Progressive Brethren Gathering Focuses on Response to 2011 Conference

Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
The Progressive Brethren Gathering on Nov. 11-13 was hosted by Highland Avenue Church of the Brethren in Elgin, Ill., and sponsored by a coalition of progressive groups. Some 170 people attended, with about 30 more viewing the live webcasts.

With the theme “Pressing On, No Turning Back,” the Progressive Brethren Gathering Nov. 11-13 focused on a response to decisions and events at the 2011 Annual Conference regarding sexuality and women’s leadership in the church.

This was the fourth Progressive Brethren Gathering, sponsored jointly by Womaen’s Caucus, Voices for an Open Spirit (VOS), and the Brethren Mennonite Council for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Interests (BMC). The event was hosted by Highland Avenue Church of the Brethren in Elgin, Ill.

In advance of the weekend, organizers had issued an open invitation for “ideas that you think will either sustain us or move us forward as individuals or as a group.” The invitation continued, “We believe that a multitude of responses are required to do this work of justice and faith, so we are interested in a variety of ideas and proposals.”

Following a presentation by keynote speaker Sharon Welch, a nonviolent activist and feminist scholar who is provost and professor of religion and society at Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago, the gathering received presentations of action ideas from several groups and individuals. The ideas were discussed and prioritized in small groups, and then participants were offered the opportunity to commit to do further work on several of the ideas presented.

A new Progressive Brethren Council was announced to be a coordinating body for the informal coalition of groups, which now includes the new “Feast of Love” movement formed through social media since the 2011 Conference and led primarily by young adults. The new council includes two representatives of each of the three original sponsoring groups plus Feast of Love.

Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
The Feast of Love interim organizational team was one of the groups presenting at the Progressive Brethren Gathering: (from left) Matt McKimmy of Richmond, Ind.; Elizabeth Ullery of Olympia, Wash.; Josih Hostetler of Pomona, Calif.; Roger Schrock of Mountain Grove, Mo.; and Gimbiya Kettering of Washington, D.C. Feast of Love has grown as a social media movement since the 2011 Annual Conference. More information is at

Action ideas ranged broadly. One group of ministers proposed creating a list of clergy willing to participate in a marriage celebration for gay or lesbian couples. La Verne (Calif.) Church of the Brethren encouraged addressing concerns through financial means, restricting giving based on the monitoring of church programs “for movement toward greater inclusion.” The BMC board challenged the gathering to strengthen the Supportive Communities Network of churches that are publicly affirming of people of all sexual orientations. The Common Spirit House Church in Minneapolis presented itself as a model for establishing new congregations. The Feast of Love interim organizational team gave a presentation on the goals and growth of its new movement. Ideas for direct nonviolent action at the next Annual Conference were discussed, as were ways to relate to denominational staff.

Many participants signed a petition to the Program and Arrangements Committee of Annual Conference, asking for BMC to be allotted booth space at the 2012 Annual Conference. The petition cited the 2011 Conference decision “to continue deeper conversations concerning human sexuality outside of the query process.”

Some 170 people attended the gathering, with about 30 more viewing live webcasts. The weekend also included daily worship, joining with Highland Avenue Church of the Brethren for the Sunday morning service, as well as a benefit concert for Christian Peacemaker Teams given by the Circle Singers. View webcast recordings at

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