Vital Pastors Program Groups Meet, Share Critical Questions

Six groups of Church of the Brethren pastors met Nov. 17-21, 2008, near Los Angeles, Calif., in the latest in a series of national conferences occurring through the Vital Pastors program of the Sustaining Pastoral Excellence (SPE) initiative.

The pastors’ groups shared results of their studies through the program. One group, made up of five women pastors, looked at the connection between image, story, and spiritual transformation. Two other groups examined postmodernism and emergent trends. Others studied alienation and community, pastoral and congregational health and growth, and leadership skills in a shifting cultural landscape.

Each group had spent two years examining a “critical question” of ministry, meeting in small groups and taking a study trip to locations such as Australia, San Francisco, and Schwarzenau, Germany. They shared their findings in three-hour blocks, using a combination of personal sharing, small-group discussion, worship, songs, and multimedia.

The presentations sparked some spirited conversation and discussion, as well as some profound moments in worship. Pastors also expressed gratitude for the opportunity to network with others on similar journeys, and especially for the camaraderie and support that the longterm study groups offered. Several said they planned to keep meeting even though their official program is done.

“This group has meant the world to me,” Naperville (Ill.) pastor Dennis Webb said. “It’s been my source of strength and inspiration.”

SPE is now entering its fourth year. It is coordinated by the Brethren Academy for Ministerial Leadership with funding from the Lilly Endowment Inc. as part of a nationwide effort to help pastors identify and develop key skills for their ministry while also offering renewal.

This latest culminating event–for the third set of pastors’ groups to complete the experience–was held at the Mary and Joseph Retreat Center in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. Another set of Vital Pastor groups is midway through their experience and will have their culminating conference late this year. An additional set will begin their study in 2009. SPE co-coordinator Linda Timmons said more than 100 people have now completed the program.

— Walt Wiltschek is editor of the Church of the Brethren’s “Messenger” magazine.

The Church of the Brethren Newsline is produced by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of news services for the Church of the Brethren General Board. Newsline stories may be reprinted if Newsline is cited as the source. Contact cobnews@brethren.org to receive Newsline by e-mail or to submit news to the editor at cobnews@brethren.org. For more Church of the Brethren news and features, subscribe to “Messenger” magazine; call 800-323-8039 ext. 247.


“In the name of King and unity, a service in Lititz,” Lancaster (Pa.) Sunday News. As part of an ongoing effort to bring community healing to the Lititz, Pa., area more than a year after it was roiled by racial tension, the Warwick Ministerium is holding its first Martin Luther King Jr. Day observance. Steve Hess, associate pastor of Lititz Church of the Brethren, is serving as president of the Warwick Ministerium. Read more at http://articles.lancasteronline.com/local/4/232452

“Mitchell to celebrate 102nd birthday,” Ogle County (Ill.) News. Mount Morris (Ill.) Church of the Brethren hosted an open house for local author Clarence Mitchell, who is celebrating his 102nd birthday. The event took place Saturday, Jan. 10. Go to http://www.oglecountynews.com/article.php?aid=8775

Obituary: Aline K. VanLear, News Leader, Staunton, Va. Helen Aline (Kline) VanLear, 87, of Verona, Va., died on Jan. 7 at the AMC Shenandoah House. She was a member of Lebanon Church of the Brethren in Mount Sidney, Va. Prior her to retirement in 1977, she was employed by VDOT as an administrative assistant. She was married to Walter Alonza VanLear for 64 years before his death in March, 2008. For the full obituary go to http://www.newsleader.com/article/20090108/OBITUARIES/901080340

Obituary: Eva Lee K. Appl, News Leader, Staunton, Va. Eva Lee (Kindig) Appl, 89, passed away on Jan. 5 at Stuarts Draft (Va.) Christian Home. She was a lifelong member of Mount Vernon Church of the Brethren in Waynesboro, Va., and was a graduate of Bridgewater (Va.) College and received a master’s degree in religious education from Bethany Theological Seminary. She is survived by her husband, Henry Appl, with whom she shared more than 59 years. Go to http://www.newsleader.com/article/20090107/OBITUARIES/901070331

“Pastors remembered for kindness, charisma,” Indianapolis Star. An article remembering Northview Church of the Brethren co-pastors Phil and Louise Rieman, who died on Dec. 26 when their car slid on a patch of ice and struck an oncoming truck. The newspaper interviews members of their family and the congregation to review the character and accomplishments of the Riemans’ lives. Go to http://www.indystar.com/article/20081231/LOCAL01/812310350/1015/LOCAL01

“Sunnyslope Church welcomes new pastor,” Wenatchee (Wash.) World. Michael Titus gave his first sermon as pastor of Sunnyslope Church on Sunday, Jan. 4. He most recently served as pastor at Covington Community Church of the Brethren. Read more at http://wenatcheeworld.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090102/FAM/901029997

“Living beyond pain: After tragedies shake young family, they find the faith to risk their hearts by becoming parents again,” News Leader, Staunton, Va. An in-depth article about the new life experienced by Brian and Desirae Harman, members of Topeco Church of the Brethren in Floyd, Va., following the birth of a baby boy. The Harmans in 2007 lost their son, Chance, to a rare brain tumor at age four. For the full piece go to http://www.newsleader.com/article/20081226/LIFESTYLE20/812260306/1024/LIFESTYLE

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“Anonymous letter still unsolved mystery,” Frederick (Md.) News Post. After more than three weeks, an anonymous letter calling for the elimination of white separatist groups still has no known origin. The letter was sent from the fictitious “Ministerium of Rocky Ridge” using the return address of Monocacy Church of the Brethren in Rocky Ridge, Md. Pastor David Collins said his church did not send the letter. Read more at http://www.fredericknewspost.com/sections/news/display.htm?StoryID=84736

Obituary: Duane H. Greer, Mansfield (Ohio) News Journal. Duane H. Greer, 93, passed away on Jan. 3 in Hospice House of Ashland, Ohio. He was a longtime member of Owl Creek Church of the Brethren in Bellville, Ohio. He devoted 25 years to providing security for the Mansfield Tire and Rubber Company, and also was a skilled woodworker. He and Pauline Miller Greer had celebrated 66 years of marriage. For the full obituary see http://www.mansfieldnewsjournal.com/article/20090105/OBITUARIES/901050318

Obituary: Mary E. Nicholson, Palladium-Item, Richmond, Ind. Mary E. Nicholson, 89, passed away on Jan. 2 at Golden Living Center in Richmond, Ind. She was a member of Castine Church of the Brethren in Arcanum, Ohio. She shared 52 years of marriage to Henry Joseph Nicholson, until his death in 1990. In her professional career she cooked for the Mary E. Hill Home, Fountain City School, and many different restaurants. For the full obituary go to http://www.pal-item.com/article/20090104/NEWS04/901040312

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