Newsline for December 14, 2011

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46-47).

Quote of the week:
“When the scope and scale of our cultural Christmas celebrations threaten to overwhelm the gospel, it is good to be reminded that something as simple and profound as an internal stirring can be a sign of God’s presence.”
–David W. Miller commenting on Luke 1:39-45 in today’s devotion from “In the Beginning Was the Word,” the 2011 Advent devotional from Brethren Press (order for $2.50 plus shipping and handling from or call 800-441-3712). Find related worship resources and study questions provided by the Congregational Life Ministries staff at . Download screensavers featuring more quotes from the Advent devotional at .

1) Brethren statement presented at meeting on torture.
2) Mission and Ministry Board member is part of ecumenical visit to Cuba.
3) National Youth Cabinet chooses theme for the year.
4) Bethany Seminary receives grant for faculty study.

5) On Earth Peace announces staff changes.
6) New Brethren staff are placed in South Sudan.

7) Reflections on Cuba, December 2011.
8) Wonder stick: An interview with Grace Mishler.
9) An Advent letter from the Annual Conference officers.

10) Brethren bits: Job openings, Annual Conference delegate registration, college news, and more.

1) Brethren statement presented at meeting on torture.

Church of the Brethren general secretary Stan Noffsinger was one of several officials of faith-based groups in a meeting with members of the Obama administration to discuss the issue of torture. The meeting yesterday, Dec. 13, in Washington, D.C., followed up on a letter to the administration from the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) urging that the US sign and ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture.

Photo courtesy of the National Council of Churches
Church of the Brethren general secretary Stan Noffsinger (left) joined National Council of Churches general secretary Michael Kinnamon (right) at an outdoor vigil in Washington, D.C., yesterday calling on Congress to remember struggling people in the federal budget. The two also were part of a meeting with members of the Obama administration to discuss the issue of torture, organized by NRCAT, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.

Noffsinger was one of those presenting during the meeting (read his prepared comments below). The interfaith group also included Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches, and representatives of several Christian denominations and Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh groups. Representing NRCAT was executive director Richard L. Killmer alongside the organization’s president and two staff members.

Sixty-six American religious leaders including Noffsinger have signed on to the NRCAT letter calling for the United States to sign and ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT). Titled, “Join the Treaty: The US Should Act to Prevent Torture Everywhere,” the letter opens with the statement, “Torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment are contrary to our common religious belief in the fundamental dignity of each human being. We call upon the US government, once a leader in the effort to end the use of torture, to reclaim that role by signing and ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture.”

The letter proposes that the country take steps against the use of torture by providing independent oversight of conditions in detention facilities such as prisons and police stations. “We believe that if the US joins OPCAT and provides robust oversight of its places of detention, it will be significantly more difficult for cases of torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment to occur within the US. Ratifying OPCAT would also enhance our government’s effectiveness in urging other countries to end their use of torture,” the letter says.

The full text of Noffsinger’s presentation:

“Good morning. It is no surprise that a Historic Peace Church is before you to reflect on the topic of torture as our historical understanding that violence perpetrated against another is inconsistent with Holy Scriptures. Our strong beliefs have at times have placed us in peril with the communities in which we live. Thus, we have experienced violence and torture ourselves, and the price at times has been great.

“In 2010 the church proclaimed its opposition to torture stating that ‘torture is a blatant violation of the tenets of our faith.’ Torture injects into the perpetrator’s character the sense of being better than the other, that dehumanizing the other is justifiable, and that breaking of the human spirit, which is a God begotten gift, is a noble pursuit when done in the name of a nation state. We acknowledged our contemporary complacency and declared, ‘we would be silent no more.’

“I was recently an honored guest of the Vatican as a delegate to the Day of Reflection, Dialogue, and Prayer for Peace and Justice in the World, held in Assisi, Italy. Each delegate received a copy of the October 13, 2011, letter from President Obama that commended us to ‘interfaith dialogue, to unite in a common cause to lift up the afflicted, make peace where there is strife, and find the way forward to a better world for ourselves and our children.’ On that world stage I declared ‘my commitment to ‘urge the leaders of Nations to make every effort to create and consolidate, on the national and international levels, a world of solidarity and peace based on justice.’ I committed to working for world in which peace and justice are recognized as a human right.

“Being present today to encourage the administration and the President to discern, evaluate and eventually sign and the Senate to ratify OPCAT is an implicit responsibility as one who has heard the global community’s yearning for a Just Peace. It is my hope and prayer that ‘in the name of God, every religion bring upon the earth justice and peace, forgiveness and life.’ Thank you.”

For more about NRCAT go to or . For the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference statement of 2010, “Resolution Against Torture,” go to . For yesterday’s Action Alert from the witness ministry of the Church of the Brethren that includes a link for voicing support for the NRCAT letter, go to .

2) Mission and Ministry Board member is part of ecumenical visit to Cuba.

Photo by José Aurelio Paz, Coordinador Área de Comunicaciones del CIC
Becky Ball-Miller, a member of the Mission and Ministry Board, was the Church of the Brethren representative on an ecumenical delegation of church leaders visiting Cuba. Shown here: the two delegations from the councils of churches in the United States and Cuba work together to arrive at a joint statement. Ball-Miller is in the second pew, at center right, wearing a light blue blouse.

A meeting of US church leaders with leaders of the Council of Churches of Cuba concluded in Havana on Dec. 2 with a joint declaration celebrating signs of greater unity between US and Cuban churches. Sixteen representatives of National Council of Churches (NCC) member communions including the Church of the Brethren were in Cuba from Nov. 28-Dec. 2 meeting with Cuban church and political leaders, including President Raúl Castro.

Mission and Ministry Board member Becky Ball-Miller was the Church of the Brethren member on the delegation to Cuba (read her reflections on the trip in the feature article below).

The delegation, which Cuban church leaders said was the highest ranking US church group to visit the island in their memory, was led by Michael Kinnamon, NCC general secretary. The joint statement by the churches declared that normalization of relations between the US and Cuba would be in the best interest of both nations, and the leaders called for the resolution of three humanitarian issues “which cause unjustifiable human misunderstanding and suffering.”

Foremost among the issues is the 53-year-old US economic embargo of Cuba that dates back to the administration of President John F. Kennedy. The embargo is “the major obstacle to the resolution of differences, to economic interaction, and to fuller engagement of our peoples and churches,” the US and Cuban church leaders said.

Also cited as obstacles to normalization of relations is the imprisonment in the US of the “Cuban Five,” whose sentences in 1998 “have been deemed unjust by numerous human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and the United Nations; and the two-year incarceration in Cuba of U.S. citizen Alan Gross.

“Together, we affirm the importance of living in hope, but also to demonstrate the credibility of our hope by acting to help make it so,” the church leaders said. “We, therefore, commit ourselves to promote, even more vigorously, the relationship between our churches and church and ecumenical councils, and to advocate, even more assertively, for the normalization of relations between our countries. Such commitment, we confess, is a response to the One who has bound us to one another (e.g., Ephesians 4:6) and sent us forth to be ambassadors of God’s reconciling love.”

Kinnamon and other members of the delegation met with the wives of the “Cuban Five” and with Alan Gross to publicize their support for their release. Gross’ name came up during a meeting Dec. 1 between Kinnamon and Cuban President Raúl Castro. Kinnamon said Castro expressed concern about Gross’ declining health, but did not comment on the possibility of his release.

Kinnamon also preached Nov. 27 at the National Episcopal Cathedral, highlighting a passage from the Apostle Paul: “Give thanks in all circumstances… (1 Thessalonians)”; and laying out challenges faced by the churches of the United States and Cuba.

In addition to Kinnamon and his wife, Mardine Davis, the 18-member US delegation included John McCullough, executive director and CEO of Church World Service, and top leaders of a number of Christian denominations including the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Church of Christ, and the United Methodist Church, among several others.

— This article is excerpted from a release by Philip E. Jenks of the National Council of Churches communications staff. The full text of the joint declaration can be read at .

3) National Youth Cabinet chooses theme for the year.

Photo by Carol Fike/Jeremy McAvoy
The Church of the Brethren’s National Youth Cabinet for 2011-12: (left front to back) Becky Ullom, Marissa Witkovsky, Lara Neher, Michael Himlie; (right, front to back) Ben Lowman, Amy Messler (adult advisor), Michael Novelli (adult advisor), and Josh Bollinger. Not shown: Kinsey Miller.

“Bridging the Gap” (Romans 15:5-7) has been chosen as the youth ministry theme for 2012 by the Church of the Brethren’s National Youth Cabinet, which held a weekend meeting at the General Offices in Elgin, Ill., on Dec. 2-4. “Bridging the Gap” also will be the theme for National Youth Sunday on May 6, 2012.

The members of the 2011-12 National Youth Cabinet are

— Josh Bollinger of Beaver Creek Church of the Brethren in Shenandoah District;

— Michael Himlie of Root River Church of the Brethren in Northern Plains District;

— Ben Lowman of Antioch Church of the Brethren in Virlina District;

— Kinsey Miller of Black Rock Church of the Brethren in Southern Pennsylvania District;

— Lara Neher of Ivester Church of the Brethren in Northern Plains District;

— Marissa Witkovsky of Roaring Spring Church of the Brethren in Middle Pennsylvania District;

— adult advisors Amy Messler of Waynesboro Church of the Brethren in Southern Pennsylvania District, and Michael Novelli of Highland Avenue Church of the Brethren in Illinois and Wisconsin District; and

— Becky Ullom, director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries.

4) Bethany Seminary receives grant for faculty study.

The Association of Theological Schools has awarded Bethany Seminary a $4,000 grant as part of its Christian Hospitality and Pastoral Practices in a Multifaith Society project. The funds will support Bethany faculty in exploring the nature of ministry in multifaith contexts and in the practical application of these findings to student course work.

“As a faculty, we’ve wondered how to educate people for Christian ministry in multifaith settings, and this grant lets us explore this question in an intentional, disciplined way,” said Russell Haitch, associate professor of Christian education and writer of the grant proposal. Anticipated outcomes of the study, scheduled for spring 2012, include better teaching and learning on pastoral practices in multifaith contexts, greater clarity about key concepts of Bethany’s mission, and stronger collegiate relations and collaborative scholarship.

One influence that led to the writing of the proposal was the seminary’s new mission statement, emphasizing education for “ministering, proclaiming, and living out God’s shalom and Christ’s peace.” Bethany faculty have expressed a desire to examine how this language, in conjunction with the Brethren peace tradition, should inform the preparation of ministry students for the variety of multifaith contexts that exist in society today.

A second factor was Haitch’s personal interest in interfaith dialogue, stemming partly from Bethany’s 2008 Presidential Forum on “Hearing Scriptures of Peace,” which brought together speakers and scholars from Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Haitch also appreciates the work of the Scriptural Reasoning Society, a group of scholars from the Abrahamic traditions. “Their approach is not a big-tent philosophy which searches for some elusive lowest common denominator, but a dialogue which strives for what they call ‘higher quality differences.’ The goal is not consensus but friendship and better understanding,” he said.

Two practical ministry settings will serve as test contexts for the study: hospital ministry and hospitality in cross-cultural experiences, the multifaith contexts that Bethany students are most likely to encounter. A number of students participate in clinical pastoral education in health care settings, and all degree-seeking students are required to participate in a cross-cultural experience.

“We are excited to be one of the few seminaries selected by the Association of Theological Schools to receive this grant,” said Steve Schweitzer, academic dean. “It will provide an excellent opportunity for Bethany faculty to engage in conversations on a topic that affects many of our graduates and has practical implications for those in congregational settings. This type of forward thinking will only make our educational programs stronger.”

Six faculty members will participate in the study through a series of meetings and assigned readings. Jewish scholar Peter Ochs from the University of Virginia and Muslim scholar A. Rashied Omar from the University of Notre Dame, both of whom have professional connections with Haitch, have been invited to share their faith and intercultural perspectives.

— Jenny Williams is director of communications and alumni/ae relations at Bethany Seminary.

5) On Earth Peace announces staff changes.

On Earth Peace will close the position of communications coordinator on Dec. 31, and will carry out the responsibilities of that position in new ways. This means that Gimbiya Kettering, the current coordinator of communications, will conclude her service this month.

Kettering began employment with On Earth Peace in August 2007, and has edited print and electronic newsletters, in addition to producing annual reports to constituents and coordinating the organization’s participation at Annual Conference.

James S. Replogle will conclude his service on the staff of On Earth Peace on Dec. 31. He was called in October 2010 to the temporary role of operations director, to assist the organization with strategic planning and transition.

— Bob Gross is executive director of On Earth Peace.

6) New Brethren staff are placed in South Sudan.

Athanasus Ungang and Jay Wittmeyer in South Sudan, Fall 2011
Athanasus Ungang (right), who began work in South Sudan in September with sponsorship from the denomination’s Global Mission and Service program, poses with Jay Wittmeyer, executive director of the program. Ungang is serving as a program volunteer for the Church of the Brethren placed with an ecumenical partner, the Africa Inland Church (AIC).

Athanasus Ungang and Jillian Foerster have begun work in South Sudan on behalf of the Church of the Brethren. Both have been placed with ecumenical partners, with sponsorship from the denomination’s Global Mission and Service program.

Ungang started in September as a program volunteer with the Africa Inland Church (AIC), a Sudanese church denomination where former Church of the Brethren mission worker Michael Wagner also was placed. Ungang is an ordained minister in the AIC, who became connected with the Church of the Brethren when he was translator for the late Phil and Louise Rieman while they were mission workers in Sudan many years ago. Since then he and his family immigrated to the United States, where he worked for the state of South Dakota on immigrant placement. Ungang’s wife and children continue to live in the US.

Foerster is working with RECONCILE International as an administrative associate, serving through Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS). She is a member of Mill Creek Church of the Brethren in Port Republic, Va., and holds a degree in international relations with a minor in economics.

Global Mission and Service executive director Jay Wittmeyer accompanied Foerster to South Sudan and stayed for a week visiting with ecumenical partners, returning to the US on Dec. 6. He met with leaders of AIC, RECONCILE, and the Sudan Council of Churches.

Wittmeyer reported on plans for the Church of the Brethren to establish a Peace Center in the area of Torit in South Sudan as “a place of outreach out of which we will be able to work.” He envisions partnering with AIC to build a site for the Peace Center, which will also be a place for Brethren to work on related efforts such as theological education, community development, and agricultural development. Wittmeyer added that he hopes establishment of the center will enable the placement of a number of BVS volunteers in South Sudan.

During his trip, Wittmeyer learned of new leadership of the Sudan Council of Churches, where a former head of the council has been removed from office after financial irregularities. Wittmeyer met with Rev. Mark Akec Cien, acting general secretary of the council, who is encouraging the Church of the Brethren to be involved in South Sudan “because of our long history there,” Wittmeyer said.

7) Reflections on Cuba, December 2011.

Cuban political leader Esteban Lazo with Michael Kinnamon of the NCC
Photo by José Aurelio Paz, Coordinador Área de Comunicaciones del CIC
Michael Kinnamon (right) general secretary of the US National Council of Churches chats with Cuban political leader and Politburo member Esteban Lazo (left) during an ecumenical delegation of US church leaders to Cuba. The delegation included Church of the Brethren representative Becky Ball-Miller, a member of the Mission and Ministry Board from Goshen, Ind.

Becky Ball-Miller, a member of the Church of the Brethren’s Mission and Ministry Board and CEO of Troyer Foods, Inc., an employee-owned company in Goshen, Ind., wrote the following reflection after she returned from an ecumenical delegation to Cuba:

It has been a little over a week since I returned from Cuba as part of a delegation with the National Council of Churches (NCC) meeting with the Cuban Council of Churches. I have not “scribed” my thoughts to paper before this for two reasons; first, life tends to be very full as we enter Advent and return from travels, and second, and mostly, because I have such a myriad of thoughts, feelings, and responses to my time away.

I travelled to Cuba in 1979 for a January term class at Manchester College. I was curious to see how much I remembered from that trip and how my responses may have changed–both because of the change in Cuba and especially because of the change in my life assumptions and expectations. In 1979 I was a self-described “poor college student” and today I might be described by some as a wealthy, successful business person who is blessed with opportunities to serve my faith community.

I was intrigued by how similar my reflections have been regarding the Cuban people and our relationship with Cuba. As one colleague reflected, the Cuban people will often say they may be poor but they are not desperate. It is apparent that they feel “cared for.” They advocate strongly and verbalize often their belief in the fundamental right of all Cubans for healthcare, education, food, and shelter. Cuban Politburo member Esteban Lazo shared that if he has two potatoes and his neighbor has none, then he should share his with his neighbor. It’s hard not to have images of the early church flood to my mind.

As we worked with the Cuban Council of Churches to develop a joint statement on our relations with Cuba, as we listened to the Cuban people and government representative, as we spent time in prayer and reflection, it seemed clear to me that the US embargo feels very much like bullying and holding a grudge. When they shared the dire economic conditions experienced in Cuba after the fall of the wall in 1991 (which they equated to our great depression), I couldn’t help but think that we missed a perfect opportunity to reach out and be the good neighbor, both exercising and asking for forgiveness and entering into a new and life-giving relationship.

What does this mean now? What have I learned from my experience? How will I live differently? I was intrigued by how similar my responses have been to 1979. My sense is that many Cubans have a strong sense of Christian identity and perhaps “do” church better than many Americans. I was intrigued with the level of fundamental care for one another in the midst of what we would define as poverty and perhaps even oppression. I was curious about the statement from an economic advisor we met with that they are not a socialist nation, but a nation founded on socialist principles. Another colleague shared that many of the parishioners described Castro as a strict father who took care of his children and they needed to do as he said.

Perhaps as you read this many mixed emotions and thoughts swirl in your mind, as they do mine. It became clear to me that there is no place for judgment and tremendous opportunity for learning and for improving the human condition–for all of us. It has certainly touched my mind and spirit with a new level of interest in ways we can increase humanitarian aid to Cuba and other people in need.

My life lessons from this experience are still forming. Yet, this I know: I have been much more sensitized to both the “different” and the “same” among us. That first and foremost, I want to focus on the need to offer life-giving care, for my neighbor(s) both near and far, for God’s earth, for God’s creatures (yes I couldn’t help but notice the cats and dogs and even reflect on the difference in care for our pets) and even for myself. It has been very meaningful to step away from the “norm”–my usual hustle and bustle–and be reminded of the spiritual connectedness that the noise in my life can often drown out. I believe this experience will continue to develop me, my relationship with others and my relationship with God and for that I give great thanks.

May we look at each day this Advent season–and always–as a new gift and an opportunity to share in Kingdom living.

8) Wonder stick: An interview with Grace Mishler.

Photo courtesy of Vietnam News Service / Vaên Ñaït
Grace Mishler is serving in Vietnam with sponsorship from the Global Mission and Service department, placed at the HCM City University of Social Sciences and Humanities. Working with disabilities issues, she was interviewed for White Cane Safety Day in Vietnam by a journalist from the Vietnam News Outlook, a publication with national distribution.

The following interview with Grace Mishler, Church of the Brethren member serving in Vietnam with support from the denomination’s Global Mission and Service office, is by Vietnamese journalist Löu Vaên Ñaït. It is reprinted here with permission, originally appearing Nov. 15 in English in the “Vietnam News Outlook” social section, whose circulation is nation-wide:

The visually impaired struggle to be more independent by using a white cane that allows them to better integrate into society. “With my cane, I feel more independent in Vieät Nam. It’s my best friend here,” says American Grace Mishler, whose eyesight began to fail when she was 31 years old.

Today, at 64, Grace works as a consultant at the HCM City University of Social Sciences and Humanities. Her work, which aims to raise public sensitivity and compassion about the disabled, is supported in part by Church of the Brethren Global Mission based in the US.

Grace settled in Vieät Nam 12 years ago after an initial three-week visit. Having travelled all over the country, she is never without her cane. When I arrived at her house for an interview, she insisted that she first demonstrate how to cross a busy street with the white cane. She showed me the moves which she had learned from her friend Leâ Daân Baïch Vieät, who studied mobility training for the blind in the US at the University of Pennsylvania. He later returned to teach blind people in Vieät Nam.

“Leâ was the master of mobility for visually impaired people. Unfortunately, he died from cancer after he set up the first mobility-training course in Vieät Nam,” she adds.

Grace says that most visually impaired people in the country do not know how to use the cane, and they often don’t go out because they feel embarrassed and uncomfortable. Few of them own a white cane, which began to be widely used in the early 20th century in France, the UK, and the US.

Her biggest concern now is that few blind people in Vieät Nam choose to use a cane. Without it, they stay isolated from friends and the community.

The three things that have helped her survive in Vieät Nam are her hat, sunglasses, and white cane, she says. “Even though the cane helps me, I know sometimes I can still get really nervous,” Grace admits.

She struck me as a woman of strong self-determination, with an iron spirit. She has had several difficulties in her life. Diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa at aged 31, she later discovered that she had leukemia, which was successfully treated and remains in remission.

During her first few days in Vieät Nam, Grace says she felt odd when she stepped out onto the street, hearing the roaring sound of motorbikes. She often took a taxi or motorbike to travel because of her fear. She says the streets in Saøi Goøn can be difficult to navigate without assistance, from either a cane, a seeing-eye dog or another person. The pavements are often crowded with parking lots for motorbikes or kiosks, she says.

In 1999, before coming to Vieät Nam, she relied heavily on her cane during a five-week stay in India. Later, when she moved here, she found that the roads here were more organized than in India. During her 12 years here, she has not had any accident, except for one fall in a bathroom.

More young people in Vieät Nam are beginning to use the white cane, which helps them to walk and use public transport. Hoaøng Vónh Taâm, 18, who was born with a visual impairment, travels by bus to his university in District 3 from Nhaät Hoàng Centre for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Thuû Ñöùc District. He learned how to use the cane from teachers at the centre.

“Thanks to the cane, I travelled independently to high school, and now I can attend university,” says Taâm, who wants to become a tour guide.

A few weeks ago, Taâm got lost when he was going home because the bus suddenly changed route. He got off and began walking. “I was able to get home because of my cane and what I was taught,” he says.

Leâ Thò Vaân Nga, director of the centre, was trained in Australia in mobility techniques for the blind. Nga, who is not visually impaired, says the white cane is like a long finger for the people who use it. Without the cane, they can feel isolated from the community, refusing to participate in social activities or studies at school.

In Vieät Nam, there are only about 20 lecturers around the country who can teach mobility techniques for the blind. Nga said that when she studied in Australia, as part of her training, she was dropped in the middle of nowhere blindfolded, and had to find a way to return to a previously appointed location. In Vieät Nam, Nga teaches the same practical techniques as well as several theory classes. “Walking on the street, I understand the challenges that the blind face, and know the importance of the white cane,” she says.

She hopes to develop more orientation courses for the blind. “Even sighted people get lost, so the course is very important.”

Recently, four five-day courses on mobility techniques were offered to teachers at schools for the blind and other schools.

Symbol of independence: To raise awareness about the visually impaired, Vieät Nam celebrated the first White Cane Safety Day on Oct. 14, with 50 visually impaired people walking with their white canes down Nguyeãn Chí Thanh Street from Nguyeãn Ñình Chieåu Blind School in HCM City. The special day was initiated in 1964 by the US Congress in a joint resolution that designated Oct. 15 as White Cane Safety Day. Renamed Blind Americans Equality Day by President Barack Obama this year on Oct. 14, the day recognises the contributions of Americans who are blind or have poor vision.

“On this day, we celebrate the achievements of blind and visually impaired Americans and reaffirm our commitment to advancing their complete social and economic integration,” Obama said.

Not only does the white cane offer protection and help the visually impaired live independently, it also alerts motor vehicles and pedestrians to yield the right of way to the person using the cane.

9) An Advent letter from the Annual Conference officers.

“If we have love, disagreement will do us no harm. If we do not have love, agreement will do us no good.” –Kurtis Friend Naylor

To our sisters and brothers in the Church of the Brethren:

The items of business at Annual Conference earlier this year addressed significant matters of life and faith, and our passionate discussions showed that we take those matters seriously.

Vigorous debate is not necessarily cause for concern, but within our discussions there were clearly times when our tone and attitudes toward one another crossed a line. In those moments, it was painful to see that our debate sounded no different from the way society in general debates controversial matters–sides are taken, accusations are made, threats are received. One church member received a death threat. Another member was told, “I wish you would go to hell.” And many individuals spent their time identifying with their particular sub-group rather than with the church as a whole.

As officers of Annual Conference, we long for our discussions in the Church of the Brethren to be markedly different from that of the world. If those who are not disciples of Jesus were to observe us at our most difficult moments, would they be able to see–through our words, our tone, and our actions–how much we love and respect one another?

And so we offer a challenge. We urge each of us to take a step back from our current disagreements and examine whether our own attitudes and actions reflect the transformation we have come to know through the Holy Spirit.  Specifically, we encourage members to consider taking the following actions before the 2012 Annual Conference in St. Louis:

— If we have spoken ill of anyone or in any way failed to build up the church through our spoken words, our social media, or even by our thoughts, that we make an effort to be reconciled again in Christ Jesus our Lord, in the spirit of Matthew 18:15-20.

— That we devote ourselves to study and prayer around the 2012 Annual Conference theme, “Continuing the work of Jesus. Peacefully. Simply. Together,” and theme verses Matthew 28:19-20.

Finally, it is our hope that we would all hold one another in prayer as we seek to “Continue the work of Jesus. Peacefully. Simply. Together.”

Grace and peace to you,
Tim Harvey, 2012 Annual Conference Moderator
Bob Krouse, Moderator-elect and Fred Swartz, Annual Conference Secretary

10) Brethren bits: Job openings, Annual Conference delegate registration, college news, and more.

— Shenandoah District seeks a full-time district executive minister for a position available May 1, 2012. The district includes 97 congregations, 5 fellowships, and 1 project. It seeks a strong, outgoing leader who will develop and build vital and growing relationships with congregations and ministers. The district is making a transition from multiple staff to a district executive minister who will work with a Leadership Team to develop additional staffing needs. Camp Brethren Woods is a significant aspect of district ministry. The camp director is part of district staff as an associate district executive. The district office is located in Weyers Cave, Va. Responsibilities include serving as executive officer of the district Leadership Team; facilitating and overseeing planning and implementation of ministries set forth by the District Conference and the Leadership Team; providing linkages between the district and its congregations, the Mission and Ministry Board, and denominational agencies; promoting and cultivating the vision set forth by the district; providing leadership in pastoral placement, development, and support, among others. Qualifications include a mature and personal commitment to Jesus Christ and a faith shaped by New Testament values and the heritage and practice of the Church of the Brethren; ordination in the Church of the Brethren with at least 5-9 years of pastoral experience; administrative and management skills; oral and written communication skills; interpersonal skills and ability to collaborate and work with a range of personalities; master of divinity degree preferred. Send a letter of interest and resume via e-mail to Applicants are requested to contact three or four people to provide a letter of reference. Upon receipt of the resume the individual will be sent a candidate profile that must be completed and returned before the application is complete. The application deadline is Jan. 31, 2012.

— The Gather ‘Round curriculum, produced by Brethren Press and MennoMedia, is accepting applications to write for Preschool, Primary, Middler, Multiage, Junior Youth, or Youth age groups for 2013-14. Writers produce well-written, age-appropriate, and engaging material for teacher’s guides, student books, and resource packs. All writers will attend an orientation March 19-23, 2012, in Chicago, Ill. See Job Opportunities at . Application deadline is Jan. 9, 2012.

— Early registration for congregational delegates to the 2012 Annual Conference in St. Louis, Mo., will open at noon (central time) on Jan. 2. The early registration fee is $285 per delegate. The fee increases to $310 on Feb. 23. Congregations will be able to register their delegates online at and will be able to pay either by credit card or by sending a check. A memo and registration form also is being mailed to every congregation. Non delegate registration and housing reservations will begin Feb. 22. For questions or more information contact the Conference Office at or 800-323-8039 ext. 229.

—  Shipping of the 2012 Brethren Reminder has been delayed in order to provide up-to-date staff listings, and copies should arrive in early January. The complimentary pocket calendar is sent by Brethren Press to pastors and other church leaders. It includes key dates on the denominational calendar, as well as address information and staff listings.

— The church’s advocacy and peace witness office in Washington, D.C., has signed on to a number of ecumenically sponsored letters. One calls for cuts in nuclear weapons spending, organized by staff of the Friends (Quaker) Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) and signed by 47 faith-based groups. Another communication on behalf of 26 faith-based organizations opposes an anti-diplomacy provision in House of Representatives legislation on sanctions against Iran. Again with organization from the FCNL, the communication expressed concern that “this legislation would undermine prospects for a diplomatic resolution of Iran’s disputed nuclear program, increasing the threat of war.” The Church of the Brethren also joined nearly 150 other organizations in a call to Congress to re-authorize the Violence Against Women Act of 1994. The act creates an office within the Department of Justice to develop federal policies around issues relating to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.

— A new “Brethren in the News” page is online at . This occasional news feature on the denominational website offers links to the latest Brethren-related news, obituaries for church members, and more, with link to the full stories online.

— In recent work, the Material Resources program based at the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Md., has shipped two 40-foot containers of Lutheran World Relief (LWR) quilts, soap, toothpaste, and kits to Tanzania; received and unloaded 11 boxcars and 6 piggyback trailers of LWR materials; shipped Church World Service (CWS) blankets to Michigan, Connecticut, and Florida for homeless and economically disadvantaged people; shipped 1,050 heavyweight CWS blankets to Pharr, Texas, for distribution by Methodist Border Ministries Network and Faith Ministry on both sides of the US/Mexico border; sent 30 CWS blankets to Wellsboro, Pa., for use by homeless individuals and families in Tiogo County; and sent two 40-foot containers on their way on behalf of a cooperative effort of International Orthodox Christian Charities, LWR, CWS, and IMA World Health: one container of school kits for Cameroon and one loaded with quilts, baby kits, and bed sheets for Serbia.

The group who gathered for an international interfaith meeting on HIV and AIDS included two Church of the Brethren members: Anna Speicher, editor of the Gather ’Round curriculum, and Sara Speicher, a former staff of the Association of Brethren Caregivers.

— Anna Speicher, editor of the Gather ’Round curriculum, was one of two Church of the Brethren members at an international meeting on HIV and AIDS organized by the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance and hosted by the Presbyterian Church in Canada. Her sister, Sara Speicher, who is a former staff of the Association of Brethren Caregivers and a former Brethren Volunteer Service worker, was a primary organizer of the meeting. Leaders from five world religions gathered to encourage engagement and action on HIV in dialogue with people living with HIV. The group expressed dismay at the recent drop in funding for the AIDS response just as recent statistics show the effectiveness of prevention and treatment approaches, and stated in its final reflections: “As we ourselves recommit to deeper and more active engagement in the HIV response, we call on donor and recipient governments to fulfill their promises and provide the sustainable financial resources to reach the goal in the 2011 Political Declaration (UN declaration on HIV and AIDS) that we now see as attainable–zero deaths, zero new infections, and zero stigma and discrimination.” The 15 leaders from the Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, and Muslim traditions included religious leaders living with HIV, and met with representatives of organizations including the Global Network of People Living with HIV, UNAIDS, United Nations Population Fund, and World AIDS Campaign.

— A spiritual disciplines folder for Epiphany has been announced by the Springs of Living Water initiative for church renewal, on the theme, “The Invitation to Discipleship, ‘Follow Me and I Will Make You Fish for People.’” Prepared so that churches can distribute them at their Christmas Eve services, this folder is a guide for persons to read the scriptures in their devotional life. The folder can be found on the Springs website at . Vince Cable, pastor of Uniontown Church of the Brethren, prepared study questions on the daily readings which can also be found on the website. For more information e-mail David and Joan Young at .

Photo courtesy of Fahrney-Keedy Home and Village
Florence Graff (center), a volunteer and former board member at Fahrney-Keedy Home and Village near Boonsboro, Md., was honored on Nov. 4 as a Distinguished Volunteer during the National Philanthropy Day luncheon at Ceresville Mansion in Frederick, Md.

— Florence Graff, a volunteer and former board member at Fahrney-Keedy Home and Village near Boonsboro, Md., was honored on Nov. 4 as a Distinguished Volunteer during the National Philanthropy Day luncheon at Ceresville Mansion in Frederick, Md. Graff served on the Fahrney-Keedy Board of Directors 1994-2007. Keith Bryan, president and CEO, said of Mrs. Graff, “Fahrney-Keedy is blessed to have been the recipient of Dr. (Henry) and Mrs. Graff’s generosity both through endowments and volunteer efforts over many years. She is tireless in her dedication and hard work and we wish to express our deep thanks on behalf of the facility and its residents for her service to the board.” For more information visit

— Manchester College seeks nominations for its 2012 Warren K. and Helen J. Garner Alumni Teacher of the Year. To be eligible, candidates must be currently teaching (preschool -12) and have made significant contributions to education, provide exceptional service to the profession, are deeply concerned for the individual students, and are able to inspire learning. To nominate a Manchester graduate for the award visit or contact the Department of Education at 260-982-5056. Deadline for nominations is March 9. The Garners, who have endowed the Teacher of the Year recognition, are 1950 graduates of the college. A member of the Indiana Educator Hall of Fame, Warren Garner chaired the Manchester College Department of Education for more than 20 years and helped rewrite teacher training licensing standards. Helen Garner taught fifth- and sixth-graders for 22 years.

— Theater at Bridgewater (Va.) College has been invited by the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival to perform its fall 2011 theater production, “A Dream Play” by August Strindberg in a new version by Caryl Churchill at the Regional Festival at 8:30 p.m. Jan. 13, 2012, in Fisher Auditorium at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. “It is a great honor to have our show selected to participate in the Regional Festival,” said Scott W. Cole, associate professor of theater, in a release from the college. “It puts Bridgewater College and the theater program ‘on the map’ as a program of high-quality and excellence.” An encore performance of “A Dream Play” is free and open to the public at 8 p.m. on Jan. 7 in Cole Hall.

— The University of La Verne, Calif., received one of 20 competitive grants awarded to Hispanic-serving institutions from the US Department of Agriculture, according to a release sent by the university. The USDA awarded a total of $8.8 million in the grants, as reported by . The grants are intended to enhance the ability of colleges and universities to support underserved students and develop a skilled American workforce.

— McPherson (Kan.) College has announced the winning team of its Global Enterprise Challenge: Panama. The winners receive scholarships and all-expenses paid trip to Panama to explore what it would take to make their entrepreneurial idea a reality. The team proposed “Esperanza: Cultivating with Compassion,” a concept to establish a grade school with a circular model in which the Panamanian community helps sponsor promising students to receive higher education and in return students commit to returning to the community as teachers to help the next generation. The winning team included mentor Jonathan Frye, professor of natural science; Jacob Patrick, sophomore from Elizabeth, Colo.; Lara Neher, freshman from Grundy Center, Iowa; Emily James, junior from Westminster, Colo.; Sarah Neher, senior from Rochester, Minn.; and Tabitha McCullough, senior from Hill City, Kan.

— The Brethren Revival Fellowship (BRF) is sponsoring an intergenerational work camp for ages 11-plus in Haiti from June 17–25, 2012. The number of participants is limited to 20. The team will be serving at the New Covenant School in St. Louis du Nord, helping to build a new school building as well as leading a vacation Bible school. Another BRF workcamp is planned for July 23-29, 2012, in Puerto Rico for youth who have completed grade 9 to age 19. The number of participants is limited to 20. The team will be at the new Church of the Brethren project in Morovis, and will do light construction or painting as well as community clean-up or working with children. Online registration for both workcamps opens Jan. 9, 2012, at 7 p.m. (central) at the Church of the Brethren website .

— Church Women United celebrated its 70th anniversary on Dec. 1-3. In a recent e-mail, the Global Women’s Project, a Church of the Brethren group, extended its congratulations to Church Women United, reporting that “since 1941, CWU has organized into more than 1,200 local and state units in the United States and Puerto Rico in its quest to create a more just and peaceful world.”

— Bethany Seminary professor Dawn Ottoni Wilhelm has co-edited a new Bible lectionary commentary titled, “Preaching God’s Transforming Justice: A Lectionary Commentary, Year B.” The book was published by Westminster John Knox Press with a goal to “help the preacher focus on the implications for social justice in every biblical reading in the Revised Common Lectionary.” It also highlights 22 “Holy Days for Justice” such as World Aids Day and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The 90 contributors are a diverse group of biblical scholars, preachers, social activists, and professors of preaching. Find out more at

Contributors to this issue of Newsline include Jordan Blevins, Chris Douglas, Carol Fike, Mary Jo Flory-Steury, Mary Kay Heatwole, Philip E. Jenks, Jon Kobel, Michael Leiter, Adam Pracht, Alisha M. Rosas, Becky Ullom, Julia Wheeler, and editor Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of News Services for the Church of the Brethren. Look for the next regularly scheduled issue on Dec. 28.

Newsline is produced by the News Services of the Church of the Brethren. Contact the editor at Newsline appears every other week, with special issues as needed. Stories may be reprinted if Newsline is cited as the source. To unsubscribe or change your e-mail preferences go to

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