“Celebrating the Church of the Brethren’s 300th Anniversary in 2008″
(Jan. 25, 2008) — The weekend of Jan. 18-20 found a Church of the Brethren delegation of about two dozen people in Orangeburg, S.C., for the 10th anniversary of the dedication of the Butler Chapel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. The church building was largely built by Brethren volunteers working under the direction of Brethren Disaster Ministries (formerly Emergency Response/Service Ministries).
Butler Chapel’s original building was one of many destroyed by arsonists in the rash of church burnings in 1995-96. With funds from the National Council of Churches as well as other sources, and with the help of 300 volunteers working under the direction of Brethren Disaster Ministries, a new church building was constructed, debt-free.
The three-day celebration was marked by a wonderful mix of AME and Church of the Brethren members. The Sunday morning sermon was the only major address. But there were hundreds of “messages” seen and heard as greetings, hugs, warm embraces, tears of joy, and expressions of love. The whole event was a huge message of common faith and purpose, as two very different yet very alike denominations merged to thank God for what has happened at Butler Chapel.
However, the 10th anniversary event was much more than a focus on an attractive building. The building is simply a tool for all that is taking place in the facility. Butler Chapel AME Church is a relatively small rural (now becoming suburban) congregation. It appears that the small congregation is extending its witness in amazing ways. There are five choirs, a praise dance group of children–carefully trained in expressing worship through movement, and other events aimed at promoting dedicated discipleship. The exceptionally fine facility also has become a center for many district events, at times overtaxing the kitchen and other local personnel.
From the moment that we stepped inside the church doors on Friday evening, until we departed on Sunday, the Brethren were treated as honored guests. There were carefully worded name tags, gift bags filled with all sorts of goodies, program booklets that included abundant information including the names of all who assisted in the construction of the new building, three delicious meals, as well as snacks. Even as we departed we received “snacks for the road,” and bottles of water wrapped with the picture of the Butler Chapel Church.
One highlight of the event was a celebration choir including as many Brethren who had some gift for singing. The choir spent more than an hour in a music workshop learning how to do church music in the Butler Chapel AME way. The AME choir calls it “botheration,” but the experience became ethereal for all who participated in the process.
The celebration also included a stirring “exercise hour,” all kinds of recognitions, prizes, gifts, and–above all else–hundreds of expressions of brotherly and sisterly love that amounted to a foretaste of heaven.
The delegation of Brethren included acting general secretary of the Church of the Brethren General Board, Mary Jo Flory-Steury; General Board members Russell Betz and Terrell Lewis, Brethren Disaster Ministries staff Roy Winter, Judy Bezon, and Jane Yount; staff volunteers of Brethren Disaster Ministries Glenn and Helen Kinsel, who have kept in contact with Butler Chapel for the past 10 years; several of the project directors who guided the building construction–John and Marianna Baker, Stanley Barkdoll, and Earl Dohner; former Brethren Volunteer Service worker Torin Eikler; a number of volunteers who were involved in the rebuilding; and even some other interested Brethren supporters.
It is the hope of all who attended that the relationship between our two denominations can be nurtured. This anniversary year is the right time to begin.
–Glenn E. Kinsel is a Brethren Disaster Ministries staff volunteer who helped with volunteer coordination for the building project at Butler Chapel, and with promotion of the anniversary event.
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