Tag Archives: Towamencin

Congregational Profile: Towamencin Mennonite Church

by Bob Keeler

Towamencin Mennonite Church was started more than 300 years ago by Jacob Godshalk, the first Mennonite bishop in America. It is on Sumneytown Pike in Kulpsville, with the slip ramp to the Pennsylvania Turnpike’s Lansdale interchange right across the street. Commuters park in our lot before carpooling on the turnpike.

Birch Grove Mennonite Church is about 285 miles away in Port Allegany, PA, but the two congregations share in the support of Grove Food Pantry. Towamencin’s connection with Birch Grove began with one of the adult Sunday School classes and has spread to include the entire congregation. Birch Grove, which has an average Sunday attendance of 25 people, started and maintains Grove Food Pantry, which provides once a month food distributions to around 60 families.

As we have done in recent years, our year-end collections will again this year go to missions. All the December offerings will go to missions, which include both local organizations and ministries in other parts of the world.

An outdoor in-creek baptismal service is held each year, with Centro De Alabanza de Filadelfia having joined us the past two years for the service followed by a fellowship meal.
Each year, we also have a joint service the night before Thanksgiving with Covenant Community Fellowship.

We have had several births in recent years, along with adoptions. The youngest Sunday School classes are now the largest of the children’s classes.  Our Vacation Bible School brings in children from the community.  We just started a Middle School Youth Group to which VBS students were invited. The Middle School Group took part in this year’s Keystone Opportunity Center Sleep Out for Homelessness and helped with sorting out food brought to Keystone’s food pantry from the Boy Scout collection. Our Harvest Home food collections help provide food for the Shepherd’s Shelf Food Cupboard.

Associate Pastor Bill Martin and Bridge Pastor Charlie Ness are the pastors. “Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are called to extend God’s healing, hope and forgiveness to all” is our mission statement.

Prayer requests:
–That we can continue to recognize the opportunities God has placed before us in the community
— God’s continued guidance as we search for a new lead pastor

Conference leaders gather for conversation about EMU listening process

Loren Swartzendruberby Emily Ralph, associate director of communication

Credentialed leaders from Franconia and Eastern District Conferences gathered on May 5, 2014 at Towamencin Mennonite Church (Kulpsville, Pa.) to dialogue with Loren Swartzendruber, president of Eastern Mennonite University (EMU).   The evening conversation focused on the University’s recent six-month listening process regarding employment policies for persons in same-sex relationships.

Swartzendruber began the meeting by sharing about experiences throughout his career that challenged him to offer pastoral care for persons struggling with questions of sexual identity. As a recent seminary graduate beginning his first pastoral assignment at Salford congregation (Harleysville, Pa.) in 1978, Swartzendruber felt ill-prepared; he doesn’t remember learning about same-sex relationships in seminary.  “I had no idea how to respond,” he recalled.  These questions continued to follow him throughout his career in Mennonite education and as president of both Hesston College and Eastern Mennonite University.

These experiences led Swartzendruber to root the University’s consideration of employment policy changes in contexts of real people and real situations.  “Your feedback is more valuable to me if I know you’ve really walked through the pain with families and individuals,” he reflected.

Swartzendruber explained that questions and perspectives from students have driven him to lead the listening process and consider change.  “For me, it’s all about the young people… I really care about the next generation,” he shared.  He is becoming increasingly aware that students’ response to the conversation is as much about the process as the result.   “I met with the pastoral staff [at EMU] and they told me, ‘The students on campus are watching how we do this … and they’re trying to decide, do I want to be a part of the church?’”

Swartzendruber explained the realities on campus that led to the listening process:

  • Currently, students and employees are asked to sign a behavioral covenant in which they commit to “refrain from sexual relationships outside of marriage.”  Swarzendruber acknowledged the difficulty of enforcing this commitment and the challenge of understanding it in the context of changing definitions of legal marriage.
  • EMU has asked new hires to express their agreement with the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective for many years, but “we’ve allowed variants from the Confession of Faith at EMU for a long time,” he said.  Some of these variants have included beliefs about divorce and remarriage, infant baptism, and the traditional Mennonite peace position.  Employees have been asked to respect official Mennonite perspectives even where variation exists.
  • Eastern Mennonite University has a number of gay and lesbian students on campus.  “They want to be a part of the church,” Swartzendruber said.  “By definition most of them wouldn’t come to EMU if they didn’t want to be part of the church.  They are your children,” he said, “sometimes literally your children, but children of your congregations.”

Swartzendruber then answered questions from conference pastors about the listening process, the relationship of the university to the denomination, and steps moving forward.  The president’s cabinet led the listening process by facilitating about 20 listening circles, with up to 20 students or faculty and staff per session, he explained.  They then brought what they heard back to the rest of the cabinet and will consider those responses, along with what they heard in a survey and other communication from alumni and church leaders. They have begun processing that feedback and will write a recommendation to send to the EMU executive board and then the board of trustees in June.  The University’s board will make the decision to accept, reject, amend, or table the proposal.

Lorie Hershey, pastor of West Philadelphia congregation, was impressed by the thoroughness and intentionality expressed in the process.  “I think we need these listening circle places,” she told Swartzendruber.  “That’s where the Spirit can move, in relationships—not changing people’s minds, but relationships…. That’s transformative.”  Her hope was that the broader church could find more places for similar conversations, she said, conversations that “give one another space to respect each other, to not pull each other into camps.”

Loren SwartzendruberSwartzendruber acknowledged that these kinds of conversations surface anxieties in the church.  “Practicing non-anxious presence doesn’t mean you don’t have anxiety,” he said, “it means you don’t lead out of that anxiety.”  Learning to manage and respond to fear in healthy ways is a missional impulse, he said. “Who wants to join people who are afraid all the time? … What kind of evangelistic strategy is that?”

As the meeting ended, the pastors gathered around Swartzendruber and other EMU staff to pray for the continued process, acknowledging the ongoing struggle and pain all church leaders face during this difficult time.

After the meeting, “I heard and saw many persons engaged in some deeper discussions and I think that leads to better understanding of one another,” observed Mike Clemmer, pastor of Towamencin congregation. “I continue to be hopeful as we struggle together…. Overall, I was reminded that we need to keep praying for one another – no matter what!”

Learn more about EMU’s listening process on their website.

Ministerial Update (April 2014)

Hadi Sunarto
Hadi Sunarto was licensed as a deacon at Philadelphia Praise Center in March.

Steve Kriss, Director of Leadership Cultivation, provided this update from the March & April meetings of the Credentials and Ministerial Committees:

Hadi Sunarto (East Rutherford, NJ) was approved for a license for specific the ministry of deacon at Philadelphia Praise Center.

Krista Showalter Ehst (Bally, PA) was approved with a license toward ordination to serve as pastor at Alpha (NJ) Mennonite Church.

Bill Martin was approved with a license toward ordination and to serve as associate pastor at Towamencin Mennonite Church.

Danilo Sanchez (Whitehall congregation) was approved to serve as Allentown area youth minister with a license toward ordination.

Donna Merow was approved for ordination and continues to serve as pastor at Ambler (Pa) Mennonite Church.

Several new members have been added to the Ministerial and Credentials committees.

Mike Clemmer (Towamencin) and Marlene Frankenfield (Salford) have been named to the Ministerial Committee.   Heidi Hochstetler (Bally) resigned her position from the committee earlier this year.   Continuing Ministerial Committtee members include:  Verle Brubaker (Swamp), Ken Burkholder (Deep Run East), Carolyn Egli (Whitehall), Janet Panning (Plains), Mary Nitzsche (Blooming Glen), Jim Williams (Nueva Vida Norristown New Life).

Aldo Siahaan (Philadelphia Praise) and Marta Castillo (Nueva Vida Norristown New Life) have been named to three year terms on the credentials committee.    Continuing committee members include:  Rose Bender (Whitehall), Verle Brubaker (Swamp) and Mike Clemmer (Towamencin).

Steve Kriss began serving as Conference staff liaison for both committees since the retirement of Noah Kolb late in 2013.

Introducing Towamencin Mennonite Church

TowamencinTowamencin Mennonite Church is located on Sumneytown Pike in Kulpsville, adjacent to the Lansdale exit of the PA Turnpike. The church has been around since 1713.

Towamencin can be described as a family-friendly, traditional, Anabaptist congregation that is evolving in its diversity and mission. Families from Ethiopia, Kenya, India, and Ghana now call Towamencin their home and we are struggling together to embrace our missional identity. Our mission statement calls us to extend God’s healing, hope, and forgiveness to all through the power of the Holy Spirit, yet we are finding that in practice, this can be a difficult task. So with God’s help, we are on a journey of learning.

Our leadership structure includes a team of four elders, a deacon, and two deaconesses along with our pastor. We also have a church council which gives a voice to persons in the pews.

The location of the church affords us opportunities for ministry. In fact, thousands of commuters drive by our building each day. Our inspirational sign with weekly thought-provoking messages provides both words of encouragement and challenge to these commuters. Some of the commuters use our parking lot for carpooling.  We serve breakfast cake and coffee to these folks several days a year in attempt to get to know them better.

Twice a year, we hold a yard sale which brings many persons to the church. We have found that many of these folks are in need of prayer and a listening ear. Our prayer tent has been a great tool for ministering to these folks. One of our largest ministries at Towamencin is Vacation Bible School.  Each year, 80% of the kids that come to VBS are from the community. This has provided a way for us to connect in direct ways with persons from the community.

Franconia Conference gathers to celebrate, pray, confer, listen

Garden Chapel Children's Choir
Garden Chapel’s children’s choir led a rousing rendition of “Our God” at Conference Assembly 2013. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

Franconia Conference delegates and leaders gathered November 2 at Penn View Christian School in Souderton, Pa. to celebrate God still at work.   With a packed auditorium for a third united assembly with Eastern District Conference, representatives gathered to listen and pray, to celebrate newly credentialed and ordained pastoral leaders, and to work alongside one another after an over 150-year rift created two separate Mennonite entities.  The theme “God still @ work” was an extension of the 2012 theme, “God @ work.”

With singing in Indonesian, Spanish, and English led by Samantha Lioi (Peace and Justice Minister for both conferences) and Bobby Wibowo (Philadelphia Praise Center) and translation into Franconia Conference’s worshipping languages, delegates and representatives from nearly all of the Conference’s congregations from Georgia to Vermont gathered to confer around a board-crafted statement on the Conference’s increasing diversity in ethnicity, experiences, faith practice, and expression.   The gathering was punctuated with points of celebration including testimony from Peaceful Living led by Joe Landis and Louis Cowell from Salford congregation, a youth choir from the revitalizing Garden Chapel in Victory Gardens, NJ, and a moment to mark the upcoming November retirement of Franconia Conference Pastor of Ministerial Leadership Noah Kolb after 45 years of ministry, which was met with rousing applause and a standing ovation.

Noah blessing 2013
Noah Kolb was recognized and blessed for 45 years of ministry. He will retire in November. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

In a shortened one-day event, delegates spent the morning together around tables with Eastern District Conference to continue to deepen relationships across conference lines.  Business sessions were separate, and Franconia’s included a significant amount of time in conversations among table groups, conferring over the board statement and then reporting on those conversations to the whole body.  Delegates and representatives were encouraged to mix across congregational lines to better hear and experience the diversity of conference relationships.

For many, including Tami Good, Souderton (Pa.) congregation’s Pastor of Music & Worship, who was attending Conference Assembly for the first time, the table conversations were holy spaces.  Each person at her table was from a different congregation.   “I saw God at work in the gracious listening, especially in the time when we talked about the conferring statement,” Good reflected. “There were disagreements, but everyone was graciously listening and hearing.  Everyone actually wanted to hear each other.  It was a beautiful time.”

The conferring time, along with an afternoon workshop led by the Franconia Conference board, focused on prayer and visioning for the Conference into the future.   Conference board members Jim Longacre (Bally congregation), Rina Rampogu (Plains congregation), Jim Laverty (Souderton congregation), and Klaudia Smucker (Bally congregation) served as a listening committee for the daylong event.  They reported seven themes of consistent and continued conversation: engagement, diversity, shared convictions, authority, polity, the role of conference, and the reality of changing relationships and engagement.  Board members noted that there is much response work to do to continue the conversation and discernment process.

Bruce Eglinton-Woods, pastor of Salem congregation (Quakertown, Pa.), said, “The challenge is speaking clearly on what we believe and where we are at, which is often a challenge for Mennonite leaders. My hope and prayer is that we can trust God and release the idea of keeping it all together. We need to let God do the holding together.”

Franconia Conference delegates spent time conferring and praying together.  Photo by Bam Tribuwono.
Franconia Conference delegates spent time conferring and praying together. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

According to Rampogu, one of the longest standing Conference board members, “the hardest part about this kind of meeting is that there isn’t enough time. We want to share and to talk together,” she said.  “That is a positive sign.  People want to connect.  My hope and prayer is that we keep our goal in mind, keeping our mission focused on equipping leaders to empower others to embrace God’s mission, with Christ in the center and churches focused on missional activity.”

In business sessions, delegates selected a number of positions by 97% affirmation including a 2nd term for conference moderator John Goshow (Blooming Glen congregation) along with board member Beny Krisbianto (Nations Worship Center), as well as ministerial and credentialing committee members Rose Bender (Whitehall congregation), Ken Burkholder (Deep Run East congregation), Mike Clemmer (Towamencin congregation) and Chris Nickels (Spring Mount congregation).   Randy Nyce (Salford congregation) who is completing a term as finance committee chair and board member reported on Conference finances, noting an 11% decrease in financial contributions from congregations.

“I was surprised and pleased that the attendance at Assembly 2013 was so strong; seeing the room filled to capacity was an affirmation of how much the delegates and guests in attendance care for our conference,” Goshow noted.  “Franconia Conference is all of us who are members of our 42 churches and our Conference Related Ministries.  It is my hope and prayer that together we chart a course that will advance God’s Kingdom in exciting and wonderful ways.”

Listen to the podcast.

Conference Assembly 2013 Highlight Video from Franconia Conference on Vimeo.

The Shepherd’s Village reaches out to Kenya

Shepherd's Village
James Sankan tests the new water pump before sending it to Kenya.

by Bob Keeler, Towamencin

The people of Olkeri, Narok County in Kenya don’t have electricity, but thanks to a solar-powered well pump installed earlier this year, they now have a well they can use.

“It’s the first of its kind in that area,” said James Sankan, founder and president of The Shepherd’s Village and member of Towamencin congregation.  “Prior to the well, the people were relying on two rivers for their water and the rivers were highly polluted.”

Along with that health risk, the people had to share the rivers with animals and faced dangers such as getting mauled by a leopard or trampled by an elephant.

It’s been 17 years since James, then nine, and his family came from their native Kenya to the United States.  After graduating with a law degree and going to work at a law firm, “I got this call from God to do something for the Kenyan people back home,” James said.

Although newly-formed, The Shepherd’s Village continues the missionary work of his grandparents and his parents William and Christine Sankan to the Maasai people, attempting to meet both spiritual and physical needs.

Vacation Bible School in 2012 and other collections from Towamencin Mennonite Church helped provide the water pump. Lowell Bergey, another member of the Towamencin congregation who has been involved in previous well projects in Haiti, is The Shepherd’s Village treasurer and helps with technical advice.

James’ father William, also a Shepherd’s Village board member, installed the pumps and solar panels. An ordained minister, he preached in Kenya during his January through April 2013 trip.

Shepherd's Village
James Sankan plays with the children of Narok County in Kenya.

The well was drilled 10 years ago, William said, but, without electricity, there wasn’t a way to pump the water.  The well will now serve about 500 families and, although it is now being used, there’s still additional work to be done, including making it more accessible.

“Right now, we’re only depending on the sun, so we’re not getting enough water,” William acknowledged.  Adding batteries to the solar-powered system would make it possible to pump more water.

The Kenyan government is planning to bring electricity to the area, but that could take years, according to James.  “The schools don’t have running water or electricity,” he said. “The main thing we want to do is pipe the water to those schools.”

There’s also a need for more water storage so it will be available when needed, William added.  “Right now, there’s only 10,000 liters, which is not enough for the community. We are trying to get a 100,000 liter reservoir,” he said. “The 100,000 will help the community get enough.”

“It has been a pleasure partnering with The Shepherd’s Village in their wonderful project,” noted Towamencin pastor Mike Clemmer.   We have learned so much from them about needs in the world and how we can help.”

The Shepherd’s Village also has plans for medical services through a village clinic. Information is available at www.theshepherdsvillage.org.

Spring Training 2012

Franconia Conference credentialed leaders from up and down the east coast met on Saturday, April 21, at Towamencin Mennonite Church for the first annual Spring Training, a time of equipping planned by the conference as part of a commitment to continuing education.

The day focused on interculturalism and included times of worship, table conversation, resourcing, and, of course, food!


Morning Session #1 (1:02:37)


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Morning Session #2 (43:29)


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Afternoon Session #3 (57:37)


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Refreshing our vision for youth ministry

by Marlene Frankenfield, Salford, mfrankenfield@franconiaconference.org

As youth leaders, pastors, and youth gathered with Eastern District and Franconia Conference leaders in the fellowship hall at Towamencin Mennonite Church on June 6, there was a buzz of energy in the air. Conference leadership invited these groups to be a part of creating a vision for youth ministry and to help bring that vision closer to the core of the vision and mission of both conferences.Youth Visioning

I was impressed at the passion and engagement of the mix of people at each table. It was great to hear the table groups invite the youth give the verbal report back to the whole gathering. There was a sense of hope as the young voices spoke.

Zion Mennonite’s Youth Pastor, Scott Benner, and I were asked to give the history of youth ministry in Franconia and Eastern District conferences to reveal some past cycles in conference leadership and programming. In the past there was more focus on intentional planned gatherings that helped to build relationships between youth groups. History shows that conference youth ministry moved away from programming to more resourcing gatherings for youth leaders and youth. Over the years there were many effective initiatives that worked toward calling and developing young leaders through intentional relationships and mentoring. Another cycle was both conferences’ connection to Christopher Dock Mennonite High School in development, teaching, and vision while inviting a close connection to congregations. This relationship benefited the church, home, and school as Anabaptist faith was woven through education.

As I listened to each table report, I heard a strong call for more gatherings where discussion and discernment can happen. There was a desire for a deeper spirituality and to create settings where young people can share about what God is doing in their lives and discuss theological issues. I have noticed over my years in conference leadership that we have moved from a “theology of answers” to more of a teaching style and discipleship that welcomes questions and discovery. This changed how we worked at faith formation in congregations and conferences.

Youth VisioningI heard the world “belonging” used many times during the evening. Young people seem to want to belong to the church. I sense church leaders are searching for ways to create a safe place for young people to feel like they belong as they surround them with adults that walk with and mentor them, while pointing the way to a relationship with Christ. This approach uses spiritual practices and story to weave faith through culture instead of teaching young people that they need to be separate from the world—a philosophy that sometimes created fear of the culture and the world. This is a change from the programming, teaching, and preaching from the past that was more of an evangelistic focus, that is, more about “saving” young people and then teaching and discipling them into belonging to the church.

As one of the youth closed the meeting with a final blessing, I was overwhelmed by the gift of this meeting as I transition out of my position as conference youth minister in July. I am leaving with deep hope as conference leaders work toward a shared vision for youth ministry. I have been truly blessed working with many youth pastors and volunteer leaders that have a passion for walking with young people, loving them unconditionally, and extending God’s grace within a faith community.