by Kevin Kessler
The Illinois and Wisconsin District Conference on Nov. 3-4 was held at York Center Church of the Brethren in Lombard, Ill., on the theme, “Don’t Be Afraid, I Bring You Good News” based on Luke 2:10. The conference was capably led by moderator Allegra Hess, a member of the York Center congregation.
The conference began with worship led by ministers from the Northeast Region of the district. Christy Waltersdorff preached on the theme, setting the tone for the remainder of the conference. Waltersdorff proclaimed, “Christ calls us to another way of living, a way that is not defined by fear but courage; a way that is not defined by weakness but strength; a way that is not defined by anxiety but faith.” She asked these questions: “What if this darkness (fear) is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb? What if God is seeking to birth something wondrous in our congregations, in our districts, in our denomination, in our world? And what if we get to be a part of that new life?”
During the business session, delegates and conferencegoers were able to experience the courage of our district, which continues to carry out faithful ministries in our congregations despite the challenges of living out the mission of Christ in a post-Christendom and post-Christian era. Our district has initiated two new, non-traditional ministries–the Parables Community and the Gathering Chicago. Jeanne Davies, founding pastor of the Parables Community, shared the value of providing a space and opportunity for worship for persons with disabilities and their families. LaDonna Nkosi, unable to be present, nonetheless provided video and live presentations expressing the value of providing opportunities of prayer, partnership, and service on Chicago’s south side. These two emerging ministries are testaments to not being afraid, serving unmet needs in spite of the obstacles that at times seem overwhelming.
Six congregations (Rockford, Polo, Stanley, Canton, Cerro Gordo, and York Center) were given the opportunity to share a three-minute presentation about ministries in which they are engaged. Each congregation is actively involved in their community, outwardly focused, and embarking on creative ministry initiatives. In addition, a video of district activity and ministries was produced and viewed by all who were present. Find it at www.youtube.com/watch?v=cb4SmT4ypJU .
Camp Emmaus and Camp Emmanuel continue to provide an environment for building relationships, enriching our faith, and positively impacting the lives of youth for years to come. Despite overwhelming financial obstacles as a result of late and inconsistent State of Illinois Medicaid disbursements, Pinecrest Community and Pleasant Hill Village continue to provide outstanding service to those who need assisted and extended care.
All of these ministries are evidence of new life that the district celebrates and supports through prayer, relationship, and money. The district is finding renewed energy, excitement, and cohesiveness through efforts to sustain these Christ-centered ministries.
Fear has been a part of this district. We have been afraid of how theological differences may fracture our relationships. We have been afraid of how financial reserves are being used. We have been afraid of the aging of and decline in membership. Other fears have surfaced over the years as well.
What we discovered, or maybe re-discovered, at this district conference is that we are not paralyzed by our fears. Instead, we are holding on and moving ahead in the strength of the word of God proclaimed through the prophet Isaiah: “I have chosen you and have not abandoned you. Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.”
– Kevin Kessler is district executive minister for Illinois and Wisconsin District.
In an additional news tidbit from the Illinois and Wisconsin District Conference, moderator Allegra Hess shared that the one dozen freshly laid brown eggs from the “Brethren hens” that she owns raised $50 in the district conference auction. The auction proceeds go to the district budget.