Read the full article at The Mennonite HERE.
Read the full article at The Mennonite HERE.
The story of Franconia Conference is rooted in faith and migration. These stories have helped shape us as a community, sensitive to the struggle of others who were also seeking a place of peace. Currently our Conference is comprised of about 10 percent recent immigrants who have come to the United States in the last decade, and this percentage is likely to continue to grow and to shape our future. As this is our story together — past, present, and future as God’s people – Franconia Conference recently co-sponsored Mennonite Central Committee’s Immigration Community Day in Philadelphia. Pastor Aldo Siahaan of Philadelphia Praise Center participated in the morning panel discussion. Centro de Alabanza hosted the event and assisted in providing a noon time meal. Many from across the region came to learn and celebrate. Abigail Shelly reflected on her experience at the day’s event below, in an article original published online with The Mennonite.
(reprinted with permission)
by Abigail Shelly, Philadelphia Praise Center summer intern
As I stepped onto the upper floor of Centro de Alabanza, a humble church building in the heart of South Philly, I encountered a flood of color; blue, purple, green and orange hues hung from the ceilings and walls as lively decor, and a spectrum of dark brown to beige smiling faces filled the room. I felt the buzz of energy as people from various walks of life arrived throughout the morning to take part in Mennonite Central Committee’s Immigration Community Day on August 4 — a day set aside to gather, inform and celebrate immigrant communities in the Philadelphia area.
To begin the day, Saulo Padilla, MCC immigration coordinator, gave a keynote address in which he shared his story as an immigrant and urged the audience to take seriously current issues, particularly the separation of families. Following was a panel with five active members in the Philadelphia community, all with recent immigrant backgrounds or in positions of immigrant advocacy. Topics included personal stories, experiences with the legal system and basic rights one should know about.
Chinemelu (ChiChi) Oguekwe, MCC Philadelphia program coordinator, said the morning was “about providing a space to have a discussion about what it means to be an immigrant for our community.” Considering the current administration’s immigration policies, she said, “there has been a legitimate amount of fear among immigrants in our community. And we know that a fearful community is not a healthy one.” She added that this “is why we gathered together to hear from our immigrant neighbors, leaders in the community [and] churches — to hear from one another, inform and educate each other. It’s in educating each other that we are set free, free from fear. Education empowers us.”
After a morning of education came a time of celebration. A lunch of tostadas, nasi goreng and djon djon (traditional food from Latino, Indonesian and Haitian community churches, respectively) primed the audience for spoken word, traditional Aztec and Indonesian dancing and an uplifting rhythm from the “Best African Drummer in Philadelphia.” For me it was beautiful to watch the freedom that came for these people groups with their traditional expressions. It allowed those from various backgrounds in the audience to enjoy a part of these cultures that too easily gets lost in the noise of navigating life in a completely new country while lacking basic rights.
For the past 10 weeks, I have had the opportunity to live and learn with the Indonesian immigrant community here in South Philly. I have learned the power of holistic care for the “strangers” in our midst. On the one hand, it is important to know how to help someone through the new space they have entered: navigating the legal system, marching in advocacy, providing access to health care, educating them on basic rights. On the other hand, it is just as vital to spend time learning and celebrating what these cultures have to offer in this new space: language, dance, music, food and ways of worship. Learning holistic care has allowed me to see each of my immigrant neighbors not just as a set of needs to be met but as a person I am called to be a partner with in their new journey, whatever that may look like. Some days it may look like facing a daunting court date or navigating an impossible health-care system. Other days it may look like trying new foods or learning to dance or laughing at my attempts with Bahasa Indonesia. It’s a new and sometimes uncomfortable form of celebration that somehow makes sense and the “stranger” in our midst becomes a new brother or sister.
MCC’s Immigration Community Day resonated with my experience here because it held up the heaviness of the immigrant community’s reality while providing a space for celebrating these cultures. Oguekwe remarked, “My hope was that the Immigration Community Day would raise awareness on the immigrant experience, connect immigrant families to local service providers and resources, see and value the contributions of immigrants to our community and unify and strengthen our community through caring for one another.” It did exactly that.
Abigail Shelly is originally from Meridian, Mississippi, and attends Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, where she studies TESOL education and liberal arts. This summer she has been learning from and serving through the Ministry Inquiry Program with the Indonesian community at Philadelphia Praise Center, a congregation of Franconia Mennonite Conference.
by Stephen Kriss, Executive Minister
Over 25 years ago, I interned through Mennonite Church USA’s Ministry Inquiry Program at my home church in Somerset County, PA. I loved the experience of working alongside a congregation that had shaped my own decision to follow Jesus and working creatively with a pastor who gave me space to learn, to experiment and to honestly engage life in the church. At the end of the summer, I declared that I loved the experience, but that I didn’t want to be a pastor because I realized the vastness of the task at hand. My home church then, four years later, called me as an associate pastor. It still surprises me that they invited and that I said yes.
This summer, through Souderton Mennonite Church’s Vocation as Mission Program, Mennonite Central Committee’s Summer Service Worker Program, the ongoing Ministry Inquiry Program and a variety of independent initiatives, about a dozen young adults (all under age 30) are finishing up a summer of serving and learning alongside our congregations. These initiatives are likely some of the best investments of our time and resources into the life and future of the church.
Not all of them will be called as pastors, but through the mutual time together, the opportunity for shaping and learning continues to prepare leaders who will engage the church and the world wholeheartedly through the Good News of Christ’s peace. I am grateful for pastors who make space for those who are learning alongside. Walking alongside learning leaders takes time, intention and openness. It’s also being confident and humble enough in your own leadership to realize that other leaders will lead differently, fail differently and that working with next generation leaders can be a constant invitation to learn, for those of us who are more established leaders as well.
Back in my intern days, my pastor – Marvin Kaufman – gave me space to explore cultivating a sister church relationship with an African American congregation in our area. That exploratory space culminated in Sunday night worship experiences at each of our meetinghouses. This experience and our congregation’s willingness to participate and follow me into this relationship-building likely shaped forever the kind of ministering and leading person that I have become and am becoming, on working with the Spirit to cross cultural and ethnic boundaries to express the heart of the Gospel of reconciliation and transformation.
I’m so grateful for each of our next generation leaders who said yes this summer, and for the communities that hosted them and walked alongside them. Working with Jerrell , who is serving alongside our Conference and The Mennonite this summer, has reminded me of the worthy investment of time and fruitfulness of relational possibilities. Abigail and Tiffany serving together at Philadelphia Praise has made me smile, as they helped host our Interfaith leaders gathering last month with gracious hospitality. My interactions with the Vocation as Mission interns, as we talked about intercultural challenges and possibilities, inspired me by their sincerity and questions when we met at Bike and Sol. I loved hearing how much Rebecca and Ezther are valued at their places of service in Philadelphia and the Lehigh Valley.
These experiences are some of the best investments that we make together with our Conference resources. I’m grateful that we continue to share in this process of calling and shaping next generation leaders together for the sake of the church and the world. This is our work together, a recognition that calling and shaping next generation leaders is the work of “our village.” And for me, and hopefully for all of us, this is the kind of work that brings us great joy and hope, a recognition that the Good News goes on, continues to transform and will continue to transform us.
by Jerrell Williams, Associate for Leadership Cultivation
This Fourth of July I gathered with Plains Mennonite Church and Evangelical Center for Revival, a predominantly Congolese Mennonite congregation, which held a joint July Fourth commemoration. This was the first time both of the churches got together for this kind of commemoration. The event displayed the willingness of both congregations to think about how they can collaborate together and embrace diversity.
There was a picnic with everything from hot dogs and hamburgers to coconut curry. There were games of corn hole followed by games of cricket. Both sides seemed to walk into the space a little hesitant, but as things got going and people got talking (and eating), folks became more comfortable with each other.
Evangelical Center for Revival blessed everyone with music. They sung worship songs in their native languages as people clapped, sang and danced along to the music. They played a beautiful rendition of “How Great Thou Art” in their native language and integrated English so everyone could sing along. Also present was a free immigration clinic in the church building. They had two lawyers present to help people get advice and information about their immigration status.
All in all I believe the event was a great step in trying to embrace diversity. The congregations, to me, seemingly had little in common coming into the Fourth of July. At the beginning of the event things were awkward and, quite frankly, uncomfortable, though eventually people began to loosen up and have a great time enjoying each other’s company.
This event showed me that it takes willingness to embrace the other within our midst. Things might not always be smooth or go just as planned, but we as people of faith have to be willing to celebrate diversity and help our neighbors. Said event coordinator Rachel Mateti, “The event has been months in the making and came out of our winter quarter Sunday School class focusing on hospitality and welcome and the call of God’s people to live it out. The members of the class saw this as a way to connect with people in a meaningful way on a day that ideally commemorates values like equality, freedom, and opportunity.”
In our current political climate I believe this is of the utmost importance. While there has been rhetoric and laws created to destroy the beautiful diversity that we have in the United States, we have to remember to love and show hospitality to all people. This Fourth of July commemoration with Plains Mennonite Church and Evangelical Center for Revival is what I believe the United States is all about.
Jerrell Williams is a Master of Divinity student at Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania) Theological Seminary and is interning this summer with Franconia Mennonite Conference and The Mennonite. Reprinted with permission by The Mennonite.
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.
Based on the outcomes of the Future Church Summit in Orlando 2017, the Journey Forward process began. Mennonite Church USA executive director-to-be Glen Guyton says this process, “fulfills a promise to engage the denomination and give voice to the members of MC USA as they live out the mission of the church in their context.” Birthed from this process, a draft document Renewed Commitments for MC USA has been released by MC USA. The Renewed Commitments document, along with a study guide, will be sent to all congregations on June 1. Read more about the document release in The Mennonite, or see the Journey Forward FAQ here.
The board of directors of The Mennonite, Inc. has named Sheldon C. Good executive director (ED) of The Mennonite, Inc., effective February 1. Currently a member of Salford Mennonite Church, Sheldon is a 2005 graduate of Dock Mennonite Academy. From 2006-2007 he served with Franconia Conference as Associate for Communication and Leadership Development. Most recently he and his wife, Jennifer Svetlik, served as Program Coordinators with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in Erbil, Iraq. Prior to working with MCC, Good served as an employment and education team coordinator for Community of Hope, a nonprofit in Washington D.C. He also served a two-year term as the Associate Director for the Washington Community Scholars’ Center of Eastern Mennonite University, also in Washington D.C., and worked as an Assistant Editor and Web Editor for Mennonite World Review. Sheldon also wrote pieces for Franconia Conference publications in 2012-2014. Read the full story in The Mennonite.
Psalm 139:23-24 is a cry for God to search our hearts and “see if there is any offensive way…” in us. Yet, how often, do we make that our prayer? Esther Good from Whitehall Mennonite Church recently reflected on that scripture and her conclusion might surprise some.
Read more about it here: https://themennonite.org/feature/an-offensive-way-in-me/
The bill proposing Martin Luther King Jr (MLK) Day as a federal holiday was first introduced to Congress in 1968, four days after Martin Luther King’s assassination. 15 years would pass before that bill was voted into law in 1983. Still not all states recognized the federal holiday. In fact, in 2000, South Carolina became the last state to make MLK Day a paid holiday for all state employees. Previously, employees could choose between celebrating it or one of three Confederate-related holidays. Many states to this day recognize the federal holiday but still do not call it MLK Day, instead opting to refer to it as Human Rights Day, or Civil Rights Day. The contention over recognizing this Federal Holiday seems to highlight the continued tension around race in our country, a topic many shy away form discussing. However, Cyneatha Millsaps, lead pastor of Community Mennonite Church in Markham, Illinois, and Annette Brill Bergstresser, editorial director for Mennonite Church USA, face this topic head on in “Undoing Racism: A Conversation” Posted in The Mennonite Blog this week.
Footnote: Historical information on MLK Day taken from “The History of Martin Luther King Day” by Shmuel Ross and David Johnson