A joint release of Franconia Mennonite Conference and The Mennonite, Inc.
Franconia Mennonite Conference of Mennonite Church USA and The Mennonite, Inc., have jointly appointed Jerrell Williams as staff for this summer. Based in Philadelphia, Williams will work part time for Franconia Mennonite Conference as associate for leadership cultivation and part time for The Mennonite, Inc., as editorial assistant.
Over 10 weeks, Williams will guest preach, build relationships and further explore urban ministry among Franconia Conference congregations and ministries, mostly in eastern Pennsylvania.
“Jerrell is an impressive, thoughtful emerging Anabaptist leader,” says Steve Kriss, executive minister for Franconia Mennonite Conference. “I look forward to learning from him through his engagement with our conference community this summer. Our invitation to Jerrell is part of an ongoing commitment to next-generation leadership formation with gifted young leaders who serve and lead both within and beyond our historic conference community in extending the way of Christ’s peace.”
Williams will produce a weekly blog post for TheMennonite.org in which he will reflect on the people and ministries he encounters, in addition to several other content production and editing assignments.
“Jerrell’s passion for exploring how Mennonites are engaging their local contexts and his interest in developing his skills as a communicator makes him a great fit for The Mennonite,” says Sheldon C. Good, executive director of The Mennonite, Inc. “We can all benefit from engaging the stories he shares with us this summer.”
In the June 2016 issue of The Mennonite, Williams was selected as one of “20 under 40.” Readers nominated people in their congregations under age 40 who are committed to following Jesus, attend church and find value in Christian faith and community. Nearly 90 individuals were nominated.
A 2015 alum of Bethel College (North Newton, Kansas), Williams worked as director of prison ministries at Offender Victim Ministries in Newton, Kansas, from January 2015 to August 2016. He completed an undergraduate internship in youth ministry at Bethel College Mennonite Church (North Newton, Kansas) from September 2014 to May 2015.
Williams grew up in Garland, Texas, where he attended a large Southern Baptist congregation. As a student at Bethel College, Williams says he became interested in Mennonite theology and tradition.
The board of directors of The Mennonite, Inc. has named Sheldon C. Good executive director (ED) of The Mennonite, Inc., effective February 1. Currently a member of Salford Mennonite Church, Sheldon is a 2005 graduate of Dock Mennonite Academy. From 2006-2007 he served with Franconia Conference as Associate for Communication and Leadership Development. Most recently he and his wife, Jennifer Svetlik, served as Program Coordinators with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in Erbil, Iraq. Prior to working with MCC, Good served as an employment and education team coordinator for Community of Hope, a nonprofit in Washington D.C. He also served a two-year term as the Associate Director for the Washington Community Scholars’ Center of Eastern Mennonite University, also in Washington D.C., and worked as an Assistant Editor and Web Editor for Mennonite World Review. Sheldon also wrote pieces for Franconia Conference publications in 2012-2014. Read the full story in The Mennonite.
I might get in trouble for saying this, but I think religion is failing young people. I believe the church is the living body of Christ, the primary vehicle for extending God’s love. But bad religion, and in some ways the church, is stifling good religion — our ability to more fully join in God’s movement in the world.
Young people can and must be part of renewing the church. There’s a movement of young people right now who are fired up about moral and spiritual issues. We need to tap into this energy.
A bit about people under 30: We’re some of the most educated, technologically savvy, globally connected people ever. But we’re coming of age in turbulent economic times and in a polarized political and religious climate.
Many young people love the church. They may have been baptized in a congregation and may have lots of church friends and mentors. But for many of us, church isn’t working and has been or perhaps still is painful.
So how and why is religion failing young people?
Partly because of increasing polarization, according to Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell. In the landmark book American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, they show how since the 1990s young people have disavowed religion at unprecedented rates.
Many young people, the authors say, are uneasy with the linkage between religion and conservative politics. The number of religious conservatives and secular liberals is growing, leaving a dwindling few religious moderates.
Pew research shows that more than a quarter of people under 30 say they have no religious affiliation — four times more than in any previous generation when they were young. People tend to become more religious as they age, yet young people today are the least overtly religious generation in modern U.S. history.
Yet those of us under 30 are fairly traditional in our religious beliefs and practices. We pray and believe in God at similar rates as our elders. We are no less convinced than previous generations that there are absolute standards of right and wrong. We believe the best faith is lived out in creative, Christlike love.
For too long, the church has reflected the polarization and miscommunication of society. Life isn’t about being right or wrong, Democrat or Republican, Catholic or Mennonite. Good religion addresses the world’s deepest moral and spiritual questions.
Young people need to be on the vanguard of renewing the church and the world. In fact, we already are.
Young people today are building bridges across faiths. Young people are challenging assumptions of what worship looks and sounds like. Young people are on the front lines, leading protests at military academies and protesting economic injustice and greed in Occupy demonstrations.
Here are two more opportunities for renewal in ourselves, in our churches and in our world.
1. We need to do Christian formation together. Though texting and Facebook are compelling ways of staying connected, young people want and need deep, face-to-face conversations. We need to move from living as individuals in worldwide webs of communication to intimate communities of believers sharing God’s redeeming love. 2. We need to heal our broken world together. Young people are increasingly liberal on social issues. We care less about the culture wars and more about broader social, economic and environmental justice. Rather than allowing our differing viewpoints to hinder conversations, we need to honestly listen rather than jump to defend ourselves.
I don’t think young people want to be less religious. We are plenty spiritual. But our generation will continue losing our religion unless we find ways to live and share the peaceable way of Jesus with a broken world.
Adapted from a chapel presentation given Nov. 30 at Christopher Dock Mennonite High School in Lansdale, Pa. Reprinted by permission of Mennonite Weekly Review.
More than 20 years ago, 13-year-old Ser Darji lay paralyzed in a refugee camp in Nepal. He could barely talk and had an irregular heartbeat and swollen hands and legs.
He had developed beriberi, a disease caused by lack of nutrition, that was killing 30 refugees a day in the camp. Barring a miracle, doctors said, Darji wouldn’t live more than three months.
“I was sent home that day, but the word ‘miracle’ kept ringing in my ears,” said Darji, now 35, speaking to Allegheny Mennonite Conference on Aug. 6.
The story of Darji’s recovery, his journey from Bhutan to India to Nepal to Pittsburgh, and his passion for church planting, are a testimony to his unwavering faith in God and Jesus Christ.
Today, he’s a licensed minister in Allegheny Conference of Mennonite Church USA and pastor of Bhutanese Nepali Church of Pittsburgh. The church is one of three Bhutanese-Nepali Mennonite groups emerging across Pennsylvania.
Darji wasn’t always a Christian. In Bhutan, his home country, he was a deeply religious Hindu boy.
“My family belonged to a Nepali-speaking tribe,” he said. “Buddhism is the official religion of Bhutan, and practicing Christianity was and still is absolutely forbidden in the country.”
After doctors diagnosed Darji with beriberi, the mother of one of his friends — who was a Christian and a nurse — said she would pray to Jesus for healing.
Darji and the woman made a deal.
“If Jesus did not heal me as she claimed he would, she had to become a Hindu. But if Jesus did heal me, then I had to agree to become a faithful follower of Christ for the rest of my life,” he said. “Praise God, I started feeling better the very next day.”
In a month, Darji was almost completely healed.
“Since that day I have tried to live my life following Jesus and being faithful to him,” he said.
In the ensuing two years, his family renounced him, and he was beaten mercilessly, but he “tried to be faithful always.”
Darji, who now lives in Pittsburgh, says he still has a burden for Bhutan.
“I strongly believe that God’s plan in bringing me and other Bhutanese to the United States is so that we can be well-trained to re-enter Bhutan as missionaries,” he said.
That’s partly the role of Bhutanese Nepali Church of Pittsburgh, where Darji pastors. The congregation meets at Crafton Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh and is in the process of joining Allegheny Conference. About 80-100 people attend Sunday worship. All are political asylees.
Darji has translated parts of MC USA’s Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective into Nepalese. He has other plans too.
“We would like to establish a strong church among the Bhutanese-Nepali community in Pittsburgh, that will be able to train and send out missionaries to Bhutan,” Darji said. “It is my desire that any missionary sent through our church will represent the unique Mennonite witness for Christ.”
In August, Donna Mast, conference minister for Allegheny Conference, presented to the conference her dream for the Bhutanese-Nepali congregation.
“I dreamt that the conference would embrace Ser [Darji], and that we would be ale to find it in our hearts to contribute to his salary,” she said Oct. 5.
As a church plant pastor, she said, the conference is working toward supporting his salary.
A voice for the voiceless
Sandeep Thomas, a fellow Allegheny Conference licensed minister, has been working with the Bhutanese-Nepali group since 2007. He helped connect them to Mennonites.
“I was kind of the bridge-builder,” said Thomas, who immigrated with his family to the U.S. from India in 2000.
Thomas hosted a gathering at his home near Pittsburgh that included Darji and conference representatives. Darji, he said, soon “found he was comfortable with and liked Mennonites, especially [their belief in] adult baptism and peace witness.”
Since the church joined Allegheny Conference, Thomas’ bridge-building role now includes navigating the church through the denominational systems.
“I am helping them put together their legal and financial framework,” he said. “That’s not particularly what an immigrant church thinks about when they set up the church.”
Thomas thinks the relationship between the Bhutanese-Nepali congregation and Allegheny Conference can be mutually beneficial.
Like many Mennonites, he said, the Pittsburgh congregation is good at “practicing poverty and justice issues and helping people.”
But the Pittsburgh group also has a strong desire for outreach and evangelism.
“That’s something the denomination has been a bit reticent about,” he said.
Thomas noted the Bhutanese-Nepali group’s vision of sending missionaries back to Asia.
“This is something that could energize the Allegheny conference and get them thinking in ways and challenge them in ways they haven’t been before,” he said.
Overall, Thomas sees a natural connection between Mennonites and persecuted groups like the Bhutanese and Nepalis.
“Mennonites are good at giving a voice to the voiceless,” he said. “This connection is happening because Mennonites are paying attention to people on the margins.”
Bhutanese-Nepali Mennonite congregations are also emerging in eastern Pennsylvania.
Aldo Siahaan, pastor of Philadelphia Praise Center, a Franconia Mennonite Conference congregation, is coaching a new church plant in Scranton.
“My friend took [a group of Nepalis] to an Indonesian church, but they want to have their own group, with their own language, so we’re trying to help them,” Siahaan said.
Siahaan is coaching the Scranton group with help from Shankar Rai of Lancaster. Rai is pastor of Bhutanese Nepali Church of Lancaster, which has been gathering since 2009.
The congregation joined Lancaster Mennonite Conference in March. About 50-70 people worship on Saturday at West End Mennonite Fellowship in Lancaster.
Rai, a Bhutanese Lancaster Conference licensed minister, originally connected with Mennonites through a refugee friend sponsored by Mountville (Pa.) Mennonite Church.
Rai said his church is planning a “grand event for all Nepalese-Bhutanese Christians in the U.S.” The event will include worship, speakers and seminars for church leaders, youth and new believers.
He is planning the event for Aug. 31-Sept. 2, 2012, somewhere in Lancaster.
Like Darji in Pittsburgh, Rai resonates closely with Mennonite beliefs of adult baptism and a trinitarian God.
“I read the Confession of Faith and realized we believe the things that are in that document,” he said.
Flood waters due to Tropical Storm Irene were subsiding by Sept. 6, but extensive devastation remained as cleanup and repairs began for Mennonites across Vermont, including some who were isolated for days.
The storm weakened as it made its way along the Atlantic seaboard the last weekend of August but dropped several inches of rain in just a few hours in many places.
In Vermont, raging rivers washed out hundreds of roads and damaged dozens of bridges.
More than a dozen Vermont towns, including Plymouth, home to the Mennonite-affiliated Bethany Birches Camp, became virtual islands.
“We are in the midst of a disaster,” said Randy Good, pastor of Taftsville Chapel Mennonite Fellowship, on Sept. 1, after the storm had pased. “Close by, people have lost their homes and businesses. We are continuing to become aware of the magnitude of things, and as we do, it is getting worse.”
Good and Gwen Groff, pastor of Bethany Mennonite Church, accounted for all of their members, though some evacuated their homes. Both meetinghouses as well as Bethany Birches Camp sustained little damage.
More than 60 percent of the 450 miles of Vermont state roads that were closed have reopened, The Wall Street Journalreported Sept. 5.
Still, some roads remained closed. According to Google Crisis Response, parts of the main road that runs between the camp and the Bethany congregation were only open to authorized vehicles.
“Franconia Conference communities in?Vermont seem to be at the center of some of the most extensive damage,” said Stephen Kriss, director of communication for Franconia Mennonite Conference.
On Aug. 30, National Guard helicopters airlifted food, water and supplies to isolated towns, including Plymouth.The storm killed three people in Vermont and at least 55 total. Preliminary estimates put total losses along the East Coast at about $7 billion.
Brandon Bergey, executive director of Bethany Birches Camp, was using his motorcycle to get around.
He said most towns were setting up relief stations where people could get gas, food and water.
The local community, Bergey said, is drawing closer together.
“In a rural area like ours, it’s not always easy to connect with neighbors; now it’s easier,” he said.
“The destruction that will cost us a lot of work and discomfort — and for some, homes and most possessions — is helping us build relationships.”
Groff, pastor of the Bethany congregation, lives with her family in a parsonage next to the church. Though it sits along the Ottauquechee River, which overflowed its banks, the Groffs’ home received minimal damage.
Route 4, the main road between the Bethany and Taftsville congregations, will be closed for months, Good said.
“Some roadways that seemed passable have been found to have caves washed out underneath the roadway, and some have collapsed,” he said.
Six people from Franconia Conference congregations volunteered with MDS in Vermont Sept. 5-8. They removed debris and sorted through damaged buildings.
“The primary effort right now is simply getting wet materials out of homes,” said volunteer Ted Houser of Lancaster, Pa.
Houser noted the timeliness of their service: Mennonites worked on storm cleanup on Labor Day in Vermont, Pennsylvania and New York.
MDS executive director Kevin King said the organization is conducting assesments for long-term needs.?He said relief work in Vermont is “a challenge because of all the infrastructure that’s been destroyed.”
In other storm damage, the basement of New Beginnings Community Church of Bristol, Pa., a Franconia Conference congregation, flooded due to the recent storm.
Ertell Whigham, executive minister of Franconia Conference, said the church lost all of its educational resources, including computers.
Originally posted in Mennonite Weekly Review, September 1, 2011 and updated on September 6. Reposted by permission.
Harleysville, PA—Sheldon Good and Steve Kriss know what it means to work as an intergenerational leadership team—Good worked as an intern with Franconia Conference for four years under Kriss, director of communication and leadership cultivation. The two men brought their own story of leading from separate generations to this month’s pastors’ breakfast.
More than forty conference pastors and church leaders gathered Thursday morning at the Mennonite Conference Center to discuss intergenerational leadership. Kriss and Good, now assistant editor of the Mennonite Weekly Review, outlined some differences between the leadership styles of Generation X (age 30-45) and Millennial (age 18-29) leaders.
“[Millennials] don’t just use gadgets and Google, we fuse our lives into them,” said Good. He described Millennials as a generation marked by Google, while Kriss reflected on how the PBS show Sesame Street encouraged Generation Xers to embrace diversity.
Kriss remarked at the increasing demographic diversity of leaders in the conference. He noted the presence of women, Asians, and those in their 30s, commenting that it was not difficult to find a panel of congregational leaders who already work with intergenerational leadership teams.
Good and Kriss praised the diversity, but hope that shared intergenerational leadership will continue to develop in more churches. Kriss noted that the conference is credentialing Gen X leaders much later in life than previous generations; both men cautioned that this sets up potential for leadership clash between generations.
“Millennials want to lead now,” said Good. “If they’re told they’re going to lead next, they’ll go somewhere else where they can lead now.”
During the second half of the breakfast, a panel of intergenerational leaders from the conference shared challenges and hopes. This panel included pastors from Philadelphia Praise Center, Ambler Mennonite, and Nueva Vida Norristown New Life.
“We tend to congregate around people who mimic us and seem like us,” shared Andrew Huth, outreach pastor for Ambler. Intergenerational leadership can help bring new and different people into churches, he said.
“Church is a place where we come to discuss and wrestle [with life],” Huth said. “[Intergenerational church] allows for a broader range of people to participate … When we expand a discussion in the church, that can only be a good thing.”
As a child, Ertell M. Whigham, Jr. loved his tight-knit community in North Philadelphia. But by senior year at Simon Gratz High School, he was bored and began searching for a new place to belong. In March 1968, three months before high school graduation, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. He entered boot camp in that summer and by the end of the year was deployed to Vietnam, assigned to a combat battalion landing team.
“We were stationed aboard Naval air craft carriers and would patrol the coast providing reinforcements and security for various search and destroy operations. We would be air lifted by helicopter to an area for weeks or months at a time where reinforcements were needed,” he said. “It was difficult and stressful because there were frequent combat situations and constant exposure to opposing forces.”
After serving a year in Vietnam he and his wife Pat were married and stationed in North Carolina where he completed the last two years of a four year enlistment. Following discharge in 1972, Whigham returned to Philadelphia where he drove a taxi as a way to reconnect with people and the cultural revolution of the late 60s and early 70s. After about a year of finding it difficult to provide for his family, he took a position as a military recruiter. “Although the Marine Corps was a very racist, culturally biased and controlling system, at least I knew my way around it,” he said.
After re-enlistment, Whigham was relocated to nearby Reading but never completely found what he was looking for in the Marines. Years later after accepting Christ during a fellowship at a mega church in Philadelphia, he rediscovered a different type of “community.” While living in Reading, a neighbor shared the Gospel with Whigham’s wife, Pat, and invited the family to attend Buttonwood Mennonite Church. “I remember getting dressed for church in my culture, we got dressed up,” he said. “We walked in, and everyone was dressed down. There was no piano. There was no music. It was very quiet.” People wore plain clothes. Women wore head coverings.
Mennonite women often went door-to-door in his neighborhood in North Philly. One of the women told Whigham that Jesus loved him. He said, “I never forgot the look in her eyes when she told me that Jesus loved me. Even as a kid, I could see that she was really committed.”
Going to Buttonwood Mennonite, 24-year-old Whigham liked the preacher’s sound doctrine. “What struck me was what I now know as an Anabaptist perspective,” he said. More important, Whigham enjoyed the community aspect of congregational life. “Then they began to talk about the peace position, and that didn’t work,” he said. Whigham shared his perspective about what he saw in Vietnam; the congregation gave their thoughts on peace and justice.
Theological differences became even more pronounced when Whigham decided to go to college with help from the G.I. Bill. A church elder told him that was “blood money.” Even so, Whigham stayed committed to the Mennonite community, a place he finally found belonging, unlike in the military. He later became a pacifist while having a devotion one morning.”I remember walking away from that and the Lord speaking to me and saying, ‘how can you tell someone about Jesus and want to take their life?’” Though Whigham once sold young people on the benefits and pride of being a Marine, he’s now a committed mentor who believes in providing alternative opportunities for young people.
In 1975, Lancaster Conference licensed Whigham for ministry by lot. He was 25. “The Mennonite world was one that constantly intrigued and amazed and impressed me enough that they seemed to continually be in community,” he said. But community proved difficult.
Along with some theological disagreements, cultural differences arose, some more significant than others. For example, some people wanted Whigham to shave his mustache because it was representative of the military. But more important, he said, Lancaster Conference “passively” withdrew their support stipend for Buttonwood Mennonite, a mission church.
“So my family, for a short period of time, we were just out there,” Whigham said. “We were just literally out there, without any support from the church.”
For Whigham, it felt like a “control” move. “I vowed to my wife that I would never, ever trust my life to the church,” he said. “And even now, my income is not even fully church dependent. It’s ministry dependent, but not church dependent.” Whigham eventually got a job with Ehrlich Pest Control, and was later promoted to an executive position in Philadelphia. He spent a year traveling between Reading and Philadelphia before his family relocated to be with him in 1981.
That’s when he rediscovered Diamond Street Mennonite Church in Philadelphia whose members 20 years earlier included Emma Rudy and Alma Ruth, the mission workers who had gone door-to-door in Whigham’s neighborhood and told him Jesus loved him. While Whigham worked as a corporate executive, he enjoyed teaching Sunday school and other church service opportunities. At one point, he was informed through Diamond Street that a church in nearby Norristown needed someone to preach on a particular Sunday. So he volunteered as a guest preacher one Sunday.
“After I preached and was walking out of the church, the church ‘secretary’ walks up to me, hands me the key to the building and says, ‘We want you to be our pastor,’” Whigham said. “Now you talk about a search process that’s expedited, that is indeed.”
At the same time the Whighams had put money down on a house in the suburbs, however his wife told him “they want you; we need to be here.” The family moved to King of Prussia, and Whigham took the keys to the church. He and his wife Pat were blessed by God with complementary gifts in both children’s and pastoral ministry.
After about five years of ministering with Bethel Mennonite Church, in 1989 during a combined fellowship meal with the other two Mennonite congregations in town, Whigham envisioned how the three—Bethel, First Mennonite and Fuente de Salvación—could come together as one.
“As I looked at [these] three churches . . . all professing to serve the same Christ, called to be one people, it just felt like we needed to do something different in order to be something different for God,” Whigham said. “I shared my vision with the other two pastors and our congregations committed to a time of prayer and discernment.”
In 1990, they formed Norristown New Life Nueva Vida Church, an intercultural, multilingual congregation, with a three member intercultural (associate) pastoral team. In the late 1990s, Whigham also became a part-time Franconia Conference minister.
Today, Whigham remains within that community serving as associate pastor. On Feb. 3 he started an initial two-year term as executive minister of Franconia Mennonite Conference. He is believed to be the first African American to lead an area conference of Mennonite Church USA. Even with the new appointment, Whigham was committed to remaining an associate pastor with the Norristown congregation.
For at least the next two years, the conference board has prioritized for Whigham and conference staff to work at being intercultural, missional and formational, “and to bring those to the center in such a way everyone embraces them as the driving force behind why we do ministry and how we do ministry,” he said.
Whigham plans to encourage everyone from the pew to the pulpit and beyond to become passionate about the conference’s vision: equipping leaders to empower others to embrace God’s mission.
Overall, he believes his role is “to continue to bring clarity for what that means and for every person to be able to think and pray about how they can represent that [vision] in their particular context, as it relates to the whole.”
The spray painting included three swastikas on the side of Rosenberger Center, Dock’s newest building; “satan” and three upside-down crosses on Dielman Hall; and various hate words on the sidewalk connecting the two buildings.
The Towamencin Township Police Department is investigating the vandalism.
Principal Conrad Swartzentruber addressed students, faculty and staff during chapel.
“We may feel attacked or even threatened when these things happen,” he said. “Our primary concern is how our community feels after something like this.”
He noted that after talking with police, school officials decided the graffiti did not compromise the safety of the school.
“The graffiti will soon disappear, but we will continue to deal with the feelings that remain,” Swartzentruber said during chapel. “We want this to be a place of respect for all students. That’s one of the highest callings God has given us — to respect and accept one another as people created in God’s image.”
During the second half of lunch, about 100 students and faculty prayed with and for the school community, as well as for those who vandalized the property.
Five students who felt threatened by the graffiti and its effects went home during the day.
Swartzentruber said creating a community where every person is respected and feels equally valued has been a focus for the school all year.
“Here is another opportunity for us to focus on that,” he said. “In creating community, we are not perfect, but we do have respect, and we build safe spaces. When one grieves, we all grieve.”
HARLEYSVILLE, Pa. — Though online social media should not replace face-to-face interactions, these tools can enhance ministerial leadership.
And social media are nothing more than tools, two consultants told a group of 30 ministry leaders at an educational gathering March 17 at Franconia Mennonite Conference Center.
Most often, social media include Facebook,?Twitter, blogs and online video.
“It’s providing amazing opportunities for pastoral care,” said Scott Hackman, a seminary student and a consultant with MyOhai, LLC.
But people have different views of social media’s functions and effects. The group of pastors described social media as connection, nuisance, virtual community, addicting, time-consuming and a new definition of friends.
Hackman, a former youth minister and salesman, shared how his journey with social media began.
“I was a stay-at-home dad, and I wanted to connect with others who were in a similar context,” he said. “I wanted to see if I could connect with people and actually engage with them.”
So Hackman created Dad Parlor, a Facebook page dedicated to create space for fathers to share and connect.
But a Facebook page — and social media overall — does not replaced the need for face-to-face interaction, he said.
In fact, Hackman believes social media enhance interpersonal relations.
“In Sunday school, someone undoubtedly will say, ‘Hey, I saw this about you on Facebook,’ ” he said.
Hackman acknowledged that “how you lead in person looks different than how you lead on Facebook.”
Hackman and Todd Hiestand, lead pastor at The Well, a church based in Feasterville and a consultant with MyOhai, led the group in an example of crowdsourcing, which taps a group’s collective wisdom by asking people to submit feedback on a question or thought.
Hiestand said he sometimes uses crowdsourcing when preparing for sermons.
“I ask a question via Facebook,” he said, “and people in my community will engage with feedback.”
Hiestand said the way people respond can give him a sense of the pulse of his congregation.
“And sometimes I can then even incorporate that into my sermon,” he said. “It can even get people thinking about a sermon topic before Sunday.”
Hiestand explained some of the available social media tools and a few of his “rules of the tools,” specifically adapted for congregational life.
He acknowledged the misconception that social media offer a quick fix for churches.
“Sometimes people think, well, if I just join social media, my congregation will grow by 400,” Hiestand said. “I actually view it as the opposite. It’s all about building relationships.”
Building connections via social media, he said, is comparable to the long-term, slow process involved in forming interpersonal relationships.
“If you invest the time, you will reap the rewards,” Hiestand said.
He stressed, though, that engagement should be focused on other people, not oneself, as a way to supplement real relationships.
Hiestand described how tools such as Facebook, blogging, video and Twitter all have pros and cons.
“Facebook, for some people, is about sharing that they had macaroni and cheese for dinner,” he said. For others, it’s viewing photos, video and advocating for causes or interests.
No matter how social media are used, Hiestand said, leaders should always remember that even online “you are never detached from your role as a leader.”
Hiestand’s rules also included:
If you wouldn’t say it from the pulpit, don’t say it online.
Don’t be a jerk; rather, be encouraging.
Hiestand said he constantly reminds himself that “my attitude on social media is going to affect how people interpret my sermon on Sunday.”
Ministry leaders at the gathering use a range of social media and have different opinions about their effectiveness with ministerial leadership.
Dawn Nelson, lead pastor of Methacton Mennonite Church, has a Facebook page but said she only uses it occasionally.
“I use it to keep up with what people are doing, but I also try to check in with them verbally about what they write, in case it is misleading,” she said.
Nelson started a church Facebook page a few years ago but hadn’t used it until recently. Someone now co-administers the page and shares photos on it.
“I hope it will grow,” Nelson said.
Beny Krisbianto, pastor of Nations Worship Center in Philadelphia, sends updates about church ministry projects and special events using Facebook.
Regarding pastoral care, he said, checking Facebook pages of people in his community “is the best way to know what’s going on in their life in that moment.”
Jim Ostlund, pastor of youth and young adults at Blooming Glen Mennonite Church, uses all four of the social media discussed at the gathering — Facebook, Twitter, blogs and video.
During worship, he’s also used Skype, an online voice and video chat program.
Social media have become valuable tools “in maintaining ongoing contact and building relationships with congregation members, especially young adults and youth,” he said.
Steve Kriss, director of communication and leadership cultivation with Franconia Conference, said that for pastors, social media can blur public and private life.
“The pastor is always a pastor, and a personal opinion is always a pastoral opinion,” he said. “The pastor’s challenge is to find ways to use the technology purposefully, generatively, hopefully.”
PITTSBURGH—Whether or not Mennonite Church USA has a convention in Phoenix in 2013, church leaders are committed to show their support for immigrants.
Though various opinions were shared Sept. 23-25 during a Leaders’ Forum—including differing statements from two church groups—leaders said they will discern God’s will together.
More than 200 leaders representing MC USA, churchwide organizations and area conferences gathered together for the first time outside a convention to worship, fellowship, tell stories and discuss topics such as whether to move the 2013 convention from Phoenix due to Arizona’s controversial immigration law.
“Our Hispanic constituency is feeling the burden of this decision,” said Glen Guyton, MC USA associate executive director for constituent resources, the staff person who relates with Racial/Ethnic groups. “The Phoenix decision is only a symbol of much bigger challenges we face as MC USA, such as viewing Racial/Ethnic congregations as missions projects and not as valuable contributors.”
Guyton is part of MC USA’s Intercultural Relations Reference Committee, or IRRC, a group that works on Racial/Ethnic issues. The IRRC includes representatives from the three official MC USA Racial/Ethnic groups—Iglesia Menonita Hispana (Hispanic Mennonite Church), African-American Mennonite Association and Native Mennonite Ministries—as well as from churches that primarily work with immigrants from Africa and Asia.
Arizona’s SB 1070, which makes it illegal for an immigrant to be in the state without documents, has “a disproportionate impact” on Racial/Ethnic groups, the IRRC said in a statement presented by Guyton at the Leaders Forum.
The statement recommends holding the 2013 convention in Phoenix, “although we understand that some in our Racial/Ethnic constituency may not agree,” Guyton said.
The IRRC statement also references systemic issues that are problematic within Mennonite Church USA. It says that conventions and other MC USA gatherings “are not welcoming to Racial/Ethnic people as a whole because of culture, cost, travel requirements and language barriers.”
The statement calls the church to 12 steps of racial inclusion and equality. Those steps include making the churchwide priority of anti-racism a more prominent part of conventions and offering support to “recent immigrants in our communities without making judgment.”
The IRRC includes two representatives of Iglesia Menonita Hispana, which wrote a letter in April asking denominational leaders to “rethink” the Phoenix convention. Yvonne Diaz, executive director of Iglesia Menonita Hispana and an IRRC member, said the Hispanic church’s position has not changed.
“There’s a hostile environment [in Arizona],” Diaz said. “It’s very detrimental to our Latino brothers and sisters. We’ve got lots of ideas. Let’s be creative about this opportunity. We’re in pain.”
Diaz said she hopes the church can demonstrate Rev. 7:9, which describes people from every tribe and language standing before the throne of the Lord with palm branches.
Representatives from Iglesia Menonita Hispana and IRRC were not alone in their differing views.
Malinda Berry, Mennonite Education Agency board member, said the Phoenix decision is morally ambiguous.
“There is no clear right or wrong answer,” Berry said. She wondered whether MC USA would sanction acts of civil disobedience if the convention is held in Phoenix.
Chuck Neufeld, a member of the Constituency Leaders Council, said pastors in Illinois Conference came to a strong consensus. “Unless IMH is asking us to meet in Phoenix, we can’t,” he said.
Kenneth Thompson, a member of MC USA’s Executive Board and the IRRC, said there’s a difference between uniformity and unity.
“In the Scriptures, presence, not absence, makes the difference,” Thompson said. “For those who choose to go, go fully dressed in the armor of God. If you go, go with a purpose.”
Questions from Iglesia Menonita Hispana’s April letter to MC USA were discussed, including how churches have engaged with the denomination’s 2003 Statement on Immigration and how the church will demonstrate its solidarity with immigrants whether or not there is a Phoenix convention.
Elizabeth Soto Albrecht, Executive Board member, asked the Executive Board to make a decision before January, when they will meet next.
The Racial Healing Task Group, which includes representatives from the “dominant culture,” presented a skit with four vignettes on how the dominant culture experiences power and privilege in relationships.
The racial healing group is directly accountable to the Intercultural Relations Reference Committee, or IRRC.
Questions were raised after the skit, such as how race impacts where people live, where institutions are built, where meetings are held and whether there’s a gap between denominational and congregational vision for multiculturalism.
“How can we move away from something that begins and ends, to a process that is ongoing?” said D.J. McFadden, Mennonite Mutual Aid board member.
Leaders also considered a proposal regarding resolutions during conventions. The executive committee of the Executive Board proposed an “Experiment in Corporate Discernment at Pittsburgh,” suggesting a delegate assembly without resolutions adopting church statements.
Duane Oswald, MMA board member, said leaders needed to trust each other during decision-making. “That happens at the table groups,” he said. “If we are not making decisions, then why should we come?”
Thomas Kauffman, conference minister for Ohio Conference, asked, “Is this a way to avoid the difficult topics that we know are out there?”
Ervin Stutzman, executive director of MC USA, proposed a plan, “Investing in Hope,” an “effort to align our actions with our theological commitments. “Although the plan includes the “Joining Together, Investing in Hope” building campaign, it is more about planning how we will move forward as a church than finances,” he said.
“In the past, we’ve used wishful thinking instead of purposeful planning,” Stutzman said. The plan will be tested with church leaders during 2010 and with delegates at Pittsburgh 2011.
The three-day event culminated as church leaders took communion. “Oftentimes when we worship, we gather together with veiled faces,” Stutzman said, referencing God’s new covenant. “If you take the veil off, the Lord’s light penetrates your face and shines. Covenants are an investment in hope.”