by: Allen Lehman
We still have much of the organizational apparatus in place. We have an annual meeting for inspiration and encouragement, a board, a mission board, bishop-district relations committee, delegates to pass budgets and make decisions, quarterly ministers meeting, pastor peer meetings, and an annual leadership retreat at Cove Valley Camp.
Franklin District feels great satisfaction for the institutions begun, not by Franklin District vision and leadership, but by men and women who had a vision for something and set about to bring it into being. Menno Haven, a large retirement community was begun in the ’60s by men of the district that had a vision for caring for our own Mennonite elderly in a dignified way.
Today, it is ever-expanding with the addition of a new skilled nursing facility, a new state of the art rehabilitation center, new memory care houses, new independent living cottages, and a new Life Center which will be a hub of many activities for all residents to enjoy. Cove Valley Camp was the vision of Aden Diller who, along with the support of the district, brought it into being. A number of families envisioned a Christian school, and now after 40 years of ministry, Shalom Christian Academy with its 500 students Pre-K through 12th grade is thriving and needing to enlarge. Norman Martin had a vision for missions, and with the guidance of EMM, Franklin District landed in Kekchi country in Guatemala. Presently there are approximately 130 Kekchi Mennonite congregations.
Serious church planting happened in the late forties and fifties. Cedar Street, Shady Pine, Rock Hill, Bethel and North Side were started by very conservative Mennonites who did not shy away from proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And they succeeded. Some regularly passed out the evangelistic tract, The Way, in the community. They started house churches, and people came to Christ and the need for a building became obvious.
Today we are recovering a missional church DNA. We are trying to live in the grace where God moves in the community by his Holy Spirit. Recently, I heard three stories from three of our pastors of the stirring of the Lord and people in the community where the church is located. In each case, they showed up at church. One of those is now wanting to be baptized and another has been fully assimilated into the life of the congregation. Our communities are taking notice. This is good news because we have Good News.
We are blessed to have a number of dually affiliated churches that have their origins in Cameroon. Robinson Fondong, a missionary to our country began CMFI (Christian Missionary Fellowship International) in Westminster, MD in 2002. He linked up with Mark Wadel and ultimately with Franklin District. He has planted a number of churches and holds crusades in many parts of the world.
God is still calling people to “feed my sheep.” Why does that come as a surprise? While the route to seminary may not be the most viable way to pastoring these days, we have two recent examples where God has called from within the congregation when we least expected it. The challenge of raising up new leaders is with us, but I do have a renewed confidence that the one who called Peter is still concerned about a flock of people that need to be fed, namely Franklin District and that also includes your district.
An equipping event we have held for five years is called School for Disciples. This year, four Saturdays in February were given to equip the saints. Class titles were Youth/Adult Mental Health First Aid Training; Social Media and the Adolescent Brain; Elijah House Training level 1 and 2, and Our Heritage of Radical Renewal. Such training sessions help to enlarge and encourage our vision and calling.
Allen and his wife have been married for 39 years. He has three married children and nine grandchildren. He pastored at Pleasant View Mennonite Church for nearly 30 years before becoming an overseer in Franklin Conference in 2013. Before pastoring, he worked in printing and studied at Elim Bible Institute, Lima, NY. Prior to that He served 2.5 years in Guatemala in Voluntary Service from 1974-1976 through EMM.