This past week I got the chance to accompany Steve Kriss, Franconia Mennonite Conference executive minister, and Jeff Wright, Franconia Conference leadership minister, on a trip to San Francisco to visit San Francisco Chinese Mennonite Church (SFCMC). This is a Cantonese-speaking congregation of around 35 members that is considering joining Franconia Mennonite Conference.
If it joins Franconia Conference, SFCMC would be the only Cantonese-speaking congregation in the conference. We attended worship with the congregation and spent a day with Pastor Joshua and Anita, his wife, in the Bay area. The congregation was lively and hospitable; everyone greeted us when we came. We met several members of the congregation during lunch and heard their stories and experiences in the United States.
After worship, we talked with Pastor Joshua about his expectations of Franconia Conference and how he envisioned the relationship. The theme of encouragement came up repeatedly. Pastor Joshua wanted encouragement and support from Franconia Conference. He wanted to know if Franconia Conference would be in relationship with his church and continue to encourage the members, even though they are far away.
This experience showed me the importance of encouragement for churches. SFCMC has felt alone for a long time. Its biggest request from us on this trip was that we check in with them and encourage them. Whether we’re there physically or we send them a text on a Sunday morning, they want to know we are praying for them and thinking of them.
Hearing of the needs of this congregation made me think of Paul and how he wrote letters to different churches. These letters sometimes were ones of correction for when the church lost its way, but many of them included words of encouragement to congregations. Paul saw it as important to send encouragement to the church whenever he got the chance.
All churches at times need support and encouragement from other churches. Franconia Conference can play a huge role in encouraging and connecting its congregations. Being a conference isn’t only about keeping churches in order or in line. Most of the work is being willing to be present with them. Churches need to know they are being prayed for, thought of and loved. Sometimes a reminder is all we need.
Jerrell Williams is a Master of Divinity student at Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania) Theological Seminary and is interning this summer with Franconia Mennonite Conference and The Mennonite.