1) The Manchester Church of the Brethren, North Manchester, Ind., was destroyed Wednesday by fire.
2) A Manchester congregation member reflects on what was lost, but what was saved.
3) The Butler Chapel A.M.E. church in Orangeburg, S.C. will be dedicated this weekend.
4) WWW.Brethren.Org, the new official denominational web site, is now online with information about the Butler Chapel dedication and the Manchester church burning.
5) The site committee assessing the future location of the General Board’s centralized offices convenes, tours the General Offices in Elgin, Ill.
6) The General Board’s Executive Director Search Committee convenes.
7) The General Board’s Congregational Life Team coordinators convene for the first time to begin implementing the new ministry of the General Board and the districts.
8) Carol Yeazell is named to a dual General Board/district position.
9) The first Older Adult workcamp, sponsored by Association of Brethren Caregivers, is being held this week in Puerto Rico.
10) June Gibble joins Association of Brethren Caregivers as a part-time field staff.
11) The General Board announces a half-time opening for an area financial resource counselor, to be located west of the Mississippi River.
12) A shipment of typewriters and books donated by Brethren arrives in Nigeria.
13) A retreat for families with gay and lesbian members, to be led by Debbie Eisenbise and Lee Krahenbuhl, is scheduled for March 20-22.
14) The top three finalists of the National Youth Conference Speech Contest will be offered scholarships at Manchester College if they study religion or philosophy.
15) Travel seminars to Russia for young adults and adults are being offered this summer by the National Council of Churches.
16) Brethren Volunteer Service worker Torin Eikenberry, who spent much of 1997 assisting in the reconstruction of the Butler Chapel A.M.E. church, describes his experience.
The Manchester Church of the Brethren, North Manchester, Ind., was destroyed Wednesday by a fierce fire that was responded to by 10 area fire departments. Firefighters were on the scene most of the day Wednesday after the fire was first reported by a Manchester police officer at 2:06 a.m., while on his routine nightly patrol.
According to the Manchester News-Journal, it took more than 30 minutes to get an aerial fire truck on the scene, as the local fire department does not have such equipment. The aerial fire truck that did assist in dousing the blaze came from Wabash, a 20-mile trip. It was reported that firefighters were hampered in dousing the blaze due to the fact that the church’s natural gas cutoff valve was located inside the building, preventing firefighters from turning off the gas for some time.
The intensity of the fire was evident from the fact that raindrops poured in North Manchester Wednesday evening and well into Thursday, and yet firefighters were reportedly called back to the scene Thursday morning to extinguish the smoldering embers located in a heap of what had served as the sanctuary.
“It’s a real overwhelming experience, a devastating experience,” said Susan Boyer, pastor.
The Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms arrived on the scene Wednesday and will spend several days determining the cause of the fire, a normal response by the agency, even though there is no indication of foul play.
About 150 church members gathered in the pouring rain Wednesday night for a short time of worship and prayer. This Sunday’s service, a time for grieving and worship, said Boyer, will be held at the local high school. Until further notice, worship services thereafter will be held at Manchester College’s Cordier Auditorium.
Though the sanctuary is gutted, the newest addition that was built in the 1970s — which included the Jubilee room, rest rooms and the church’s elevator — was relatively unscathed. So, too, was a new $1.4 million Christian education wing that was under construction at the opposite end of the building. The church’s offices and nursery school are housed on-site but in other buildings, and thus were not affected.
As of noon Thursday the estimated monetary damage to the church had not been determined, said David Wine, president of Mutual Aid Association, the Brethren-affiliated organization that insures the Manchester church and about half of the 1,100 Church of the Brethren congregations. Three MAA staffers — Glenn Welborn, director of Loss Services; Debbi Hanson, director of Marketing; and Jo Schwartz, director of Customer Services — all members of Buckeye Church of the Brethren, Abilene, Kan. — were en route to North Manchester Thursday to provide monetary adjustment services and emotional support through counseling. “Clearly we take our affiliation with the Church of the Brethren very seriously,” Wine said. “We feel we need to be the church at times like these.”
Some of the items lost can’t be replaced by an insurance company, such as the 20 baby quilts produced by the congregation’s quilting club, which were bundled up, ready for shipment to Bethany Hospital in Chicago. Also lost by the club were five sewing machines and a comforter, which, ironically, was made to be handed out in case a local family lost its home due to fire.
While church members are devastated about losing their house of worship, they are aware that the church is the people, said Boyer, who added the congregation is blessed that no one was hurt.
In a strong show of support, local congregations of the Church of the Brethren and other faith backgrounds have overwhelmed the Manchester congregation with tangible offers of support, Boyer said. “We really would appreciate people’s prayers for us as we seek to hear God’s vision
for us and the church.”
A rebuilding fund has been established at the Indiana Lawrence Bank, 106 N. Market Street, North Manchester, IN 46962. Letters containing contributions to the fund should be clearly marked with the words “Manchester Church Reconstruction.”
Wednesday night’s vigil beside the shell of the Manchester Church of the Brethren was attended by about 150 people, including member Julie Garber, who serves as book and curriculum editor for Brethren Press —
“As I stood shoulder to shoulder in the pouring rain Wednesday night after the fire, I remembered that just Sunday in worship I had been looking around the sanctuary thinking how plain, how austere it was. I wasn’t sorry; I was glad for the simplicity.
“The real beauty in the congregation is in people such as Elizabeth Gaier, who, as a teenager, made gigantic silhouettes of Bethlehem from garbage bags to cover the barnish walls of the sanctuary one Christmas. And philosopher-farmer Bob Beery. And full-of-life Tim Rieman. And storyteller Joan Deeter. And rich-voiced Marilyn Yoder. And Claire Brumbaugh-Smith, chirping during the children’s story. And John Fuller, the blind man who could “see” everything. And the stately Edward Kintner in his plain coat and button-up shoes. And hundreds of others who grace
and adorn the church.
“Thank God they were standing there with me in body and spirit, unscathed by fire. Even my life-long friend, Wendy Gratz, was there. She had grown up in the church, but had long since married into the Jewish faith. She, her husband, Lou, and the children stood with us. We as a congregation lost a meetinghouse. We saved a church.”
In March 1996, the Butler Chapel A.M.E. church in Orangeburg, S.C., was destroyed by fire, one of more than 100 black churches to be burned in a wave of race-related church burnings in southern states over a two-year period. The burning of that small congregation in that small town had no impact at the time on the Church of the Brethren, as neither knew the other existed.
However, the Church of the Brethren General Board and its Emergency Response/Service Ministries decided to reach out to sisters and brothers of faith, joining the movement of the National Council of Churches to help rebuild some of the burned black churches. Because of that, the lives of Brethren and Butler Chapel members will forever be tied.
Throughout much of 1997, Emergency Response/Service Ministries was on-site at Butler Chapel, coordinating the rebuilding of that congregation’s church. The Church of the Brethren disaster ministry and Brethren districts and congregations provided about two-thirds of the labor that went into rebuilding the church, as other groups and organizations looking to help rebuild a burnt church were also assigned to Butler Chapel. In all, 197 Brethren volunteered to work on the project, for a total of 1,140 work days and 9,120 hours, labor that is valued at $109,440.
Now that the building is completed, the celebrating begins. Today through Sunday Butler Chapel will be holding a series of dedication-service-related activities, with the dedication of the building being held Sunday afternoon. Many Brethren will be in attendance, with some traveling together on a bus supplied by York (Pa.) First Church of the Brethren.
Newsline will have a comprehensive report of the dedication next week, and the event will also be covered in the March issue of Messenger.
Additional stories and pictures of the Manchester Church and the Butler Chapel rebuilding are available at http://WWW.Brethren.Org/genbd/rebuild.htm, the official Church of the Brethren denominational web site. A full report on the Butler Chapel dedication weekend will be posted on that web site by 6 p.m. Central Monday.
The web site, a cooperative project among Bethany Theological Seminary, Brethren Benefit Trust, Brethren Employee’s Credit Union and the General Board, is not fully operational at this time, but does include the seminary’s complete web site in addition to the Manchester and Butler Chapel coverage. It is hoped that the other partner organizations will have material up on the site by Feb. 1.
The site committee charged with determining the future location of the General Board’s centralized offices met this week at the Church of the Brethren General Offices in Elgin, Ill. The committee, which has representatives from the General Board, the Annual Conference office and Brethren Benefit Trust, used the time to do exactly what it did on Nov. 24 when it visited the other main Church of the Brethren campus in New Windsor, Md.: It toured the facility and met with the local development director of a government organization. This week the group met with the executive director of Development for the Elgin Area Chamber of Commerce. In November the group met with the executive director of the Carroll County Economic Council.
Although both properties have been appraised, these meetings were used by the committee to learn from the local experts an assessment of the worth of both properties, and the kind of attractions and inducements each area has in attracting/retaining businesses. According to Joe Mason, the General Board’s interim executive director and chair of the site committee, both development experts were loaded with data that proved to be useful background material.
The committee plans to convene again Jan. 14 via conference call to plan the content for the progress report it will make to the General Board when the board next convenes in March. There is the expectation by many that the site committee will make its final recommendation to the Board in March, because that recommendation, which originally was scheduled to be made last March, was extended for one year. However, Mason would not elaborate if the committee’s progress report would include its final site recommendation. “I can’t say what the content of the progress report will be,” he said, underscoring the need for General Board members to receive the committee’s report before details are made public.
The General Board’s Executive Director Search Committee met Thursday and Friday at the General Offices in Elgin, Ill., with two tasks on its agenda as it works toward presenting one to three candidates to the General Board at the Board’s March meetings.
Applications by prospective candidates were due to the committee in December. Thus, this meeting was intended for the screening of applications to determine the candidates who will be included in the first round of interviews. The committee also was expected to plan the specific interview process, said Mary Jo Flory Steury, committee chair.
Though she would not elaborate on the number of applicants, Steury said she is pleased by the standard the pool of applicants has set. “We have what I feel are solid candidates to be considering,” she said. She added that the committee expects the interview process to begin in early February.
Steury said the committee as a whole feels a lot of support for the work it is trying to accomplish. “I’m very grateful for the words of support and encouragement and prayers that are being said on our behalf.”
A major step in the evolution of the General Board’s Congregational Life Teams took place this week at the General Offices in Elgin, Ill., as the coordinators for the five areas that span the denomination’s 23 districts met for the first time to work on the launching of their respective teams.
The five, convening with Glenn Timmons, director of Congregational Life Ministries, had an agenda that included meeting with other select General Board staff, being orientated to the General Board and its ministries, and defining the Congregational Life Team’s start-up activities, which includes a suggested process for developing a “covenant partnership” with the districts in each of the areas. The fourteen people who eventually will comprise the Congregational Life Teams staff will work in cooperation and coordination with district boards and staff, and as partners in the resourcing of and consulting with congregations. Eleven of the 14 CLT staff have been named.
The coordinators who met this week are Jeff Glass, Julie Hostetter, Jan Kensinger, Beth Sollenberger-Morphew and David Smalley.
The main objective, following Ephesians 4:12, is to “equip congregations for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,” Timmons said. “That means assisting congregations, clarifying their call, identifying their gifts and resources, discovering local and global needs, and developing the options for a ministry response.” Timmons added, “The coordinators are excited and eager to get started.”
The official start date of the Congregation Life Teams is Jan. 15. For more information, contact Timmons at 800 323-8039.
Carol Yeazell of Valrico, Fla., has been called to a dual staff position of half-time Area 3 Congregational Life Team member for the General Board and half-time executive of Atlantic Southeast District, beginning Jan. 15.
Yeazell is an ordained minister and has served as interim pastor of Winter Park (Fla.) Church of the Brethren. She is fluent in Spanish and has extensive experience working in Puerto Rico, which is part of the Atlantic Southeast District. She has served as executive director of Beth-El Farm Worker Ministry in Florida and most recently as executive director of the United States/Mexico Chamber of Commerce — Gulf States Region. She also operated a family business for 25 years.
The first Church of the Brethren workcamp geared specifically for older adults began Thursday in Puerto Rico. Fifteen people are attending the mission trip, the first in a series of related trips that will be sponsored by the Older Adult Ministries Cabinet and the Association of Brethren Caregivers. The workcamp will conclude Jan. 19.
The work project is with Yahuecas Church of the Brethren, located near Castaner. During the trip, participants will also have opportunities for church visits and sight seeing. Interest for the trip was so great that 19 people were on a waiting list for the workcamp/mission trip.
Mary Sue and Bruce Rosenberger are leading the group. Mary Sue served as a volunteer nurse in Castaner in 1965 and is now chaplain at The Brethren’s Home, Greenville, Ohio. She is author of “Light of the Spirit: The Brethren in Puerto Rico 1942-1992.” Bruce, pastor of Greenville Church of the Brethren since 1981, has led two previous workcamps in Puerto Rico.
“This workcamp promises to be a meaningful journey,” said Jay Gibble, ABC program field staff. “It will be a cultural exchange where those who go will learn about the life and mission of the church in Puerto Rico while sharing their time, energy and resources as a witness of God’s love.”
June Adams Gibble has joined the Association of Brethren Caregivers as half-time program field staff, effective Jan. 1. Her responsibilities include providing leadership to the Church of the Brethren’s deacon ministry group and other ministry groups.
“With the creation of the program field staff position, we plan to devote more staff time to working directly with individuals and organizations of the denomination, in addition to fostering interdenominational relationships within ABC’s mission areas,” said Steve Mason, ABC’s executive director.
Prior to joining ABC, Gibble served the General Board for 10 years as director of Congregational Nurture and Worship.
ABC, which had served as a ministry of the General Board, became independent Jan. 1 as a result of action taken by the General Board in March 1997 as one facet of the Board’s redesign.
The Church of the Brethren General Board is seeking a part-time area financial resource counselor who will serve west of the Mississippi River. Requirements include having the ability to combine people and technical skills, having a customer service mentality, being familiar with Church of the Brethren culture in the western United States, having a bachelor’s degree, and being able to travel regularly throughout the region. Application deadline is Feb. 28. For more information contact Elsie Holderread at 800 323-8039.
A shipment of used manual typewriters and books, donated by Brethren from across the country, arrived in Nigeria on Dec. 18. The materials included books for the Kulp Bible College library near Mubi, textbooks and typewriters for the Mason Technical School in Garkida, and a Braille Bible.
The shipment had been in process for many months while the clearing and shipping processes were being finalized by staff at the Brethren Service Center, New Windsor, Md. “These items will expand the capabilities of these leadership training centers of the Nigerian church,” said Merv Keeney, director of the Church of the Brethren General Board’s Global Mission Partnerships. “Leadership development has been a priority of our joint mission in Nigeria in recent years as the Nigerian church seeks to provide leaders for its fast-growing congregations.”
Many of the typewriters had been collected by the Church of the Brethren Western Plains District. Janet and John Tubbs, formerly of the Rocky Ford (Colo.) Church of the Brethren, have served as teachers and administrators of the technical school since May 1995. They recently requested computers for the technical school’s office management program. When technical specifications can be clarified, this equipment will also be sought, Keeney said.
“Building Bridges Across a Chasm of Silence,” a weekend for families with gay and lesbian members, is scheduled for March 20-22 at Laurelville Mennonite Church Center, Mount Pleasant, Pa. Debbie Eisenbise and Lee Krahenbuhl, pastors of Skyridge Church of the Brethren, Kalamazoo, Mich., will provide leadership. According to seminar’s brochure, this “connecting families weekend” is intended to be “a safe, relaxing time to share our common concerns regarding homosexuality as it affects our families and our churches. Its purpose is to provide a context and settings for connections, worship, support and understanding for families with gay and lesbian members.” Cost is $150. For more information, contact Gwen Peachey at 717 354-7001.
Manchester College and the General Board’s Youth and Young Adult Ministries this week announced that Manchester will offer scholarships to the top three finalists of this year’s National Youth Conference Speech Contest, if those winners attend the Northern Indiana Brethren-affiliated college and study religion or philosophy.
The first place finalist will receive a $4,000 scholarship over four years. The second place finalist will receive $2,400; the third will receive $1,600.
The eight- to 10-minute speeches should be based on the theme, “… with Eyes of Faith,” using one of the following scriptures: 2 Corinthians 5:7; Hebrews 11:1 or Mark 10:46-52. For more information contact Brian Yoder at 800 323-8039.
Two travel seminars to Russia — one for adults, one for young adults — are being offered this summer by the National Council of Churches.
The adult seminar, which will take participants along Russia’s waterways, is scheduled for June 6-19. Cities scheduled to be visited include Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kizhi, Petrezavodsk, Irma, Yuroskavl, Kostroma and Uglich. The group will visit churches during their journey along the Volga River, will talk with church leaders and will participate in seminar discussions. Cost is $2,800 from New York City. For more information, call Bruce Rigdon at 313 882-5330.
The young adult seminar, a workcamp for 25 participants, is scheduled for July 26 – Aug. 15. After a two-day orientation process in New York City, the young adults and two leaders/interpreters will depart for the 17th century Iversky Monastery in Lake Vladayskoke, near Novgorod. There they will help renovate the monastery, participate in religious services and visit some nearby villages as well as St. Petersburg and Moscow. Approximate cost is $2,200. For more information, call the NCC Europe office at 212 870-2667.
It is an unfortunate irony that Torin Eikenberry, a Brethren Volunteer Service worker who spent much of 1997 working on the rebuilding of the Butler Chapel A.M.E. church in Orangeburg, S.C., for the Church of the Brethren Emergency Response/Service Ministries, is a member of the Manchester Church of the Brethren that on Wednesday lost its building to fire. Although Eikenberry’s purpose in Orangeburg was to help rebuild a church, his experience also rebuilt his understanding of the people who form a congregation he knew very little about just a year ago. In the current issue of Volunteer, the BVS newsletter, Eikenberry tells his story —
“Continuing the work of Jesus. Peacefully. Simply. Together.” is our denomination’s identity tagline. If I recall correctly, Jesus never rebuilt any churches, but he did spend a considerable amount of time encouraging relationships and fostering understanding between people with different cultures and histories. This is the more important work of the Church of the Brethren Emergency Response program. We use repairing and rebuilding as a means to empower those recovering from the destructive touch of nature and as an opportunity to build relationships and cultivate understanding. Never have I seen this work more fruitful than in Orangeburg, South Carolina.
I departed for South Carolina and the Butler Chapel A.M.E. Church rebuilding project with some trepidation. Lacking construction experience, I questioned my ability to direct the rebuilding. In addition, I was charged to instigate and facilitate discussion among the volunteers on the topic of racism, as well as to build and nurture a relationship with the Butler Chapel congregation. Having only minor exposure to black culture, I felt unqualified to facilitate real work on racism and feared offending the volunteers and the congregation with which I would be working. What I had not foreseen was the power of love shown through volunteering.
I arrived in Orangeburg with several misconceptions and a good deal of bias. I felt that I would be held responsible for the hundreds of years of subjugation and crimes that persist today. I foresaw tepid welcomes, guarded looks and begrudging cooperation from the members of the church, and I was a little scared of the response I would get from those who were pleased by the burning. I also assumed I would be working with people ignorant of the world outside South Carolina and unskilled in all but menial labor. I didn’t know how to begin a relationship with people of such a different intellectual and cultural background. In the end, I was too scared to reach out first. Fortunately, the Butler Chapel members were not at all intimidated by our differences. They welcomed me with warm smiles and open arms, though they, too, were nervous about me.
During the two weeks before any Emergency Response volunteers arrived in Orangeburg, I worked with several members of Butler Chapel and the surrounding community. Together, we filled the foundation and poured the concrete floor of the church. At noon, we sat together for lunch and conversation, and as I began to understand the local dialect, I found that I was among interesting people. Each day, I learned more about my colleagues and discovered that we shared many commonalities to offset our differences. I was surprised to discover that many Butler Chapel folk were well educated, quite cosmopolitan, highly skilled and quite open about racial issues. As that knowledge set in, I became aware of my assumptions and felt ashamed that I held the same stereotypes I despise in others.
Throughout the summer, I dutifully managed the rebuilding project and developed a program to introduce and discuss the vague, confusing subject of white privilege (systemic racism). All of those discussions helped me recognize white privilege and enabled me to work against it in my daily interactions. Still, as I grew to know, accept and love the members of Butler Chapel, my feelings of guilt increased and I began to skirt conversations about the evolution of racism in the area. My new friends picked that up on some level, and we began to pull away from each other while our conversations began to be confined to discussions of work.
Thankfully, pastor Patrick Mellerson realized what was happening and confronted me. He and I share a friendship unique in my experience. It found its seed in our common curiosity and grew as we shared all of our ignorance and questions about each other’s culture. It provided a safe place for us to learn about our differences without fear of giving offense.
In this vein, Patrick came to me and asked what was wrong. I began to express my shame and guilt. I explained that I had cherished, in the back of my mind, the thought that I was innately superior to any black. As I elaborated, speaking of my assumptions about the education, skills and provincial nature of blacks, Patrick listened silently. His response — “Let me ask you this: Do you still feel that way now?” — was more powerful for coming from that silence. I answered, “No. The more I talk with you all, the more I realize that we all share the same love, needs and worries, the same feelings.” He told me then that he had shared some of my assumptions. He described a childhood where everyone wanted to be white, where “get down with your black self” was an insult. He explained that he had often held stereotypes and had wondered about our real motives for helping rebuild the church. In the end, he told me that talking to me and the volunteers had convinced him that we were helping out of love. He said he could not have imagined that there were so many white folks who would take their vacations, come all the way to South Carolina and work for a week to help rebuild the church.
“That’s love,” he said, “and you can’t be racist if you love your brothers and sisters.”
As I thought about his words, I realized that we all have biases and stereotypes based on experience and familiarity. There is no shame in that. What we should feel guilt about is refusing to see the truth about someone because of some superfluous characteristic. We need to reach past the restrictive nature of such assumptions if we wish to build relationships and learn.
Patrick often says, “If you want to talk about color, let’s talk about red. That’s the color of all our blood.”
I am humbled that he can say that with the authority of love and belief while I still struggle to free myself of fear and prejudice.