|The three new fellowships welcomed into the Church of the Brethren this year, from top to bottom: Common Spirit Church of the Brethren in Grand Rapids, Mich., represented by Roya Stern; Hanging Rock Church of the Brethren in W Marva District represented by Robert Combs, Paul Fike & Kendal Elmore; Iglesia De Los Hermanos “Remanente de Salvación” in Morovis, P.R., represented by Jose Calleja & Judex Diaz|
Jonathan Shively, executive director of Congregational Life Ministries, led the welcome of three new fellowships into the denomination as one of the first items of Annual Conference business.
Proclaiming it “a joy,” Shively began by introducing Roya Stern of Common Spirit, a house church in Grand Rapids, Mich. The church was founded after the Grand Rapids Annual Conference in 2011 when Joanna Willoughby took seriously the encouragement to “just do it.” Weekly potlucks were held to create “a substantial Brethren presence in the city.” By the second year a house church was founded on Sunday evenings, allowing members of the new fellowship to attend traditional worship at other churches in the morning. On Oct. 27, 2013, the church celebrated its first two baptisms. Thirteen more people joined a week later. There are now 15 members with 20 people regularly attending. The goal is to be “a progressive Christian presence in Grand Rapids.”
Hanging Rock Church of the Brethren in West Marva District began when Bob and Brenda Combs supported a community toy drive, and then realized that “this is a good place for a church.” The church had its Grand Opening in February of 2013 with more than 50 people in attendance. The fellowship is self-supporting, and actively supports a food pantry, helps poorer individuals pay bills, and also aided a family that suffered significant losses to a fire. The congregation supports a visitation ministry in the community and also does hospital visits. In June 2013, a baptism service was held at the Combs home at North River, W.Va., and 10 church members were baptized. They now have 58 active members. According to the church’s statement of faith, “We Speak the Word, Share His Grace, and Strive to Light the Way to Christ.”
Iglesia De Los Hermanos “Remanente de Salvación” in Morovis, Puerto Rico, in Atlantic Southeast District, was founded by a group that moved from Vega Baja Church of the Brethren including Maria Otero, Jose Calleja, Kathy Diaz, Judex Diaz, and Nancy Irizarry. The major challenge has been to help the community overcome poverty and witchcraft. The congregation has delivered several people from witchcraft and has connected people through baptism to the church. They run a small group for single mothers, many of whom are the victims of domestic violence and abuse, also providing them with group therapy. Mario Otero serves as pastor.
— Frank Ramirez provided this report, with contributions from Jonathan Shively