Tag Archives: Souderton Mennonite Church

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.

Are We Driving Our Children Away from God?

By Tim Bentch, Pastor at Souderton Mennonite Church (originally published in the Souderton Mennonite Church November 2016 newsletter)

As I write, this article, I am already feeling guilty about my own deficiencies as a parent – all the ways I could have helped my children excel in sports, music, and academics. I could do more!  All the missed opportunities to help my children become successful in life! We parents are plagued by guilt and we also feel the constant pressure from our society to be super parents and to turn out super kids.

But, are these pressures and expectations in balance with what we know is the ultimate goal of Christ-following parents – to help our children find Jesus? Are we helping our children find God and doing all we can to model a pursuit of God for them?

One area we need to take a strong look at is the current sports obsession (though there are many obsessions in other areas). With this in view, I ask the question: Are you driving your children away from God – literally? When you drive your child to a soccer match or practice on Sunday mornings, what is that teaching your child?

My wife and I served in Eastern Europe beginning a few years after the fall of Communism. In many of the countries under Soviet domination, Christians faced discrimination and persecution. In Moscow, I met a talented young musician who played the clarinet beautifully. He was in his late twenties. Why, I asked, didn’t he go to the conservatory of music or to a university for formal studies? He looked at me with a puzzled expression that said, don’t you know? Under Communism, there was no way he could be accepted into a conservatory or a university because he was active in the church – automatic disqualification. But, he chose to be faithful to God by staying active in the local church even though it meant that ‘success’ for him in a musical career or in any other field that required a college education was not possible.

I met an outstanding singer in Timisoara, Romania. He had one of those voices you usually only find in the east – a deep, dark, profound, resonant voice. When I heard him sing, I was incredulous. “Why aren’t you a leading soloist in the opera?” I asked. Again, that puzzled look; don’t you know?  He told me that when he finished conservatory, he was offered a contract to be a soloist with the opera. But, they said, there’s one thing, “You will have to give up going to church. A soloist in the opera cannot be known to be a Christian.” He told them immediately, “No way,” and turned down the contract. Instead, he took a position with the choir of the philharmonic – not nearly as prestigious, but he stayed active in his local church.

I think about many others who made huge sacrifices in order to be faithful to Jesus and to honor him by serving in church. Yet, we choose sporting events over church? Really? When we are driving our children to a practice or a game instead of worship or instead of a Wednesday night youth meeting, what message does that send to our children? Are we saying, we only go to church when there’s nothing better to do?  Are we placing sports, or work, or leisure, above knowing and serving God?  The Bible calls this idolatry.

Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” The patterns that we give to our children will stay with them the rest of their lives. If we are communicating that church is not important now, how can we expect that they will go to church when they are older? If we are modeling for them a faith that requires no sacrifice, then what good is it? What could be more important than our children’s eternal destiny?

Creating Space

By Jenifer Eriksen Morales

teddy bear picnicMy 4-year-old daughter invited me to join her picnic, complete with plastic fruit.  I looked at the stuffed animal guests, “Wow, you have very different friends.  Aren’t you afraid the bear will eat the dogs or the dogs will eat the cats?” She patiently responded, “No Mommy.  That is not going to happen because Jesus is with us.” She pointed to a doll wrapped in white lying on the edge of the picnic blanket. “See?”

What a prime example of hospitality according to Henri Nouwen’s definition, quoted in last week’s Intersectings. “Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place…”

My role as a LEADership minister offers me many opportunities to witness hospitality at its finest within Franconia Conference.  Here are just a few ways in which congregations or members of congregations are “creating space.”

West Philadelphia Mennonite Fellowship is partnering with Redemption Housing to purchase a recovery home in West Philadelphia that is designed to encourage and support returning citizens. Not only are they collaborating in ministry with this organization, but the congregation will spend the next year preparing themselves to better understand, welcome and build relationships with citizens returning from prison to the broader community and congregation.  This will happen through trainings, Sunday school studies, and guest speakers who will help them grow in understanding the prison system/mass incarceration, and intercultural competencies.

A year ago, a man in the Spring Mount congregation told me about multiple new neighbors who are Muslim.  He asked me to recommend books he could read to learn more about this faith tradition.  Recently, he returned a book I lent him and told me about his on-going learning about Islam and the comfortable friendships he is forming with his neighbors from Pakistan, Egypt and Bangladesh.

Souderton Mennonite Church recently turned an extra Sunday school room into a warm, living room-type space where parents can retreat and connect with each other.  I spent some Wednesday evening club nights there drinking coffee and visiting with others.  I was able to get to know a woman from the Congo. Thanks to the provided space, our family has new friends.

Plains Mennonite Church has a beautiful park which often serves as space for people to connect.  Members of the congregation hang out at the park to have conversation and build relationships with neighbors who gather there for basketball, soccer, disc golf, or just to play at the playground. One member of the congregation carries dog treats in his pocket and takes a couple minutes to greet people and their pets.  This summer the congregation is hosting Art in the Park.  They will hold concerts, movies, and line dancing.  This July, a simple meal will be served each week in the pavilion followed by an art of living class on different topics such as gardening, or cooking/preserving in season foods. This is all free and open to the community. The goal is for all to feel welcomed and comfortable, including those with special needs. To prepare for this time, the congregation will devote June Sunday school classes to raising sensitivity and awareness and learning how to embrace and reach out to the special needs community.

5 years ago, the Perkasie congregation received a Franconia Conference grant to aid in their endeavor to create a safe place for people from the community to gather with faith-related questions or to talk about different ways of understanding the Bible.  The friendships formed there have been lasting.  This group of people still meet and are currently studying Phyllis Tickle’s video series around the theme of Emergent Christianity.

I could write pages about the different ways I see congregations and individuals intentionally creating space where strangers can come together.  As followers and worshipers of Jesus, we live in Jesus’ promise to be with us always.  The space we create in the name of Jesus, where lives and love are shared and transformed is ordinary and sacred.  Because Jesus is with us.  See?

Jenifer Eriksen Morales is Minister of Transitional Ministries and a LEADership Minister for eleven congregations in Franconia Conference.