Mennonite Church USA (MC USA) held their biennial convention July 2-6 in Kansas City, Missouri. Three thousand energetic youth, children, and adults assembled for a week of learning, worship, serving, fellowship, and fun. The convention aims to build the vision and mission of MC USA as the church together embarks on God’s mission in the world.
Adult delegates met to discern the vision of the church together and for times of equipping. Youth groups shared worship time with the adults and attended seminars during delegate sessions. Servant projects were also available each day for those who chose to join the efforts in the local community. The worship band was led by Seth Crissman (Walking Roots Band) and included various instruments, which created magnificent harmonies.
Chuck Tirtasaputra was a youth attendee from Philadelphia Praise Center and found the worship especially meaningful. “There is something about a group of people singing together to worship God that moves me,” he reflected. Youth crowded in front of the stage each worship session to gain the full experience of worshiping side by side with believers from all over the country. Mike Spinelli, pastor of Perkiomenville (PA) congregation, appreciated the passion of his church’s youth group: “The worship was a breath of fresh air as the youth enthusiastically moved to the front of the stage and full-on sang and jumped to the rhythms of grace.”
Worship also included a speaker each session who captivated the audience with an appealing story or message of God’s moving in their life. Speakers Dustin Galyon, Hesston College basketball coach, and Meghan Good, teaching pastor at Trinity Mennonite Church (Glendale, Arizona), were inspiring to Kyle Rodgers, youth pastor of Franconia (PA) congregation. Galyon emphasized that fear hates community, while Good highlighted that the breath of God is required to sustain our lives, in contrast to our own breath or the breath of others.
Delegate sessions were introduced on Wednesday morning with the formation of table groups. Tom Yoder Neufeld, professor emeritus at Conrad Grebel University, led three sessions from Ephesians titled Gathered as One on the unity of the Spirit. There was time for table discussions and eventually question and answer following each teaching session.
In the afternoon delegate sessions, table discussions centered around the Journey Forward, a conversation continued from convention in 2017. One discussion prompt read, “Identify one part of our shared peace witness we should work on together for the next biennium.” A variety of perspectives were discussed, including shared belief that our church must care for the migrants at the Mexico-United States border who are experiencing inhumane treatment. This focus was reflected in the passage of a resolution that condemned “the treatment of immigrants families and children at the border, as well as around the nation, [as] a horrific violation of the Image of God and God-given human rights.”
Another resolution that passed was the opportunity for congregations, churchwide agencies, and conferences to send additional voting youth delegates (age 16-21) to future conventions.
The next convention will be held in Cincinnati, Ohio, in the summer of 2021. As attendees reflect on lessons to share and ways to integrate what we experienced with our congregations and communities, the divisiveness in relationships remains an area for which the church yearns for God’s healing. Franconia Conference board member Yvonne Platts of Nueva Vida Norristown (PA) New Life echoed this thought as a significant take away from convention. She voiced that our churches and relationships are broken due to decisions and splits. Tom Yoder Neufeld called this “checking the horizons” and still seeing the hope that is there. May we, as one body, look upon the horizons and see Jesus calling us closer to him despite our shortcomings.
Read further reflections on #MennoCon19 from Justin Burkholder and Wendy Wong (Souderton congregation):
As 1 Corinthians 12:14 states, “For the body is not one member, but many,” and as it is said in Ecclesiastes 4:9, “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labor.” So too, is it with Franconia Conference. Each member of the Franconia Conference team being a vital piece, bringing their gifts and talents to further the work of the Lord. This month Franconia Conference welcomed several new members to the team including two new board members and new staff.
At the March 19 Conference Board Meeting, Yvonne Platts of Nueva Vida Norristown New Life and Cory Longacre of Souderton Mennonite Church were welcomed as new board members. Yvonne was affirmed by board vote. Cory was affirmed by the board to replace the assembly-appointed board member Smita Singh who resigned this past fall. He will therefore be on the ballot at the fall 2018 Assembly for delegate affirmation. Both Yvonne and Cory bring long-standing Anabaptist roots within Franconia Conference and deep connections to their local communities.
Yvonne Platts was baptized at an early age in the Mennonite church and has grown up at Nueva Vida Norristown New Life. Yvonne serves within her congregation on the Enlarging Our Place in Gods World Leadership Team. Her primary work is with Family Services of Montgomery County as a Community Outreach Worker with the Norristown Violence Prevention Initiative, from whom she received the Outstanding Service Award in November 2017. She is also a member of Roots of Justice Inc. which addresses issues of racism and other oppressions, creating awareness, understanding and knowledge toward building a just society for people groups in churches, organizations, and community. Currently, she is actively working within the Norristown School District to train Circle Keepers for Restorative Justice Peace Circles. Training and equipping community members to become Circle Keepers is a deep passion of Yvonne’s, as she hopes for the establishment of community based alternatives to juvenile detention.
Yvonne is a graduate of The Center for Urban Theological Studies and holds a Master of Science in Restorative Practices and Youth and Family Counseling from The International Institute of Restorative Practices. There is no doubt that Yvonne Platts has a deep drive for peace and justice and will bring her dedication to social justice to her work with Franconia Conference.
Pastor Angela Moyer of Ripple in Allentown and a member of the Conference Board stated that she has volumes of admiration and respect for the work Yvonne does in the community. Executive Minister Steve Kriss says, “Yvonne is well equipped to think and respond in the best interest of the whole of the Conference with her long history at Nueva Vida Norristown New Life.”
Cory Longacre comes to the Conference Board recently finishing his third-and-final three year term on the Souderton Mennonite Church Board where he spent the last three years as chair. Cory grew up at Swamp Mennonite Church, settling in after college at Souderton with his wife Linda. He first accepted Jesus at Spruce Lake Camp around the age of 13 and was then baptized at age 15 at Swamp. He is a graduate of Dock Mennonite Academy, both the former Penn View Christian School and Christopher Dock Mennonite High School. He also received his Bachelors in Business Management from Eastern Mennonite University where he met his wife Linda, whom he married in 1993. They have 3 children: Olyvia, age 19, Davry, age 15, and Zeke, age 11.
Cory currently co-owns TNC Self Storage and is Fleet Operations Manager at Perkiomen Tours. Previously he spent 20 years with Farm & Home Oil Company where he started in sales, then after 4 years transitioned to management, moving his way to Vice President where he spent several years before ending his time with the company.
“Cory brings a wealth of experience as both a community and business leader. He is both reflective and entrepreneurial — assets for our Conference,” said Steve Kriss.
Cory is grateful for the opportunity to serve. “I look forward to joining Franconia Conference Board,” he says, “to help guide and discern as our conference continues to grow and evolve while maintaining our Anabaptist values.”
Joining the Franconia Conference in staff roles, are Jeff Wright as a LEADership Minister, Chantelle Todman Moore as Intercultural Leadership Coach, and current LEADership Minister Marta Castillo, who is increasing her time with the Conference and becoming the LEADership Minister of Intercultural Formation.
Jeff Wright will serve as a LEADership Minister, specifically working with Franconia Conference’s three congregations in Southern California: Indonesian Community Christian Fellowship, International Worship Church, and Jemaat Kristen Indonesia Anugerah (JKIA or Grace Indonesian Christian Fellowship). Jeff has served in a dual role as pastor of Madison Street Church, a Brethren-in-Christ congregation in Riverside, California and as president of viaShalom, a small not-for-profit, since 2009. viaShalom is a not-for-profit missional resource agency that currently operates three ministries: commonGood, a local, asset-based community development effort; viaGLobal, which support St. Francis Primary School located in Morsul, Rajshahi in Bangladesh serving approximately 80 Christian families belonging to the Santal minority; and Urban Expression North America, “a consultancy specializing in creating and sustaining urban incarnational experiments, and affiliated with similar ministries across Europe.” Bike and Sol, run by Pastor Scott Roth of Perkiomenville Mennonite Church, is a project of Urban Expression and has worked closely with Jeff. Jeff has also done consultancy work with various congregations both in Franconia and Eastern District Conferences.
Jeff holds a Bachelor of Arts from Tabor College, a Master’s of Divinity from Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary and earned his Masters of Business Administration with a focus in church management from the Graduate Theological Foundation. In addition, he has a Post-graduate Diploma in Applied Theology from Spurgeon’s College in London. He lives in Riverside, California with his best friend/wife Debbie. They have two adult children who he said also married their best friends. Jeff enjoys time with three grandchildren and the “church mascot/beagle-terrier puppy, Madison”, who lives with them and constantly digs up their backyard!
Steve Kriss says, “Jeff has long term relationship working as a Mennonite Church USA Conference leader. His experience and commitment to California and his capacity at developing new leaders will be a gift to our Conference, as we live into our bi-coastal reality.”
Jeff says, “I’m very excited to be part of a larger and diverse team that works collaboratively toward a common vision of being the church. It is a unique privilege to work with Franconia Conference among the new member Indonesian churches in Southern California.”
Chantelle Todman Moore comes to Franconia Conference as Intercultural Leadership Coach, where she will focus her work with our 15 urban congregations, looking at cultivating next generation leaders, focusing on persons age 15-35. She has also been tasked to think about what it takes for persons of color in ministry leadership to flourish and how that can be cultivated within Franconia congregations.
She says she is “passionate about embracing diversity and difference as a gift, seeking justice as a mandate and being moved to act by love.” Chantelle lives in Philadelphia with her spouse, Sam, and their three daughters.
Pastor Aldo Siahaan of Philadelphia Praise Center and a member of the Conference LEADership Minister team was on the board of MCC East Coast at the time of Chantelle’s employment there. He says, “Chantelle is a hard worker, full of creativity and always mixes her work with laughter.”
When asked about bringing Chantelle on in this new role for Franconia Conference, Steve Kriss stated, “Our Conference has become increasingly urban and intercultural over the last decade. Chantelle’s experience in working with urban leaders and congregations will strengthen our capacities in cultivating and accompanying current and emerging leaders. Her energy, honesty, commitment to the church, and willingness to ask hard questions are traits I appreciate about her and look forward to her bringing to her work with Franconia.”
Marta Castillo is not new to the Franconia team, but will be increasing her time. After serving almost five years on the Conference Board, Marta joined Franconia Conference as a LEADership Minister in in 2016, while simultaneously serving as co-pastor at Nueva Vida Norristown New Life. She stepped away from the position at Nueva Vida in December, as she felt the Spirit leading her elsewhere. At the time she did not know that “elsewhere” would include increased time with Franconia Conference. The Conference is grateful to have Marta move into the role of LEADership Minister of Intercultural Formation. The daughter of Franconia Conference-rooted mission workers, she has been shaped by all four of the linguistic cultures in Franconia Conference, growing up in both Vietnam and Indonesia. While being a primary English speaker, she lives in a bilingual family and community of English/Spanish speakers.
Marta is committed to prayer, along with active engagement of diverse neighborhoods with the message of Christ’s Good News. She is passionate about the intercultural work of unity in cultural diversity, antiracism, and racial reconciliation. She graduated from Eastern Mennonite College with a major in Elementary Education and is currently taking classes at Eastern Mennonite Seminary. Marta lives in Norristown, PA, with her husband, Julio and two teenage children, Andres and Daniel.
“Marta’s flexibility and linguistic capacity, her depth of spiritual practice and her experience working with pastoral teams combine to make her a uniquely gifted leader in our Conference,” said Steve Kriss. You can read more about Marta here.
The staff and board of Franconia Conference are well-equipped to continue to lead the Conference into whatever God has in store. As Executive Minister, Steve Kriss stated, “these additions complement an already strongly gifted staff and strengthen our capacity to serve our growing Conference.”
This year marks the 50th anniversary of three significant events in the civil rights movement in the United States: The Voting Rights Act, which prohibited racial discrimination in voting laws and practices; the Selma-to-Montgomery marches, part of the movement of rights for African-Americans; and “Bloody Sunday,” when marchers crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge on the Alabama River and were attacked by police with billy clubs and tear gas when they refused to turn back. Every year, marchers gather to commemorate the event and honor those civil rights demonstrators. Here, Yvonne Platts reflects on participating in this year’s march.
As a Servant who has been called a many of times to many of places, and most recently to take part in the civil rights legacy known as “Bloody Sunday,” I am always in awe at seeing God’s handiwork on display. The day of the march was a warm and sunny day, and our 10 buses from 10 different cities arrived well before noon for the rally and march, that would start at 1:00 p.m. Right away, my spirit got swept up with joy as preparations were being completed. Vendors had their tables full of cultural and historical displays, charcoal was burning in the massive grills, and music was pumping through the air.
Yet I knew this was more than just a good time; 50 years later we can clearly see a continuing pattern of systemic injustice within our police departments, government laws, and policies affecting voting rights of the poor, elderly, and people of color. Going back to work Monday was not as usual: this experience has had a profound impact that has changed me forever.
I can longer be comfortable with the status quo, nor wait on the sidelines for someone else to step up. Now is the time! Change must come! The time is now! Reclaiming the best from our leaders in Selma who walked, were beaten, and bloodied to secure voting rights will help us to organize, move forward, and bring justice back to our urban communities.
I am on a personal campaign to register all the 18-year-old youth I come across in my community. To work alongside others to bring political awareness through identifying candidates who will truly work with us to create a beloved community, and are worthy of our vote. To use my gifts and talents to lift spirits, encourage souls, and inspire minds to stand against injustice anywhere and everywhere.
Oh God our Father, continue to fill us with thy power to speak out and stand against injustices we see and face within our communities and areas of influence. Let us not miss out on opportunities to share your grace, show your love, and be a blessing to others. May we bold servants for your kingdom, fearlessly speaking the truth in love.
Yvonne Platts attends Nueva Vida Norristown New Life.
This week, we are sharing several reflections from participants on the October 2014 “Come and See” tour to Israel and Palestine. The tour is part of a broader initiative by Mennonite Church USA which encourages Mennonite pastors and leaders to travel to the region, to “come and see” what daily life is like for those who live there.
In reflecting on my experience on the Come and See learning tour to Israel-Palestine this October, I find my heart pounding and thoughts racing. They are racing over what feels like an overwhelming sense of duty to help others connect to the struggle and plight that our Palestinian sisters and brothers are enduring.
I went on the tour in response to an invitation to Mennonite Church USA leaders (pastors, denominational leaders, others) to join learning tours to Israel-Palestine in response to the Kairos Palestine document. This document serves as a call to Christians throughout the world to come and see what is happening in Palestine and to stand with Palestinian Christians against injustice and apartheid in their region.
I was excited to have the opportunity to visit holy places such as the birthplace of Jesus, the Sea of Galilee and the Mount of Olives, and I was filled with curiosity about what was really going on in Israel and Palestine. I have come to realize that our U.S. news media does not always provide the most accurate reporting on the issues.
I was very intrigued by our goal of meeting with people “on the ground” to gain a better understanding of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and realities, as well as learning about Palestinian and Israeli organizations that are working for peace and justice—including those with whom Mennonite agencies are partnering.
Another goal/expectation was that we would return home with a commitment to engage in education and advocacy regarding justice issues in Palestine and Israel, with the hope of moving toward a pro-justice, pro-peace and pro-Jesus approach—rather than simply a pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian one.
Prior to this invitation, I never considered visiting the region and was mostly unaware of the degree to which Palestinians are subjected to injustices on a daily basis. Right away, my mind, body and soul identified similar patterns of oppression, abuse, labeling and discrimination that African Americans in the United States experienced during Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras. I was reminded of the times of slavery, where families were separated and there was a deliberate movement by slave owners and the dominant culture to destroy people’s language and culture.
I can relate to the cries of people asking for justice to be done. What good are international laws if they cannot hold the government accountable?
What I saw and recognized was that despite an intentional and strategic plan to force people from a land and inflict upon them daily humiliation through checkpoints, to create purposeful hardships through the closing of significant streets, and more, a fearless spirit abounded of resistance and hope that people will be able to overcome these struggles.
Palestinian Christians are counting on people like me and you to support their efforts for peace. If you haven’t yet read the Kairos Palestine document, please do so. I encourage you also to support Mennonite Central Committee and their partner organizations that are doing good work in helping to restore humanity in the region.
Yvonne Platts is the minister of youth and community outreach at Nueva Vida Norristown New Life Mennonite Church in Norristown, Pennsylvania. This piece originally appeared in “On the Way,” a publication of Mennonite Church USA. Reposted with permission.
This week, we are sharing several reflections from participants on the October 2014 “Come and See” tour to Israel and Palestine. The tour is part of a broader initiative by Mennonite Church USA which encourages Mennonite pastors and leaders to travel to the region, to “come and see” what daily life is like for those who live there.
Our group of 12 pastors and leaders–from Atlantic Coast, Eastern District and Franconia Mennonite Conferences–traveled to the West Bank town of Bethlehem, having intellectually prepared ourselves by reading the history of and various perspectives on the Israel-Palestine conflict. We weren’t prepared for our encounter with the hard realities of life in this country that would shake our hope in humanity and reshape our worldview.
One day, we were taken to a shrinking, dusty Palestinian village that sat in the shadow of a recently-built Israeli settlement. Our guide showed us the farm land that had been confiscated from the villagers for the use or disuse of the settlers. We saw the pond where the village children used to swim in the summer heat before they were chased away by armed settlers who came to the pond for their own recreation. We passed the entrance to the village where a checkpoint was often set up that made access to the outside world incredibly difficult.
We heard the perspectives of Jews who are hardened to the suffering they cause by decades and centuries of fear, persecution, and constant threat. They told us of the hope they have because of Zionism and the establishment of their homeland, but we were deeply frustrated to see the harm that this continues to cause nearly 70 years after independence.
We also met Jews who love their country but cannot support the oppressive actions of their government, so they endure teargas, rubber bullets, beatings, and arrests by the Israeli Army to stand alongside those without power.
In our brief time touring both sides of the dividing wall, we heard stories from the people that were both encouraging and discouraging. At times, we felt like throwing up our hands and admitting that there is no hope for justice or peace in this place. Each of us felt frustrated by the discrimination, inhumanity, and senseless violence inflicted upon the Palestinian people. We also felt anger toward the international community and especially our own government that acknowledges these atrocities but doesn’t take action.
But in spite of the discouragement we so often felt, we heard story after story showing the tenacity of the Palestinian people and their hope for a future. One of our guides was a Palestinian Christian with ancestry tracing back to the earliest disciples, who works tirelessly and daily risks imprisonment to raise awareness and promote peace in the area. Stories like this inspired us to come home and tell the stories of those in need of a voice and to promote shalom at home and abroad by encouraging all to be peacemakers in our broken world.
by Emily Ralph, associate director of communication
On the day that their meetinghouse and office building, New Life Plaza, was scheduled to be sold at sheriff’s sale, members and friends of Nueva Vida Norristown (Pa.) New Life gathered for a celebration. Instead of an impending foreclosure, the congregation experienced God’s miraculous intervention and, on the evening of December 18th, they met to worship, pray, testify, and burn the sheriff sale signs.
Nueva Vida Norristown New Life (NVNNL) is a multilingual and multiethnic congregation in Franconia Conference that provides over a quarter-million-dollars’ worth of social services for its community including a child care center, youth center, internet café, photo ID application services, and a discipleship housing ministry. The congregation formed in 1990 with the merger of three Mennonite congregations: one Latino, one African American, and one Anglo and African American. Their vision for racial reconciliation and justice has led to ongoing witness in their community and within the regional and national Mennonite church.
NVNNL bought New Life Plaza in 2007 as part of their “Enlarging Our Place in God’s World” campaign. The office building, located next door to their church facilities, provided space for new and growing ministries as well as offices that could be leased to generate income for the congregation’s vision of ministry and outreach. Soon after, however, the United States entered a recession and New Life Plaza slowly lost tenants until it was nearly empty.
Interest rates on the Plaza’s mortgage remained high and the mortgage payments became impossible to pay. By summer of 2013, the bank had decided to foreclose.
NVNNL, whose vision is to be a “house of prayer for all people,” continued to bring their need to God. As they fervently prayed, “God moved people to get involved in ways and for reasons they didn’t understand,” said Jim Williams, chair of the stewardship ministry team. “A group slowly came together who said, ‘We can’t allow this foreclosure to happen.’”
Congregational leaders and business people from Franconia Conference began meeting in the summer of 2013 to discern what the next steps might be. All agreed that the ministry and witness of NVNNL was too important in the life of the conference to lose.
“People appreciate the mission that NVNNL has in their community, the way they serve the folks in their neighborhood,” said John Goshow, Franconia Conference moderator and one of the leaders who initiated the gathering. “There’s also a historical connection here—folks had been hearing about Norristown for a long time and affirmed the vital role that the congregation has played in Franconia Conference over the years.”
One leader in the group was Paul Lederach, a former bishop from Franconia Conference who, born and raised in the Norristown mission church, continued to advocate on the community’s behalf until his death on January 6, 2014. He was 88.
The conference partners began negotiating with the bank and gathering pledges; by that fall, they had collected nearly $350,000 from congregations and individuals in gifts and loans. In December, they bought out the mortgage on New Life Plaza, settling on December 30th. NVNNL will have three years interest-free on part of the mortgage and five years interest-free on the rest, with the understanding that the mortgage must be paid off by the end of that time. Two loans with the bank also remain, with more manageable payments.
“The new partnership in ministry between some Franconia Conference people and churches and NVNNL is what we have envisioned for several years,” said Adamino Ortiz, NVNNL council chair. “It is a great opportunity for everyone involved to know each other better, to share talents, ideas, and resources [that will] develop the vision and mission of the church for years to come. It is an opportunity to continue the vision and legacy of Brother Paul Lederach and others who ministered in Norristown before us.”
Moving into 2014, the future looks brighter, with the possibility of new tenants and a slowly improving economy in Norristown. “The ministry that started here in 1918 will continue,” Williams said, “and everything we have done to gain a more stable financial situation will benefit future generations.” In the immediate future, the congregation will begin raising funds to pay off the loans, work on renovations in the Plaza, meetinghouse, and youth center, and continue to expand and grow deeper in their intercultural ministry.
“We have renewed energy to continue the hopes and plans that we had,” said Yvonne Platts, a member of the steering team for Enlarging Our Place in God’s World. “We have a bigger story to tell–who we are, who God has called us to be, living into the vision of having a larger presence in God’s world.”
Congregación en Norristown Celebra Nueva Vida
por Emily Ralph, Franconia Mennonite Conference; traducido por Julio Castillo, NVNNL
El día en que estaba prevista para ser vendidos en la venta del alguacil su centro de reuniones y edificio de oficinas de Plaza Nueva Vida, miembros y amigos de Nueva Vida Norristown ( PA) se reunieron en una celebración. En lugar de una ejecución hipotecaria inminente, la congregación experimentó la intervención milagrosa de Dios y, en la tarde del 18 de diciembre, se reunieron para adorar, orar, testificar, y quemar las muestras de la venta del sheriff.
Nueva Vida Nueva Vida Norristown ( NVNNL ) es una congregación multilingüe y multiétnica, en la conferencia de Franconia que proporciona un poco más de un cuarto de millon de dolares en servicios sociales para la comunidad, incluyendo un centro de cuidado infantil, centro juvenil, internet café, las fotos de los servicios de aplicaciones de identificación, y un ministerio de vivienda de discipulado. La congregación se formó en 1990 con la fusión de tres congregaciones menonitas: una latina, una afroamericana, y una anglo. Su visión de la reconciliación racial y la justicia ha llevado a testimonio continuo en su comunidad y en la Iglesia Menonita regional y nacional.
NVNNL compró Vida Nueva Plaza en 2007 como parte de la campaña “Ampliando Nuestro lugar en el mundo de Dios.” El edificio de oficinas, situado al lado de sus instalaciones de la iglesia, con la condición de espacio para los ministerios nuevos y en crecimiento, así como oficinas que podrían ser alquilados para generar ingresos para la visión de la congregación del ministerio y la divulgación. Poco después, sin embargo, los Estados Unidos entró en recesión y Nueva Vida Plaza perdió lentamente inquilinos hasta que estaba casi vacío.
Las tasas de interés sobre la hipoteca de la Plaza se mantuvieron altos y los pagos de la hipoteca se hicieron imposibles de pagar. Para el verano del 2013, el banco había decidido ejecutar la hipoteca.
NVNNL, cuya visión es ser una “casa de oración para todas las personas”, continuó trayendo su necesidad a Dios. Mientras oraban fervientemente, “Dios movió a la gente a involucrarse en formas y por razones que no se entendían”, dijo Jim Williams, presidente del Equipo del ministerio de Administración. “Un grupo se acercó lentamente a nosotros que dijo, ‘No podemos permitir que esto suceda’’’.
Líderes congregacionales y empresarios de la Conferencia de Franconia comenzaron a reunirse en el verano del 2013 para discernir cuáles podrían ser los próximos pasos. Todos estuvieron de acuerdo que el ministerio y el testimonio de NVNNL era demasiado importante en la vida de la conferencia para dejar perderse.
“La gente aprecia la misión que NVNNL tiene en su comunidad, la manera en que sirven a la gente en su barrio”, dijo John Goshow, moderador de la Conferencia de Franconia y uno de los líderes que iniciaron la reunión. “También hay una conexión histórica aquí—la gente oía constantemente acerca de Norristown durante mucho tiempo y afirmó el papel vital que la congregación ha desempeñado en la Conferencia de Franconia en estos años”. Uno de los líderes en el grupo era Paul Lederach, un ex obispo de la Conferencia de Franconia que, nacido y criado en la iglesia de la misión Norristown, continuó abogando en nombre de la comunidad hasta su muerte el 6 de enero de 2014. Tenía 88 años.
Los socios de la conferencia comenzaron a negociar con los compromisos bancarios y las promesas; durante el otoño, se habían recaudado casi $ 350,000 de las congregaciones e individuos en los regalos y préstamos. En diciembre, compraron la hipoteca sobre New Life Plaza, estableciéndose el 30 de diciembre. NVNNL tendrá tres años, sin intereses por parte de la hipoteca a cinco años sin intereses sobre el resto, en el entendimiento de que la hipoteca debe ser pagada por el final de ese tiempo. Dos préstamos con el banco también se mantienen, con pagos más manejables.
“La nueva asociación en el ministerio entre algunas personas e iglesias de la Conferencia de Franconia y NVNNL es lo que hemos imaginado durante varios años”, dijo Adamino Ortiz, presidente del concilio de NVNNL. “Es una gran oportunidad para todos los involucrados a conocernos mejor, de compartir talentos, ideas y recursos [que será] el desarrollo de la visión y misión de la iglesia en los años venideros. Es una oportunidad para continuar con la visión y el legado del Hermano Paul Lederach y otros que servían en Norristown ante nosotros”.
Entrando en el 2014, el futuro parece más brillante, con la posibilidad de nuevos inquilinos y una economía que mejora lentamente en Norristown.
“El ministerio que comenzó aquí en 1918 continuará”, dijo Williams, “y todo lo que hemos hecho para tener una situación financiera más estable beneficiará a las generaciones futuras”. En el futuro inmediato, la congregación iniciará la recaudación de fondos para pagar los préstamos, trabajar en las renovaciones en la Plaza, centro de reuniones y un centro de la juventud, y continuará expandiéndose y profundizándose en su ministerio intercultural.
“Hemos renovado la energía para continuar con las esperanzas y los planes que teníamos”, dijo Yvonne Platts, un miembro del equipo directivo de Ampliando Nuestro lugar en el mundo de Dios. “Tenemos una gran historia que contar—lo que somos, y que Dios nos ha llamado a ser, viviendo en la visión de tener una mayor presencia en el mundo de Dios”.
Racial/Ethnic leaders from Franconia and Eastern District Conferences joined Mennonite Church USA leaders from around the country at the “Hope … for the Future II: Persevering with Jesus” conference, January 25-27 in Leesburg, VA. According to the conference’s press release, the purpose for the event was to “encourage unity, celebrate the denomination’s multicultural progress, and begin outlining specific ways to help the entire church thrive as its membership rapidly becomes more diverse.”
Yvonne Platts, a leader in Nueva Vida Norristown New Life (Franconia) attended with Ertell Whigham, Franconia’s Executive Minister, Ron White, Eastern District’s moderator, and Noel Santiago, Franconia’s Minister for Spiritual Transformation. The conference had an atmosphere of solidarity, Platts reflected, even a lightness of spirit despite the heaviness of the topic and weariness of travel. “I am always moved by the gatherings that bring people of color together in a significant way,” she said. It was a “chance to celebrate just how far we’ve come as a people of faith in helping the church to live out its call.”
White was particularly struck by the call to unity, noting that “our future work as a multicultural group will only go as far as our unity will allow.” In order to experience and express that unity, leaders need to learn about and understand one another’s cultures, he added, which could be a challenge since the diversity within the church is great. “It has to start with how we best demonstrate that we care about each other,” he said.
The conference included recognition of the number of positions filled by leaders of color on the national level, including positions in the denomination as well as in Mennonite agencies. It is a sign of progress, observed Whigham. “We are positioned to speak into the culture while the culture may not necessarily embrace what we bring.” Meeting together with other leaders and sharing similar experiences was powerful, he said. It was a time of naming the difficulty of leading as a person of color in the midst of the dominant white culture, “not to beat up on our white brothers and sisters,” he said, “but describing a reality … they might not be aware of.”
Representation in positions of leadership is increasing, but is still not what it needs to be, noted Whigham. A number of young leaders at the conference—gifted, intelligent, visionary leaders—“said to us older folk, ‘Don’t give up—we commit ourselves to take the baton and keep moving forward, standing on your shoulders and continuing to engage,’” Whigham said. “That was hopeful.”
That raises the question of how current leaders are working to expand the leadership capacity in people of color within the Mennonite Church, White said. “Are we putting our young people of color in position to be our future leaders and how can we best equip them and create effective leadership among our cultures, and what can we do to support each other in this work?” he asked.
A highpoint in the conference was a sendoff blessing for John Powell, who recently retired after 23 years of anti-racism work with Mennonite Mission Agency. It was a bittersweet moment for Platts, knowing that “his work and that of others confronting the powers-that-be to look at systemic racism has gotten us this far and in the room together but there still exist huge … challenges to overcome.”
The future challenges could be overwhelming, but Platts remembers the words of one of the songs they sang together: “The journey is long.” Going forward, she said, she will hold onto those song lyrics and “pray for the wisdom, strength, and knowledge about how to best work with others to advance the kingdom of God in my church community and … conference.”
Read the press release from Mennonite Church USA, Mennonite Mission Agency, and Mennonite Education Agency, the conference’s sponsors.