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.
By Dawn Moore, Souderton Mennonite Church
I had heard there would be a dancing star, singing angels, and a band of clever shepherds in the Christmas Eve musical at Souderton Mennonite Church (SMC), but I was not prepared for the flock of live sheep that came bleating down the aisles! A second look proved these to be a bevy of adorable children, dressed in white fluff and playing their parts so convincingly that our entire row did a double take. How cute!
The SMC Christmas Eve musical, “Left Out,” was the result of months of preparation by a multi-talented group. Actors, musicians, adult and children’s choirs, dancers, hand bell ringers, set and costume designers, and lighting and audio specialists all came together under the direction of Lori Cassel, Paul Bennett, Sarah Scorzetti, and Pastor Tim Bentch, who also wrote and directed the drama. The result was a meaningful afternoon that literally set the stage for Christmas Eve.
The story begins with the young shepherd boy Benesh who agrees to take the first watch, while his comrades settled down to sleep. When an angel appears bringing Good News, the shepherds awake in a hurry and soon agree: “We must go to Bethlehem to see this great thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” But alas, someone must stay behind to care for the sheep; Benesh reluctantly fulfills his duty, meaning he will be left out of this once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
Narrated by a mysterious old man, the story unfolded through scripture, prayer, dialogue, poetry, and angelic music, some of it sung by angels, who were every bit as adorable as the sheep! Benesh and his cousin Miriam followed a magical dancing star and found their way to the manger and eventually the cross. Two original compositions by David E. Chávez, with lyrics written by SMC’s own Jason Martin were debuted alongside more familiar Christmas music shared by soloists Emma Bentch and Alex Martin, the SMC choirs, and the whole congregation.
When Benesh finally arrived at the stable to see the baby Jesus, I felt tears welling in my eyes. In the end, all who attended felt the unmistakable love of our all-powerful God who came to earth as a helpless baby. No one was left out of the greatest story ever told.
by Stephen Kriss, Executive Minister
At our board retreat last week, our California-based consultant, Jeff Wright, suggested that we are living in a time when we often say, “that hasn’t happened before.” For a 300 year old Conference community to contend with rapid changes requires flexibility and nimbleness that isn’t always characteristic of mature organizational systems. However, we are more than an organization; we are the people of God. This is both a challenge and a hope in times where change is rapid, confusing and often disorienting. Here are five signs of change we haven’t seen before that give me hope and assure me that even though we don’t know a way, there is a way that the Spirit is working out for our ancient faith to thrive into the future.
- The summer ministry internship program that was envisioned by Souderton Mennonite Church pastor Tim Bentch and is staffed by Sarah Freeman from the Souderton congregation is giving opportunities for young adults from our Conference and Eastern District Conference to serve alongside their congregations and in nearby communities to extend the peace of Christ. This year’s group of women and one young man remind me that God is still calling and that opportunities to connect to each other are always around us no matter our neighborhood.
- In the last weeks, Bethany Church in Queens, New York officially requested membership with our Conference. We are in the midst of a teaching series on Global Anabaptism with the congregation and I had the privilege of preaching there last month on the centrality of Jesus. The congregation’s pastor is a full-time Eastern Mennonite Seminary student, Hendy Matahelemual, who brings energy, passion and deep care. If affirmed as a new member this fall, it will be our Conference’s first worshipping community in New York City.
- At our Conference Board Retreat, this past weekend, we spent time praying through the lists of our member churches, our Conference Related Ministries (CRMs) and our nearly 100 active credentialed leaders. Reading these lists reminds me of the gifted leaders, our diverse congregations, and the vibrant ministries that receive support and encouragement mutually through our life together. It was a bit of an old school practice brought to new life with the diversity of who we are becoming, visible on paper.
- Franconia congregation pastor Josh Meyer’s recent doctoral research took a glimpse at the callings of millennial pastors in our Conference community. At this time across Mennonite Church USA, we have one of the highest percentages of younger pastors. At the end of our morning time together, Josh invited us to pray with the millennial pastors who had gathered that morning at Perkiomenville Mennonite’s Christian Life Center. The tenderness and care of our experienced pastors as they gathered around the five young pastors who were there was moving and beautiful.
- Next week a delegation from our Conference is spending time listening to the congregations in California who have sought to become new members of our Conference. We are seeking to spend some time together, to understand past wounds and to imagine new possibilities. As we go, we will eat, listen, preach and continue to build on the relationships already established. What might the Spirit be calling us toward as we consider these bi-coastal relationships?
There is growth and challenge across our Conference community these days. A new thing is becoming; on a daily basis, I am increasingly aware of it. At the same time, God’s intention is to continue the transformative work that Christ has done in each of us through these things that haven’t happened before. There is new possibility, each day, for us to encounter the Risen Christ through the things that haven’t happened before in our world. And there is assurance that there are things that will remain; faith, hope, love.
By Tim Bentch, Pastor at Souderton Mennonite Church (originally published in the Souderton Mennonite Church November 2016 newsletter)
As I write, this article, I am already feeling guilty about my own deficiencies as a parent – all the ways I could have helped my children excel in sports, music, and academics. I could do more! All the missed opportunities to help my children become successful in life! We parents are plagued by guilt and we also feel the constant pressure from our society to be super parents and to turn out super kids.
But, are these pressures and expectations in balance with what we know is the ultimate goal of Christ-following parents – to help our children find Jesus? Are we helping our children find God and doing all we can to model a pursuit of God for them?
One area we need to take a strong look at is the current sports obsession (though there are many obsessions in other areas). With this in view, I ask the question: Are you driving your children away from God – literally? When you drive your child to a soccer match or practice on Sunday mornings, what is that teaching your child?
My wife and I served in Eastern Europe beginning a few years after the fall of Communism. In many of the countries under Soviet domination, Christians faced discrimination and persecution. In Moscow, I met a talented young musician who played the clarinet beautifully. He was in his late twenties. Why, I asked, didn’t he go to the conservatory of music or to a university for formal studies? He looked at me with a puzzled expression that said, don’t you know? Under Communism, there was no way he could be accepted into a conservatory or a university because he was active in the church – automatic disqualification. But, he chose to be faithful to God by staying active in the local church even though it meant that ‘success’ for him in a musical career or in any other field that required a college education was not possible.
I met an outstanding singer in Timisoara, Romania. He had one of those voices you usually only find in the east – a deep, dark, profound, resonant voice. When I heard him sing, I was incredulous. “Why aren’t you a leading soloist in the opera?” I asked. Again, that puzzled look; don’t you know? He told me that when he finished conservatory, he was offered a contract to be a soloist with the opera. But, they said, there’s one thing, “You will have to give up going to church. A soloist in the opera cannot be known to be a Christian.” He told them immediately, “No way,” and turned down the contract. Instead, he took a position with the choir of the philharmonic – not nearly as prestigious, but he stayed active in his local church.
I think about many others who made huge sacrifices in order to be faithful to Jesus and to honor him by serving in church. Yet, we choose sporting events over church? Really? When we are driving our children to a practice or a game instead of worship or instead of a Wednesday night youth meeting, what message does that send to our children? Are we saying, we only go to church when there’s nothing better to do? Are we placing sports, or work, or leisure, above knowing and serving God? The Bible calls this idolatry.
Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” The patterns that we give to our children will stay with them the rest of their lives. If we are communicating that church is not important now, how can we expect that they will go to church when they are older? If we are modeling for them a faith that requires no sacrifice, then what good is it? What could be more important than our children’s eternal destiny?