Tag Archives: Women in ministry

Women and changing roles in the church

by Helen Lapp, Plains

PlainsChange can take a lot of time. And it is very unsettling for many—no surprise there! This past summer Plains congregation (Hatfield, Pa.) decided to explore together, during the usual Sunday school hour, some changes the church has weathered in the past several decades. Several of these changes are:

  • Musical choices: They can bring us together in worship but also can divide.
  • War and peace: It has impacted many lives in our congregation; a number of young men chose not to participate in war, but some also shared stories of serving in the military.
  • Rural to suburban: The trend of moving off the farm brought profound changes to our church.
  • Becoming a diverse church: People from a variety of countries shared the challenges and blessings they experienced as they became an enriching part of our church community.
  • Divorce and remarriage: There was discussion of the sadness and pain of divorce, as well as stories of healing. Joyful remarriage meant more change for our caring community.
  • Gender: The changing roles of women in the church

For the session dealing with changing roles of women at Plains, I led a panel of six women of various ages in sharing of their own experiences at Plains. We reflected on how the Bible we valued was written chiefly by and for men, and also taught by men. Candid sharing about the impact wasn’t easy. And, our own personal journeys continue.

Lois Clemens
Lois Gunden Clemens was the first woman to teach Sunday School at Plains.

The women listed some of their role models and helpers along the way; One was Lois Gunden Clemens, who was the first woman to teach a Sunday school class at Plains—the “young adults,” that is. Lois later served as one of our first elders. She was the editor of “The Voice,” the first church periodical specifically published for women. In 1975 Lois also released her book, WOMAN LIBERATED, a gentle guide during the time the secular liberation movement was also finding its voice.

It was clear that most of the women who took part in our panel grew up as loved little girls and privileged women.

My own story was similar.

After I married my husband, Sam, but before coming to Plains Mennonite, I had attended a small country church where the women seemed to make the wheels go round, and I remember them with appreciation and affection. I did notice that only men stood behind the pulpit—several leaving an imprint on my heart with their sermons. But I did weary of a male-centered church, and hungered for more.

During my college years at Eastern Mennonite College, having several women professors brought a learning curve; teaching English for several years likely also pushed me.

And I have always been touched by Jesus’ open-hearted conversation with the Samaritan woman.

A turning point came for me when Sam and I lived for two years in mid-Kansas while he finished his undergraduate college work. While there I met wise Mennonite women, Elaine Sommers Rich and Katie Funk Wiebe, who became mentors and role models as they explored and wrote of God’s clear calls to women in today’s world.

On that Sunday morning panel, all six women shared stories. Generally, personal change happened with little fanfare. Several told of courageous personal choices.; most of these choices led to welcomed role changes. At times change was scary, and sometimes annoying. Was it easier, some wondered, when little was asked but the care of our children?

Panel members found that congregational life had been enriched by having women as pastors alongside Pastor Mike Derstine during the past 15 years.

We acknowledged on this August Sunday morning that both our sons and our daughters accept most of this role flexibility as the new normal. And with God’s help, we usually can also. Healthy change requires open hearts and minds and a commitment to live in love with our fellow life travelers.

Reflections on “All You Need is Love”

All You Need is Love
In worship we were led to dance, singing “Walk into the holy fire, step into the holy flame.” Photo by Nekeisha Alexis-Baker/AMBS

by Diane Bleam, Bally congregation

A lot has changed since I last attended a Women Doing Theology Conference in Bluffton, Ohio in 1994.  I was excited to attend “Anabaptist Women Doing Theology Conference: All You Need is Love” in Leesburg, VA on February 20-22 for some theological stimulation as well as to observe how young women are experiencing theology in the church today.

The most refreshing aspect of this conference for me was sharing with women from other ethnic groups, hearing their experiences, joys, and struggles as women leaders in the church.  As one of the older attendees, most of whom were young women, I was encouraged by the energy and competency of many women and by their ability to step out and take risks.

I found that racial and ethnic differences are still an issue, although the issues are sometimes more subtle as we have become more sensitized to the long-standing oppression of many women.  I was reminded how very difficult it is to overcome historical assumptions, whether related to gender, ethnic, or sexuality biases.

The women I met were strong women, women willing to take risks, while at the same time giving and receiving affirmation and appreciation, as evidenced by many public expressions of thanks and praise of work well done.  It reminded me of the difference between a gathering led by men, with brief acknowledgements of thanks (maybe), and a women’s banquet, where everyone gets flowers.  Not that one is necessarily better than another, just different.

While I didn’t notice much anger, I did notice a lot of determination.  There was also grief and joy; many of us shed tears at different times.  There were calls for justice in the face of any kind of oppression, and calls for solidarity among women.  While I was sometimes uncomfortable being with so many women because I’ve spent most of my public ministry working with men, it was refreshing to see women learning from one another and being strong supports to one another.

Women being created in the image of God inspired rich experiences of worship and rituals.  God’s immanence was emphasized as we sought to find God’s presence within ourselves.

If the conference schedule was an indication, much is expected by and from women today.  I returned from the Conference exhausted, missing my own youthfulness, while at the same time feeling that these young women are well-prepared to go beyond those who came before.  I’m excited to see where they take us.

Responding to my call … for my daughter

Tami Goodby Tami Good, Souderton

I have always had a sense of what it means to be called into service.  My parents and grandparents modeled for me the importance of living out our faith through seeking God’s purpose for our lives.  As my grandfather always said, “You don’t come to church to warm the benches.”  Through his example and others I came to understand that walking with Christ is lived out daily as one shares her gifts with those around her.  We are all ministers of the gospel as we build relationships and reach out as Christ’s hands and feet.

About three years ago God gave me the word “prepare.”  At first I did not understand what that meant, but as my husband and I began to pray about it, I realized that part of my “preparing” would involve going back to school.  Through my studies at Biblical Seminary and the counseling and affirmation of others, I felt led to step out of the educational field and pursue a call in ministry.

As I grew into the idea, it was my daughter who compelled me to move forward in my calling.  Looking at her, I realized I wanted her to grow up knowing that God could ask her to do anything.   I firmly believe God calls both women and men into pastoral roles.  It is important to hear the many voices God has placed within our churches and conference settings.  Our young adults need to know that they can be used in whatever situation God calls them, regardless of their gender or ethnicity.  Including all our brothers and sisters in leadership roles allows all of us to fully use the gifts God has placed in each of our lives.

Living in grace and difference

Marking 25 years of credentialing women in Franconia Conference

by Emily Ralph, Salford

My most vivid memory from the fall of 1987 was sitting in a circle with my preschool classmates taking turns shaking a jar of cream an impossibly long time until it became—wonder of wonders!—butter.  There isn’t much drama when you’re four: arguments over who plays with who on the playground, the boredom of lying wide awake on the mat during naptime, joy at seeing Mom again at the end of the day.

Marty Kolb-Wyckoff
Marty Kolb-Wyckoff was the first woman licensed in Franconia Conference. Photo by Andrew Huth.

While I was building with blocks and coloring pictures in that Ohio preschool, history was in the making 400 miles away.

Delegates from Franconia Conference had spent several years in conversation and discernment, listening, talking, and praying about the question of women in leadership.  That fall, without much fanfare, delegates voted to allow congregations to request credentialing for female leaders.  In fact, the decision was made so quietly and gently that the newsletter announcement a few months later only took up three inches of column space.

This past Assembly marked the 25th anniversary of this decision.  I am still in awe sometimes that this happened in my lifetime.  As a licensed pastor in Franconia Conference, I think about how different my life would be now if that decision hadn’t been made.  I am so grateful to those leaders who wrestled with a difficult issue and came to a graceful and gracious decision together.

That’s the beauty of the “women in leadership” conversation that Franconia Conference had in the 1980s—it was conducted with love and respect for the diversity of opinion within our conference.  Unlike some other conferences, Franconia didn’t lose a single church when that decision was made.  And this gives me incredible hope.

Twenty-five years later, we’re still having difficult conversations and there will be new difficult conversations twenty-five years from now.  But the Spirit of unity, the Spirit of love, not fear—that is, the Spirit of Jesus—is with us today, just as that same Spirit was with conference leaders twenty-five years ago.  This Spirit allows us to find unity not just despite our differences but as we acknowledge and celebrate our differences.

Logan, Emily, and Cadi
Emily with her nephew and niece–how will they reflect on today’s conversations in 25 years?

I don’t know what the future holds; I don’t know what decisions we will be making in the coming years.  But somewhere nearby, there are little boys and girls swinging, and building Lego castles, and maybe even shaking jars of cream into butter who will someday reflect on our conversations—may they be inspired by our devotion, our integrity, our perseverance, and most of all, our love for one another.

Sister Care Seminar Comes to Eastern Pennsylvania

Sister Care, a ministry designed for “Equipping Women for Caring Ministry,” is coming to Eastern Pennsylvania on March 23-24, 2012.  Eastern District Conference and Franconia Mennonite Conference will sponsor this two-day event to be held at Souderton Mennonite Church.

Carolyn Holderread Heggen and Rhoda Keener will co-present this seminar, designed to validate women’s gifts of caring and equip women to respond more effectively and confidently to the needs of others in their lives and in the congregation.  Topics include claiming identity as God’s beloved, caring for self and others, compassionate listening, and transforming loss and grief.

Heggen is a psychotherapist specializing in trauma recovery and serves on the board of Mennonite Women USA.  Keener’s background is in teaching and mental health counseling.  She has served as executive director of Mennonite Women USA since 2000.

Souderton Mennonite Church is located at 105 W. Chestnut Street, Souderton, PA  18964.  The seminar runs Friday, 7:00-9:00 p.m. and Saturday, 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.  The cost of the seminar is $40 and includes Saturday lunch and the program manual.

For more information contact Anne Yoder (610-259-9838 or ayoder1@swathmore.edu) or Betty Lou Green (610-285-2499 or blg922@gmail.com) or go to the website at www.franconiaconference.org/sistercare.



A month of ordinations marks God’s calling pastoral leaders

by Noah Kolb, Plains, nkolb@franconiaconference.org

Three ordinations in 30 days—this is probably the most ordinations Franconia Conference has ever had in one month! These ordinations bear witness to God’s Spirit at work in calling persons at various stages in life and the impact of leaders and congregations on preparing persons to receive that call. These ordinations represent a significant journey of persons being “equipped to empower others to embrace God’s mission.” They undergird our call to be intercultural, formational and missional. God continues to call women and persons of other cultures to leadership among us. Ordination is the church’s way of recognizing these whom God is calling to lead and who are prepared to make long-term commitments in response. It is an incredible joy for me to act on behalf of the Franconia Conference in affirming and confirming the work of God’s Spirit in “setting apart” credible leaders for the mission to which God has called us.

Marta Castillo
(ordained May 7 as associate pastor at Nueva Vida Norristown New Life)

Marta Castillo first responded to God as a child of missionary parents in Indonesia. She renewed that commitment when she moved to Norristown and joined Nueva Vida Norristown New Life. Having served faithfully in most every leadership position in the congregation she was called to a pastoral responsibility. Her spiritual leadership and responsiveness to the Holy Spirit was affirmed at her ordination, which was conducted in two languages. There was great rejoicing and celebration as the multicultural congregation gathered to worship and celebrate. As a woman married to a Latino, she and her family enrich the congregation and provide wonderful leadership. The ordination was a confirmation and blessing for Marta and the congregation.Jenifer Eriksen Morales' ordination

Jenifer Eriksen Morales
(ordained May 15 as a conference LEADership Minister)

Jenifer Eriksen Morales was nurtured in the womb of the church at Alpha Mennonite. Her childhood pastor, Henry Swartley, was a great model and nurtured her to love the church while also challenging it. After a brief time in social work Jenifer responded to affirmation and a call to church leadership. Her ability to adapt to changing and difficult experiences has prepared her to do “Transitional Ministry” in Conference and churches. Her ordination service brought together many different people with whom she has journeyed. Most noticeable was the large number of children and young adults as well as neighbors. Together they blessed her and set her apart for the ministry to which she has committed herself. She and her husband are members of Souderton Mennonite, the congregation that called for her ordination.

Paulus Thalathoti's ordination
(ordained June 6 for ministry to people from India)

came to this country from India in 1994 for theological training. After several years in this country, Paulus and his family discovered Plains Mennonite. He was attracted to Anabaptism and “servant leadership.” Paulus has a deep passion for his people and in 2005 began a fellowship for Indian families in the local area. Plains blessed this ministry and called for his credentialing. Four years later Paulus was ordained on a Sunday morning. He was blessed by the presence and participation of the congregation and many Indian families. Testimonies were shared and leaders gathered around him in prayer and blessing. A wonderful intercultural potluck followed the service.

Steel City congregation blessed and released

By Emily Ralph, eralph@franconiaconference.org

Harleysville, PA – Franconia Mennonite Conference released Steel City Mennonite Church to transfer its membership to Conservative Mennonite Conference.  The request for transfer came after a significant period of discussions related to theology, vision, mission perspectives and scriptural understanding, according to Franconia Conference Executive Minister and Steel City’s former Conference Minister, Ertell Whigham.

Some of the questions leading to this decision revolved around differing interpretations of Biblical perspectives specifically related to issues of women in leadership.  “It was with a heaviness of heart that I shared with the elders in September 2009 that a time was coming soon when I couldn’t in good conscience have my ministerial credentials held by the Mennonite Church USA and Franconia Mennonite Conference,” said Steel City’s pastor, David Kochsmeier.

Soon after, Steel City’s leadership began to look into other options for affiliation.  They discovered agreement with the positions of the Conservative Mennonite Conference, a denomination founded in 1910 which has been based at Rosedale, Ohio, since the 1960s.  On May 2, 2010, the congregation voted to leave Franconia Conference and Mennonite Church USA and join the Conservative Mennonite Conference, a transfer that was completed in February of 2011.

Noah Kolb, Franconia Conference’s Pastor of Ministerial Leadership, walked with Steel City through the release process.  “I feel a sense of loss and grief over losing the Steel City congregation, which I think has been a creative, missional congregation over the last few decades,” he said, reflecting on the experience.

Part of the blessing was a service of transfer which was held on March 6, 2011.  Members of both Franconia and Conservative Mennonite conferences were present for a symbolic releasing of the congregation.  As he shared his heart with members of Steel City, Kolb held a candle representing the congregation.  “Your light has burned brightly since your beginning,” he said.  “I believe God has been glorified through you and your witness and service. . . I hold this candle with thoughts and longing filled with much joy and hope for you.”

Turning to Steve Swartz, Executive Secretary of the Conservative Mennonite Conference, Kolb offered him the candle.  “Steve, in the name of Christ and for his glory, I release Steel City from the care of Franconia Conference into your care and oversight.  May God be glorified in this new relationship.  May the presence of the Kingdom grow ever stronger in this community.”

“We hope Steel City will continue to find direction for what God is calling them to be and do in ministry,” said Whigham.  “We will find ways to continue to be in relationship with them.  Even now, we’re working together to find ways to connect and collaborate.”

Keeping my heart wide open

Klaudia Smucker, Bally

“I am not planning on preaching,” I told one of my seminary professors. “I’m more interested in pastoral care and counseling.”

“Ask your minister anyway, and see if he can fit you into the preaching schedule,” he said.Klaudia's Installation

James Waltner, my minister at College Mennonite at the time, said “Of course we can fit you into the preaching schedule.” I remember sitting up front before giving my first sermon, and having the feeling of wanting to run off the platform.

I began my student internship, not planning on being a pastor. But as the year went on, my seminary practicum, “Minister in the Church,” held many surprises. I preached, I led worship, I did pastoral care and counseling, and I loved every minute of it. I remember thinking, “This is the job I always wanted to do. I just didn’t know it.” My spiritual director noticed how enthusiastic and focused I was when I talked about my church work. She encouraged me to continue to seek God, and wait for answers. I prayed that if ministry was the right direction, it would be affirmed by others.

As I finished my practicum, I was sad to be ending something I enjoyed so much, and happy that I discovered something I loved. I decided to continue to work part time at my nursing job, and work my way through seminary, hoping that answers would eventually come. In my last week at the church, Nancy Kauffmann, on the CMC team, took me out to lunch and asked me if I had ever considered pastoral ministry. I said, “Yes. This practicum has opened whole new possibilities for me. I’m just not sure about the timing of it all.” She said, “I can’t promise you anything until we talk to the church board, but James and I believe you have gifts for ministry. We’d like to recommend hiring you to help us fill in some gaps.”

Klaudia's InstallationThat was the beginning of my ministry journey, although as I look back, I can see that God’s hand was on me, leading, guiding, and bringing others my way to encourage me in that direction. When I preached a sermon as a 16-year-old on youth Sunday in the early 70’s, a woman came up to me afterwards with tears in her eyes, and said, “If you were a man, you could be a preacher some day.” I remember hearing a woman speak with passion and inspiration and thought, “I want to do that for others.” After I gave a presentation in a committee meeting once, a woman said, “God has something in mind for you.”

Not all of the 12 years that I have been in ministry have been easy. Sometimes it has been hard, sad and all-consuming. I have laughed, cried, and lamented along with people as I’ve walked with them through marriage, births of children, difficult issues, personal illness and loss. All of those things inform my preaching, and remind me that life is uncertain. My faith has been strengthened as I’ve watched people trust and follow faithfully in the midst of extreme difficulty. I have felt God’s hand on me along the way, sometimes through wise and trusted mentors, sometimes after time in prayer, and sometimes in the voice of a stranger at the right place, at the right time. As I continue to walk forward in what God has called me to, my prayer is to keep my heart wide open as I continue to listen for whatever is next on the journey.

Encountering fierce Love, taking the risk to lead

by Samantha Lioi, Whitehall
samanthalioi@gmail.com Samantha Lioi

Call is a slippery word in divine-human relations, and there are always at least two in this tango: God can be slippery as we look and listen and follow, and people are pretty slippery when called by God. It happened with all the greats. “But…I am only a boy,” says Jeremiah. Peter falls at Jesus’ knees in the boat crying, “Go away from me, Lord!” Even after much reassurance, Moses says, “Lord, please send someone else.” I get it. To be called is to be responsible. Seriously, visibly responsible. In the good company of prophets and apostles, when I look at my ability to live with integrity, I don’t know if I want all that responsibility.

It’s interesting to me that the biblical folk who come to mind first—and those whose call stories I’ve mentioned so far—are men. They are men whose stories are comforting and familiar as they resonate with my own experience. Maybe I should pay more attention to the women God called. At the garden tomb, Mary Magdalene doesn’t say, “Jesus, I don’t think I can…I’m still processing that thing with the seven demons.” There’s no hedging. In love and joy she runs from the empty tomb and comes shouting to Peter and John: “I have seen the Lord!”

I grew up thinking people who had women as pastors couldn’t be taking the Bible seriously. I was 20 years old and a sophomore in a biblical interpretation class at Houghton College when I was required to think about both sides of this. I remember exactly where I was sitting when I learned that scholars with a bias against women in church leadership consistently defended the translation of Junia (a woman’s name) as Junias (a man’s name) in Paul’s list of greetings in Romans 16, because he calls her an apostle. In this context of honesty about the stickiness and complexity of biblical interpretation, I began to welcome the idea that I, or any woman, could be a pastor. Not that I wanted to be. I felt a general call to ministry throughout college and in the years that followed. But a pastor? Me? No—not interested (read this as I was scared to death). Six years after that class, and after much prayer and conversation with mentors and our small campus-based Mennonite fellowship, I began seminary. I enrolled as an M.Div. student so that, I told myself, I would have the authority to preach—but still without any intention of pursuing pastoral ministry. I loved theology and I wanted to study the Bible in more depth. People I trusted had been telling me to go. It felt like the unavoidable next thing, plunked down in the middle of my path.

A key to my ongoing conversion to the Gospel has been receiving and trusting the powerful, unending flow of God’s love. This deepened during my time in Elkhart and Goshen as a student at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary. My new friends and professors showed me grace as I had not known it before. They modeled and encouraged me to accept the underlying good God has woven into the universe, the undergirding Love that will not let us go. I have encountered a fierce Love indeed, and One who can be trusted. It is only in that love that I take the risk of leading others in walking the way of Jesus. And, I practice not taking myself too seriously as I live with the delight and the struggle of feeling things deeply, finding myself frequently moving through deep springing joy and grieving compassion and doubt. Like many of us, I face the temptation to despair, the temptation to do nothing, the temptation to be defeated by the impossibility of complete integrity. So I am as messed up as everyone else—thanks be to God for the freedom to minister in my weakness, and not from pretended worthiness!

Like every other disciple of Christ, I’m called to maturity. Like everyone else, I’m called to die. No wonder I resist the gift and weight of leadership! Yet, at the center of our faith is a poor man from an ethnic minority whom we say is God with skin on. Holiness inseparable from ordinary human living. Flesh and muscle and bone. Bread and wine. A seed that falls into the earth and dies, and is drawn up by water and sun through the soil, and bears much fruit. A long, slow view of pain and hope and saving. And in God’s maddening slowness there is expansive room for healing. There is so much space to become the people we are.

Amazingly, knowing Christ’s church as well as I do, I love it enough to stay. And amazingly, it seems the church is saying the Spirit is empowering me to keep practicing this pastor-prophet-poet-preacher-pray-er thing: in listening, speaking, tugging, laughing, living beside. Resisting God and saying yes, and learning to trust like the Magdalene when I don’t know what that yes will mean. In all of it, called by inescapable Love.

Conference announces staff transitions

Marlene Frankenfield, Franconia Conference Youth Minister and Campus Pastor at Christopher Dock Mennonite High School announced her resignation effective July 15. Marlene served in roles both with Dock and Conference for the last 12 years working tirelessly with young leaders. She said, “I plan to do a big exhale and I hope to live into the quote from Frederick Buechner, ‘The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”’

According to Ertell M. Whigham Jr., Conference Executive Minister, “I’m excited about Marlene’s future. She’s moving forward to continue to cultivate her ministry call. She’s contributed much to us as a community in bridging the world of youth, youth ministers, conference and Christopher Dock. I value her insights as well as commitments and look forward to building on her work over the next years.”

Currently, a youth ministry vision task force is working in conjunction with Eastern District Conference to extend and enhance Franconia Conference’s ongoing partnerships and commitments to youth ministry and leadership development. More details will be released as they are available on transition and future direction of youth ministry within the intercultural, missional and formational priorities of Franconia Conference.

Dr. Conrad Swartzentruber, Principal at Dock High School remarked, “Marlene has a deep passion for our youth and Christopher Dock greatly benefited from her presence. Her participatory approach enabled students to develop gifts of leadership and ministry. She met students where they were, always pointing them to Christ. While we will miss Marlene at Dock, we wish her God’s richest blessing as she continues to use her gifts in ministry to others.”

Emily Ralph of Bechtelsville, Pa has been named associate director of communication beginning May 1. Most recently she was part of the pastoral team at Swamp Mennonite Church in Quakertown, serving in a worship minister role and as cofounder of a communication/public relations business, Rethink Creative Services. Emily’s work will focus around web-based communication, conference assembly and development communication. She will be employed two days a week based at the Mennonite Conference Center in Harleysville and will be a full-time student at Eastern Mennonite Seminary in Pennsylvania.

According to Steve Kriss, Director of Communication, “Emily’s gifts and commitments complement our direction in providing more effective and frequent communication in a variety of venues, following up on recent requests from both conference board and constituency. Emily brings a commitment to excellent and professional quality work along with a passionate commitment to follow in the way of Christ. Her work will be an asset as we continue our journey together toward equipping, empowering and embracing God’s mission.”