. . . to ongoing work and hope
by Stephen Kriss
Mother Theresa called it a “call within the call.” That’s the best language I’ve found to describe why I’ve said yes to the invitation to the role of Executive Minister with Franconia Conference. These weeks since the announcement went public I’ve felt surrounded by congratulatory support as well as honest condolences. The congratulations recognize the largeness of the role and the condolences honor the difficulty of church leadership in this time and space. I’ve received them both openly and humbly feeling strongly the sense of call between God, the world, our community and me for “such a time as this.”
While I’ve worked now over a decade with Franconia Conference, this appointment still feels like a surprise. I’d have never guessed moving to Philadelphia after grad school would mean staying this long and finding my heart drawn to the community that we are, that we have been and that we are becoming. I’ve come to love us from our immigrant congregations in South Philadelphia, to our historic congregations in Bucks and Montgomery County, to our experiments in church life in the Lehigh Valley and our unique blend of Vermonter Anabaptism. There’s no where like us. We are poised with interesting and sometimes complicated possibilities.
I’m grateful for the thorough work of the search committee and for the discerning work of the board. Ertell Whigham, who has served as our executive minister, hands off a stable and financially sound organization. He is leaving the role after being the first African American to lead a Conference in our national body. Ertell’s commitment to our ongoing transformation as missional and intercultural people is one that I intend to carry forward.
In my interview with the Conference Board, I said that a marker of success for me will be collaboration. I’m not exactly sure how we’ll mark or measure this yet, but I’ve seen glimpses of it in our work together in mutuality and sharing resources that give me some clues. We have a long story together and I’m convinced that our future could be bright. We’ll need to keep learning (to keep on being disciples) and to invest carefully so that our gift of faith might not simply be safely preserved but multiplied like the resources entrusted to the servants in Jesus’ parable from the Gospel of Matthew.
In this journey, the text “to whom much is given, much is required” has lingered in my head. I hear it both for me and for all of us. I receive this work as a gift. I acknowledge the privileges that are mine and are ours. These are not simply political, economic or racial/class privileges (though there are those), but privileges of grace, hope, and love. It is because of these eternal things that last that I have said yes, again this time to the invitation of the Spirit among us. I look forward to living into this “call within a call” together. And trust that we’ll continue our faithful legacy of work and hope.