Newsline Extra for March 3, 2008

“Celebrating the Church of the Brethren’s 300th Anniversary in 2008”

“…You also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God” (Ephesians 2:22).


1) Overview of Together conversations to be published as a book.
2) A story from the Together conversations: ‘Salad Oil and the Church.’


3) New dates announced for Annual Conference 2009.
4) Brethren are called to prayer for Christian Peace Witness for Iraq.
5) General Board to meet with ABC Board and Annual Conference Council.

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1) Overview of Together conversations to be published as a book.

An overview of responses from the Together conversation process has been collated and will be published in the form of a book and study guide from Brethren Press. Earlier this month an initial report of responses from the Together process was discussed in a meeting of the Council of District Executives, and in the final meeting of the Together steering committee on Feb. 14-15.

The Together conversation was initiated in 2003 by a statement from the district executives identifying fragmentation in the Church of the Brethren and calling for conversation “concerning who, whose, and what we are.” Since then, a group of leaders and staff of Annual Conference agencies and representatives of the district executives have planned and promoted Together as a denomination-wide discussion. From its beginning, the broad intent of the work has been to help bring about a renewal of the church. Together conversations were launched at a gathering of district representatives in Feb. 2006, and has continued with small group gatherings in many venues across the denomination.

An initial overview of responses and observations from Together was prepared by Steve Clapp, president of Christian Community Inc., author or coauthor of more than 30 books on congregational life, and a member of Lincolnshire Church of the Brethren in Fort Wayne, Ind.

“The last time the Church of the Brethren engaged in such a study was almost 50 years ago, close to the 250th anniversary of the denomination,” Clapp observed. “This time, on the eve of our 300th anniversary, the hope has been to involve as many people as possible in the conversation.”

The initial overview was received by the Together steering committee at a meeting in Nov. 2007, where the group also heard from the Together Listening Team that helped monitor the process. In February at the last meeting of the group, the committee discussed the publication of the Together responses as a book that also will include material to encourage further study and discussion across the church.

As it disbands, the steering committee feels good about Together, said chair Mark Flory Steury, executive minister for Southern Ohio District. He added that the committee does not want to institutionalize the Together discussion. “Our hope is that the conversations will continue in new ways.”

Clapp estimated that close to 20,000 people were involved in Together conversations. The steering committee identified this as a significant achievement, but also noted that it is still important for the church to continue to be in conversation.

In presenting the overview of responses to the committee, Clapp said that working with the data from Together conversations was difficult because of the variety of ways in which it was received. The conversation process included small group gatherings in a wide variety of settings–congregations, district conferences and other district meetings, Annual Conference, National Older Adult Conference (NOAC), National Youth Conference (NYC), and gatherings of other groups like district clergy, the On Earth Peace board, and other Brethren organizations, as well as Igreja da Irmandade (the Church of the Brethren in Brazil).

Responses came in the form of reports from these small group meetings, as well as from the Together Listening Team. Trained Listening Teams in districts also provided notes on the topics, themes, and examples shared in district events.

Many congregations used the Together study guide written by Jim Benedict and published by Brethren Press. “The hope was to have all the congregations in the denomination take part in this conversation, and all congregations were asked to share a summary of their thoughts,” Clapp reported. “While not every congregation shared a report, many did so. Some congregations had virtually every active member participate in the study and conversation held in their local church.” His report added that almost every church in the denomination had at least one person who took part in Together conversations in at least one setting.

“It’s important to remember that the primary purpose of the Together conversations was to engage people across the denomination in talking about the nature of the church. The Together initiative was not designed to provide the kind of sociological look at the church that Carl Bowman offers in the Brethren Member Profile 2006,” Clapp said. “It was also not designed to produce data to assess congregational health.”

Main observations that Clapp shared in the initial overview included:

  • “Together participants talked often about the importance of the acceptance and the caring that they have experienced within their local congregations. That acceptance and caring have indeed been life-transforming for many persons…. Not everyone has experienced that same caring. Some people shared disappointment.”
  • “Together participants have strongly affirmed many of the traditional practices and values of the Church of the Brethren. Love Feast, the ordinance of anointing, service, and the commitment to peace have been repeatedly emphasized in conversations at NOAC, at NYC, in districts, and in local congregations…. The emphasis on service was lifted up with appreciation.”
  • “The strongest statements about the peace position of the denomination were made by participants at NYC anFird at NOAC. While most of the comments about the peace emphasis of the denomination were extremely positive, there were a few exceptions. Reports from congregations were not as likely to emphasize the importance of work for peace as were reports from regional (district) and national gatherings. There also appear to be some differing opinions on what it means to be a peace church…. Being a peace church is central to the identity of many of the congregations that responded, but there are some that did not mention the topic in their responses and others that seem to equate a strong stance for peace as being unsupportive of people in the military. Yet there are also churches for whom a peace position is very important who have people in the military who are active members.”
  • “Several talked about changes that have happened within congregations and within the denomination. They affirmed that change is a part of the church’s life, and that we have gone through significant changes in the past. Some talked about the importance of change for the future, and others lamented some of the changes that have happened.”
  • “People also expressed their concerns and their hopes about the state of the church today and about the future. Many people are concerned about the future of the denomination and have strong feelings on some issues…. The topics of biblical interpretation and homosexuality were the ones over which differences of opinion were most apparent.”
  • “There were several who voiced their concern about membership decline in the denomination and over the need to reach out more effectively to people who are not in the church. A majority of the summary statements about the nature of the church included words about evangelism or outreach to those outside the church. Our continued decline, however, suggests that we are not putting those good intentions into action. Comments were also made about the authority of Annual Conference, about our denominational name, and about decisions that have been made at the denominational level.”

2) A story from the Together conversations: ‘Salad Oil and the Church.’

In his overview of responses to the Together conversation process, Steve Clapp relayed the following story:

A group of Church of the Brethren clergy shared a meal at a Golden Corral Restaurant. Their waitress told them that a friend, another waitress, was about to have a biopsy for suspected cancer and was distraught about it. She asked them if they would pray for her friend, and of course they said they would be glad to do so.

The friend was working at the restaurant at that time, and she joined the ministers at their table. They used a bit of salad oil from the table and anointed the woman for healing in the middle of the Golden Corral! Follow-up calls were made by one of the pastors, and the waitress, at last report, was doing well.

The church at its best has tremendous room for impact on the lives of people in our often troubled world. That group of clergy used the salad oil that was at hand to administer an ordinance that had significant meaning for the woman who received it as well as for themselves. It likely also made an impression on others who were seated near them in the restaurant.

What is the nature of the church?

–Steve Clapp is president of Christian Community Inc. and a member of Lincolnshire Church of the Brethren in Fort Wayne, Ind.

3) New dates announced for Annual Conference 2009.

The Program and Arrangements Committee of the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference has announced a date change and a shift in the normal daily pattern for Annual Conference 2009, to be held in San Diego, Calif.

The 2009 Annual Conference will take place from opening worship on Friday, June 26, through closing worship on Tuesday, June 30. The dates for the Conference had already been shifted to one week earlier than previously announced. These new dates place the Conference on a Friday-Tuesday pattern for 2009 only; the normal Saturday-Wednesday pattern will return in 2010.

The revisions to the schedule were requested by host facility Town and Country Resort, and the city of San Diego, to accommodate a citywide event starting Tuesday evening, June 30. In appreciation for the willingness to accommodate this departure from the normal Conference daily pattern, room rate reductions and other considerations have been made by the city and facility. The new dates are being announced as far in advance as possible to allow for scheduling adjustments by all Annual Conference constituents, said the announcement.

4) Brethren are called to prayer for Christian Peace Witness for Iraq.

Two Church of the Brethren agencies are calling for prayer for peace by Church of the Brethren congregations and members, in conjunction with the Christian Peace Witness for Iraq on March 7. The General Board has joined with On Earth Peace to issue invitations to prayer.

On Earth Peace has circulated a call for prayer from Phil Lersch of the Action for Peace Team, a committee of the Church of the Brethren’s Atlantic Southeast District. “During your faith community’s times of worship this weekend, please consider praying for those traveling and participating in the events,” said Matt Guynn, coordinator of peace witness for On Earth Peace.

“Please pray for the effectiveness of the Interfaith Peace Witness in Washington, D.C. on Friday, March 7, especially at 12 noon,” wrote Lersch in his call for prayer. “Sponsored by Interfaith Peace Partnership, people of all faith traditions from across the United States will gather at noon in temples, mosques, synagogues, and churches in the US capital to demonstrate an unwavering commitment to justice and to the sacredness of human life, knowing that the world cries out for a common voice for peace from across religious traditions and paths. Following worship, participants will process to a jointly planned interfaith event near the Capitol Building.”

Washington City Church of the Brethren (337 N. Carolina Ave. SE) is one of the locations that will host an Interfaith Peace Witness worship service at noon on March 7. The preacher for the service at the Church of the Brethren will be J. Daryl Byler, a Mennonite minister and a Mennonite Central Committee Regional Representative for Jordan, Palestine, Iraq, and Iran. Church of the Brethren member Cliff Kindy, who has been working in Iraq with Christian Peacemaker Teams, will be a speaker at the service at Capitol Hill Presbyterian Church (201 4th St. SE).

On Earth Peace is providing two workshops during the Christian Peace Witness for Iraq, as part of its Welcome Home Project. The workshop titled “Healing the Troops” will be offered on Thursday, March 6, at 6:30-9 p.m., and on Friday, March 7, at 8:30-11 a.m., at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. Leaders are Dale Posthumus of University Park Church of the Brethren in Hyattsville, Md.; Mel Menker of Oak Park Church of the Brethren in Oakland, Md.; Doris Abdullah of First Church of the Brethren in Brooklyn, N.Y.; and Dennis O’Connor from Point Man International Ministries.

The Brethren Witness/Washington Office will host Brethren members and groups that travel to Washington, D.C., for the events. Contact the office at 800-785-3246 or

The Church of the Brethren General Board will hold special times of prayer for peace during its spring meetings, which also take place the weekend of March 7-10 in Elgin, Ill. “I would like to get the word out and call for a time of prayer this Sunday by our churches,” announced Stanley J. Noffsinger, general secretary of the General Board. He also is sending a letter of support to the organizers of the Christian Peace Witness for Iraq, giving encouragement from the Church of the Brethren and issuing a pastoral call for an end to the violence in Iraq.

Visit the website of the Christian Peace Witness in Iraq to learn more about activities in Washington, and opportunities for others to hold worship services and prayer vigils in local communities:

5) General Board to meet with ABC Board and Annual Conference Council.

The spring meetings of the Church of the Brethren General Board, scheduled for March 6-10 in Elgin, Ill., will include a full day of combined meetings with the Association of Brethren Caregivers Board and the Annual Conference Council.

The combined meeting on Saturday, March 8, will focus on a new organization for the three bodies, recommended by the Implementation Committee that was appointed by the 2007 Annual Conference. That day of meetings will be held at the Holiday Inn in Elgin, with other meetings held at the Church of the Brethren General Offices. In addition, the Implementation Committee is scheduled to meet independently of the other groups on March 8.

Also on the General Board’s agenda are a “Resolution on 50 Years of Women’s Ordination,” a revision of the denomination’s “Ethics in Ministry Relations” paper, an update on the Sudan mission initiative, an update on the National Peace Conference being planned by the Historic Peace Churches, an update on the Gather ’Round curriculum, and a number of reports including financial reports, the annual report of General Board ministries, and a report from the annual Assembly of the Church of the Brethren in the Dominican Republic, among several others.

Other meetings that will be held around the same time include:

Annual Conference Council meetings on the afternoon of March 10 through the morning of March 11. The Annual Conference officers will meet on the afternoon of March 11 through the morning of March 12.

The Association of Brethren Caregivers Board holds finance and executive committee meetings on March 6, with Wellness Committee and Family Ministry Group meetings on March 7, and full board meetings beginning the afternoon of March 7 through the morning of March 9.

Newsline is produced by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of news services for the Church of the Brethren General Board, or 800-323-8039 ext. 260. Loyce Swartz Borgmann, Mark Flory Steury, Lerry Fogle, Bob Gross, Matt Guynn, Jon Kobel, and Stanley Noffsinger contributed to this report. Newsline appears every other Wednesday, with other special issues sent as needed. The next regularly scheduled issue is set for March 12. Newsline stories may be reprinted if Newsline is cited as the source. For more Brethren news and features, subscribe to “Messenger” magazine, call 800-323-8039 ext. 247.

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