Tag Archives: Sheldon C. Good

Three congregations credential new leaders on Pentecost

by Sheldon C. Good

Many Christian congregations commemorate the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday, and three Franconia Conference congregations in particular acknowledged the Spirit’s movement through the credentialing of leaders for ministry.

On June 8, all occurring in southeastern Pennsylvania, Donna Merow was ordained and Danilo Sanchez and Phil Bergey were licensed for ministry. Their credentialing brings the number of credentialed leaders in the conference to approximately 160 men and women serving in at least seven states and four countries.

Merow was ordained for pastoral ministry at the Ambler congregation, where she has pastored for more than four years. LEAD minister Jenifer Eriksen Morales led Merow’s credentialing. Merow chose to be ordained on Pentecost Sunday after discovering she was confirmed in the United Methodist church on Pentecost 40 years prior.

Donna Merow's ordination
LEADership Minister Jenifer Eriksen Morales and members of the congregation pray at the ordination of Donna Merow (seated center), pastor of Ambler Mennonite Church. Photo by Andrew Huth.

“The 40-year journey from one public confession of faith to another,” Merow said, “has been a significant one for me — including marriage and becoming a mother and grandmother, completing college and graduate work, worshipping in multiple traditions other than the one in which I grew up, and facing the challenges of breast cancer and kidney disease.”

Merow was only 12 when the possibility of religious vocation was first suggested to her. Between now and then, she “worked at a church camp, dropped out of college, cared for blind students, got married, and raised two daughters.” She has also been an active participant in churches from several denominations: Methodist, Baptist, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, and Mennonite.

She described her credentialing ceremony as “an outward acknowledgement of an inward change in identity as I became a pastor in the process of practicing pastoral care.”

Sanchez was licensed for youth ministry among multiple Anabaptist congregations in and around Allentown. LEAD minister Steve Kriss led the credentialing. Sanchez is primarily working with Whitehall and Ripple, both Franconia congregations, by leading music or teaching children, but is also working alongside Karen Fellowship (independent), Iglesia Menonita Evangelica Restoracion (Lancaster Conference), Christ Fellowship (Eastern District Conference), and Vietnamese Gospel (Franconia Conference).

Sanchez said his licensing felt like an important personal and professional step because many people and institutions, including Franconia Conference and Whitehall, “are recognizing my gifts and willing to walk alongside me as a pastor.” Sanchez, grew up in the Boyertown congregation and has interned with both Souderton congregation and Philadelphia Praise Center while a student at Eastern University. He graduated from Eastern Mennonite Seminary last year with a Master of Divinity degree.

Members of Whitehall Mennonite Church pray over Danilo Sanchez
Members of Whitehall Mennonite Church pray over Danilo Sanchez. Photo by Patti Connolly.

“I finally feel like a pastor,” he said. “I am so honored that God has called me to be a leader. I’m thankful for the ways that Whitehall and Ripple will shape me into the leader God has called me to be.”

Bergey was licensed as interim lead pastor of the Blooming Glen congregation, where he has been a member for about 20 years. Ertell Whigham, executive minister of Franconia Conference, led the credentialing. Bergey is former conference executive of Franconia Mennonite Conference.

In the wake of Firman Gingerich’s resignation as Blooming Glen’s lead pastor, the congregation’s board invited Bergey to assume a part-time interim lead pastorate. The congregation is searching for a long-term pastor.

Phil Bergey
Phil Bergey, interim lead pastor of Blooming Glen.

Bergey preached the morning of his licensing, focusing on the story of Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 12. He framed the commencement of his pastoral leadership and the pastoral search processes not as the beginning of a journey but the continuation of a journey. That journey, he said, includes the history of the Blooming Glen congregation, the Anabaptist tradition, and the Christian church, going all the way back to Abraham and Sarah.

Bergey said: “Blooming Glen, like other congregations, has been through pastoral transitions before; it is simply part of a congregation’s life together. And pastoral transitions are especially true for a congregation that is approaching 300 years of age.”

Lehigh Valley congregations partner to support youth minister

Danilo Sanchez at Lock-in
Danilo Sanchez accompanies Lehigh Valley junior youth to the lock-in this spring.

by Sheldon C. Good

HARLEYSVILLE, Pa. – Some of the most diverse growth in Anabaptism along the East Coast is occurring in Allentown, Pennsylvania’s fastest growing city and now a city that is majority Hispanic. Even so, none of the city’s broad range of Anabaptist congregations has enough resources or even youth to maintain a youth pastor. That’s why Franconia Conference, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) East Coast, and six Lehigh Valley congregations have come together to hire a half-time youth worker, Danilo Sanchez, to minister across the various Anabaptist communities.

Through this role, Sanchez, who graduated this spring from Eastern Mennonite Seminary in Harrisonburg, Va., is involved regularly with a diverse combination of congregations unlike those served by just about any other Anabaptist minister in the U.S.: Karen Fellowship, Iglesia Menonita Evangelica Restoracion, Christ Fellowship, Vietnamese Gospel Mennonite Church, Whitehall Mennonite Church, and Ripple. Franconia Conference, MCC East Coast, Whitehall, and Ripple share financial support of the position.

Sanchez is primarily responsible for organizing gatherings for Lehigh Valley youth, leading worship at the Whitehall and Ripple congregations, organizing after-school youth activities, and engaging the myriad Lehigh Valley Anabaptist congregations.

“I’m excited to join the vision of creating a context where next-generation intercultural Anabaptist leadership can flourish and strengthening relationships across Anabaptist communities in the Allentown area,” Sanchez said. “While I have experience working with youth in many types of Mennonite churches, this will be a new challenge. I never expected myself to be in urban ministry, but that seems to be where God is calling me, and I’m willing to follow the Spirit’s call in my life.”

Youth have a reputation for being an especially challenging demographic for people in ministry, and Sanchez’s experience in Allentown will likely be no different. The youth of Whitehall and Ripple, though few, come from challenging, high-need situations, including coming to Allentown as refugees and being born into cycles of poverty, according to Whitehall pastor Rose Bender, who is Sanchez’s supervisor. “As a part-time pastor,” she said, “I am already feeling stretched beyond what I can give. So, the idea of adding a youth worker that would connect with Whitehall as well as some of the other congregations is very exciting.”

The partnership of so many groups and congregations makes sense to Bender. She noted that many people from Whitehall and Ripple in particular are neighbors, and some people worship with both groups. The connection with Franconia Conference and MCC East Coast, she said, is yet another example that people “are looking for ways to connect here and make a difference.” Many congregations already partner with Ripple by cooking meals or sending youth groups to work with children in the city.

Angela Moyer, co-pastor of Ripple, wants all different types of people feel like they are welcomed and wanted in the Ripple community, and she hopes Sanchez’s leadership will help Ripple work toward that.

“Danilo has a deep compassion for youth who typically are on the margins in their schools, families, and communities,” she said. “With Danilo, the teenagers at Ripple hopefully will find a place where they belong, are nurtured, and supported in their specific life stage.”

Thanh Pham, a pastor from Vietnamese Gospel, echoed Moyer’s hope that Sanchez will help youth to flourish. Pham said he prays the youth’s parents will “see our community as a place they can trust to send their children to learn more about God.”

A partnership between MCC and local congregations isn’t commonplace, though it does exist elsewhere. Sanchez’s position is one that “resonates deeply” with ongoing MCC work related to youth, urban ministry, collaboration with churches representing diverse ethnic backgrounds, and leadership development, said Kim Dyer, young adult program coordinator of MCC East Coast. “We are excited to be able to respond to an initiative coming from the church in a local context that connects so deeply to MCC’s areas of focus.”

“This new collaboration is a creative way to build on both strengths and possibilities,” said Steve Kriss, director of leadership cultivation for Franconia Conference.  “Danilo has been shaped through numerous points of engagement within Franconia Conference.  This work provides space for something new to emerge alongside the congregations of the Lehigh Valley.   We’re grateful for the opportunity to work together through MCC’s Community Service Worker initiative.”

Sanchez, who is also working half time at MCC as national director for their Summer Service Worker program, said what makes him most excited and hopeful about the new position is that he can serve alongside the next generation of Anabaptist leaders who God is raising up.

“I don’t know what the church will look like, but I trust that the Spirit is leading and at work in the lives of these young people in Allentown,” he said.

Worship event to foster connection among youth

by Sheldon C. Good

Luke Hartman
Luke Hartman will be the guest speaker at the June 1 youth worship event. Photo by Lindsey Kolb/Eastern Mennonite University.

HARLEYSVILLE, Pa. – Franconia and Eastern District Conferences are hosting junior and senior high youth this June at an event that will feature elements very similar to the biennial Mennonite Church USA youth convention, but with one key difference – it’s outside.

The worship event, cosponsored by the Mennonite Heritage Center, will be held from 12-3pm on June 1 on the lawn of 569 Yoder Road, Harleysville, a campus shared by the Mennonite Heritage Center and the Conference offices.  The rain location is Christopher Dock Mennonite High School’s auditorium (Lansdale, Pa.).

After eating lunch together at noon, potentially hundreds of youth will spread out on the lawn for free time and then worship featuring Luke Hartman, vice president of admissions at Eastern Mennonite University (Harrisonburg, Va.), as the main speaker. Hartman’s message will focus on John 17’s call to unity in the body of Christ. He will collaborate with his good friend Peder Eide, a popular musician and worship leader in the Lutheran Church.

Additional music will be provided by Susquehanna, a band of students from Christopher Dock. Band members are John Bergstresser, Ryan Moyer, Austin Kratz, Brooks Inciardi, Simon Nam, Derek Reeser, and Ethan Neal.

John Stoltzfus, conference youth pastor and one of the event planners, anticipates that the event will invite youth to consider “what God is doing among us and who God is calling us to be together.”

He said there are several goals for the event: to provide opportunity for deepening relationships and fellowship among youth across conference churches; to give space for youth to engage in inspiring worship and experience renewal in their relationships with God and one another; and to offer a witness to the surrounding community of the church’s call to be a united people of God.

Mike Ford, associate pastor of youth at Blooming Glen (Pa.) congregation, has also been integrally involved in the event’s planning. He hopes that “youth leave challenged and encouraged spiritually, and that they also experience a healthy dose of fun and fellowship.”

The gathering is part of an ongoing commitment in Franconia Conference to help individuals and congregations connect, says Ertell Whigham, Franconia’s executive minister.  “While it’s true that it takes little or no effort for us to find opportunities to disagree, it takes a greater commitment to reach out across our diversity and connect in ways that express the kingdom of God,” he reflects.  He encourages congregations to keep this event in prayer, as youth gather to worship, play, grow, and share a meal together in Christ.

“Now that’s a very cool way to connect,” he says.

New LEADership Ministers join Franconia Conference staff

by Sheldon C. Good

Aldo Siahaan
Aldo Siahaan

Experienced Mennonite pastors John Bender and Aldo Siahaan have joined the Franconia Conference team of LEADership Ministers, bringing experience in church planting, intercultural leadership, and congregational pastoral work.   Each will serve alongside several congregations yet to be decided and will work from home bases in southeastern Pennsylvania’s largest cities while continuing pastoral ministry assignments.

Aldo Siahaan, based in Philadelphia, helped start Philadelphia Praise Center in 2005. The congregation joined Franconia Conference in 2006, and Siahaan became credentialed as lead pastor in 2007.

Siahaan’s other ministry experience includes being a board member of Mennonite Central Committee East Coast, teaching a summer cross-cultural course at Messiah College, and being a member of the Indonesian Pastoral Network.

Siahaan hopes that in his role as a LEADership minister he can both “be a blessing” to others and “learn more about leadership in a broader way.”

John Bender
John Bender

John Bender, based in Allentown, Pa., is a graduate of Eastern Mennonite University and Eastern Mennonite Seminary. He and his wife, Marilyn Handrich Bender, started Raleigh (N.C.) Mennonite Church, where they co-pastored for 18 years. For the past nine years, John pastored Pittsburgh Mennonite Church.

In July 2013 the Benders moved to Allentown, Pa., where John is the part-time director of Ripple Community, Inc., a ministry of the RIPPLE congregation. He is also interim associate pastor of the Franconia congregation.

Bender served in a number of leadership capacities with Virginia Mennonite Conference and Allegheny Mennonite Conference and has close to 30 years of pastoral ministry experience.

“I care deeply about pastors and churches and helping them to pursue healthy relationships together, and I hope I can be a resource to pastors and a guide along the way,” Bender said.

Both Bender and Siahaan bring fresh perspectives and proven track records as they join the team of LEADership ministers resourcing congregations in mission and ministry, said Ertell Whigham, Franconia’s executive minister.  “We feel that both John and Aldo bring a variety of gifts and experience that will help us to provide the support congregations need while enabling us to continue the intercultural work that we have stated as one of our conference’s values.”

LEAD is the conference’s platform for oversight, designed to Lead, Equip, And Disciple both lay and credentialed leadership as they guide congregations. A congregation’s LEAD team is comprised of a LEADership minister, the pastor, the chair of the congregation’s governing body (when relevant), and a LEAD advisor from beyond the congregation.  LEADership ministers serve as the primary point of contact between congregations and Franconia Conference.

On ‘Titanic’ centennial, missionary’s life remembered

By Sheldon C. Good, Mennonite World Review

Annie Funk
Funk prepares to ride her bicycle to the girls’ school she started in India in 1908. — Photo provided

HARLEYSVILLE, Pa. — When Annie Clemmer Funk, a Mennonite missionary to India, learned her mother was very ill in Pennsylvania, she quickly packed her bags and caught a train to Bombay. From there she traveled to England, where she learned a coal strike had delayed her ship’s voyage to the U.S.

So she paid a few extra gold pieces for a spot on the Titanic, which set sail two days later.

Funk was one of 1,517 people who died in the “unsinkable” ocean liner’s disaster on April 15, 1912. Just three days earlier she had celebrated her 38th birthday aboard the Titanic.

To mark the centennial of Funk’s death in one of history’s most famous tragedies at sea, filmmaker Jay Ruth is producing a 35-minute video that tells the story of Funk’s faith and witness and describes the nature of Mennonite mission at the time.

A DVD will be available, and two premiere showings are planned. The first will be at 7:30 p.m. April 29 at Zion Mennonite Church in Souderton. The second will be at 7:30 p.m. May 6 at Hereford Mennonite Church in Bally, Funk’s home congregation.

The film, sponsored by Mennonite Historians of Eastern Pennsylvania, is a production of Jay Ruth’s Branch Valley Productions in Lederach.

A native of Butter Valley in southeastern Pennsylvania, Funk was the first Mennonite woman from Pennsylvania to serve as a missionary in India. Fragments of her story have been known for years, but the film is the first larger project of its kind.

“Here’s a young woman who grew up in rural Pennsylvania, and somehow she was drawn from there to the other side of the world, and then her life ended in this worldwide drama,” said historian John L. Ruth, a consultant for the film. “As a memorably dedicated Christian, she has not been forgotten in India and North America as a hero of our faith family.”

Using momentum from the blockbuster 1997 film Titanic, Charlotte Strouse of Zion Mennonite helped Funk’s story became even more widely known. Strouse recalled Funk’s life more than 100 times in a one-person re-enactment.

Before going to India, Funk took a teachers’ course at West Chester State Normal School, which later became West Chester University. She trained for Christian service at D.L. Moody’s Northfield (Mass.) Seminary for Ladies, then served in Chattanooga, Tenn., and with the Young Women’s Christian Association in Paterson, N.J.

After Mennonite missionaries in India put out an urgent call for an unmarried woman, Funk expressed interest, Jay Ruth said.

According to a story in the Dec. 26, 1985, issue of Mennonite Weekly Review, Funk had written: “Several years ago I promised the Lord that if the way would open to go to the foreign field, I would do my duty… . Now the door is open wide enough for me to do my duty to the extent of being willing to go.”

Funk went to Janjgir, India, in 1906, at the age of 32. She served under the General Conference Mennonite Church’s young board of missions.

“At the time, India had famine, leprosy, cholera and extreme heat,” Jay Ruth said. “Annie would not have thought of herself as an important person. She would have thought of herself as being faithful.”

In 1908 Funk started a one-room school for girls, later named Funk Memorial Girls School.

Giving up her seat

Not much is known about Funk’s time on the Titanic. Conflicting stories tell of her experience while the ship was sinking.

According to one account, Funk was already seated in a full lifeboat when she saw a woman and her child (or children) who needed space. So Funk gave up her seat, saying she would probably find a seat in another boat.

Although a newspaper in England was said to have documented Funk’s situation, the story is now mostly oral, Jay Ruth said.

Funk’s friends back home were surprised to see her name listed in newspapers along with the other casualties. They were sure the Annie Funk they knew was to come on the SS Haverford. A letter Funk sent back to India as the Titanic left England explained what she had done.

After her death, several memorial services were held in Pennsylvania and India. Her mother’s health had improved, and she was able to attend one of the services. A plaque was later installed in the chapel of the Northfield school, where she had trained.

In 1913 a monument was dedicated at the Hereford Mennonite Church cemetery. The monument, erected by Eastern District Conference, says: “Her life was one of service in the spirit of the master — ‘not to be ministered unto but to minister.’ ”

Reprinted by permission from Mennonite World Review.

Haitian pastor, family attacked

By Sheldon C. Good, Mennonite World Review

Pastor Lesly and Bernadette Bertrand
Pastor Lesly and Bernadette Bertrand in the “mother church” of Grace Assembly Network in 2004.

A group of robbers attacked an orphanage in Haiti early on March 19, killing one person and raping another. They injured at least three others, including Mennonite Pastor Lesly Ber­trand.

At about 1 a.m., the robbers jumped over the wall surrounding Grace Children Home located in Croix-des-Bouquets, Haiti, eight miles northeast of Port-au-Prince. They shot and killed the security guard and took his keys.

They then tied up three people — Pastor Bertrand; his wife, Bernadette; and the yardboy — and beat them. The robbers raped the Bertrands’ 14-year-old daughter. They took a cellphone, a laptop and some money.

Bernadette Bertrand and the girl were both hospitalized overnight. They are now receiving medical attention at home.

Esaie Bertrand, a son of the family, said in an email March 20 that the orphan children “are doing well.”

In addition to the orphanage, Assemblée de la Grâce (Grace Assembly Network) consists of 25 congregations with about 2,387 members, and seven schools. There are more than 30 pastors.

Pastor Bertrand is bishop of Assemblée de la Grâce, which is a partner in mission of Franconia Mennonite Conference of Mennonite Church USA. He has invited prayers for the situation.

Walter Sawatzky of Hatfield, Pa., a consultant with Wozo, an organization that runs a trauma-healing program in Haiti, said that Garly Michel, executive director of Wozo, planned to meet with Pastor Bertrand.

Wozo is an adaptation of Eastern Mennonite University’s Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience program. The Haitian program began in October 2010 with funds from six denominations and organizations, including Mennonite Central Committee and the Church of the Brethren.

Sawatzky said the Bertrands and the orphanage are victims of a broader trend of violence and insecurity in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area.

“The pattern I’ve seen is that the robbers will observe when there’s been contact with international people,” he said. “After the visit is done, they assume [the foreigners] left some money or that the Haitians have access to money, so they kidnap people or try to rob them.”

This is not the first time Grace Assembly Network has been targeted. In 2006 several gunmen came into the “mother church” of Grace Assembly Network and shot and killed a church deacon, severely wounded the worship leader and injured several others.

The intruders “promised to come back and kill Pastor Lesly,” Sawatzky said.

At the time, Bertrand and his family lived near the church. They later moved across town.

“Foreigners are given a wide berth when it comes to street violence or even home invasions,” he said. “The sad thing is that the average Haitian is far more vulnerable to this kind of violence, because they lack the foreigners’ greater visibility, and therefore, protection by the global community represented through occupying U.N. security forces deployed in Haiti since 1994.”

Gay Brunt Miller, who relates to Assemblée de la Grâce for Franconia Conference, said at least three conference congregations are taking special offerings for costs associated with the situation, including for the security guard’s funeral. An offering was taken at a Sister Care seminar of Mennonite Women USA held March 23-24 in Souderton, Pa.

“This incident makes me heartsick,” she said. “Please pray for Pastor Lesly and all those impacted by this brutal violation. Pray that God will heal their minds, bodies and souls, and give them courage so that they may continue to shine God’s light in Haiti.”

Gifts can be sent through Franconia Mennonite Conference, 569 Yoder Road, Harleysville, PA 19438.  Please mark your check “Haiti.”  Article reprinted by permission of Mennonite World Review.

Unexpected mutual aid helps save church building

Why did we do this?

Plains has a history of assisting members in time of need and this was an opportunity to extend assistance at a conference level. This action helps us to realize we are part of a larger body, and when one member of the larger body hurts, we also feel the pain.

—Merlin Grieser, Council Chair, Plains

Not only do we have a responsibility as brothers and sisters in Christ, but PPC and Norristown are also similar: both have mostly people of color in the congregation; both are serving in urban settings; both face similar challenges.

—Aldo Siahaan, Pastor, Philadelphia Praise Center

Whitehall made the decision to give a certain amount from our benevolence fund and then presented the story to the congregation in case individuals wanted to give. In three weeks, the congregation’s giving matched what we gave from our budget. Why did we do this? We wanted to be a part of God’s Kingdom work continuing in Norristown.

—Rose Bender, Pastor, Whitehall

New Life is a treasured part of our Conference family and they are meeting many needs in their community. We want to learn from them how to more effectively reach out to our community, sharing the love of Christ.

—Steve Landis, Pastor, Franconia

We wanted to partner with other congregations so that Norristown could continue its significant ministry in the Norristown community. An application was submitted to a congregational fund for “above-budget” requests, which provides support for ministries that are an extension of Deep Run East. The members “caught the vision” and supported this funding opportunity.

—Ken Burkholder, Pastor, Deep Run East

I can’t help but see the many faces of the local Mennonite Church and wonder what stories may be told of congregations finding themselves in unexpected hard places, stories of congregations finding safe places to process their struggle, and stories of congregations reaching out across our differences to share in these struggles. Unexpected hard places will always be with us—may the reaching out stories abound.

—Jeff Knightly, Deacon, West Philadelphia

Sheldon C. Good, Salford
Excerpted from Mennonite Weekly Review (read full article)

When Nueva Vida Norristown (Pa.) New Life (NVNNL) acquired a 9,000-square-foot office building adjacent its meetinghouse in 2007, a local realtor projected it would only take six months to fill it with tenants. Then the Great Recession hit.

By last summer the congregation was on the brink of foreclosure of its 104-year-old meetinghouse, listed as collateral for the new building’s mortgage.

From the beginning, the building purchase has been part of a larger congregational vision. In 2007, NVNNL launched “Enlarging Our Place in God’s World,” a $2 million capital campaign. The campaign seeks finances for the office building and meetinghouse renovations to create a base for intercultural ministries of racial justice and reconciliation, economic access and opportunity for disadvantaged people, and income generation to support the ministries.

“People will go into an office building, but they might never go into a church,”  said church member Jim Williams. “If you can expose people to the gospel, there’s a chance they will begin to connect with the congregation.”

Several pastors and leaders in Franconia Conference learned of the plight. Conference moderator John Goshow met with leaders from seven sister congregations to propose a mutual aid effort.

In September, they initiated a conference-wide appeal for $95,000 to satisfy the mortgage’s needs for a year. To date, more than 20 churches, businesses, and individuals have committed over $100,000.

Williams said he never expected the conference to initiate a mutual aid appeal.

“We still believe we’re doing God’s will in this,” he said. “We can fill a huge void in the Norristown area. We are prayerful and hopeful that we’ll be able to meet our obligations and move God’s vision forward.”

Nueva Vida Norristown New Life
Worship in the parking lot of the Nueva Vida Plaza to celebrate the congregation’s 20th anniversary. Photo by Tim Moyer.

Ministry in “thin places” marks Frankenfield’s journey

by Sheldon C. Good, Salford, with Stephen Kriss, Philadelphia Praise Center
shelds3@gmail.com, skriss@francoiaconference.org

After dropping her young children off for Sunday school, Marlene Frankenfield often sat on the sidewalk outside Salford Mennonite Church. She was “going through a time of disillusionment with the church,” and didn’t want anything to do with institutionalized religion. Instead, she wanted church to be “real.”

While lounging outside Salford, youth frequently walked past Frankenfield on the way to Sunday school. They soon began greeting her and making small talk.

“It wasn’t long before they’d sometimes skip Sunday school to come chat with me, sharing their real lives,” Frankenfield said. “That was the very thing I was longing for. Soon they were stopping by my house on Saturday nights.” That was over 20 years ago. Marlene’s journey moved from congregationally based youth ministry to collaborative work with Franconia Conference and Christopher Dock High School for over a dozen years.

Relationships with Salford youth awakened Frankenfield to the possibility of ministry and brought her back into congregational life. Her initial formal call to serve came shortly after those interactions with teenagers on the church sidewalk when the church invited her to serve alongside of a growing youth ministry. After eight years at Salford, she began in the joint role of conference youth minister and campus pastor. She was licensed for ministry in June 2002 and ordained in May 2007.

Frankenfield found herself ministering in what she calls the “thin spaces” between classes at Dock and working doggedly to bring youth ministry to the center of congregational life and faith formation across the Conference.

“For young people, there is so much going on in their faith and in life, you need to be a person that can listen,” she said. “You need to be a God bearer, listening through God’s ears.” A quotation from Douglas Steere shapes her work. “To listen another’s soul into a condition of disclosure and discovery may be almost the greatest service that any human being ever performs for another.”

As she moves on, Franconia Conference and Eastern District Conference have named a shared youth minister alongside the campus pastor role at Christopher Dock. Frankenfield says this is a sign that church leaders have noticed the need for steady youth leadership. “For so long, I felt like I worked in something separate from the vision of the conference, so to see so many people excited about youth, that other people are catching the vision, as I step away, is the biggest gift I could have,” she said.

Marlene offered this prayer and dream as she completed her work in consideration of the ongoing possibilities for youth ministry in and beyond Franconia Conference, “That adults will listen to our youth—the underrepresented, and pay attention to the diverse places where the Holy Spirit is at work. That Franconia Conference would provide ways for women young and old to be mentored and empowered. That Franconia Conference see to it that all people who work with children and youth be educated in child safety, which will provide a safe healthy environment for all. That God’s spirit would be present in each young person to feel God’s unconditional love and experience God’s grace within a faith community.”

As Marlene considered her decision to end in her dual roles, she said, “I made this decision to transition with much prayer and discernment and I felt like it was the right time to explore something new. I have faith that God will have a plan for me for the future and God also has a plan for the places where I’ve ministered. One of my goals when I started was to lead in a way that invited others to lead—to step out of the way and be a mentor and encourager for others—to create a safe place for students to explore leadership.”

After these years of leadership development at Christopher Dock and Franconia Conference through chapel-planning, retreat planning, walking with youth pastors, and calling forth new youth ministers and leaders, Marlene’s work shaped space for new leaders, even now, collaboratively, across boundaries and in-between spaces, with real hope and committed service even in the midst of questions.

Unexpected mutual aid helps save church building

By Sheldon C. Good Mennonite Weekly Review

Nueva Vida Norristown New Life Church was on the brink of foreclosure of its 104-year-old meetinghouse in the summer of 2011. — Photo provided

When Nueva Vida Norristown (Pa.) New Life Church acquired a 9,000-square-foot office building adjacent its meetinghouse in November 2007, a local realtor projected it would only take six months to fill it with tenants. Then the Great Recession hit.

“Little did we know that a week after we closed on the building the economy — local, national and global — would tank,” said church member Jim Williams.

The six-month plan didn’t work. The building had one tenant, an attorney’s office, that relocated in 2010. ASSETS Montco, a small business training program, moved in as planned in 2008, but was hit by economic hard times and closed in 2010.

By last summer the congregation was on the brink of foreclosure of its 104-year-old meetinghouse, listed as collateral for the new building’s mortgage. The church property is less than 10 miles northwest of Philadelphia.

The past four years have tested the 100-member congregation’s faith that God will provide for a situation they discerned as God’s leading. Thanks in part to a mutual aid effort by Franconia Mennonite Conference churches, the Norristown congregation has extra time to firm up its financial footing.

From the beginning, the building purchase has been part of a larger congregational vision.

In 2007 Nueva Vida Norristown New Life launched “Enlarging Our Place in God’s World,” a $2 million capital campaign. The campaign seeks finances for the office building and meetinghouse renovations to create a base for intercultural ministries of racial justice and reconciliation, economic access and opportunity for disadvantaged people, and income generation to support the ministries.

Working with a church consultant and other professionals, the congregation developed a long-term strategy. It includes renting the office space to pay off the building’s mortgage and then to fill it with community-oriented ministries.

“People will go into an office building, but they might never go into a church,” Williams said. “If you can expose people to the gos­pel, there’s a chance they will begin to connect with the congregation.”

More than 30 potential tenants have looked at the building.

“Their reasons for not signing vary; most people cannot pay the going rate,” he said. “Market values for rent space have come down over the past few years, and the church is willing to take less than the going rate.”

Norristown Office Building
The 9,000-square-foot office building adjacent Nueva Vida Norristown (Pa.) New Life Church. — Photo provided

Without rental income, the church could only cover the interest on the office building’s mortgage.

“We have never missed a payment, even though we’re paying three points higher than today’s interest market,” Williams said.

Several pastors and leaders in Franconia Mennonite Conference, of which the congregation is a member, learned of the plight. Conference moderator John Goshow met with leaders from seven sister congregations to propose a mutual aid effort.

In September, they initiated a conference-wide appeal for $95,000 to satisfy the mortgage’s needs for a year. To date, 14 churches, businesses and individuals have committed $64,300.

Goshow said the situation shows how conferences and congregations can work together.

“A pastor told me recently that when a church is in trouble, we have to reach out and help,” he said. “And Nueva Vida Norristown New Life is a model church that is really making a difference in their local community.”

Williams said he never expected the conference to initiate a mutual aid appeal.

“It’s a display of true community,” he said. “They saw we were in trouble and said, ‘we want to help.’ We attribute it all to the movement of God.”

Even when they were almost foreclosed on, Williams said, the congregation still had faith God would provide. Through this journey, their faith has been strengthened.

“We still believe we’re doing God’s will in this,” he said. “We can fill a huge void in the Norristown area. We are prayerful and hopeful that we’ll be able to meet our obligations and move God’s vision forward.”

If the church can find tenants for all three floors, Williams projects good cash flow.

“We continue to receive inquiries, which is a good indicator that businesses are looking to grow again,” he said.

Reprinted by permission of Mennonite Weekly Review.