Advent Pauses 2016

candlesThe core of The Gathering Place is centered in deepening the spiritual formation of its leaders in the Anabaptist tradition.  To this ends, TGP wants to offer an Advent resource for its leaders to delve into as they prepare for the season. We are calling these, Advent Pauses.

Join TGP’s spiritual directors, Merv Stoltzfus and Marlene Frankenfield, as they lead us through these weekly Advent reflections. These brief 15- 20 minute pauses following themes from The Leader Magazine, will breathe space into your busy holiday season reminding and re-orienting you again and again to the reason for the season (and possibly giving you new insight for worship leading and/or preaching).

We will gather for four weeks at 2pm EST–and will focus on a different weekly theme, following Leader.

Week One:    “God’s PEACE is at hand; Come walk in the way of God’s heart” Tuesday, 11/22, 2pm EST

Week Two:    “God’s HARMONY is at hand; Come walk in the way of God’s heart”Tuesday, 11/29, 2pm EST

Week Three:  “God’s HEALING is at hand; Come walk in the way of God’s heart” Tuesday, 12/6, 2pm EST

Week Four:    “God’s RESTORATION is at hand; Come walk in the way of God’s heart” Tuesday, 12/13, 2pm EST


In each Pause, we will follow the same flow:

Introduce Theme of Week

Read Scripture passage

Quiet Reflection Time

Question, “Where do you experience _________________?”

Question, “Where do you need _________________?

Opportunity for Personal Sharing

Question, “How would you wish your youth would understand this theme?”

Closing prayer


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Helping Youth Talk About Hard Issues

This is part 1 of 2 blog posts this week that Rachelle Lyndaker-Schlabaugh brings from her work as the Director of the Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington office.


In this election season, it is tempting to go to either of two extremes. Many identify strongly with one particular party or candidate, feeling that only that party or candidate will govern in ways that are consistent with our values and beliefs. In those moments, we should take a deep breath, read Psalm 146 (which reminds us not to put our trust in princes, but to trust in the Creator of heaven and earth) and remember that our ultimate allegiance is to God alone. Every political candidate and party will inevitably disappoint us.

The other extreme is to just withdraw from the political process altogether. This is an understandable impulse, but equally unhelpful. Whether we like to admit it or not, government policies affect all of our lives. Those who are on the margins of society are often affected the most. If we avoid politics completely, by default we are supporting the status quo.

Rather than going to either extreme, we can have respectful, thoughtful engagement in politics. As Christians, if we take loving our neighbor seriously, we must learn about candidates’ stances on issues and try to discern who we think will make the best decisions for the common good, not just for us personally. (You might find this election resource from the MCC Washington Office to be helpful. Our office also provides regular updates and legislative action alerts throughout the year.)

One of the things that I lament most about the current state of politics in our country is that we seem unable, whether in Congress or in our local communities, to have respectful, substantive discussions between those who lean ‘red’ and those who lean ‘blue.’

The church should be a place where we can have those discussions, rather than avoiding hard topics or assuming everyone agrees on them.

How might you help lead such a discussion for youth?

Here are a few suggestions: Arrange chairs in a circle (or several smaller circles, if you have a large group). Select an issue that is being discussed in the election, such as immigration or terrorism. Let them know that this is not just about sharing their own perspectives, but also listening to others. Take turns sharing. One way to do this is to pass around a “talking piece,” such as a stone – whoever has the talking piece is the only one allowed to speak, with no interrupting allowed.

Encourage youth to share a personal story or experience that has shaped their views, as well as how Scripture shapes their views on the topic. As a youth leader, you can help model this for them. It’s also fine for youth to pass or just say, “I’ve never really thought about that!” After the initial round of sharing, allow some time for silent reflection. Then, invite participants to identify areas of common agreement and areas of disagreement. Did they hear anything that made them think differently about the issue? What concrete actions might they want to commit to as a result of this discussion? At the end, ask participants to join hands in a circle and close with prayer.


Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach serves as Director of the Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office. She leads workshops, writes and speaks on U.S. policy toward the Middle East and meets regularly with congressional offices and Administration officials to convey MCC’s perspective on public policy. She also speaks to groups about the intersection of faith and politics from an Anabaptist perspective.

Rachelle worked at the MCC U.S. Washington Office from 1998-2003, before returning as director in 2007. She holds a Master of Divinity degree from Eastern Mennonite Seminary and is a graduate of Goshen College.

Stress: What Are Our Bodies Saying?

Difficult conversations can bring out the worst in my body. As I sat down in a meeting recently with other church leaders I first became aware of the tension in the room and in myself through my body. A sharp pain shot through my neck and down my back. I tried to take deep breaths and consciously relax my muscles. As the conversation in the room heated up the rest of my body went into full alert. My palms were sweaty, mouth dry, and my heart was pounding hard enough to threaten the walls that held it within. Even my vision was affected as the walls seemed to close in around me and my line of sight narrowed.

Perhaps this is what is referred to as the “flight-or-fight response.” This may have served my evolutionary ancestors well in response to perceived threats but it was doing me no good. My nervous response system was acting like a bowl of steaming hot spaghetti. If you have seen the movie Inside Out my neurological control board was going haywire. But I suspect that few in the room saw this or even perceived as much going on within me. They were probably preoccupied dealing with their own responses.

Much can be and has been said about tools for effectively engaging others in difficult conversations. As leaders in the church responsible for the care of all I firmly believe that we need to be trained by our best practitioners in mediation and healthy dialogue. There is still far too much coercive behavior allowed in our decision making that we disguise as community discernment.

I started to write this blog post several months ago with a list of do’s and don’ts from my years of experience with conflict and from the insights of experts in this field. And I am happy to share these with anyone who asks or maybe that is a follow up reflection.

Based on my experience yesterday I am going in a different direction. I felt betrayed by my best training and knowledge. I am still unpacking the significance of that experience. I wonder if we often underestimate the power of our own bodies and gut level emotive intuitions that can impact our responses in difficult and conflictual conversations. What we think is logical and reasonable is hijacked by triggers lodged deep in our bodies.



I do not want to suggest that this is all negative. Our bodies also speak our truth. What may help us in navigating difficult situations is to become more aware of and responsive to our physical bodies. What is the persistent knot in my back telling me besides that I need a massage!? What is behind that tight sensation in my chest? What needs attending within me? Psalm 139 becomes my prayer in these moments.

Healthy self-awareness and self-care are always important ingredients to offering our best selves in a conflict or dialogue.  Being more aware of our own selves and bodies can help us then be more attentive to others and their responses.

John Stoltzfus

John Stoltzfus is campus minister at Christopher Dock Mennonite High School and conference youth minister for Franconia Mennonite Conference and Eastern District Mennonite Conference. Before this role, John served as associate pastor at Lombard Mennonite Church in Illinois. John is married to Paula and they have four children.














Advent Pauses: Week 4, “Freedom Bound: The Path of Love”

A small group of pastors and lay leaders from the Gathering Place community have been meeting together each week during this Advent season to prepare for Christmas.  We’ve called this intentional spiritual formation community, Advent Pauses, as it is a brief weekly interlude in the midst of this busy season for personal reflection and contemplation. This week concluded our 4 week experience with the theme, “Freedom Bound:  The Path of Love.”  Marlene Frankenfield, TGP spiritual director, facilitated.

tGP LIVE podcast: Praying In Color

Do dimly lit spaces, quiet meditative practices, and long periods of silence make you run for the door?  Is it hard for you to sit still during prayer and you find your mind wandering every which way?

Part of this is the life-long practice of developing and deepening disciplines of spiritual formation and learning to “come home”, but maybe it doesn’t have to feel so grueling!  Maybe we need to think a bit more broadly, outside the box, when it comes to prayer and engaging with our Creator.

Marlene Bogard, Executive Director for Mennonite Women, and former Christian Formation minister for Western District shares in this tGP interview about how engaging our creativity can be a form of prayer.  What does praying in color actually mean?  How can doodling connect us with the Divine?  What does it mean to re-member again…to connect our body with our mind and spirit?

Thanks, Marlene for talking with us today!

Here are some extra fun links: 37 Art Therapy Techniques, an article from The Huffington Post

Praying In Color by Sybil MacBeth

Buy your own adult coloring sheet and support the work and ministry of Mennonite Women this holiday!

Advent Pauses: Week 3, “The Path of Trust”

We continue with our spiritual formation group, Advent Pauses, in this third week to consider the theme, “Freedom Bound:  The Path of Trust.”  Danilo Sanchez,  from Mennonite Central Committee and area youth pastor for the Lehigh Valley (PA), facilitated our reflections and conversations this week.  What does it mean to trust in God in the midst of a world that is completely un-trustworthy?

Advent Pauses: Week 2, The Path of Mercy

This week our group, facilitated by Kim Litwiller (conference minister of Illinois Mennonite Conference), considered Christ’s coming as the ‘path of mercy.’  Where do you/I/we need mercy in life?  Where have you/I/we experienced mercy?  How do we wish our youth would experience mercy in their lives today?

December Theme: ADVENT

This month our focus is:


‘Tis the season!  The stores are decked out, online ads scream at us, and holiday music is piped everywhere we turn.  Now, there is nothing inherently wrong about living into the holiday cheer and making the festive preparations for Christmas. But all too often the season of light, hope, love, mercy, peace is far too easily replaced with, stress, busyness, rushing, drama, and resentment. If we start to feel like this, I’m guessing it is because we have forgotten this one thing on our holiday “to-do” list…


The best way to prepare for our Savior’s birth is to practice Advent.  Advent literally means, “the coming.” It is the intentional time we take in the weeks leading up to Christmas day to remember Christ’s coming and await Christ return.  It is a pause in the midst of the hubbub and planning to be attentive to where God is already breaking through, how we are being invited to pay attention, to turn our hearts toward the coming Light.

This month on The Gathering Place in order to make a more spacious month, we have limited our offerings to two connections.  Please read below to see how you can connect and re-connect to your spirit this season.

  1.  Join our Advent Pauses
    Watch on Google+ Live on Tuesday at 2pm EST

The core of The Gathering Place is rooted in deepening the spiritual formation of Anabaptist youth leaders. To this end, we are offering an Advent resourcing that we are calling Advent Pauses. AP  is a group of persons who have agreed to commit themselves for the season of Advent to form a spiritual formation community to discuss, pray, and live into this Advent theme together.  This Advent Pause group is following The Leader Magazine (MennoMedia, Fall 2015) Advent resource called, “Freedom Bound.” Each Tuesday this group gathers together. You can follow along by watching live if you have a Google+ account.  Simply search for Rachel Gerber ( Advent Pauses, and you will be able to view it live from your newsfeed. Or, you can watch the recorded sessions and use the posed questions for personal reflection whenever it suits your schedule. You will find the recorded Advent Pause on Wednesday of each week posted to our webinar/podcast archive page here.

2. Sign up for the tGP Podcast:   Coloring As Spiritual PracticeThursday, 12/10, 12pm EST

Adult coloring books are the hottest item this season.  But have you ever considered how coloring might be a type of spiritual practice? Doodling as a way to pray? Creativity comes naturally to us, as we are created in the image of God, our creator. Join Marlene Bogard, executive  director of Mennonite Women USA in this conversation. Marlene is a big fan of color and so is God, so it only seems natural for her play with color and pray in color.

She is delighted to live in the Pacific Northwest where daily she gazes at enormous green pine trees. Marlene is executive director of Mennonite Women USA. Previously she served in the ministries of resourcing and Christian formation for Western District conference for 25 years. She and her husband Mike moved to Oregon last spring to be closer to their grown children and one adorable grandson.

Order your coloring pages here today! (Purchase not required to participate in podcast)

Advent Pauses–Week 1–Justice

Where do you see a need for justice in this world?  In your community? In your personal life? What do we wish for our youth to know about how to engage God’s justice today?

These were some of the questions that our Advent Pause group reflected on as we gathered mid-day to engage this Advent season.

The core of The Gathering Place is centered in deepening the spiritual formation of its leaders.  We hope that these weekly reflections will breathe space into your life as you pause in the midst of the hubbub to experience the Light that breaks in to our lives and world, offering freedom for all.

How to Help a Grieving Friend: 11 Things to Do When You’re Not Sure What to Do

I came across this article on Huffington Post this past week and thought it was spot on and connected with our theme this month written by licensed clinical counselor, writer and grief advocate.

“I’ve been a therapist for more than 10 years. I worked in social services for the decade before that. I knew grief. I knew how to handle it in myself, and how to attend to it in others. When my partner drowned on a sunny day in 2009, I learned there was a lot more to grief than I’d known.

Many people truly want to help a friend or family member who is experiencing a severe loss. Words often fail us at times like these, leaving us stammering for the right thing to say. Some people are so afraid to say or do the wrong thing, they choose to do nothing at all. Doing nothing at all is certainly an option, but it’s not often a good one.

While there is no one perfect way to respond or to support someone you care about, here are some good ground rules.

#1 Grief belongs to the griever.
You have a supporting role, not the central role, in your friend’s grief. This may seem like a strange thing to say. So many of the suggestions, advice and “help” given to the griever tells them they should be doing this differently, or feeling differently than they do. Grief is a very personal experience, and belongs entirely to the person experiencing it. You may believe you would do things differently if it had happened to you. We hope you do not get the chance to find out. This grief belongs to your friend: follow his or her lead.

#2 Stay present and state the truth.
It’s tempting to make statements about the past or the future when your friend’s present life holds so much pain. You cannot know what the future will be, for yourself or your friend — it may or may not be better “later.” That your friend’s life was good in the past is not a fair trade for the pain of now. Stay present with your friend, even when the present is full of pain.

It’s also tempting to make generalized statements about the situation in an attempt to soothe your friend. You cannot know that your friend’s loved one “finished their work here,” or that they are in a “better place.” These future-based, omniscient, generalized platitudes aren’t helpful. Stick with the truth: this hurts. I love you. I’m here.

…read the rest of the article, including the 3rd-11th suggestions of walking with someone through grief, here…