Nancy Sollenberger Heishman, moderator of the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference, is sharing greetings with the denomination and its members in this New Year 2014. The following letter offering encouragement for a life of Christian discipleship, is being sent to congregational delegates by mail. For more information about Annual Conference go to www.brethren.org/ac .
January 1, 2014
Dear Sisters and Brothers of the Church of the Brethren,
Greetings in the name of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace and the One who is God-with-us! As I write this letter we stand at the threshold of a new year, full of bright promise and possibility. I take this opportunity to write, desiring primarily to encourage you in your life of Christian discipleship and also to offer resources that may be of use as we journey together.
At the close of last year’s Annual Conference I challenged everyone to give special emphasis to the study of Philippians with the hope that it would be a rich and rewarding experience of gathering throughout the year in small groups, finding renewal in our life together. The stories I have heard so far are quite encouraging. As we are studying in small groups, learning the Word by heart, and helping one another to discern God’s call, truly we are “straining on toward what lies ahead, pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”
When our family lived in Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic, we became friends with a Dutch missionary family who lived across the street. Kina and Max led their six children in a tradition of discerning their “life verse” for each New Year. At the close of the year, each child was encouraged to pray and discern what verse might serve as a focus for the coming year. What verse would summarize how they sensed God calling them at this time in their life and throughout the year ahead?
That practice has inspired me over the years to ponder just what verse might sum up God’s call in my life of discipleship at each stage. If I were to choose a verse for this coming year it would be Philippians 2:5, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” In pondering the context of this verse, I hear the call to allow the Spirit of Christ within me to transform my attitude, thoughts, and actions to be more Christ-like each day. Further, I wonder how the life of our congregations, boards, committees, and church staff might be transformed by the example of Christ’s servant attitude?
In a recent interview, British theologian and writer N.T Wright commented that the way we get to know who we are and where we’re called is through soaking ourselves in the scripture much more than we ever imagined we had to, soaking ourselves in prayer, participating in the ordinances of the church, and listening intently to the cries of those in pain and poverty around us. Somehow, says Wright, Jesus will come afresh to us and through us in ways we cannot imagine or predict, let alone control.
During this New Year, I encourage all of us to deepen our practices of soaking ourselves in the scripture, in prayer, in the ordinances, and in hearing the cries of the poor. Let us reach out to one another through these practices, strengthening our life of Christian community. Let us deepen our personal practices of moments spent in communion with Christ. Let us open ourselves more completely to the communities right around us. Jesus tells us in Matthew 25 that it is in caring for “the least of these” that we actually meet Jesus without realizing we are doing so, suggests Wright.
As you respond to opportunities to deepen the spiritual practices that lead you both to Christ and toward others, you might consider the following resources:
— Participate in the Church of the Brethren “Vital Ministry Journey” in small groups ( www.brethren.org/congregationallife/vmj );
— Follow a “read-through-the-Bible” resource this year;
— Use a resource such as “Take our Moments and Our Days: An Anabaptist Prayer Book” volumes 1 and 2, for both personal and small group practices of morning and evening prayer;
— Explore www.yearofthebiblenetwork.org and the many resources included for personal and congregational exploration of the scriptures;
— Take the journey through the Twelve Scriptures Project, developed by Mennonite Church USA leadership to deepen the practice of Christian formation ( www.mennoniteusa.org );
— Consider forming a prayer partnership (dyad or triad) to encourage and stimulate one another in discipleship and service.
As we prepare to gather for the Annual Conference in Columbus, Ohio, from July 2-6, may these next six months draw us both closer to Christ and closer to one another. May our continued study of the book of Philippians inspire courage that is expressed in our deeds and words. May we share the good news of Jesus in fresh, new ways this year. And may we continue to abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
As Paul writes in Romans 15:4, “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.”
“May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 14:5-6).
Nancy Sollenberger Heishman
Annual Conference Moderator