One of the best meetings I’ve attended recently was a district conference. One might not have expected it to be so uplifting, since the agenda included closing two congregations, recognizing the sale of a retirement facility, and deliberating about a potentially difficult query.
In its favor, the meeting did have all the attractions of a quintessential Church of the Brethren get-together: meaningful worship, opportunities to learn, fellowship with friends old and new, a hearty lunch, lots of snacks, and a closing auction that elicited laughter and generosity.
But in addition to these things, the business was leavened with a lightness of spirit.
The congregations that had closed were remembered with stories of their vitality over the years and a recounting of how, even in their closing, their assets had been used to extend their ministries. One church had been founded in 1845 and the other in 1919. There was sadness, but also gratitude for lives well lived.
The story of the retirement home’s founding and flourishing was told through words and photos. The eventual necessary sale was accomplished in a way that cared for both residents and staff. While there was a real sense of loss, the focus was on moving from mourning to celebrating the institution’s 130 years of ministry and its legacy of Christian care.
And the potentially contentious item of business proceeded smoothly, perhaps because disagreements had been aired in a hearing the week before. During the conference discussion, what people highlighted was how the district has in recent years been able to reach across differences and knit itself together. There was genuine affection, which seemed to allow people to see the best in each other.
Delegates named this spirit, and wondered if was a gift that could be shared with others across the Church of the Brethren. Could others see how these people love each other? While this district is not large, its members seemed hopeful and imaginative rather than limited or small.
“Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind,” says 1 Peter 3:8. What a witness that would be among those who call themselves Brethren. What a witness that would be for a wounded world.
Wendy McFadden is executive director of Brethren Press and Communications for the Church of the Brethren.