Tag Archives: Zume House

Taking time for justice: learning from Samantha Lioi

Samantha Lioiby John Tyson, summer writing team

In a recent book, Mennonite Church USA executive director Ervin Stutzman noted that the peace rhetoric of the Mennonite church has shifted focus away from nonresistance and toward justice. This significant change in language suggests that urban, suburban, and rural congregations are undergoing an attitude adjustment toward the neighborhood. Unlike nonresistance, the work of justice is naturally outward-oriented, concerned with the common good and the overall health of the local community.

One reason that congregations have altered their posture toward their local contexts is the influence of missional theology. It has birthed a generation of Christians ready to join what God is already doing in neighborhood, beyond the church walls. Finding ways to merge living the Gospel (justice) and spreading the Good News (mission), though, requires more than an attitude adjustment: it requires time.

This is the humbling lesson that I learn over coffee with Samantha Lioi, minister of peace and justice for both Franconia and Eastern District conferences. Among other things, Lioi’s role includes preaching and teaching and organizing congregational peace representatives, but the essence of her time is spent broadening our common conceptions of the complicated relationship between living out Anabaptist Christianity and seeking justice.

Lioi is passionate about helping congregations see justice in less abstract terms. For Lioi, justice is less about the business of law and politics and more about creating spaces in our busyness to share our lives with unexpected people. Following in Jesus’ footsteps, justice can be as ordinary as sharing mutual food and fellowship across socially-constructed lines of race, religious, or class divisions. A member of the Allentown intentional community known as Zume House, Lioi has seen these practices slowly begin to have a transformational impact on the community. “We’re all so busy that we sometimes lack the attentiveness that is critical to entering mutual relationships with others. It’s important to be reminded that doing justice can’t only be seen as ‘doing for others’ but ‘doing with others’ too,” says Lioi.

Transitioning from ‘doing for’ to ‘doing with’ often proves to be a challenging paradigm shift for congregations in affluent contexts. One reason is due to the reality that injustice and inequality is murkier and less dramatic in suburban, affluent settings. But the bigger reason involves a paradox, one that has to do with time. Affluent congregations are often so busy working to maintain a well-oiled church that they miss opportunities to vulnerably be with their neighbors, to sit among them with Jesus. “Being with others, learning from others, openness to being changed by real human encounters,” Lioi says, “is time consuming and outside our comfort zones.”

For Lioi, Christian faith from an Anabaptist perspective is patiently cultivated in the presence of others. Only from within diverse relationships do we begin to grasp a better sense of our own shortcomings and need for spiritual transformation. Lioi is hopeful that congregations in Eastern District and Franconia Conferences continue to seek encounters which lead us to “become more honest with ourselves, cultivate courage to face our fears, and display a greater willingness to be changed by our neighbors.”

Growing in honesty, courage, and openness is a long journey. It leads toward outbreaks and glimmers of what life in God’s kingdom looks like, what justice in all its fullest is, but it takes time. As the Mennonite church continues conversion about becoming a missional community, seeking to find ways to merge mission and justice, Lioi’s work of shepherding congregations is a true gift.

Formation class crosses into Allentown in considering the church and mission

Emily Ralph, eralph@franconiaconference.org

Allentown, PA—New Franconia Conference pastors experienced life in the city on May 14 as their Formation Class took them into the heart of Allentown.  The day included Bible study at the Zume House, a prayer walk through the neighborhood where Ripple ministers, a meal with the Vietnamese Gospel Mennonite Church, and an afternoon discussion on crossing borders.

Formation Classes are required prayer walkfor every newly credentialed pastor in Franconia Conference as well as those who are new to ministering within Franconia Conference congregations.  This class’ trip to Allentown reflects a return to the traditional function of the Formation Class—to orient new pastors to the Franconia Conference story.  “A picture is worth a thousand words,” said Gay Brunt Miller, coordinator of the School for Leadership Formation.  “Being there is so much better than sitting in a conference room hearing about it.  It’s the full sensory experience.”

The day began with a time of reflection and discussion at Zume House, an intentional community birthed out of Whitehall Mennonite congregation.  Zume’s Rose Bender and Samantha Lioi shared about their vision of being yeast in their neighborhood (“Zume” is Greek for “yeast”).  It’s a process that takes time and an image that challenged the pastors about their own contexts.  “It means that church is going into the community,” pondered Tim Moyer, pastor of Vincent Mennonite Church at Spring City, PA.  “Am I equipping my congregation to be yeast in our community?”

A highlight of the day was the prayer walk, led by Ripple pastors Tom and Carolyn Albright.  “I saw how the Lord is doing a new thing,” said Ubaldo Rodriguez who leads Nueva Esperanza—Baltimore.  “We heard each other’s stories, listened to a new generation’s dreams and hopes.”  Among their stops was Franklin Park, where Allentown Mennonites recently “planted” a peace pole, and a Thai restaurant where Peter, the owner, spoke about doing business in the city.  Connie Detwiler, associate pastor of Lakeview Mennonite in Susquehanna, PA, was particularly moved by Peter’s witness.  “He was a light in a very dark place,” she reflected.  “I felt the presence of God there.”

The pastors were warmly welcomed to share lunch with members of the Vietnamese Gospel Mennonite Church.  Pastor Hien Truong worked as a leader in the persecuted church and with human rights law in Vietnam and Cambodia before he was forced to flee to the US.  He asked his colleagues to remember his people in their prayers: “The Lord has been noticing our small congregation and caring for us.”

Vietnamese mealLuke Martin, former missionary to Vietnam and long-term Allentown resident, shared about his life of “border-crossings.”  “I went there as a missionary, I came back as a missionary,” he explained.  It only seemed natural to continue his mission work in Allentown, a place he’s called home for over 30 years.  Much has changed in that time, but he still thrives in being a part of God’s work.

“The big changes and border-crossings in his life were from mustard seeds of faith,” Fuller Theological Seminary student and guest Joe Paparone of Saratoga, New York, reflected as he listened to Luke’s story.  “We have to trust those mustard seeds of faith.”

And these border-crossings surround us in our own neighborhoods and within our relationships in Franconia Conference.  John Goshow, Conference Moderator, and Ertell Whigham, Conference Executive Minister, led a conversation on the Conference’s work to be formational, intercultural, and missional.  “We need to be able to articulate this in our own particular contexts,” explained Whigham.  The group was particularly interested in what it meant to be intercultural.  “I am glad that the Mennonite Church in the US and Canada is inviting other voices from the global south,” said Rodriguez, originally from Colombia.  “We need each other!”

Going to Allentown allowed leaders to engage with and learn from their peers in a practical way, said Steve Kriss, Director of Leadership Cultivation for Franconia Conference.  “We were offered the opportunity to be in a place that is not only historically significant in the missional journey of Franconia Conference but also where the Spirit is stirring up new things.”

Marked by a celebration of peace, a pole and a neighborhood park: Urban Anabaptists make a commitment to work and hope in Allentown

By Samantha Lioi

Allentown, PA — In one corner of Franklin Park’s blacktop, Heidi Wert and her young friends sat drumming for peace, drawing in others to grab a pair of sticks and beat out a rhythm on white plastic tubs – thumping out their commitment to be agents of well-being in their neighborhoods. Among them was Peter Pettit, director of the Institute for Jewish-Christian Understanding at Muhlenberg College. Mayor Ed Palowski stood talking with folks setting up for the dedication of the Lehigh Valley’s third Peace Pole, the only one in the City of Allentown. The four-sided pillar, bearing “May peace prevail on earth” in Spanish, English, Arabic and German, was a gift to Pastor Tom Albright for his ordination. With his wife Carolyn, Tom gives leadership to Ripple, an eclectic Anabaptist urban worshiping community “moving toward Jesus as our center.” As they learn more what it means to follow Jesus, Tom says, they also learn, “We need each other.” Tom is credentialed by Franconia Mennonite Conference and the group grew out of ministry with Whitehall Mennonite Church, just outside of the city.

This mutual need, mutual honesty and encouragement were clear in the words and acts surrounding this pole on Saturday, as various people of faith gathered in a common desire for respectful relationships which build trust and shed fear in our city. Josh Chisholm of Congregations United for Neighborhood Action (CUNA) stood at the mic with his daughter on one hip, describing where he sees peace emerging. John, one of Ripple’s faithful deacons who lives across the street from the park, assisted with logistics and the pole’s unveiling. Rev. Maritza Torres Dolich of St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church across the alley from the park said she sees peace in the children playing here day after day, and in her conversations with them. Torres Dolich, originally from Puerto Rico, read the peace pole’s message in Spanish on behalf of Allentown’s large and growing Latino communities. Muc Nguyen of Vietnamese Gospel Church spoke the pole’s blessing in Vietnamese, and his friend Luke Martin, long-time Mennonite missionary in Vietnam, spoke the words in German, representing the Pennsylvania Dutch settlers in the region. Lucy, a first-year student at William Allen High School just a few blocks from the park, read an original poem of peace and sang a song of worship that made children and parents move from playing on the swings and jungle gym behind her to stand listening.

Planting this pole of many tongues calling silently for peace in our city will not stop people from shooting at each other or children from calling out hurtful names across this playground. It will simply remind us who commit ourselves to making peace that we too are planted here among the swing set and the spring onions of the community garden. And unlike this pole, we have breath and voice and power to be in healing relationships. It’s true: we need each other, and we need to remind each other that we are held and empowered by the Source of peace.

Samantha Lioi is an associate pastor at Whitehall Mennonite Church and is part of Zume House in Center City Allentown, an emerging intentional community of faith, witness and hope.

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Enough to leaven the loaf: Gospel hope rises in Allentown

Samantha Lioi, Whitehall
samanthalioi@gmail.com

One story below our living room window, cars swish by on Hamilton Street, spraying the brown slush which fell as snow and sleet on the main drag into downtown Allentown. There old churches, old shops, more recent Egyptian bagel-makers and the new coffee and sandwich place stand side by side amidst economic depression, trying, like the rest of us, to keep in enough heat and enough joy to carry through a long winter. Most days the living room is filled with sunlight—the warmest room in the house—and knowing that I can accept this day that feels more like the gray northern Indiana winters I left to move here just three months ago.

Downstairs on the kitchen counter, sourdough starter is bubbling. Since taking up residence at Zumé (ZOO-may) House in November, I have started baking bread again. Zumé is the Greek word for “yeast” or “leaven” in the New Testament, and the verse for which our house is named is found in Luke 13:21: “[The kingdom of God . . .] is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” As a household, we are hoping to be leaven in our neighborhood, our relationships, our city. With that in mind we have claimed three words to describe the house: faith, community, and transformation. We’re still fixing up the place, still imagining and asking God what and who we are becoming, so I will describe what has emerged so far as we continue our sometimes impatient waiting for the community dough to rise.

We are people of Christian faith.
We are followers of Jesus, disciples (students) expecting that learning to follow requires practice and ongoing learning, and apostles (those who are sent), just as we understand each of our sisters and brothers to be sent by Christ to partner with God in reconciliation. Our faith is shaped by
Mennonite Anabaptist understandings of the Gospel including simple living, peacemaking, and knowing and living the Scriptures as we discern together how that is enfleshed in our time and place.

We are a community.
Like many in the U.S. who share this vision, we are still learning what this means. We are keenly aware how deeply individualism is engraved in the grooves of our brains, the felt needs of our hearts and the raised silver numbers of our credit cards. Much of U.S. American culture thrives on our wanting and spending and self-isolating. As we learn to commit to one another in a common life, a foundation of our faithfulness to Jesus is to live in a way that counters
this individualism and carves new grooves in us, day by day. We have spoken about our desire to “submit to allowing ourselves to be challenged about how we spend our time and our money and being willing to make different choices based on encounters in community life. We know we are better disciples together, and we expect to be changed.

Transformation is the result.
Of course, this is only possible by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit of Christ, who is the original leaven. We are committed to encourage one another to expect that God’s Spirit is constantly working through the whole loaf—to continue in hope that God is making all things new—us, our neighborhood, our city, indeed all of creation.

In a way, we know exactly what this means. Like every other follower of Jesus, we are called to rely on God and expect our Creator to act in our daily lives and in the lives of our neighbors. We are to love these neighbors, pray for them, invite them into our home and visit them in theirs, share food, celebrate and grieve with them, invite them deeper into the self-giving love of God and into allegiance to Christ by the empowering of the Holy Spirit. It is also true that we have very little idea what this means. How and when do we do these things? How much time do we devote to prayer as a household? Whom do we invite to join us in prayer? What exactly do we offer our neighborhood (English classes, tutoring, Spanish classes, GED prep)? How do we choose among the many good possibilities and dreams for participating in God’s mission? What is the particular gift or charism of our house? When will we know this? For now, it’s just two of us, and thecharacter and gift of the community could bloom in any number of colors depending on who comes to join us. It’s energizing and hopeful to imagine this, and while we are inviting and waiting for others to come, it’s stretching and overwhelming to choose and focus right now, in the present, precisely what we’re committing to given who we are and what we bring.

Paul told the Ephesian church it was normal not to be able to put their finger on what and who they were becoming, for “your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Turns out, not knowing can nourish trust, and the Gospel’s full of small, ordinary, dark, daily goodness—the seed in the earth, the salt that brings flavor, the yeast invisibly working through the dough. Author Kathleen Norris in The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and “Women’s Work” invites more respect for “dailiness”—for necessary daily tasks like cooking meals and doing laundry and doing the dishes—as the very place God meets us, day in, day out.* And what is Christian community if not sharing what is daily in our lives? It sounds like a simple idea, and at its root is deeply counter-cultural: “Give us today our bread for the day.” Give us enough for this day, and we will admit our utter impotence to ensure anything about tomorrow. Be with us today, and we will try to notice your presence in this day. We pour the flour, we knead the loaf, we let it be and let it rise. We discern our life together in daily glimpses, slowly. Trusting there’s enough for each day, God help us.

Zumé House is an initiative connected with Whitehall Mennonite Church where Samantha is associate pastor for worship and mission. The house represents a coming together of Franconia Conference-related ministries in Center City Allentown, building on generations of witness and mission in Pennsylvania’s third largest city.

The house is still under renovation and welcoming groups to help create a space that not only nourished the community of persons who lives there, but also the neighborhood. Contact Rose Bender at rosebender87@gmail.com.

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