Tag Archives: Salford

Congregational Profile: Salford Mennonite Church

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

In 2017 Salford Mennonite Church celebrated its 300 year anniversary, with the theme “Hope Meets History.” That phrase embodies the spirit of Salford: firmly grounded in our place and our story, with a willingness to embrace what’s to come. We are a joyful learning community eager to live and share the peaceable way of Jesus. Here are some of the ways we do this.

All-church retreat Dutch Blitz game

The first thing we hope you notice when you come into our congregation is our welcome and supportive presence. Salford has welcomed many who have had painful experiences in church and need a place to rest and heal. You will see and hear children in worship, both in the pews and leading the congregation. A few years ago, we adopted a welcoming statement that says: “We celebrate that all individuals are created in God’s image, in beauty and grace, no matter their age, gender, race, disability, ethnicity, or sexual orientation, and are welcome as members in our congregation.”

The garden

We also are a congregation that gives in many ways. We readily respond with gifts of support to needs around the world. Our sewing circle is one example of this; each month, 20-30 people, men and women of all ages, come together to quilt and knot comforters for Mennonite Central Committee. We partner with Advent Lutheran Church to tend a garden on our property, which provides produce for local food pantries and community centers. Salford members feel each other’s care and support in behind-the-scenes ways too – in providing meals, childcare, and accompaniment in hard times.

Doing art at Peace Camp

Salford is truly a learning community. Members of Salford have led and attended workshops through Better Angels, seeking to bridge the political divide. We have recently held trainings around racial conciliation and criminal justice, to help us discern how we follow Jesus in our specific place in the world. Workshops on the Enneagram have sparked lively conversations about our different motivations and ways of relating. Also, each summer we host Peace Camp, where kids explore Peace with Me, Peace with the Earth, and Peace with Others. Peace Camp participants include kids from within our congregation and even more from the local community.

All of these point to our continued desire for deeper relationship with God. As we are welcomed and welcome others, we can more deeply experience God’s presence with us. Our worship is rooted in Anabaptist tradition, but it’s also attuned to our modern context; when you worship with us, you will experience rich four-part harmony and also earnest reflection about current events. That’s the tone that we seek to live out when we’re together and when we’re apart.

Some prayer requests:

  • For guidance for our search committee as we look for a new lead pastor. Pastor Joe Hackman’s role ended in early December, while pastors Beth Yoder and Maria Hosler Byler continue.
  • For wise and energetic discernment of our vision for the next phase of our life. We hope to grow in our pursuit of peace, justice, and reconciliation; our connection to our local community; and our prophetic witness.

Perkiomen Trail Ride to Support MEDA Project

Want to help women in Ghana learn to grow soybeans? Bring your bicycle to Salford Mennonite Church on Saturday, May 2 to join a ride on the Perkiomen Trail, organized by Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA). The ride will start at Salford Mennonite Church in Harleysville, Pennsylvania, at 2:00 p.m.

Mary Fehr and Sarah French were interns in Nicaragua and Tanzania, and their bike trip will support a MEDA project.
Mary Fehr and Sarah French were interns in Nicaragua and Tanzania, and their bike trip will support a MEDA project.

The ride will be led by Sarah French and Mary Fehr, two Canadians who were interns with MEDA in 2013. After this ride, they will travel by bike across Canada, starting in Victoria, British Columbia, and riding 5,412 miles to St. John’s, New Brunswick. Their trip will take four months to allow for stops along the way to raise awareness about MEDA’s Greater Rural Opportunities for Women (GROW) project. The GROW project started in 2012 and has impacted 20,000 women and their families.

“Teaching women to farm creates economic empowerment, which strengthens women, creating equality,” says Sarah French, “So improving their skills can help bring a community out of poverty and spur economic growth.”

Mary and Sarah’s goal is to raise $150,000 by biking across Canada.

Sarah French and her father take a break during a training ride.
Sarah French and her father take a break during a training ride.

“I want to be a part of this because by teaching [the women] to grow soybeans, they are creating a sustainable livelihood that will allow them to make choices based on the future rather than rash decisions due to necessities,” says Mary.

Mary and Sarah will be sharing about their internship experiences and their upcoming Canadian bike ride at a dinner at Dock Woods Community on April 30. To RSVP to this event email delvalmeda@yahoo.com. This event is sponsored by the Delaware Valley MEDA chapter.

The Perkiomen Trail ride is sponsored by the MEDA chapters of Lancaster and Delaware Valley. Following the ride, there will be an international dinner and program at Salford Mennonite Church. Registration for the ride is $20; RSVP for the ride and dinner by April 16 at Chapters@meda.org or by calling 717-560-6546.

Additionally, Sarah and Mary will be speaking at Blooming Glen Mennonite and Mellinger’s Mennonnite Church the day after the ride.


Delegates commit to waiting, hoping, discerning at Assembly

Bob & Bonnie Stevenson
Charlie Ness (Perkiomenville) and Bonnie Stevenson pray for Bob Stevenson before he brings the message during Friday night worship. Photo by Emily Ralph

by Emily Ralph, associate director of communication

“Waiting on God is expectant and hopeful,” declared Marta Castillo, Franconia Conference’s outgoing assistant moderator, at the opening of the United Franconia and Eastern District Conferences’ 2014 Assembly.  The theme of this year’s gathering, held November 14-15 at Penn View Christian School in Souderton, Pa., was “Esperando: Waiting & Hoping.”

“We’re not waiting for something, we’re waiting for somebody,” added Bob Stevenson during Friday evening worship.  “Waiting is not just a passive sitting back.  And so the word I have is that we wait ‘until’ [we receive the power of the Spirit] and then we get up and go!”

Stevenson and his wife Bonnie were called and commissioned as missionaries to Mexico at a Franconia Conference Assembly 26 years before.  They were celebrated Friday night as they reached a milestone in their ministry: the transition from raising missionary support from the States to full funding through their congregation.  “I thank the Lord for allowing us to be a part of this conference,” Bonnie responded after she and Bob were presented with a Spanish fraktur created by Salford congregation member Roma Ruth.  “There are many times on Friday morning when we have our prayer together … that we pray for each one of your congregations by name.”

praying for Danilo Sanchez
Conference leaders pray for Danilo Sanchez, Whitehall, one of this year’s newly credentialed leaders. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

The theme of leaders raised up and called from within the Conference continued on Saturday during the joint delegate session, when the gathering recognized a number of newly credentialed leaders who were licensed out of Franconia congregations.  “Where do our pastors come from?” asked Steve Kriss, Franconia Conference director of leadership cultivation.  “They come because you invite them.”

This year also saw the credentialing of leaders from other conferences and denominational backgrounds, adding to Franconia’s increasing diversity.  “Diversity is a catalyst for growth,” reflected Jessica Hedrick, Souderton congregation, during table feedback.  Her table encouraged conference delegates to prioritize prayer and, as corporate discernment continued, to recognize “the opportunity to learn from each other instead of necessarily trying to get everyone to agree.”

KrisAnne Swartley praying
KrisAnne Swartley, Doylestown, joins in prayer for the other congregations at her table. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

The theme of listening well and together wove through many of the stories and hopes shared throughout the weekend.  Danilo Sanchez, Whitehall congregation, named three areas that it seemed the majority of delegates were wrestling with: “Listening to the Spirit, how to sit with our differences, and how to love like Christ.”

The Franconia Conference Board asked delegates to consider what kind of conversations needed to be planned leading up to the Mennonite Church USA convention in Kansas City next summer, knowing the likelihood that Convention will include decisions about denominational structure and human sexuality.  Many delegates agreed that the questions of structure and sexuality only skimmed the surface; perhaps there were other questions that should be asked instead.

delegates conferring
Delegates discussed difficult issues around tables with grace and laughter. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

Josh Meyer, Franconia congregation, wondered how the upcoming dialogue could form those participating into the image of Christ.  “How we have this conversation is just as important as any decisions that we make,” he said.  “It doesn’t matter what we decide in Kansas City; if we don’t treat each other as sisters and brothers in Christ, then we’ve missed the point.”

Throughout the weekend, conference leadership encouraged delegates to actively wait on the Spirit, to take time for stillness and listening, and to collaborate in acts of justice and mercy.  “We must not become paralyzed by the issues of the day,” encouraged Eastern District moderator Brenda Oelschlager, “but move forward in love … as God leads us along new paths.”

Several new paths highlighted included a new Lehigh Valley collaboration in hiring Sanchez as youth minister, welcoming two new Philadelphia congregations (Centro de Alabanza and Indonesian Light Church) into an exploration of membership in Franconia Conference, and the move of the Mennonite Conference Center to the campus of Christopher Dock Mennonite High School in Lansdale (Pa.).

Aldo Siahaan introduces new congregations
LEADership Minister Aldo Siahaan introduces two new congregations exploring membership in Franconia Conference: Centro de Alabanza and Indonesian Light Church. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

Although 2014 saw the beginnings of new ministries and the licensing of many new pastors, it also brought the deaths of three influential church leaders: Paul Lederach, John Drescher, and Israel Bolaños.  In reflecting on their legacies, Kriss encouraged delegates to remember them by carrying on their work of teaching, writing, and mission.

“The gospel isn’t good news until someone takes it and goes with it,” Bob Stevenson agreed.  The power which sends the church is not political or force, but “a power that is a ‘preach the gospel to the poor’ power, it’s a ‘healing the broken heart’ power….  What will change this world is us, God’s people.”

Bible makes 50-year, 7000-mile roundtrip

by Mennonite Heritage Center staff

In 1953, at the end of the Korean War, Mennonites opened a vocational school in Kyungsan, South Korea to educate homeless orphaned boys. Mennonites in the United States were asked to “adopt” a boy and provide financial and emotional support for the adoptee.

Willis and Mary Lederach, who attended Salford Mennonite Church (Harleysville, Pa) decided to support Kim Jong Sub, now known as Byung Dong Kim. For more than a decade, Mary faithfully wrote to Kim Jong Sub, and he considered her his American mother.

Dae Wee Kim holds the Greek-English New Testament that returned from South Korea to Harleysville last year.
Dae Wee Kim holds the Greek-English New Testament that returned from South Korea to Harleysville last year.  With him are MHEP’s Joel Alderfer and Mary Lederach’s daughter Mary Jane Hershey.

After Kim Jong Sub graduated from the vocational school, he considered enrolling in a seminary. In 1964, Willis and Mary sent him a Greek New Testament with an English translation. Mary inscribed the first page of the New Testament with their names and the date and added, “With much love to our Jong Sub from your American parents.”

Kim did not become a seminarian, but went on to have a successful career in business.

For Koreans, it’s important to know your familial heritage. During Kim’s young adult life, he attempted to find his birth family, and eventually he changed his name to Byung Dong Kim, believing that name more clearly reflected his authentic self.

Mary Lederach continued to write to Kim after he left the vocational school, but eventually they lost contact. In 1986, during a vacation to the United States, Kim made inquiries about the Lederachs and was put in touch with their oldest son, Paul, who was living in Scottdale, Pennsylvania. It was a great disappointment to Kim and to the Lederachs that Mary and Willis had died prior to his visit.

Since then, Byung Dong Kim and his wife have visited the Lederach family numerous times. Their son, Dae Wee Kim, graduated from Goshen College and then spent two years in Lansdale, Pennsylvania working for accounting firm Baum, Smith & Clemens. Dae Wee received an MBA at Notre Dame University and now lives in Northern New Jersey, where he is a CPA. He is married, and has two children. He and his family are faithful members of a Korean church in their community.

After 50 years, the Greek-English New Testament that Mary and Willis sent Kim Jong Sub came back to Harleysville: In September, Dae Wee brought this precious book to the Mennonite Heritage Center to be added to the Mary Mensch Lederach and Willis Kulp Lederach collection in the MHC archives. An inscription written to Mary and Willis’s daughter, Mary Jane Lederach Hershey, says, “To Sister Jane, I have Dae Wee bring this precious Book to you. Can be part of what you are collecting for Mother Mary Lederach, July 2, 2013, Byung Dong Kim (Kim Jong Sub) Republic of Korea.”

Two countries miles apart, connected by a book whose theme of loving one’s neighbor has forever entwined two extended families in profoundly unspeakable ways: A story of faithfulness, love and grace.

New Anabaptist ministry starts at Penn State

by Lora Steiner, managing editor

As college students head to campus this fall, one congregation, University Mennonite Church in State College, Pennsylvania, is beginning a new initiative: an Anabaptist campus pastor, called by the church to minister to students.

University Mennonite Church is located just a few miles from Penn State University. It began over 50 years ago, when faculty and staff of Penn State began gathering in a classroom on campus.

Until about four years ago, the congregation was involved in an ecumenical effort known as United Campus Ministries. But it dissolved, and the congregation began talking about the need for an Anabaptist presence on campus. For about three years, University Mennonite worked at how to make it happen, clarifying the vision for that ministry, figuring out how to fund it, and also determining how it connected larger denominational needs.

Ben Wideman
Ben Wideman

This year, they hired Ben Wideman as Anabaptist Campus Pastor, and helped to establish an officially-recognized Penn State club known as the 3rd Way Collective.

The goals are varied: To connect with Mennonite students at Penn State who want to stay connected with their faith tradition; to connect with Christian students who may be frustrated and looking for an alternative like Anabaptism; and to connect with those who are interested in peace and justice but don’t necessarily know how faith connects to that.

“There are a lot of groups [at Penn State] talking about faith formation,” says Wideman, “and a number of groups talking about peace and justice issues. But there’s almost no one pulling these two groups together.”

Wideman hopes that the 3rd Way Collective will be a bridge for such groups, and help make something new in the gap.

Wideman will have office space at the church, and is on a waiting list for an office at Penn State’s Pasquerilla Spiritual Center, which offers meeting space to some 65 multi-faith student organizations on campus.

He isn’t worried at this point about having an office to call home: he won’t need a desk to write sermons or respond to emails, and, as he notes with broadly accepted truth, “You can do a lot with coffee.”

He says that the position is so new, and so outside of the traditional box of pastoral ministry in the Mennonite church, that it still isn’t clear exactly what it will look like. One of the biggest challenges is building awareness: There are 46,000 students at Penn State, and no particular way of knowing who the Mennonite students are unless someone lets Wideman know, or shares about the 3rd Way Collective.

Pastor Marv Friesen says that University Mennonite is committed to covering all expenses for the first three years, and is exploring ways to expand that support. They’re also talking about how the initiative might be expanded in the future: owning a community house, or creating a collaborative structure where Mennonite-related university communities could connect to each other.

Wideman is finishing his role as youth pastor at Salford Mennonite Church in Harleysville, Pennsylvania, and will start his new position in State College at the end of September. He says he’s excited to see what the transition brings.

“I’ve been thinking about [campus ministry] for a long time, but never expected it to look this way.”

Conference pastors pursue higher education

by Lora Steiner, managing editor

The Lord works in mysterious ways,  and the Spirit leads in mysterious ways: sometimes to faraway lands, sometimes to stretching local ministries—or sometimes, back to the classroom.

Beth Yoder with her family at her graduation from Drew.
Beth Yoder with her family at her graduation from Drew.

This year, two Franconia Conference pastors finished Doctor of Ministry (D.Min) degrees, while several others are pursuing pastoral studies alongside other fulltime jobs. The advantages to them and their congregations are many: For pastors who’ve been in ministry for many years, it can be a time to refocus and re-tool. For congregations, it’s a chance to develop new practices and to see the Gospel in fresh ways, and a gentle nudge to those in maintenance mode.

Throughout Beth Yoder’s congregational ministry, she has interspersed her work with study: a year at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, coursework at Biblical Theological Seminary in Hatfield and Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey, and classes at Eastern Mennonite Seminary as well. It was at EMS that Beth re-embraced her passion for worship and preaching—and also at EMS where she remembered her interest in doing a Doctor of Ministry (D.Min) degree at Drew University,  a program that would allow her to focus heavily on those areas.

Yoder, associate pastor of Salford congregation, says her studies were invigorating, and brought a sort of freshness for her and her congregation. D.Min. programs are structured around a project that the student commits to doing in her worship setting; Yoder’s focused on embodied worship—using principles of theater and movement to enrich worship. Many—not all—she reports, were appreciated, but it let her examine a hunch about the significance of embodied worship on spiritual formation. A lot of it, she says, wasn’t brand new—but her studies and assignments carved out that space to try something different.

Mike Derstine, pastor of Plains congregation, recently finished a D.Min. at Palmer Theological Seminary in King of Prussia, Pa. He’d always thought about pursuing the degree but with commitments to family and church, the timing never seemed right. When his congregation gave him a three-month sabbatical, it was the encouragement he needed to enter the program.

Mike Derstine with his family at graduation from Palmer.
Mike Derstine with his family at graduation from Palmer.

Palmer’s program focuses on transformational leadership, the missional church, and congregational renewal. Derstine says it’s just what he was looking for, a “key area for congregational pastors who need to think about what the changing context means for ministry.”

Derstine says he’d become so preoccupied with the needs and demands of the day-to-day life of a congregation that he found he wasn’t taking enough time for personal or professional renewal. Programs like this, he says, allow pastors  space to cultivate a “deeper spirituality, as well as more disciplined  and intentional approach to what we do.”

Beny Krisbianto, pastor of Nations Worship Center in south Philadelphia, is finishing a degree at the Eastern Mennonite Seminary campus in Lancaster. Like many other pastors in Franconia Conference, he takes one or two courses a semester—that’s all he has time for—and appreciates how he is able to daily use what he is studying: “I can balance between learning the principles and theology and applying it to my context.”

Krisbianto says one thing he learned from seminary is how to care for himself.

“Before I went to seminary I didn’t know about teaching and discipline. After beginning seminary, I grew a lot,” he says. “I know my strength, I know my weakness, I know when to say no, I know when to say stop.”

Krisbianto has two classes left and will graduate in 2015. This week also saw the graduations of Tami Good, Souderton congregation, and Kris Wint, Finland congregation, with M.Divs. from Biblical Seminary in Hatfield, Pa.

Although it may seem impossible while in the midst of classroom demands, life continues after graduation: Derstine took time after he finished his studies to replace the mufflers and exhaust system on his old car, and started seeds for his garden, continuing the balance of daily life and renewal. Both Derstine and Yoder continue in their same congregations.

“I think both formal and informal pastor education are important for pastors and congregational leaders,” says Yoder, “because it gives people an opportunity to engage new material, to learn with new people, and also gives leaders a space to say ‘I don’t have all of the answers,’ when sometimes leadership roles can get us into the practice of feeling like we have to have all the answers.”

“Going back into the classroom invites you to become a learner, to engage humbly, to rethink your own leadership from a different perspective.”

Salford’s Peace Camp joins Tom Chapin on Souderton stage

Salford's Peace Camp joins Tom Chapin on the stage during one of Souderton's Sundae  Concerts in the park.
Salford’s Peace Camp joins Tom Chapin on the stage during one of Souderton’s Sundae Concerts in the park. Photo courtesy of Sundae Concerts.

by Bob Keeler, Montgomery News (reposted by permission)

When Tom Chapin took to the stage for his June 29 Concert Sundaes performance in Souderton (Pa.) Community Park, it was expected he’d have some friends along, so it was no surprise that fellow musicians Jon Cobert and Michael Mark were there.

They weren’t the only ones there to accompany the three-time Grammy winner, though.

Members of the Salford Mennonite Church Peace Camp also got to sing from the Maurice W. Foulke Bandshell.

This was the ninth year for the Peace Camp, which ran June 23 through 27, according to Meredith Ehst, who with Ashley Miller and Carissa Gredler are interim directors of children’s ministries at the church on Groff’s Mill Road in Harleysville.

The Peace Camp used a grant from the Salford Mennonite Foundation Fund to partner with Concert Sundaes to sponsor Chapin’s appearance, Ehst said.

“It was great to partner with them and the community to bring him to the area and have such a great community event,” Ehst said.

“It really was a great night for the kids and they’ll really remember peace camp,” she said. “Tom and the band were really great to work with and it worked out really well.”

Chapin was chosen because some of his songs are part of the music at the camp, she said.

“The three songs the kids sang [with Chapin], we use each year and have incorporated into the program,” Ehst said.

The children, who met Chapin the night of the concert, rehearsed with his CDs, she said.

The children also performed sign language to the songs.

They performed with Chapin just before intermission.

After-intermission songs performed by Chapin, Cobert and Mark included the Steve Goodman-written “City of New Orleans,” recorded by Arlo Guthrie and Willie Nelson, Harry Chapin’s “Mail Order Annie” and “Cat’s in the Cradle,” and the Chapin family anthem “Circle” with a verse tailored specifically to Concert Sundaes. Tom Chapin is the brother of Harry Chapin, who was killed in a traffic accident in 1981. In addition to his songwriting and performing, Harry Chapin was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for his humanitarian efforts to end hunger.

“It was a wonderful concert. I think everybody had a great time,” Sam Martin, Concert Sundaes Committee chairwoman, said.

The church contacted Concert Sundaes to see if it would be possible to work together to schedule and sponsor the Chapin concert, she said.

Although there have been other types of support for Concert Sundaes, this was the first partnership of this kind that she remembers, Martin said.

“We don’t really have a policy because it doesn’t happen all that often, but we’re always open to any ideas,” she said. “Each thing, we take to the committee. It’s a committee decision.”

Peace Camp, for children who have completed kindergarten through fifth grade, included a meal for the children in its 5 to 8 p.m. sessions each night, Ehst said.

It is somewhat similar to Vacation Bible School, but Salford has created its own curriculum, she said.

The youngest children learn about “Peace and Me,” the oldest learn “Peaceful Conflict Resolution” and the middle classes are taught “Peace with the Earth,” she said.

Many of those who attend are from the community and are not members of the church, she said.

Salford member Mary Jane Hershey, who got the idea for it from Quaker programs at Gwynedd Friends Meeting, introduced the idea for the peace camp to Salford, Ehst said.

“It really just goes along with our core values as Mennonites,” Ehst said.

Concert Sundaes are held 7 p.m. Sundays in the park at Reliance Road and Wile Avenue. The fifth show of the 10-concert season, Chapin’s appearance marked the halfway point. In contrast to some other years, none of the five had to be moved inside because of rain.

“We hate to go inside and this weather has just been a gift to us,” Martin said.

Attendees at the concerts are invited to take photos and submit those pictures to be posted on Concert Sundaes Facebook page.

“Luke Bennett, a member of our committee, has kind of amped up the Facebook page,” Martin said. “I think the photos entice people to come to the park, too.”

Conference leaders gather for conversation about EMU listening process

Loren Swartzendruberby Emily Ralph, associate director of communication

Credentialed leaders from Franconia and Eastern District Conferences gathered on May 5, 2014 at Towamencin Mennonite Church (Kulpsville, Pa.) to dialogue with Loren Swartzendruber, president of Eastern Mennonite University (EMU).   The evening conversation focused on the University’s recent six-month listening process regarding employment policies for persons in same-sex relationships.

Swartzendruber began the meeting by sharing about experiences throughout his career that challenged him to offer pastoral care for persons struggling with questions of sexual identity. As a recent seminary graduate beginning his first pastoral assignment at Salford congregation (Harleysville, Pa.) in 1978, Swartzendruber felt ill-prepared; he doesn’t remember learning about same-sex relationships in seminary.  “I had no idea how to respond,” he recalled.  These questions continued to follow him throughout his career in Mennonite education and as president of both Hesston College and Eastern Mennonite University.

These experiences led Swartzendruber to root the University’s consideration of employment policy changes in contexts of real people and real situations.  “Your feedback is more valuable to me if I know you’ve really walked through the pain with families and individuals,” he reflected.

Swartzendruber explained that questions and perspectives from students have driven him to lead the listening process and consider change.  “For me, it’s all about the young people… I really care about the next generation,” he shared.  He is becoming increasingly aware that students’ response to the conversation is as much about the process as the result.   “I met with the pastoral staff [at EMU] and they told me, ‘The students on campus are watching how we do this … and they’re trying to decide, do I want to be a part of the church?’”

Swartzendruber explained the realities on campus that led to the listening process:

  • Currently, students and employees are asked to sign a behavioral covenant in which they commit to “refrain from sexual relationships outside of marriage.”  Swarzendruber acknowledged the difficulty of enforcing this commitment and the challenge of understanding it in the context of changing definitions of legal marriage.
  • EMU has asked new hires to express their agreement with the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective for many years, but “we’ve allowed variants from the Confession of Faith at EMU for a long time,” he said.  Some of these variants have included beliefs about divorce and remarriage, infant baptism, and the traditional Mennonite peace position.  Employees have been asked to respect official Mennonite perspectives even where variation exists.
  • Eastern Mennonite University has a number of gay and lesbian students on campus.  “They want to be a part of the church,” Swartzendruber said.  “By definition most of them wouldn’t come to EMU if they didn’t want to be part of the church.  They are your children,” he said, “sometimes literally your children, but children of your congregations.”

Swartzendruber then answered questions from conference pastors about the listening process, the relationship of the university to the denomination, and steps moving forward.  The president’s cabinet led the listening process by facilitating about 20 listening circles, with up to 20 students or faculty and staff per session, he explained.  They then brought what they heard back to the rest of the cabinet and will consider those responses, along with what they heard in a survey and other communication from alumni and church leaders. They have begun processing that feedback and will write a recommendation to send to the EMU executive board and then the board of trustees in June.  The University’s board will make the decision to accept, reject, amend, or table the proposal.

Lorie Hershey, pastor of West Philadelphia congregation, was impressed by the thoroughness and intentionality expressed in the process.  “I think we need these listening circle places,” she told Swartzendruber.  “That’s where the Spirit can move, in relationships—not changing people’s minds, but relationships…. That’s transformative.”  Her hope was that the broader church could find more places for similar conversations, she said, conversations that “give one another space to respect each other, to not pull each other into camps.”

Loren SwartzendruberSwartzendruber acknowledged that these kinds of conversations surface anxieties in the church.  “Practicing non-anxious presence doesn’t mean you don’t have anxiety,” he said, “it means you don’t lead out of that anxiety.”  Learning to manage and respond to fear in healthy ways is a missional impulse, he said. “Who wants to join people who are afraid all the time? … What kind of evangelistic strategy is that?”

As the meeting ended, the pastors gathered around Swartzendruber and other EMU staff to pray for the continued process, acknowledging the ongoing struggle and pain all church leaders face during this difficult time.

After the meeting, “I heard and saw many persons engaged in some deeper discussions and I think that leads to better understanding of one another,” observed Mike Clemmer, pastor of Towamencin congregation. “I continue to be hopeful as we struggle together…. Overall, I was reminded that we need to keep praying for one another – no matter what!”

Learn more about EMU’s listening process on their website.

Town hall meetings offer clarification and questions

Stutzman town hallby Stephen Kriss, director of communication

Earlier this month, nearly 250 persons from Franconia and Eastern District conference congregations came to ask questions and to listen to Dr. Ervin Stutzman, executive director of Mennonite Church USA.  Franconia Conference leadership invited Stutzman to two town hall meetings held at Swamp Mennonite Church (Quakertown, Pa.) on April 10 and Salford Mennonite Church (Harleysville, Pa.) on April 11.   With dozens of questions submitted beforehand to conference staff, Stutzman took time to explain the current landscape of Mennonite Church USA, addressing the consistent themes of those questions but also taking questions from those gathered.

The majority of questions related to the recent turmoil and controversy following the licensing of Theda Good, a woman in a committed same sex relationship, for ministry at First Mennonite Church of Denver by Mountain States Mennonite Conference and Eastern Mennonite University’s listening process to review policies for employment of persons in same sex relationships.

According to Franconia Conference executive minister Ertell Whigham, the meetings provided a unique opportunity for persons from “the pew to the pulpit” to engage the MC USA executive.   Stutzman calmly and transparently responded to an array of questions and explained the current circumstances in detail to offer a glimpse of history, complexity, theology, and possibility.

At the Salford meeting, Stutzman noted the tensions in the church but promised, “I don’t think there’s a single question that you can ask that I will try to avoid.”  He observed that this time of turmoil in the church has resulted in an amazing outpouring of communication, concern, and prayer.  “Our church cares deeply about this,” Stutzman reflected at the Swamp town hall.  “God has our attention in a new way.  We stand at the door of opportunities to be faithful.”

Franco Salvatori, pastor of Rocky Ridge congregation, particularly appreciated that Stutzman clearly explained the executive board’s process in response to Mountain States Conference.  “I desired to attend the town hall meetings because I believe that the issue of same sex relationships is critical for the church in our time,” Salvatori said.  “Unlike any other issue I have seen in recent history, this one seems to have the most potential for division, which always obscures the gospel.”

Stutzman articulated his own commitments to the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspectivebut admitted that the challenge from Mountain States Conference on the denomination’s membership guidelines will not likely result in that conference’s expulsion from Mennonite Church USA, a response which would require a 2/3 vote at the Kansas City 2015 convention.   He also highlighted the work of a task force designated by the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board to chart a way forward.  The task force’s recommendations will be discussed at the October meeting of the Constituency Leaders Council, a twice a year gathering with representatives of all Mennonite Church USA conferences and constituent groups intended to provide counsel to the denomination’s executive board and leadership.

Alice Eldredge of Ambler congregation appreciated the respectful way town hall participants interacted with Stutzman and one another.  “Even though it was evident persons felt deeply, they asked questions mostly in a respectful tone and with care,” she said. “I felt hope in the abilities of the leadership of Mennonite Church USA, with Ervin as a representative. My hope is that grace may abound among us and love and respect for one another may prevail in the midst of disagreement.”

Listen to the podcasts:

Thursday, April 10, 7pm at Swamp Mennonite Church (Quakertown, Pa.)


Download the podcast

Friday, April 11, 9:30am at Salford Mennonite Church (Harleysville, Pa.)


Download the podcast

Ministerial Update (April 2014)

Hadi Sunarto
Hadi Sunarto was licensed as a deacon at Philadelphia Praise Center in March.

Steve Kriss, Director of Leadership Cultivation, provided this update from the March & April meetings of the Credentials and Ministerial Committees:

Hadi Sunarto (East Rutherford, NJ) was approved for a license for specific the ministry of deacon at Philadelphia Praise Center.

Krista Showalter Ehst (Bally, PA) was approved with a license toward ordination to serve as pastor at Alpha (NJ) Mennonite Church.

Bill Martin was approved with a license toward ordination and to serve as associate pastor at Towamencin Mennonite Church.

Danilo Sanchez (Whitehall congregation) was approved to serve as Allentown area youth minister with a license toward ordination.

Donna Merow was approved for ordination and continues to serve as pastor at Ambler (Pa) Mennonite Church.

Several new members have been added to the Ministerial and Credentials committees.

Mike Clemmer (Towamencin) and Marlene Frankenfield (Salford) have been named to the Ministerial Committee.   Heidi Hochstetler (Bally) resigned her position from the committee earlier this year.   Continuing Ministerial Committtee members include:  Verle Brubaker (Swamp), Ken Burkholder (Deep Run East), Carolyn Egli (Whitehall), Janet Panning (Plains), Mary Nitzsche (Blooming Glen), Jim Williams (Nueva Vida Norristown New Life).

Aldo Siahaan (Philadelphia Praise) and Marta Castillo (Nueva Vida Norristown New Life) have been named to three year terms on the credentials committee.    Continuing committee members include:  Rose Bender (Whitehall), Verle Brubaker (Swamp) and Mike Clemmer (Towamencin).

Steve Kriss began serving as Conference staff liaison for both committees since the retirement of Noah Kolb late in 2013.