This article was originally published by The Mennonite

Built by God to build God’s Kingdom: Conferences gather

Photo: Delegates met around table groups at the Nov. 13-14 meeting of Franconia Mennonite Conference. 

From Nov. 13-14, over 300 people from Franconia and Eastern District Conferences joined together for the fall joint

A children's choir sings during worship at the Franconia and Eastern District Conference meetings.
A children’s choir sings during worship at the Franconia and Eastern District Conference meetings.

assembly at Penn View Christian School in Souderton, Pa. The two conferences joined together for worship on Friday evening and Saturday morning. It was a time of celebration, deep discernment, and a call to be the kingdom of God. Throughout the weekend there were reminders that God is building each person to be a part of the body of Christ and the body of Christ is called to build God’s kingdom here on earth.

The conferences’ diversity was evident in Friday night worship, including a 38-member children’s choir from across conference congregations and a choir of Karen people from Whitehall (Pa.) Mennonite Church who have settled in Allentown after being displaced from their homes in Burma/Myanmar due to ongoing conflict.

Franconia delegates pass Church Together Statements

In the midst of the celebration, the Franconia delegates spent time conferring around three Church Together Statements during their business session. The conference leadership had requested that congregations put forward statements that:

  1. Support the conference’s mission of equipping leaders to empower others to embrace God’s mission.
  2. Propose ways in which to apply the Mennonite Church USA (MCUSA) Kansas City resolutions to the Franconia Conference context.
  3. Propose ways for Franconia Conference pastors and congregations to continue to deepen relationships in 2016.

Nine statements were received by the Church Together Statements Committee. Some were combined to form new statements. In the end, five statements remained. Two statements dealing with resolutions passed at the Mennonite Church USA convention in Kansas City were approved by the board for implementation. The first statement, Israel/Palestine, calls for the formation of a task force to continue education within the conference on the conflict in the middle east. The second, Addressing Abuse Within our Midst, calls for the formation of a task force to implement training, education, and support groups around addressing abuse.

The remaining three statements were presented to the delegates for discernment:

  • The Going to the Margins Statement advocates that Franconia Conference and its congregations, “…be intentional about identifying those on the margins of our churches and society, and provide resources for the work of mutual transformation according to the good news of Jesus Christ. ” The statement provided a list of people who are marginalized today: “[this list] include[s] but are not limited to individuals and families experiencing mental illness, drug and alcohol addiction, physical and intellectual disabilities, incarceration, racism, poverty, war, oppression and exclusion.”
  • The Grace and Truth Statement provided a list of expectations for how Franconia Conference will implement the Forbearance in the Midst of Differences resolution passed by delegates at the Mennonite Church USA convention in Kansas City. It reaffirms the current position from the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective that “God intends marriage to be a covenant between one man and one woman for life. The statement also specified that pastors within Franconia Mennonite Conference may  not perform same-sex marriage ceremonies and called on congregations and the conference to commit to not hiring or credentialing LGBTQ individuals in a committed same-sex relationship. The statement ends with a commitment to, “… a time of prayer and fasting for the purpose of listening to God’s voice on these matters, recognizing that it is only through the unifying power of the Spirit that we can discern His will.”
  • The Faith and Life Statement called for the reestablishment of a Faith and Life Commission, “…for the purpose of providing at least quarterly gatherings for pastors to discern and study scripture together. This should include looking at case studies, hearing from teachers, professionals, and sages in various fields with the focus of developing relationships of mutual trust and accountability in the convictions we hold and for the congregations we lead.” The statement recognized that leaders and congregations within the conference hold different viewpoints on inclusion of LGBTQ individuals.
Angela Moyer and Joe Hackman present the Church Together statements to delegates.
Angela Moyer and Joe Hackman present the Church Together statements to delegates.

The co-chairs of the Franconia Church Together Statements Committees, Angela Moyer, pastor at Ripple in Allentown, Pa., and Joe Hackman, lead pastor at Salford Mennonite Church in Harleysville, Pa., presented each of the statements and clearly identified the meaning of a yes and no vote.

Hackman said, “This delegate body, according to our bylaws, is the decision making body of the conference. The staff, board and congregations need direction from this delegate body in order to move forward. This is most commonly done through voting… Voting yes or no might sound divisive, but the larger purpose of voting on these statements is to give the board, staff and congregations immediate understanding of the priorities and desires of the congregations in our conference.”

All three statements were affirmed by the delegate body.

The Going to the Margins Statement was affirmed by 87 percent of the delegates present (10 percent not affirming and 3 percent abstaining). Delegates noted the lack of the mention of LGBTQ people and women in the list of those marginalized. The conference board and staff will take this statement into consideration as they begin strategic planning in the coming year.

The Grace and Truth Statement was  affirmed by 73 percent (18 percent not affirming and 9 percent abstaining). Many noted that they agreed with the statement except for the items within the statement specifying that credentialed leaders may not perform same-sex covenanted ceremonies, the conference may not credential those in same-sex covenant relationships and calling on congregations to not hire persons living in same-sex relationships to serve in pastoral leadership. With the affirmation of the Grace and Truth statement, the delegates have affirmed the conference’s existing position on human sexuality at this time.

The Faith and Life Statement was affirmed by 71 percent of delegates (22 percent not affirming and 7 percent abstaining).

Pastor Michael Meneses, of Wellspring Mennonite Church in Skippack, Pa., stated that he and his table group felt the process was, “delightful, hopeful, and significant. It felt meaningful to be here in real conversation. This is getting deeper.” He spoke of how being able to dialogue without expectation allowed for truly meaningful conversation.

Mark Michalovic, a delegate from West Philadelphia Mennonite Fellowship, said, “The one word I used to describe our conversation…was ‘welcome.’ Because when I first spoke I was nervous and apprehensive because I was about to say things and I didn’t know how well they would be received and I had a good feeling that a lot of people might strongly disagree with me. At our table we did have a lot of disagreements, but everybody made each other feel welcome and we all listened to each other respectfully and all feel like we can keep discussing things even when we disagree.”

The day closed with remarks from conference Executive Minister, Ertell M. Whigham, who acknowledged the conference staff and their behind-the-scenes work. He added, “This meeting for me has been one in which Jesus through his spirit has promised to be present where two or more are gathered and he has been faithful to that.”

John Goshow, conference moderator, acknowledged that he felt guilt for worrying about today’s meeting. He said of the delegates’ interaction with one another that it was “demonstrating the finest way of church that I have experienced in a long time.”

Snapshots of ongoing ministry

Ministry moments were offered during the joint Friday worship by Andrew Huth, a youth leader at Ambler (Pa.) Mennonite Church; Jessica Hedrick, Children’s Pastor at Souderton (Pa.) Mennonite; and Scott Roth, Associate Pastor at Perkiomenville (Pa.) Mennonite Church.

Huth shared his experiences as a documentary photographer in Palestine and asked the assembly, “What does it take for us to care about our neighbors?”

Hedrick spoke from her experience as part of the millennial generation often noted for their absence in the church.  Hedrick said millennials are looking for the good news and for the church to show they care about the world again.

She said, “Sometimes I think it would be so much easier to walk away, but I stay. I stay because I believe God can redeem anything, even the church, and because I have this crazy dream that the Church can be a beacon of light in the dark world again… As the church it is our job to be concerned about our neighbor, our friend and our enemy. It is our job to be concerned about the world.”

She reminded the assembly that, “We are a family and we need each other. It is time for us to stop spending so much time arguing over who is in and who is out and just get out there and be the hands and feet of Jesus. It is time for us to stop whining and start shining.”

Roth shared about dreaming with God and shared about the work God is doing in Perkiomenville through Project Haven. He reminded all that, “God is moving when you follow.”

Worship together

On Nov. 14, during joint worship time, Mim Book and Jim Lapp, current interim pastors at Zion Mennonite Church,

Mim Book and Jim Lapp present.
Mim Book and Jim Lapp present.

Souderton, Pa., offered a moment of silence to stand in solidarity and pray for the people of the world living in fear due to the acts of violence in Paris the night before.

As delegates prepared to enter their business sessions, Book and Lapp reminded them that, “We are built to build across language and cultural divides that too often separate rather than unit us. We are built to build a new kind of temple and dwelling place of God and may we be reminded this is happening as we go to our jobs, go to the classrooms, the banks and businesses where we are employed. Yes it is happening, yet there is so much more to build. Structures of love and forgiveness that serve needs greater than any buildings we might erect with bricks and mortar.”

Celebration of God’s work

Celebration of God’s work among God’s people continued as Franconia Conference recognized six newly licensed ministers and seven ordinations that have taken place in the last year. This included recognition of the youngest person credentialed by Franconia Conference, Jessica Hedrick at Souderton (Pa.) Mennonite Church; the first woman of color credentialed by the conference, Leticia Cortes of Centro de Alabanza de Filadelfia; and the first ordination of a millennial, Josh Meyer, Associate Pastor at Franconia Mennonite Church in Telford, Pa.

During the business session, Steve Kriss, director of leadership cultivation and congregational resourcing for Franconia Mennonite Conference, announced that after a year of formal exploration with Centro de Alabanza de Filadelfia and Indonesian Light Church, both located in South Philadelphia, the congregations were ready to join Franconia Conference.Both congregations were moved to join the conference through relationships with Philadelphia Praise Center.

Steve said to the delegates, “What I want to note today is that both of these congregations walked to us through Aldo’s [Siahaan, Franconia Conference LEADership minister and pastor at Philadelphia Praise Center] work… the actions that we do today have consequences; sometimes those consequences are good, amazing, beautiful and unexpected.”

Siahaan shared that “in Acts 2, ‘they follow a daily devotion of worship in the temple with meals at home, every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful. As they praise God, people liked what they saw and everyday their numbers grew as God added to their numbers those who were saved.’  Celebration, meal, worship and [being] joyful; that’s every time you go to Centro de Alabanza and Indonesian Light Church. Glory to God, we have these two new members of Franconia Conference.”

The conferences also celebrated with Nations Worship Center in Philadelphia as they received a check from Mennonite Men for the purchase of a new building. Don Yoder of Mennonite Men presented the congregation with a check and shared about how God is growing that congregation.

The first urban mission of Franconia Conference, Nueva Vida Norristown (Pa.) New Life Mennonite Church, will celebrate its centennial and a new book is out regarding the history of this mission and its continued growth. John Ruth shared the history with the delegates and photographs of how the diversity and congregation have grown over the years. The book, A Mennonite Church in Norristown, by Beverly Benner Miller can be purchased at the Mennonite Heritage Center.

The gathering concluded with Nancy Kauffmann, Mennonite Church USA denominational minister, offering her observations and a blessing for the delegates. In her observations, she said, “You have celebrated what God is doing among you. Thinking about where God is at work and not allowing that to be buried under your disagreements.”



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