By Wendy McFadden
Fledgling Church of the Brethren mission projects in two areas of the world--Venezuela and the Great Lakes region of Africa--have been formally approved by the denomination’s Mission and Ministry Board, at its March 3-8 meeting.
The Great Lakes project, which involves the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Burundi, follows nine years of conversation and a number of visits by Global Mission and Service executive Jay Wittmeyer and other Brethren from the US. The Church of the Brethren has funded agricultural projects, disaster relief efforts, scholarship programs, and church construction in the region. The Brethren also have sponsored a tri-nation Batwa Pygmy conference and ministries in reconciliation and trauma healing.
The Venezuela project began with connections in the Dominican Republic. Since a first visit in 2015, there have been several subsequent meetings with American Hispanic leaders and with Alexandre Gonçalves from the Brazilian Church of the Brethren. At a meeting last fall, more than 200 individuals from 64 churches participated. The ministry has focused on teaching and preaching.
The board engaged in a first reading of “Vision for a Global Church of the Brethren,” a mission philosophy paper that will return to the board next fall for approval. The paper does not create a new mission philosophy, Wittmeyer explained, but stands on previous Annual Conference statements. The document works at clarifying a global structure of “autonomous Brethren groups in different areas of the world.”
Board members heard an update on sale of the upper campus of the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Md., which is expected to be completed by April 30, and decided how to use the expected net proceeds of some $4 million. Up to $100,000 will be used for repairs and preservation of the historic Germantown (Pa.) Church of the Brethren. “It seems fitting,” they said, to use funds “derived from one hallowed property to support the needs of another property of significance to the Brethren.”
Thirty percent of the proceeds will be used to create a Brethren Faith in Action Fund that will provide grants to congregational outreach projects. This “new thing” carries on “the New Windsor legacy of living out the faith.” The remaining proceeds from the sale will be invested to promote the long-term sustainability of denominational ministries. “By replenishing and adding to invested funds we help ensure the vitality of all of our ministries, including service ministries like those associated with New Windsor.”
A board committee received input for its work on last year’s Annual Conference query on “Living Together as Christ Calls.” The board reviewed a proposed statement on a “Vision for Ecumenism for the 21st Century” that is headed to Annual Conference delegates this summer, and approved the appointment of Terrell Barkley to a four-year term on the Brethren Historical Committee.
Finance staff reported that in 2016 congregational giving to core ministries increased for the first time since 2006, although individual giving was at its lowest total in 10 years. Combined giving to core ministries decreased 2.2 percent.
-- Wendy McFadden is the publisher of Brethren Press.