As more and more young men and women return home from war, the Mennonite church is faced with more of those people entering their congregations. As a peace church should we not be working toward helping all people find peace, including our veterans returning home from war?
Read a reflection on the training by Pastor Chris Nickels at Spring Mount Mennonite Church here.
As a peace church that speaks out against, acts against, and prays against violence, But as the men and women who experience that violence return home, our mandate grows to include helping them find peace and healing.
With a stable team of LEADership Ministers in place, Franconia Conference will be adjusting administrative and communication staffing into the first half of 2015. After 15 years of ministry leadership and administration, Gay Brunt Miller (Spring Mount congregation) announced her intent to leave the conference sometime in early 2015. Brunt Miller has served alongside three different executive leaders and submitted her intent to resign early to allow the Conference to transition smoothly while she explores new vocational possibilities.
Emily Ralph, associate director of communication, relocated to Lancaster in 2013 where she began a pastoral position at Sunnyside Mennonite Church. After serving Franconia for four years, she intends to resign her Conference role by March 1, 2015. Emily will continue communication work with Mennonite World Conference through the global assembly in Harrisburg this summer.
“Gay and Emily have poured their hearts and souls into the ministry of Franconia Conference and we’ve been blessed by them and through them; I have been especially blessed in my role as executive minister. Communication and administration have undergirded the strength of conference ministry over these last few years,” said Ertell M. Whigham, Franconia Conference Executive Minister.
The hiring process for administration and communication roles will begin immediately with an intention to have some overlap within both roles. Staff changes in communication and administration open the possibility for the role to be shaped to serve the conference’s current needs.
Franconia Conference delegates and leaders gathered November 2 at Penn View Christian School in Souderton, Pa. to celebrate God still at work. With a packed auditorium for a third united assembly with Eastern District Conference, representatives gathered to listen and pray, to celebrate newly credentialed and ordained pastoral leaders, and to work alongside one another after an over 150-year rift created two separate Mennonite entities. The theme “God still @ work” was an extension of the 2012 theme, “God @ work.”
With singing in Indonesian, Spanish, and English led by Samantha Lioi (Peace and Justice Minister for both conferences) and Bobby Wibowo (Philadelphia Praise Center) and translation into Franconia Conference’s worshipping languages, delegates and representatives from nearly all of the Conference’s congregations from Georgia to Vermont gathered to confer around a board-crafted statement on the Conference’s increasing diversity in ethnicity, experiences, faith practice, and expression. The gathering was punctuated with points of celebration including testimony from Peaceful Living led by Joe Landis and Louis Cowell from Salford congregation, a youth choir from the revitalizing Garden Chapel in Victory Gardens, NJ, and a moment to mark the upcoming November retirement of Franconia Conference Pastor of Ministerial Leadership Noah Kolb after 45 years of ministry, which was met with rousing applause and a standing ovation.
In a shortened one-day event, delegates spent the morning together around tables with Eastern District Conference to continue to deepen relationships across conference lines. Business sessions were separate, and Franconia’s included a significant amount of time in conversations among table groups, conferring over the board statement and then reporting on those conversations to the whole body. Delegates and representatives were encouraged to mix across congregational lines to better hear and experience the diversity of conference relationships.
For many, including Tami Good, Souderton (Pa.) congregation’s Pastor of Music & Worship, who was attending Conference Assembly for the first time, the table conversations were holy spaces. Each person at her table was from a different congregation. “I saw God at work in the gracious listening, especially in the time when we talked about the conferring statement,” Good reflected. “There were disagreements, but everyone was graciously listening and hearing. Everyone actually wanted to hear each other. It was a beautiful time.”
The conferring time, along with an afternoon workshop led by the Franconia Conference board, focused on prayer and visioning for the Conference into the future. Conference board members Jim Longacre (Bally congregation), Rina Rampogu (Plains congregation), Jim Laverty (Souderton congregation), and Klaudia Smucker (Bally congregation) served as a listening committee for the daylong event. They reported seven themes of consistent and continued conversation: engagement, diversity, shared convictions, authority, polity, the role of conference, and the reality of changing relationships and engagement. Board members noted that there is much response work to do to continue the conversation and discernment process.
Bruce Eglinton-Woods, pastor of Salem congregation (Quakertown, Pa.), said, “The challenge is speaking clearly on what we believe and where we are at, which is often a challenge for Mennonite leaders. My hope and prayer is that we can trust God and release the idea of keeping it all together. We need to let God do the holding together.”
According to Rampogu, one of the longest standing Conference board members, “the hardest part about this kind of meeting is that there isn’t enough time. We want to share and to talk together,” she said. “That is a positive sign. People want to connect. My hope and prayer is that we keep our goal in mind, keeping our mission focused on equipping leaders to empower others to embrace God’s mission, with Christ in the center and churches focused on missional activity.”
In business sessions, delegates selected a number of positions by 97% affirmation including a 2nd term for conference moderator John Goshow (Blooming Glen congregation) along with board member Beny Krisbianto (Nations Worship Center), as well as ministerial and credentialing committee members Rose Bender (Whitehall congregation), Ken Burkholder (Deep Run East congregation), Mike Clemmer (Towamencin congregation) and Chris Nickels (Spring Mount congregation). Randy Nyce (Salford congregation) who is completing a term as finance committee chair and board member reported on Conference finances, noting an 11% decrease in financial contributions from congregations.
“I was surprised and pleased that the attendance at Assembly 2013 was so strong; seeing the room filled to capacity was an affirmation of how much the delegates and guests in attendance care for our conference,” Goshow noted. “Franconia Conference is all of us who are members of our 42 churches and our Conference Related Ministries. It is my hope and prayer that together we chart a course that will advance God’s Kingdom in exciting and wonderful ways.”
Spring Mount Mennonite Church is located in Spring Mount, Pa., in the Perkiomen Valley. At its very beginning (1934) this faith community was a mission Sunday School and summer Bible School, organized by the Franconia Mennonite Mission Board and facilitated by members of Salford Mennonite Church. In the early 20th century communities like Spring Mount were summer resort towns. Visitors from Philadelphia would travel here on the Perkiomen branch of the Reading Railroad that went through each town. The old railroad line is now the Perkiomen Trail, a popular recreational space and part of the county park system. Today Spring Mountain is the main attraction in town, and the Philadelphia Folk Fest is held here annually, just a short distance away from the meetinghouse.
All are welcome in this small, friendly congregation. We value newcomers while continuing to put down roots in our Anabaptist/Mennonite heritage. Our worship style is warmly informal, participatory, and multi-voiced. The leadership structure includes a Church Council and Elder team, with Chris Nickels serving as pastor. Our vision statement reads, “To reach out to our community as a healthy congregation able to offer welcome and fellowship for the purpose of salvation and nurture in God’s grace.”
We have always valued the community and seek to serve and connect with our neighbors through a number of activities, such as the Schwenksville community food pantry. We often experiment with new ways of doing church together, which has led to new expressions like Table Church (a monthly Sunday morning meal liturgy). We value practices like corporate prayer, Bible study, and worship. We particularly like to use food to bless others, through activities like fellowship times and meal ministry.
by Lynne McMullan Allebach, Arise Community Outreach
What happens when you cross St. Patrick’s Day and a Jewish Passover Seder? Everyone who attended Arise in Harleysville on Sunday, March 17, found out as Robin Burstein, Executive Director of the Encore Experience of Harleysville, led the group through a “Shamrock Seder.”
Originally planned as a “Nacho Typical” Seder featuring a Southwestern flavor, the Seder evolved into a Shamrock Seder after Robin learned that St. Patrick, like the Israelites in Egypt, had been taken captive and lived as a slave for a number of years as a young man before escaping and returning to his family. Patrick’s story was a good lead into the beginning of the Seder.
Robin explained about the four glasses of wine (for us, grape juice) that are poured as part of the Seder to represent the four stages of the Exodus:
The first glass of wine represents freedom. We were instructed to break one of the matzos on the table. As the matzos was broken, we were invited to consider what may be “broken” in our world and what we could do as individuals and as a community to make the broken whole again. When had we felt like we were a slave to something? What had led us to great moments of liberation in our lives? Just as the Jews are called to remember their liberation from slavery in Egypt during the Passover Seder, we can look for those places in our lives where God has led us to freedom.
The second glass of wine represents deliverance. At this point in the Seder we were invited to prepare a sandwich to remember the bitterness of slavery in Egypt with maror (horseradish) mixed with the hope of the Promised Land represented by charoset (apples, nuts, and honey) served on the unleavened bread (matzos). We were led in a recounting of the ten plagues that beset the Egyptians because of Pharaoh’s refusal to let the Israelites go. This was done by dipping a finger in the wine and dripping a drop of wine, much like falling tears, onto our plates. Where can we see bitterness in our lives transformed by God’s deliverance today?
At this point in the Seder a meal is served. The Seder is a meal of remembrance and we remembered St. Patrick as we enjoyed a baked potato bar. We were reminded that a potato famine in Ireland led to an exodus of many of its citizens. Hardships have been experienced by many different people groups; as we see the similarities in our own stories, we see that we are not that different from one another.
The meal was followed by the third glass of wine, which represents redemption. Before drinking, we were instructed to each eat a piece of the broken matzos known as the Afikomen. This was followed by a prayer of blessing and another question – how do we get in the habit of freely expressing gratitude?
Finally, the last glass of wine, representing release, was poured. A cup was also poured for the prophet Elijah. It is traditionally believed that he will come at Passover to herald the Messiah, so in anticipation, a door is opened to look for him and someone is sent to the door to invite him in. One of our group went to the door to look for Elijah and we all waited eagerly to see who might come in to join us. Despite the fact that Elijah did not come to our Seder, we still poured some of our own wine into his cup with our wish for the world in the coming year.
In the Seder we remembered the four stages of the Exodus – freedom, deliverance, redemption, and release. All of these promises are ours today through Christ, who celebrated the Seder with his disciples that very first Holy Week. His broken body is our matzo bread and his blood is the wine we drink in remembrance of our deliverance from our own Egypts.
Last summer the members of our worship commission, led by Eileen Viau, were planning for the fall and doing some reflection together. It was less about the monthly details and more of a “big picture” conversation about our identity as a worshiping congregation.
Worship is an expression, and the style of a congregation’s corporate worship can reflect the gifts and talents of the group. Among other things, we asked ourselves, “What are some of the gifts present within the Spring Mount congregation that God might want to use at this time?” And fairly quickly an experiment in doing church began to take shape.
In listening to church members, a sentiment that I heard voiced a number of times was “We should have more fellowship meals.” Those meals have always been a popular event–an atmosphere of comfort and fun. And our congregation is particularly good at facilitating ministry with meals. In the past we created worship and Bible study experiences that included a food element, such as an Anabaptist meal liturgy (with resources from our friend Stuart Murray Williams) and Saturday morning breakfast Bible studies. Every Sunday morning we enjoy an abundance of refreshments for fellowship time, coordinated by our dedicated hospitality team. Stacey Hallahan’s chocolate cake, Lorene Nyce’s monkey bread, and Ruth Reinford’s mango salsa are some of the best culinary treats you can find in the Perkiomen Valley (or anywhere else for that matter). If we were going to experiment with a new kind of ministry, it seemed natural to move in a direction involving food and hospitality.
Our conversation landed on the idea of creating a monthly Sunday morning meal liturgy. I believe Gay Brunt Miller first mentioned the name “Table Church,” which we liked and which certainly fit because this would be “church happening around tables.” Table Church is modeled after Jesus’ table practices and the gatherings of early Christians that we noticed in the New Testament (Acts 2:42). It is a potluck meal (everyone brings a brunch-type food) reminding us that we all participate in the church and each has something of value to share–no matter how big or small the contribution. We sit at round tables, facing one another, in an environment intended for conversation. A simple liturgy was created for this time to guide us as we eat, pray, share, laugh, and reflect on a Bible story together.
There is no sermon at Table Church. Instead, we listen as someone reads the Bible passage aloud and then each table group reflects on it by asking missional questions (adapted from Darrell Guder): What does the passage say about God? About us? What is the Good News in this passage? How does this passage send us out to help in God’s Mission? We may not have a typical sermon at Table Church, but the potential exists for a collective one to emerge as we respond to the Story, to each other, and to the voice of the Spirit. Various people of different ages participate in leading elements of the liturgy, through praying, reading the scripture, and offering a blessing to the group before we depart.
For each Table Church, we print a Spring Mount trivia question in the bulletin as a conversation starter (Example: Name the famous music act that wrote a song about the Perkiomen Creek.*). The questions are a fun way to delve into some of the history of our town. For some of us the answers are new information, while for others they recall memories from the past. It was great to observe one question–about a local park–inspire some reminiscing about the person the park was named for, a friend of a few church members.
It feels like God is doing something among us through Table Church. I think we are continuing to discover the vital ministry of hospitality. We are learning about the place where we meet, the place on whose behalf we are “seeking the peace” (Jer. 29:7). We are further experiencing the value of multi-voiced worship, and how God is present and shapes us as we listen to each other and to God’s Story. We are trying out new recipes and sharing new foods; one table group recently proposed the idea of creating a Table Church cookbook. So far, I think we are discovering that the table can be a fun, meaningful, and even holy place. No wonder Jesus spent so much time there.
It’s a misty evening as I sit cuddled under a blanket with my laptop and a snoring dog, watching the presidential debate. Even as I type, President Obama and Governor Romney are debating the economy.
I feel my temperature rising, and it has nothing to do with the blanket. I grew up in a family in which “debate” sounds more like calm discussion and a stern voice feels like yelling. Just watching the debate is feeding my anxiety.
And, if anyone else experiences conflict like I do, the election this coming November could be incredibly divisive for the church. And how much moreso, when you mix people like me with those who are very comfortable with debate, raised voices, and hearty conversation? How do we keep our eyes focused on our shared allegiance—to Jesus Christ—in the midst of such diversity and disagreement?
Leaders in Mennonite churches across the nation suggest a simple answer: Election Day Communion. “Election Day Communion is a way of engaging and resisting the world,” reflected Joe Hackman, pastor at Salford (Harleysville, Pa.) congregation, who will be hosting Election Day Communion this November. “It’s a small demonstration of being the peace of Christ in a noisy, partisan culture—a sort of countercultural statement about what we believe ultimately holds our politics together.”
“During the day of November 6, 2012, we will make different choices for different reasons, hoping for different results,” the Election Day Communion website says. “But that evening while our nation turns its attention to the outcome of the presidential election, let’s again choose differently. But this time, let’s do it together.”
Tuesday night communion is not a new idea—Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran churches have held Tuesday communion services for generations. And Election Day Communion doesn’t just belong to Mennonites. Doylestown (Pa.) congregation will be hosting an ecumenical service, according to associate pastor KrisAnne Swartley. “We are inviting other area churches outside the Mennonite denomination to partner with us in planning the service,” she said. “We want to cross all kinds of cultural dividing lines in this communion service—we know that God’s Kingdom of love also crosses all boundaries.”
Wayne Nitzsche and the elder team at Perkasie (Pa.) congregation plan to keep the service simple. “Our church mission statement is ‘to model Jesus,’” Nitzsche said. “As we come together the evening of November 6, we’ll model Jesus in some small way as we remember that Jesus non-violently addressed the political powers and established a new [politic] of love. We love as he loved as we eat and drink with those who voted and those who didn’t. ALL will be welcomed at the table.”
As I type, I feel my heartbeat slowing. Governor Romney and President Obama are still battling it out in the background, but the rhetoric no longer feeds my anxiety. There is hope. “God continues to demonstrate that another world is possible,” said Chris Nickels, pastor of Spring Mount (Pa.) congregation. “There is a path that leads out of a divisive cultural reality and Christ invites us to come to the table to take a step forward together.”
Where will you spend the evening on Election Day? Find a list of congregations hosting Election Day Communion services on the official website.