“Celebrating the Church of the Brethren’s 300th Anniversary in 2008″
(Sept. 23, 2008) — Warmth and friendliness were hallmarks of the National Older Adult Conference (NOAC) held Sept. 1-5 at Lake Junaluska, N.C. More than 898 sisters and brothers from across the Church of the Brethren gathered by the calm waters of the lake to hear engaging keynote speakers, attend workshops, eat gallons of ice cream, and catch up with one another since the last NOAC in 2006.
Participants were flexible and alert as they watched daily weather reports and anticipated the effects of hurricanes brewing in the Gulf of Mexico. Except for a brief shower on Monday afternoon, the weather was beautiful all week. Schedule changes were very few with one noted exception. Bird watching was moved from 6 to 7 a.m. Walt Moyer, who organized the activity, pointed out that at 6 a.m. the birds are still asleep and it is still dark.
Sandy Bosserman, a former district executive minister, preached at the opening worship service and invited the conference to “Come to the Troubled Waters.” She began with pleasant images of water, such as wonderful beaches with lazy waves and gentle breezes, but then recalled times in her life when water played a more troubling role. She called Brethren to the troubled waters that brought healing to the crippled man in John 5:1-7. “‘Come to the Troubled Waters’ is a loaded invitation,” she said. “We Brethren certainly know about troubled water and the dangers of wading into it.”
Stephen Breck Reid, former dean and professor of Old Testament Studies at Bethany Theological Seminary, led a series of three Bible studies. Picking up on the conference theme, “Come to the Water,” he opened the series by stating, “In that story the angel of the Lord troubled the waters, but for the next three days I’m going to reacquaint you with people who themselves troubled the waters. Come to the waters is not just about a sentimental warm fuzzy time, but it is an invitation to come to the troubled waters that God has presented to us.”
Tuesday morning keynote speaker Donald Kraybill described the tragic day of the shooting of Amish children at Nickel Mines in Pennsylvania. Silence fell upon Stuart Auditorium as Kraybill, senior fellow at the Young Center at Elizabethtown (Pa.) College, recounted the events. The message was sobering but of greater importance: the Amish response of faith, grace, and forgiveness. “My question to us this morning is simply this: If these had been our children, our sisters, if these had been our granddaughters or nieces, how would we have responded?” Kraybill asked. “What would we have done?” Kraybill is one of the authors of the book, “Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy,” written jointly with Steven M. Nolt and David L. Weaver-Zercher. Copies are available from Brethren Press.
Other highlights of the conference included inspiring messages from keynote presenters Jane Thibault, a clinical gerontologist and clinical professor at the University of Louisville; Valerie Bridgeman, associate professor of Hebrew, homiletics, and worship at Memphis Theological Seminary; and Scott Sheperd, who used a humorous, nontraditional approach to focusing on stress. Rounding out the week was Frank Ramirez, pastor of Everett (Pa.) Church of the Brethren and author of several books, including “The Meanest Man in Patrick County” and “Brethren Brush with Greatness.”
Nancy Faus-Mullen, professor emerita of Bethany Theological Seminary where she taught for 25 years, led the conference in a celebration of 300 years of Brethren hymnody. The gathering sang hymns and songs from the 18th century to the present time. The evening featured several hymn writers leading their own hymns, and included a hymn led by Wil Nolen, retiring president of BBT and former song leader at NOAC. Conference entertainment also included the group Trifolkal, whose songs and stories had conference goers laughing, crying, and tapping their feet along a journey of healing.
David Sollenberger and the NOAC News Team provided twice daily doses of humor, announcements, news, and other material. The antics of the news team were anxiously anticipated prior to each major event in Stuart Auditorium, as attendees waited to see the latest creative installment. A DVD of the week’s episodes of NOAC News and other NOAC presentations are available from the Caring Ministries office.
Several groups celebrated anniversaries. Brethren Volunteer Service celebrated its 60th anniversary, NOAC observed the 50th anniversary of the ordination of women in the Church of the Brethren, and those who were at National Youth Conference (NYC) in 1958 held a 50th reunion. The 1958 NYC was the second in Church of the Brethren history, and also was held at Lake Junaluska. Group pictures were taken of each special celebration and are available for purchase, contact Eddie Edmonds at email@example.com if interested.
A Well Walk raised over $3,300 to support a water project for children at the Comprehensive Secondary School of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN) in Kwarhi, Nigeria. More than 200 registered walkers participated. The event was sponsored by the Church of the Brethren’s Wellness Ministry and the Church of the Brethren Credit Union.
In order to insure that no more than two major Church of the Brethren conferences are held in any one year, the next NOAC will be in 2009. Thereafter the conference will return to its every-two-years schedule. Lake Junaluska will once again be the site for NOAC on Sept. 7-11, 2009, to be held on the theme, “Legacies of Wisdom: Weaving Old and New.” Registration brochures will be mailed in March 2009.
–Eddie Edmonds is pastor of Moler Avenue Church of the Brethren in Martinsburg, W.Va., and served as director of communications at NOAC. Information contained in this article appeared on the daily web pages at www.brethren.org/abc/noac/NOAC2008/Monday.html and in the “NOAC Notes” daily news sheet. Alice Edmonds and Frank Ramirez contributed to this report.
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