Tag Archives: Anne Yoder

Darkness Unfolding As Light

On April 14 approximately 80 women from across Franconia and Eastern District Conferences joined together at Towamencin Mennonite Church for the annual Sister Care Gathering. The theme was “Darkness Unfolding as Light,” with the book of Ruth as the Biblical text.  Cathy Spory, Elementary Principal at Johnstown Christian School, took on the character of Naomi and gave insightful first-person monologues.  Marilyn Bender, one of four co-pastors at Ripple Church in Allentown and Rose Bender Cook, Marilyn’s sister-in-law and a bi-vocational pastor at Whitehall Mennonite Church, shared their personal and Biblical reflections including speaking of the illness and loss of Marilyn’s husband John, Rose’s brother.

The women were invited to string beads, with knots representing the rough places and the iridescent beads representing those light-filled moments. There was time for conversation and prayer with each other at our tables, and an opportunity to experiment with different ways to pray including praying with color, walking prayer, healing prayer and anointing.

Pastor Letty Cortes from Centro de Alabanza led the women in activities to get to know  one another. There was much singing together and the women enjoyed a delicious lunch including a wonderful cake gifted to them from MCUSA out-going Executive Director, Ervin Stutzman, from his retirement party the night before.  It was bi-lingual day, with everything presented in English and Spanish, and was a deeply moving day, culminating in the women giving testimony as to where God had unfolded their darkness into light.

Many thanks to the planning committee: Anne M. Yoder, Coordinator; Pastor Donna Merow; Pastor Doris Diener; Pastor Letty Castro; and Pastor Marta Castillo. Special thanks to Pastor Marilyn Bender, Pastor Rose Bender Cook and Cathy Spory for all their energy and all they shared with the women of our Conferences.

Carrying Grandmother’s Purse

by Anne M. Yoder

On March 18, 2017, I had the privilege of meeting with a large group from area Mennonite churches at the 6th annual Eastern District and Franconia Conferences’ Women’s Gathering. Every year at this event I think about who will attend, what joys they will have experienced in the last year and what difficulties they may have encountered. I pray for us all that we may meet the Lord in and through each other when we gather. And each year I am again greatly heartened by being among so many sisters in Christ.

Once again the hard work of the planning committee and especially our miracle-working God made a way where there seemed to be no way, and we were able to enjoy a sacred day of fellowship, worship, and learning. We had the biggest group ever, with 80 registrants from 15 different churches. The largest contingent of over 20 women came from Centro de Alabanza de Fildelfia.

The theme for the gathering was “Carrying Grandmother’s Purse”, a metaphor for the views and messages we often carry from our families and culture that may or may not help us to be the women God created us to be (see the meditation here for more on the metaphor). Our speaker was Pastor Tami Good from Swamp Mennonite Church, who led us in looking at several Biblical women who needed to hear new messages about themselves in order to live abundantly. First they had to shed some of the messages they had heard in the past about themselves, setting aside “Grandmother’s Purse,” as it were before they could accept the messages Christ had for them.

We were asked to reflect on three questions throughout the day: Who do they (culture, family, etc.) say that I am? Who do I say that I am? Who does God say that I am? Pastor Tami told about her own journey of letting go of some of Grandmother’s purse as she stepped into God’s calling on her life to be a pastor.

Probably the most moving for all of us was hearing stories from those who shared candidly about their struggles and their hopes for the future, and time spent praying in groups of two or more for each other. In the morning we had blue paper purses that we named as our grandmothers’, and in them we placed slips of paper on which we had written things we had heard about ourselves through our lives that we wanted to release. Part of our prayer time was taking those purses up front to a basket where they joined all the others to be discarded. In exchange for these “old” purses, we were given change purses on a keychain in which we had placed positive messages to remember in the future including scripture verses reminding us of God’s messages to us.

We were blessed by songs of worship led by women from Centro de Alabanza de Fildelfia, expert translation between Spanish and English by several women, wonderful snacks donated by a dozen registrants, a delicious luncheon prepared by Marta Castillo, and by the faith witness of those who attended.

As one participant wrote, when asked what they found most meaningful about the Gathering: “Connecting with sisters of a different culture and learning from their examples – I noticed how many shared, and how they usually began with ‘God is good’ even as they described hardship in their lives.” Similarly, another wrote in answer to the same question: “Joining of all cultures, all sisters, seeing tears, prayer, and sincerity.”

All in all, it was a delightful and very meaningful day. We look forward to gathering together again next year.

Much gratitude goes to all who helped make the day possible, including Pastor Mike Clemmer for his generosity in helping to set up and clean up Towamencin Mennonite Church before and after our use of the facility, and the members of the Eastern District and Franconia Conference Sistering Committee who helped plan this year’s event: Pastor Letty Castro (Centro de Alabanza de Fildelfia), Doris Diener, Pastor Tami Good (Swamp Mennonite Church), Pastor Marta Castillo (Nueva Vida Norristown New Life), and Anne Yoder.

Women Meet to Tell Their Sacred Stories

By Anne M. Yoder, Coordinator, EDC/FMC Sistering Committee
On March 12, over 35 women met together for a Day Apart, held at Towamencin Mennonite Church. Attendees came from various Mennonite churches in Eastern District and Franconia Mennonite Conferences. A large group coming from Centro de Alabanza de Filadelfia, a South Philadelphia congregation that is made up primarily of immigrants from Mexico, Central America, and Latin America.

This gathering was a bilingual retreat that gave the oSistering1pportunity to reflect on the theme “Sistering for Life.” The term “sistering” refers to a practice in carpentry in which structural repairs are made by attaching new wood beams to weak (sagging, cracked or twisted) joists to make the original stronger. All of us are strong at times and can help those who are weak; all of us find it difficult to make it on our own at times and need others to support us. Sistering is a gift that we embody as God’s women who are following Jesus throughout our lives.

The program’s theme was fleshed out in various ways. Songs were led in Spanish and English by a team from Centro de Alabanza and by Dorothy Beidler from Norristown New Life. A meditation was given by Ana Rosa Hernandez, a member at Centro de Alabanza, on Proverbs 17:17 (“A friend loves at all times, and a [sister] is born for a time of adversity.”) and Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 (“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor; if either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.”) Four women — Linda Esh, Dania Hernandez, and Ligia Canavan, from Centro de Alabanza, and Jenny Duskey of Ambler Mennonite – were designated to tell a story of being sistered. From them came accounts of loss, sexual abuse, stepping into unknown territory during a move, and finding faith in the midst of struggle, along with the spiritual, emotional and physical help they found along the way.

Sistering3A children’s story, “Four Feet, Two Sandals”, was read to illustrate how something as simple as sharing a pair of sandals at a refugee camp can build sisterhood. Leticia Cortes, pastor at Centro de Alabanza, led us in activities that required teamwork and seeing how we felt in each other’s shoes. A sandal was given to each participant to decorate and to write a message on; these were then exchanged with another woman, with whom a prayer and blessing were shared.

Throughout the day we sat in table groups getting to know six or seven other women in a deeper way as we reflected together on our experiences of being sistered by Jesus and by girls/women at different stages of our lives. Women who could interpret between Spanish and English were each assigned to a table so that all of us could understand each other.

Sistering4I felt great joy in spending time with the women who gathered on March 12th. Not knowing Spanish, I had the opportunity to experience what it’s like to be in the minority for once, but also to listen to a beautifully expressive language. Hearing the stories of women often moved me to tears and to laughter, and I marveled at the deep, and often exuberant faith that has emerged in spite of, or perhaps because of, difficult circumstances in their lives. Each year, this event challenges my faith journey and stretches my world-view. The Holy Spirit is alive and well and very evident as we meet. It is a privilege to take part in creating a holy space for this gathering to happen and to take part in it.

The Sistering Committee is working to hold annual gatherings like this and are planning for another one in 2017 Keep watch for announcements about it!

The Sistering Committee is especially grateful to Mike Clemmer and his team at Towamencin Mennonite Church for allowing us to use their facility and giving so much help in bringing our event to fruition. And I, Anne Yoder, want to thank the other members of the Sistering Committee for their wisdom and prayers and efforts: Marta Castillo, pastor at Norristown New Life, Leticia Cortes, pastor at Centro de Alabanza, and Doris Diener, of Franconia Mennonite Church.

The Sistering Committee represents Mennonite Women USA for eastern Pennsylvania (and the conferences’ outlying congregations) and looks forward to serving the women of our area. If you are interested in serving on the committee, please contact Anne Yoder at ayoder1@swarthmore.edu.

Beauty for Brokenness: Growth toward Wholeness

Womens Gathering 2013
Women from Franconia and Eastern District conferences attach symbols of healing to an oak tree at this year’s Beauty for Brokenness seminar. Photo by Anne Yoder.

by Lynne McMullan Allebach, Arise

On the morning of Saturday, June1st, thirty women came together at Salford Mennonite Church in Harleysville (Pa.) for the first women’s equipping event sponsored by the new Eastern District & Franconia Mennonite Conferences Women’s Committee.

Angela Moyer, co-pastor of Ripple congregation (Allentown, Pa.) and occupational therapist at Good Shepherd Rehabilitation, spoke about melding a clinical model for recovery from trauma with the story of Christ to bring healing for hurts, whether small or truly traumatic. She explained how we can choose to “act in” by doing things destructive to ourselves or “act out” by doing things that are destructive to others, or we can choose to heal by taking positive steps toward forgiveness, reconciliation, and peace.  Sister Mary Julia McKenzie, chaplain at Penn Foundation’s Recovery Center (Sellersville, Pa.), spoke about the work of recovery, especially as it relates to drug and alcohol addictions. She shared a poem about an oak tree as a symbol of resilience in the face of trials, then invited the participants to decorate items to be placed on a drawn oak tree as a part of the closing worship time.

Phyllis Chami shared a devotion she had written about Eve and Mary, two women of God. The devotion came out of her own personal trauma and how God has played a part in her growth toward wholeness. Lynne Allebach also shared the story of the loss of her son and how the care of others aided in overcoming her grief. Participants met in small groups to discuss their own trauma experiences and their need for recovery. The morning ended with a time of worship that included a version of “Beauty for Brokenness” with words written specifically for the gathering.

Franconia and Eastern District Conferences sponsored a seminar last year on training women for relationships of mutual care.  Responses to a survey taken after the training indicated an interest in continued equipping gatherings that address the needs of women. Anne Yoder, West Philadelphia congregation, answered the call for ongoing ministry and assembled a committee to begin brainstorming ideas. The theme of Beauty for Brokenness was chosen as a motif for the June event as a way of examining trauma and seeing how people may grow toward wholeness from places of brokenness.

Beauty for Brokenness was well received and there was support expressed for continuing to meet, probably twice a year.  “There were women from eighteen churches here, most from smaller congregations that do not have established women’s programs,” observed Yoder. “It is a joy to be able to provide a forum for so many who are looking for spiritual and emotional encouragement and for friendships with other women of faith. . . .  I am so grateful to see the Spirit moving among us, empowering us to sister each other through our life journeys.”

To join the planning team or to receive information about future gatherings, please e-mail Anne Yoder at ayoder1@swarthmore.edu.

Congrats to this year’s seminary grads!

Danilo Sanchez graduated from EMS this yearCongratulations to our Franconia Conference seminary graduates this year. Our conference had five individuals graduate from Eastern Mennonite Seminary: Danilo Sanchez (pictured), Boyertown congregation, graduated with a Master of Divinity; Scott Hackman, Salford congregation, graduated with a Master of Arts in Church Leadership; Emily Ralph, Salford congregation, graduated with a Master of Arts in Religion; Anne Yoder, West Philadelphia congregation, graduated with a certificate in ministry; and Tom Albright, Ripple congregation, graduated with a certificate in ministry.

HARRISONBURG, VA — The following Franconia Conference students were recognized as members of the dean’s list for the spring semester at Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Va.

Madeline Clemens, a first-year business administration major from Harleysville, Pa. She is the daughter of Douglas and Rebecca Clemens and attends Blooming Glen.

Hannah Clemmer, a senior psychology major from Harleysville, Pa. She is the daughter of Michael Clemmer and attends Towamencin.

Jonathan Drescher-Lehman, a junior biology major from Green Lane, Pa. He is the son of Jon and Sandy Drescher-Lehman and attends Souderton.

Anna Hershey, a senior biology major from Harleysville, Pa. She is the daughter of James and Brenda Hershey and attends Salford.

Brianna Kauffman, a first-year accounting major from Harleysville, Pa. She is the daughter of Steven and Lisa Kauffman and attends Franconia.

Laura Keppley, a senior biology and music major double-major from Boyertown, Pa. She is the daughter of Carl and Alice Keppley and attends Perkiomenville.

Morgan Kratz, a sophomore social work major from Souderton, Pa. She is the daughter of Douglas and Marice Kratz and attends Plains.

Samuel Moyer, a senior nursing major from Harrisonburg, Va. He is the son of Stephen and Naomi Moyer and attends Bethany.

Megan Nafziger, a sophomore nursing major from Mohnton, Pa. She is the daughter of Don and Rose Nafziger and attends Vincent.

Benjamin Nyce, a senior liberal arts and kinesiology & sport studies double-major from Perkasie, Pa. He is the ons of Timothy and Teresa Nyce and attends Deep Run East.

Matthew Nyce, a sophomore Spanish major from Perkasie, Pa. He is the son of Timothy and Teresa Nyce and attends Deep Run East.

Konrad Swartz, a senior English and writing studies double-major from Spring City, Pa. He is the son of Timothy and Rachel Martin Swartz and attends Salford.

Ryan Swartzendruber, a sophomore mathematics major from Sellersville, Pa. He is the son of Conrad and Sharon Swartzendruber and attends Plains.

Aaron Wile, a first-year psychology major from Telford, Pa. He is the son of Daniel and Kristi Wile and attends Franconia.

To qualify for the dean’s list a student must achieve a semester grade point average of at least 3.750 or above and complete at least 12 semester hours of credit.

Eastern Mennonite University is a Christian liberal arts university of about 1,500 students, located in Virginia’s scenic Shenandoah Valley. EMU is guided by the peace principles of Mennonite Church USA, educating students to serve and lead in a global context through cross-cultural study and an interdisciplinary curriculum. Established in 1917, the university offers over 40 undergraduate majors and six graduate programs offering nine master’s degrees. Eastern Mennonite Seminary is part of the university, as is the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding.  See more at: emu.edu/about.

Beauty for Brokenness: Women’s Ministry

Women from all over eastern Pennsylvania met in March of last year for SisterCare. Photo by Emily Ralph.

by Lynne Allebach, Franconia & Eastern District Women’s Committee

The Women’s Committee of Eastern District & Franconia Conferences is planning a morning apart for women in June with a focus on wholeness and healing.

In March of last year, 130 women attended the Sister Care Seminar held by Mennonite Women USA at Souderton Mennonite Church. Attendees were enthusiastic about the teaching on caring for self and others and asked for continuing opportunities to explore these topics and to encourage one another on the local level.

In answer to this call, the Eastern District & Franconia Conferences Women’s Committee has formed, and is holding its first event “Beauty for Brokenness:  Growing toward Wholeness.”  This event will focus on how women may identify areas of brokenness in their lives and move toward the wholeness God intends for us all. This is the first of what we hope will be many chances for women of Eastern District and Franconia Conferences to learn together, share our stories and wisdom with one another, and support each other.

In a fun play-act, Vicki Cook collapses in frustration after Rhoda Keener fails to follow the principles of active listening.  Photo by Gay Brunt Miller.
Last year’s SisterCare seminar focused on women ministering to other women. Photo by Gay Brunt Miller.

Pastor Angela Moyer, from Ripple Allentown, will present on recovery from those things that keep us from growth toward wholeness. Sister Mary Julia McKenzie, chaplain for Penn Foundation’s Recovery Center, will share about her experience of working with women recovering from mental health and addiction issues.  There will be music, speakers telling their personal stories of overcoming trauma, and opportunities to share in small group settings.  Light refreshments will be served.  No child care will be available during this event. A $10 fee will be charged for those who can afford it.

The Eastern District & Franconia Conferences Women’s Committee is made up of Lynne Allebach, Joyce Hunsberger, and Anne Yoder (Coordinator) and operates in cooperation with Mennonite Women USA. The committee is actively looking for additional members.

Mark your calendar for Saturday, June 1, 9:00 am to 12:30 pm, at Salford Mennonite Church, Harleysville, PA.  To register, go to women.franconiaconference.org.

Gathering of “sisters” provides training and care

by Emily Ralph, eralph@franconiaconference.org

Sister Care seminar
Over a hundred women gathered at Souderton Mennonite Church for the Sister Care seminar. Photo by Emily Ralph

One hundred and thirty women gathered for training and fellowship at Souderton Mennonite Church on March 23-24.  The Sister Care seminar, developed by Mennonite Women USA, was sponsored by Eastern District and Franconia Conferences as part of their continuing work to equip and train congregational leaders.

“The depth of the sharing and the tears move, inspire, and teach us that the female characteristics are God-given and that we, as God’s women, have much honesty and healing to bring to the world,” said event planner Anne Yoder, West Philadelphia congregation.  “I was most thrilled about the number of women who came from smaller churches and were able to connect with the larger church body.”

Sister Care was born out of a 2006 question to Mennonite women: How can congregations provide better care for women’s needs?  After two years of meeting with a focus group, Sister Care materials were developed.  Since 2008, Mennonite Women USA has been offering the seminar through conferences all over the country.

“Pastors are overwhelmed.  They don’t have time to do one-on-one counseling with individual parishioners,” said Sister Care co-presenter Carolyn Heggan.  “Women often have natural gifts of compassion and caregiving.  Sister Care, we hope, affirms the gifts they have and have been using and gives them some insights and confidence to see their caring relationships with others as important ministry.”

This empowerment and equipping becomes an important tool for church leaders, Heggan added.  “Pastors are thrilled if they are not the only one that people can turn to in the congregation.”

Vicki Cook “collapses” in frustration after Rhoda Keener fails to follow the principles of active listening. Photo by Gay Brunt Miller.

The two-day seminar included times of teaching, dramatic readings, singing, table conversation, individual reflection, congregational brainstorming, and symbolic action.  A highlight for many was co-presenter Rhoda Keener’s illustration of active listening by play-acting a conversation with friend Vicki Clark in which she repeatedly got distracted; Clark ended up falling to the ground in frustration.

In addition to teaching skills for listening and offering a healing presence, the seminar emphasized the need for self-care.  Without caring for self, people in ministry become run down and unable to help others.  “We, as Mennonites, may be more susceptible than others,” said Heggan.  “We equate being busy and doing good things with Christian virtue.  Sometimes we carry our busy schedules and being harassed with too much to do almost as a badge of courage.”

Souderton’s Sister Care seminar was groundbreaking for Mennonite Women USA—it was the first time they have used materials translated into Spanish; Spanish-speaking participants were also equipped with translation headsets.  As a result, the seminar was well-attended by Spanish-speaking members of Philadelphia Praise Center and Nueva Vida Norristown New Life.

Sister Care
Leti Cortes (left) shares with her table during group conversation. Photo by Emily Ralph.

“Mi grupo de mujeres quedaron muy contentas en su primera experiencia y ya estamos planeando como pober en practica las herramientas que se nis dio en el taller [My group of women were very happy with their first experience and we are already planning how to put into practice the tools that we were given at the seminar],” said Leti Cortes, a pastor at Philadelphia Praise Center. “Estan tan animadas que estamos pensando en un retiro de mujeres y usar algunas dinamicas que nos ayudaron a poder expresar lo que hemos vivido,espero le sirva este mensaje [We were so encouraged that we are thinking about having a women’s retreat and using some of the group activities that help us to express what we have lived].”

For more information on Sister Care, visit Mennonite Women USA’s website.

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