By Randy Miller
At their Annual Conference meeting on Wednesday, July 2, Mission and Ministry Board members got acquainted with international visitors and received an update from Global Mission and Service director Jay Wittmeyer on conditions facing Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria).
They also celebrated this year’s Open Roof Award to congregations that are making strides in welcoming people with disabilities, were briefed on the denomination’s financial status, and heard a report on the Ministry Summer Service program.
Report on Nigeria
Wittmeyer, who visited Nigeria in April with general secretary Stan Noffsinger, said conditions there were going from bad to worse in many areas where EYN members reside, citing reports of fresh attacks near Chibok over the weekend.
“When I first came on board in 2009, there had been attacks on churches in Nigeria,” Wittmeyer told board members. “There’s a long history of violence in Nigeria. But when Stan and I were there in April, it looked like an armed insurgency, even the beginnings of a civil war. The situation has shifted dramatically during my time in this office. In three states in northeast Nigeria, where EYN has most of its churches, 250,000 people have been displaced.”
Rebecca Dali, a leading member of EYN and wife of EYN president Samuel Dante Dali, was among the international visitors who spent time sharing their stories around tables with board members. Dali will be speaking about how EYN is coping with the surge of violence in Nigeria with various groups during and after Conference.
In addition to Dali, representatives from the Church of the Brethren in Brazil, as well as the Church of North India and the First District Church of the Brethren in India were in attendance.
“As we go forward, I feel the need for Brethren Disaster Ministries to be involved, because Nigeria is in crisis mode,” said Wittmeyer, who plans to return to Nigeria in August, along with Roy Winter, associate executive director for Global Mission and Service and director of Brethren Disaster Ministries.
Leanne Harnist, treasurer for the Church of the Brethren, briefed the board on the denomination’s finances. She reported that total giving was ahead of where the church was a year ago by 8 percent, but that giving to Core Ministries lagged behind, and that congregational giving had decreased in 2013 by about 3 percent. However, she said that she expected there to be an increase in individual contributions as the year progressed. Nevertheless, expectations are for a 2 percent decrease in 2015. She added that projections for the future indicate that expenses will outpace income.
“We need to be looking at this,” said board chair Becky Ball-Miller. “We can’t continue
operating like this for much longer.”
Ministry Summer Service
Board member Pam Reist presented an overview of the Ministry Summer Service program, in which young Brethren are offered opportunities to try their hand at church leadership. After showing a short video, Reist introduced intern Lauren Seganos, who currently is serving at Elizabethtown (Pa.) Church of the Brethren, where Reist is a pastor.
“I’m really grateful for this program,” Seganos told the board. “The thing I love most about it is the intentional mentorship of us workers by church leaders. It draws upon our Brethren heritage in that regard. Young people who have come through this program before are now serving as leaders in the Church of the Brethren. So please continue to support MSS!”
Open Roof Award
Three congregations were acknowledged for their extra efforts to welcome persons with special needs into their congregations. Jonathan Shively, executive director of Congregational Life Ministries, presented the 2014 Open Roof Award to South Waterloo (Iowa) Church of the Brethren, Lone Star Church of the Brethren in Lawrence, Kan., and Clover Creek Church of the Brethren in Martinsburg, Pa.
In addition, Shively acknowledged and thanked Donna Kline, director of the Deacon Ministry, for her years of service to the denomination. Kline is retiring this summer.
South Waterloo Church of the Brethren has developed a relationship with Harmony House, a brain injury care facility in Waterloo, Iowa, providing gift bags to some of the residents, and space for outings and the annual fall dance. The church also “says yes” to its own members who live with disabilities, offering ways for them to serve in spite of their challenges, learning how to incorporate them into church activities. An elevator has been installed in the church building, and restrooms are ADA compliant. A pew in the sanctuary was removed to make room for those in wheelchairs, and ushers help those who use walkers.
Lone Star Church of the Brethren is a congregation that has struggled to achieve progress and is committed to keep moving forward. The conversation about physical improvements to make buildings accessible began there 40 years ago, and although over the four decades not all the things that were tried were that helpful, the church persisted. The church has been able to install an elevator. A child with Down Syndrome lights candles for morning worship. A young adult with cerebral palsy provides leadership in vacation bible school, leads prayer in church, and gives testimony. The congregation understands that providing opportunities for all to serve is often the best way to be of service.
At Clover Creek Church of the Brethren, offering physical accessibility is a work in progress, but the church provides large print bulletins and hearing enhancement devices, and has a new concrete front entrance ramp that eliminates steps. In 2009, the church started the John’s Way Medical Equipment Ministry to help people with disabilities and/or medical equipment needs. They take in used medical equipment, clean and repair it as necessary, and then give it away. A total of more than 2000 items have been provided for people in need, facilitated by a large warehouse space. This May on the 10-year anniversary of John’s Way, which was named after 19-year church member John Scott Baird who was born with a rare genetic disorder which made walking or speaking impossible, the church dedicated a new warehouse building for the ministry.
— Randy Miller is editor of Messenger magazine. Donna Kline and Jonathan Shively of the Congregational Life Ministries staff contributed to this report.