  Yet in each congregation, participants sign a covenant that highlights three Anabaptist church distinctives.  This annual signing intends to keep commitment current and to remind people what it means to be part of the faith community.

Discussion around tables followed the panel presentation.  A recurring theme: Understandings and practices of church membership are changing.  Earlier, more standard patterns have morphed into contextualized and individualized approaches. Questions that were raised included: can someone who lacks an understanding of core Christian beliefs and practices become a member?  How about someone who is engaged in behaviors considered inconsistent with the Bible or the Confession of Faith? Churches with cemeteries face unique challenges.  Can someone listed as a member still claim a burial benefit ten years after ceasing to attend?  What does church membership mean?  Is it a shell without any filling?  Or an antique no longer relevant? Lots of questions.  Not many answers.

As a point of comparison, I recently joined the Souderton-Telford Rotary Club.  I needed a current member to serve as my sponsor.  Membership dues are payable every month.  I must attend at least two Rotary functions each month to remain a member.

I came away from the Faith and Life Gathering discussion on membership feeling muddled, even conflicted. I agreed with the pastor who said: “We are holding to what we believe, but we’ve become more flexible in our practices.”  But, when does changing practice reveal an implicit shift of core theology?

In my view, church membership and a covenant community remain a worthy investment for congregations.  Jesus and leaders of the early church raised expectations of godly living, while also setting people free from bondage.  A liberating gospel on one side, and covenanted discipleship on the other, are not contradictory.

Congregations that expect a lot of their members tend to be more cohesive than free-for-all associations.  When high-demand churches also offer transformation to participants and engage them in a clear mission, congregations flourish.

Church membership today doesn’t look like it did fifty years ago.  Our congregations are less homogenous; we move around more; accountability feels different.  But the human need for healing and hope, for encountering God, for belonging to a group, and for sharing in bigger mission remains the same.  In my opinion, the vision of church where “each member belongs to all the others” (Rom. 12:5) remains worthy of our best creativity and commitment.

National Child Abuse Prevention & Sexual Assault Awareness Month

According to the 2006 Church Member Profilemore than 1 in 5 women in MC USA congregations have experienced sexual abuse or violation; here in 2018, we can only speculate on what that number may be. Franconia Conference continues to be committed to helping end abuse and neglect of all people within our congregations and communities.  April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and National Sexual Assault Awareness Month  and we again remind and encourage you and your congregation to take steps to prevent all forms of abuse.

Integrating conversations about healthy relationships and healing abuse is crictical in our congregations. In March 2017, Salford Mennonite Church addressed the issue of child abuse in a special service.  If your congregation would consider doing a similar spotlight on this issue, a list of resources utilized for Salford’s service can be found on our Church Safety page.  Many other resources  for churches, leaders and individuals in the area of church safety, abuse prevention and care for survivors can be found on the Dove’s Nest resource page.

Under Pennsylvania law, all churches must have a written Child Protection Policy, and Franconia Conference encourages ALL of our congregations — no matter what state — to have a policy that is reviewed annually, to ensure it is being implemented.  Additionally, congregations must ensure that staff and volunteers that work with children and youth under the age of 18 have the proper clearances, have completed a Mandated Reporter Training, and that background checks are on file at the church. In Pennsylvania these clearances must be renewed every five years at least.   Franconia Conference has scheduled three Mandated Reporter Training sessions for 2018, in May, June and September, which you can now register for by clicking here.  These trainings are free and open to anyone who wises to attend. This training is required for credentialed leaders’ credential renewal. 

Dove’s Nest, a nonprofit organization that grew out of concerned individuals in Mennonite Church USA, has been working to keep children and youth safe for almost 10 years.  This year they have launched a study to assess the impact of their work over the past decade with churches related to Mennonite Church USA and beyond.  Church leaders should have received an invitation to participate in a survey, which will help them determine the needs of churches in the area of child protection, and how to best serve churches and remain in touch with the growing and changing needs related to safety in faith communities.  Take the survey here

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Christian Peacemaker Teams Nonviolence Training

As Mennonites, we have a strong heritage of nonviolence, often referred to as pacifism, as we work to embody and live out the words of Christ to “love our enemies,” Matthew 5:44. In an age where violence is seen all around, on television (even in cartoons), in actions and words, it can be difficult to know how to live out the value we hold to, especially if we face the threat of violence ourselves.

Christian Peacemaker Teams will be at Salford Mennonite Church on Saturday, February 17 to train those who are interested in how to live our nonviolence. From 9:00 am to 3:00 pm, for a registration fee of $10, participants will learn the spiritual roots of nonviolence, what nonviolence is, protest as a form of nonviolence, and what it means to live nonviolence.

Formed in the mid-1980s out of a gathering of historic peace churches, Christian Peacemakers “seeks to embody an inclusive, diverse, multi-faith community of spiritually guided peacemakers.” They place teams at the invitation of local peacemakers to accompany and support the confrontation of situations of lethal conflicts around the world. If you are interested in being in trained in nonviolence, these are the people to learn from.  They have worked alongside local peacemakers and human rights workers in Colombia, Iraq, Palestine, Democratic Republic of Congo, the US/Mexico Borderlands, and various places across the United States, among others.

For more information about the training, check out the flyer here.

To register for the February 17th training, click here.

Sheldon Good named Executive Director of The Mennonite, Inc.

The board of directors of The Mennonite, Inc. has named Sheldon C. Good executive director (ED) of The Mennonite, Inc., effective February 1.  Currently a member of Salford Mennonite Church, Sheldon is a 2005 graduate of Dock Mennonite Academy. From 2006-2007 he served with Franconia Conference as Associate for Communication and Leadership Development. Most recently he and his wife, Jennifer Svetlik, served as Program Coordinators with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in Erbil, Iraq. Prior to working with MCC, Good served as an employment and education team coordinator for Community of Hope, a nonprofit in Washington D.C. He also served a two-year term as the Associate Director for the Washington Community Scholars’ Center of Eastern Mennonite University, also in Washington D.C., and worked as an Assistant Editor and Web Editor for Mennonite World Review.  Sheldon also wrote pieces for Franconia Conference publications in 2012-2014.  Read the full story in The Mennonite.

Teenagers or Screenagers?

by Maria Hosler Byler, Associate Pastor for Youth and Family Faith Formation at Salford Mennonite Church  

On November 25th, 120 people gathered in Salford Mennonite Church’s sanctuary to view Screenagers, a film about teenagers and technology use. Some who walked in the doors were eager to be there, and some came because their parents made them – but all had stories of how technology has affected their lives, and many sensed the urgency of a conversation about screens and faith: How does my faith inform the enormous cultural shift technology has brought on? What actions will help me grow in relationship to God and my neighbor and what actions won’t?

Screenagers was produced by Delaney Ruston, a medical doctor and mother of two teenagers. She shows her own family’s struggles to have a healthy relationship with technology and interviews many other teens and parents. Included in the film is psychological and brain research, as well as information on addiction, multi-tasking, and how technology is affecting academics.

According to the film, the average kid spends around 6.5 hours a day looking at screens. This isn’t just limited to teenagers. During the film I found myself resonating with so much of the research and stories. When I open Facebook for just that one thing and I end up spending 20 minutes scrolling, it doesn’t help my self-esteem or mood. I get distracted from my work when I hear my phone ping. Even as an adult this film offered a chance to assess my own screen use and consider how to use technology in ways that are life-giving – without it taking over my life.

After we watched the film we divided into groups for discussion. The middle schoolers I talked with are aware of the pull of technology. They’re steeped in it from early in their development and it is truly shaping their lives. They reap the benefits as well as the challenges. They’re watching their parents, who are “digital immigrants,” set boundaries for their kids (and sometimes, though not as often, for themselves). And they’re finding their own way as “digital natives.”

Screens are affecting our society in so many ways. There are plenty of tools available to help families set healthy boundaries around screen time, and they’re worth the investment. And even with those, nothing can replace self-control and good communication. Today’s kids (and their caregivers) have to navigate the dangers of their age just as every other generation has, with only a dim picture of the consequences.

Screenagers has prompted many conversations in different settings in the weeks since the screening. In some ways the challenges are totally new. And in other ways, it’s the same question we’ve always faced: How will I live as a follower of Christ in this uncharted territory?

More information about Screenagers is available at www.screenagersmovie.com. There you can find a trailer to the film, view a list of upcoming screenings to find one in your area, and explore hosting a screening yourself. Salford co-hosted their screening of Screenagers with Advent Lutheran Church.

Where Hope Meets History

By Kendra Rittenhouse, Salford

A 300 year anniversary meant more than one day of celebration for Salford Mennonite Church. Beginning Sunday, September 10th and culminating with a feast of events the following weekend, it was a look to the past that has shaped the present as the congregation heads with hope to the future.

Brian McLaren

Sunday, September 10, Salford began celebrating 300 years of history and hope with guest speaker and author Brian McLaren who among other things gave a presentation of his most recent book, “The Great Spiritual Migration.” McLaren urges Christians to follow closely the words and teachings of Jesus rather than give priority to doctrine and theology. Links to his sermon and afternoon presentation can be found at http://brianmclaren.net/heres-what-i-shared-in-pennsylvania/. The service also included a song written by Lynelle Bush.

The following weekend of celebration began on Friday, September 15 with a play, “These Are My People,” written by Ted Swartz of Ted & Company in collaboration with Brent Anders and was performed by a cast of Salford members along with Ted. Presented again on Saturday evening, it told the story of Salford including why people come, why they leave, the struggle of change from the past to the present day, and the sacredness of gathering together.

Saturday, September 16, a community day was held in the grove next to the school house which included food, fun, and historical tours. A large tent shielded church members and visitors from the warm sun and provided a place to gather, eat together, and enjoy music provided by groups that included Salford members. Bus tours of local Mennonite history, led by John Ruth, included the Dielman Kolb House, Lower Skippack Mennonite Church, and Upper Skippack Mennonite Church, as well as sights throughout Skippack, Upper Salford, and Lower Salford Townships. Joel Alderfer of the Mennonite Historians gave cemetery tours telling of past members who shaped Salford’s history.

Saturday’s activities also included volleyball in the grove and children’s games from a century ago. Children also painted rocks for Color Harleysville, cheerful rocks to be hidden and found throughout the Harleysville area. A photo booth made for fun reminders of the day.

Sunday morning, September 17, began with worship and ended with a catered meal for members and visitors. The sermon on Matthew 14, given by pastor Joe Hackman, focused on having the courage to ‘get out of the boat’ when Jesus calls.  Examples of courage were former pastor Mim Book in following her call in a time when women’s ministry gifts were not recognized, and of MJ Sharp who lost his life working for peace in the Congo earlier this year.

The service also included art and musical offerings. A vocal ensemble and the choir each sang songs of rootedness and vision. As well, a commissioned fraktur by Roma Ruth was presented by Mary Jane Hershey and Roma Ruth and is hanging in the church lobby.

Attending the morning service were former pastors Jim Lapp, Ben Wideman, Mim Book, Maribeth Longacre Benner, Jim Longacre, Loren Swartzendruber, Michael King, Willis Miller, John Ruth, and John Sharp. A panel discussion by the former pastors was held during the second hour in which they reflected on the eras they served at Salford.

In a blessing to the congregation former pastors, Jim Longacre and John Sharp urged the congregation to turn away from Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism, to turn back to the teachings of Jesus. John Ruth, in agreement, also reminded us to return to the early Anabaptist teachings and to focus on relationship, which is core to salvation.

It is said that the growth of a plant is proportional to its roots. Salford’s deep and expansive roots are testimony to a rich and fertile relationship with God. Remembering the past, the changes that have taken place, and that God is always faithful and will be faithful in the changes to come made for spirits ready to grow and a celebration full of hope.

The Risk of Asking & Answering

by Maria Hosler Byler, Associate Pastor for Youth and Family Faith Formation

Sometimes it takes great courage to ask a question, especially if you are not sure that you can fulfill the answer. Mary Jane Hershey of Salford Mennonite Church had the courage to ask Katie Gard of the Oxford Circle Christian Community Development Association (OCCCDA) what they needed and Katie had the courage to answer, neither of them knowing what, if anything, might come of it.

Salford Mennonite Church and Advent Lutheran Church share a garden on Salford’s property that, “exists to nurture relationships with one another and with God, cultivating a piece of God’s creation, and growing good food for those who need it most.”  The produce from the garden is donated to individuals in need throughout the community, including to various non-profits. Oxford Circle Christian Community Development Association (OCCCDA) of Philadelphia is one of those non-profits.

At the annual fundraising dinner held at Salford to garner funds for seeds and supplies, Mary Jane Hershey encountered Katie Gard and asked that courageous question: what do you at OCCCDA need? She didn’t know what the response would be, or what it would cost her and her community. She didn’t know if she’d be able to fulfill whatever the answer was. Yet she stepped out and asked.

Katie took a risk, too, as she answered, asking for a visit to the Salford garden for their summer camp. The camp receives produce from the garden and Katie believed the kids would benefit from seeing where the produce comes from, and from being in the country. Katie didn’t know how it might happen. She didn’t know what it might require from Salford or Oxford Circle, but she gave her answer.

Mikaylah Price, Adele Shoup, Aubrey Andrews, and Ila Hackman (left to right) show off the carrots they harvested in the Salford Advent community garden.

That was not the end of the small acts of courage. Through collaboration and coordination, plans came together. When the buses pulled up on July 13, several Salford kids and parents were waiting hesitantly as 72 kids and 18 adults from the summer camp got organized. The summer camp kids didn’t quite know what to expect either, but their capable staff lined them up and we split up into our stations.

Between the garden tour, harvesting carrots, introducing the Oxford Circle campers to Gaga ball, and playing water games, kids from Salford and Northeast Philadelphia started to feel at home together. Teammates cheered each other on and helped each other out. Campers harvested carrots to take home. The next week, when the produce from the garden came to OCCCDA, they knew where it was from!

Asking questions and offering answers both take risk — the vulnerability of submitting one’s idea to the direction of another.  After that first risky question and answer, the questions and answers kept happening: How do we make sure the food we serve is halal? Is it ok to shorten this activity? What games do you like to play at your house? No, they shouldn’t have a second popsicle. Do you want to play with us?

The summer camp kids and adults were taking a risk, asking a question, just by getting on the buses and coming to this predominantly white country church to enjoy our space. Salford families and volunteers needed to respond by accepting the schedule and needs of the well-functioning system that is Oxford Circle Summer Camp. I saw our Salford kids offering welcome in the garden, a familiar space to them, to kids who were seeing it for the first time. I saw them experiencing being welcomed and invited into the games by strangers, needing to depend on the welcome of the summer camp kids. Questions were asked, answers were given, God moved, and the results were abundantly far more than we could have asked or imagined.

Photo: Mikaylah Price, Adele Shoup, Aubrey Andrews, and Ila Hackman (left to right) show off the carrots they harvested in the Salford Advent community garden.

 

Love in Action at Mennonite Church USA Convention 2017

This year thousands of Mennonites from across the United States gathered in Orlando, Florida for the biennial Mennonite Church USA (MCUSA) Convention. The purpose of convention is to empower the church to achieve its vision, purpose and mission. Over the four days, members of congregations from across the country attend daily worship, workshops/seminars, participate in servant projects and delegates from MCUSA Congregations and Conferences attend business sessions. This year there was also the Future Church Summit, “a generative, open space for denomination-wide conversation — to dream together, reset priorities and engage one another in answering the question: How will we follow Jesus as Anabaptists in the 21st century?”

The week began on Tuesday evening, July 4; several offered greetings, including Mennonite Church Canada’s Executive Minister, Will Metrzger. Recognizing July 4 as the United States’ Independence Day he stated, “while some are celebrating with bombs bursting in air, we are celebrating the explosion of God’s grace.”

The theme for this year’s convention was Love is a Verb. Worship speakers focused on this theme, and workshops spoke of how we can live out the love of God, covering topics of church safety, patriarchy, racism, Israel Palestine,  “Keeping the Church Weird” and hearing God’s call, among others.

Sometimes love as a verb means recognizing and acknowledging when we have not loved. Ted & Company, in their new show Discovery: A Comic Lament, shared the Doctrine of Discovery and how even we as Mennonites have played a role in justifying the taking of land from the indigenous people here in the United States. It was a sobering reminder as we began the week.

Maria Hosler Byler and Joe Hackman, Salford congregation, celebrate their nomination.

Wednesday brought the Dove’s Nest awards celebration, recognizing churches “that did something courageous to keep children safe.” Salford Mennonite Church was one of the three nominee finalists. They were nominated for their service that happened at the end of March, which focused on the journey of abuse and healing as reflected by the Ezekiel 37 passage about the valley of dry bones. This service included voices of lament, hope and direct statements from survivors of childhood sexual abuse. More resources and information on how this service was put together can be found at http://franconiaconference.org/church-safety/. Wednesday also brought a time of connecting for those from across Franconia Conference, as we gathered together for food, fellowship, and music by The Walking Roots.

Thursday contained two big events: voting on the Seeking Peace in Israel Palestine Resolution and the kick off of the Future Church Summit.  Two years ago at the Kansas City Convention, a resolution regarding Israel Palestine was tabled. Since then a three-person writing team and a ten-person reference team worked to draft a new resolution, the Seeking Peace in Israel Palestine Resolution. Prior to the vote on the resolution, delegates heard from the writing team, discussed in their table groups, and then heard comments, concerns and questions. There were overwhelming comments of support for the resolution which ultimately passed with 97% in favor.

The Future Church Summit was a new addition this year to Convention. It was a time of dreaming and visioning, and discerning how God is leading us to follow Jesus. Delegates were joined by others from throughout MCUSA including high school students who had been chosen to be part of the Summit. The first day was spent getting to know one another by answering questions such as “When did you feel most connected to the Mennonite Church? What nourishes your spirit by being Anabaptist?” There was also a time of grounding participants in the history of Anabaptism and Mennonites, drawing learnings from our past.

Convention continues Friday and Saturday morning. You can find out more about each of the days’ highlights on the Franconia Conference Facebook page .

Healing Through Truth Telling and Open Ears

By Barbie Fischer and an anonymous member of Salford Mennonite Church

Abuse takes many forms and is a topic often shied away from. Yet, our communities of faith should be safe and healing places for all of God’s children … and how can they be if abuse is not discussed and actions not taken to prevent it? April is both Child Abuse Prevention month and Sexual Abuse Awareness Month. Both Franconia Conference and Dove’s Nest encourage congregations to step into the space of talking about healthy relationships to prevent abuse, and discuss ways of healing when abuse does happen. While April is one month a year set aside to focus on these topics, these should be discussions all year long.

One of our local congregations recently took on the task of addressing child abuse within their service. Salford Mennonite Church held a service on March 26th dedicated to celebrating the joy and life of children — past and present — within their congregation, while at the same time acknowledging, naming, and lamenting that amid the joy and life, there is injury, trauma, and loss of trust. The scriptural focus for the day was Ezekiel 37:1-14, the story of dry bones coming to life.

Organization of the service and including the voices of survivors was spearheaded by Maria Hosler Byler, Associate Pastor for Youth and Family Faith Formation, and Beth Ranck Yoder, Associate Pastor. The day included singing from the children, times for the congregation to name their joys in the children, the vulnerability of the children among them, and their vision for safety for their children. The day also included words from survivors in the congregation who were invited to submit their stories and offer words of both lament and hope.

The service was a time of healing for those who have survived abuse and is evident through a letter received from one of Salford’s congregants following the service. This church member has allowed us to share their letter here. Through it, one can see that while the topic may be difficult, healing comes from bringing these things into the light, bringing life back to the dry bones.

 

Dear Beloved Church Family at Salford,                                                                            March 28, 2017

Thank you for the meaningful service on Sunday, March 26 in preparation for National Child Abuse Prevention Month in April.  Sunday’s service was clearly dedicated to the protection of children and to the restoration of those who have suffered from abuse.  Each aspect of the service was moving, and I want to thank the leadership team for listening to the guidance of the Spirit as you prepared for the service.  We participated in worship as we lifted our voices in song, listened to the children sing, prayed for the children, said prayers of confession, and heard voices of lament and of hope.  The worship service was inspiring and moving.  

I am grateful to have been asked to reflect on the Dry Bones passage from Ezekiel and share some of my story, anonymously.  The questions which were provided as guidance were helpful for me as I thought about what might be helpful for others to hear from my story.  As I wrote, the Valley of the Dry Bones from my past began to appear in my mind, and I could visualize the stages of healing that had taken place in recent years.  The image of healing after many, many years was helpful for me as I reflected on what would be meaningful to share.

During the week before the service, when I had the chance to read reflections that other survivors of abuse had sent in, I started to feel nervous about hearing their words, and my words, spoken to the congregation. By Saturday, I began to think about volunteering to help with the children during the service instead of sitting in the sanctuary.  While courage was needed for individuals to share their stories, even anonymously, courage was also needed to hear the words spoken.  I am very glad that I made the decision to attend the service.  Salford Mennonite, thank you for giving survivors the opportunity to share their stories with the congregation, and thank you for being willing to hear their stories.

At the beginning of the service, as I sat watching and listening, I felt numb, as though I were observing everything from a distance.  Toward the end of the service, I realized that I was indeed a part of the fellowship. I felt a keen sense of belonging to the body of believers at Salford.  Thank you for being a caring, loving, accepting, and even a risk-taking community of believers.  I believe that through the beloved community of Salford Mennonite Church, steps will continue to be taken to safely care for children, and restoration will continue to take place among the broken.

During the Sundays in Lent, I have been watching the transformation of the broken pottery at the front of the sanctuary.  Philip Hosler Byler carefully crafted the large and broken clay pot.  Each week, two people come forward and attach a broken piece to the base, and I watch in wonder.  Years ago I had told my counselor that I felt as though my journey of healing from abuse was like the journey of a broken vase being glued together—the vase might be functional, but the cracks will always be there, destroying its beauty.  My counselor told me that in some areas of Asia, when a vase is cracked, it is filled with gold, making it both beautiful and valuable.  During this week’s service, I could visualize the completed clay pot once all of the pieces are joined. Thank you, Philip, for crafting a pot that demonstrates how God can restore our lives, piece by piece.

After the children left the sanctuary, we heard the statistics that have been in the news in recent years, that 1 in 4 girls will be abused before adulthood and 1 in 6 boys will be abused before reaching adulthood.  The numbers are startling.  We were able to visualize those numbers by having people in appointed rows stand.  We as a congregation now have a deeper understanding of just how many 1 in 4 is.  Seeing half of the left side of the sanctuary standing was astounding.  Many survivors’ stories remain hidden.

I appreciated the themes of “Lament” and “Hope” through which survivors’ stories were shared.  As the four voices at the back of the sanctuary took turns reading the words of lament, I sensed that actual voices of the survivors were being heard.  (I did not turn around to see who the four people were who read, but I do want to thank them for their roles in the service.) The congregation seemed to really be listening to the words of sadness and grief. Toward the end of the service, when the four voices read the words of hope and anticipation which survivors of abuse had shared, I sensed that God was in our midst, caring, healing, loving, and encouraging. Thank you, Salford family, for being attentive to the journeys of these survivors in our midst.

I am thankful for the guidance through prayer for the children, the prayer of confession, and the spoken responses following the voices of lament and of hope.  I am grateful to you, our pastoral team, for reading together the confession of the church leaders.  I sensed your earnest desire to protect children and to restore those who have been “harmed by the evils of abuse.”  Healing and restoration will continue to take place in our church as we strive to move forward, trusting in God to show us the way.  Thank you for your willingness to lead our congregation in the way of healing.

The sermon I am grateful for, as it took an old Bible story, familiar for many of us, and brought it to life, allowing me to visualize the transformation of the Valley of Dry Bones and to see how God desires for us to move from a place of despair to a place of abundant living.  We as a congregation were given the opportunity to visualize the healing taking place within our church.  My Valley of Dry Bones took place years ago, but I can still see it. In that desolate place I was unable to get off of the couch, unable to go and pick up one item at the grocery store, unable to enjoy my favorite foods, unable to connect with my family in healthy ways. Sleep was my escape, feeling unable to do anything, just as the dry bones in the valley were unable to do anything.  The Valley of Dry Bones is a desolate place of despair, and no one wants to stay there; yet without help from God and from others, it is hard to find a way to leave.

There are so many things to be grateful for with the service. For the child protection policy being distributed in everyone’s church mailboxes prior to the service and for our Child/Youth Safety Team. For those who cared for the children during this important service. For our Pastors Joe, Beth, and Maria who guided our congregation through the Valley of Dry Bones.  Thank you for your leadership as you strive to make Salford a place of healing and of hope.  God does not want for us to stay in the Valley of Dry Bones, for Jesus came so that we might have abundant life, and our God is a God of hope.

Sunday’s service was truly beautiful.  I firmly believe that God is at work at Salford to restore the broken. My prayer is that God will continue to work in our congregation as we are committed to protect children and to restore those who have been abused.  May we serve one another in God’s love, and may we be a light in our community. My hope is that all congregations would be able to experience the healing power of a service of restoration.

God’s peace be with you.
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To hear the sermon from the March 26th service visit http://www.salfordmc.org/recent-sermons.

DVDs of the service can be requested from Salford Mennonite Church.

Also, a list of resources utilized for the service can be found here: http://franconiaconference.org/church-safety/.