Newsline for April 8, 2015




Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

NEWS
1) Grants from EDF support Brethren Disaster Ministries projects in New Jersey, Colorado
2) On Earth Peace Board meets in March at New Windsor, Md.
3) A chat with ‘spirited Brethren’ Carl and Roxane Hill
4) Religious leaders urge a ban on fully autonomous weapons

PERSONNEL
5) Director of Educational Technology named at Bethany Seminary

UPCOMING EVENTS
6) Summer tour itinerary for Nigerian BEST group and women’s choir is released

RESOURCES
7) Bucher publishes new commentary, discusses ‘Lamentations, Song of Songs’ April 29 at Elizabethtown College

FEATURES
8) From the General Secretary: Letter to congregations regarding Armenia and Nigeria
9) A time for humility and service: Love Feast in Nigeria
10) Silence and real talk: On teaching about the Bible and race in the USA

11) Brethren bits: Personnel, Iran agreement, Fellowship of Brethren Homes 2015 Forum, Shine sponsors “Faith Forward,” Stone Church holds Nigerian Benefit Concert, Dranesville holds “Eat Out” fundraiser, Bridgewater College celebrates 135 years, Mother’s Day Gratitude Project, more


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Quote of the week:

“It is likely--but not inevitable--that the world’s first fully autonomous weapons will be deployed in the near future. It is not inevitable because collective action can stop these weapons now.” 

-- Jonathan Frerichs, World Council of Churches program executive for peace building and disarmament. See the story below, or find the WCC release online at www.oikoumene.org/en/press-centre/news/religious-leaders-urge-a-ban-on-fully-autonomous-weapons .
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1) Grants from EDF support Brethren Disaster Ministries projects in New Jersey, Colorado

Two Brethren Disaster Ministries project sites in the United States are receiving support through grants from the Church of the Brethren’s Emergency Disaster Fund (EDF), totaling $75,000. Brethren Disaster Ministries also has directed an EDF grant to the island nation of Vanuatu after it was hit by Tropical Cyclone Pam.

An EDF allocation of $45,000 continues support for the Tom Rivers project site in New Jersey, where Brethren Disaster Ministries continues work on a building project following devastation caused by Superstorm Sandy in Oct. 2012. Partnering at the site is O.C.E.A.N., Inc., which is providing the land to build six single-family homes in Berkeley Township, N.J. The new homes, to be managed and maintained by O.C.E.A.N., Inc., will be rented on a sliding scale to low- and moderate-income families with special needs who were affected by Super Storm Sandy. The project is expected to be completed in early May.

An EDF allocation of $30,000 funds the opening of a Brethren Disaster Ministries rebuilding project in northeast Colorado following flooding caused by heavy rains in Sept. 2013. Seventeen counties were affected, with federal emergency declarations covering 14 counties and more than 28,000 families registering for assistance. Reports indicate eight deaths, around $2 billion in flood damage, and nearly 19,000 homes damaged or destroyed. The Brethren response will focus on some of the most severely impacted areas in Weld, Larimer, and Boulder Counties in Colorado, where 1,882 homes were destroyed and another 5,566 damaged. The response will be an ecumenical project, inviting volunteers from the United Church of Christ and Disciples of Christ to support the Brethren effort.

An EDF grant of $20,000 supports the Church World Service response to devastation in Vanuatu caused by Tropical Cyclone Pam last month. The Vanuatu government reports 17 deaths, 65,000 people homeless, and 166,000 people needing assistance on the 24 islands in the storm path. Entire islands are impacted, and due to their isolation and damage to infrastructure, the need for relief supplies to sustain life and provide shelter is critical. This grant will support Church World Service partnering with Act for Peace and the Vanuatu Christian Council in providing emergency food, water, and household supplies for survivors in 78 communities, and repair of water supply systems and training in disaster risk reduction.

For more information about the Emergency Disaster Fund go to www.brethren.org/edf .


2) On Earth Peace Board meets in March at New Windsor, Md.

The On Earth Peace Board
Photo by Mary Ann Grossnickle

The On Earth Peace Board

By Jordan Bles

The On Earth Peace Board of Directors joined staff March 19-21 at the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Md., for their spring board meeting. It was a joy to have the full board in attendance, for a fruitful and uplifting gathering. Board members heard an update on the work of the Anti-Racism Transformation Team, spent time in small groups with staff hearing information about their work, and received reports from the various board committees.

Discussion regarding nonviolent direct action

The board and staff also discussed the direction of On Earth Peace’s community organizing work, particularly in relationship with the #BlackLivesMatter movement (as highlighted in this year’s poster and annual report). On Earth Peace continues to work in solidarity with leading groups within the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and we are developing our organizing efforts to help build peace wherever there is violence. In this work, we are carefully applying a faith-rooted active nonviolence approach, grounded in values of Christ’s agape and unconditional love. In some cases, we are joining efforts and campaigns to address specific instances of discrimination and injustice. As board member Barbara Avent (Denver, Colo.) shared, “My Jesus walks with the marginalized and the oppressed,” and we seek to find and join Christ at work today.

Connected to this larger purpose, this ministry may lead On Earth Peace staff or participating individuals to participate in civil disobedience or nonviolent direct action. Nonviolent direct action is often used by faith communities and others promoting change to put pressure on those with the ability to change unjust policies, After this conversation, the On Earth Peace board approved a policy outlining parameters around which the organization will support staff members or appointed individuals who might risk arrest when participating in On Earth Peace-approved civil disobedience or other nonviolent direct actions.

During the conversation, Patricia Ronk, On Earth Peace board member from Roanoke, Va., reminded the board and staff of the three-century grounding this kind of controversial activity has in the heritage of the Church of the Brethren. “In 1708 a group of people felt called to act on their carefully considered biblical convictions. In an act of civil disobedience, they baptized one another,” she said. “The courage of these first Brethren exposed spiritual oppression and released vibrant communities of spiritual renewal. During the remainder of his life Alexander Mack paupered himself as he paid fines and supported the growth of the Brethren movement. We are thankful for opportunity to build on their witness to faith.”

How can you live into God’s Shalom?

Following Jesus in the same Spirit, Brethren today continue to act, living into the new community of God’s Shalom for all people. Growing exposure of the existing racial tensions in our country call our attention to the tremendous need for justice at “such a time as this” (Esther 4:14). On Earth Peace invites everyone to consider how you can be part of this of this important ministry. Are you being called to gather with people of different ethnic backgrounds to pray for healing, reconciliation, and justice? Are you being called to work with children, beautiful in their diversity, to help them experience the joy of the community of Jesus? Are you being called to learn and share about discriminatory practices and to appeal for change? Are you being called to open the doors of your congregation for vibrant spiritual growth as a multicultural or multiracial community? Are you being called to join a specific campaign with the organizers of #BlackLivesMatter to call attention to the changes needed to create peaceful and just communities?

Join us!

On Earth Peace invites you to pray and consider how you are being called to the work of reconciliation and justice in the midst of social tensions around race and racism. We invite you to ponder the most recent On Earth Peace poster, which encourages us to respond to the crisis of broken relationships around us. (To order a copy e-mail oep@onearthpeace.org .) On Earth Peace asks for your prayerful support of those prepared to count the cost of taking nonviolent direct action to expose oppression and unleash vibrant community renewal. Just like the first Brethren long ago in Schwarzenau, Germany, we invite Brethren to act with hope, build faith communities of multicultural diversity, and proclaim with courage the good news of God's Kingdom. We welcome your prayerful support for this important and timely call for justice and reconciliation.

Please contact us, OEP@OnEarthPeace.org , for more information about our current ministries to challenge institutional racism and injustice with Christ’s agape love.

-- Jordan Bles is chair of the board of On Earth Peace.


3) A chat with ‘spirited Brethren’ Carl and Roxane Hill

Carl and Roxane Hill, co-directors of Nigeria Crisis Response for the Church of the Brethren, with the manager of the EYN Disaster Relief Team at the new foundation of the EYN Headquarters Annex.
Annex Headquarters being renovated
Photo by Zakariya Musa

Carl and Roxane Hill, co-directors of Nigeria Crisis Response for the Church of the Brethren, with the manager of the EYN Disaster Relief Team at the new foundation of the EYN Headquarters Annex. Annex Headquarters being renovated

By Zakariya Musa

The Church of the Brethren co-directors of Nigeria Crisis Response, Carl Hill and his wife Roxane from the United States of America, were here once again to assess the impact of the donations made by American Brethren on the activities of EYN (Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria, or the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria).

As part of the visit, the couple presented a paper at the 2015 EYN Ministers’ Conference held at the EYN Headquarters Annex in central Nigeria. In their presentation, entitled “Continuing the Work of Jesus Christ,” the Hills encouraged the pastors to be servants to people around them at this time.

Carl and Roxane Hill, who liaise between the Church of the Brethren and EYN, said that they were fully committed to join hands to raise awareness among American Brethren and other partners of EYN on the severity of the Nigerian crisis, and its devastating effect on leadership of EYN in particular and the church’s membership in general.

The couple made their intentions known to “EYN Quarterly Magazine” in an interview recently. Below are excerpts from the interaction. We wish you happy reading.

EYN QM: Sir and madam, you are here again. You are highly welcome. What is your impression this time after some months in Nigeria?

The overall health of EYN was very different in March than when we came in November. We were so encouraged to see the Headquarters Annex offices completed and every leader working in his furnished office. We felt happy that each of the leaders was back in his/her assigned position and handling their work duties to the best of their ability. Staff and their families also seemed to be settled in the new environment.

EYN QM: You both liaise between EYN and the Church of the Brethren on the current Nigerian security situation, particularly as it affects EYN. What is your view about the use of donations from the Brethren?

EYN is well on the way to implementing the mutual plan agreed upon by EYN and the Church of the Brethren. The Disaster Management Team is taking its job seriously and is mobilized for action. We were able to review the plan and lay out the next steps that need to be taken. We are very impressed that EYN (leaders and team) are using the money as designed.

EYN QM: What would be your briefing at home on the EYN situation after attending the EYN Ministers Conference?

It was very encouraging to see all the pastors attending the Ministers’ Conference. What a great way to bring the church together, to unify the ministers and to encourage them in their difficult situation. It was fun to see groups of pastors talking and laughing together. We pray that this brief time away from their troubles will energize them and empower them to go back and care for their people. As we told them at the conference, each of them has been called to carry out Jesus’ words which say, “Feed my sheep.”

EYN QM: One of your students at Kulp Bible College, Kwarhi, was kidnapped by Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria about three months ago, and one of the college’s security men is missing. How do you feel about that?

We are very sad about the missing people from KBC. One of Carl’s students, Ishaya Salhona, was kidnapped by the Boko Haram. We tried to find out about him but there is no official word. This is more evidence of the large scale of violence that has swept the northeast. Everyone has been affected and lost someone they know or love. We continue to pray.

EYN QM: Almost all of the churches are destroyed in northeastern Nigeria and now the government announces the reclaiming of most of the areas held by insurgents. Would you advocate for the rebuilding of the structures destroyed in the areas?

This is a long-term plan of recovery. The Church of the Brethren is committing to 5 to 10 years of working with EYN. During this period, our attention will focus on the eventual returning home of our brothers and sisters, and rebuilding of their communities. As we know, almost everything has been destroyed completely by the insurgents, and it will take the special grace of God and concerted effort to be able to return and live in those areas again. Just as the way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time, we must begin to recover one small step at a time. Working together will make the task easier hopefully.

EYN QM: What would you want to say to sum up this session?

We are really encouraged to see things fast coming back on track in EYN. Compared to the frozen state of the leadership in November, we are so impressed with the way everyone is moving forward at this time. We are glad with the high level of zeal with which people are poised for action. We are also pleased with the work of the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) we are sponsoring. They are able to do some things that the church could not. The interfaith community at Gurku is going well. Education is being addressed by one NGO. Other NGOs are working at livelihood for people and making sure the vulnerable are being taken good care of. We are looking forward to receiving help from other large organizations like Mennonite Central Committee and Christian Aid Ministries. We look forward to returning to America and giving a good report on the progress of the Nigeria Crisis Response Project.

-- Zakariya Musa is a communicator for Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria) and works on the EYN Quarterly Magazine. He conducted this interview on March 19 while Carl and Roxane Hill were in Nigeria to visit with EYN leadership and assess the progress of the Nigeria Crisis Response. The effort is a cooperative one between EYN and the Church of the Brethren, working through Global Mission and Service and Brethren Disaster Ministries. For more about the work in Nigeria go to www.brethren.org/nigeriacrisis .


4) Religious leaders urge a ban on fully autonomous weapons
 
From a World Council of Churches release

Should robots make life and death decisions? Religious leaders are asked to tell governments “Never.” Delegate life and death decisions to a machine? Robots respecting the laws of war? A weapon programmed to hunt and shoot? Who is accountable?

Diplomats, soldiers, scholars and concerned citizens will meet in Geneva immediately after Easter to discuss these and other implications of a new class of arms known as “lethal autonomous weapons” or “killer robots.”

Meanwhile, the World Council of Churches (WCC) is asking national and local religious leaders to take a stand against fully autonomous weapons by signing an interfaith declaration that calls for “a comprehensive, pre-emptive ban” of the weapons.

“It is likely--but not inevitable--that the world’s first fully autonomous weapons will be deployed in the near future. It is not inevitable because collective action can stop these weapons now,” said Jonathan Frerichs, WCC program executive for peace building and disarmament.

The interfaith declaration calls on all governments to join the international debate about fully autonomous weapons and to work towards a ban before they are developed and deployed.

“Robotic warfare is an affront to human dignity and to the sacredness of life,” the declaration says. The call has been issued by Pax, an organization in the Netherlands, and Pax Christi International.

“WCC member churches have pledged to tell their governments to ban weapons capable of targeting and killing human beings on their own, now, before they are made,” said Frerichs. “That is why we are asking church leaders to join in supporting this interfaith declaration now.”

Scores of religious leaders and organizations around the world have already signed the interfaith call for a ban on fully autonomous weapons. Signatories include Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, Archbishop Dr Antje Jackelén of the Church of Sweden, Rev. Ching-An Yeh of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan, Dr Andrew Dutney, president of the Uniting Church in Australia and members of the WCC Commission of the Churches on International Affairs from Jordan, Nigeria, Finland, Indonesia, Russia, USA and Tahiti.

WCC representatives will take part in the April 13-17 meeting at the United Nations in Geneva. The second such conference in two years, it may only lead to further discussions given the complexity of the issue and rapid developments of relevant technologies with both civilian and military uses. Civil society organizations are already urging governments to begin negotiations on substantive controls, so that the moral threshold of having machines kill people is not crossed.

The WCC 10th Assembly in 2013 recommended that governments “declare their support for a pre-emptive ban on drones and other robotic weapons systems that will select and strike targets without human intervention when operating in fully autonomous mode,” in the assembly’s statement on The Way of Just Peace issued in Busan, Republic of Korea.

South Korea and Israel currently deploy armed robots to guard their borders, with a human operator in overall control, according to the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots.

Sign the interfaith declaration in support of a ban on fully autonomous weapons at www.paxforpeace.nl/stay-informed/news/interfaith-declaration . Find a downloadable fact sheet about the interfaith declaration at http://lists.wcc-coe.org/c.html?ufl=7&rtr=on&s=jazjt,19r5c,usx,gh8g,lrz9,aicl,4e9i . A list of signatories is available at http://lists.wcc-coe.org/c.html?ufl=7&rtr=on&s=jazjt,19r5c,usx,hmbs,i9t3,aicl,4e9i .

-- This is reprinted from a World Council of Churches press release dated April 2, 2015.


PERSONNEL

5) Director of Educational Technology named at Bethany Seminary

By Jenny Williams

Dan Poole has been named director of Educational Technology at Bethany Theological Seminary, beginning July 1. He came to Bethany in 2007 as part-time coordinator of Ministry Formation and in 2009 also began serving as part-time advancement associate. He will continue in his Ministry Formation position along with his part-time technology role.

This new educational technology position will support distance learning as the seminary continues to develop its Connections program. Nonresidential students now have the opportunity to take classes in real time, and last fall the seminary launched a technology classroom that enables all persons in the classroom and offsite to see each other during class sessions. Poole also will oversee webcasting of events and assist faculty with course elements requiring technology.

 “I am pleased that Dan will be serving the seminary as we expand the use of the technology room and continue to develop patterns to augment and enhance our educational program,” said Jeff Carter, president.

Poole has a master of divinity degree from Bethany and is an ordained minister in the Church of the Brethren, having pastored congregations in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

-- Jenny Williams is director of Communications and Alumni/ae Relations at Bethany Theological Seminary in Richmond, Ind.


UPCOMING EVENTS

6) Summer tour itinerary for Nigerian BEST group and women’s choir is released

A cloth worn by the ZME women's group of the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria
photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

A cloth worn by the ZME women's group of the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria

The itinerary for a summer tour by Nigerian groups from Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria) has been released by the planning committee. The two groups are the Brethren Evangelism Support Trust (BEST), a group of businesspeople and professionals, and an EYN Women’s Fellowship Choir.

Lancaster (Pa.) Church of the Brethren is the sponsoring congregation. The planning committee includes members from Lancaster and two other Pennsylvania churches: Elizabethtown Church of the Brethren and Mountville Church of the Brethren. Former Nigeria mission worker Monroe Good is chairing the committee.

The tour itinerary:

June 22, 4 p.m.: Welcome Banquet at the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Md.

June 23, 2 p.m.: An abbreviated concert at Fahrney-Keedy Village near Boonsboro, Md., Mid-Atlantic District

June 23, 7 p.m.: Appreciation Concert at Hagerstown (Md.) Church of the Brethren, Mid-Atlantic District

June 24, 7 p.m.: Appreciation Concert at Maple Spring Church of the Brethren in Hollsopple, Pa., Western Pennsylvania District

June 25, 7 p.m.: Appreciation Concert at Maple Grove Church of the Brethren in Ashland, Ohio, Northern Ohio District

June 26, time TBA: Event in Elgin, Ill., in Illinois and Wisconsin District, arranged by Global Mission and Service

June 27, 1:30 p.m.: An abbreviated concert as part of an auction fundraiser for Nigeria at Creekside Church of the Brethren in Elkhart, Ind., Northern Indiana District

June 27, 7 p.m.: Appreciation Concert at Manchester Church of the Brethren in North Manchester, Ind., South/Central Indiana District

June 28, morning: Worship with Manchester Church of the Brethren

June 28, 7 p.m.: Appreciation Concert at the Long Center for the Performing Arts in Lafayette, Ind., sponsored by the West Section of South/Central Indiana District

June 29, 10:30 a.m.: An abbreviated concert at Friends Fellowship Community in Richmond, Ind.

June 29: Lunch and visit at Bethany Theological Seminary in Richmond, Ind.

June 29, 7 p.m.: Appreciation Concert at Salem Church of the Brethren in Englewood, Ohio, Southern Ohio District

June 30, 7 p.m.: Appreciation Concert at Oak Park Church of the Brethren in Oakland, Md., West Marva District

July 1 and 2: Concerts in Shenandoah District, locations and times TBA

July 3: Concert in Southern Pennsylvania District, location and time TBA

July 4, 2 p.m.: Appreciation Concert at Lebanon Valley Brethren Home in Palmyra, Pa.

July 4: Appreciation Concert in Elizabethtown, Pa., Atlantic Northeast District, location and time TBA

July 5, 10:15 a.m.: Worship and concert at Lancaster (Pa.) Church of the Brethren, Atlantic Northeast District

July 5, 7 p.m.: Appreciation Concert at Germantown Church of the Brethren in Philadelphia, Pa., Atlantic Northeast District

July 6, 2 p.m.: Appreciation Concert at Peter Becker Community in Harleysville, Pa.

July 6, 7 p.m.: Appreciation Concert at Coventry (Pa.) Church of the Brethren, Atlantic Northeast District

July 7, morning: Luncheon engagement in Washington, D.C.

July 7, evening: Concert in Atlantic Northeast District, location and time TBA

July 8, 7 a.m.: Prayer breakfast at Lancaster (Pa.) Church of the Brethren, Atlantic Northeast District

July 8, 7 p.m.: Appreciation Concert at University Baptist/Brethren Church in State College, Pa., Middle Pennsylvania District

July 9: Appreciation Concert in Virlina District, location and time TBA

July 11-15: Annual Conference in Tampa, Fla.

July 15, 7 p.m.: Appreciation Concert at Camp Ithiel in Gotha, Fla., Atlantic Southeast District

For questions contact Monroe Good at 717-391-3614 or ggspinnacle@juno.com .


RESOURCES

7) Bucher publishes new commentary, discusses ‘Lamentations, Song of Songs’ April 29 at Elizabethtown College

Believers Church Bible Commentary on Song of Songs and Lamentations

By E.A. (Elizabeth) Harvey

Christina A. Bucher, the Carl W. Zeigler Chair in Religious Studies at Elizabethtown (Pa.) College, recently published a Bible commentary on the book Song of Songs, as part of the Believers Church Bible Commentary series. Bucher’s commentary shares space in the volume, “Lamentations, Song of Songs,” with Wilma Ann Bailey, who explores Lamentations.

The Believers Church Bible Commentary Series is a cooperative project of the Church of the Brethren, Brethren in Christ Church, Brethren Church, Mennonite Brethren Church, and Mennonite Church. Writers for the series of 27 books thus far come from Anabaptist and Pietist/Radical Pietist traditions. It is published by Herald Press, and may be purchased through Brethren Press.

[Order “Lamentations, Song of Songs” from Brethren Press for $22.50 plus a shipping and handling fee. Go to www.brethrenpress.com/ProductDetails.asp?ProductCode=2035 or call 800-441-3712.]

Bucher’s writing discusses Song of Songs (Song of Solomon) unit by unit, focusing on the literary features of the biblical text. It also discusses themes within a larger canonical context, identifying ways in which Song of Songs has been interpreted within the church, focusing especially on Anabaptist and Pietist theological and devotional writings. The commentary also discusses the book’s understanding of human sexuality.

Bucher will talk about Song of Songs as a devotional text at 9 a.m. on April 29 at the Susquehanna Valley Ministry Center on the Elizabethtown College campus. This six-hour continuing education program, shared with Old Testament scholar Bob Neff, examines devotional texts in the Old Testament that go beyond the psalter. The registration fee of $60 includes refreshments, lunch, and .6 continuing education units for ministers. Registration and payment are due by April 13. [For more information and a registration form go to www.etown.edu/programs/svmc/files/Registration_LivesOfDevotion.pdf .]

The series, published for those who seek to more fully understand the original message of scripture and its meaning for today, illuminates the scriptures, provides historical and cultural background, and shares theological, sociological, and ethical meanings.

The series publisher notes that “Lamentations, Song of Songs” covers the full emotional register of biblical literature from the anguished sorrow songs of ancient Israel to the passionate, lyric poems of lovers. The Lamentations commentary includes questions about authorship, images of God, and depiction of a community’s response to exile and its development of an identity in the wake of catastrophe, while Bucher offers multiple perspectives on Song of Songs and its imagery, characters, and allegorical and literal interpretations.

Bucher holds degrees from Elizabethtown College and Bethany Theological Seminary. She completed her doctoral degree in Hebrew Scriptures at Claremont Graduate University. She was a research assistant at the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity in Claremont, Calif., and later spent nine months in Tübingen, Germany, working on a project at the Institut für ökumenische Forschung. In her present role as the college’s Carl W. Zeigler Chair in Religious Studies, she offers courses in Bible and biblical languages.

For 10 years she served the Church of the Brethren as a member of the planning team for the Covenant Bible Study program and wrote two studies for the Covenant Bible Study series published by Brethren Press: “Biblical Imagery for God” (1995) and “The Prophecy of Amos and Hosea” (1997). She has contributed articles to “Brethren Life and Thought” and “Messenger” and has written curriculum for the Church of the Brethren. In 2010, Bucher co-edited “The Witness of the Hebrew Bible for a New Testament Church,” also published by Brethren Press.

-- E.A. (Elizabeth) Harvey is communications manager and news editor in the Office of Marketing and Communications at Elizabethtown (Pa.) College.


FEATURES

8) From the General Secretary: Letter to congregations regarding Armenia and Nigeria

“This is large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. It’s best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won’t lose out on a thing” (Matthew 10:41-42, Message).

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

It may come as a surprise to learn that Church of the Brethren involvement in disaster response has not always been at the core of who we are as a people. You are no doubt familiar with dates such as:
-- 1941 - The Brethren Service Commission was established with disaster response as an integral part of its guidelines.
-- 1960 - The Emergency Disaster Fund was created to provide funding for the church’s response to disaster projects and relief efforts.
-- 1973 - The Annual Conference established disaster response guidelines for any formal disaster response within the districts of the church.
-- 1979 - Children’s Disaster Services (formerly Disaster Child Care) was formed as a way to support and care for children in communities affected by disasters.

But these are not the earliest Church of the Brethren responses to disasters. In 1917, the very heart of the church was shaken by the news of the Armenian genocide. Knowledge of such atrocities was a greater burden than the Brethren could tolerate.

The 1917 Annual Conference voted to set aside existing guidelines for missions in foreign lands in order to provide funding and support for the Armenian people affected so horrifically by the violence and displacement. A temporary committee was named to lead the relief effort. In addition, delegates also approved secondment of staff to the American Committee for Relief in the Near East, to ensure that funding and support for the Armenian people would be carried out without interference. There was no intent to establish permanent missions or churches as was our practice, because the Armenianpeople were already a devout Christian community. From 1917-1921, our church of approximately 115,000 members contributed $267,000 to the effort–an equivalent of $4.98 million in 2015 dollars, using the Consumer Price Index computation.

In this 100th anniversary year of the Armenian Genocide, the bonds of Christian fellowship forged by our Brethren predecessors continue to influence the traditions of both the Church of the Brethren and the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church. This is evidenced in our understanding of what is good and required of us as people of God: “To do justice and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

The fact of Brethren responding to human tragedy has not been changed by the passing of years. Last year’s abduction of the Chibok girls (most of whom are Brethren) connected the Nigerian crisis to the heart of the American Brethren. One child deeply touched by the story said, “The Chibok girls could be my sisters.” The church in earnest entered into a season of prayer and fasting. Meanwhile, the leadership of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria) and our Global Mission and Service staff prepared for the Nigerian church’s response to the death, destruction, trauma, and hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons within Nigeria.

Our Mission and Ministry Board, upon hearing the plan for the EYN response, acted with courage and boldness. In October 2014, the board committed $1.5 million dollars ($1 million from denominational assets and $500,000 from the Emergency Disaster Fund) to start the relief effort in Nigeria. In the months since, individuals and congregations have given over $1 million to the Nigeria Crisis Fund, with gifts continuing to come in.

In a time when many question the relevance and vitality of the church in the United States, I want to shout from the highest hill: “Thanks be to God for the generosity, compassion, and love the Brethren have shown for the people of good faith in Nigeria–just as they did 100 years ago for and with the Armenian people!” As once again we heed Christ’s call to start out with a cup of cold water, let us join our hands together and invite others to gather on the journey as we Continue the work of Jesus. Peacefully. Simply. Together.

My thanks to each one of you for advocating, fasting, praying, and supporting our sisters and brothers in Nigeria. Your joined hands are witnessing to the world the love and the light of Christ through word, action, and deed.

May God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit be with you.

Yours sincerely,

Stanley J. Noffsinger
General Secretary
Church of the Brethren


9) A time for humility and service: Love Feast in Nigeria

By Peggy Faw Gish

Probably the most meaningful Holy Week observances I participated as I grew up in the Church of the Brethren was what was called the “Love Feast,” which included feetwashing, a fellowship meal, and communion, all in one service. Before we participate, we are asked to examine our own lives, and if we are in a conflict with someone, go to that brother or sister and try to make things right between us. If followed, this is a way of freeing ourselves of anger, resentment, etc., but also freeing the community from tensions that can stifle the flow of love and God’s Spirit working among us.

Yesterday afternoon, it was a privilege to celebrate this ceremony here in Nigeria, with about 400 Nigerian Brethren. I was the only American and person with white skin there.

When it came time for the feetwashing, small groups got up and went out to designated places, either for men or women, outside the building where chairs were set up and basins and towels were placed. A woman dressed in colorful Nigerian dress, and who was in the choir, took my hand and led me out with one of the groups. There, along with other women, we took turns. First, this sister washed my feet and lower leg, one by one, and dried them. Then she sat down, and I did the same for her. Then we stood and greeted each other in love.

This was a simple act, which to some may seem crude or old-fashioned, but to the Nigerian Brethren and to congregations in the US, it is a powerful symbolic act. It is seeing that loving God is inseparable from loving and serving our sisters and brothers. It calls us to open ourselves in love, and to serve our brothers and sisters as well as be served--around the world and at home--the calling I and others have felt as we worked for peace and justice in our home community as well as abroad.

My heart was full, when my Nigerian sister washed my feet, and then we looked in each other’s eyes. Not only did it melt any anxiety I felt at the time of being the only American volunteer here with the Nigerian Crisis Team, I felt it was preparing me for the next three months of living and working among the people. My thoughts also went further, to how desperately Nigerian society and other nations, entangled in wars of greed and power, need this kind of love and spirit, and how my own country needs this spirit in its relationships with countries around the world. How desperately the streets of US cities and rural communities need the spirit of humility and seeing “the other” as our sister or brother, so that it can acknowledge the racist and oppressive attitudes and structures in ourselves and our society that kill and demean.

It’s a change of the heart and spirit, that if real, spreads to all other realms of our life and relationships, and that must flow into the city streets and beyond our borders, and can become the source of healing, justice, and reconciliation, what we call the ”Kingdom of God.” And the time is always now to be a part of this.

-- Peggy Faw Gish is a Church of the Brethren volunteer working in Nigeria with the Nigeria Crisis Response, an effort carried out in cooperation with Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria). Gish, a Church of the Brethren member from Ohio, has worked for many years with Christian Peacemaker Teams and has been a part of the CPT Iraq team. Most recently she has been a part of the CPT team working in the Kurdish area of northern Iraq. For more about the Nigeria Crisis Response go to www.brethren.org/nigeriacrisis .


10) Silence and real talk: On teaching about the Bible and race in the USA

Richard Newton
Photo courtesy of Wabash Center

Richard Newton

By Richard Newton

When I signed up to teach the Bible and Race in the USA ( https://canvas.instructure.com/courses/872266/assignments/syllabus ), I didn’t know that my students would be able to live stream the lynching of Eric Garner and Tamir Rice. No one told me that modern courtrooms would accept a testimony from one who could liken Michael Brown to a demon ( http://wabashcenter.typepad.com/antiracism_pedagogy/2015/01/it-looks-like-a-demon-some-notes-on-the-visual-constructions-of-race.html ).

And did I mention that my undergraduate seminar was divided evenly along the color line--three white students with two black students and myself?

Colleagues at my new school (Elizabethtown College www.etown.edu ) were excited and nervous for me.  No one knew what to make of this demographic studying this curriculum at this moment in time. This course was to be a chance for some “real talk”--an honest, nuanced conversation about the racialized state of our union.

The class set out to observe the intersection of two of America’s most effective difference-making technologies, scriptures ( www.christianhubert.com/writings/writing.html ) in this case, the Bible, and race ( www.sunypress.edu/pdf/61761.pdf ). We would note how both have worked to make difference and make a difference in this country.

Every two weeks we focused on a different people group and their complicated relationship with the Bible. We perused documentation of the Bible’s role in settler-colonialism, enslavement and emancipation, the construction of whiteness, the model minority myth, anti-immigrant discourse, and the war on terror. Similarly, ethnographies offered us a look at the Bible’s liberating work in aversely effected communities.

From theory to history, the content just “clicked,” but the conversation was just painful... painfully silent. When they did raise their voices, it was to offer post-racial platitudes. But more often than not, students opted to simply nod their heads in quiet safety.

A quarter of the semester in, I thought aloud with a colleague who suggested I listen for murmurs of “real talk” and redirect my efforts toward what was working. I was to listen for vulnerability, disagreement, and passion.

Lo and behold, I found real talk in the last place I expected.

I was using three types of assignments to formally assess learning. At the top of the scaffold was a major research paper--proposed as a midterm and executed as a final project. Students drafted their own theories about the Bible and Race as evidenced in the American experience. Historical moments, headline news, cultural expressions were all up for grabs. But this early in the course, students saw this as just another test.

They worked up to the capstone project by presenting seminar papers at the end of each unit. The exchange was pretty stiff, but for a few minutes the class would liven up as they discussed media clips the presenters used to illustrate their theses.

The same energy ran rampant in our mid-unit class diary. Students extended emerging understandings to images, news stories, and other examples they had come across. It’s worth noting that I was giving little-to-no feedback on this completion grade.

In my mind, this assignment was a low-level practice activity, but in it I found the dynamism we were missing in class. I was floored when a white student respectfully qualified a classmate’s assumption about Asians as “perfect immigrants” by contrasting it with the anti-Japanese sentiment around WWII. An African American student hosted a theory podcast where she worked out headier concepts by relating them to stories from her own experience.

In the diary activity, they didn’t have to worry about me intervening or correcting. Students were free to talk, to make mistakes, to offend each other. If they didn’t have the chance to challenge themselves and challenge each other uninterrupted, how could they develop the critical empathy that the course aimed to produce?  My silence was leaving space for the trust-building that real talk requires.

To build upon this kind of exchange, I replaced my interventionist strategy with a “chief learner” approach, finding opportunities for students to teach me about our subject matter. I had my local students pull up a map and show me--the newest Pennsylvanian in the room--how Frederick Douglass got to Quakertown, our proximity to Gettysburg, and where the Carlisle Indian School was located. As they gave me the lay of the land, I was able to problematize the Bible’s role at each site.

By course’s end, we were asking which, when, whether, and how #BlackLivesMatter on our own historically-Christian campus ( www.etown.edu/about/history  ). I’m not sure if we could have begun the semester with real talk, but I like to think of where we ended as a sign that the best is yet to come ( https://storify.com/EtownCollege/teach-in ).

-- Richard Newton is assistant professor of Religious Studies at Elizabethtown (Pa.) College. This blogpost originally appeared on the Wabash Center Blogs “Race Matters in the Classroom” site www.wabashcenter.wabash.edu and is reprinted here with permission.


11) Brethren bits

Spurgeon Manor, a Church of the Brethren-related retirement community in Dallas Center, Iowa, celebrated Read Across America day on March 2 with the reading of Dr. Seuss books. The day is celebrated on his birthday, noted the Spurgeon Manor newsletter. Bernie Limper is shown here reading Dr. Seuss books for fellow residents. In other news from Spurgeon Manor, the community’s book club meets once a month, and Limper also is reading the book “Heaven Is for Real” once a week for those who are interested.
Photo courtesy of Spurgeon Manor

Spurgeon Manor, a Church of the Brethren-related retirement community in Dallas Center, Iowa, celebrated Read Across America day on March 2 with the reading of Dr. Seuss books. The day is celebrated on his birthday, noted the Spurgeon Manor newsletter. Bernie Limper is shown here reading Dr. Seuss books for fellow residents. In other news from Spurgeon Manor, the community’s book club meets once a month, and Limper also is reading the book “Heaven Is for Real” once a week for those who are interested.

-- Kenneth Bragg, warehouse assistant at the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Md., has announced his retirement effective April 9. He began his work with the Church of the Brethren in July 2001 as a truck driver for service ministries. He served in this position for 13 years. Since November 2014, he has been a warehouse assistant for Material Resources. “His work has been characterized by sincere dedication and an understanding of and commitment to the mission of the Church of the Brethren,” said an announcement of his retirement.

-- The framework agreement reached last week between the P5+1 and Iran is being welcomed by the Church of the Brethren Office of Public Witness. “The framework agreement...is a welcome sign for the future of US relations in the Middle East and nuclear weapons policy more generally,” said the office’s blogpost about the agreement. “The framework agreement significantly limits Iran’s capacity to produce material for a nuclear weapon in the near future and is hopefully a building block towards more diplomacy with Iran and other important countries in the region. It took political will and courage for all sides to come together despite their differences and hammer out this framework for an agreement that will benefit all sides in different ways. We commend these diplomatic leaders for coming together and finding common ground even after many groups and actions threatened the potential for an agreement. Anytime diplomacy pushes the world towards peace we applaud these efforts, and we also hope that this agreement will lead to a more substantial conversation about nuclear weapons across the globe.” Read the full blogpost at http://blog.brethren.org/2015/office-of-public-witness-welcomes-nuclear-framework-agreement-between-p51-and-iran .

-- The Fellowship of Brethren Homes 2015 Forum is April 14-16 hosted by Maureen Cahill, administrator of Spurgeon Manor in Dallas Center, Iowa. A near record number of Brethren retirement communities will be represented, reported organizer Ralph McFadden, who wrote in a note to Newsline that expected attendance includes 21 persons, representing 14 of the 22 Church of the Brethren-related retirement communities. The focus for Wednesday, April 15, will be on Strategic Planning. McFadden, who is interim executive director of the fellowship, and Jonathan Shively, executive director of Congregational Life Ministries, will facilitate. The Strategic Planning will include a review of an in-depth CEO/administrative survey taken prior to the forum. On Thursday, April 16, business items will include follow-up on the Strategic Planning proposals, review of a by-laws proposal, election of the Executive Committee, budget reviews, and business items from Congregational Life Ministries and Brethren Benefit Trust.

-- The Shine curriculum of Brethren Press and MennoMedia is one of the sponsors of a conference held by “Faith Forward,” an organization aimed at re-imagining children’s and youth ministry. The event takes place in Chicago on April 20-23. Brethren Press staff who will be present include publisher Wendy McFadden and Jeff Lennard. Other Church of the Brethren members are expected to attend as well, including Highland Avenue member Michael Novelli from Elgin, Ill., who is one of the planners and a workshop leader. For more information go to http://faith-forward.net .

-- Stone Church of the Brethren in Huntingdon, Pa., is hosting a Nigerian Benefit Concert on April 17 at 7 p.m. in the church sanctuary. “We have heard in the news and in our worship services about suffering in northeastern Nigeria...” said an announcement. “This represents a huge injury to our Body of Christ. Stone Church has several personal connections to this part of the church as well. Some of the primary founders, Stover Kulp, his first wife Ruth Royer (who died in childbirth in the early days of the mission), and his second wife, Christina Masterton, are well-known to Juniata College and Stone Church. Specifically, Stover was a graduate of Juniata and pastor at Stone for approximately a year. It was during his time at Juniata that he formed ideas with Ruth to start a mission in Africa and take Christianity to places where it had not previously been known.” Organizer Marty Keeney also noted his family’s strong relationship with the church in Nigeria in the announcement, sharing with the congregation that his mother was among family members born in the 1930s in the Nigerian towns of Lassa and Garkida.” The benefit will help raise money for the Nigeria Crisis Response and the Nigeria Crisis Fund. Performing will be a number of the church’s musicians and music groups including the Stone Church Ringers, Donna and Loren Rhodes, the Huntingdon Singing Doctors, Terry and Andy Murray, and the Stone Church Chancel Choir. “We are anticipating a varied and enjoyable evening of music,” the announcement said.

-- Dranesville Church of the Brethren in Herndon, Va., is organizing a fundraiser titled “Eat Out to Support the Nigerian Crisis Mission” on April 1-June 1. Manassas (Va.) Church of the Brethren is among those helping to support this effort. Participating restaurants in the “Eat Out” fundraiser are the Jukebox Diner in Sterling, Va., at 46900 Community Plaza, and in Manassas, Va., at the Canterbury Village Shopping Center at 8637 Sudley Road. “Leave your receipt in the jar at the register and 10 percent will go to the Nigerian Crisis Fund...administered by the Church of the Brethren,” said an announcement. “The need is great, join in the mission to heal communities destroyed by hate and violence.” On May 30 from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. the Dranesville Church also hosts a sale that will benefit the Nigeria crisis effort--an arts and crafts sale that also will include home-made baked goods. For more information contact the Dranesville Church at 703-430-7872.

-- Southeastern District holds a Family Fellowship Rally on Sunday, April 19, at 4 p.m. at Pleasant Valley Church of the Brethren. “There will be activities for children ages 5-11 and youth ages 12-18,” said an announcement from the district. “Pleasant Valley will provide a meal after the service. This will be an afternoon of worship and fellowship with Annual Conference moderator David Steele.”

-- Brethren Woods is sponsoring a spring concert series and is excited to welcome Southern Grace at 7 p.m. April 12 and The Promised Land Quartet at 7 p.m. April 19. Both concerts will be held in Brethren Woods' newest facility, Pine Grove.

-- Camp Emmaus in Illinois and Wisconsin District holds a Camp Kick Off Day on Saturday, June 13, from 2-5 p.m. Events include a cake and punch open house for Bill and Betty Hare in celebration of their 50 years of service as camp managers. At 4 p.m. a ceremony to name the lodge the "Hare Lodge" will take place.

-- Bridgewater (Va.) College yesterday celebrated 135 years since its founding, presenting three awards during a morning convocation. “President David W. Bushman will recognize three faculty members for excellence in teaching and scholarship,” said a release from the college. Larry C. Taylor, assistant professor of music and department chair, receives the Faculty Scholarship Award. Julia Centurion-Morton, an associate professor of Spanish and chair of the department of world languages and cultures, receives the Martha B. Thornton Faculty Recognition Award. Brandon D. Marsh, an assistant professor of history, receives the Ben and Janice Wade Outstanding Teaching Award.

-- In more news from Bridgewater College, Jerry Greenfield, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, will speak at “An Evening of Entrepreneurial Spirit, Social Responsibility and Radical Business Philosophy,” at 7:30 p.m. on April 16, in Cole Hall. “In 1978, with $12,000, Jerry Greenfield and Ben Cohen opened Ben & Jerry’s in a refurbished gas station in Burlington, Vt. The first franchise followed in 1981, distribution outside Vermont began in 1983 and the company went public in 1984. In 2000, the pair sold the ice cream business for more than $325 million to Unilever, with Greenfield remaining active in the company,” reported a release from the college. Recognized for fostering commitment to social responsibility by the Council on Economic Priorities, Ben & Jerry’s was awarded the Corporate Giving Award in 1988 for donating 7.5 percent of their pre-tax profits to non-profit organizations through the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation. In 1993, the duo received the James Beard Humanitarians of the Year Award and in 1997 the Peace Museum’s Community Peacemakers of the Year Award. Beyond Ben & Jerry’s, Greenfield serves on the board for the Institute for Sustainable Communities and is involved with Businesses for Social Responsibility and TrueMajority.

-- A Juniata College student has received attention from ABC News and other media for his project to live in a self-made hut in the woods outside of the campus in Huntingdon, Pa. Dylan Miller, who is a senior at the Church of the Brethren-related college, has chosen to live outdoors for close to two years now. “I got sick of living in the dorms, and I thought I could save $4,000 a semester living outside, where I love to be,” he told ABC News. Taking up a suggestion from his father, he has made this life style choice a school project, and built a hut in the college’s Baker-Henry Nature Reserve. The ABC News story reported that “the makeshift structure is minimally furnished: there's a small kitchen table and writing desk he built himself along with a small foldable bed and a chest for his clothes.... Miller also has a small cooking stove and outdoor fire pit for cooking, and he showers in communal bathrooms on campus.” His final undergraduate project is called “Content With Nothing.” Find the ABC News story at http://abcnews.go.com/US/pennsylvania-college-senior-lives-forest-hut-campus/story?id=30080643 .

-- The Church of the Brethren Global Women's Project (GWP) has announced its annual Mother's Day Gratitude Project. “Rather than buying more material gifts for your loved one, express your gratitude with a gift that helps other women around the world,” the announcement said. “Your donation allows us to fund projects focused on women's health, education, and employment. In return, your chosen recipient(s) will receive a lovely, hand-written card indicating that a gift has been made in her honor, with a brief description of GWP.” A bulletin insert about the project is available online at http://files.ctctcdn.com/071f413a201/1268ddbc-e7e5-411f-8d7d-0511ca2abd2b.pdf .

-- “How is CPT responding to ISIS? Come and see for yourself,” said an invitation from Christian Peacemaker Teams for those interested in an upcoming delegation to Iraqi Kurdistan on May 30-June 12. A conference call on April 9 is being made available to answer questions about the delegation. Communications and engagement director Jennifer Yoder and delegations coordinator Terra Winston will discuss safety, fundraising, logistics, and their experience on delegation to Iraqi Kurdistan when ISIS invaded Mosul in June 2014. The call is scheduled for 4 p.m. (eastern time). Register to take part in the phone call at www.cpt.org/node/11135 . For more about Christian Peacemaker Teams go to www.cpt.org .

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Contributors to this issue of Newsline include Jordan Bles, Deborah Brehm, Jane Collins, Peggy Faw Gish, Monroe Good, Bryan Hanger, E.A. (Elizabeth) Harvey, Mary Kay Heatwole, Marty Keeney, Zakariya Musa, Ralph McFadden, Nancy Miner, Richard Newton, Stanley J. Noffsinger, Donna Rhodes, Jenny Williams, Roy Winter, and editor Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of News Services for the Church of the Brethren. The next regularly scheduled issue of Newsline is set for April 14. Newsline is produced by the News Services of the Church of the Brethren. Contact the editor at cobnews@brethren.org . Newsline appears every week, with special issues as needed. Stories may be reprinted if Newsline is cited as the source.

Go to www.brethren.org/Newsline to subscribe to the Church of the Brethren Newsline free e-mail news service and receive church news every week.