Tag Archives: Sharon Williams

Norristown Congregation to Receive Sacred Places Grant

by Sharon Williams, Nueva Vida Norristown New Life, with Carrie Hagen

One hundred years ago, the Franconia Mennonite Conference planted its first mission in Norristown, Pennsylvania. The Norristown Mission began with an awareness that the gospel of Jesus Christ is for all people. Today, Nueva Vida Norristown New Life Mennonite Church draws from twelve different countries. Earlier this fall, Norristown New Life was honored as the first Mennonite congregation accepted into The National Fund for Sacred Places, a national historic preservation grant-making program launched by the Lilly Endowment.  Norristown New Life was one of 13 congregations selected from a field of 178 for the 2018–19 cohort.

Norristown New Life’s capital campaign, “Enlarging Our Place in God’s World,” includes the restoration of its 1907 Gothic Revival building, located in Norristown’s historic district, one block from the county courthouse. Built from Valley Forge marble, the sanctuary features two large stained glass windows and seventeen smaller ones. In addition to restoring the windows, the building needs stone pointing, new flooring, a new roof, interior and exterior painting, and HVAC work. Norristown New Life also seeks to make the meetinghouse more accessible to those with physical disabilities by installing new restrooms and an elevator.

The congregation purchased the historic Bethany United Methodist Church building for its meetinghouse in 1990, when three independent Mennonite congregations—First Mennonite, Bethel Mennonite, and Fuente de Salvación—came together to form Nueva Vida Norristown New Life Mennonite Church.

Since 1990, three associate pastors representing the three major ethnic groups represented in the church body—Hispanic, African American, and Caucasian— share all pastoral duties.  This leadership system of power-sharing is Anabaptist, a key commitment for the congregation’s leadership model. Bilingual worship services are shared in English and in Spanish.

The National Fund for Sacred Places team, says Director Chad Martin, was struck not only by the congregation’s history of interracial and intercultural membership and leadership but also by its community ministries.

Norristown New Life has developed partnerships with Precious Life Childcare Center, the Montgomery County Association for the Blind, Narcotics Anonymous, and the county’s addiction counseling services. It operates a discipleship housing ministry for single women and trains adults and youth in restorative justice practices utilized by the school district.  At the photo ID clinic held in the congregation’s youth center, trained volunteers assist people with the paperwork and money orders they need to acquire state-issued IDs, birth certificates, and Social Security cards in order to obtain jobs, medical services, bank accounts, and apartment rentals.

Prior to its admittance into the National Fund, the congregation had raised over $500,000 of their capital campaign’s $2 million target. Its goal now is to leverage the highest matching grant offered by The National Fund—$250,000—as part of the effort to raise the remaining $1.5 million. The grant requires 2:1 matching funds of $500,000.

Acceptance in the National Fund program, says Pastor Ertell Whigham, is a gift for Norristown New Life’s mission to serve its community.

“As ambassadors of reconciliation, the gift of this grant enables our congregation to offer our place of worship as a continued presence for community partnerships, service, commitment, and hope.”

To learn more about Enlarging Our Place in God’s World or contribute to Norristown New Life’s capital campaign, CLICK HERE.  


Nations Worship Center Celebrates Mission: I’m Possible

By Sharon Williams

nations-1Joyful, heartfelt praise to God filled the new home for Nations Worship Center (NWC) on Sunday afternoon, November 20. The house was packed as the congregation gathered with sister congregations and friends to dedicate their newly renovated building at 1506 Ritner Street in south Philadelphia. Pastor Beny Krisbianto and the NWC worship team led a full house of worshipers in songs and prayers.

The congregation has faced many challenges in establishing a home base for worship, discipleship, and mission in their south Philly neighborhood. In August 2012, they purchased Paradise Gardens, a catering hall with offices and an apartment on the 2nd and 3rd floors. The building had been abandoned and empty for 12 years. With much prayer and faith, NWC faced strong opposition from the local community, red tape from city government, contractor woes, and financial challenges. Each step was embraced with grace and dignity, trusting that God would accomplish the impossible mission.

nations-2Steve Kriss, Franconia Conference Director of Leadership Cultivation and Congregational Resourcing, offered a greeting from the conference. He connected the congregation’s testimony to that of the first immigrant Mennonites in Philadelphia who embraced an ethic of “work and hope” as part of their witness. In a recent meeting with community residents, someone inquired about the use of government funds for the building’s transformation. “Oh no,” Kriss replied, “this is a result of the congregation’s hard work, prayers, and partnerships — all made possible by God’s grace.”

nations-3Pastor Timotius Hardono, Beny’s pastor from Indonesia, shared a message about God’s impossible missions made possible through immigrants such as Moses and Daniel, and Mary, the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:26-38). NWC will continue to fulfill Jesus’ Great Commission, making disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20). Many worshipers rededicated themselves to being used for God’s mission: I’m possible!

Sharon K. Williams is a musician, editor and congregational/non-profit consultant. She serves the Lord with the Nueva Vida Norristown New Life congregation as minister of worship.

Pray, Fast, Lament, and Bear Witness: Nigerian Brethren Give Testimony

Mark Baliles, pastor, Indian Creek Church of the Brethren
Sharon K. Williams

In April 2014, the world was stunned by the abduction of more than 200 school girls in Chibok, Nigeria.  Most of the girls are still in captivity, sold as brides in other countries, or dead. The violence perpetrated against Christians and Muslims by the Boko Haram before that incident has continued and escalated over these past eight months: murders, kidnappings, rapes, and the destruction of homes, businesses, and church properties.

a-displaced-family-in-nigeriaThe Church of the Brethren has a close connection with the persecution and suffering in Nigeria.  Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria) is one of the major Anabaptist denominations in that country. The majority of the schoolgirls are members of EYN congregations. Over 170,000 church members and 2,094 pastors and evangelists are known to be displaced, 8,083 members killed, and 1,390 (of 2,280) local churches destroyed. Many other persons are feared to be dead.[1]

Indian Creek Church of the Brethren, Harleysville, is hosting Nigerian church leader Rev. Dr. Musa Mambula and his wife, Sarah, for a first-hand information session on Sunday, January 11, 5-6 pm. An author, speaker, and the Spiritual Director of the EYN, Reverend Mambula will share about the suffering of the Nigerian churches, and how they have sought to survive and to live with love and compassion in the midst of such violence.

EYN has issued a fervent call for all Christians to join them in prayer, fasting, lament, and bearing witness to the power of Jesus Christ in addressing this crisis. Mennonite World Conference has called “for its churches to offer a shower of prayer, blessing, solidarity, and financial support for the suffering church in Nigeria.”[2]

children-rejoice-over-bowlsThe Church of the Brethren in the U.S., under the guidance of EYN leaders, is assisting with resources for the distribution of food and supplies, temporary housing, relocation of Kulp Bible College and EYN headquarters, establishment of Care Centers, and trauma healing ministries. Few international relief organizations are working in Nigeria. A week of prayer and fasting was observed by the denomination in August. This practice continues in many congregations.

Rev. Mambula will also share with the Christopher Dock Mennonite High School community in the chapel service on Monday, January 12. An online interview with Musa and Sarah Mumbula is also available (start at 29 minutes).

The Indian Creek Church of the Brethren is located on Route 63, one mile west of Route 113.

[1] Roy Winter, “Brethren Disaster Ministries Leader Returns from Trip to Nigeria,” December 22, 2014.

[2]MWC Issues Urgent Appeal for Prayer for the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria,” December 2, 2014.


Dignity & Hope: Moving Toward Equal Access in Norristown

NVNNL Voter ID clinics
Sharon Williams and Donna Windle train volunteers from Montgomery County to run a voter/photo ID clinic. Pictured, counter-clockwise from the left, Williams, Windle, Rita Heinegg, Carol Newman, G. Hulings Darby, and Dot Martin. Photo by Ertell Whigham.

by Samantha Lioi, Minister of Peace and Justice

It started with a simple Facebook exchange. Donna Windle of Nueva Vida Norristown (Pa.) New Life noticed a friend’s comment reacting to controversy over recent  laws requiring the presentation of a government-issued  ID to vote.

Her friend said she would get IDs for people quickly, to show how easy it was.  Windle—a social worker serving as Assistant Director at Coordinated Homeless Outreach Center of Montgomery County—knew from wading through hours and days of red tape that it was much more involved than her friend might think.

At that moment, she remembers, “I hit send and heard God’s voice say, You have the skills…why don’t you do something about it?”

Windle approached a Bible study group in her congregation that shares her concern for justice. She and Sharon Williams decided they would run a clinic on the second Saturday of each month for people in Norristown who needed assistance in applying for a government-issued ID.  Many people who’ve come are working two or three jobs, don’t have a case worker, and don’t have the time to spend navigating the system and learning the changing requirements for IDs.  They also might not have the money to pay for out-of-state birth certificates or replacement/renewal ID cards.

Transportation to ID-issuing centers is a challenge for many eligible voters because of low income, lack of access to a vehicle, and in rural areas, few options for public transportation.  Many ID-issuing offices are open infrequently, or only during working hours, so that those in poverty who are working would have to take time off to apply for an ID.  According to Keesha Gaskins and Sundeep Lyer of the Brennan Center at NYU’s law school, “1.2 million eligible black voters and 500,000 eligible Hispanic voters live more than 10 miles from their nearest ID-issuing office open more than two days a week. People of color are more likely to be disenfranchised by these laws since they are less likely to have a photo ID than the general population.”

Not only that, but not all IDs are free. The free “voter only” IDs are not useful for other things and, depending on the documentation needed to get a photo ID – such as an out-of-state birth certificate – the cost of obtaining the ID can be prohibitive for low-income people.  Birth certificates alone range from $8-50.

Knowing the political landscape, before beginning their clinics the two women contacted the offices of both the Republican and Democratic parties to let them know their plans and to be clear that they were non-partisan.  In fact, Windle says, while helping people get an ID for voting is important, it is not her only or even her primary concern.

“Voter ID is important, but in general, people need an ID.  You can’t get a job, housing, or travel if you don’t have it,” she said.  Many of those who come to the clinics fall within the Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) definition of people who are precariously housed—“like Jesus,” says Windle, they piece together their housing needs by sleeping on friends’ couches or renting a room until their money runs out.

Likewise, some who come to the Norristown clinic don’t care about being registered to vote; they just want to get their ID and get going.  Windle remembers a volunteer saying, “’But she’s not going to vote.’ I said that’s fine; I didn’t ask her to vote. . . . It’s about building relationships, taking care of getting what she needs.  Her main concerns are where is she going to eat, where will she find a bathroom, and where is she going to safely sleep.  Voting is too high a [goal] at this point.”

As word got around about the clinics, volunteers came from Pottstown, Philadelphia, Harrisburg and even Boston. Since the clinics began in May, Windle and Williams have trained over 70 people to operate clinics in their home communities.  Working alongside the volunteers has also been an unexpected opportunity to educate about issues of poverty and racism, and to share Nueva Vida’s testimony.

The church has received donations to support the clinics. Grants from Franconia Conference and a black fraternity, designated for work on justice issues, covered supplies and money orders for photo ID renewal/replacement cards. To avoid abuse of their small system, the money orders are made out to PENNDOT.  Donors have also provided snacks, pizza gift cards for volunteers’ lunches, and stamps.

Realizing that the need goes much deeper than the desire to exercise the right to vote, they plan to continue to offer clinics once per quarter after the election.  Windle continues to hold both values as she works.

“More will be coming; am I going to get them all registered to vote? No,” she said. “But they will get their ID’s and the things they need… I don’t want them to be denied the right to choose who is representing them because they can’t afford an ID.”

Although Windle wants every eligible voter to have the chance to vote, she is concerned for the bigger picture of their quality of life and their struggle to provide for themselves.  This long view, valuing people’s dignity and holding hope for the livelihood of other Norristown citizens, enlivens Nueva Vida’s ongoing work, partnering with a God who became “precariously housed” to bring the kingdom of love and justice near.

An invitation to transformation on the Damascus Road

Sharon Williams, Nueva Vida Norristown New Life

No matter what you think of the Beatles, drummer Ringo Starr had it right when he sang that peace, trust, and love—“you know, it don’t come easy.” The same thing goes for change.

For several years, Franconia Conference has been on the forefront of change. It’s been a “love-hate” relationship, to say the least. At Fall Assembly we sang, “People from every nation and tongue, from generation to generation” (Israel Houghton, You are good, 2001). People from different cultural backgrounds and generations continue to embrace Jesus, the church, and the Anabaptist vision in both Franconia Conference and Eastern District Conference. God’s Dream is alive among us. So is change.

Since 1997, Franconia Conference has taken some steps toward becoming a multicultural conference. But the root of white Mennonite identity runs deep, and the work of dismantling racism in our conference “system” signaled that necessary change was coming. Predictable resistance and conflict ensued revealing that we have a long way to go.

The Spirit invites us to a new identity that encompasses all our people and congregations. We need to redefine how we engage in mission. We need a different way of dealing with power and leadership issues—a different way of being the people of God together.

I believe that God’s transformation is available for us. The Damascus Road Anti-racism analysis training offers an in-depth analysis of how power and identity shape us as a people and as a church. It opens a whole new way of understanding the God’s reign in the Anabaptist perspective.

Transformation is hard and change can be scary. However, change that honors God and moves the church closer to God’s Kingdom is the most exciting, fulfilling, life-giving transformation we can ever experience. Can we trust God in this process of new learnings, new understandings, new ways of being the Church? For such a time as this?

The 11th annual Damascus Road Anti-racism Analysis Training is Friday–Sunday, February 25-27, at Philadelphia Mennonite High School. Will you come, with leaders of your congregation and our conference, to lay a new foundation and understanding for the transformation that God has for us?

Training details and registration are available here.