by Jim Laverty, Souderton & Rina Rampogu, Plains
Over the past year members of the Franconia Conference Board have been visiting Franconia congregations. During our visits we celebrated each church’s vision and mission, clarified the role of Franconia Conference and communicated the board’s desire to be servants of the conference churches, to stand beside the good work each church is doing for their members and the world and to be accountable to Franconia churches in a new and better way.
We were excited to see what is happening in conference congregations:
- Collaborative relationships, affinity groups (or learning communities) with churches, Conference-Related Ministries (CRMs) and Partners in Ministry (PIMs).
- Service to communities through community-building events, sports camps, support groups, pre-school programs, community gardens, and meals.
- Opportunities for everyone (gender, age, background) to get involved inside and outside of church services.
- Creative approaches to talking about following Jesus with people from different generations, cultures, ethnicities, and language groups.
- Effort to get along in the body of Christ, providing mutual aid and support through Sunday School classes and increased participation in small groups.
- Goal-setting, clarifying and reviewing roles, and aligning budget with vision and values in cooperation with LEAD teams.
- Solid lay and pastoral leadership. Strong preaching, prayer ministry and blended worship in the spoken-language of the congregation.
Some of the challenges that congregations are facing:
- Financial limitations, decrease in giving, and learning how to grow people who will commit to being generous with their time, talents, and treasure.
- Fluctuation in worship attendance and coming to terms with what it means to be in fellowship with people coming and going on a regular basis as well as a loss of membership due to relocation.
- Understanding the changing nature of our world.
- Communicating stories of what God is doing in congregations while respecting people’s privacy. Learning how to communicate across the generations.
- Building community when congregation and community are made up of people who speak different languages.
- A need for support and advocacy in facing changing immigration policies and their implications (worship service times, hospital visitation, transportation).
- Unemployment among church members. Dealing with conflict in relationships (separation, divorce).
We discussed what it will take to continue to build confidence toward Franconia Conference:
- Modeling healthy approaches to dealing with major conflicts and crisis. Encouraging unity in diversity.
- Clear communication. Relational face-to-face meetings with members of conference and board.
- Ongoing relationship with LEAD minister and guidance in pastoral searches, staff reviews, and conflict mediation.
- Fostering relationship with CRMs.
- Offering a prophetic voice to help us to see God at work in the world in a positive way and to witness to the world about what the body of Christ is.
We discussed what confidence will look like:
- Celebrate the ways that diverse congregations can share in what they have in common, dialoguing on critical issues.
- Encourage better connections (such as pulpit supply) and partnerships (such as church planting mentors) between urban, suburban and rural congregations
- Recognize Conference Related Ministries and their missional value.
- Clarify the rationale for introducing LEAD and the concept of the E3-vision for churches in Vermont and other locations that aren’t close to the conference offices.
- Tell more stories to fan the flames of how Franconia Conference is living out our vision and values.
- Train congregations in children and youth ministries as well as worship (such as blended music during worship services).
- Provide financial aid for documented and undocumented students who have been accepted into Mennonite and non-Mennonite institutions of higher education.
- Incorporate more non-ethnic (non-Swiss German) Mennonites into leadership positions.
Congregations expressed appreciation for the ongoing support they have received from Franconia Conference in areas of leadership development, provision of meaningful learning and sharing opportunities for pastors and leaders, and for being a point of contact for ongoing pastoral resources.