Young Adult Panel Addresses Brethren Life and Thought Luncheon

223rd Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren
San Diego, California — June 27, 2009

The Brethren Journal Association invited a panel consisting of Dana Cassell, Brethren Volunteer Service worker serving with the BVS office; Jordan Blevins, staff of the Eco-Justice program of the National Council of Churches; and Matt McKimmy, pastor of Richmond (Ind.) Church of the Brethren, to tackle the topic, “Young Adult Perspectives on Culture, Church, and Leadership.” The panel spoke at the Brethren Life and Thought Luncheon on Saturday, June 27.

Blevins outlined the circles of relationships Jesus created with his friends during his ministry, then stated that while young adults seek relationships in committed communities, the larger American culture looks for churches based on convenience where consumers have the right to have things their own way. His remarks came out of a recent meeting of Church of the Brethren young adults in Arizona, discussing what leadership in the Church of the Brethren will look like.

Young adults “…don’t want to be programmed for (the church), but to be the church,” Blevins believes. “People want to feel like they’re part of something larger than themselves.”

McKimmy drew laughs as he admitted Wikipedia was no help defining the word “culture.” Whatever it is, McKimmy insisted that “culture is inescapable.” The Bible cuts to the core of this observation when it states that believers live in the world, but are not of it. He noted that there are massive cultural shifts underway, a time of transition between old and new ways of life. Denominations are in decline. “Our constant is change,” he said, and God may be at work in cultural changes. McKimmy called on Brethren to be proactive in transformation rather than lament change.

Cassell charted the shift from an unpaid, exclusively male body of pastors to the present situation in which several models of ministry are seen. The first Brethren were suspicious of “hirelings” who might seek only to please their employers. Despite disagreements between conservatives and progressives as the models of ministry changed, the desire to be faithful to God and scripture were at the heart of their arguments.

Quoting from worthies such as Elder John Kline, as well as from Annual Meeting minutes, Cassell charted the changes that led Brethren to “grudgingly accept” fulltime paid ministers. As the responsibility for ordination was shifted from the congregation to the district, and as women came to be officially called, “a lack of uniformity” became the norm.

The call for clarification about ministry is the only consistent thread in the story!

–Frank Ramirez is pastor of Everett (Pa.) Church of the Brethren.

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The News Team for the 2009 Annual Conference includes writers Karen Garrett, Frank Ramirez, Frances Townsend, Melissa Troyer, Rich Troyer; photographers Kay Guyer, Justin Hollenberg, Keith Hollenberg, Glenn Riegel, Ken Wenger; staff Becky Ullom and Amy Heckert. Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, editor. Contact cobnews@brethren.org.