Newsline for March 1, 2006

“He answered, `You shall love the Lord your God….'” — Luke 10:27a


1) New Sunday school curriculum is launched for Brethren, Mennonites.
2) Beckwith and Zuercher head Annual Conference ballot.
3) Review and Evaluation survey is available online and in Source mailing.
4) Sustaining Pastoral Excellence identifies leadership as a key issue.
5) Selected members receive survey on beliefs, faith, and practices of the Brethren.
6) Brethren bits: Remembrance, call for writers, and much more.


7) Jeff Garber resigns as director of Employee Benefit Plans for Brethren Benefit Trust.
8) Greg and Karin Davidson Laszakovits complete term of service in Brazil.


9) Workcampers are sought to rebuild Guatemalan village.


10) Haitian Brethren leader shares hope for recent elections.

For more Church of the Brethren news, go to, click on “News” to find a news feature, more “Brethren bits,” links to Brethren in the news, and links to the General Board’s photo albums and the Newsline archive. The page is updated as close to daily as possible.

1) New Sunday school curriculum is launched for Brethren, Mennonites.

Gather ’Round: Hearing and Sharing God’s Good News, a new Sunday school curriculum, has been launched by Brethren Press and Mennonite Publishing Network.

The Bible-based curriculum offers sessions for all ages of children and youth, as well as a class for parents and caregivers of children, and a multiage option for grades K-6. Each group studies the same text on the same Sunday.

Gather ’Round offers lessons for “Preschool” (ages 3-4, with tips for 2s); “Primary” (grades K-2); “Middler” (grades 3-5); “Junior Youth” (grades 6-8); “Youth” (in a downloadable format for grades 9-12); “Multiage” (grades K-6, with tips for older students); and “Parent/Caregiver” (for adults who care for children, suitable for group or individual study). New materials are produced each quarter of each year for every age group.

The first quarter of the curriculum is scheduled to be used in churches this fall. Materials may be ordered now from Brethren Press (800-441-3712).

The launch event Feb. 10-12 in Pittsburgh, Pa., was also a training workshop for more than 100 Christian educators and staff of the Church of the Brethren, Mennonite Church Canada, and Mennonite Church USA.

“It is exciting to be here to launch this curriculum,” Brethren Press publisher Wendy McFadden told the gathering. The new curriculum was dedicated at the opening worship service, during which each participant received and held a sample kit, standing in a large circle as prayers of thanksgiving were said.

Christian educators received training to promote the curriculum in their areas. They heard that Gather ’Round marks a new beginning for Christian formation in the three denominations. The curriculum includes a new focus on strengthening the relationship between church and home, and an intentional emphasis on worship and keeping the focus on God. The curriculum makes a renewed commitment to the inviting of questions from learners, and the call to share the Anabaptist faith.

Presenters emphasized that Gather ’Round is biblically based. “Gather ’Round is a new curriculum that tells the old story in a new way,” said Eleanor Snyder of Mennonite Publishing Network. The three foundational texts for the curriculum are Luke 10:27, Matthew 18:20, and Deuteronomy 6:4-9–the shema.

Gather ’Round may be the first Sunday school curriculum to offer a class for parents and caregivers, the publishers said. Another feature is a multiage option designed for small congregations. A unique piece called the “Talkabout” helps make the connection between church and home. The Talkabout for the fall quarter, a 14-sided cardboard “ball,” intrigued participants at the launch with its suggestions to spark talk about faith around the dinner table at home.

Marlene Bogard, who led the group through a sample session of the “Connect” book for parents and caregivers, urged those who use the parent material not to think too narrowly about its possibilities. “Think mother’s group,” she said, “think Bible study, think Wednesday evening. It’s a flexible curriculum.”

“Our curriculum is different” than those of larger publishers because it shares our Anabaptist heritage, Anna Speicher said. Speicher is the director and editor of the Gather ’Round curriculum. Designed for busy teachers who may or may not have time to research scripture texts for themselves, each lesson includes a short Bible insight piece by a Brethren or Mennonite biblical scholar.

“We are trying to embed Anabaptist principles through and through,” said Speicher.

Christian educators had a first chance to explore the new materials in their sample kits on the first evening of the launch. Then, over the next two days, they were led through a series of activities to help them explore the materials more thoroughly. A workshop on music was led by musician and pastor/teacher Gwen Gustafson-Zook, who wrote one of the Gather ’Round theme songs. Other workshops were offered on new ways to tell Bible stories, the church-home connection, and activities for different ways that people learn, called “multiple intelligences.”

Worship experiences throughout the training drew on the different student books. Worship focused on the shema, which begins, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God….” The passage from Deuteronomy is the memory verse for the first quarter of the curriculum.

Closing worship included a “shema walk,” with activity stations on different aspects of the text: a table for making scrolls of the text, cards offering topics to spark conversation, a box of prizes for each Bible verse a participant could recite, and materials to make bracelets symbolizing the command to carry the text on the body as well as in the heart.

“I’m delighted that I’ll be able to take this back to share with our congregations and our district,” said Linda McCauliff, associate district minister for Western Pennsylvania District. “I’m just really proud that our denominations continue to publish curriculum to share not only our heritage but Brethren beliefs.”

Pam Reist, associate pastor at Lititz (Pa.) Church of the Brethren, was on the advisory committee for the curriculum. At the launch, she saw final materials for the first time. “I’m really pleased to see how attractive the finished product is,” she said. “It’s a very good product, better than anything else.”

For more about Gather ’Round, and to download free samples, go to


2) Beckwith and Zuercher head Annual Conference ballot.

The Annual Conference Office has announced the ballot for the 2006 Annual Conference, to be held July 1-5 in Des Moines, Iowa. The Nominating Committee of Standing Committee developed a slate of candidates, and Standing Committee then voted to create the ballot that will be presented. Nominees are listed by position.

  • Annual Conference Moderator-Elect: James M. Beckwith of Lebanon, Pa.; Tom Zuercher of Ashland, Ohio.
  • Annual Conference Program and Arrangements Committee: Robert D. Kettering of Manheim, Pa.; Scott L. Duffey of Westminster, Md.
  • Pastoral Compensation and Benefits Advisory Committee: Jill I. Loomis of Boalsburg, Pa.; Philip Hershey of Quarryville, Pa.
  • Committee on Interchurch Relations: Rene Quintanilla of Fresno, Calif.; Carolyn Schrock of Mountain Grove, Mo.
  • Association of Brethren Caregivers: Vernne Wetzel Greiner of Mechanicsburg, Pa.; Dave Fouts of Maysville, W.Va.; Ann M. Bach of Richmond, Ind.; Chris Whitacre of McPherson, Kan.
  • Bethany Theological Seminary, representing colleges: Betty Ann Ellis Cherry of Huntingdon, Pa.; Jonathan Frye of McPherson, Kan. Representing laity: Kathleen Long of North Liberty, Ind.; Rex M. Miller of Milford, Ind.
  • Brethren Benefit Trust: Eunice Culp of Goshen, Ind.; Daniel D. Joseph of Onekama, Mich.
  • General Board, at large: Ben Barlow of Dayton, Va.; Hector E. Perez-Borges of Bayamon, P.R.
  • On Earth Peace: Myrna Frantz of Haverhill, Iowa; Madalyn Metzger of Bristol, Ind.
3) Review and Evaluation survey is available online and in Source mailing.

The Review and Evaluation Study Committee of Annual Conference has created a survey and is requesting feedback from members of the denomination on multiple issues. The survey is available online at On March 3 the survey also is being distributed on paper to all congregations via the Source packet.

The Review and Evaluation Study Committee, at the direction of Annual Conference, is examining the effectiveness of existing organization and structure of the denomination, and the thoroughness and comprehension of denominational programs of the General Board, the Association of Brethren Caregivers, and On Earth Peace. The Committee also is studying the balance and unity of the witness and ministry of the denominational agencies as well as the collegiality and cooperation between Annual Conference agencies and the goals and programming of the districts.

The study committee will report to the 2007 Annual Conference in Cleveland, Ohio. “Your participation in the survey is appreciated and your input valued,” said Conference executive director Lerry Fogle.

4) Sustaining Pastoral Excellence identifies leadership as a key issue.

“A little over two years into the Sustaining Pastoral Excellence initiative of the Brethren Academy, exciting things are happening!” said director Jonathan Shively in a recent report. The initiative of the Brethren Academy for Ministerial Leadership is funded by a grant from the Lilly Endowment Inc. The academy is a joint program of Bethany Theological Seminary and the Church of the Brethren General Board.

While “pastors are being renewed and enlivened in their ministries,” Shively said, the initiative also has discovered an issue with leadership among Church of the Brethren pastors.

Overall, however, the initiative is having success, Shively said. “Congregations are being enriched by enhanced pastoral leadership,” he said. “New gifts are being discovered and exercised. Confidence is rising. A sense of purposefulness is emerging. God’s Spirit is leading in new and exciting ways.”

The new initiative, which offers continuing education events and support groups for experienced pastors, is also making new discoveries, Shively said. “One particularly surprising discovery has been an ambivalence around the inclusion of ‘leadership’ as part of the core identity of our pastors,” he said. “In our work with 18 pastors through Advanced Foundations of Church Leadership, we were caught off guard by the `dis-ease’ expressed toward the role of leader. Most of these pastors did not identify themselves as a leader per se, and held limited views on the extent to which the pastoral role could and/or should influence the vision, mission, and ministry of a congregation.”

The Advanced Foundations project, also a part of the Sustaining Pastoral Excellence initiative, has become a process of not only enhancing the leadership capacity of pastors, as originally designed, but also a process of self-discovery and identity formation for these pastors, Shively said. “The identity that is being discovered is an identity as leader, someone who can, through the appropriate exercise of influence, make a difference in the life and witness of the congregation with which they serve.”

Through the grant from the Lilly Endowment Inc., the academy has been able to offer the two-year Advanced Foundations study process virtually free of charge for pastors who participate. Eight four-day retreats over a two-year period structure this process of spiritual formation and leadership development.

Enrollment is currently open for the last Lilly-funded “cohort” group of pastors to begin work in Jan. 2007 and conclude in Nov. 2008. Pastors are encouraged to consider this opportunity. Brochures are available from the Brethren Academy or go to or e-mail for more information.

5) Selected members receive survey on beliefs, faith, and practices of the Brethren.

A study of members of the Church of the Brethren congregations in the US is being carried out by means of a survey form that was received by 3,000 individual members of the church in February.

The “CMP 2006: Church Member Profile” also is surveying other Anabaptist groups in the US, and is being conducted by the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown (Pa.) College. The senior project director is the Young Center’s Donald Kraybill, a professor at Elizabethtown and a member of Elizabethtown (Pa.) Church of the Brethren. The Brethren project director for the study is Carl D. Bowman, professor of sociology at Bridgewater (Va.) College.

The study focuses on the beliefs, faith, and practices of church members from all walks of life. “It is a way of taking the pulse of our church today,” said a cover letter that was mailed with the survey form.

The project is supported by the Annual Conference agencies. Funding also is being provided by other denominations being studied including Mennonites and Brethren in Christ. Results of the study “will help pastors, church leaders, and scholars to better understand the heartfelt concerns of members,” the letter said. “It will also help members better understand who the Brethren are as we prepare for the 300th anniversary of our church in 2008.”

Individual members of the denomination were randomly selected to receive the survey form “by a scientific process that assures that all voices and views across the church are heard,” the cover letter said. “Participants were selected from 115 congregations to represent the entire membership of the church.” The letter noted that it will take participants about an hour to answer the questions in the survey. Names of participants will not be connected with their answers.

For questions or comments call 717-361-1199 or e-mail


6) Brethren bits: Remembrance, call for writers, and much more.
  • Ruth Mary Halladay, who served as a missionary in Nigeria with the Church of the Brethren, died Feb. 6 at Timbercrest Health Care in North Manchester, Ind., at age 78. She served for three years as a teacher at the Teacher Training College and Secondary School in Waka, Nigeria, following Brethren Volunteer Service in Germany 1952-54. She also taught at several high schools in the US. She grew up in North Manchester, where her father taught music at Manchester College 1928-67. She was a graduate of the University of Wisconsin and Manchester College. In 1985 she retired from teaching high school in Hobart, Ind. A remembrance from Timbercrest noted that “it was Ruth’s spoken and written wish…to be remembered with a minute of silence during worship on the Sunday following her death.”
  • Curriculum writers are sought for the new Sunday school curriculum, Gather ’Round: Hearing and Sharing God’s Good News. The joint Brethren and Mennonite curriculum is accepting writer applications for its third curriculum year. A project of the Church of the Brethren, Mennonite Church Canada, and Mennonite Church USA, Gather ’Round will be available for congregational use beginning this fall. Curriculum units are designed for Preschool (ages 3-4, with tips for 2s), Primary (grades K-2), Middler (grades 3-5), Multiage (grades K-6, with tips for older students), Junior Youth (grades 6-8), Youth (grades 9-12), and Parent/Caregiver. Accepted writers will attend a writers conference Oct. 15-19, and begin writing immediately thereafter. First quarter materials will be due by Jan. 13, 2007. Writers generally commit to writing the entire curriculum year. Payment varies according to the writing requirements for each unit. For an application, contact the Gather ’Round project office at or call 847-742-5100. See for product samples and more information. Application deadline is May 31.
  • The National Youth Conference (NYC) Office has extended the Feb. 15 registration deadline for a free t-shirt to March 15. If NYC participants register online by March 15, they will receive a free NYC t-shirt in the mail with their registration information. To register and for more information about NYC, a national Church of the Brethren conference for high school-age youth that occurs only every four years, go to
  • One Great Hour of Sharing offering materials are available now from Brethren Press (call 800-441-3712). The offering emphasis on March 12 focuses on the needs of those around the world who live daily without access to water. The theme is “When was it that we saw you…thirsty?” from Matthew 25:37. Materials available free of charge include six pages of worship resources in English and Spanish; a “Scrapbook for Mission” with stories, facts, photos, art, craft patterns, and ideas related to mission in Sudan, Haiti, and Indonesia; a full-color poster; a video available in VHS and DVD formats titled “We Change the World”; “fishbank” boxes; bulletin inserts in English and Spanish; and offering envelopes.
  • On behalf of the Church of the Brethren, the Association of Brethren Caregivers (ABC) has signed on to the Cover the Uninsured Campaign, which focuses attention on the plight of nearly 46 million uninsured Americans. This marks the third year that ABC has joined the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s “Cover the Uninsured Week.” The campaign organizes a range of events to educate the public about the social injustice and compounding problems that the lack of health insurance brings to all Americans. ABC encourages Church of the Brethren congregations to participate in events planned for their areas during the week of May 1-7. This year, the campaign has plans for 2,240 events from coast-to-coast. To find out more, visit ABC has posted “A Call to Care for People Without Insurance” on the advocacy pages of its website at
  • The Brethren Witness/Washington Office is encouraging Brethren to join in the Ecumenical Advocacy Days for Global Peace with Justice, in Washington, D.C., March 10-13. The annual event began in 2003 as a gathering of religious advocates concerned about US foreign policy in Africa and the Middle East, the office said. In subsequent years the event has broadened to cover other areas of the world as well as economic justice, environmental justice, and global security issues. The theme of the 2006 event is “Challenging Disparity: The Promise of God–the Power of Solidarity.” Visit or for information. Brethren who attend are encouraged to contact the Brethren Witness/Washington Office at 800-785-3246.
  • In spite of an ice storm, Disaster Child Care (DCC) was very fortunate to have nine volunteers participate in a Level I Training Workshop scheduled at Beaverton (Mich.) Church of the Brethren on Feb. 17-18. Marie Willoughby, district executive minister of the Michigan District participated. Leadership was provided by DCC trainers Sheryl Faus and Lavonne Grubb, both from Pennsylvania. DCC training workshops are scheduled throughout the US to train volunteers to recognize and understand fears and other emotions young children experience during and after a traumatic event. The training equips volunteers with the necessary tools to set up special child care centers in disaster locations. For more information about Disaster Child Care, a ministry of the Church of the Brethren General Board, go to
  • The University of La Verne (Calif.) College of Law has been granted provisional accreditation from the American Bar Association, making it the only ABA-accredited law school in the inland southern California area, announced university president Stephen Morgan in a release from the Brethren-related school. Representatives from the university traveled to Chicago to present its case before the Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. The council recommended provisional approval, and the ABA delegate body voted to make the university’s College of Law the nation’s 192nd institution to receive accreditation. Prospective students from across the country will now be able to study at the College of Law and following graduation will be able to sit for bar exams in any state and, should they pass, practice law there.
  • The National Council of Churches USA (NCC) has “emphatically supported” a United Nations report that calls upon the United States to close its Guantanamo Bay detention facility “without further delay,” according to an NCC release. The report of the UN Commission on Human Rights of the Economic and Social Council also recommended that the US refrain from “any practice amounting to torture” and either bring detainees to trial or “release them without further delay.” In a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, NCC general secretary Bob Edgar also renewed a request to allow the NCC to send “a small interfaith delegation” to Guantanamo “to monitor the physical, mental and spiritual condition of the detainees.” A similar request was turned down by former Secretary of State Colin Powell in 2003 and 2004. For a copy of the letter go to
7) Jeff Garber resigns as director of Employee Benefit Plans for Brethren Benefit Trust.

Jeff Garber has resigned as Brethren Benefit Trust (BBT) director of Employee Benefit Plans, effective April 3. He has worked with the insurance plans of BBT for more than 10 years.

Also effective April 3, Randy Yoder of Huntingdon, Pa., will begin serving as interim director of the Brethren Insurance Plans. Wil Nolen, BBT president, will serve as director of the Brethren Pension Plan and Church Workers’ Assistance Plan until new leadership of these plans is in place.

Garber joined BBT in Aug. 1995 as director of Insurance Plans, a position he held until his responsibilities were expanded this January. Prior to joining BBT, he worked for a for-profit insurance company and for a denominational insurance ministry.

“Jeff has provided BBT with strong leadership during some difficult and unsettling years in the Brethren Medical Plan,” said Nolen. “With health care costs continuing to escalate rapidly, Jeff has worked tirelessly to secure affordable health care solutions for all active and retired Brethren pastors and employees. His concern for and advocacy on behalf of all plan members will be missed.”

Yoder has served as a BBT field staff representative for 14 months, with most of his work focused on the Brethren Medical Plan and the Brethren Foundation. In 2005, he helped establish the Brethren Medical Plan District Advocate Network and facilitated many insurance-related meetings throughout the denomination. Prior to joining BBT, he served for 20 years as district executive minister for Middle Pennsylvania District.

The leadership transition comes at a time when the longterm viability of the Brethren Medical Plan is being examined by an Annual Conference study committee. The committee formed in July 2005 is expected to hold a hearing and give a report at the 2006 Annual Conference. It also is expected to ask for an additional year of study. Yoder will represent the Brethren Medical Plan at the Conference and help present related insight sessions.

Brethren Insurance Plan members who have questions may contact Lori Domich at 800-746-105 or Brethren Pension Plan members who have questions may contact Peggy Bruell at 800-746-1505 or

8) Greg and Karin Davidson Laszakovits complete term of service in Brazil.

Greg and Karin Davidson Laszakovits have completed a term of service of two-and-a-half years as representatives in Brazil for the Church of the Brethren General Board. They began the work for Brazil in the fall of 2003 and plan to return to the United States this month.

“Greg and Karin have made important contributions to the Brazil team by mentoring pastors and sharing leadership of the mission effort with Marcos and Suely Inhauser,” said Merv Keeney, executive director for Global Mission Partnerships.

In previous positions with the General Board, Greg served as coordinator of the Washington Office from 2000-03 and as Anti-Racism Education coordinator in 1999, with pastoral experience prior to that. Karin’s field of expertise is in social work. She was previously employed at the Center for Mental Health in Washington, D.C., as a therapist.

A time of transition will permit the position of Brazil representative to be re-evaluated as a part of a review of staff configuration for the Brazil mission, reported the General Board’s Office of Human Resources.

9) Workcampers are sought to rebuild Guatemalan village.

A workcamp is being organized to help the rebuilding effort of the village of Union Victoria, Guatemala, sponsored by the Emergency Response and Global Mission Partnerships of the Church of the Brethren General Board. The workcamp will take place March 11-18.

Hurricane Stan in late 2005 had devastating effects on Union Victoria, a remote indigenous community in the highlands of Guatemala. All crops were destroyed, over 60 mudslides were reported, and the community’s only bridge was washed away, according to a notice from Emergency Response. Workcampers are invited to join in rebuilding the bridge, which is critical for community members to get to their clinic and school, and transport crops.

Workcampers will work alongside villagers mixing cement, moving rock, mounting cables, and cutting boards to create a bridge. Participants will live with a host family in the village and have an opportunity to learn about the ancient Mayan culture in a rustic rural setting. They also will learn about Union Victoria’s unique struggle to rebuild a community after decades of war, repression, poverty, and most recently the hurricane.

Participants pay their own airfares (ranging from $450-$650). Food, lodging, and transportation while in Guatemala are covered, except for a final night in Antigua. For more information contact Tom Benevento before March 3 at or call 574-534-0942.

10) Haitian Brethren leader shares hope for recent elections.

By Jeff Boshart

Pastor Ludovic St. Fleur of L’Eglise des Freres Haitiens (Haitian Church of the Brethren) in Miami, Fla., is cautiously hopeful that recent elections in Haiti will bring more peace and stability to the Caribbean nation.

In the Port au Prince neighborhood where a church founded by St. Fleur and members of his congregation is located, the crime rate is extremely high. In fact, said St. Fleur, he has not visited the church himself since May of 2005 due to the threat of being kidnaped. Most of his communication with members of the congregation in Port au Prince has been by telephone, and he has learned that some of the members have fled the city and returned to live with family in the rural countryside.

Although former president Rene Preval was re-elected by a large majority of the population in elections on Feb. 7, it is believed by St. Fleur that among Preval’s supporters are many of the same people responsible for kidnapings over the past few years. President Preval is a close ally of former President Jean Bertrand Aristide, who is currently in exile in South Africa. Some in Haiti fear that Preval will invite Aristide’s return to the country. Such an act could once again spark violence in Haiti.

St. Fleur is quick to say that he and his congregation are not aligned with any particular political party, and they are pleased that the elections were peaceful. Haiti still faces significant challenges such as electing a parliament and dealing with a powerful criminal element.

“We all are watching,” said St. Fleur, “and praying for peace.”

Pastor Ludovic St. Fleur shared these comments in an interview with Jeff Boshart, who was recently named director of the General Board’s new Sudan initiative.

Newsline is produced by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of news services for the Church of the Brethren General Board, on every other Wednesday with other editions as needed. Mary Dulabaum, Nevin Dulabaum, Lerry Fogle, Mary Lou Garrison, Jonathan Shively, and Helen Stonesifer contributed to this report. Newsline stories may be reprinted if Newsline is cited as the source. To receive Newsline by e-mail or to unsubscribe, write or call 800-323-8039 ext. 260. Newsline is available and archived at, click on “News.” For more news and features, subscribe to Messenger magazine; call 800-323-8039 ext. 247.


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