by Karen Garrett
On May 17-19, with a pre-conference worship service on May 16, people from across the country met at Bethany Theological Seminary in Richmond, Ind., to worship and renew. The event was “New and Renew: Revitalize, Plant, Grow,” the Church of the Brethren’s church planting and church development conference for 2018. The event was sponsored and organized by the Discipleship Ministries (formerly Congregational Life Ministries) of the Church of the Brethren.
I am not a church planter. I attend an established congregation that celebrated 200 years as a congregation in 2011. However, in 2018 I see the need for my congregation to do something to renew our mission or we will not exist in 10 years. This is probably true for many congregations across the denomination. I decided to attend “New and Renew” along with my pastor, in the hopes that we could find ideas for renewal.
My main take-away, however, was a sense of renewal in my own spirit. At some point, my pastor and I will meet and compare notes, and pray about steps--perhaps small steps--we can take to help our congregation renew and revitalize. For now, I simply thank God and the conference planners for providing space for my spirit to be nourished.
Some observations and quotes to share (the quotes are taken from my notes directly as I wrote them so they may not be word-for-word what the presenters said, but they are what my spirit heard):
It was refreshing for my Caucasian face to be in a minority. This was an intercultural event and that made the experience rich. My Latino and Latina brothers and sisters sing and worship with enthusiasm and heartfelt expressions of faith. The experience was enhanced by the deep abiding faith and prayer life of brothers and sisters of many skin tones. I had been feeling discouraged about the state of our denomination, but for two days I was energized by people who together care about being a witness for Jesus Christ. We met to learn and encourage one another.
Two keynote speakers shared from their ministries to encourage us to risk finding God’s mission for us. Orlando Crespo from the Bronx left me with the following quote: “We can’t be the incarnation--Christ did that. We can be the embodiment of Christ.” Yes, my desire is to embody Christ as I interact with my neighbors and my congregation. Christiana Rice from San Diego used the metaphor of a midwife to help us see “God crying out for a new thing to be born. We need to reach out in anticipation, because God is already at work.” I need to focus on joining God, rather that asking God to help me.
Bethany Seminary dean Steve Schweitzer led a Bible study on the broad topic of “Risk and Reward in Scripture.” According to him, that topic includes most of scripture. He narrowed his list down to nine:
-- 2 Chronicles 20: Jehosophat called for a fast as he risked everything and depended on God.
-- Daniel 3: Three Hebrews chose to do what was right, regardless of whether God would save them or not.
-- Philippians 3: A passage where Paul discussed loss and gain.
-- James 1:27: To be faithful, we must work at both holiness and social justice.
-- James 2:14-19: Our work for Christ should be as a result of faith and as a demonstration of faith.
-- Colossians 4:5-6: Our public witness must include word and deed.
-- 1 Peter 2:9-12: We are chosen for a purpose beyond ourselves.
-- 1 Peter 3:8-17: Be ready to risk with action and speech.
-- Acts 20:24: God is concerned for the individual and the community.
Schweitzer closed with a question for himself and for us “What am I willing to risk?”
In addition there were a variety of workshops, breaks, and meals to connect with old friends and new acquaintances, and an Intercultural Dinner where Annual Conference moderator Samuel Sarpiya shared from his doctor of ministry project. My take-away quote from that evening: “Serve the purposes of God for your community, and for this time.” To do that we must “hear the heart of God.”
-- Karen A. Garrett is managing editor for "Brethren Life & Thought" and coordinator of assessment for Bethany Seminary.