By Frank Ramirez
“We are talking about the facility, not the programs,” said Becky Ball-Miller, chair of the Mission and Ministry Board, addressing a packed room at a hearing about the disposition of the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Md. Sharing the dais with her were treasurer LeAnn Harnist, chair-elect Don Fitzkee, and general secretary Stan Noffsinger.
Ball-Miller emphasized that conversations such as the one held Wednesday evening were part of the “due diligence” the board was engaging in. There would be no action at Annual Conference, she emphasized. “This is not an item of business.” Nor had any decision been made.
After showing a short YouTube video prepared by David Sollenberger outlining the history of the Brethren Service Center, its integral place in the history not only of Brethren Disaster Ministries but also the Relief ministries of partner agencies and denominations, members of the panel shared some of the history of the discussion and passed out a sheet that will be part of the delegate packet.
For some in attendance, however, it seemed there was no separating program from the buildings. Some talked about their personal history with the facility, and its proximity to their home congregations or districts, and in some cases suggested their volunteer work might have to cease if these ministries continued at locations inconvenient to the volunteers.
Others in attendance said they understand the cost of maintaining these buildings and bringing them up to code might be monies better spent directly for ministries that are at the heart of the Brethren experience. A 2005 study conducted by a committee of the General Board that earlier recommended sale of the property–a recommendation that in the end was not followed by board–was referred to several times.
Noffsinger emphasized that elimination of the programs related to disaster ministries is “not on the table.” He said that at one meeting of district executives, one asked, “Why is Brethren Disaster Ministry going away?” Once Noffsinger made clear that these ministries would be maintained regardless of decisions about the Brethren Service Center are made in the months ahead, a more comfortable dialogue began to take place, he said. “Brethren Disaster Ministries will flourish,” Noffsinger assured.
Harnist outlined the current status of the several buildings and three major blocks of property that are under discussion. Both she and Noffsinger described ongoing conversations with all the partner agencies, such as On Earth Peace and SERRV, and Ball-Miller emphasized once again, “This is an continuing process. We want to be about dialogue and conversation.”
Noffsinger and Ball-Miller also reminded their listeners that as sacred as some spaces have become to Brethren, it is the relationships that were created there, and the ministries of bringing Christ alive to the suffering, that matter more than buildings.