“No good thing does the LORD withhold from those who walk uprightly.” (Psalm 84:11b, NRSV)
7) Brethren bits: Remembering Sue Cushen Snyder, job openings, Dunker Church service, district events, Brethren college news, anniversaries, immigration statement, safe church grants, and more.
Quote of the week:
“Meekness isn’t weakness. … If you build on the kingdom of the world you will build on sand.”
—Glen Landes of the Old German Baptist Brethren Church, New Conference, speaking at the Sixth Brethren World Assembly.
By Frank Ramirez
“They had never seen something like this, returning good for evil.”
The speaker was the Rev. Dr. Musa Mambula, a leader in the Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria) and current international scholar in residence at Bethany Theological Seminary. He was describing the reaction of three Muslim clerics after the Brethren rebuilt a mosque burned down by Boko Haram.
Mambula’s remarks came at the Sixth Brethren World Assembly, held Aug. 9-12 at Winona Lake (Ind.) Grace Brethren Church. It was sponsored by the Brethren Encyclopedia Foundation with the theme “Brethren Intersections: History, Identity, Crosscurrents.”
The event, held every five years, gathers Brethren from various denominations tracing back to the original 1708 group in Germany. Roughly 150 Brethren came together to hear speakers like Mambula share their unique perspectives on the Brethren movement but also to break bread together, take bus tours, worship according to three very different Brethren traditions, and, of course, eat home-made ice cream three nights in a row. Participants came from the Brethren Church, Church of the Brethren, Dunkard Brethren, Conservative Grace Brethren Churches International, Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches, Old German Baptist Brethren, and Old German Baptist Brethren (New Conference).
Gary Kochheiser of the Conservative Grace Brethren Churches International led a bus tour to a site associated with the three-way split of the 1880’s and spoke from personal experience about just how painful it is to be involved in such a parting.
Jeff Bach, director of the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown (Pa.) College compared the first Brethren and their cultural and religious neighbors to “a textured and colored checkerboard, if you will, where the pieces move. . . . In the end these (give) birth to a movement based on faith, the centrality of Jesus, and the spiritual effect of Bible study.”
Brethren Church scholar Dale R. Stoffer, described the slow change among Brethren to view cooperation with other Christians “not as a badge of shame but as a badge of honor.”
“We should not be fearful to cooperate with the Other,” Stoffer said, “but we dare not lose our unique sense of identity, a sense of our own otherness. The gifts of what Brethren may bring is a treasure that can only be given if we remain true to our own unique identity as Brethren.”
Archivist William Kostlevy of the Brethren Historical Library and Archives suggested that the Nigerian Brethren have had as profound an effect on American Brethren as the first Brethren missionaries had in Nigeria. Meanwhile, Bridgewater (Va.) College history professor Stephen Longenecker of the Church of the Brethren tracked the slow acceptance of the revival movement in America among the Brethren.
At the Old Order German Baptist worship held in North Manchester, where all the preachers sat in a long row at a table in the front of the sanctuary. Merle Flory, whose ministry is based in Chiang Mai, Thailand, spoke of the dangers inherent in being faithful: “We’re not called to be safe. We’re called to be obedient.”
Finally, Jared Burkholder of the Grace Brethren, Professor of History at Grace College and the Assembly coordinator, speaking at New Paris (Ind.) Church of the Brethren the following evening, called for all the Brethren groups to “strive for unity in our diversity,” “strive to disagree well,” and to “foster humble self-awareness.”
—Frank Ramirez is senior pastor of Union Center Church of the Brethren (Nappanee, Ind.)
The Church of the Brethren Emergency Disaster Fund has made several recent allocations, supporting efforts on the Texas border and refugee work in the Middle East.
Two grants, the first for $5,000 and the second for $24,600, are funding Children’s Disaster Services (CDS) work as they respond to the crisis on the US-Mexico border. A CDS team was initially deployed to the area in late July, serving more than 75 children on its first day and 790 in its first two weeks. The team has been working out of the Catholic Charities Humanitarian Respite Center.
In addition to aiding the current response, the funds will support four-person teams in October and November as they meet continuing needs and two trainers who will work to create a sustainable presence there.
The third grant, for $40,000, is providing psycho-social support for Syrian refugee children through the Lebanese Society for Education and Social Development (LSESD), responding to victims of the ongoing Syrian civil war. LSESD began in 2011 and has become an important partner in the Syrian refugee response.
By Rhonda Pittman Gingrich
As summer gives way to fall, the process launched at the 2018 Annual Conference to help the denomination discern God’s call and develop a compelling vision to guide us into the future is moving into a new phase. Shaped by the conversations that took place at Annual Conference, the Compelling Vision Process Team has designed a two-hour event to engage members in deeper conversation around God’s call for us as a church.
These conversation events have already taken place in the Southern Plains and Michigan districts, and the Process Team is working with district executives to schedule additional events in multiple locations across the denomination. The next scheduled conversations will take place at the Missouri/Arkansas District conference at the Windemere Conference Center in Roach, Mo., the weekend of Sept. 14-15; at Mount Morris Church of the Brethren in the Illinois/Wisconsin District on Sept. 16 (with two additional events to follow in the district in October); and four locations throughout Southern Pennsylvania District the weekend of Sept. 29-30. Districts will be publicizing all scheduled events as plans are finalized.
Everyone is invited and encouraged to participate in an event. In preparation, please: pray for the church and the Spirit’s guidance as we move through this process; visit the Compelling Vision website, and read about the Compelling Vision process (especially if you were not at Annual Conference and are unfamiliar with it); reflect on scriptures that inform our ministry and life together as the body of Christ; and bring a Bible and, if possible, a smart phone, tablet, or laptop to the event.
—Rhonda Pittman Gingrich, an ordained minister from Minneapolis, is chair of the Compelling Vision Process Team.
Church of the Brethren partner Foods Resource Bank (FRB) took two major actions at its annual gathering, held earlier this month in Holland, Mich. FRB announced a new name for the organization, Growing Hope Worldwide, which will emphasize its goal to “plant seeds of hope for generations to come.” The new name, along with a new logo, goes into effect Oct. 1. It also announced a new president/CEO, Max Finberg, who brings 25 years of experience in hunger relief work. He begins Sept. 1.
FRB was formed in 1999, according to a report from former Global Food Crisis Fund (now Global Food Initiative, GFI) manager Howard Royer. The Church of the Brethren joined FRB as an implementing member in 2004. FRB currently includes 19 implementing agencies and 164 active Growing Projects. It enlists 2,000 volunteers and assists 47 food security programs in 27 countries. Jim Schmidt is the Church of the Brethren representative on the FRB board.
According to an FRB release, the new name “reflects our agricultural roots and the key role that we play in helping people a world away lift themselves out of poverty and hunger, providing hope for generations to come.” The new logo will contain “three interrelated parts”: a circle, a green heart, and three lines of soil.
Finberg, currently director of the United Nations World Food Programme in Rome, has held senior positions with Americorps/VISTA, the US Department of Agriculture, the State Department, and the White House. He first connected with FRB and many if its member churches nearly 20 years ago as the inaugural executive director of Alliance to End Hunger.
He began his career in hunger and agricultural programming as an aide to Congressman Tony Hall of Dayton, Ohio. While there, Finberg came to relate closely to a local Brethren farm family. He later was a volunteer at the Washington (D.C.) City Church of the Brethren soup kitchen on Capitol Hill. He holds a master's degree in religious studies from Howard University's School of Divinity and a bachelor's degree in political science and international relations from Tufts University.
The Elizabethtown (Pa.) Church of the Brethren board has responded to the passage of “Policy on Same-Gender Marriage” by the Atlantic Northeast District board, “respectfully requesting” the board to withdraw the item from consideration at this year’s district conference. Elizabethtown states in the response, dated Aug. 13, that it is “a congregation that has reached decidedly differing conclusions on the issues of human sexuality and pastoral care to all persons.”
The proposed district policy acknowledges “the Church of the Brethren is not of one mind on a number of issues, including that of homosexuality and same-gender marriage,” and emphasizes the importance of relationships. Citing past denominational and district actions, however, it goes on to outline a “Response Process for a Minister Who Performs a Same-Gender Marriage.” That process includes a report to the district executive, documentation of the details of the report, and conversations with the minister involved, the District Ministry Commission, and the minister’s congregation.
If the congregation supports the minister’s actions, then a letter of reprimand and a one-year probation would be given for a “first offense.” Further steps could be taken following conversation at the end of the one-year period. For a documented “second offense,” a recommendation would be made to the district board for “immediate termination” of ministry credentials. If the minister did not have congregational support, then it would be reported “as a potential Ministerial Ethics Violation.”
The Elizabethtown response to this proposed statement notes “the realities of congregational life together with numerous members of (the) LGBTQ community and their participation,” provides background on the congregation’s “affirmation of being ‘open to all,’” reviews the process used to reach the decision, and explores the possible “dilemma” Elizabethtown would face should district conference pass the statement.
Should the paper be adopted, Elizabethtown says, “our congregation will be caught between the district mandate and our understanding of the call of Christ. While yearning to remain in full fellowship with the district simultaneously we are determined to be faithful. We prefer to act in loving mutual discernment rather than forced compliance.” The congregation, it says, is open to ongoing dialogue but would “not comply with these arbitrary mandates” out of “a spirit of obedience to the call Christ has placed upon us.” Elizabethtown pastor Greg Davidson Laszakovits said that he was “proud of my congregation” for its supportive stance.
The Atlantic Northeast District conference is scheduled for Oct. 5-6 at Elizabethtown College’s Leffler Chapel with Mindy Wintsch, associate pastor of Mechanic Grove Church of the Brethren, serving as moderator. Several “sectional meetings” to discuss upcoming business at district conference had already been scheduled for September.
By Kucheli Shankster Beecham
I grew up feeling like the Nigerian people were a part of my family. When I was young, both my Shankster grandparents and my Royer grandparents were still living and serving in Nigeria, so I was pretty familiar with their food, clothing, crafts (think etched calabash bowls and leather goods!) along with a few words and expressions. Plus, I share a name with a few of the Bura women of Nigeria. Now as an adult, my life is pretty far removed from theirs, but I still feel a kinship with them and their culture.
Every time there has been something about Nigeria in the news, it grabs my attention. I’ve followed the stories about kidnappings and the destruction of villages in a way that someone truly concerned but far away and personally/physically unaffected by the urgency and destruction might follow, and I’ve prayed for them over the years.
So what a privilege to visit some of the camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) recently and look in the eyes and shake the hands of these people who have been through so much! The personal connection does a lot to move us to pray and move our feet to “go,” as Jesus commands us.
As I looked around and took in the conditions and the people in their new villages, it was hard to tell how they felt or in what condition their spiritual lives were. We didn’t have time to talk much, and we often did not share a language.
There were some counseling programs discussed, which seem very important right now. I don’t know how the people whose homes were burned and loved ones killed feel toward their persecutors. Do they have a deep enough faith and strong relationship with God that they are able to forgive and even pray for their enemies? Do they carry a lot of hate around with them? Indeed, many of these people have a long road of recovery ahead of them. Drawing close to God along with Christian counseling will be key in healing.
Another key to the healing process are the accommodations provided for them in the camps. I was impressed with the way their lives seem to have taken on a new routine in their temporary homes. For some it’s become a new permanent home. It was evident—in some places more than others—that the people were putting to good use the provisions they had been supplied with and putting their own industrious ideas to work, as well. Where land was available, crops were being planted. As it was the beginning of the rainy season and thus planting time, we could see evidence of this as we traveled to different areas. In one place they said were even planning to grow enough to sell the surplus. It was amazing to see the transformation from dry brown earth to green rows of crops once the rains came.
Other attempts at creating routine and facilitating healing were the efforts to teach the children, although they didn’t have a lot in the way of school supplies and didn’t always have enough qualified teachers.
Places we visited like the orphanage and the Headquarters Women’s Center have skills acquisition programs where they also supply the tools at the completion of the programs. These seemed like useful endeavors with potential to start some of the young people out with the means to provide for themselves.
I loved seeing the huge group of women gathered for a church conference. I pray God will use them mightily to build up their fellow believers and be the light of Jesus in their communities since they came from many different areas. I brought back with me a desire to encourage—though I can’t imagine how—and determination to pray for those I was able to connect with.
—Kucheli Shankster Beecham is a descendant of Church of the Brethren Nigeria mission workers. She made a trip to Nigeria earlier this summer with Roxane Hill, coordinator of the Church of the Brethren’s Nigeria Crisis Response, to see Disaster Relief Ministry work.
—Sue Cushen Snyder, who served for 12 years in the general secretary’s office at the Church of the Brethren offices in Elgin, Ill., as an office coordinator and assistant, died on Aug. 16 in Murfreesboro, Tenn. She was 81. She also later served seven years in Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS) and as a volunteer assistant in the BVS office. An ordained minister, she was a 1996 alumna of Bethany Theological Seminary. A celebration of life service will be held at a later date.
—Western Pennsylvania District is seeking a financial secretary, a position of about 16 hours per week. Requirements include financial book keeping, data entry, good knowledge of computer accounting programs and office skills. To receive an application and job description, email, call, or write the district office by Sept. 7. Applications will be accepted until Sept. 12. Send to district minister William Wenger at email@example.com or call 814-479-2181.
—Shenandoah District is looking for a new, part-time director of communications. Details are at http://files.constantcontact.com/071f413a201/927eb587-6b8f-4988-b48a-cfd08cdc842b.pdf.
—The 48th annual Dunker Church Worship Service will be held Sunday, Sept. 16, at the Antietam National Battlefield in Sharpsburg, Md. Bethany Theological Seminary professor Scott Holland will be the keynote speaker for the service, which commemorates the peace witness of the Brethren during the Civil War. The service, sponsored by the Mid-Atlantic District of the Church of the Brethren, is held on the Sunday nearest the anniversary of the Battle of Antietam.
—Western Plains District will hold its annual “The Gathering” event Oct. 26-28 in Salina, Kan. Annual Conference moderator Donita Keister, Church of the Brethren Global Mission Partnerships executive director Jay Wittmeyer, and Wiley (Colo.) Community Church pastor Michael Schneider are this year’s keynote speakers. Information is at www.wpcob.org.
—The Virlina District Disabilities Ministries Committee will hold an “Open Arms, Open Doors” event Sept. 8 at Summerdean Church of the Brethren in Roanoke, Va. The committee plans to conduct a “needs survey” through roundtable sharing.
—The major Brethren Disaster Relief Auction in Lebanon, Pa., a joint project of Atlantic Northeast and Southern Pennsylvania districts, is scheduled for Sept. 21-22. Details are at https://brethrenauction.org/. The annual event began in 1977 and raises large amounts for disaster response efforts.
—Andrew Young, former US Ambassador to the United Nations and mayor of Atlanta and a noted civil rights leader, will visit Manchester University (North Manchester, Ind.) Sept. 29. He will take part in the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Jean Childs Young Intercultural Center, named for his late wife—a 1954 Manchester alumna.
—Ahmed Abdelmageed, assistant dean of Student, Alumni, and Community Engagement at Manchester University’s College of Pharmacy in Fort Wayne, received this year’s Distinguished Community Leader Award from the Indiana Leadership Association.
—McPherson (Kan.) College is reporting the highest enrollment in the school’s history, with a full-time equivalent enrollment of 775 students this fall. Overall student retention is 80 percent, also a high. “The best indicator of quality is when people keep coming back,” McPherson president Michael Schneider said.
—The 20th annual Camp Mack Festival will take place on Oct. 6 in Milford, Ind. The camp’s major fundraiser includes food, tournaments, and a live auction.
—The church board of La Verne (Calif.) Church of the Brethren recently adopted a statement titled “Welcoming the Stranger: A Call for Just Immigration Reform.” Co-signed by more than 100 members of the church community, the statement begins: “We the undersigned … reaffirm the Church of the Brethren’s 1982 Annual conference statement on undocumented persons and refugees in the United States. ‘The Church of the Brethren has long acknowledged the Bible’s call for justice in immigration policy. Matthew 25:35 says, ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me,’ which reminds us that our response to ‘the least of these’ is just as important as the manner in which we would choose to treat Christ.’” It calls for immediate reunification of families that have been separated, providing just due process, and ending the government’s “zero tolerance” policy.
—Akron (Ohio) Springfield Church of the Brethren will celebrate its 150th anniversary Sept. 29-30. Saturday afternoon events feature an old buggy available for pictures, a historical skit, and sharing of memories. A hymn sing will take place in the evening followed by cake and ice cream. Bethany Theological Seminary president Jeff Carter will speak at the Sunday morning service, followed by a fellowship meal.
—Ankeny (Iowa) Church of the Brethren will celebrate its 150th anniversary Sept. 29-30. Saturday’s message will be brought by interim pastor Barbra Davis; on Sunday morning, Keith Funk will share the message. The theme is “150 Years and Our Story is Still Unfolding.”
—The “Times-Republican” newspaper of Marshalltown, Iowa, reported that the local Conrad (Iowa) Foods Resource Bank Growing Project held its sixth annual corn feed on Aug. 19 to celebrate the project. Ivester Church of the Brethren is among the ecumenical project’s sponsors. Proceeds benefit worldwide hunger relief.
—A new Dunker Punks podcast features Laura Weimer interviewing Melody Fitzgerald Foster, who attended the “Families Belong Together” march in Washington, D.C. The two discuss how protesting, politics, and faith intertwine. The podcast is created by more than a dozen Brethren young adults across the country. Listen at http://bit.ly/DPP_Episode64 or subscribe on iTunes: http://bit.ly/DPP_iTunes.
—Everence is announcing the availability of the Safe Church Grant, which was introduced in July. The grants help “to reimburse churches for costs they incur to keep people in their care safe from sexual or other forms of abuse,” a release stated. Churches can receive help in those goals from organizations such as Dove’s Nest or GRACE, although Everence said it doesn’t endorse any particular consultant. Churches with an Everence Stewardship Advocate can apply for the one-time grant of up to $350 to reimburse program expenses incurred in the past 12 months. It can be used to develop policies, do training, or implement programs. Call 800-348-7468 for more information or visit everence.com/safe-church-grant.
—Mennonite Church USA formally installed Glen Guyton as its executive director on Aug. 18. Guyton, previously Chief Operating Officer and director of convention planning, is the first African-American to serve in the role. His three-year term officially began on May 1.