“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you….” — Isaiah 43:2a
1) General Board meeting dominated by properties issue.
2) Iraq reflection by Peggy Gish: `Tom, we will greatly miss you.’
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1) General Board meeting dominated by properties issue.
The Church of the Brethren General Board wrestled with recommendations from the Stewardship of Property Committee at its March 9-13 meetings in New Windsor, Md. The committee engaged in a two-year study of the Church of the Brethren General Offices in Elgin, Ill., and the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor. Other business at the meeting included briefings on expansions in the Emergency Response program and the workcamp program of the Youth and Young Adult Office.
The board turned away from a decision to lease or sell the Brethren Service Center, as recommended by the Stewardship of Property Committee. It called instead for an exploration of options for ministry at the property. (For a report of the board’s decision, see the Newsline Special of March 12 or go to www.brethren.org and click on “News”; for the Stewardship of Property Committee report go to http://www.brethren.org/genbd/GeneralSecretary/SOPreport.pdf).
Of the three General Board programs located at New Windsor, the committee noted the financial difficulties facing two–the New Windsor Conference Center and Service Ministries, which ships relief materials around the world. The committee concluded that the third–Emergency Response–is not dependent on the New Windsor location. The shipping of material resources is primarily contract work for other organizations, the largest being Church World Service, Interchurch Medical Assistance (IMA), and Lutheran World Relief. The committee learned that these organizations expect a downward trend in shipping material resources because “there is less need and usefulness in sending clothing as an appropriate response to disaster worldwide” and they prefer to buy materials locally because it is more efficient and stimulates the local economy.
In their deliberating, board members asked questions about financial implications of the recommendations, the “human cost” of such a decision in terms of jobs and relationship to the New Windsor community, the history and tradition of the Brethren Service Center, and the value of providing services to ecumenical partners.
Some board members said they wanted to encourage programs at New Windsor to go forward “with vigor.” The board struggled with how best to proceed, and with a small majority voted to create a committee to “explore options for ministries related to properties associated with the Brethren Service Center.”
In other business, the board expanded its budget parameter for 2006 to anticipate more than the usual number of grants from the Emergency Disaster Fund, and to include three new staff positions. The staff positions are a fulltime director and an “in-country” staff person for the board’s new Sudan initiative, and an associate director of Emergency Response. The effect of the changes will be offset by income. The budget parameter for expenses was increased by $883,900 to a total of $10,145,470.
Emergency Response director Roy Winter presented a proposal for expanding the building of housing for Gulf Coast hurricane survivors by constructing modular homes, and received support from the board. “I am just so excited,” said board member Ramona Pence. “I think this is moving in the right direction.”
Goals for the modular home project include the building of a home a week, expansion into more rebuilding sites in the Gulf Coast, and attracting longterm project managers and more volunteers to work both in Virginia and the Gulf. The new project may establish a “factory” in southern Virginia where the homes would be assembled, and may expand possibilities for disaster volunteers to work closer to home as districts may be able to build parts of the homes off-site. The project will require the purchase of additional vehicles and tools to equip the extra project sites. This project is in addition to current repair and rebuilding projects in Ohio, Florida, and Mississippi, and will not replace the program’s traditional work. For more information contact the Emergency Response office at firstname.lastname@example.org or 800-451-4407.
Presenting a new direction in the board’s workcamp program, Chris Douglas, director of the Youth and Young Adult Office, offered a proposal to expand the ministry through hiring an additional staff member. In recent years, the workcamp ministry primarily has been for junior and senior high youth and young adults, and has been carried out by Brethren Volunteer Service workers under Douglas’ supervision. Her proposal also highlighted the problem of demand for the workcamp experience, with many of the annual workcamps having been “sold out” recently. There is a call as well for workcamp opportunities to include families, congregation groups, and an intergenerational experience in the program, she told the board.
The workcamp proposal also received an enthusiastic response. “It’s right in line with the boldest, most exciting news we could have thought of this weekend,” said board member Kate Spire.
Other reports were received on funding and finances; the denominational study emphasis, Together: Conversations on Being the Church; a proposed historic peace churches conference in Asia in late 2007; the new Gather ‘Round Sunday school curriculum; the 9th Assembly of the World Council of Churches; and initial steps for the Sudan initiative. Global Mission Partnerships staff said that a series of Mission Alive conferences is being planned following feedback from a first conference held last year. The next Mission Alive conference is slated for April 13-15, 2007, in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.
A love offering for Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN–the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria) received $7,723, including $5,000 brought from Western Pennsylvania District by Annual Conference moderator Ronald Beachley. The offering responded to interreligious violence that destroyed or damaged five EYN churches. The Church of the Brethren is invited to join in this love offering for EYN through the season of Lent.
As the board considered its decisions in a meeting room sometimes filled with tension and emotion, the theme, “Called Beyond the Waters,” evoked the waters of baptism. At opening worship, board chair Glenn Mitchell told the story of his own baptism. “As I climbed the stairs on the far side and the water dripped off of me, I had a sharp sense that things would never be the same.”
Mitchell reminded the group that for the first disciples, the call of Christ was beyond the waters they were so familiar with as fisherman. “They were called to leave,” Mitchell said. “There is little vision in the New Testament for a settled life. Always in God, there is the call beyond the waters of our current commitment, beyond the shores of our familiarity…to the mission that awaits beyond where we can see, what we know, and all we’ve cherished as home. We are invited to trust, in brothers and sisters, in God, in the movement of the Spirit.”
2) “Tom, we will greatly miss you.”
Peggy Gish, a Church of the Brethren member working in Iraq with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), remembers Tom Fox, the CPT worker who was found dead in Baghdad on March 9. Three other CPT members who also disappeared last November–Norman Kember, 74, of Great Britain, and James Loney, 41, and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, both of Canada–have not been heard from since Fox’s body was found with gunshot wounds and signs of having been tortured. Originally a violence-reduction initiative of the historic peace churches (Church of the Brethren, Mennonite, and Quaker), CPT now enjoys support and membership from a wide range of Christian denominations (for more go to http://www.cpt.org/).
“`If I understand the message of God, we are here to take part in the creation of the peaceable Realm of God. And that is to love God with all our heart, our mind and our strength and to love our neighbors and enemies as we love God and ourselves,’ Allan Slater read during our memorial service for Tom at a local church in Baghdad. We selected the reading from a reflection Tom Fox had written days before he was kidnapped. At the front of the church was a large picture of Tom, a bouquet of fresh flowers and lit candles.
“`Tom was very clear that if any harm came to him he did not want anyone to act out of revenge or ill will. He calls us to follow Jesus’ example of loving and praying for those labeled enemy,’ I said as part of the beginning tribute to Tom. When it came to the part about Tom’s captivity for over 100 days and his death, the words were harder to get out.
“It was rewarding to see in the church the caring faces of so many Iraqis that had loved Tom. There were members of the congregation, some Christian neighbors, and Muslim friends and colleagues.
“The assembled sang a version of the song, ‘Be Thou My Vision,’ that Tom had liked.
“Maxine read excerpts from another of Tom’s writings. He spoke of his struggle to not let rage take over, become numb, or turn away from the pain he encountered, but to learn compassion while staying with that pain.
“On Friday, the day after we learned of Tom’s death, we had to decide whether to go ahead with or cancel two meetings scheduled at our apartment. One was to link leaders from the Muslim Peacemakers Taskforce (MPT) in Najaf with a Sunni human rights organization in Baghdad. They were forming a coalition between Shi’a, Sunni, Christian, and Kurdish organizations to work to prevent sectarian violence. The second was to link MPTers with Palestinian Iraqis whose lives are under daily threat and are asking for accompaniment to travel to one of Iraq’s borders. While emotionally it was very hard for us to host these meetings, it seemed important to do so.
“The news of Tom’s death hit us hard. We grieve–especially for Tom’s family. We also continue to celebrate Tom’s life as we remember his words and his work to end all forms of violence. It does not take away the sorrow, but it helps remind us why we are here and why Tom kept returning to Iraq and was willing to give up his life.
“Our memorial service tribute to Tom ended with the words we heard expressed by so many Iraqis in the past three days: `Tom, we will greatly miss you.'”