National Older Adult Conference (NOAC) 2013 concluded last Friday, Sept. 6, after a week of world class speakers, concerts, dramas, and shows, envigorating worship, and energizing opportunities for recreation and fellowship. Held at Lake Junaluska in North Carolina, the conference was attended by some 800 people, and organized by the denomination’s Older Adult Ministry and Congregational Life Ministries.
The conference coordinating leadership included Kim Ebersole, NOAC coordinator, and Jonathan Shively, executive director of Congregational Life Ministries, along with the NOAC Planning Committee of Bev and Eric Anspaugh, Deanna Brown, and Delora and Eugene Roop. In addition, many other volunteers and staff were on hand to help make this year’s NOAC a success.
Financial sponsors included Brethren Benefit Trust, Hillcrest, Peter Becker Community, Pinecrest Community, and the Palms of Sebring.
For more news and photos from NOAC 2013, go to www.brethren.org/news/2013/noac-2013 .
Preachers call older adults to help heal the world
Dava Hensley, who preached for the opening worship service and pastors First Church of the Brethren, Roanoke, Va., brought a “glow in the darkness” to NOAC–complete with glow sticks handed out to worshipers to wave at the close of the service. Speaking on Isaiah 58:6-10, Hensley asked, “Have we blowed out our light? We are to glow in the darkness!” God’s people were challenged by the prophet Isaiah to understand that “true worship is concrete action,” she said. Her challenge to the congregation of older adults: “What is holding us back from allowing our light to glow in the darkness? I challenge us. When was the last time we allowed our light to shine in the darkness?”
A leader in the Baptist World Alliance and president emeritus at Christian Theological Seminary, the Rev. Dr. Edward L. Wheeler gave the Wednesday evening sermon and continued the challenge to NOACers to be out and active in the world. His message, “The Race Is Not Over Yet,” was based on Hebrews 12:1-3. He called on worshippers to follow the example of Jesus, remember the cloud of witnesses, and run the race of faith and life to the finish. He also lauded the efforts of civil rights leaders as well as those ordinary people who stood up–and still stand up–against the dehumanizing powers of the world in the name of Jesus Christ. “ I don’t know about you, but I’ve been blessed by the faith and example of parents and aunts and uncles who kept the faith and ran the race.” Seniors have much to give, and have every reason to run the race of faithfulness no matter how hard it may seem to continue that struggle to the finish line, he emphasized. “We are loved and the world needs us to love back.”
On Friday morning, the closing message for NOAC 2013, “I Thought There Would Be Refreshments,” was brought by Kurt Borgmann, pastor of Manchester Church of the Brethren in N. Manchester, Ind. The challenge continued, as he called NOAC attendees to “be the refreshment” of the world, not just seek their own refreshment in the church. Although he drew laughs by imagining answers to the question, “When two or three Brethren gather together what do you think they do?”–number one answer (ding, ding, ding) eating ice cream–Borgmann wasn’t content to let NOAC conclude simply by celebrating the sharing of good things. Noting that many Christians think “the primary purpose of the church is to provide refreshments primarily for ourselves,” he reminded NOAC that Brethren can do better and often do better than that. “Maybe church should look less like an ice cream social and more like a sandwich for the homeless,” he said. Borgmann challenged the congregation, packed and ready to depart at the end of worship, “You don’t need refreshment. You are refreshment…. What refreshment are you prepared to offer the world?”
Other devotional opportunities beyond the three main worship services included a daily morning Bible study led by Dawn Ottoni-Wilhelm, professor of Preaching and Worship at Bethany Theological Seminary; and two different early morning devotions led by Joel Kline, pastor of Highland Avenue Church of the Brethren in Elgin, Ill., and Dana Cassell, youth pastor at Manassas (Va.) Church of the Brethren. “Meet the New Day” activities led by the Young Adult Ministry also included meditative movement, group singing at the cross above Lake Junaluska, and a labyrinth walk.
Keynote speakers include Tickle, Mouw, and Lederach
Phyllis Tickle kicked off the keynote speeches at NOAC on Tuesday morning of the conference. After hearing her theory of a “500-year cycle of change and distress” one might have felt alarm at the assertion that “we are living through a time of great upheaval,” but Tickle tied it all together with humor, insight, and hope. Known for her Divine Hours series on observing fixed-hour prayer, as well as more than two dozen books on religion and spirituality, Tickle is an expert on “emergence Christianity” and a lay eucharistic minister and lector in the Episcopal Church as well as a former college professor and academic dean at Memphis College of Art. Noting that the nature of home life has inevitably changed, as women gain equality in employment, and there are fewer parents teaching the biblical story to children, Tickle gave a homework assignment to older adults: “It is up to us who are grandparents and great-grandparents, who are the ones who know the stories, we must go back and weave those stories into the lives of our grandchildren and great grandchildren.” If the older generations don’t do their homework, and children don’t learn the Bible story, Christianity may survive, Tickle said. But, she warned, “the church may not.” She emphasized not only the importance of story in human life, but also the rising generations’ new understanding of fact versus truth–that the beauty of a story lies in its “actuality, not factuality”–and the healing nature of storytelling, both for individuals and society.
Richard Mouw, recently retired president of Fuller Theological Seminary, in the second keynote address of the week challenged the NOAC congregation to move beyond the world where people hear only what they want to hear or listen only to people who agree with them. Lines drawn sharply, separating differing perceptions of reality, have intruded on the world of faith, he said, asking if it is possible for us to act and treat each other in a civil fashion within the Christian communion. Mouw is the author of 17 books including “Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World,” and his address was titled, “The Call to Be a Compassionate People: Spiritual Resources for a Kinder and Gentler Discipleship.”
Closing out the series of three keynotes, John Paul Lederach called on NOAC to “dream a new global dream.” A Mennonite author, professor, and peacemaker, he spoke about “The Art and Soul of Building Peace.” Lederach is professor of International Peace Studies at Notre Dame University, and has been on the ground personally in many different hot spots around the world, assisting local communities in their efforts to build peace amid violent conflict and war. His books include “When Blood and Bones Cry Out: Journeys Through the Soundscape of Healing” and “Building Peace: Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies.”
Concerts, dramas, and shows
The line up of entertainment also was world class, headed by the NOAC News Team of David Sollenberger, Larry Glick, and Chris Stover Brown, whose humorous takes on NOAC events and daily videos are a favorite part of the NOAC experience for many attendees.
Ted Swartz’ one-man show “Laughter Is Sacred Space” told the in turns amusing and tear wrenching story of his personal struggle following the loss of Lee Eshleman, his friend and former partner in “Ted & Lee,” who in 2007 took his own life.
Josh and Elizabeth Tindall gave an evening piano and organ concert. The Church of the Brethren couple perform throughout the country as soloists, duo pianists, accompanists, and as members of “The Headliners.” They have established the Keynote school of music in Elizabethtown, and both teach music in various capacities. Josh is pastor of Music Ministries at Elizabethtown Church of the Brethren.
Michael Skinner brought the show “Birds of Prey: Masters of the Sky” to the Stuart Auditorium one afternoon, complete with a bald eagle among other hawks, falcons, and owls. Using a falconer’s thick leather gauntlets, Skinner displayed birds–each nonreleasable in the wild because of injury or other handicap, gave information about each species, and answered questions from an interested audience. The show went a half hour over time as the crowd stayed on for more, and concluded with an opportunity for volunteers to help fly one of the powerful and striking birds. Skinner is executive director of the Balsam Mountain Trust, which administers the environmental education and research arm of the Balsam Mountain Preserve. He was the Emmy nominated host of “Georgia Outdoors” on Georgia Public Television and is an experienced field ecologist, naturalist, nature photographer, environmental educator, taxidermist, and musician.
Other highlights of the NOAC week
Memorial Tribute: Each year, Brethren Benefit Trust produces a Memorial Tribute that honors Brethren Pension Plan members and their spouses, as well as denominational leaders who passed away during the preceding year. The special presentation for NOAC honored those who have died from June 2011 to June 2013.
Sharing Our Healing: At the back of Stuart Auditorium, bulletin boards were available each day to help participants reflect on that day’s theme of healing. One bulletin board included information about denominational programs on the daily theme. The second bulletin board provided space to share personal thoughts on the theme. Themes were: How you heal…yourself (Tuesday) …your community (Wednesday) …our world (Thursday).
Trekkin’ for Peace: A group of close to 100 NOACers walked or ran a 2.5 mile path around Lake Junaluska on Thursday morning before breakfast. The $10 registration fee and additional gifts benefited the Youth Peace Travel Team of the Church of the Brethren. Trekkin’ for Peace was sponsored by Brethren Benefit Trust and the Youth and Young Adult Ministries.
Afternoon bus trips: Busloads from NOAC visited a variety of sites during afternoon field trips including the Biltmore Estate, George Vanderbilt’s 250-room French chateau; the Balsam Mountain Nature Center; and the Cherokee Oconaluftee Indian Village.
What wisdom have you gleaned from the years?
For each day’s “NOAC Notes” newsletter, several people were asked a “Question of the Day.” Thursday’s question was asked of nonagenarians 90 years old and older: What wisdom have you gleaned from the years? Here are some responses:
For more news and photos from NOAC 2013, go to www.brethren.org/news/2013/noac-2013 .
— The reporting from NOAC 2013 was carried out by the NOAC communication team of Frank Ramirez, reporter; Eddie Edmonds, tech guru; Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, editor and photographer; with help from BBT staff photographers Nevin Dulabaum and Patrice Nightingale.