A joint release of Franconia Mennonite Conference and The Mennonite, Inc.
Franconia Mennonite Conference of Mennonite Church USA and The Mennonite, Inc., have jointly appointed Jerrell Williams as staff for this summer. Based in Philadelphia, Williams will work part time for Franconia Mennonite Conference as associate for leadership cultivation and part time for The Mennonite, Inc., as editorial assistant.
Over 10 weeks, Williams will guest preach, build relationships and further explore urban ministry among Franconia Conference congregations and ministries, mostly in eastern Pennsylvania.
“Jerrell is an impressive, thoughtful emerging Anabaptist leader,” says Steve Kriss, executive minister for Franconia Mennonite Conference. “I look forward to learning from him through his engagement with our conference community this summer. Our invitation to Jerrell is part of an ongoing commitment to next-generation leadership formation with gifted young leaders who serve and lead both within and beyond our historic conference community in extending the way of Christ’s peace.”
Williams will produce a weekly blog post for TheMennonite.org in which he will reflect on the people and ministries he encounters, in addition to several other content production and editing assignments.
“Jerrell’s passion for exploring how Mennonites are engaging their local contexts and his interest in developing his skills as a communicator makes him a great fit for The Mennonite,” says Sheldon C. Good, executive director of The Mennonite, Inc. “We can all benefit from engaging the stories he shares with us this summer.”
In the June 2016 issue of The Mennonite, Williams was selected as one of “20 under 40.” Readers nominated people in their congregations under age 40 who are committed to following Jesus, attend church and find value in Christian faith and community. Nearly 90 individuals were nominated.
For generations, one of the primary tasks of Franconia Conference was to provide leadership accompaniment with congregations and credentialed leaders. The call to serve as a bishop was a serious call to lead, serve and offer wisdom and counsel. It was a weighty role. I grew up with a bishop in my home community in Allegheny Conference and for some of us in Franconia, we remember those days, too. Our bishop still wore a plain coat on Sundays and he preached long sermons. I still remember being surprised to see him visiting his sister one day while working on the garden to pick green beans and he was wearing a flannel shirt, conversing (not preaching) and laughing.
For almost a decade now, our conference has framed this work as leadership ministers. We have attempted to find footing alongside congregations to invite, provoke and accompany during rapid cultural changes. Our conference is now served by a team of ten leadership ministers: men and women from different generations, with different cultural backgrounds and different language capacities to continue to cultivate God’s dream among our 45 congregations. It’s a key task and incarnation of what we do together.
Our leadership ministers met the end of March, during what we hope will be the last heavy snowstorm, at Mariawald Retreat Center near Reading to review and reimagine our work together. Some of us weren’t able to get there due to the snow, so we used Zoom to connect with these colleagues. Some colleagues left early and some stayed later to wait out the storm. In the meantime, we enjoyed the lovely and hospitable space of Mariawald, hosted by Catholic nuns from Africa who are now in Berks County as part of their vocation of serving God and the church. The snow was stunningly beautiful even though we may have been ready to move onto spring. It was in some ways metaphoric of the difficulty and possibility of doing our work in this time and space.
Together we began the task of refining our work. We will continue to work around the Conference’s approach to ministry and leadership which is formational, missional and intercultural. We will continue to align our ministry staff around those ongoing priorities. We are beginning to work together to understand how to include congregations at our farthest distances now with a staff representative based in California to serve our congregations there. And we’re evaluating best practices to serve congregations that are close by to us too, sometimes just blocks from where we live or less than a mile from the Conference office at Dock Mennonite Academy.
I am grateful now for a full staff team after over a year of navigating through changes. We are beginning to learn together, to laugh, to build deeper trust. We are leaning in toward our individual gifts and callings recognizing our invitation to serve God in the way of Christ’s peace through our historic and growing community. As a Conference, we are privileged to be resourced well through ongoing generosity and wise stewardship. I continue to be grateful for the sense of care and mutuality that we have together and the divine invitation to continued transformation by the power of the Spirit in this journey of faith, hope and love together.
Desplácese hacia abajo para la traducción al español / Scroll down for Spanish translation
By Gwen Groff, Pastor at Bethany Mennonite Church, and FMC Board Member
We were just one or two days into our Mexico trip when Steve Kriss, Executive Minister of Franconia Conference, said, “I think all they really are asking for from us is for relationship.”
In the end, I believe that was the purpose of our Franconia Conference visit to Mexico: exploring and deepening relationships. Two Franconia Conference board members, Angela Moyer and I, and our Executive Minister, Steve Kriss, traveled to Mexico City, Puebla, Oaxaca, and Toluca and visited various congregations, pastors and leaders of Conferencia de Iglesias Evangélicas Anabautistas Menonitas de México (CIEAMM) for a week.
Franconia Conference had helped to create CIEAMM in 1958, but the formal relationship ended about a decade ago. Our hosts for the week were CIEAMM’s conference moderator, Carlos Martinez Garcia and one of CIEAMM’s pastors, Oscar Jaime Dominguez Martinez. Together we visited congregations that had been planted and supported by Franconia Conference sixty years ago, as well as new ministries that have been emerging.
We first worshiped with Iglesia Maranatha in Puebla. Children and youth were fully involved in leading the service. Over a meal of tostadas they enthusiastically invited Franconia Conference youth to please come and help them with their summer Bible School this July.
The following day we traveled to Casa de Esperanza in Oaxaca, where the congregation meets in the home of Luis R. Matias. We sang and had a short Bible study and a long meal of the local tortilla-based, tlayudas. We met with college students and young adults who are strongly committed to working for justice. We heard about their dream of a place to help meet the needs of Central American refugees passing through their town. The Oaxacan leaders wish for more training in conflict transformation. The musical gifts in this community were abundant, and their warmth and joy were immense. We ended the day with tea with Luis at a cafe where his daughter Paloma was singing and playing guitar. Luis said, “How good is this? My daughter is being paid to sing to me while I eat!”
The following day was a travel day back to Mexico City ending with a taco meal with the congregation at Fraternidad Cristiana Nueva Vida Espartaco.
On Sunday, we worshiped with six of the congregations of CIEAMM. Steve shared a sermon on 1 Corinthians 12:12-26 “In the body of Christ, there are different parts, but not walls.” As usual, our worship concluded with a delicious meal together, and gifted musicians sang, drummed, bowed, plucked and strummed while we fellowshipped. We were overjoyed to see Ofelia Garcia and Victor Pedroza who had recently returned from 8 years of ministry in Chihuahua with colony Mennonites. Ofelia will be coming to Franconia Conference this September to share a weekend Sistering retreat with our Spanish-speaking sisters. During our time here, one seasoned Mennonite agency staff person shared with Steve some concrete advice about partnerships between the United States and Mexican church groups: Always relate as equals; never make the relationship about money; if money is exchanged, let it pass through conferences and congregations, not individuals; if you visit with a group, always include youth in the group.
A visit to Toluca was our last journey. We met with Juan Carlos Maya and Sara Zuniga, leaders at Centro Cristiano. Sara’s mother was one of the first Mennonites Ken Seitz baptized, just before Sara was born. In the evening, we relaxed together, a small group of Anabaptists, sitting around an outdoor table in the plaza, listening to a band, watching the dancers, reminiscing about parents who gave up rumba and salsa dancing when they became Mennonites. At breakfast Sara showed us photo albums of her family that included Mennonites we know as Franconia Conference missionaries.
On Monday, we visited their community center and listened to a passionate power-point presentation (it’s not an oxymoron). These Anabaptists in Toluca teach children to play musical instruments as a part of an orchestra, as a way of understanding the body of Christ. With group music lessons they are building a community. Juan Carlos and Sara showed us plans for their building expansion and introduced us to a neighbor with a brick-making operation. When Juan Carlos walked the dusty streets of Toluca, children ran to him and hugged him and walked arm in arm with him. Angela observed, “He is what Jesus would have been like if Jesus had made it to 60.” His understanding of ministry is a movement from “solidarity first, then Jesus Christ, ultimately Koininia.” He said the opposite of this is “ego first, then hedonism, which ultimately leads to capitalism.”
Elders in these Anabaptist congregations who have been in leadership positions in their churches since they were young are intentionally stepping back in order to make space for new young leaders and to mentor them.
Our visits ended Monday evening with a meeting and meal with leaders from the congregations in Mexico City. They talked about their dreams for their congregations. Women pastors were especially warm in their welcome and enthusiastic about sharing their work and interest in receiving more training in theology and ministry.
What if all we want is relationship? People repeatedly told us, “You have to come back. I can’t visit you, you must come here.” This was Angela’s fourth trip to CIEAMM congregations in Mexico, Steve’s third visit, my first. I learned much from my more fluent Franconia traveling companions. We three were grateful for the generous, meticulous planning of our CIEAMM hosts, Carlos and Oscar. We in Franconia Conference have much to learn much from our Anabaptist sisters and brothers in Mexico.
I was grateful for one theological observation Carlos made in passing. He said, “Christianity is a religion of travel.” A cynical person might suggest that Carlos’ assertion is a bit self-serving. After all, he is a well-traveled Mexican Conference Moderator, journeying through Mexico, visiting churches with a group of Mennonites from the United States, about to embark on a visit to Kenya next week; of course he would believe Christianity is a religion of travel. A cynic might also suspect that my enthusiastic agreement with Carlos is colored by the fact that I’m the Franconia Conference board member from Vermont, grateful for a trip to sunny Mexico in early April when there’s still a foot of snow on the ground at home. Of course we all want to believe Christianity endorses travel!
But I believe without cynicism that Carlos is right. Christianity started with journeys. Jesus walked hundreds of miles, and he and his disciples got in a boat and “crossed over to the other side” of the lake far more often than was strictly necessary. Think of the apostle Paul, Carlos said, who undertook many missionary journeys to spread the good news of Christ. In addition to what we bring when we visit, travel puts us in a new position to receive.
Traveling makes us curious, vulnerable, and open to being wrong. Our bodies get tired. We may get a bit sick. We do not fully understand the language. We listen hard. We may break cultural rules we don’t even know exist. We laugh at our mistakes. All this is a good posture for sharing the story of the self-emptying Christ, for deepening our own faith, and for building relationships.
PHOTO GALLERY (click to see larger images)
Cristianismo: una religión de viajes
Por Gwen Groff, pastor de la Iglesia Menonita Bethany y miembro de la Junta de la FMC. (traducción Luis Rey Matías-Cruz)
Teníamos apenas uno o dos días en nuestro viaje a México cuando Steve Kriss, Ministro Ejecutivo de la Conferencia de Franconia, dijo: “Creo que todo lo que realmente piden ellos/ellas es una relación”.
Al final, creo que ese fue el propósito de nuestra visita de la Conferencia de Franconia en México: explorar y profundizar las relaciones. Dos miembros de la junta de la Conferencia de Franconia, Angela Moyer y yo, y nuestro Ministro ejecutivo, Steve Kriss, viajamos a la ciudad de México, Puebla, Oaxaca y Toluca y visitamos varias congregaciones, pastores y líderes de la Conferencia de Iglesias Evangélicas Anabautistas Menonitas de México (CIEAMM) durante una semana.
La Conferencia de Franconia había ayudado a crear CIEAMM en 1958, pero la relación formal terminó hace una década. Nuestros anfitriones de la semana fueron el moderador de la conferencia de CIEAMM, Carlos Martínez García y uno de los pastores de CIEAMM, Oscar Jaime Domínguez Martínez. Juntos visitamos congregaciones que habían sido plantadas y apoyadas por la Conferencia de Franconia hace sesenta años, así como nuevos ministerios que han estado surgiendo.
Primero alabamos al Señor en la Iglesia Maranatha en Puebla. Los niños y los jóvenes se involucraron completamente en dirigir el servicio. Durante una comida de tostadas, invitaron con entusiasmo a los jóvenes de la Conferencia de Franconia a venir y ayudarlos con su Escuela Bíblica de verano este julio.
Al día siguiente viajamos a Casa de Esperanza en Oaxaca, donde la congregación se reúne en la casa de Luis R. Matias. Cantamos y tuvimos un breve estudio de la Biblia y una larga comida de tlayudas, una tortilla local. Nos reunimos con estudiantes universitarios y adultos jóvenes que están fuertemente comprometidos con trabajar por la justicia. Escuchamos acerca de su sueño de un lugar para ayudar a satisfacer las necesidades de los refugiados centroamericanos que pasan por su pueblo. Los líderes oaxaqueños desean más capacitación en la transformación de conflictos. Los dones musicales en esta comunidad eran abundantes, y su calidez y alegría eran inmensos. Terminamos el día con el té con Luis en un café donde su hija Paloma cantaba y tocaba la guitarra. Luis dijo: “¿No es esto muy bueno9? A mi hija le pagan para que me cante mientras yo como “.
El día siguiente fue un día de viaje de regreso a la Ciudad de México, terminando con una comida de tacos con la congregación Fraternidad Cristiana Nueva Vida Espartaco.
El domingo, rendimos culto seis de las congregaciones de CIEAMM. Steve compartió un sermón en 1 Corintios 12: 12-26 “En el cuerpo de Cristo, hay diferentes partes, pero no paredes”. Como de costumbre, nuestra adoración concluyó con una deliciosa comida en conjunto, y los músicos talentosos cantaron, tocaron, hicieron una reverencia, puntearon y rasguearon mientras nosotros compartíamos. Nos llenó de alegría ver a Ofelia García y Víctor Pedroza que habían regresado recientemente de 8 años de ministerio en Chihuahua con colonos menonitas. Ofelia vendrá a la Conferencia de Franconia este septiembre para compartir un retiro de hermandad de fin de semana con nuestras hermanas hablantes del español. Durante nuestro tiempo aquí, un miembro experimentado de la agencia menonita compartió con Steve algunos consejos concretos sobre las asociaciones entre los Estados Unidos y los grupos eclesiales mexicanos: relacionarse siempre como iguales; nunca hagas la relación en base al dinero; si se intercambia dinero, déjalo pasar por conferencias y congregaciones, no por individuos; si visitas con un grupo, siempre incluye a los jóvenes en el grupo.
Una visita a Toluca fue nuestro último viaje. Nos reunimos con Juan Carlos Maya y Sara Zuniga, líderes del Centro Cristiano. La madre de Sara fue una de las primeros menonitas bautizados por Ken Seitz, justo antes de que Sara naciera. Por la tarde, nos relajamos juntos, éramos un pequeño grupo de anabautistas, sentados alrededor de una mesa al aire libre en la plaza, escuchando a una banda, mirando a los bailarines, recordando a los padres que abandonaron la rumba y la salsa cuando se convirtieron en menonitas. Durante el desayuno, Sara nos mostró álbumes de fotos de su familia que incluían menonitas que conocemos como misioneros de la Conferencia de Franconia. El lunes, visitamos su centro comunitario y escuchamos una apasionada presentación en power-point (no es un oxímoron). Estos anabautistas en Toluca enseñan a los niños a tocar instrumentos musicales como parte de una orquesta, como una forma de entender el cuerpo de Cristo. Con lecciones de música en grupo, están construyendo una comunidad. Juan Carlos y Sara nos mostraron los planes para la expansión de sus edificios y nos presentaron a un vecino con una operación de fabricación de ladrillos. Cuando Juan Carlos caminó por las polvorientas calles de Toluca, los niños corrieron hacia él, lo abrazaron y caminaron cogidos del brazo con él. Ángela dijo acerca de Juan Carlos: ” Él es lo que Jesús hubiera sido, si Jesús hubiera llegado a los 60.” Su comprensión del ministerio (de Juan Carlos) es un movimiento desde la “solidaridad primero, luego a Jesucristo, en última instancia a Koininia”. Dijo que lo opuesto a esto es “ego” primero, luego el hedonismo, que finalmente conduce al capitalismo “.
Los ancianos en estas congregaciones anabautistas que han estado en posiciones de liderazgo en sus iglesias desde que eran pequeños están retrocediendo intencionalmente para dejar espacio para nuevos líderes jóvenes y para ser mentores de ellos.
Nuestras visitas finalizaron el lunes por la noche con una reunión y comida con los líderes de las congregaciones en la Ciudad de México. Estos hablaron sobre sus sueños para sus congregaciones. Las pastoras fueron especialmente cálidas en su acogida y entusiastas de compartir su trabajo y su interés en recibir más capacitación en teología y ministerio.
¿Qué pasa si todo lo que queremos es una relación? La gente repetidamente nos dijo: “Tienes que volver. No puedo visitarte, debes venir aquí “. Este fue el cuarto viaje de Angela a las congregaciones de CIEAMM en México, la tercera visita de Steve, la primera para mi. Aprendí mucho de mis compañeros de viaje más francos de Franconia. Los tres estábamos agradecidos por la planificación generosa y meticulosa de nuestros anfitriones de CIEAMM, Carlos y Oscar. Nosotros en la Conferencia de Franconia tenemos mucho que aprender mucho de nuestras hermanas y hermanos anabautistas en México.
Agradecí una observación teológica de pasada que hizo Carlos: “El cristianismo es una religión de viajes”. Una persona cínica podría sugerir que la afirmación de Carlos era un poco egoísta. Después de todo, es un Moderador de la Conferencia Mexicana muy viajado, viaja a través de México, visitando iglesias con un grupo de menonitas de los Estados Unidos, a punto de emprender una visita a Kenia la próxima semana; por supuesto, él creería que el cristianismo es una religión de viajes. Un cínico también podría sospechar que mi entusiasta acuerdo con Carlos está teñido por el hecho de que soy miembro de la junta directiva de Franconia Conference de Vermont, agradecida por un viaje al soleado México a principios de abril, cuando aún queda un pie de nieve en el suelo en casa. . ¡Por supuesto, todos queremos creer que el cristianismo aprueba el viaje!
Pero creo, sin cinismo, que Carlos tiene razón. El cristianismo comenzó con los viajes. Jesús caminó cientos de millas, y él y sus discípulos subieron a un bote y “cruzaron al otro lado” del lago con mucha más frecuencia de lo necesario, estrictamente hablando. Piensa en el apóstol Pablo, dijo Carlos, quien emprendió muchos viajes misioneros para difundir las buenas nuevas de Cristo. Además de lo que traemos cuando viajamos, viajar nos pone en una nueva situación para recibir.
Viajar nos hace curiosos, vulnerables y abiertos a estar equivocados. Nuestros cuerpos se cansan. Podemos ponernos un poco enfermos. No comprendemos completamente el lenguaje. Escuchamos mucho. Podemos romper las reglas culturales que ni siquiera sabemos que existen. Nos reímos de nuestros errores. Todo esto es una buena postura para compartir la historia del Cristo que se vació a si mismo, para profundizar nuestra propia fe y para construir relaciones. (traducción Luis Rey Matias-Cruz)
As 1 Corinthians 12:14 states, “For the body is not one member, but many,” and as it is said in Ecclesiastes 4:9, “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labor.” So too, is it with Franconia Conference. Each member of the Franconia Conference team being a vital piece, bringing their gifts and talents to further the work of the Lord. This month Franconia Conference welcomed several new members to the team including two new board members and new staff.
At the March 19 Conference Board Meeting, Yvonne Platts of Nueva Vida Norristown New Life and Cory Longacre of Souderton Mennonite Church were welcomed as new board members. Yvonne was affirmed by board vote. Cory was affirmed by the board to replace the assembly-appointed board member Smita Singh who resigned this past fall. He will therefore be on the ballot at the fall 2018 Assembly for delegate affirmation. Both Yvonne and Cory bring long-standing Anabaptist roots within Franconia Conference and deep connections to their local communities.
Yvonne Platts was baptized at an early age in the Mennonite church and has grown up at Nueva Vida Norristown New Life. Yvonne serves within her congregation on the Enlarging Our Place in Gods World Leadership Team. Her primary work is with Family Services of Montgomery County as a Community Outreach Worker with the Norristown Violence Prevention Initiative, from whom she received the Outstanding Service Award in November 2017. She is also a member of Roots of Justice Inc. which addresses issues of racism and other oppressions, creating awareness, understanding and knowledge toward building a just society for people groups in churches, organizations, and community. Currently, she is actively working within the Norristown School District to train Circle Keepers for Restorative Justice Peace Circles. Training and equipping community members to become Circle Keepers is a deep passion of Yvonne’s, as she hopes for the establishment of community based alternatives to juvenile detention.
Pastor Angela Moyer of Ripple in Allentown and a member of the Conference Board stated that she has volumes of admiration and respect for the work Yvonne does in the community. Executive Minister Steve Kriss says, “Yvonne is well equipped to think and respond in the best interest of the whole of the Conference with her long history at Nueva Vida Norristown New Life.”
Cory Longacre comes to the Conference Board recently finishing his third-and-final three year term on the Souderton Mennonite Church Board where he spent the last three years as chair. Cory grew up at Swamp Mennonite Church, settling in after college at Souderton with his wife Linda. He first accepted Jesus at Spruce Lake Camp around the age of 13 and was then baptized at age 15 at Swamp. He is a graduate of Dock Mennonite Academy, both the former Penn View Christian School and Christopher Dock Mennonite High School. He also received his Bachelors in Business Management from Eastern Mennonite University where he met his wife Linda, whom he married in 1993. They have 3 children: Olyvia, age 19, Davry, age 15, and Zeke, age 11.
Cory currently co-owns TNC Self Storage and is Fleet Operations Manager at Perkiomen Tours. Previously he spent 20 years with Farm & Home Oil Company where he started in sales, then after 4 years transitioned to management, moving his way to Vice President where he spent several years before ending his time with the company.
“Cory brings a wealth of experience as both a community and business leader. He is both reflective and entrepreneurial — assets for our Conference,” said Steve Kriss.
Cory is grateful for the opportunity to serve. “I look forward to joining Franconia Conference Board,” he says, “to help guide and discern as our conference continues to grow and evolve while maintaining our Anabaptist values.”
Joining the Franconia Conference in staff roles, are Jeff Wright as a LEADership Minister, Chantelle Todman Moore as Intercultural Leadership Coach, and current LEADership Minister Marta Castillo, who is increasing her time with the Conference and becoming the LEADership Minister of Intercultural Formation.
Jeff Wright will serve as a LEADership Minister, specifically working with Franconia Conference’s three congregations in Southern California: Indonesian Community Christian Fellowship, International Worship Church, and Jemaat Kristen Indonesia Anugerah (JKIA or Grace Indonesian Christian Fellowship). Jeff has served in a dual role as pastor of Madison Street Church, a Brethren-in-Christ congregation in Riverside, California and as president of viaShalom, a small not-for-profit, since 2009. viaShalom is a not-for-profit missional resource agency that currently operates three ministries: commonGood, a local, asset-based community development effort; viaGLobal, which support St. Francis Primary School located in Morsul, Rajshahi in Bangladesh serving approximately 80 Christian families belonging to the Santal minority; and Urban Expression North America, “a consultancy specializing in creating and sustaining urban incarnational experiments, and affiliated with similar ministries across Europe.” Bike and Sol, run by Pastor Scott Roth of Perkiomenville Mennonite Church, is a project of Urban Expression and has worked closely with Jeff. Jeff has also done consultancy work with various congregations both in Franconia and Eastern District Conferences.
Jeff holds a Bachelor of Arts from Tabor College, a Master’s of Divinity from Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary and earned his Masters of Business Administration with a focus in church management from the Graduate Theological Foundation. In addition, he has a Post-graduate Diploma in Applied Theology from Spurgeon’s College in London. He lives in Riverside, California with his best friend/wife Debbie. They have two adult children who he said also married their best friends. Jeff enjoys time with three grandchildren and the “church mascot/beagle-terrier puppy, Madison”, who lives with them and constantly digs up their backyard!
Steve Kriss says, “Jeff has long term relationship working as a Mennonite Church USA Conference leader. His experience and commitment to California and his capacity at developing new leaders will be a gift to our Conference, as we live into our bi-coastal reality.”
Jeff says, “I’m very excited to be part of a larger and diverse team that works collaboratively toward a common vision of being the church. It is a unique privilege to work with Franconia Conference among the new member Indonesian churches in Southern California.”
Chantelle Todman Moore comes to Franconia Conference as Intercultural Leadership Coach, where she will focus her work with our 15 urban congregations, looking at cultivating next generation leaders, focusing on persons age 15-35. She has also been tasked to think about what it takes for persons of color in ministry leadership to flourish and how that can be cultivated within Franconia congregations.
She says she is “passionate about embracing diversity and difference as a gift, seeking justice as a mandate and being moved to act by love.” Chantelle lives in Philadelphia with her spouse, Sam, and their three daughters.
Pastor Aldo Siahaan of Philadelphia Praise Center and a member of the Conference LEADership Minister team was on the board of MCC East Coast at the time of Chantelle’s employment there. He says, “Chantelle is a hard worker, full of creativity and always mixes her work with laughter.”
When asked about bringing Chantelle on in this new role for Franconia Conference, Steve Kriss stated, “Our Conference has become increasingly urban and intercultural over the last decade. Chantelle’s experience in working with urban leaders and congregations will strengthen our capacities in cultivating and accompanying current and emerging leaders. Her energy, honesty, commitment to the church, and willingness to ask hard questions are traits I appreciate about her and look forward to her bringing to her work with Franconia.”
Marta Castillo is not new to the Franconia team, but will be increasing her time. After serving almost five years on the Conference Board, Marta joined Franconia Conference as a LEADership Minister in in 2016, while simultaneously serving as co-pastor at Nueva Vida Norristown New Life. She stepped away from the position at Nueva Vida in December, as she felt the Spirit leading her elsewhere. At the time she did not know that “elsewhere” would include increased time with Franconia Conference. The Conference is grateful to have Marta move into the role of LEADership Minister of Intercultural Formation. The daughter of Franconia Conference-rooted mission workers, she has been shaped by all four of the linguistic cultures in Franconia Conference, growing up in both Vietnam and Indonesia. While being a primary English speaker, she lives in a bilingual family and community of English/Spanish speakers.
Marta is committed to prayer, along with active engagement of diverse neighborhoods with the message of Christ’s Good News. She is passionate about the intercultural work of unity in cultural diversity, antiracism, and racial reconciliation. She graduated from Eastern Mennonite College with a major in Elementary Education and is currently taking classes at Eastern Mennonite Seminary. Marta lives in Norristown, PA, with her husband, Julio and two teenage children, Andres and Daniel.
“Marta’s flexibility and linguistic capacity, her depth of spiritual practice and her experience working with pastoral teams combine to make her a uniquely gifted leader in our Conference,” said Steve Kriss. You can read more about Marta here.
The staff and board of Franconia Conference are well-equipped to continue to lead the Conference into whatever God has in store. As Executive Minister, Steve Kriss stated, “these additions complement an already strongly gifted staff and strengthen our capacity to serve our growing Conference.”
Mary Nitzsche and I made our first trip to visit the California congregations since the three were welcomed into our Conference in November. International Worship Church (IWC) in San Gabriel, Jemaat Kristen Indonesia Anugerah (Grace Indonesian Christian Fellowship) in Sierra Madre and Indonesian Community Christian Fellowship (ICCF) in Colton are located within an hour of each other, all to the east of Los Angeles along the 210 and 10 freeway corridors. They are located in a stretch of large suburbs that flow into what is known as the Inland Empire. Each suburb is distinct, but these communities – sometimes more like cities themselves – merge together to create the US’s second largest metropolitan area.
We spent time with each congregation. If you hustled, you could likely attend each congregations’ worship gathering, all on the same Sunday. Mary and I split the responsibilities, though, so we would have time to visit with each group. Mary brought greetings to the English worshipping community at International Worship Church at 11:00 am and preached at JKIA at 2:30 pm. I preached at the Indonesian language service at IWC at 12:30 and at ICCF at 5:30.
There was food afterward the worship services. After over a decade of walking alongside Indonesian congregations, I recognize the gracious island hospitality and celebration that remains intact here in the States as well. At IWC, I had a bowl of spaghetti brought from the kitchen, when the servers realized that I didn’t eat seafood, which was the main dish provided for lunch. At ICCF, there was an anniversary celebration which included traditional Indonesian satay, rice and soup, along with karaoke that was a mix of pop, praise songs and traditional hymns.
There is new opportunity and challenge by being bi-coastal. We’re navigating the legal requirements necessary for credentialed leaders in California, which are different from Pennsylvania. We’re having to learn new geography, time zones and context. We are moving toward adding a staff person based in Southern California, as well. Aldo Siahaan, Conference LEADership minister and pastor at Philadelphia Praise Center is also initiating an online Zoom call for Indonesian speaking pastors across our Conference. These things will help to ensure our flourishing together.
There is still a sense of surprise for me that we are here in this time and place. This trip meant beginning to think and care for California in a way that I haven’t before – as a pastor. What is the Spirit provoking through this holy experiment? In what ways can we live and move into this time and space, where God’s capacity is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or imagine through the power at work within us (Ephesians 3.20)?
As we begin to move into this space, beyond dreams and into new realities, I invite your prayers for us together. I’m still grateful for the overwhelming sense of the Spirit’s direction at assembly to welcome the California congregations to become part of us. And in that welcome, I believe there will continue to be transformation.
I’ve studied Spanish off and on for nearly 40 years. My initial introduction happened via Sesame Street on TV with some Spanish interspersed between Oscar the Grouch and Big Bird. I then learned some basics at West End Elementary School. Much of that remains readily in my brain — even the crayons that were adhered to the wall of my classroom at West End Elementary.
For two years in high school, I studied Spanish with Ruth Y. Hunsberger, who after her time serving at Academia Menonita Betania, added a PA Dutch and Boricua accent to my Spanish pronunciation. I picked up more Tejano Spanish in San Antonio after serving a summer with Mennonite Mission Network in San Antonio which catapulted me into a more advanced Spanish class than probably was appropriate at Eastern Mennonite University where I studied as an undergraduate. I never got my language construction quite right after that.
Since then, I’ve studied several other languages a bit. I grew up in a household where my Grandpa spoke Slovak and snippets of other European languages. I was raised with an understanding that knowing some of the language of the neighbors could be valuable. Today, my immediate next door neighbors speak Spanish.
Earlier this year, for three weeks, I took the time to re-immerse myself in Spanish. I chose a school removed from familiar communities so that I’d have to be a student only. Though I did some work from Mexico, my immediate environment was school and navigating through an attempted Spanish upgrade. It was both humbling and invigorating.
After three weeks, my comprehension has improved. My colleague Noel Santiago and I are able to have conversations we haven’t had before in Spanish. I’m trying to practice every day, which so far has more often seemed endearing than annoying to those who’ve had to endure my commitment to keep practicing, even if it’s only when I’m ordering enchiladas.
While studying, I was reminded of the beauty and brokenness of the world. As a student in a secular language school, I found many people seeking and searching. My co-learners came from all over the world to a small city in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula to learn, to relax, to find something. I was invigorated by learning alongside them in their search. Admittedly, more often than not, the church was far from conversation and their search. Some were curious about my work and spirituality. Others avoided the conversation even when it surfaced.
But in these three weeks, I was reminded of my own call to serve the church as a pastor. It was a reminder of the commitments that I made to search out ways that the Gospel might really mean hope, freedom, and redemption for persons who are seeking and stumbling, for those who need comfort as well as those who need to be discomforted. It was a reminder to pay attention to all that is beautiful and broken, to find times when I might also be able to say as Jesus did, “the reign of God is near.”
I’m back with better Spanish, but I’ll have to struggle every day to maintain it. Next month, Marta Castillo will head to Indonesia to get an upgrade on her Indonesian language skills, so that she’s better able to accompany our Indonesian speaking communities as well. As a Conference, we are committed to having a multilingual ministry team, not only because it’s chido (cool) but because it also represents the work of the Spirit at Pentecost to bring the Good News to all people.
It’s our ongoing commitment as disciples, as leaders, as pastors, to extend the Good News to all people, until God’s reign comes in it’s fullness. We are in it together. Bersama. Juntos. cùng với nhau. The beautiful and broken world is waiting to hear us.
To whom much is given … much is also expected. -Jesus of Nazareth
Over the last few weeks we began to project the numbers for our work together at Franconia Conference: next year’s budget. This is an act of faith and commitment together in imagining our shared work for the year. Our budget also tells the stories of our priorities. It was my first time in the role of executive minister working through each of these items to allocate our resources in ways that fit our priorities, particularly in working to equip leaders around our shared values of work that is missional, intercultural and (trans)formational.
Our Conference budget has remained steady over the last few years, though with an increasing percentage contributed by individuals and received through designated funds. With changes in congregational life and demographics, our congregational contributions, though still healthy, have declined over the last decades. The Conference has continued to focus work around leadership development and less on programs; therefore, some giving changes have been appropriate and expected. Also, with the reduction of overseas mission workers, congregations have focused giving internationally in different ways.
This year some important things will emerge in our budget that tell of our changing realities. We will begin to do further collaborative staffing arrangements with Eastern District Conference and expect to provide staff for our new member congregations in California. These are both direct outcomes of the discernment at Conference Assembly this fall. We will also set aside funds as requested by our Addressing Abuse Taskforce to be available should our Conference need to support survivors in receiving counseling if they suffer clergy abuse, or to help congregations that need assistance in providing counseling for members who suffer abuse by others in their congregation. This is an absolute priority as we seek healing and recovery related to actions of clergy misconduct and work to prevent and heal all forms of abuse in our community.
I hope, as we move forward, that we will be able to seek the Spirit further toward generosity and openness in understanding our gifts, and that in whatever way we have been gifted, we might partake fully in God’s intention for the full redemption of all creation.
As seek further generosity, we can look to the lives of Norm and Alice Rittenhouse, who at the end of November were highlighted by Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) for their generosity and sharing of resources from their life of faith and farming. This is a story that is at the heart of our history as a community, shaped by our work and hope. In working with our newest member congregations, that kind of generosity is vibrant as well. This past fall they joined with many of our existing immigrant congregations to share in assisting Houston Mennonite Church, as they reached out to work alongside immigrants in Houston following Hurricane Harvey. This was sharing that we helped facilitate as a Conference through our global networks. Norm said in the article for EMU, “we worked to give.” This has been and will be what we are about in Franconia Conference. I look forward to continuing to provoke and steward the ways that we share our gifts, knowing that all that we have been given is from God.
As we approach this season of giving, following Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday, I feel deeply privileged to be a part of stewarding our gifts toward the call that God has given us as a community and individually. Thanks to your gifts shared through our Conference, from congregations, individuals and ministries, we are able to continue the good work that God has begun in us. I’m glad to talk more, any time, with congregations or leaders on how we can continue to best share our gifts for the sake of mutuality while we continue to live into God’s commission to us, to extend Christ’s peace with neighbors, enemies, friends and all of God’s children both near and far.
Four congregations have requested to join our Conference in time to be considered for membership at assembly this fall. This has been – and is – a season where many communities are looking for new alignments related to changes across the Anabaptist landscape. We’ve been in conversation with a dozen different communities stretched from Queens (NY) to San Francisco (CA). For me, it’s been a challenging wave to ride for the first months of my work as executive minister. It’s been both an invigorating and exhausting time. While I believe the Spirit is at work in this time of tumultuousness, it’s hard to know exactly where it’s all going.
This is adaptive change and paradigm change. This kind of growth wasn’t in any strategic planning. Though change sometimes comes upon us and we find ourselves testing what the Spirit is doing in the midst of it all. Finding our hearts “strangely warmed” as the disciples did on the Emmaus Road with the resurrected Jesus.
As we approach assembly this fall, we will be inviting delegates to affirm four new congregations as members in our Conference. These four congregations have some familiarity with us already and their leaders have already established relationships with other leaders in our Conference. These churches (one in Queens, New York and three in the Los Angeles, California area) will add to our urban and multi-ethnic realities. These congregations will continue to enrich and challenge our life together as Franconia Conference into the future. I’m hoping that we’ll find ways to embrace all that means as we seek to share God’s amazing grace and peace together.
The three California congregations seek to be admitted as a group together. This enables us to provide better accompaniment and assistance along with them. All three had been previous members of Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference until earlier this year when the conference reorganized and these three congregations sought a new affiliation. The three churches –Jemaat Kristen Indonesia Anugerah (JKI or Grace Indonesian Christian Congregation) in Sierra Madre, Indonesian Worship Church in San Gabriel, and International Christian Community Fellowship in San Bernardino – have strong and long-term Anabaptist commitments. Each congregation worships in a mix of Indonesian and English.
These congregations have strong ties to our Philadelphia Indonesian speaking congregations as Nations Worship Center and Philadelphia Praise Center have found a sense of home and family within our Conference. Leaders of our Philadelphia Indonesian-speaking congregations have shared their experiences with their West Coast colleagues which has made the California congregations wonder if they too might find family with us in Franconia Conference. For many within the Indonesian community, the idea of relationships that span the continent seems easy to maintain; it’s only half as far away as Indonesia.
In our age of ready communication technologies and easy bi-coastal travel, I believe that we can effectively, though differently, accompany and partner with these congregations. We’ve estimated a cost of about $10,000 in annual expenses to begin this partnership with the California congregations, which would include some staffing support and the hiring of an additional stipend leadership minister to work specifically with these congregations. We’d intend to review this within three years together.
In the past, we have worked at church planting in Hawaii. We have maintained long term partnerships with congregations in Mexico City. For 50 years we have traveled the six-hour trip back and forth to our congregations in Vermont. This will have some similar characteristics; there will for sure be challenges, but I believe that we’ll learn and be stronger by cultivating these partnerships together. Each of these congregations brings vibrant gifts of leadership and service. They’ve been invited to share their resources with us as we seek to multiply our gifts together for the sake of the God’s Kingdom on earth.
The fourth congregation, Bethany New York – a congregation in Queens – has been in a dating relationship with our Conference for over a year. The congregation’s founding pastor has moved toward retirement and the emerging pastoral leader, Hendy Stevan, is currently a full-time student at Eastern Mennonite Seminary (EMS). Though planted in affiliation with the Church of God, the church identifies with Anabaptism and has completed a teaching period on the seven core convictions of Mennonite World Conference.
Though this would be our first congregation in New York City, we’ve had previous conference member congregations in Long Island that were planted out of mid-20th century initiatives, connecting with alternative service for conscientious objectors. With Hendy’s ongoing studies at EMS and ongoing strengthening of relationships with other Pennsylvania congregations, along with the broader Mennonite Church USA body at Convention, Bethany is ready to become a full conference member and to participate in our life together.
These four churches total a membership of approximately 400 people and would add approximately 12 possible additional delegates to our discernment body. Each church has been invited to consider sharing 3-10% of their annual income with the Conference. We commit, then, to walking together, to giving and receiving counsel and to extending the right fellowship which we have maintained for hundreds of years in our Conference community.
These new member congregations will continue to re-shape our Conference community. Each is seeking the broader relationships that are accessible through membership in Mennonite Church USA and our connections with Mennonite World Conference. I believe that this is God’s invitation for us to continue to be transformed and to continue to live together in seeking justice, with a great love of mercy and a willingness to walk humbly toward God’s dream.
Congregational Profiles for each of these churches mentioned will be coming out in the weeks leading to assembly. In addition, look for stories from our Philadelphia Indonesian communities regarding their connections to the California congregations.
Delegates will have a time to discuss and discern affirming these congregations for membership at our annual Assembly Scattered Meetings. If you are a delegate please be sure to register and attend one of those.
Also, please feel free to contact me anytime for more conversation as we move toward this time of further discernment together.
These last few days I’ve been in California with a delegation of leaders from Franconia Conference. We are here to cultivate further relationships with a group of churches who have expressed a desire to join our Conference. All four congregations are immigrant churches who have been connected with the Anabaptist movement for years. We find ourselves in this space together to build on past informal collaborations, to build relationships and trust.
Meanwhile, at the same time that we are here, all hell seemed to break loose in Charlottesville, Virginia. The east coast felt very far away from this side of the country. Yet, reading on my iPhone and following social media meant that the scenario wasn’t far from my mind as we met together. Most of these initial meetings have involved a lot of listening. As we are listening, I am reminded again that the process of transforming racism and xenophobia begins with a willingness to listen, to be challenged and to be changed.
As the days have built, they’ve also involved a lot of eating together and extensive travel time on the freeways that crisscross the massive urban sprawl of Southern California. Yet in the middle of the conversations, I sensed more and more the possibility that emerges through honest listening that allows some vulnerability. Our delegation, John Goshow (board moderator), Mary Nitzsche (Associate Executive Minister), Aldo Siahaan (LEADership Minister) and I, represent one of the oldest configurations of Mennonite-ness in the hemisphere. Largely shaped by the experience of Germanic people, here we were listening to the experiences of immigrants and people of color on the West Coast. We were challenged to recognize that our systems aren’t always friendly to people who speak English as a second or third language. We were challenged again that our established patterns aren’t always reflective of the movement of the Spirit that had and continues to stir a global movement of people who live in the way of Jesus. In the meantime, we were served lovely meals and received gracious hospitality.
This is not always easy work. Those of us attached to these systems sometimes feel a need to defend them. Taking a listening posture rather than a defensive one allows us to hear both critiques and affirmations. I find that often as a white dude who is leading in this system, I want to protect our organizational process and the validity of the way that we do things. I don’t think that we have constructed systems with an intention to be oppressive or biased, yet often times they are. There is still work to do as we seek to be representative of the reign of God yet to come with persons from every tongue, tribe and nation. Recognizing that the journey toward reconciliation of all people is more than I will ever accomplish doesn’t allow me to sit idly; it requires each of us in our time, place and space to do the work that we are invited toward that represents God’s Pentecost intent.
In the meantime, we are being transformed by relationships with people who open their lives and stories with us. The pain and the celebrations are real. We can bear witness to these things together along with Christ who weeps and who also rejoices.
This fall we will have opportunity to continue to be transformed as a Conference community as at least five immigrant congregations seek to join us as new members. We will have ongoing opportunity to listen together, to extend Christ’s great shalom intended for us and for the whole world. This is will likely be our work for our time as a community together.
NOTE: Stay tuned for more information on the congregations looking to join Franconia Conference. Also, delegates – be sure to register for Assembly Scattered Meetings which will be a time of listening and discerning together regarding these congregations.
by Paula Marolewski, Franconia Conference Board Member and Elder at Perkiomenville Mennonite Church
What characterizes the culture of Franconia Mennonite Conference (FMC) today? How do we respond to the crowded, complex, fast-paced culture of society around us? How do Conference member churches experience being valued and valuing the whole of the larger conference?
These were some of the many questions the Conference Board discussed on July 28th and 29th as they met together for a retreat at Fatima House in Ottsville, Pennsylvania. All eleven of the board members were present*, representing eleven different congregations – a quarter of all the churches that comprise the conference. Facilitating the meeting was Jeff Wright of Riverside, CA, Executive Consultant for Urban Expression North America. Jeff had served as a guide for the Conference’s Vision and Financial Plan a decade ago.
During the time together, the Board spent time in spiritual reflection, as three of the board members (Beny Krisbianto, Angela Moyer, and Ken Burkholder) shared devotions on Jesus’ parables and how the parables spoke to various situations and needs within the Conference. The devotional times flowed into discussions about colliding cultures, conflict and hope, and the future of Franconia Conference and Mennonite Church USA.
One of the key conversations centered on three central questions that everyone – individuals, churches, the conference, and the denomination – should answer:
Who is Jesus to us? [Christology]
What does Jesus want us to do? [missiology]
How does Jesus want us to do it? [ecclesiology]
Jeff emphasized that it is critical to approach these questions in this order. For example, we as Franconia Conference need to first determine who Jesus is to us. The answer to that will become the foundation for our shared culture. Only then can we ask what Jesus wants us to do and how to go about it – these are questions of strategy that build on the foundation of culture.
The Board grappled with all these questions and more – and will continue to do so with the goal of advancing the Kingdom of God in our fallen world. That, after all, is the purpose of a retreat: to prepare to move forward.
*The Board is composed of John Goshow, moderator (Blooming Glen), Angela Moyer (Co-Pastor at Ripple), Beny Krisbianto (Pastor at Nations Worship Center), Gwen Groff (Pastor at Bethany), Jim King (Plains), Paula Marolewski (Perkiomenville), Ken Burkholder, interim chair of the Ministerial Committee (Pastor at Deep Run East), Kris Wint (Pastor at Finland), Smita Singh (Whitehall), Merlin Harman (Franconia), and Steve Kriss, Conference Executive Minister (Philadelphia Praise Center).