Tag Archives: Swamp Mennonite Church

The Work of Reconciliation in Quakertown

by Sue Conrad Howes, West Swamp congregation

Over time, the Holy Spirit works, making the things that divide us seem so much less important than the things that unite us.

In 1847, a church split occurred over the style of coat worn by the pastor, keeping minutes at church meetings, and whether Sunday School was acceptable. We may laugh and even scoff at the topics that caused the split some 173 years ago, but the lines drawn during that split have been felt until just recently; in November 2019, Franconia Conference and Eastern District Conference voted to become one new conference, a reconciliation that went into effect in February 2020.

In the history books, the conference split was rooted in the history of two congregations: West Swamp Mennonite Church (which helped begin Eastern District) and Swamp Mennonite Church (which broke away from West Swamp and stayed with Franconia Conference). In the 19th century, West Swamp’s pastor John Oberholtzer was a leader in the 1847 division.  The two congregations are now located just over a mile apart in Quakertown, PA.  

Pastor Nathan Good (left) of Swamp Mennonite and Pastor Michael Howes (right) of West Swamp Mennonite serve communion to members of both congregations on March 1, 2020. Photo by Sue Conrad Howes

As a celebration of the reconciled conference, West Swamp and Swamp congregations worshiped together for two Sundays in March 2020. On March 1, both congregations gathered at West Swamp, enjoyed breakfast together, and worshiped with Pastor Nathan Good of Swamp preaching. The next Sunday, the two congregations worshiped together at Swamp, with Pastor Michael Howes preaching, and a fellowship meal following the service. Members of both churches participated in Scripture reading, worship leading, and music at each service. Perhaps most importantly, communion was celebrated both Sundays, together.

The theme for the two services was reconciliation. On March 1, Pastor Nathan invited the congregations to evaluate our conflicts, acknowledging that we all have them. He encouraged each person to engage our conflicts, for God’s sake, and to commit to genuine love. “God is bigger than our disagreements and God’s love frees us to love people despite our disagreements,” Pastor Nathan said.

Members of Swamp and West Swamp congregations gather around tables and take communion. Photo by Lynne Rush

“God is impartial,” he said. “In a divisive time, we need to be reminded that God is the God of all people. God is not ours; instead, we are God’s.”

The next Sunday, Pastor Michael invited the congregants to reach out to those in our lives with whom we need reconciliation. Referring to the Old Testament story of Jacob and Esau, Pastor Michael shared that it is not enough to hang back and let the other person make the first step. “Today the Holy Spirit is prompting you to initiate that reconciliation,” he encouraged. Pastor Michael focused on the ministry of reconciliation that all of God’s people are called to: “God says to us, ‘I want to make you an agent of reconciliation.’”

He acknowledged that the ministry of reconciliation is hard work. “Sometimes we need to say, ‘I forgive you,’ and other times we need to say, ‘I’m sorry, please forgive me.’”

Children from West Swamp and Swamp gather for children’s time on the topic of forgiveness and reconciliation during a joint worship service at Swamp Mennonite on March 8, 2020. Photo by Sue Conrad Howes

From the joyful hugs and delightful connections made in the foyers to the active conversations that happened across tables at the meals, you would not have known that these two congregations ever battled with each other to the point of locking each other out of their church building.

Sometimes it takes a long time to partake in the ministry of reconciliation. While these two congregations will return to their regular places of worship next Sunday, both groups welcomed the opportunity to celebrate the work of reconciliation and to commit to being agents of God’s reconciliation into the future.

Congregational Profile: Swamp Mennonite Church

by Nathan Good, pastor

Swamp Mennonite Church (Quakertown, PA) is a community of people growing together in Christ as we celebrate God’s grace, encourage growth, and proclaim Christ’s victory over sin and death through the power of the Holy Spirit.  

We recognize our need for grace, with a recent focus being, “As we grow in our understanding of God’s love and grace, we will increase in our ability and willingness to share more of ourselves, deepening our relationships with each other and the community around us.”  We have a member on each of our Church Board and Ministry Team who are open about their journeys as recovering alcoholics.

This desire for honesty and openness in our life together led to last year’s focus of Seeking God Together by Praying Listening Following. Being a part of Swamp means committing to following Jesus daily and to the faith community where we are united to Jesus.  

Our focus for 2020 is Connecting for a Purpose. As the body of Christ, the contribution of each member is important, so we may be the salt of the world, praying and living in such a way that God’s will might be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Swamp has a long history of service and outreach in the local community. Many local families share stories of being impacted by Vacation Bible School and Mission Outreach programs over the years. We continually invest time and money in caring for those around us, from helping neighbors clean up after a fire to opening our homes to the homeless. Our ministry extends around the world through individuals in our congregation with active roles in Mennonite Disaster Service, Mennonite Central Committee, and more.

As the community around us transitions from a historic farming community to a mish-mash of rural and suburban, we continue to evaluate what it means to follow Jesus faithfully in this time and place. We support the work of Free Fall Action Sports that uses the local skate park to build relationships with at-risk teens, developing their skills and abilities, and offering the opportunity to believe in the hope of Jesus. We also support the work of Code Blue which offers emergency housing in Quakertown and RIPPLE in Allentown.

Our blended worship style is a perfect expression of the community life of the Swamp congregation. Swamp embraces each person as they are while encouraging everyone to grow further into the image of God through Jesus. This is supported by our vibrant Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, and Clubs Program. This love for learning and concern for the next generation is seen in the outpouring of love and support for our youth as we work to integrate them into the church. This past summer we had an intergenerational Sunday School class where everyone, from ages 10-100, sat around tables and discussed Scripture, prayed together, and asked honest questions about Christianity.

We are far from perfect. But through the power of the Spirit we are perfecting, as we covenant to growing together in Christ as God’s community of faith in the drained swamp surrounding Milford Township, PA.

Prayer requests:

  •  Pray that we would be faithful in the little things of daily life.
  •  Pray for elastic edges as we reach out to our neighbors.
  •  Pray for creative collaboration with The Church(es) of Quakertown as we work together for God’s kingdom.

Grace to Fail at Faith and Life

by Sandy Drescher-Lehman, Methacton congregation

As I abandoned my warm cozy couch by the fire on Thursday evening, February 7, to head into the cold and rainy night toward Swamp Mennonite Church, I couldn’t remember anything about why I was doing this except that I had registered for another Faith and Life gathering. The thought of being with other credentialed leaders, whoever would show up, was meaning enough for my heart and soul (think: ENFP, Enneagram 7).

Being the first to arrive, I watched Swamp’s pastor, Nathan Good, putting the final touches on a welcoming table of fruit, cookies, and chocolate bark and then enjoyed the arrival of other pastors.   These were “my people”.

As we settled down around tables and J.R. Briggs, author of the book Fail: Finding Hope and Grace in the Midst of Ministry Failure, began his talk, I finally remembered what the topic was.  I also remembered that when I had registered, I wasn’t sure why I’d need to hear about this, since everything’s been going so well for me and the community at Methacton Mennonite Church.

But that wasn’t the point really.  I had voted a few years ago at conference assembly to affirm a group of pastors to provide quarterly gatherings for study, enrichment, and fellowship around how we practice our faith in life. They have delivered and I’ve never been disappointed.

J.R. Briggs, author of “Fail: Finding Hope and Grace in the Midst of Ministry Failure”.

What I soon realized was that the points the speaker was making were good to be reminded of, because even on my best days, I do make a lot of mistakes.  We all do, of course! What we do with those failures, and the accompanying feelings of rejection—and ultimately shame—was the topic for discussion.  How do we attend to the failures that we should expect and that Jesus does not keep us from, so that we can continue to find joy in our ministries?

After reading 2 Corinthians 4:7-12 & 16-18 several times together, we  shared our definitions of failure and success and vulnerability.  What do we do when we get BLASTed (Bored, Lonely, Anxious/Afraid, Stressed, or Tired)?  We were invited to think about the lies we’re tempted to believe about ourselves when we make mistakes, and the masks we put on to cover them. Instead of defining our success by the 3 Bs (Building, Bodies and Budget), we were encouraged to find freedom in the 4 Fs (Faithfulness, Fruitfulness, Fulfillment and Fellowship).

And those are the words I left the evening with: the good news that God uses people who fail, the good news that is only available to those who have failed, and the good news that freedom is found in nothing to hide, lose, or prove. J.R. and those around my table that night, in honest and vulnerable sharing, renewed my joy of being a pastor, alongside so many other wonderful people, who all fail at times and can then talk and pray about it together.

Thank you to the Faith and Life Commission members, for another good time of study, reflection, and renewal.

Faith & Life gatherings for credentialed leaders are held quarterly.  This year’s topics revolve around issues of leadership.  Our next gathering will be held in several locations around eastern PA and via Zoom on May 8 & 9, focusing on women in leadership with Carolyn Custis James.

Partnerships Embodying Christ’s Way of Redemptive Peace

by Mary Nitzsche, Associate Executive Minister

The slogan, “Doing together what we cannot do alone,” was put into action on Friday evening, September 28, when three Franconia Conference congregations partnered in mission to assemble relief kits. After hearing about Mennonite Central Committee’s (MCC) plea to send 10,000 relief kits around the world this year, Blooming Glen Mennonite Church invited Deep Run East Mennonite Church and Perkasie Mennonite Church to join them in collecting money to purchase supplies and assemble the relief kits. Initially, the hope was to donate enough money to assemble 300 kits, but more than $9,000 was contributed, enough to buy supplies for 610 kits.

Approximately 90 people of all ages, ranging from 3 to over 80 years old, gathered to share a meal and fellowship around tables. Following the meal, each table group relocated to another table to assemble kits which included rolling and tying over 2,000 towels, packaging shampoo in plastic bags, placing an MCC sticker on the bucket, or securing the bucket lids. After nearly 1 ½ hours of this multi-generational, cooperative, “worker bee” effort, 610 buckets were loaded into trailers. The evening ended with a group picture and prayer of blessing that these kits share God’s compassion, healing, and hope to people suffering the devastation of disaster or war.

Throughout the Franconia Conference website we are reminded of partnerships that span the globe providing opportunities to learn and share resources to embody and extend Christ’s way of redemptive peace. The relief kit partnership prompted me to explore how other Franconia Conference congregations are pooling money, skills, or resources to worship together, host community forums or events, or provide ministry in their communities. Many of these events are multi-generational, cross cultural, or cross denominational, reflecting the expansiveness of God’s way of peace. Some of these local partnerships have been highlighted in Intersectings articles over the past year. Others I learned about recently and will briefly describe.

Several congregations partnered with organizations and people in their broader communities to foster awareness and understanding, promote justice, and take action to address issues. Garden Chapel partnered with their community in Morris County, New Jersey, to host a forum on opioids and addiction providing education and prevention strategies for addressing the problem. Salem, Rocky Ridge, and Swamp Mennonite congregations are partnering with community non-profit organizations and the Quakertown Borough to address the opioid crisis in their community. A meeting place is provided for adults and “directionless” youth to build relationships and engage in meaningful activities. Perkasie Mennonite partnered with trained conflict facilitators to host a community event encouraging civil and respectful conversations about gun policies.

Participants from Blooming Glen, Deep Run East and Perkasie gather together, after assembling over 600 MCC relief kits.

Other congregations planned celebrations and invited the community to participate. Plains Mennonite and Evangelical Center for Revival hosted a community Fourth of July Commemoration to celebrate and embrace diversity. Methacton Mennonite hosted a block party featuring a variety of food and music along a local dance/drum group. Ripple Church uses the sanctuary space of the St. Stephens Lutheran Community Center for worship services and shares several activities with the Christ Lutheran congregation. These activities include a Pesto Festival at the end of the summer using basil from their community garden, and a “Trunk or Treat” event in October to pass out treats from car trunks to the neighborhood children. Ripple also partners with Whitehall Mennonite to provide a Summer Bible School in the park.

Salford Mennonite and Advent Lutheran have partnered in sharing a community garden and providing food to those in their community; hosting educational events on anti-racism and other issues; worshipping together at an annual Thanksgiving service and taking an offering to support local and global ministry.

Several congregations planned joint worship services and opportunities for fellowship this summer. Nations Worship Center traveled to Deep Run East for worship and an intercultural fellowship meal. Centro de Alabanza and Towamencin Mennonite met for a joint baptism service followed by an intercultural fellowship meal. Our California congregations annually gather for worship, fellowship, and resourcing.

Some partnership stories have yet to be told, imagined, or planned. May these brief stories continue to encourage local and global opportunities to learn and share resources in our communities and beyond as we seek to embody and extend Christ’s way of redemptive peace.

Hot, Humid and Hope Building

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