Snapshots into Journey Forward: The Reference Council

Mennonite Church USA is building upon the work of the Future Church Summit at #MennoCon17 in Orlando. A dynamic group of writers has been called together to produce a concise description of MC USA’s shared values and guiding theological foundations. We’re calling this process Journey Forward. Over the next few weeks, the Menno Snapshots blog will be featuring interviews with the Journey Forward Writing Team and Reference Council, giving you a peek into the diverse life and faith experiences that are coming together in this moment in MC USA’s history.

Stephen Kriss is executive minister for Franconia Conference. He is a member of Philadelphia Praise Center and serves on the Journey Forward Reference Council.

Tell us one interesting or fun fact about you — something we wouldn’t already know.

I grew up in a three-generation household where Slovak and English were spoken. My grandpa spoke snippets of several languages. This has shaped me into someone interested in other languages and ways of explaining or understanding.

Tell us about one of your spiritual heroes / heroines. How have they been influential in your faith journey?

My home church in the mountains of Western Pennsylvania was a mission church. The families who helped start that church with the intention of reaching out to Eastern Europeans like me shaped my faith through their dedication, hospitality and desire to keep faith and life tethered honestly. I’m Mennonite because they persevered, loved and gave their lives toward that mission which was only a few miles from their homes but represented work that was cross-cultural and full of hope even when it was difficult. Eventually they called me to be a pastor in that congregation at Carpenter Park. I’m forever grateful to those families for both helping to cultivate faith and calling forth my gifts.

What is your favorite worship song or hymn? Why?

Take my life and let it be is probably a life theme hymn. When I sing it, I’m back with the congregation that shaped my faith in the mountains of western Pennsylvania. Right now though, one of my favorites is a simple Alleluia chorus that we sing at my congregation in the city which comes from the Jakarta Praise Mennonite community in Indonesia. It reminds me of our global connectivity through words that cross language barriers readily.

What draws you to this work with Mennonite Church USA and Journey Forward? Why did you say yes to this invitation?

I said yes because we have work to do. We have not yet fully realized our potential. I celebrated the vote that was one of the first steps toward the formation of Mennonite Church USA in 1995. The road has not been easy since then. We couldn’t have predicted how difficult this might have been. What began with great hope has instead at times been painful. We are in a time of rapid change that is unpredictable. Yet, I believe our shared witness is important. Ultimately I said yes because I was invited to participate. I take those invitation to serve and lead in the church seriously. I also said yes because I don’t give up easily, even when things are difficult.

Our Journey Forward core values document will reflect what we think is most important as Anabaptists, specifically as MC USA. When you think about your identity as Anabaptist-Mennonite, what value, belief or idea most excites you — what grounds you in your faith?

I’m grounded in the idea that following Jesus, being transformed by the Spirit’s work within us, means we can do things differently. It helps me be honest and keeps me focused. It also challenges me to be creative and responsive, to check myself and to seek responses that go beyond what I may have immediately imagined as possible. For me, this means embracing mystery and possibility. Historically, we may have understood our response as limited to a “peace position,” but I think Jesus’ response was more than that. It was intended to provoke creativity, asking us to think, act, imagine differently than the dominant world view around us.