Marta Castillo, Conference Board,
Nueva Vida Norristown New Life
Intercultural, missional, and formational are words that beg to be defined more clearly and deeply in our hearts and minds. When many of us read, “For at least the next two years, the conference board has prioritized for Ertell Whigham and conference staff to work at being intercultural, missional and formational”, we can affirm those priorities as God-honoring and life-giving. Yet some of us may take a wait and see attitude on how being intercultural, missional, and formational will be “brought to the center in such a way everyone embraces them as the driving force behind why we do ministry and how we do ministry.”
This issue of Intersections is full of examples of how the priorities of being intercultural, missional, and formational are already being put into practice within Franconia Conference. God is actively defining these words for us as reflected in these stories of how God’s people are responding to the movement of the Spirit. As often is the case, we are trying to catch up and get on board with what God is already doing among us.
God’s formational work in the life of Ertell Whigham has brought him to this place of leadership among us and on the journey. God developed in him a deep appreciation for community, peace, honest communication, conflict management skills, and a deeply held vision for how the church can be a witness in the world. The prayer trainings referenced in the story of “Learning to Listen” highlight the central role of listening prayer in the formation of God’s people. “Prayer is finding out what God wants to do and asking God to do it.” We find evidence of God’s molding and directing in the story of the calling of Klaudia Smucker in her stated desire “to walk forward in what God has called her to” and her prayer to keep her heart wide open. God’s love for process and formation is reflected in the testimony of Samantha Lioi that “in God’s maddening slowness there is expansive room for healing. There is so much space to become the people we are.” Bob Thompson was moved by God from “no way” to “I am convinced that serving God wherever He calls us, is one of the greatest blessings a Christ-follower can experience.”
From the solid base of God’s formational work comes our missional response. The Whigham article states, “Whigham plans to encourage everyone from the pew to the pulpit and beyond to become more clearly passionate about the conference’s vision: equipping leaders to empower others to embrace God’s mission. Overall, he believes his role is “to continue to bring clarity for what that means and for every person to be able to think and pray about how they can represent that [vision] in their particular context, as it relates to the whole.” God’s mission is to reconcile the world to himself through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. Mission is happening in the Lehigh Valley through Ripple, an eclectic Anabaptist urban worshiping community “moving toward Jesus as our center.” As the conference board visits and listens to the testimonies of the churches, we hear story after story of how congregations continue to embrace God’s mission.
Our missional response is naturally taking us down the path to being increasingly intercultural. The Partner in Mission relationship with Mana de Vida Eterna is described “as another example of how the Lord is working through relationships to connect congregations and conferences across what may have formerly been seen as boundaries that were not to be crossed.” In Allentown, a peace pole becomes a symbol of unity and “a common desire for respectful relationships.” Ertell Whigham is quoted as saying of the beginnings of Nueva Vida Norristown New Life, an intercultural, multilingual church, “As I looked at [these] three churches . . . all professing to serve the same Christ, called to be one people, it just felt like we needed to do something different in order to be something different for God,” Whigham said.
The priorities set by the conference board for the next two years, being intercultural, missional, and formational, are not new. Neither is the conference’s vision: equipping leaders to empower others to embrace God’s mission. Yet there does seem to be a new urgency and a new commitment, to “do something different in order to be something different for God”. Embrace God’s mission!