Tag Archives: Whitehall Mennonite Church

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.

It’s Not About Me

By Eszter Bentch

I thought I knew that serving, ministry, and most of what I do is not about me. I also thought I knew how to serve others. It turns out, the only person I really think of is myself and I didn’t know nearly as much as I thought I did about doing ministry.

This summer I was given the opportunity to intern for both Whitehall Mennonite Church and Ripple, as well as Ripple’s non-profit, Ripple Community Inc. in Allentown, Pennsylvania. I wanted to gain experience working in a church setting to explore my potential desire and calling to work as a pastor or in some other form of ministry. These churches, located in and outside of Allentown are not your typical Mennonite Churches. Whitehall is a community of relatively few members, about half of which are Karen people from Myanmar, many of them refugees, and many other people who experience poverty or intellectual differences. Ripple, in inner-city Allentown, is also a small community but with a very big impact. Ripple, as a church and non-profit, worships and works with people experiencing homelessness or in extreme poverty.

Through my time among these communities I learned a lot and gained helpful experiences. I put together many orders of worship, taught Sunday school, led children’s time, led worship services, got to know people, read many books, worked in a garden and even got to preach my first sermon! Through all this, I was trying to figure out what future God was calling me to. I was also trying to navigate balancing work, family, and friends. This meant that I was primarily thinking about myself. Due to the nature of what ministry is, I found that it’s really easy to be pretty self-centered and not realize it. I’m helping and interacting with people experiencing homelessness and other hard situations … all I’m doing is thinking of others! Yet, amidst my supposedly selfless work the thoughts in my brain were ‘what am I learning?’, ‘am I making someone uncomfortable?’, ‘will I still get home in time?’, ‘is this what I want to do in the future?’, and often ‘what does this person think of me?’ Now, I don’t think these questions are wrong to ask and wonder about. It is often important to be aware of how you’re coming across to another person and to be reflective, especially in ministry with people very different from you. However, these thoughts were using up the mental energy I could have used to care well for those I was encountering. God gave me gifts of empathy and being relational, but I wasn’t able to use them for His glory when I was only thinking of how using them would benefit me!

Another thought I often had was ‘How am I serving this person?’ Though that in itself is not necessarily a bad question, I was caught in a serving ‘for’ mentality instead of a serving ‘with’ way of viewing ministry. Though this was something I had heard about, I did not fully understand it until this summer. When we serve ‘for’ other people we might accidentally do it with a ‘better than thou’ attitude. We might not consciously think of ourselves as better than the person we are serving, but it can come across that way to those we help and can even build a savior complex. When I was interacting with people around me with the attitude of ‘how can I help you?’ it put a divide between me and the person: me as the helper, them as the person needing help. It limited the genuine and equal relationship I could have with them. Additionally, nobody wants to be helped by someone who comes charging in without learning about their situation first, without learning how best they could be helped.

Thankfully, God did confront me about the way I was going about ministry. At some point I caught myself thinking ‘will this person’s problem make me have to work late?’ and I was horrified. I wanted to stop thinking about myself and truly serve ‘with’ people. However, I had trouble getting myself out of that habit using only my own strength. It wasn’t until I read one of the most popular Bible stories in the Old Testament during a discernment group that I truly understood the selfless heart of ministry.

Whitehall had set up a discernment group to pray through and talk about the future of the church. At our second meeting we read through the story of Moses and the Burning Bush in Exodus 3. Though I’ve known this story since I was a little kid, though primarily through the animated classic The Prince of Egypt, I realized something brand new. When Moses responds to God’s call to him in verse 11 with “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”, God’s response of “I will be with you” completely ignores Moses’ question. Though God’s response is comforting, He does not acknowledge Moses’ excuse or reassure him by telling him of his gifts or qualifications to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Instead, God talks about Himself. Moses says “Who am I” and God essentially says that who Moses is, whatever qualifications he does or does not have, is completely irrelevant. God could have called somebody else to save His people! What matters is who God is. This helped me realize that not only should I not be thinking of myself as much, but that it’s just not about me. I wasn’t able to shift my focus onto other people well by myself, but God helped me do so once I finally turned towards Him.

Ripple’s annual retreat day at Spruce Lake.

Though being involved in ministry is about other people, it is still mainly about bringing glory to God. God is at the heart of ministry. When we keep our gaze on our Father we will be able to better see and love the people He puts in front of us. Learning this allowed me to love and serve my new friends at Whitehall and Ripple better. I was able to learn how to serve ‘with’ people, not ‘for’ people, when we focused on God together. Then we could come together to work at their and others’ restoration from a place of mutual understanding and friendship. We could truly serve God together. I hope God never lets me forget that ministry is not about me.

Eszter Bentch is a senior at Wheaton College (Illinois) where she is majoring in Psychology with a minor in Biblical and Theological Studies. In addition to her studies she is an Assistant Resident Director of a dorm and works as a supervisor in Wheaton’s fundraising department, Phonathon. While at college she attends College Church near Wheaton. Her home congregation is Souderton Mennonite Church. Her internship this summer was made possible through a partnership of Franconia Conference, Souderton Mennonite Church, Whitehall Mennonite Church and Ripple.  

 

 

Darkness Unfolding As Light

On April 14 approximately 80 women from across Franconia and Eastern District Conferences joined together at Towamencin Mennonite Church for the annual Sister Care Gathering. The theme was “Darkness Unfolding as Light,” with the book of Ruth as the Biblical text.  Cathy Spory, Elementary Principal at Johnstown Christian School, took on the character of Naomi and gave insightful first-person monologues.  Marilyn Bender, one of four co-pastors at Ripple Church in Allentown and Rose Bender Cook, Marilyn’s sister-in-law and a bi-vocational pastor at Whitehall Mennonite Church, shared their personal and Biblical reflections including speaking of the illness and loss of Marilyn’s husband John, Rose’s brother.

The women were invited to string beads, with knots representing the rough places and the iridescent beads representing those light-filled moments. There was time for conversation and prayer with each other at our tables, and an opportunity to experiment with different ways to pray including praying with color, walking prayer, healing prayer and anointing.

Pastor Letty Cortes from Centro de Alabanza led the women in activities to get to know  one another. There was much singing together and the women enjoyed a delicious lunch including a wonderful cake gifted to them from MCUSA out-going Executive Director, Ervin Stutzman, from his retirement party the night before.  It was bi-lingual day, with everything presented in English and Spanish, and was a deeply moving day, culminating in the women giving testimony as to where God had unfolded their darkness into light.

Many thanks to the planning committee: Anne M. Yoder, Coordinator; Pastor Donna Merow; Pastor Doris Diener; Pastor Letty Castro; and Pastor Marta Castillo. Special thanks to Pastor Marilyn Bender, Pastor Rose Bender Cook and Cathy Spory for all their energy and all they shared with the women of our Conferences.

Franconia Conference and Its Properties

by Conrad Martin, Director of Finance

Did you know that Franconia Mennonite Conference (FMC) owns a shopping center in Souderton and a farm in Harleysville?  Okay technically, FMC doesn’t own any property.  Property ownership belongs to Franconia Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities (FMBMC).  Yes, that organization founded in 1918 to buy church properties for planting churches and to send missionaries to foreign countries still exists.  Its mission has evolved over the years, and while it no longer sends missionaries, it still owns properties.  The missionary-sending component of FMBMC was incorporated into the mission of the conference and its member congregations in the 1990s and the FMBMC board was brought under the authority of the conference board, to function as a captive corporation of FMC.  The purpose of FMBMC these days is to manage real estate on behalf of the conference and support the conference financially, and therefore its “doing business as” name is “FMC Properties”.

FMBMC continues to hold the ownership of a couple of church properties, Whitehall Mennonite Church being one of those churches.  The other church property — the former Peace Mennonite Church in East Greenville, PA — is being used by Project Haven, a ministry from the partnership of a few FMC and Eastern District Conference churches.

FMBMC purchased the Indian Creek Road farm in 1954 and established the Mission of Mercy, a ministry of rehabilitation for alcoholic men.  This continued until 1967 when a mission to those with  intellectual and developmental disabilities was begun on the farm.  This ministry evolved into Indian Creek Haven, which then became Indian Creek Foundation (ICF).  ICF eventually outgrew the farm, and in 2003 it became the birthing grounds for MCC Material Resource Center of Harleysville (MRC).  When MRC outgrew the farm in 2010, the conference decided to make the property a permanent farm.  The development rights for the farm were sold in 2012 and a local Community-Supported Agriculture organization, called Living Hope Farm, was established and began to rent the farm and has continued to grow since then.  As a connection with the past, an ICF group home continues to operate on the farm.  In keeping with its farming heritage, the Indian Creek Road farm has provided a seed bed for the startup of several organizations over the many years of FMBMC ownership.

FMBMC purchased the Souderton Center from a partnership of four Mennonite businessmen.  This group had initially purchased the shopping center property in 1986 to both provide a home for the conference offices, and to support the conference financially.  They renovated the entire center and in 2001 sold the property to FMBMC.  While the conference offices have relocated elsewhere since 2001, the Souderton Center continues to provide financial support to the conference.  When you shop at any one of the businesses of the shopping center — Care & Share Shoppes, Weaver Reckner & Reinhart Dentistry, TriValley Primary Care, ParmaJohn’s, or Ten Thousand Villages — you support the ministries of the Franconia Mennonite Conference.

In 1996, the conference board developed a statement providing rationale for continuing to own property, concluding that “some property is necessary and even advantageous for carrying out the work of the church”.  The statement also ensures that “all decisions about property ownership and the management thereof should reflect the priorities of the church” and that property ownership and use of funds should “reflect the best interests of the congregations of the conference and their mission“.  Keeping property ownership with FMBMC frees the conference board and staff to focus their energies on the mission of the church, leaving property management decisions to the properties board, consisting of persons with experience in property management.

Board Welcomes Smita Singh

By Angela Moyer, co-pastor at Ripple and Conference Board Member

Smita Singh was appointed to the Franconia Conference Board by delegate affirmation at the Fall 2016 Assembly, beginning her first term with the Board in January, 2017. Smita is a member at Whitehall Mennonite Church in the Lehigh Valley since 2000, when she immigrated to the United Stated with her husband Naveen and son Ronak.

Growing up in Nagpur, India, Smita was raised in a Christian home with church and faith as an integral part of her upbringing. She was actively involved with her church youth group, Youth for Christ (YFC), Evangelical Students Union (EU), children’s ministry, National Council of Church’s in India (NCCI) and Maharashtra Village Ministries (MVM). She has led women’s groups and youth groups through BSF International (Bible Study Fellowship), and as a member of Whitehall, Smita has worked in children’s ministry, helped with fundraisers and served on the budget committee and worship planning committee.

She graduated from Nagpur University with a Bachelors in Computer Science. She then received her Master’s Degrees in Business Administration specializing in finance and marketing. Smita has experience as a Google Quality Rating Consultant and also owns an Etsy business, “Rosmina Collections.” Recently, she began working in the Customer Service Department at Nestle.

Janet Byler, Smita Singh, and Ron Bender finished out a long line of blessings and anointing for Pastor Rose Bender at her ordination in 2012.

Initially, Smita was not interested in being on the Board at Franconia Conference, but after prayer, both she and Naveen sensed that this was a call to move out of her comfort zone, especially after having an encouraging conversation with Steve Kriss, then the Director of Leadership Development.  Now, she is looking forward to discovering how she can use her gifts and experience to serve in this role and hopes to fulfill God’s calling.

Her favorite passage of Scripture is Isaiah 41:10, “Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” She says she connects to God best by having her quiet time praying and seeking His word for discernment.

Smita describes Whitehall Mennonite as an eclectic group of people filled with hospitality, diverse in speech and culture, with a common goal to serve the Lord and care for each other. Something she has learned at Whitehall is that God is faithful and always provides in unexpected ways. Transformation happens one person at a time and many times the transformation takes place years after the seed was planted.

Rose Bender, Pastor at Whitehall Mennonite Church says, “Folks at Whitehall appreciate Smita’s creativity, generosity, and delicious cooking!  Because of her life experience and background, Smita often has a different perspective to add to the conversation – a part of the rich fabric of diversity at Whitehall Mennonite Church. She is a joy to pastor and work alongside in ministry.”

Smita lives in Breinigsville, PA with her husband, and now 14-year-old son.  In her free time, she enjoys making cards, helping her son with his school projects, volunteering at church, and as a volunteer coach for Springhouse Middle School Science Olympiad Team.

 

Collaborative Youth Ministry in the Lehigh Valley

11894513_866533416748400_313644984214870327_oThe Lehigh Valley is home to some of Franconia Conference’s thriving congregations that operate on very limited funds. In order to aid those congregations work in music ministry and with children and youth, Franconia Conference provided a Missional Operations Grant (MOG) to both Whitehall Mennonite Church and Ripple-Allentown to aid them in maintaining an MCC East Coast service worker to provide music and youth ministry.

This service worker, Danilo Sanchez, has been an asset to the Lehigh Valley and the broader conference. Here is what Pastor Rose Bender of Whitehall had to say about the work this MOG is supporting:

“Whitehall Mennonite Church (WMC) is a small but vibrant congregation with an increasing Karen refugee population.  Some Sundays, it feels like the children and youth outnumber the12227141_625635004242784_7705795286382547842_n adults!  It is a great ‘problem’ to have, but it has continued to be a challenge for me as a pastor that is only to work 20 hours a week to navigate this and support our youth.  When we dreamed about working with other small Anabaptist congregations several years ago, we still weren’t sure how we would financially be able to support anyone who could be a youth minister to our young people.  We are so grateful for Danilo Sanchez’ work with the Lehigh Valley Youth.  With the support of RIPPLE, WMC, Franconia’s Matching Grant, and MCC East Coast, we have been able to support Danilo for 12017552_610564622416489_5016454301448657351_othis missional experiment with the Lehigh Valley Youth.  He is able to work with youth from RIPPLE, Vietnamese Gospel, WMC, and the broader Karen Community. He has also done volunteer work in the community to connect with kids outside the church.  Urban youth ministry is very different from other youth ministry and we are learning together how to start a relational, intergenerational youth ministry from the ground up.  It’s challenging and messy. It requires flexibility and contextualization.  This is work and these are kids who would not be getting the attention, support, and pastoring without the support of MCC and Franconia Conference.  We are grateful for this on-going commitment to support folks on the margins!  And look forward to what God will do in year 3 of this experiment!”

A Glimpse of Heaven: Multi-Congregation Gathering in Allentown

By Esther Good

IMG_4269On Sunday, August 30th, RIPPLE-Allentown, Vietnamese Gospel Mennonite Church, and Whitehall Mennonite Church joined together for worship at Cedar Beech Park in Allentown, PA. As these three congregations spent time getting to know one another and praising the Lord, it was a glimpse of heaven with many nations and languages coming together as brothers and sisters.

Some sat at picnic tables under a pavilion or on the ground under the shade of trees, while others were hard at work around the outskirts of the group, grilling hotdogs and preparing for the potluck meal that would follow.  Children marched around waving brightly colored streamers as we began the service with songs of praise. A choir shared beautiful music in the Karen language, and the scripture was read in English, Spanish, Vietnamese and Burmese.  Members from each congregation shared about their walk with God. The sharing ranged from stories of persecution in Vietnam, to a first experience of summer camp at Spruce Lake Retreat.

IMG_4337The service closed with a meaningful time of prayer. Representatives from each church took turns sharing the needs of their congregation. Someone from another congregation then came along side them and prayed for those specific needs.

After the service, there was a time of food, fellowship, and fun.  Members from each congregation participated in weaving of rugs as part of Woven Welcome, a community-based art project started in December by artist Jill Odegaard. IMG_4459 The woven rugs represent the interconnectedness of all individuals. One person would weave a strand of cloth through one side of the rug, and pass if off to a partner on the other side who would complete the process.  This allowed members from different congregations to work together and spend time in conversation.  The finished rugs will be added to the Woven Welcome instillation, which will be on display at the Allentown Art Museum until Sunday, October 11, 2015.

IMG_4528As the adults spent time in fellowship together, the children played joyfully in a nearby creek.  It was a wonderful afternoon spent enjoying God’s creation and the company of brothers and sisters in Christ.

 
Additional Pictures

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Cultivating His Call as He Nurtures Urban Youth

Danilo Sanchez photoDanilo Sanchez grew up in Franconia Conference. From his time in Boyertown where he was able to explore the gifts God has given him, to being the youth minister in the Lehigh Valley area for three Franconia churches, the conference has watched him grow into his calling. Danilo was licensed toward ordination last year, and continues to nurture urban youth in the conference. Find out how he came to know and accept God’s call on his life through his call story:

Boyertown Mennonite Church is where my journey began. I remember the first time an adult asked me to be the worship leader for a Sunday service. I felt so honored. Then later I was asked if I would like to preach. I don’t remember how I did, but the congregation was so supportive. I liked serving and being in leadership. I decided I would try teaching the Wednesday night youth bible study and Sunday School some times. Around that same time some youth wanted to start leading worship the first Sundays of the month so I began to help out with that as well. I really enjoyed leading worship; worship made me feel close to God and I enjoyed leading others in encountering God.

Having a church like Boyertown was exactly what I needed. A church that was willing to let a young guy try out some of his gifts.

I went to some youth leadership retreats during high school and really tried to discover what my gifts were. I knew I wanted to serve God in some way, but at the time never really considered being a pastor. I was learning to serve God and willing to take the risk of saying “yes”, but I felt too unworthy to be in such a position of leadership. I think that was the biggest thing that I had to overcome as I sorted out my call to ministry. Like Moses, I wanted to come up with excuses as to why I couldn’t lead.

When I was preparing to go to college, I was at a bit of a cross roads. I wasn’t really sure what direction I wanted to head in life. I remember writing a covenant to God in my journal, “God I want to be your servant. I’m willing to follow you anywhere.” Little did I realize where that would lead me.

I liked the idea of being a psychologist, so I declared my psychology major as I entered Eastern University (St. Davids, PA). I figured I could have a good paying job and then maybe volunteer my time for the church on the side.

I stayed involved at Boyertown during my first semester at Eastern, leading Bible studies and helping with the youth, and after the Winter Youth Lock-in, someone’s comments changed the direction I was going. An adult volunteer commented that many of the youth looked up to me, that I seemed to enjoy being around the youth, and maybe I should be a youth pastor.

I look back now and know that I needed the affirmation of my gifts from the church to discover my call to ministry. The thought had never really occurred to me. Me? A youth pastor? I needed to think more about it.

As a way of testing the waters, I decided to take a youth ministry class. Something just clicked. I felt alive. I felt energized. This made sense. I remember praying, “God, give me passion if this is your will.”

I changed my major to youth ministry and things just took off from there. I started doing internships at different churches — Good Shepherd Community, Souderton, Hereford Mennonite (now Butter Valley Community Church), and Philadelphia Praise Center– to discover and develop my gifts. I learned many things about myself and God during those experiences. There were several times that my gifts and calling were affirmed, whether it was through words of others, relationships, or experiences where I felt God affirming me. It had become clear to me that God was calling me to be a youth pastor.

As I approached graduation from Eastern University, the logical next step for me was seminary. I headed to Eastern Mennonite Seminary (Harrisonburg, VA) and during my three years there, I was the seminary intern youth pastor at Eastside Church. As a church plant, there was no established youth ministry, so for the first time I was able to take all my knowledge and create the youth ministry that I wanted. Needless to say, it was both exciting and terrifying. I had some good success stories, but probably more failures. All in all, the experience was very formative and Eastside was another place for me to cultivate my gifts and call.

Currently, I am living in Allentown, PA and serving as the Lehigh Valley Youth Pastor for Whitehall, Ripple, Vietnamese Gospel, and Christ Fellowship. I would have never imagined that this is where God is calling me to be – urban ministry. I always pictured myself in a suburban setting where I would be nice and comfortable. But after being in Allentown for almost a year, it is clear that this is where God is calling me to be. I have never felt more fully alive. Sure I’m still making mistakes and learning new things, but I’m following God’s call in my life and finding my pastoral identity.

As I reflect on my call, it becomes clear to me what happens from a simple prayer and willingness to say yes to God, no matter where it takes you. There has been some wrestling and some discerning, but God’s call in my life has become clear.

Danilo Sanchez is the youth minister for Whitehall Mennonite Church, Ripple, and Vietnamese Gospel in the Allentown, PA area. For more about Danilo’s work as an urban youth minister check out his blog post for The Gathering Place.