Kriss: The Spirit in the details

Nov 25, 2019 by

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Over the last few months of the reconciliation process of Eastern District Conference and Franconia Mennonite Conference, I have grown to better understand the idea that “the devil is in the details.”

Stephen Kriss

Kriss

After years of careful processing between leadership and task forces, and generations of working alongside each other in institutional ministry initiatives, our conferences were coming close to reconciling organizationally.

We owe our unanimous votes to the power of the Spirit and careful work of many people. There were those who had the vision: previous conference ministers Ertell Whigham and Warren Tyson. Others outlined the process: David Brubaker and Roxy Allen Kioko. Last year’s spiritual reconciliation process, which helped people let go of their own pain and offer forgivenesss, was led by conference moderators Jim Musselman and John Goshow.

Then there was the structure and identity team’s work this year, led by Sherri Brokopp Binder, executive director at Ripple Community Inc., and Scott Roth, interim conference minister from Eastern District. They invested hours of listening, writing, editing and being together. I learned from them that excellence, humility and thoroughness really matter. We needed them to do such good work so that we could follow the Spirit’s leading as a community.

After our votes, many people congratulated me as Franconia’s conference minister. I was surprised, because this was shared work. I spoke about it with a millennial colleague, and his response made me laugh: “Maybe it was just a congratulations that we didn’t mess it up.” That seems right to me. It’s a congratulations for all of us, certainly, but also for leading alongside in a way that doesn’t interrupt the work of the Spirit.

We are not the first conference to bring former Mennonite Church and former General Conference Mennonite Church congregations together. It’s been the work and challenge of Mennonite Church USA. Our uniqueness is in the reconciling metaphor of bringing two communities back into fellowship. This new entity hopes to combine Eastern District’s innovation and sense of family with Franconia’s deep rootedness and increasingly intercultural identity. It won’t be easy.

Our structure and identity team did many things right. I was impressed with their ability to hear criticism and concern, to yield at times and to remain focused on vision at others. Concerns about intercultural values meant creation of a board-level committee to hold the priority that has driven much of Franconia’s recent growth. The team heard the concern and adjusted.

Franconia’s concern about delegate representation was acknowledged, but the team insisted on Eastern District’s priority of congregational delegates rather than automatic representation from credentialed leaders. I want to continue that legacy of listening well, understanding that reconciliation means adjusting and recognizing strengths in both systems.

We must also hold true to our vision, inspired by Palmer Becker, of cultivating a peoplehood with Christ at the center of our faith, where community across our diverse language, experiences and cultures is our life, and reconciliation is our ongoing work.

I know now it was actually the Spirit at work in the details, inviting us to join with God who creates all things new, even out of two old conference systems that once rent themselves apart and now, by the grace of God, have come back together.

Stephen Kriss is a teacher, writer, pastor and follower of Jesus living in Philadelphia.


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