Newsline for July 16, 2015


1) Carol Scheppard chosen as moderator-elect, among other election results

2) Delegates receive presentation on crisis response in Nigeria

3) Address to Annual Conference by EYN President Rev. Dr. Samuel Dante Dali

4) Conference celebrates the service of general secretary Stan Noffsinger

5) Mission and Ministry Board approves timeline and Search Committee for General Secretary search

6) Mandate for Review and Evaluation Committee is adopted

7) Standing Committee calls for new study of vitality in the church

8) Resolution expresses support for Christian minority communities, among other Conference business

9) Conference welcomes Puerto Rico District, and new fellowship in North Carolina

10) Ken and Ted: Awesome!

11) My favorite Annual Conference moments

12) Annual Conference bits and pieces

Photo by Glenn Riegel
Annual Conference moderator David Steele

Quotes of the week:

“The irony of love: it presses us to the margins and makes us uncomfortable…. When we bear the fruit of love…’those people’ will become brothers, sisters, because love is transformational.”
— Annual Conference moderator David Steele, preaching for the opening worship service of the 2015 Conference.

“You have been crying and groaning with us…through the valley of the shadow of death…. This is like resurrection to us.”
— Samuel Dante Dali, president of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren), thanking the Church of the Brethren for supporting the Nigerian church during a time of suffering, persecution, and death at the hands of extremist Islamist group Boko Haram. In his address to the delegate body, Dali described how the American Brethren came to their aid when EYN received no help from the Nigerian government or international agencies like the UN.

Thank you to the volunteer news team that provided onsite coverage of the 2015 Annual Conference in Tampa. Writers Karen Garrett and Frances Townsend contributed to this issue of Newsline. Photographers Glenn Riegel, Regina Holmes, Keith and Justin Hollenberg, Alysson Wittmeyer, Donna Parcell, and Alyssa Parker, assisted by web staff Jan Fischer Bachman and Russ Otto put together hundreds of photos from this year’s annual meeting. Find photo albums and other resources from the Conference at .

1) Carol Scheppard chosen as moderator-elect, among other election results

Photo by Glenn Riegel
The consecration of a new moderator and moderator elect for 2016. Kneeling at left, Andy Murray is consecrated as moderator. Kneeling at right, Carol Scheppard is consecrated moderator-elect.

Carol Scheppard has been chosen as moderator-elect of the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference, in an election of new denominational leadership. She will serve as moderator-elect for next year’s Conference in 2016, and as moderator for the 2017 Conference.

Scheppard is vice president and dean for Academic Affairs at Bridgewater (Va.) College and is a member of Lebanon Church of the Brethren in Mount Sidney, Va. She grew up in New England, living at various times in Thomaston, Conn.; Salem, Mass.; and Putney, Vt. It was in Putney where she first encountered the Brethren, joining Genesis Church of the Brethren under the leadership of pastor Paul Grout. With blessings from the Genesis community, she completed her master of divinity degree at Princeton Theological Seminary and was ordained to teach philosophy and religion at Bridgewater College. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology from Wesleyan University in Connecticut, a master’s degree in Special Education from Lesley College in Cambridge, Mass., and a doctorate in Religious Studies from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. When not engaging the work of higher education, she enjoys time on her little farm, sharing life with a rescued and adopted menagerie including two goats, a horse, a dog, two cats, and four fish.

Other new leadership

The following new leaders are listed by position. Names of those elected by the Conference are listed below, with those affirmed for agency board positions also listed:

Program and Arrangements Committee:
Founa Inola Augustin-Badet of Eglise des Freres Haitiens Church of the Brethren, Miami, Fla.

Pastoral Compensation and Benefits Advisory Committee:
Beth M. Cage of Lewiston Church of the Brethren in Northern Plains District

Review and Evaluation Committee:
Ben S. Barlow of Montezuma Church of the Brethren in Shenandoah District
Tim Harvey of Oak Grove Church of the Brethren in Virlina District
Leah J. Hileman of Lake View Christian Fellowship in Southern Pennsylvania District
Robert D. Kettering of Lititz Church of the Brethren in Atlantic Northeast District
David Shumate of Daleville Church of the Brethren in Virlina District

Mission and Ministry Board:
Area 1 – Paul Albert Liepelt of Somerset Church of the Brethren, Western Pennsylvania District; Area 4 – John Hoffman of Monitor Community Church of the Brethren, Western Plains District; Area 5 – Mark Bausman of Community Church of the Brethren in Idaho District

Affirmed to positions on the Mission and Ministry Board:
Carl R. Fike of Oak Park Church of the Brethren, West Marva District
David C. Stauffer of Stevens Hill Church of the Brethren, Atlantic Northeast District
Patrick C. Starkey of Cloverdale Church of the Brethren, Virlina District

On Earth Peace Board:
Christy Crouse of Warrensburg Church of the Brethren in Missouri and Arkansas District

Affirmed to positions on the On Earth Peace board:
George D. Barnhart of Central Church of the Brethren, Virlina District
Gail Erisman Valeta of Prince of Peace Church of the Brethren, Western Plains District
Jordan Bles of Westminster Church of the Brethren, Mid-Atlantic District
Irvin R. Heishman of West Charleston Church of the Brethren, Southern Ohio District

Brethren Benefit Trust Board:
Harry Spencer Rhodes of Central, Roanoke Church of the Brethren in Virlina District

Affirmed to positions on the BBT board:
Gerald A. Patterson of Manassas Church of the Brethren, Mid-Atlantic District
Donna McKee Rhodes of Stone Church of the Brethren, Middle Pennsylvania District

Bethany Theological Seminary Board of Trustees:
Laity: Lynn N. Myers of Antioch Church of the Brethren in Virlina District
Clergy: Christopher Bowman of Manassas Church of the Brethren in Mid-Atlantic District

Affirmed to positions on the seminary board:
David W. Miller of Black Rock Church of the Brethren, Southern Pennsylvania District
John W. Flora of Bridgewater Church of the Brethren, Shenandoah District

2) Delegates receive presentation on crisis response in Nigeria

Photo by Glenn Riegel
A Nigerian church leader displays one of the Wall of Healing posters while Global Mission executive Jay Wittmeyer speaks to the Conference. The Wall of Healing is a series of 17 posters, each about 6 feet tall, that bear the names of some 10,000 Nigerian Brethren who have been killed in the Boko Haram insurgency since 2008.

By Frances Townsend

Much of Monday afternoon’s business session was devoted to the crisis of sister church in Nigeria, Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria). EYN has been facing the assault of violent extremist Islamist group Boko Haram.

The EYN Women’s Fellowship Choir began the presentation with a song about children and parents. Although written to teach families, it also describes some of the spiritual and relational aspects of the connection between EYN and the Church of the Brethren.

Translated, part of the song goes, “We thank and glorify Jesus because he gave us children. We did not buy them with money but they are a gift from heaven.” Among the many verses was an admonition to children: “We, your parents suffered to bring you up. We brought you up to support and help us.”

The relationship of the American church with the church in Nigeria is no longer that of mother and child, but it is a God-given family bond, calling us to respond in this time of need.

Jay Wittmeyer, executive director of Global Mission and Service, outlined the longterm plans to support the Nigerian church. He described the preparation the Brethren received to deal with an extensive crisis as the church worked in Haiti following hurricanes and the 2010 earthquake, doing everything from building homes to feeding people.

Samuel Dali, president of EYN, came to the podium to describe the depth of the crisis and to express thanks for the strong support of the American church. He described how the area in which Boko Haram is active is the same part of Nigeria where EYN has been established. He said that 1,674 churches have been burned, more than 8,000 church members murdered by Boko Haram, and almost 1,400 pastors displaced from their homes without churches to serve and without incomes.

Dali shared many thanks for the support from the Church of the Brethren, and especially the support of particular individuals. He was grateful to Wittmeyer, to general secretary Stanley Noffsinger, to Roy Winter of Brethren Disaster Ministries, and to other volunteers who traveled to Nigeria when it was not safe. He spoke of receiving telephone calls offering help, more help than he would have asked for–not only money but expertise in emergency planning. All of this came from the church at a time when he said the international community was saying that the “problem” in Nigeria was too small to bother with.

He said of the American Brethren: “You came and strengthened our hope to live. You came and wiped our eyes to see a clearer and better future…. We believe the future of the church will be better than before.”

Rebecca Gadzama also was invited to tell her story to the delegate body. She has been working to bring to safety the Chibok schoolgirls who have manage to escape their captors. Several of the girls are now in the United States attending school. It is hoped that more of them will receive that opportunity in the future.

Wittmeyer presented financial information about what has been spent so far on the Nigeria Crisis Response, and what is planned for the next five years. As of the end of June, over $1.9 million has been spent, and in the next five years, the projected budget to fund the work in Nigeria is over $11 million.

As part of this special report on Nigeria, the delegates also viewed a video by David Sollenberger, and prayer in the presence of a “Wall of Healing” naming more than 10,000 Nigerian Brethren who have been killed by Boko Haram or who have lost their lives as a result of terrorism and violence. It was a strong visual reminder of the crisis, with 17 posters, each about 6 feet high, unrolled and displayed, covered with names.

The 10,000 names were researched and recorded by Rebecca Dali and her nonprofit organization CCEPI, which has interviewed survivors and family members of those killed since 2008. The “Wall of Healing” features names, along with home village or town, and the date they were killed. For some victims, additional information is given, such as the man who was killed after he refused to save his life by recanting his Christian faith and converting to Islam.

This summer the violence and the grip of Boko Haram has lessened in some areas of Nigeria, but it continues in other places. Many hundreds of thousands of people are still displaced, living far from their homes, jobs, and churches. The need for aid, for rebuilding, and for healing from trauma will continue for some time to come, as will the need for prayer.

3) Address to Annual Conference by EYN President Rev. Dr. Samuel Dante Dali

Photo by Glenn Riegel
EYN president Samuel Dali addressing the 2015 Annual Conference, with his wife Rebecca Dali standing by him at the podium.

Our dear beloved Brethren,

I am standing here on behalf of the leadership and the entire membership of EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria, to express our sincere heartfelt appreciation to the leadership and all the members of the Church of the Brethren, our founding parents. We sincerely thank all of you for your Christ-like love which you are demonstrating to EYN in tangible ways during her time of misery and hopelessness.

As you might have heard or read, the radical Islamic terrorist group, commonly referred to in the media as Boko Haram, was founded by Mohammed Yusuf in 2002. He himself was influence by the teaching and preaching of a Jamaican immigrant in the United Kingdom who preached hatred against Jews and Christians and Hindus and Westerners, in general.

Yusuf’s group first started as an anti-corruption, anti-government establishment and its associates, namely Christians or any other group of persons that did not agree with their own version of Wahabi Islam. There vicious attacks on the communities in northeastern Nigeria started in 2009, particularly in Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa states. These are the states where EYN, since her founding in 1923, has been operating as the predominant Christian denomination. These were the three states that were placed under a state of emergency because of the severity of the terrorist attacks.

Since 2009 the communities, particularly the Christian community, in these three states have gone through horrific suffering for six years with little or no help from the government, and, then, on 29 November 2014, the terrorists swiftly advance their attack from Michika to Mubi at which time EYN headquarters were taken over Boko Haram. EYN leaders had to flee immediately in every direction.

As a result of the perennial attacks since 2009, about 70% of EYN members have been completely uprooted from their traditional homeland and displaced. They lost everything they owned, both their houses and property. In the process of these attacks, EYN sadly lost over 8000 members. 1,674 church buildings have been completely burned down. In addition, most of our educational and medical institutions have been destroyed or closed down. As a result, all the Bible school teachers, community development staff, including medical clinic staff, and 1,390 pastors, assistant pastors, and evangelists are now without work and income. They are only surviving on the relief materials that are distributed to displaced persons.

While we were going through these attacks and sinking deep into the Boko Haram valley of death, we were cried out loudly to the government of our country for help. We presented the seriousness of our case to the government both in writing and in person, but the only response we received was flattery and empty promises. The government said that they would help us as long as it would not backfire on them, fearing repercussions from Boko Haram.

When we realized, that there was no help coming from the government, we attempted to seek help from the international community. However, we were shocked as we were bluntly told that our case was not big enough to attract the sympathy of the international community. This reminded me of the Rwanda massacre where the international community were there watching people being massacred, and they did not act to save the lives of thousands of innocent civilians that were killed.

With these responses, we felt very discouraged and nearly lost all hope in human effort. We decided to rely completely on God, the creator, and owner of the world. Then, you the Church of the Brethren suddenly and dramatically came to our rescue beyond expectation. You rescued EYN from the burning misery of Boko Haram. Since then you have been crying and groaning together with us. You have held our hands, walking with us through the valley of the shadow of death.

This to us is similar to a resurrection from the dead, because we were almost dead to the point of losing all hope, but you came and strengthened our hope to live. We were too weak to stand and walk, when you came and gave us strength to continue with the ministry. And we were blinded by too much crying and the cloud of suffering, but you came and wiped our tears and opened our eyes to see a clear and better future. Now we are recovering faster than we thought with a brighter future.

So Brethren, it is right and imperative that I am standing here before you this day on behalf of the entire members of EYN to say thank you very much for your memorable support. We are very happy and proud to have you as our founding parents with all our limitations. EYN for generations to come will continue to be very grateful to all of you for your unconditional Christ-like love and care.

In light of all these, allow me to express special thanks to the following people without prejudice: Jay Wittmeyer, the executive director of Global Mission and Service and Stanley Noffsinger, the general secretary, for their outstanding leadership, encouragement, and compassionate heart for Nigeria.

We thank Stanley and his family in particular for taking the time to travel to Nigeria to be with us at the Majalisa 2015. We thank him for taking the responsibility of sharing the word of God with us and for conducting a special holy communion service in a dramatic way at the Majalisa. It was touching and inspiring feet-washing service. Stan and his nephew, John Andrews, went to be with us in Nigeria when it was very risky to travel to Nigeria. John, in particular, went the extra mile by sneaking to Chibok with my wife Dr. Rebecca to see for himself and to comfort the parents of the kidnapped Chibok schoolgirls.

Jay, you are a wonderful and visionary leader. I remember around early October 2014 when you called me at midnight Nigeria time and asked if we had a place where we could evacuate our members for safety? You also asked me if we had a place where we could use as an annex headquarter. My answer to these questions was a simple “no.” Then you ask again. Would you like if we could get someone with skill in disaster management to help you plan for the disaster. I immediately responded, “Yes! Just send us anyone that is willing to help us.”

Jay, without delay, you sent a team comprising of Roy Winter, Rev. Carl and Roxanne Hill and another brother from Kenya, who came to Nigeria under the leadership of Roy. They met us in Jos when it was not even a good time to travel to Nigeria. Together we met and planned a disaster relief program for EYN. We formed a disaster management team that is now running the program which today is doing a wonderful work of relief for EYN members and non-EYN members.

In view of this, let me also extend our special thanks to Roy, Carl and Roxanne, and also to Peggy Gish, Cliff Kindy and Donna Parcell, who sacrificed much to visit us in Nigeria when it was not safe to travel to the country. I also give a special thanks to Rev. Monroe Good, who since the beginning of the crisis has never ceased to call me or to ask how we are doing. Monroe’s hearts and prayers have been with EYN since we were swept into the bush by this tsunami of Boko Haram. He kept contact with me day and night through the crisis. Rev. Monroe, thank you very much.

My appreciation will be incomplete without recognizing and appreciating the contribution of the children of the Church of the Brethren, who, as we have heard did different things to raise money to support EYN. We will not forget the children of COB who have forfeited their own personal interests and went the extra mile to raise money to help EYN members. Particularly, the little girl who we heard forfeited getting a pair of special shoes and took all her money and donated it to EYN victims of Boko Haram. Also, we thank John Andrew’s son who raised some money to assist the parents of the abducted Chibok school girls, and many others who have done different things to raise funds to support EYN.

Our dear children, your effort is more than a help to EYN. Your thoughts, your love for the EYN members in Nigeria and your sympathy as young as you are, which led you to do extraordinary service to rescue the sinking EYN members, is a God-given spiritual inspiration and challenge to EYN members, as well as the entire world community of faith. It is my sincere prayer that the Lord who created you in his own image will keep you safe and protect you as you grow up to be his instruments of blessings to this world.

Now, our dear brothers and sisters, let us together praise and thank the Lord because he has taken control over Nigeria. God has rescued Nigeria from total disintegration and chaos. We had prayed sincerely together with other Christian communities for peaceful elections and the unity of our country. God heard and answered that prayer in the elections, which many feared, went well and peacefully.

Now we have a new government which we hope and believe with high expectations will make a big difference. The new president, Mohammed Buhari, is expected to wage war against the terrorist group, as well as against corruption and lawlessness, and help in the reconstruction of the destroyed communities. We believe that our God who changed Saul, the persecutor of believers, to become an evangelist and church planter, the God who used King Cyrus of Persia to restore the people of Israel back to their fatherland, will also use the present government of Nigeria to restore the internally displaced people back to their homeland and provide security in the better life to the people.

So let us continue to pray with us as we are going through the process of healing and recovery. Pray for Nigeria and the new government, so that they can listen to God and follow God’s directive in serving the Nigerian people. We must thank God because the security situation is not as bad as it was before. Although, there are still sporadic attacks and bombings, but, by and large, things are improving and some people are beginning to return back to their homeland.

However, there are still a lot of challenges. We heard that the first people who attempted to go back home, especially in the Waga area, were slaughtered like sheep. Also, some women who return to their place in Madagali area were kidnapped, and, as mentioned, there are still some sporadic attacks in some villages. Also the destruction of the home villages are so much that some IDPs who returned and saw the destruction, decided to return back to the camp because there was nothing left for them at home. However, a large number of them remained in the villages trying to pick up the pieces to rebuild their lives. There are some who may never go back to the village again.

For us at the leadership level in EYN, with the support we are getting from you, are very busy trying to implement the plans we have made. As you may hear from the disaster team, several pieces of land have been bought in Massaka, Jos, Jalingo, and Yolo. The construction of residential houses, schools, medical clinics and worship centers is going on at each of these sites. Also, the distribution of food materials and seeds for planting is going on at the IDP centers and for those who are returning back home. Some of the displaced pastors have been assigned to some of the camps to continue with the ministry of the church. The teaching on trauma healing and peace is an ongoing activity throughout the camps.

Kulp Bible College is continuing with their classwork at Chinca temporarily, while we wait for a clear security situation in Kwarhi. We are also trying to establish new churches in different areas where some of our displaced members are located. With all these we believe that the future of the church will be better than where we were before. I am sure that we will gradually recover some of our old churches and institutions, while we are building new ones. As a lesson from what we have experienced, we have deliberately decided not to keep our resources or spend our effort in one place. Instead, we will diversify our resources in areas of operation across the whole country.

To avoid dependency on offerings from the members, we are strongly pursuing our dream of operating microfinance banking in order to provide a strong economic base for the church and empower our members and institutions to grow stronger, so that the church can provide better and effective service through all our institutions. So thank all of you for walking with us. Thank you again and may God keep all of us safe throughout the conference and God bless us all.

4) Conference celebrates the service of general secretary Stan Noffsinger

Photo by Regina Holmes
The Noffsinger family joins together on the stage for the celebration of Stan Noffsinger’s term of service as general secretary, including his wife, Debbie, and sons Evan and Caleb. At the podium is Pam Reist from the Mission and Ministry Board, who helped organize the creation of a memory book for Noffsinger to commemorate his years of service.

By Frances Townsend

Stanley Noffsinger’s term as General Secretary will conclude before the 2016 Annual Conference, and so a celebration of his service to the church was held at this Conference, and became a highlight of the meeting. Through a video and the reflections of many speakers, Conference-goers were reminded of the many aspects of his leadership of the denomination since he accepted the call to that position in 2003.

A number of persons were invited to speak including Jeff Carter, president of Bethany Theological Seminary, who spoke of God’s call to service, and of the much-needed special gifts needed in 2003 when Noffsinger answered the call. Carter celebrated Noffsinger’s deepening involvement in ecumenical work. Because of that work in the greater church, Carter said, “Our voice is being heard around the world.”

Nancy Miner, administrative assistant to the general secretary, spoke on behalf of the staff. Annual Conference moderator David Steele spoke on behalf of the denominational leadership, and remembered getting to know Noffsinger in 2004, and how he was encouraged in his own sense of call at that time. David Shetler, on behalf of the Council of District Executives, spoke of Noffsinger as a lookout, keeping watch over the churches and districts, and a prophetic watchkeeper as the voice of peace in the larger Christian community and world.

Ecumenical guests also added their voices to the celebration. Samuel Dali, president of EYN, said the Nigerian people “have come to know Stanley as a true, serious imitator of Jesus Christ,” celebrating him as a humble, compassionate leader with a deep concern for others. He invited Noffsinger to return to Nigeria “when God and your family agree.”

From one of the major ecumenical organizations with which Noffsinger relates, Christian Churches Together, director Carlos Malave gave thanks on behalf of the ecumenical community for Noffsinger’s commitment to interchurch work at a time when many heads of communions have it as a low priority. Very Reverend Father Aren Jebejian of the Armenian Orthodox Church in America said Noffsinger embodies the spirit of the Brethren who stepped in, in 1917, to help during the Armenian Genocide. He presented the gift of a carved Armenian cross, saying, “It is small, but it represents the huge love the Armenian church has for your general secretary.” Sharon Watkins, general minister and president of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), told the body that Noffsinger’s work has been a model for her in her own role in church leadership.

A video made by David Sollenberger reviewed events during Noffsinger’s term, starting with the 2003 Annual Conference at Boise, Idaho, when the denomination was dealing with financial woes, restructuring, and tension between agencies. But according to the video, Noffsinger considers his biggest challenge to be helping the church reaffirm its role as a peace church. He worked on that within the denomination, and took the message to national and international religious gatherings as well as into witness to governments. In the video, Noffsinger recalled a conversation with a pastor in Pennsylvania who said he was becoming known as the “Peace General Secretary.”

The Mission and Ministry Board presented the gift of a replica of the Divine Servant statue depicting the feetwashing, to be set on a base containing a New International Version of the Bible, and a piece of wood from Nigeria–symbols of three emphases of the general secretary’s ministry.

Another gift presented by Pam Reist and the Elizabethtown Church was a memory book. Pages contained pictures from the past 12 years of work, and the handwritten memories, thanks, and blessings added by Annual Conference attendees. Greetings sent in by e-mail from around the country will be added to the book.

In his response, Noffsinger said, “There is nothing greater than being in and among the body of Christ.” He also turned the body’s thoughts to the future, saying this is an important time in the life of the denomination when the church must decide whether it will be unified as the body of Christ, even with disagreements on some issues.

“I hope we make a decision to be a unified body of Christ in this particular community known as the Church of the Brethren,” he said. “We have an important voice, small that we may be–a voice that is sought after. So choose your words wisely because we are being sought out as followers of Jesus and another way of living. I pray for this church to flourish, to celebrate the goodness of our God and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the ever present knowledge that the Holy Spirit does not beckon to us but is ever present awaiting our attentiveness. I pray that we can respond with the way, the voice, and the action and behavior that would signal to the world that there is another way of living and it is a way of living of compassion and radical discipleship.”

Immediately after the close of the business session, a reception was held in Noffsinger’s honor.

5) Mission and Ministry Board approves timeline and Search Committee for General Secretary search

During its Annual Conference meetings in Tampa the Church of the Brethren Mission and Ministry Board approved a report from its General Secretary Transition Team, which included naming a seven-member Search Committee and included a proposed timeline for the search.

Called to the Search Committee are:

Current Mission and Ministry Board members:
— Connie Burk Davis (convener), Mission and Ministry Board chair-elect, retired attorney/mediator, Westminster (Md.) Church of the Brethren, Mid-Atlantic District
— Jerry Crouse, Mission and Ministry Board Executive Committee member, pastor and school guidance counselor, Warrensburg (Mo.) Church of the Brethren, Missouri and Arkansas District
— Jonathan Prater, pastor, Mt. Zion-Linville (Va.) Church of the Brethren, Shenandoah District
— Patrick Starkey, Mission and Ministry Board Executive Committee member, pastor Cloverdale (Va.) Church of the Brethren, Virlina District

Outgoing Mission and Ministry member:
— Pamela Reist, past Mission and Ministry Board Executive Committee member, pastor, Elizabethtown (Pa.) Church of the Brethren, Atlantic Northeast District

District executive:
— David Steele, Middle Pennsylvania District executive minister and outgoing Annual Conference moderator

Former Annual Conference moderator:
— Belita Mitchell, pastor of Harrisburg (Pa.) First Church of the Brethren, Atlantic Northeast District

“We sought to be sensitive to the diversity of the denomination as we formed the committee,” said Mission and Ministry Board chair Don Fitzkee, “although it is difficult to cover the full diversity in age, gender, ethnicity, theology, geography, etc. in a seven-member committee.”

The approved timeline for the search is:

— July 2015: Executive Committee begins planning for hiring an interim General Secretary in the event that Stan Noffsinger does not complete his full term.

— July 2015: Board approves Transition Team report/process/timeline; clarifies that Executive Committee has authority to name interim when necessary; approves proposal for Search Committee and names members; engages in more conversation about leadership qualities needed for such a time as this and other guidance for the Search Committee.

— July-October: Search Committee meets, organizes, and prepares job description and job announcement for approval/review by the board in October.

— Oct. 2015: The Executive Committee brings proposed salary and benefits package/range for board approval; board hears Search Committee report and approves job description and position announcement.

— After the Oct. board meeting: Job opening is announced; candidates begin to be identified.

— Nov. 2015 to March 2016: Interviews by the Search Committee (Search Committee sets deadline for applicants).

— March 2016: The board receives report from Search Committee and the committee presents a candidate to the board for a question and answer session and vote. (If this process is not ready by March, candidate is presented in June.)

— Annual Conference 2016: A new General Secretary is introduced (or voted on, named, and introduced if this process is not completed in March).

— July- Sept. 2016: New General Secretary begins work.

The Transition Team report approved by the board also provided some guidelines for the calling of an Interim General Secretary, should one be needed. Stanley Noffsinger’s contract extends until the 2016 Annual Conference, but his service to the church could conclude prior to the end of the contract. An Interim General Secretary would be hired with the understanding that he or she shall not become a candidate for the General Secretary position.

Primary tasks for the Interim General Secretary would include:

— Serving as a caretaker, carrying out essential daily functions in cooperation with executive staff and the Leadership Team, and delegating tasks as necessary.

— Continuing the momentum on the Strategic Plan until a permanent leader is in place.

— While not performing an organizational audit, nevertheless remaining attentive to organizational issues, and the health of staff and board relationships, and working at maintaining/improving organizational health.

(This report was provided by Mission and Ministry Board chair Don Fitzkee.)

6) Mandate for Review and Evaluation Committee is adopted

Photo by Glenn Riegel

By Frances Townsend

The mandate passed by the Annual Conference delegates formally sets in motion the work of a Review and Evaluation Committee to review and evaluate the denomination’s organization, structure, and function.

The committee will carry out its study and make recommendations to the 2017 Annual Conference for improving the effectiveness of the church’s work toward its goals. It has become the practice for the Church of the Brethren to appoint such a committee in the fifth year of each decade.

The mandate for the work of the committee includes a wide ranging list of specific things to look into, such as how well church agencies collaborate and cooperate with one another, what level of interest the general membership has in denominational programs and missions, and how denomination-level programs are connecting with the goals and programs of the districts.

Five persons were elected to serve on the committee: Ben S. Barlow of Montezuma Church of the Brethren in Shenandoah District, Tim Harvey of Oak Grove Church of the Brethren in Virlina District, Leah J. Hileman of Lake View Christian Fellowship in Southern Pennsylvania District, Robert D. Kettering of Lititz Church of the Brethren in Atlantic Northeast District, David Shumate of Daleville Church of the Brethren in Virlina District.

Although its final report is due in 2017, the committee also is expected to make an interim report to the 2016 Annual Conference.

7) Standing Committee calls for new study of vitality in the church

Photo by Glenn Riegel

A call for a new study of vitality in congregations, districts, and the denomination, came from the Standing Committee of district delegates, and received support from the Annual Conference when it voted to adopt the proposal. The decision with potential for far-reaching consequences for the whole church, was a response to a query on future district structure.

The district delegates also held conversations in closed session about concerns related to same sex marriage, among other business.

The Standing Committee meets annually in advance of Annual Conference in order to make recommendations on business coming to the full delegate body, among other tasks. The committee’s meetings on July 8-11 in Tampa, Fla., were presided over by Annual Conference moderator David Steele, assisted by moderator-elect Andy Murray and secretary James Beckwith.

This year in addition to its usual range of work, the district delegates received training in the ethics process for ministerial misconduct led by Mary Jo Flory-Steury, associate general secretary and executive director of Ministry, and had an opportunity to ask questions of Intercultural Ministries director Gimbiya Kettering in light of the national conversation sparked by Ferguson and the shootings at Emanuel AME Church. In previous weeks, the Standing Committee had an opportunity to view a webinar on becoming an intercultural church.

On a related note, in the midst of Friday morning’s meeting, on July 10, with tears in his eyes moderator-elect Murray asked for a moment of personal privilege to inform the group that the Confederate Battle Flag was being taken down from the statehouse in South Carolina.

Closed sessions

The Standing Committee spent two evenings in closed sessions. Moderator David Steele issued the following public statement out of those sessions:

“The Standing Committee met last evening in a closed session to enter into a deeper conversation about concerns related to same gender marriage. We met in a closed setting to provide a safe place for the members to share openly and to focus on hearing one another. There were no actions or straw votes taken. The intent and hope was to share with the Standing Committee delegates a way of engaging in the deeper conversations that are needed to strengthen the fabric of our church.”

Query: Future District Structure

Several hours of discussion were spent on the single query coming to the 2015 Annual Conference: “Query: Future District Structure” from Mid-Atlantic District. Discussion of the query followed small group “table talk” with the district executives, and a presentation about the query by Mid-Atlantic District executive Gene Hagenberger.

The discussion revealed widely varying points of view about the sustainability of current district structure, and whether there is any need to evaluate that structure. References were made to continuing loss of membership across the denomination and the effect of that on districts, and the inequity between larger and smaller districts in terms of resources to do ministry.

There also were many expressions of interest in making this an opportunity to address a related, and perhaps more foundational issue of vitality across all levels of the church including congregations, districts, and denomination. Although some raised a question about whether a study on vitality would just duplicate the work of the new Review and Evaluation Committee, others noted that the Review and Evaluation Committee’s mandate will be to address structural issues, not a wide-ranging look at the church’s current state of vitality.

The final decision of the Standing Committee was to recommend “that a study committee be chosen to address concerns raised by the query regarding vitality and viability within congregations, districts, and the denomination as a whole, including but not limited to district structure.  The study committee would consist of two persons elected by the delegate body, two persons appointed by Standing Committee, and one denominational staff member appointed by the general secretary. The committee is requested to report back to the 2017 Annual Conference.”

This outcome of Standing Committee’s discussion was presented to the Annual Conference, which adopted the recommendation.

The following five-member Study Committee on Vitality and Viability has been chosen: Larry Dentler of Southern Pennsylvania District and Shayne T. Petty of Southern Ohio District, elected by Annual Conference; Sonya Griffith of Western Plains District and Craig Smith of Atlantic Northeast District, appointed by Standing Committee; and associate general secretary Mary Jo Flory-Steury, appointed by general secretary Stan Noffsinger.

Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
The Standing Committee takes time for questions with Gimbiya Kettering, director of Intercultural Ministry.

Updated appeal process

The district delegates also approved an update of the denomination’s appeals process, with changes ranging from minor reformatting and grammatical corrections to incorporation of previously made changes into the body of the document.

One of the latter was incorporation into the body of the appeal process document an editorial change made in 2002 to align the document with the 1996 Ethics in Ministry timeline for appeals. The action confirms a shortened deadline to submit an appeal of 45 days prior to Annual Conference, from a lengthier deadline of 60 days in former years.

Additional changes instruct that rather than sending an appeal to both the Annual Conference officers and the Appeals Committee, an appeal is sent directly to the Annual Conference officers who will determine whether it should be shared with the current year’s Appeals Committee or with the following year’s Appeals Committee. Also, Standing Committee members with a conflict of interest are now informed that they “should” recuse themselves, in a change from previous instruction that they “may” recuse themselves.

In other business

— The following new members were elected to the Nominating Committee of Standing Committee: Kathryn Bausman of Idaho District, J. Roger Schrock of Missouri and Arkansas District, Kathy Mack of Northern Plains District, and Jaime Diaz of Puerto Rico District.

— The following new members were elected to the Appeals Committee of Standing Committee: Kathy Ballinger of Northern Ohio District, Beth Middleton of Virlina District, and Grover Duling of West Marva District; with Eli Mast of Southern Pennsylvania District as first alternate, and Nick Beam of Southern Ohio District as second alternate.

— Belita Mitchell of Atlantic Northeast District was appointed to the denomination’s Program Feasibility Committee.

8) Resolution expresses support for Christian minority communities, among other Conference business

A Resolution on Christian Minority Communities brought by the Mission and Ministry Board was adopted by the Annual Conference. In other business, the Conference dealt with a number of business items deferred from the 2014 annual meeting of the Church of the Brethren including changes to bylaws of the Church of the Brethren Inc. and a polity change related to Brethren Benefit Trust (BBT).

Resolution on Christian Minority Communities

The resolution focuses on “the destruction of Christian communities in regions where Christians are targeted as religious minorities,” citing Romans 12:5 and Galatians 6:10, “So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.”

“While we are deeply concerned about the persecution of religious minorities regardless of religion or tradition, we feel a distinct call to speak out on behalf of those who are brothers and sisters in the body of Christ,” the resolution says, in part.

Areas where Christian communities are suffering severe persecution, are rapidly diminishing, or are in danger of disappearing altogether include northeast Nigeria, other areas of north Africa, and the Middle East particularly Palestine and Israel, Iraq, and Syria.

“Additionally, in this year commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide,” the document states, “we reaffirm our commitment to stand with targeted minority groups across the world and call not only for increased awareness of their persecution, but for renewed efforts by the church and the international community to build solidarity and protect minority religious groups who are under threat.”

The resolution identifies seven steps for Brethren to take in response:
— praying for sisters and brothers in Christ across the globe;
— learning about the experience of Christians in places of persecution and conflict;
— extending expressions of love and support to those communities;
— committing to participate in interfaith dialogue and peace initiatives;
— supporting advocacy efforts of the church in places where it is in danger of disappearing;
— developing relationships with Muslim and other religious communities in the US in an effort for mutual understanding; and
— reaching out “with hospitality and welcome to those in our own communities who have entered the United States in search of refuge from persecution, violence, and threats to their lives and their faith.”

Business deferred from 2014

Three business items that originally came to the 2014 Annual Conference were deferred to the 2015 Conference. Two of the three came to the floor with no changes from 2014: “Amendments to the Bylaws of the Church of the Brethren Inc.” and “Interpretation of Polity Regarding Agency Financial Reports.”

The third was divided into two new business items by the Annual Conference officers: “Polity Change Proposal from Brethren Benefit Trust” and “Amendments to the Brethren Benefit Trust Articles of Organization.”

The Conference approved the proposed changes in the bylaws of the Church of the Brethren that clarify the term of service for a member of the board who is chosen chair-elect, and clarify “that the full five-year term allowed for a director [board member] who serves less than half of an unexpired term is subsequent to that unexpired term, not in place of it,” and also recognize the change of name of Pacific Northwest District and the newly formed Puerto Rico District.

The Conference approved the recommendation on agency financial reports which will allow the Conference agencies to post electronic copies of their annual financial reports and make copies available at booths in the exhibit hall, saving money and paper by not having to print copies for the delegate packets.

The Conference approved a polity change proposal from the BBT board that would allow an incumbent member of the BBT board who is eligible for a second term to automatically become one of two nominees that Standing Committee recommends for Annual Conference election, with a recommendation from the BBT board.

The delegates approved the amendments to the BBT Articles of Organization, which are of a variety of types including minor changes to conform to style, and grammatical corrections, but also more significant changes that among other things solidify a legal understanding of BBT as an independent organization in relationship to Annual Conference. The more significant amendments include language that the Annual Conference simply “receive” but not approve BBT’s annual report and new board-appointed members.

In other business

The delegates approved a 1 percent cost of living increase in the recommended minimum cash salary table for pastors.

9) Conference welcomes Puerto Rico District, and new fellowship in North Carolina

Photo by Glenn Riegel
The 2015 Annual Conference welcomed the new Puerto Rico District into the Church of the Brethren denomination. Previously, the churches in Puerto Rico were part of Atlantic Southeast District. With the addition of this new district, there are now 24 Church of the Brethren districts.

By Frances Townsend

One joy of the first day of Annual Conference business is the time when new fellowships and congregations are introduced. This year, the Conference had the joy of welcoming a new Puerto Rico District, which was formerly a part of Atlantic Southeast District. The welcome of Puerto Rico increases the number of districts in the Church of the Brethren to a total of 24.

Jonathan Shively, executive director of Congregational Life Ministries, also introduced one new fellowship. Rios de Agua Viva (Rivers of Living Water) is a fellowship in Leicester, N.C., started by pastor Mario Martinez and his wife, Evelyn. They have been working since Sept. 2013 and were granted fellowship status in 2014 by Southeastern District.

Rios de Agua Viva has been reaching out particularly to the Hispanic residents of their community, who come from many countries ranging from Cuba to Chile. They began meeting in a community center, but turned to working in the community and from home, as the center was costly to rent and required months of advance payment.

Interviewed after their introduction to the Conference, Evelyn Martinez said their work of bringing the gospel has been challenging in many ways but it has been a faith strengthening journey. “The Lord has taught us not to fear,” she said. “Every time we’ve had a trial, the Lord has given us a word.”

She said that many people who are not currently part of the fellowship have been reached and blessed by the ministry, souls have been saved, and seeds of faith planted. She spoke of their evangelistic work with both hope and a sense of mission as she said, “You can’t see the world get darker and darker and the church keep silent.”

10) Ken and Ted: Awesome!

Photo by Glenn Riegel

By Karen Garrett

Sunday night… 7 p.m. End of a long day. People gather in Tampa convention center, East Hall. Ken Medema and Ted & Co are presenting “Heart to Heart.”

I have been asked to cover the story.

The reflection in drama and music can be summed up in three words. It was awesome!

That was expected and it indeed happened. From the first song the audience was no longer watching they were participating. Singing, clapping, dancing, laughing, crying, hearing the stories of Christ from a new vantage point. The demon possessed man, the road to Emmaus, the woman caught in adultery, the reunion of Jacob and Esau.

Ken and Ted’s commitment to listen to one another and to the Spirit drew everyone in the hall into the familiar stories in a way that caused us to leave different that we came.

For some the take-away was–
Cows in a meadow, chewing our cud. “Faith, chew it up and pass it on.”
Feel your faith once again. With Jesus in our lives we can begin again.

One attender shared with me that each story was about being “one step from a new beginning.”

Another attender shared that their take away was “deposits can be life giving or lead to death.”

This reporter assumes that everyone left touched at the place in their soul that needed to be touched.

11) My favorite Annual Conference moments

By Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

Toddlers playing on the floor at the back of the hall during worship services, and the way surrounding adults watch with indulgent smiles.

Photo by Glenn Riegel

Old friends meeting unexpectedly, with hugs and cries of “I didn’t know you were coming to Conference this year!”

New friends being made during the interminable elevator rides in high rise downtown hotels.

Seeing a fancy hotel lobby fill up with Brethren dressed in NYC and BVS t-shirts, some with small children in tow, some with grey hair, most with coolers full of inexpensive groceries.

When ecumenical guests become confused about who is in charge, because there are no titles on the name tags and leaders are known by first name.

Seeing donated goods pile up in front of the stage as Brethren bring offerings for the Witness to the Host City.

Seeing a delegate go to the microphone with earnest concern that the body do the work of the church diligently and well.

Hearing the ritual greeting spoken between head table and those at the microphones–the delegate addressing the leader as “brother moderator” or “sister moderator,” and the moderator’s gravely spoken response of “sister” or “brother”–recognizing each other as equals in God’s family.

Waiting for someone to speak a confession or voice a challenge to the church–something that inevitably happens when enough Brethren get together–uncomfortable words provoking Brethren to begin to speak truthfully with each other.

Witnessing how uncomfortable, truthful conversations across divides of geography and ethnicity and biblical interpretation and knowledge and theology, may lead to revelation.

Being surrounded by thousands of people who are praying together, all at the same time.

The sense of the Spirit that brings tears when a new moderator is consecrated with prayer and laying on of hands.

Feeling bereft and alone after Conference ends and we all go back home, having been reminded of my true home at the table of love in the community of Christ.

— Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford is an ordained minister and director of News Services for the Church of the Brethren.

12) Annual Conference bits and pieces

Photo by Regina Holmes
The EYN Women’s Fellowship Choir sang for the opening worship service of the 2015 Annual Conference

— Conference by the numbers:

2,075 total registrations, including 647 delegates

$48,334.03 received in Conference offerings (tentative total pending confirmation). Offerings were received for a number of purposes including the Annual Conference, the Nigeria Crisis Fund, and the Core Ministries of the Church of the Brethren.

193 people presented at the Blood Drive, with a total of 181 usable pints including a number of “double red” donations received from donors over the course of two days

$8,750 raised by the quilt auction of the Association of Brethren Caregivers, benefitting the Nigeria Crisis Fund

200 simultaneous logins for worship webcast on Sunday morning. As of Sunday evening, on the second day of the Conference combined live and recorded webcasts of worship and business already totaled more than 1,000 views.

— International guests in Tampa included some 50-60 Nigerian Brethren representing leadership of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria), the EYN Women’s Fellowship Choir, and the BEST group of Nigerian Brethren businesspeople and professionals. Also attending were church leaders from Brazil, Haiti, Spain and the Canary Islands, and mission workers from South Sudan, Haiti, Vietnam, and Nigeria. Quaker pastors from Burundi and Rwanda who partner in peace work with the Congolese Brethren were among the special guests this year.

— New Nigeria books and resources were featured at the Brethren Press bookstore in the Conference exhibit hall. All three resulted from suggestions from church members:
“Children of the Same Mother: A Nigeria Activity Book” is a colorful magazine style paperback designed to help children learn more about Nigeria and Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria). While their churches and elders pray and raise money for the Nigeria crisis, this book helps children understand the situation at an age-appropriate level. Quantity discounts are available for purchases of 10 or more copies.
A new t-shirt design, in three colors, highlights the deep connection between the Brethren in America and in Nigeria. The design is coherent with the bright costumes of the EYN Women’s Fellowship Choir, and features the names of the two sister churches, the phrase “One Body in Christ,” and the verse from 1 Corinthians 12:26. A portion of t-shirt sales benefit the Nigeria Crisis Fund.
Art prints of #BringBackOurGirls, an original and unique art piece by Colorado artist Sandra Ceas–which was on display in the Church of the Brethren exhibit–also are for sale from Brethren Press. A portion of the sales go to the Nigeria Crisis Fund.

— Tammy Charles, director of Donor Relations at Metropolitan Ministries, received the gift of a large pile of materials brought by Conference-goers as part of the Witness to the Host City. In addition to five pallets of supplies such as diapers, the Brethren presented a check amounting to $3,951.15 in cash donations. The ministry serves the homeless, as well as families and others in need in the Tampa area. Its mission statement: “We care for the homeless and those at risk of becoming homeless in our community through services that alleviate suffering, promote dignity, and instill self-sufficiency…as an expression of the ongoing ministry of Jesus Christ.”

— Happy birthday to the Brethren Foundation! The delegate body sang “Happy Birthday” to the Brethren Foundation, and blew noisemakers to celebrate its 25th anniversary, during a business session on Monday, July 11. The foundation is a ministry of Brethren Benefit Trust. BBT president Nevin Dulabaum announced that the foundation has grown greatly over its 25 years, and now manages $170 million in assets for the Church of the Brethren denomination-wide. He invited Conference-goers to the BBT booth in the exhibit hall to enjoy 200 pieces of birthday cake, first come first served.

— Brethren were running around Tampa, literally! Conference-goers ran and walked along the city’s River Walk early on Sunday morning in a 5K Fitness Challenge sponsored by Brethren Benefit Trust. Four categories of “firsts” were acknowledged: first male runner was Nathan Hosler (19:01); first female runner was Marianne Fitzkee (24:19); first male walker was Don Shankster (33:44); first female walker was Bev Anspaugh (36:31).

— Several people and groups received recognition or honors during the 2015 Conference. Following is list that is doubtless incomplete. Please send additional recognitions or honors to the Newsline editor at :

Cedar Lake Church of the Brethren in Auburn, Ind., and Staunton (Va.) Church of the Brethren received the Open Roof Award for progress in making their churches welcoming for those living with disabilities. The award is presented by the disabilities ministry of Congregational Life Ministries. A full report on this award will appear in a later issue of Newsline.

Eugene F. Roop, a member of the Manchester University Board of Trustees, was presented on Sunday with the Manchester University Church-University Service Award. “Eugene F. Roop has perhaps been for the Church of the Brethren what the train conductor was for the Polar Express: someone who has kept everything pointed in the right direction and on track and helping a lot of people in their belief along the way,” the citation said. Roop is a past president of Bethany Theological Seminary, known for his biblical scholarship and commentaries. This year, he and his wife established the Eugene F. and Delora A. Roop Endowed Fund that will help Manchester bring in speakers, programs, and other initiatives to lift up Brethren heritage.

Bridgewater (Va.) College at its luncheon presented two alumni with Garber Awards: Fred Swartz, class of 1958, who is a retired Church of the Brethren pastor and a former Annual Conference secretary from 2003-2012; and Emily Birr, class of 2015, who has been involved with New Community Project and the Roundtable regional youth conference, and has worked at Camp Mack in Indiana. The Merlin and Dorothy Faw Garber Award for Christian Service honors Merlin Garber, a Church of the Brethren pastor and 1936 Bridgewater alumnus, and his wife Dorothy Faw Garber, who was in the class of 1933.

Carol Wise, executive director of the Brethren and Mennonite Council for LGBT Interests (BMC), was honored by the Womaen’s Caucus during a luncheon that continued the caucus’ celebration of its 40 years of existence. Wise received an award, and also was the featured speaker at the luncheon, addressing the topic “Left on the Vine” (Romans 24 and 25).

Ralph Miner was named OMA Volunteer of the Year by the Outdoor Ministries Association of the Church of the Brethren. He is a member of Highland Avenue Church of the Brethren in Elgin, Ill., and has participated at Camp Emmaus in Mount Morris, Ill., “practically since birth,” according to the citation posted on the camp’s website. Find the full citation at .

— About those round tables…. Conference business sessions were held at round tables, with delegates seated in small groups that included people from various parts of the denomination at each table. The seating is intended to facilitate good sharing and fellowship, and face-to-face discussion of the business of the church. “Table guru” and former moderator Tim Harvey organized the tables and trained the table facilitators. At a table facilitators training prior to the first business session, he distributed cards with the following instructions:
How to be a table facilitator in 5 easy steps
1. Have fun.
2. Encourage people to talk, especially sharing different opinions and perspectives.
3. Let me know how else I can help you [his phone number]
4. Wing it, when necessary. The line between “being led by the Spirit” and “flying by the seat of your pants” is often a dotted line, at best.
5. When all else fails, see step 1.

— Online coverage of the 2015 Annual Conference in Tampa with news reports, photo albums, webcasts, worship bulletins, sermons, the Conference app, and more, is at .

— The “2015 Annual Conference Wrap-up and Sermons” DVD features video highlights from Tampa and moments from business, worship, and special events. This year extra tracks include the song Ken Medema sang for Sunday morning worship, inspired by the Nigerian Brethren and their faith in a time of suffering. The DVD is produced by the Conference office and David Sollenberger’s video crew, and sold through Brethren Press. Go to or call 800-441-3712 to order.

The News Team for Annual Conference 2015: photographers Glenn Riegel, Regina Holmes, Keith Hollenberg, Justin Hollenberg, Donna Parcell, Alysson Wittmeyer, Alyssa Parker; writers Frances Townsend and Karen Garrett; Eddie Edmonds, Conference Journal; Jan Fischer Bachman and Russ Otto, web staff; Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, news director. Newsline is produced by the News Services of the Church of the Brethren. Contact the editor at . Newsline appears every week, with special issues as needed. Stories may be reprinted if Newsline is cited as the source. The next regularly scheduled issue of Newsline is scheduled for July 22.

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