I’ve been told that I’ve been attending church here since I was 10 days old—a long time ago. Last September, I attended NOAC. The theme for the week was telling the story—Jesus’ story, our story, and their story.
One of the main leaders for the week was Ken Medema, a blind musician. He spoke of Moses and the burning bush. He shared how we miss the puffs of smoke, which we should have noticed before we get to the burning bush. He also led the session, “Everybody Has a Story.” He said, “If you tell a story, I’ll sing you a song, your own special story.” A variety of interesting stories were shared. I’ll tell you my story pretty much as I did that afternoon.
Listen to Oneida's story by pressing the play button, then sliding the red dot to 57:50
About four or five years ago our church organized a small praise band. We began to experience puffs of smoke. The church had a decision to make. The band, called Touch Down Sunset, wanted screens at the front of the church so they could have music shown as they played.
We had a beautiful cross in the front of the church. First consideration was given to a drop-down screen over the cross. Some of the older folk like myself didn’t approve of that. Then other ideas surfaced. Finally the church decided to put plain screens on each side of the cross, and we as a church began to move forward.
That praise band has increased to 10 members and has become very active in the community and has been invited to share in the parks and other community activities. But that’s not the only thing that happened. We added a second morning service. Attendance immediately started to increase, and we have gone from an attendance on Sunday morning of 110, to an attendance of 180.
A lot of other things have transpired. We have more Bible studies, more Sunday school classes. On a quarterly basis we invite people at the Rescue Mission to come to our church service and serve them dinner afterward. Once a month, a group takes a meal and a program to the Rescue Mission in Hagerstown.
It’s taken a little bit—I’d say a lot for some of us older folk—to make the transition, but we’ve seen these puffs of smoke. Sometimes it got to be a little too smoky. But when you look at all the things that have taken place in our church, you’ll realize why my story is called “Touch Down Sunset.”
Let the old stuff behind and go forward with the new.
Oneida Heffner is a member of the Brownsville (Maryland) Church of the Brethren.
The beauty of being here today
By Debbie Eisenbise
When we are inspired, we are called to share that with others. For more than 20 years, the Church of the Brethren National Older Adult Conference (NOAC) has been a well-spring of inspiration for participants to carry back to their congregations. Such conferences have a ripple effect felt in the farthest reaches of our denomination—it takes just one person, inspired to share.
Oneida Heffner called me this spring to share her story of inspiration at last year’s NOAC and how it has affected her congregation at Brownsville (Md.) Church of the Brethren. We met face-to-face at Annual Conference this summer, most appropriately at an insight session about intergenerational ministry. Her remarks to me were simple and yet profound, in part because she was telling her story and giving life to the NOAC theme, “Then Jesus Told Them a Story.”
During the NOAC week, older adults had many opportunities to hear stories and share their own. Keynote speaker and workshop leader Ken Medema was particularly encouraging of storytelling. Oneida attended his workshop and told her story to him. As he does so well, Ken reflected it back to her in song, in a session that was recorded and is now available above, as well as at www.brethren.org/noac.
He encouraged Oneida to share her story with her church. After she returned home pastor Alan Smith gave her an opportunity to speak to the whole congregation. “What an impression it made!” she said. The church had been holding two worship services, and the generations were becoming divided because people who typically attended the different services had not been meeting together. Oneida spoke at a service that brought together the generations, so that all could hear what she had to say.
Sometimes, we just need to see that we have a story to tell. Oneida’s presentation not only touched many hearts, but also gave an opening for younger members to share their gratitude for her encouragement, and helped older members understand the important role they play as elders who contribute to the vitality of their congregation.
In the evaluations we received after the 2015 conference, again and again participants shared that inspiration is what brings them to NOAC and inspiration is what they receive from the experience. Inspired, participants are empowered to share and to serve.
Debbie Eisenbise is director of Intergenerational Ministry on the Congregational Life Ministries staff.