Tag Archives: Steve Kriss

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! 

God Makes All Things New

by Stephen Kriss, Executive Minister

Jesus is the center of our faith.  Community is the center of our life.  Reconciliation is the center of our work.—Palmer Becker from Anabaptist Essentials

 “Your people shall become my people.”—Ruth  1:15

Photo credit: MHEP

The Facebook post from retired Lancaster Conference Bishop Freeman Miller showed a photo of the former First Mennonite Church in Philadelphia with missing windows, a high wire fence and a notice of building violations and possible demolition.  While this building hasn’t been inhabited by the First Mennonite Church of Philadelphia for generations, I felt the pain of the possible loss.  This building had been the meetinghouse of what had been one of the largest Mennonite congregations on the East Coast, though they had relocated to the suburbs long ago.  It was the home church of Ann Allebach, the first Mennonite woman ordained for ministry in the country.  The Mennonite Historians of Eastern Pennsylvania worked to add the building to the city’s historic register.  For Eastern District, it represents a key historic spot and story.

When I came to Franconia Conference from the western half of the state over a decade ago, I learned quickly that to lead in our community meant learning our history.  I have also learned that it means learning to listen to those who are sometimes just outside of the narrative, as well as those whose stories we have not told.  For over 150 years, the stories of Franconia Conference and Eastern District Conference have been stories told in contrast:  General Conference/Mennonite Church (GC/MC) across the street, down the road, more worldly, more conservative.  The challenge for us in reconciliation will be to learn to tell our stories together in a fragmenting time.

As we move this fall toward the possibilities of reconciliation, I believe we are moving toward what is the essence of the Spirit’s work of healing and hope in our time.  The project of honestly assessing the wounds of the past and recognizing the possibilities that are unleashed through reconciliation and forgiveness gives us a strong posture for the future. 

How do we honor our experiences learned through our years alongside each other but apart?  How we do hear the stories told and untold?  How do we let our brokenness heal so that we are stronger and postured uniquely for the work and witness of God for our time?

For me, this means learning the stories of Eastern District Conference and honoring those places and spaces that are significant in their history, as well as the history of Franconia Conference.   It means emphasizing the role of God as is often de-emphasized in the story of the Prodigal Son, the one who welcomes home, who celebrates a return to family, who welcomes repentance and challenges arrogance even in faithfulness.  In the history of our story together as Conferences, at times we have both squandered our inheritance, distracted by the things of this world rather than the way of Christ’s peace.

I believe that reconciliation will make us stronger as a community.  Not because this bolsters numbers or helps with efficiencies, but because reconciliation further transforms us into the image of God revealed in Christ, who lays down privilege, who embraces incarnation, who recognizes the God who creates all things new — even 300-year-old communities of Mennonites separated for over a century.

Up For The Task

When current Franconia Conference Board member Jim King invited him over for dinner, the idea of filling a seat on the Board was not on Kiron Mateti’s radar in the least bit.  Being new to the Conference, it wasn’t a proposition he was expecting or a position that he was seeking out. With a life journey that started – figuratively speaking – quite far from Anabaptism, Kiron brings a perspective and insight that will be a welcomed addition to Conference leadership should he be affirmed as a board member. Kiron Mateti is being presented to the delegates at the fall Assembly as a nominee by the Conference Board for affirmation to join them as a first term Conference Board Member-at-Large.

Growing up in Dayton, Ohio, Kiron’s early faith life was shaped by varying degrees of Hindu belief and practice by his parents, who immigrated from India.  However, through the influence of Christian neighbors and a job in a Presbyterian church nursery, Kiron’s mother learned about the Christian faith, cleared the house of Hindu statues and began to talk to her sons about Jesus.  As a result, Kiron and his brother felt caught in the middle between their parents. 

“My brother and my dad had a pretty terrible relationship, and [my brother] got into drugs and alcohol really early on in life, and then I followed in his footsteps.” The brothers were able to sustain that lifestyle and still do well in high school and college, but eventually, tragically, the substance abuse caught up with them.  “In my 2nd semester (of grad school at Penn State), my brother died drinking and driving. That was a turning point in my life,” Kiron says. He took a semester off, returned home to Ohio … and for some reason, picked up a nice, leather-bound Bible from his mom’s shelf.  “I started reading the New Testament, and read it rather quickly.  I had so many questions.” 

When the day came to empty out his brother’s apartment, Kiron was expecting a group of his mom’s church friends to come help out. “I show up and it was just me and another guy!”, Kiron laughs. “I think he planned it, because he and I talked the whole day!  He was really strong in his faith, and we went through Genesis to Revelation.  I asked him all kinds of questions.” 

With the planted seeds of faith taking root, Kiron returned to Penn State, sought out a friend who was a Christian, and began tagging along to the Christian Student Fellowship (CSF) gatherings, various campus ministry functions and to Sunday church services.  On his first day visiting Christ Community Church in State College, he caught the eye of a fellow Indian man.  “He was really easy to talk to, and wanted to know more about me,” Kiron recalls.  “We met up, and then we started meeting up weekly and doing one-on-one Bible studies.” Kiron remembers this as an intense time of formation and growth in his faith. “It was just me and him, and we were going through some of the same tough questions, and we’d dig in.  We’d have four- or five-hour Bible studies!” Eventually friends started coming along, and by the time Kiron left Penn State, there were around 40 people attending!

Kiron’s involvement with CSF introduced him to more than just Jesus; one of the first people he met at a CSF gathering was his future wife, Rachel, originally from the Reading, PA. area.  After getting married, they began attending University Mennonite Church, where various Anabaptist values resonated with Kiron.  “I saw a contrast … it’s not ‘American Christianity’; it’s just following Jesus, it’s outside of nationalities or allegiance to a country.  That is something that I respected.”

In 2016, Kiron and Rachel committed to moving their family closer to Rachel’s extended family, and Kiron took a position at JBT Automated Guided Vehicles in Chalfont, PA., as a Research and Development Engineer.  Settling in Telford, they visited most of the area Mennonite churches, but were invited to Plains Mennonite Church by Anya Williamson, a friend from Penn State. Kiron’s mom, who now lived with them, immediately connected with the Thalathodi and Rampogu families, who also spoke her native Telugu language.  Kiron and Rachel also made connections, particularly with other families with small children, and got involved with the worship team, teaching Sunday School and leading adult classes.

As an unofficial mentor to Kiron and Rachel, Jim King connected with them through Sunday School, men’s breakfasts, and together spearheading an intercultural, multi-church picnic this past Fourth of July, and saw something in Kiron that he felt would be an asset to the Board, and approached him with the idea. “Kiron’s presence radiates joy, curiosity and openness wherever I have been with him,” Jim says. “I just have to smile when I think of how the rest of the board will receive him.”  

Those who know him tend to agree. “Kiron is a thoughtful, independent thinker with a deep commitment to the church, his family, and the way of Jesus,” says Plains’ Pastor Mike Derstine.  “While new to our congregation and conference, he is eager to learn, meet new people, and further the mission of God in our community and world.”  Executive Minister Steve Kriss also anticipates the contributions Kiron will bring. “He’s bright, engaged, will ask good questions and help us find our way into new spaces, places, possibilities,” says Steve.

Kiron feels up for the task.  He anticipates hard work, a lot of listening and learning, and hopefully the ability to contribute as one who didn’t grow up in the church. “I feel empathetic towards people who are ‘different’,” he says. “Maybe that can provide a perspective that’s needed on the board.” 

Kiron and his wife Rachel (Zimmerman) are the parents of 5-year-old Asha and almost-3-year-old Jaya, and as a family, they enjoy music, the beach, camping and are a self-proclaimed “nerdy family” who like to visit libraries when they travel. 

Encouragement in the Bay

by Jerrell Williams, Associate for Leadership Cultivation

Joshua So, pastor of San Francisco Chinese Mennonite Church, second from left, along with his wife, Anita So, with Steve Kriss, Leadership Minister Jeff Wright, and Jerrell Williams. 

(Reprinted with permission from The Mennonite)

This past week I got the chance to accompany Steve Kriss, Franconia Mennonite Conference executive minister, and Jeff Wright, Franconia Conference Leadership minister, on a trip to San Francisco to visit San Francisco Chinese Mennonite Church (SFCMC). This is a Cantonese-speaking congregation of around 35 members that is considering joining Franconia Mennonite Conference.

After worship, we talked with Pastor Joshua about his expectations of Franconia Conference and how he envisioned the relationship. The theme of encouragement came up repeatedly. Pastor Joshua wanted encouragement and support from Franconia Conference. He wanted to know if Franconia Conference would be in relationship with his church and continue to encourage the members, even though they are far away. If it joins Franconia Conference, SFCMC would be the only Cantonese-speaking congregation in the conference. We attended worship with the congregation and spent a day with Pastor Joshua and Anita, his wife, in the Bay area. The congregation was lively and hospitable; everyone greeted us when we came. We met several members of the congregation during lunch and heard their stories and experiences in the United States.

This experience showed me the importance of encouragement for churches. SFCMC has felt alone for a long time. Its biggest request from us on this trip was that we check in with them and encourage them. Whether we’re there physically or we send them a text on a Sunday morning, they want to know we are praying for them and thinking of them.

Worship at San Francisco Chinese Mennonite Church.

 

Hearing of the needs of this congregation made me think of Paul and how he wrote letters to different churches. These letters sometimes were ones of correction for when the church lost its way, but many of them included words of encouragement to congregations. Paul saw it as important to send encouragement to the church whenever he got the chance.

All churches at times need support and encouragement from other churches. Franconia Conference can play a huge role in encouraging and connecting its congregations. Being a conference isn’t only about keeping churches in order or in line. Most of the work is being willing to be present with them. Churches need to know they are being prayed for, thought of and loved. Sometimes a reminder is all we need.

Angela Moyer Named Interim Assistant Moderator

On July 16, the Franconia Conference Board appointed Angela Moyer as interim assistant moderator. This position is interim pending affirmation by the Conference delegates at the November 2-3 assembly. With this new role Angela will sit on the Conference Board Executive Committee as vice-chair and be vice-chair of the Conference Board.

Angela grew up in Franconia Conference and served as youth pastor at Rockhill Mennonite Church from 2005 to 2011. During that time, she sensed God calling her deeper into ministry and enrolled at Eastern Mennonite Seminary (EMS), Lancaster, PA to pursue her Master of Divinity which she acquired in 2012.  Angela then went on to serve at Ripple in Allentown where she is currently one of five co-pastors. Throughout her career she has been bi-vocational, working as pastor and also as an occupational therapist. Currently, while serving the Ripple community she also works in Early Intervention at Good Shepherd Rehabilitation.

“Franconia Conference shaped me significantly as a child and youth at Penn View, Christopher Dock, and Rockhill Mennonite Church,” Angela said. “Then the Conference invested in me further when I attended seminary at Eastern Mennonite Seminary and through mentoring when I was a new pastor. I am humbled to be invited to share my gifts through this role. I serve with gratitude for the encouragement and nurture that the Conference has offered to me throughout my life.  I am encouraged by the ways in which the Conference continues to bear witness to the upside down kingdom of God as taught to us by Jesus.”  

Conference moderator John Goshow noted Angela’s involvement and outstanding service as a member of the Conference board since 2015 and on the executive minister search committee in 2016.

“Angela is deeply rooted in our Conference community with broad relationships in our urban and historic congregations.  She knows our story, our ministries and our global partners.  She’s a measured and thoughtful next generation leader who will bring wisdom, insight and hope to our work and witness together,” said Executive Minister, Steve Kriss.

Executive committee member, Jim King added, “Angela has a keen awareness and passion for the margins in our faith communities.  She holds her core values with the ability to communicate across generational and ethnic lines.  I think she will do well in facilitating our group process.”

With her roots in Telford and as an urban and bi-vocational pastor, her gifts and background are well-suited for this new role on the board.  For more about Angela, check out the article that welcomed her to the board in 2015.

 

Seminary student joins Franconia Mennonite Conference and The Mennonite, Inc.

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.

Williams is a third-year Master of Divinity student at Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania) Theological Seminary. He attends Pittsburgh Mennonite Church, where he previously interned as student assistant pastor.

Over 10 weeks, Williams will guest preach, build relationships and further explore urban ministry among Franconia Conference congregations and ministries, mostly in eastern Pennsylvania.

“Jerrell is an impressive, thoughtful emerging Anabaptist leader,” says Steve Kriss, executive minister for Franconia Mennonite Conference. “I look forward to learning from him through his engagement with our conference community this summer. Our invitation to Jerrell is part of an ongoing commitment to next-generation leadership formation with gifted young leaders who serve and lead both within and beyond our historic conference community in extending the way of Christ’s peace.”

Williams will produce a weekly blog post for TheMennonite.org in which he will reflect on the people and ministries he encounters, in addition to several other content production and editing assignments.

“Jerrell’s passion for exploring how Mennonites are engaging their local contexts and his interest in developing his skills as a communicator makes him a great fit for The Mennonite,” says Sheldon C. Good, executive director of The Mennonite, Inc. “We can all benefit from engaging the stories he shares with us this summer.”

In the June 2016 issue of The Mennonite, Williams was selected as one of “20 under 40.” Readers nominated people in their congregations under age 40 who are committed to following Jesus, attend church and find value in Christian faith and community. Nearly 90 individuals were nominated.

A 2015 alum of Bethel College (North Newton, Kansas), Williams worked as director of prison ministries at Offender Victim Ministries in Newton, Kansas, from January 2015 to August 2016. He completed an undergraduate internship in youth ministry at Bethel College Mennonite Church (North Newton, Kansas) from September 2014 to May 2015.

Williams grew up in Garland, Texas, where he attended a large Southern Baptist congregation. As a student at Bethel College, Williams says he became interested in Mennonite theology and tradition.

Leadership Ministers Reflect and Refine

by Stephen Kriss, Executive Minister

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.

Franconia staff: (front) Aldo Siahaan, (L to R) Mary Nitzsche, Wayne Nitzsche, Noel Santiago, John Stoltzfus, Jeff Wright, Mike Clemmer, Randy Heacock and Steve Kriss.

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.

Christianity: A Religion of Travel

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.”

(L to R) Isai Sanchez, Diana Salinas, Gama Sanchez, Angela Moyer, Gwen Groff and Steve Kriss on top of Monte Alban in Oaxaca.

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.

Juan Carlos Maya and Sara Zuniga, leaders at Centro Cristiano in Toluca.

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.

(L to R) Alberto Bielma, Pastor Carlos Martínez-García, Pastor Oscar Jaime Domínguez Martínez, Steve Kriss, Angela Moyer and Gwen Groff, eating pasole (a traditional Mexican soup).

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)

A volcano en route to Toluca
Culto Unido: gathered worship in Mexico City with various leaders from 6 different congregations.
Steve, Carlos Martinez Garcia, Gwen and Sara Zuniga enjoying some elote!
A fraktur presented by Salford Mennonite Church to Dios con Nosotros.
PIcking out our ears of corn for elote in a village of Toluca.
Flowers from a market in Oaxaca.
The church building of Luz y Verdad.
Angela having fun with girls from Centro Comunidad, learning songs in English and Spanish.
All towns have cathedrals in the plazas.
The 4 cities that we visited: Mexico City, Puebla, Oaxaca, and Toluca.

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”.

(De izquierda a derecha) Isai Sánchez, Diana Salinas, Gama Sánchez, Angela Moyer, Gwen Groff y Steve Kriss en la cima de Monte Albán en Oaxaca.

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.

Juan Carlos Maya y Sara Zuniga, líderes en el Centro Cristiano en Toluca.

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.

(izquierda a derecha) Alberto Bielma, Pastor Carlos Martínez-García, Pastor Oscar Jaime Domínguez Martínez, Steve Kriss, Angela Moyer and Gwen Groff, comiendo pozole.

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)

New Members Join the Conference Team

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.

Yvonne is a graduate of The Center for Urban Theological Studies and holds a Master of Science in Restorative Practices and Youth and Family Counseling from The International Institute of Restorative Practices. There is no doubt that Yvonne Platts has a deep drive for peace and justice and will bring her dedication to social justice to her work with Franconia Conference.

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.

In addition to taking on this role with Franconia Conference, Chantelle is the co-founder of unlock Ngenuity a consulting, coaching and therapy business. She previously served as the Philadelphia Program Coordinator for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and as a Program Director at both Oxford Circle Christian Community Development Association and Eastern University. Chantelle holds a Bachelors of Arts in International Community Development from Oral Roberts University, a Masters of Business Administration in International Economic Development from Eastern University, and is a Qualified Administrator for the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI).

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.”

From a California Dream to a Bi-coastal Reality

by Steve Kriss, Executive Minister

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.