by Eileen Kinch
On November 30, Pastor Gwen Groff concluded 24 years of ministry at Bethany Mennonite Church (Bridgewater Corners, VT). A few days later, she finished her final term on the Mosaic Conference Board. Groff served on the Board for nine years.
Groff grew up in Lancaster County, PA. Initially, she worked with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in several roles. After she completed her Master of Divinity degree at Lancaster (PA) Theological Seminary, she sought work as a pastor. Bethany Mennonite Church seemed like the best fit, so Groff and her family moved to Vermont. She began her pastoral role in 1999.
Groff’s favorite thing about Bethany’s worship service is that after the sermon, the rest of the congregation shares their thoughts and responses. “It does feel like the other half the message,” she said. When people talk about their connections to the sermon, “it just feels very lively.”
Bethany Mennonite Church began in 1952 as a church plant by Blooming Glen (PA) Mennonite Church. Today, Bethany, a rural congregation, has about 40 regular attenders. Some join by Zoom for health and distance reasons.
As Groff considers her two and a half decades at Bethany, she feels very good about the labyrinth that is mown into the church’s large meadow. The church holds an outdoor summer communion service there. She likes that the labyrinth encourages contemplative practice. Groff is also grateful that her congregation passed a clear affirmation of welcome for LGBTQ folks in 2020.
Groff joined the Franconia Conference Board in 2015. A significant event during her tenure was the reconciliation between Franconia Conference and the Eastern District Conference — and then the process of choosing a name for the new conference. She emphasized her gratitude for Mosaic’s commitment to intercultural priorities.
“I think our challenge [as a conference] is what to do with our theological differences,” Groff reflected on her tenure as a Board member. As the Conference becomes more diverse “in terms of culture, race, geographical area,” she notices that uniformity is waning, but hopes that “unity is growing.”
For the time being, Groff is doing some interim pastoral care work. She plans to continue her studies with Shalem Institute, where she is taking courses in prayer and spiritual formation. She does not have immediate plans for what she would like to do next but recognizes that the way is sometimes made by walking, similar to the winding paths of a labyrinth.
Eileen Kinch is a writer and editor for the Mosaic communication team. She holds a Master of Divinity degree, with an emphasis in the Ministry of Writing, from Earlham School of Religion. She and her husband, Joel Nofziger, who serves as director of the Mennonite Heritage Center in Harleysville, live near Tylersport, PA. They attend Methacton Mennonite Church. Eileen is also a member of Keystone Fellowship Friends Meeting in Lancaster County.