Tag Archives: Souderton Mennonite Church

Together Once More

by Sue Conrad Howes, Eastern District Conference (West Swamp congregation), with Emily Ralph Servant, Franconia Conference (Director of Communication)

It was a potentially historic day for two Mennonite conferences that split over 170 years ago. 

Photo by Cindy Angela

On November 2, 2019, delegates from Franconia Mennonite Conference and Eastern District Conference met together at Souderton (PA) Mennonite Church to determine if reconciliation, which seemed unattainable in 1847, would now be possible.

It was hard to imagine that these two groups had been divided at all, as animated conversations and joyful reunions happened throughout the crowded fellowship hall as the delegates arrived. There was even an audible groan when it was announced that the Eastern District Conference delegates needed to move to another gathering room for their morning delegate session.  And so, for the morning, the two groups met separately, with the possibility of reconciliation on the afternoon horizon.

During Eastern District’s morning delegate session, leaders facilitated a discussion over the future and publicly recognized that the vote toward reconciliation was just the beginning of a new journey.  They thanked everyone who had helped to bring them to this point and then led in a time of sharing stories about where delegates were seeing God working in their congregations and ministries. 

Photo by Cindy Angela

Franconia’s morning delegate session included affirming Rose Bender Cook (Whitehall congregation) for a third term and KrisAnne Swartley (Doylestown congregation) for a second term on the Credentials Committee. Chris Nickels (Spring Mount congregation) was affirmed for a third term and Janet Panning (Plains congregation) for a first term on the Ministerial Committee.  Swartley and Panning will serve as committee chairs.  John Goshow (Blooming Glen congregation) and Beny Krisbianto (Nations Worship Center) were thanked for their nine years of service on the Conference Board.

Franconia also welcomed four new Conference Related Ministries: Peace Proclamation Ministries International (out of Plains congregation), Healthy Niños Honduras (birthed out of MAMA Project), Ripple Community Inc (out of Ripple congregation), and Taproot Gap Year (out of Philadelphia Praise Center).  The delegates welcomed a new congregation, Iglesia Menonita Ebenezer (Souderton, PA) and released West Philadelphia Mennonite Fellowship to transfer to Allegheny Conference.

Photo by Cindy Angela

After a meaningful joint worship in the morning, when credentialed leaders of both conferences who had passed away during the past year were remembered and newly credentialed leaders were introduced, anointed, and then commissioned to anoint others, the two conferences joined together for the afternoon session. Joy Sutter, moderator of Mennonite Church USA (Salford congregation), expressed gratitude to the delegates for demonstrating the path of reconciliation. “You are modeling a new and inspiring path for the future. As you move forward…, may you be blessed,” said Sutter.

The three-year process toward reconciliation, led almost exclusively by conference volunteers, was introduced by the Structure and Identity Task Force.  Sherri Brokopp Binder (Ripple congregation) & Rina Rampogu (Plains congregation) explained the process, the changes proposed, and the next steps, if the delegates voted affirmatively for reconciliation.

The task force had done its work, as few delegates posed questions or expressed any sense of hesitation with the proposal. The two conferences divided, for the last time, to discern and vote.

Photo by Cindy Angela

With the delegates reunited after the vote, John Goshow, Franconia Conference moderator, and Jim Musselman, Eastern District moderator (Zion congregation), shared the results of the historic vote: together, the conferences had voted unanimously for reconciliation.

Spontaneous applause and cheers of affirmation from the delegates erupted while leaders from both conferences shared hugs and broad smiles.  Together, the enthusiastic group sang, “Hosanna, Let Jesus be Lifted Up” and “Praise God from Whom” with gusto and gratitude.

Scott Roth (L) and Steve Kriss (R) lead the Conferences into a time of communion. Photo by Cindy Angela

Following the singing, Steve Kriss, Franconia Conference executive minister, and Scott Roth, Eastern District conference minister, spoke.  “I am rarely speechless,” Kriss admitted. “But we are about to do something that could not happen 150 years ago. We are about to sit together and take communion. For some of you, this split divided families, for some of you this split divided congregations. Today we celebrate the ministry of reconciliation that has been and will continue to be our life’s work.”

Roth reminisced about being charged with the ministry of reconciliation as a youth by adult leaders who knew that the reality of such a merger would be through the work of future generations. Roth shared his joy that the dream he had heard about as a youth was now being realized. “Remember,” Roth said; “although the paperwork is not completed, we are one in the Spirit and we are one in Jesus’ blood.”

Jessica Miller (Perkasie congregation). Photo by Cindy Angela

In the front of the fellowship hall, a pile of rocks had sat all morning, without mention. This column was reminiscent of the Old Testament practice of raising an Ebenezer, commemorating God’s help or celebrating memorable events. This rock structure was not to remain, however.  Instead, each church was instructed to take a rock home, paint it, and return with it to next year’s first assembly as a new conference. The rocks will then be formed into a fountain, representing the new conference, flowing with life.

Conference moderators, John Goshow (Franconia) and Jim Musselman (Eastern District) prepare to celebrate the reconciliation! Photo by Cindy Angela

The day’s events closed with a traditional action, which has been spoken by Franconia delegates to conclude their assemblies for more than a hundred years. On this day, however, delegates of both Franconia and Eastern District made the commitment together, as one gathered body:

“We affirm our desire to continue in and witness to the nonresistant and simple faith in Christ, looking for the blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior, Jesus Christ.”

“Kami menegaskani keinginan untuk terus ikut dan menjadi saksi kesederhanaan iman dalam Kristus dan menjadi pembawa damai, terus mencari kepada berkat pengharapan serta memperlihatkan kemuliaan dari kebesaran Tuhan dan juru selamat kami, Yesus Kristus.”

“Afirmamos nuestro deseo de seguir testificando con la fe de no resistencia y sencilla en Cristo, mirando a la esperanza bendita y la venida gloriosa de nuestro gran Dios y nuestro Salvador Jesucristo.”

“Chúng tôi xin xác nhận nguyện-vọng của chúng tôi là tiếp tục và làm chứng cho giải pháp ôn-hòa và đức-tin chân thật trong Ðấng Christ, tiềm kiếm sự hy-vọng hạnh phước, và sự vinh quang của Ðức Chúa Trời đại quyền hiện ra và Ðấng Cứu Chuộc của chúng tôi là Ðức Chúa Giê-xu Christ.”

”我們重申我們的意願是繼續以和平及純正信仰去見證基督的生命,懷著美好的盼望,等候我們偉大的神及救主耶穌基督的榮耀顯現。”

God at Work on Our Vacation

by Berdine Leinbach, Souderton congregation

My husband and I bumped into God frequently as we traveled to Tanzania to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary.

His silky white beard was shaped like an Amishman’s. His skin was dark walnut. His eyes crinkled cautiously in greeting.  When the flight attendant was checking seatbelts, his body motions revealed limited neck mobility and vision issues, so I reached across and clicked in his seatbelt.

Later he struggled to put on a brand-new sneaker, which is really hard to do in an airplane seat. I unbuckled and dove under his window seat to loosen the laces and assist. Using my finger as a shoehorn felt oddly akin to foot washing.

Over the course of a long flight, multiple opportunities arose to serve him.  I felt like God had put me there on purpose. As we shared travel plans, I found he was retired professor from Bangladesh and a peace-loving Muslim. We shared our beliefs, respectfully and simply (I need more practice at that).

We prayed blessing on each other.  God was on our plane.

As we traveled along the rim of Ngorogoro Crater, the vehicle in front of us stopped. Our vehicle stopped. Just 20 feet away a huge elephant appeared out of the mist.  Our driver turned off the engine.

We watched, fascinated, as she looked at us, flapped her ears, and lifted her trunk in inquiry. A trumpet sounded from our left as another elephant appeared on that side of the road. The first one moved forward and, behind her, another younger elephant and a baby appeared, then another adult.

We were in awe of these amazing creatures, right there.  Soon the first elephant clambered down the road bank, crossed in front of our vehicle and climbed up the left side. The others soon followed.  Seconds later, nothing could be seen but mist and shrubs.

What a beautiful gift, a holy moment.  God was in creation.

Our tour company arranged for us to stop at Karatu Mennonite Church, a small outreach congregation started in 2010 by the Arusha (Mennonite) Diocese.  When we arrived, children greeted us.  We gave Pastor Peter Ojode a prayer shawl made by women from our home congregation. As I prayed aloud the prayer that goes with each shawl, I got all choked up. I sensed that this gift and prayer were aligning with something much bigger that God was already doing there.

Front row (left to right): Evangelist Nicodemus Malaki, Evangelist Meshack Shabani, Martina Victor (church treasurer), Tasiana Toway (church elder), Berdine and Steve Leinbach (Souderton congregation).  Back row (left to right): Pastor Peter Ojode (KMT Arusha), Sofia Mirobo (church elder KMT Arusha), Pastor Julius Churi (KMT Katesh), Pastor Emmanuel (General Secretary of KMT Arusha Diocese).

When the service began, my heart swelled with joy singing along to “Holy, Holy, Holy” and other songs. Thank goodness Swahili has phonetic spelling. 

When they had heard that we were coming, Pastor Emmanual Maro (general secretary of the entire diocese/conference of churches) and elder Sofia Mirobo traveled three hours on a bus from Arusha to come and translate for us, organize a brief meal, and welcome us. We are still processing the hospitality of this intercultural experience and wondering what God will do next.

Pastor Emmanuel emailed us after we returned home, “We thank God for a wonderful Sunday at KMT Karatu. We really appreciated the opportunity to exchange our views, and we do hope through our relationships with one another we are revealing the face of God to the world and advancing his kingdom in Jesus’ name.”

God is at work. May we all notice and join in.

We Gather Together

by Steve Kriss, Executive Minister

The process of gathering started last night with persons coming from California, Indiana and Mexico.  Partners and leaders began to stream toward Souderton Mennonite Church for our historic Assembly that begins tomorrow.  We have gathered together for generations each autumn as the community now known as Franconia Mennonite Conference.  It’s a massive incarnational effort involving lots of details and logistics—name tags, seating assignments, worship practice, PowerPoint slides in multiple languages and thankfully, Longacre’s Ice Cream and lunch from Landis Supermarket. 

These events have certainly changed over the years from intensive discernment among credentialed leaders on the difficult topics of the day, to equipping and celebration inter-culturally and inter-generationally with a sense of family gathering, face to face listening and conversation.  We’ve switched from Pennsylvania Dutch to English to quad-lingual with videos.  It’s a representation of who the 7,000 of us are in less than a 24-hour timeline. 

It’s hard work and it takes resources.  Yet, by gathering together we underscore the importance of the Incarnation, the love of God made manifest in real time and places.  We listen across our differences in culture, practice and even varied Anabaptist theological perspectives.  It’s ultimately a celebration of the holy tie that binds, of commitment centered in Christ that now span the globe and yet have been rooted deeply in the soil of what has become Southeastern Pennsylvania. 

We gather because we say it matters that we hear each other, that we hear the Spirit together:

That we celebrate and pray. 
That we mark the passing of another year of witness, mission, and ministry. 
That God continues to call and we continue to follow.
That God’s dream for us though yet unfulfilled is still unfolding.
Hasta pronto.  Sampai ketemu lagi.  Hẹn sớm gặp lại.  很快见到你

See you soon! 

Coming Together in New Ways

Last year Methacton Mennonite Church experienced their community knocking on their door, as they collectively grieved the loss of “The Methacton Oak” thought to be over 380 years old. Pastor Sandy Drescher-Lehman recounts this experience in New Energy Brings the Community to Celebrate and Remember, as the community came together, “remembering and celebrating the tree that belonged to all of us and to our ancestors.”

The congregation enjoyed their time with their neighbors so much and the connections the tree helped them make, that this year on September 30, the congregation once again gathered with their neighbors to celebrate their shared stories and their diversity.

Bluegrass group with Methacton Mennonite’s worship team

On that beautiful fall afternoon, more joy and peace was added to the world; from morning worship with hymns, a cappella and praise music, to an afternoon of Aztec drumming and dancing and a Bluegrass Band, God was praised in as many ways as they could invite the Spirit to be present! 

Nicolas and Jonathan with the drum they made, and the sapling from the fallen Methacton Oak

Nicolas and Jonathan Morales from Souderton Mennonite Church created a drum from The Methacton Oak utilizing Aztec tools for part of the process. That drum and the boys were part of the indigenous dance group La Danza Azteca, who, with drum beats and dancing, blessed the land where a seedling from the old oak is growing .

Dave Benner from Methacton resurrected the Bluegrass group he’s sung with, including Merle and Floss Hunsberger and Sharon Hunsberger, and invited the Methacton worship team to join them for a grand finale. 

Garrett (4th from right) and Wilson (far right)

Also honored in the day was Garrett Campbell from a local Eagle Scout troop, who re-set 130 of the toppled gravestones, and Wilson Roth, who has also done significant cemetery restoration of the old graveyard.

Music also accompanied lots of food, crafts and lawn games, and John and Charlotte Herschal’s animal wood carving demonstration.

John Herschel demonstrating his animal wood carvings

It is truly a gift to be able to celebrate the many talents and gifts of our neighbors in and outside the walls of our meetinghouse. God continues to use The Methacton Oak even in its death.

To read more about the La Danza Azteca performance at Methacton’s Block Party, visit http://www2.philly.com/philly/entertainment/arts/traditional-aztec-dance-honors-the-great-fallen-charter-oak-at-methacton-mennonite-church-20181006.html.

It’s Not About Me

By Eszter Bentch

I thought I knew that serving, ministry, and most of what I do is not about me. I also thought I knew how to serve others. It turns out, the only person I really think of is myself and I didn’t know nearly as much as I thought I did about doing ministry.

This summer I was given the opportunity to intern for both Whitehall Mennonite Church and Ripple, as well as Ripple’s non-profit, Ripple Community Inc. in Allentown, Pennsylvania. I wanted to gain experience working in a church setting to explore my potential desire and calling to work as a pastor or in some other form of ministry. These churches, located in and outside of Allentown are not your typical Mennonite Churches. Whitehall is a community of relatively few members, about half of which are Karen people from Myanmar, many of them refugees, and many other people who experience poverty or intellectual differences. Ripple, in inner-city Allentown, is also a small community but with a very big impact. Ripple, as a church and non-profit, worships and works with people experiencing homelessness or in extreme poverty.

Through my time among these communities I learned a lot and gained helpful experiences. I put together many orders of worship, taught Sunday school, led children’s time, led worship services, got to know people, read many books, worked in a garden and even got to preach my first sermon! Through all this, I was trying to figure out what future God was calling me to. I was also trying to navigate balancing work, family, and friends. This meant that I was primarily thinking about myself. Due to the nature of what ministry is, I found that it’s really easy to be pretty self-centered and not realize it. I’m helping and interacting with people experiencing homelessness and other hard situations … all I’m doing is thinking of others! Yet, amidst my supposedly selfless work the thoughts in my brain were ‘what am I learning?’, ‘am I making someone uncomfortable?’, ‘will I still get home in time?’, ‘is this what I want to do in the future?’, and often ‘what does this person think of me?’ Now, I don’t think these questions are wrong to ask and wonder about. It is often important to be aware of how you’re coming across to another person and to be reflective, especially in ministry with people very different from you. However, these thoughts were using up the mental energy I could have used to care well for those I was encountering. God gave me gifts of empathy and being relational, but I wasn’t able to use them for His glory when I was only thinking of how using them would benefit me!

Another thought I often had was ‘How am I serving this person?’ Though that in itself is not necessarily a bad question, I was caught in a serving ‘for’ mentality instead of a serving ‘with’ way of viewing ministry. Though this was something I had heard about, I did not fully understand it until this summer. When we serve ‘for’ other people we might accidentally do it with a ‘better than thou’ attitude. We might not consciously think of ourselves as better than the person we are serving, but it can come across that way to those we help and can even build a savior complex. When I was interacting with people around me with the attitude of ‘how can I help you?’ it put a divide between me and the person: me as the helper, them as the person needing help. It limited the genuine and equal relationship I could have with them. Additionally, nobody wants to be helped by someone who comes charging in without learning about their situation first, without learning how best they could be helped.

Thankfully, God did confront me about the way I was going about ministry. At some point I caught myself thinking ‘will this person’s problem make me have to work late?’ and I was horrified. I wanted to stop thinking about myself and truly serve ‘with’ people. However, I had trouble getting myself out of that habit using only my own strength. It wasn’t until I read one of the most popular Bible stories in the Old Testament during a discernment group that I truly understood the selfless heart of ministry.

Whitehall had set up a discernment group to pray through and talk about the future of the church. At our second meeting we read through the story of Moses and the Burning Bush in Exodus 3. Though I’ve known this story since I was a little kid, though primarily through the animated classic The Prince of Egypt, I realized something brand new. When Moses responds to God’s call to him in verse 11 with “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”, God’s response of “I will be with you” completely ignores Moses’ question. Though God’s response is comforting, He does not acknowledge Moses’ excuse or reassure him by telling him of his gifts or qualifications to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Instead, God talks about Himself. Moses says “Who am I” and God essentially says that who Moses is, whatever qualifications he does or does not have, is completely irrelevant. God could have called somebody else to save His people! What matters is who God is. This helped me realize that not only should I not be thinking of myself as much, but that it’s just not about me. I wasn’t able to shift my focus onto other people well by myself, but God helped me do so once I finally turned towards Him.

Ripple’s annual retreat day at Spruce Lake.

Though being involved in ministry is about other people, it is still mainly about bringing glory to God. God is at the heart of ministry. When we keep our gaze on our Father we will be able to better see and love the people He puts in front of us. Learning this allowed me to love and serve my new friends at Whitehall and Ripple better. I was able to learn how to serve ‘with’ people, not ‘for’ people, when we focused on God together. Then we could come together to work at their and others’ restoration from a place of mutual understanding and friendship. We could truly serve God together. I hope God never lets me forget that ministry is not about me.

Eszter Bentch is a senior at Wheaton College (Illinois) where she is majoring in Psychology with a minor in Biblical and Theological Studies. In addition to her studies she is an Assistant Resident Director of a dorm and works as a supervisor in Wheaton’s fundraising department, Phonathon. While at college she attends College Church near Wheaton. Her home congregation is Souderton Mennonite Church. Her internship this summer was made possible through a partnership of Franconia Conference, Souderton Mennonite Church, Whitehall Mennonite Church and Ripple.  

 

 

Calling and Shaping Next Generation Leaders

by Stephen Kriss, Executive Minister

Over 25 years ago, I interned through Mennonite Church USA’s Ministry Inquiry Program at my home church in Somerset County, PA.  I loved the experience of working alongside a congregation that had shaped my own decision to follow Jesus and working creatively with a pastor who gave me space to learn, to experiment and to honestly engage life in the church.  At the end of the summer, I declared that I loved the experience, but that I didn’t want to be a pastor because I realized the vastness of the task at hand.   My home church then, four years later, called me as an associate pastor.  It still surprises me that they invited and that I said yes.

This summer, through Souderton Mennonite Church’s Vocation as Mission Program, Mennonite Central Committee’s Summer Service Worker Program, the ongoing Ministry Inquiry Program and a variety of independent initiatives, about a dozen young adults (all under age 30) are finishing up a summer of serving and learning alongside our congregations.  These initiatives are likely some of the best investments of our time and resources into the life and future of the church. 

Not all of them will be called as pastors, but through the mutual time together, the opportunity for shaping and learning  continues to prepare leaders who will engage the church and the world wholeheartedly through the Good News of Christ’s peace.  I am grateful for pastors who make space for those who are learning alongside.  Walking alongside learning leaders takes time, intention and openness.  It’s also being confident and humble enough in your own leadership to realize that other leaders will lead differently, fail differently and that working with next generation leaders can be a constant invitation to learn, for those of us who are more established leaders as well.

Back in my intern days, my pastor – Marvin Kaufman – gave me space to explore cultivating a sister church relationship with an African American congregation in our area.  That exploratory space culminated in Sunday night worship experiences at each of our meetinghouses.  This experience and our congregation’s willingness to participate and follow me into this relationship-building likely shaped forever the kind of ministering and leading person that I have become and am becoming, on working with the Spirit to cross cultural and ethnic boundaries to express the heart of the Gospel of reconciliation and transformation.

Abigail Shelly with Pastor Aldo Siahaan, leading Summer Peace Camp.

I’m so grateful for each of our next generation leaders who said yes this summer, and for the communities that hosted them and walked alongside them.  Working with Jerrell , who is serving alongside our Conference and The Mennonite this summer, has reminded me of the worthy investment of time and fruitfulness of relational possibilities.  Abigail and Tiffany serving together at Philadelphia Praise has made me smile, as they helped host our Interfaith leaders gathering last month with gracious hospitality.  My interactions with the Vocation as Mission interns, as we talked about intercultural challenges and possibilities, inspired me by their sincerity and questions when we met at Bike and Sol.  I loved hearing how much Rebecca and Ezther are valued at their places of service in Philadelphia and the Lehigh Valley.

2018 Vocation as Mission Interns

These experiences are some of the best investments that we make together with our Conference resources.  I’m grateful that we continue to share in this process of calling and shaping next generation leaders together for the sake of the church and the world.   This is our work together, a recognition that calling and shaping next generation leaders is the work of “our village.”   And for me, and hopefully for all of us, this is the kind of work that brings us great joy and hope, a recognition that the Good News goes on, continues to transform and will continue to transform us.

 

Hot, Humid and Hope Building

Despite temperatures in the high 90’s and extreme humidity volunteers from the Eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey MDS Unit began a Partnership Housing Project (PHP) on June 30 and continued working on the home through one of the hottest weeks of the year.  Read the full article printed on the MDS website HERE

No One is “Left Out”!

By Dawn Moore, Souderton Mennonite Church

I had heard there would be a dancing star, singing angels, and a band of clever shepherds in the Christmas Eve musical at Souderton Mennonite Church (SMC), but I was not prepared for the flock of live sheep that came bleating down the aisles!  A second look proved these to be a bevy of adorable children, dressed in white fluff and playing their parts so convincingly that our entire row did a double take.  How cute!

The SMC Christmas Eve musical, “Left Out,” was the result of months of preparation by a multi-talented group.  Actors, musicians, adult and children’s choirs, dancers, hand bell ringers, set and costume designers, and lighting and audio specialists all came together under the direction of Lori Cassel, Paul Bennett, Sarah Scorzetti, and Pastor Tim Bentch, who also wrote and directed the drama.  The result was a meaningful afternoon that literally set the stage for Christmas Eve.

The story begins with the young shepherd boy Benesh who agrees to take the first watch, while his comrades settled down to sleep. When an angel appears bringing Good News, the shepherds awake in a hurry and soon agree: “We must go to Bethlehem to see this great thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”  But alas, someone must stay behind to care for the sheep; Benesh reluctantly fulfills his duty, meaning he will be left out of this once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

Narrated by a mysterious old man, the story unfolded through scripture, prayer, dialogue, poetry, and angelic music, some of it sung by angels, who were every bit as adorable as the sheep! Benesh and his cousin Miriam followed a magical dancing star and found their way to the manger and eventually the cross. Two original compositions by David E. Chávez, with lyrics written by SMC’s own Jason Martin were debuted alongside more familiar Christmas music shared by soloists Emma Bentch and Alex Martin, the SMC choirs, and the whole congregation.

When Benesh finally arrived at the stable to see the baby Jesus, I felt tears welling in my eyes. In the end, all who attended felt the unmistakable love of our all-powerful God who came to earth as a helpless baby. No one was left out of the greatest story ever told.

 

 

Life Together Gets More Interesting

Since 2011, Franconia and Eastern District Conferences have come together for an annual fall Assembly holding separate business sessions, yet enjoying joint times of worship on Friday evening and Saturday morning, sharing in the recognition of newly credentialed leaders, and lunch. This year on November 3 and 4, 2017 they gathered at Dock Mennonite Academy in Souderton, Pennsylvania to do the same. However, new this year, a time of joint meeting was held on Saturday afternoon that focused on reviewing recommendations from the Exploring Reconciliation Reference Team that the two Conferences voted to commission at the 2016 Assembly.

The Assembly was centered on Psalm 133:1,3b, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.” The theme was Life Together, as the focus of the Assembly was that while these two conference may have split 170 years ago, they continue to do life together.  A large part of the Assembly business this year was to look at whether these conferences would take the next step in their relationship, to look even more intentionally at reconciliation and what it would look like if they were to merge into one conference.

The weekend began with Friday night worship led by Tami Good of Swamp Mennonite Church, which included a worship team of folks whose first languages were Indonesian, Spanish and English and who came from congregations in South Philadelphia, New Jersey, and Upper Bucks and Montgomery Counties. The opening prayer was given in Indonesian, Spanish, English and even Pennsylvania Dutch. Videos were shown that highlighted  Souderton Mennonite Church’s Vocation as Mission internship program, “for young adults actively pursuing God’s kingdom in local communities.” Highlighted were the fact that the interns come from congregations across both conferences — most not even realizing there were two conferences — and the relationships built between the interns through Bible study, leadership and social issues trainings, as they worked side by side with local non-profits, businesses and ministries. The other video shown was about the ministries of Deep Run East and Deep Run West — one Franconia Conference church and one Eastern District church that happen to be across the street from one another. Their pastors, Ken Burkholder of Deep Run East and Rodger Schmell of Deep Run West, shared about how their congregations do ministry in such close proximity and how their relationship has changed over the years since their initial split. The worship time was followed by the annual ice cream social provided by Longacres Dairy.

Saturday morning, delegates began their day in separate Eastern District and Franconia Conference business sessions. This was a historic day for Franconia Conference as they became bi-coastal and accepted four new congregations as members, one from Flushing, New York and three from the Los Angeles, California area. Bethany Elshaddai Creative Community in New York is pastored by Hendy Stevans and has been connecting with Franconia Conference for about two years. Hendy is currently a student at Eastern Mennonite Seminary, attending classes at the Lancaster, Pennsylvania campus. The congregations in the Los Angeles area consist of Jemaat Kristen Indonesia Anugerah (JKIA) pastored by Virgo Handoyo, Indonesian Community Christian Fellowship pastored by Makmur Halim, and International Worship Church pastored by Buddy Hannarto. All three have had relationships with Franconia Conference for over a decade. The four congregations’ members are largely from Indonesia and joined with Franconia Conference pastors Aldo Siahaan of Philadelphia Praise Center and Beny Krisbianto of Nations Worship Center to share in a song. To learn more about these congregations check out their congregational profiles here. Following the 98% vote of affirmation to welcome these congregations, the delegates joined in singing songs in both English and Indonesian as a welcome.

The joint Franconia and Eastern District Conference Saturday worship was a time of song, remembering those who have passed on in the last year, and anointing 15 newly credentialed leaders. Following the anointing of the newly credentialed leaders, the leaders were dispersed throughout the auditorium and those in attendance were invited to be prayed over by them. It was truly a time of commissioning and sending forth. There was also a time of recognition of the Centennial of Mennonite Women USA and a video celebrating Eastern District and Franconia Conference’s shared Sistering Committee, a local chapter of Mennonite Women USA.

Following lunch by Landis’ Market, the delegates from Eastern District and Franconia Conferences joined one another around tables to hear from the Exploring Reconciliation Reference Team. The team reviewed their report that had been previously sent to the delegates, which can be accessed here. They also highlighted their recommendations. At their tables, the delegates were then invited to discuss any affirmations, concerns or questions they had regarding the report or the recommendations put forth. These were recorded on sheets of paper and submitted to be compiled and shared with those tasked at carrying out the recommendations, should the delegates vote to move forward with them.

The core recommendation from the team is that Eastern District and Franconia Conference “enter a formal engagement process for the purposes of healing and reconciliation and with the intention of becoming a single, unified conference by November 2019.” In order to do this, the team recommended the forming of two teams: one to work intentionally at addressing the “spiritual and emotional components of reconciliation,” known as the “Healing and Reconciliation Team”, and the other being the “Identity Development and Structural Implementation Team,” tasked with managing “the process of forming a single unified conference, with particular attention to the structure, staffing, financial, and cultural realities of creating a single conference from the two existing conferences.”

Nancy Kauffman, Mennonite Church USA Denominational Minister for the two Conferences, closed the joint time in prayer.

After a short break, the conferences gathered in separate rooms where their delegates recorded on flip chart paper their largest affirmations and concerns regarding moving forward with the recommendations. Present were David Brubaker and Roxy Allen Kioko, consultants from Eastern Mennonite University who had been hired in 2016 and were working with the Exploring Reconciliation Reference Team. Following this and some open microphone time for questions and answers, the delegates voted. With a 90% affirmation from Franconia Conference and a 99% affirmation from Eastern District Conference, both agreed to move forward with working at reconciliation and exploring more formally what a merged conference will look like.

This means that over the next few weeks, both Conference Boards will be looking for nominations for the two teams presented in the recommendations. The goal will be to have these teams appointed no later than the end of the calendar year. According to the recommendations, there is a goal for the Healing and Reconciliation Team to hold a Reconciliation service at a Spring 2018 Assembly, and planning will therefore need to begin quickly. The Identity and Structural Development Team will, over the next two years, work to develop a shared mission and vision, a new organization chart and budget to be presented to the delegates in 2019. Therefore, a decision on whether or not these two conferences will merge will not come until 2019. Over the next few weeks, leaders of both conferences will work to address questions raised about the process. Keep your eye out for more information on that. To find out more about what is expected of these two teams and to nominate yourself or someone else for either team, click here. Nominations are due by Friday, December 1 at midnight.

To close this historic day, the two conferences joined together in song as they continue to look forward to Life Together.

For podcasts of the various business sessions and to view the videos shown at assembly, visit the Assembly page at: edc-fmc.org/assembly.

CLICK HERE to see a recap video of Conference Assembly.

 

Five Signs of Hope in a 300 Year Old Community

by Stephen Kriss, Executive Minister

At our board retreat last week, our California-based consultant, Jeff Wright, suggested that we are living in a time when we often say, “that hasn’t happened before.”  For a 300 year old Conference community to contend with rapid changes requires flexibility and nimbleness that isn’t always characteristic of mature organizational systems.  However, we are more than an organization; we are the people of God.  This is both a challenge and a hope in times where change is rapid, confusing and often disorienting.  Here are five signs of change we haven’t seen before that give me hope and assure me that even though we don’t know a way, there is a way that the Spirit is working out for our ancient faith to thrive into the future.

  1. The summer ministry internship program that was envisioned by Souderton Mennonite Church pastor Tim Bentch and is staffed by Sarah Freeman from the Souderton congregation is giving opportunities for young adults from our Conference and Eastern District Conference to serve alongside their congregations and in nearby communities to extend the peace of Christ. This year’s group of women and one young man remind me that God is still calling and that opportunities to connect to each other are always around us no matter our neighborhood.
  2. In the last weeks, Bethany Church in Queens, New York officially requested membership with our Conference. We are in the midst of a teaching series on Global Anabaptism with the congregation and I had the privilege of preaching there last month on the centrality of Jesus.   The congregation’s pastor is a full-time Eastern Mennonite Seminary student, Hendy Matahelemual, who brings energy, passion and deep care.  If affirmed as a new member this fall, it will be our Conference’s first worshipping community in New York City.
  3. At our Conference Board Retreat, this past weekend, we spent time praying through the lists of our member churches, our Conference Related Ministries (CRMs) and our nearly 100 active credentialed leaders. Reading these lists reminds me of the gifted leaders, our diverse congregations, and the vibrant ministries that receive support and encouragement mutually through our life together.  It was a bit of an old school practice brought to new life with the diversity of who we are becoming, visible on paper.
  4. Franconia congregation pastor Josh Meyer’s recent doctoral research took a glimpse at the callings of millennial pastors in our Conference community. At this time across Mennonite Church USA, we have one of the highest percentages of younger pastors.  At the end of our morning time together, Josh invited us to pray with the millennial pastors who had gathered that morning at Perkiomenville Mennonite’s Christian Life Center.  The tenderness and care of our experienced pastors as they gathered around the five young pastors who were there was moving and beautiful.
  5. Next week a delegation from our Conference is spending time listening to the congregations in California who have sought to become new members of our Conference. We are seeking to spend some time together, to understand past wounds and to imagine new possibilities.  As we go, we will eat, listen, preach and continue to build on the relationships already established.  What might the Spirit be calling us toward as we consider these bi-coastal relationships?

There is growth and challenge across our Conference community these days.   A new thing is becoming; on a daily basis, I am increasingly aware of it.  At the same time, God’s intention is to continue the transformative work that Christ has done in each of us through these things that haven’t happened before.  There is new possibility, each day, for us to encounter the Risen Christ through the things that haven’t happened before in our world.  And there is assurance that there are things that will remain; faith, hope, love.