— A theme has been announced for the 2017 Annual Conference scheduled for Grand Rapids, Mich., on June 28-July 2, a Wednesday through Sunday schedule. After her consecration as moderator for 2017, and the consecration of moderator-elect Samuel Sarpiya, Carol Scheppard announced the theme she has chosen: “Risk Hope.” The scripture theme is from Hebrews 10:23, “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.” “He who has promised is faithful,” Scheppard affirmed, speaking to the Sunday morning congregation. “Our theme for the next Annual Conference is ‘Risk Hope.’ As we carry the light in the darkness , risk hope that the dawn will come! …Risk hope for our denomination in the world…. Risk hope for the life of the light of Christ in our hearts.”
— Receiving the report of the Pastoral Compensation and Benefits Advisory Committee, the Conference approved a one percent increase to the 2017 Recommended Minimum Cash Salary Table for pastors.
— Six new congregations and fellowships were welcomed into the denomination: New Beginnings Church of the Brethren, which was birthed by Chiques Church of the Brethren in Manheim, Pa., in Atlantic Northeast District; Jonah’s People in Northern Ohio District, which meets at a Church of the Brethren retirement community; Veritas, led by Ryan Braught, a church plant that has been underway for six years in Lancaster, Pa.; Betel International and Ministerio Uncion Apostolica, both in Southeastern District; and the Gospel Assembly, a predominantly Haitian pre-existing congregation that has been received into Atlantic Southeast District. The Conference also welcomed representatives from the Lybrook Mission and Tokahookaadi (N.M.) Church of the Brethren.
— International guests from Nigeria, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Brazil attended the 2016 Annual Conference. From Brazil: Marcos and Suely Inhauser, national directors for the Brazilian Church of the Brethren. From the DR: Richard Mendieta, president, and Gustavo Lendi Bueno, treasurer, from the Dominican Church of the Brethren. From Haiti: Jean Altenor, a mobile clinic coordinator for the Haiti Medical Project, and Vildor Archange, director for Clean Water Projects and Community Health. From Nigeria: Joel Billi, the newly elected president of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria); Dauda Gava, president of EYN’s Kulp Bible College; Markus Gamache, EYN staff liaison; and several from EYN’s BEST group including Kumai Amos Yohanna who works with the Nigerian government’s National Christian Pilgrim Commission, Peter Kevin who has served as mayor of the city of Mubi, and Becky Gadzama who with her husband has worked to help and host a number of the Chibok schoolgirls who escaped from their Boko Haram captors, among others.
— Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria) declared June 30 to be a day of prayer and fasting for the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference. Zakariya Musa of the EYN communications staff reported by e-mail that Daniel Mbaya, EYN general secretary, asked all the DCC [church district] secretaries, heads of programs, and institutions to a one-day fasting and prayer for the Church of the Brethren in the US. “The Leadership of EYN with loud voice call on all Pastors, Reverends, and the entire members of EYN to a one day fasting and prayers. God to guide them in the 2016 annual conference,” Mbaya said. “Having stood by us in our moments of trials of financial and through prayers, we need to stand by them through prayers at this crucial conference.”
— General secretary-elect David Steele was introduced to the Annual Conference by Mission and Ministry Board chair Don Fitzkee during the Church of the Brethren report. Fitzkee outlined the broad range of ministry experience and administrative gifts that suit Steele to the job, including experience as Annual Conference moderator, district executive, pastor, and camp leader. Steele will begin as general secretary on Sept. 1. The Conference also applauded the work of interim general secretary Dale Minnich, who together with Fitzkee presented the report of denominational ministries. Fitzkee thanked Minnich, saying the interim post had been envisioned as a “caretaker” role, which developed into much more after the untimely death of associate general secretary Mary Jo Flory-Steury, and other unexpected staff changes. Minnich was described as an “unflappable presence” who has quietly prepared the way for the new general secretary. Steele told the Conference that he is humbled by the call to leadership and the opportunity to serve the denomination. He stressed his understanding of the need to build community and the hope that we embrace more fully what it means to be community together.
— Shawn Kirchner, Mutual Kumquat, and Andy and Terry Murray performed in a hymn sing and concert sponsored by Bethany Theological Seminary, after worship on the first evening of the Conference. The Guilford Ballroom at the Koury Convention Center was packed with Brethren eager to sing their hearts out and hear the work of these fine musicians.
— “We are the mustard seed among tall cedars!” So spoke Jeff Carter, president of Bethany Theological Seminary, at the school’s breakfast event. The centerpiece of his presentation was the new “International Scholar in Residence” initiative, which is intended to benefit the Bethany community as well as the church at large. Introducing the first international scholar, Musa Mambula of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria), Carter said, “We can learn from the story of EYN and also provide education programs for the church in Nigeria.” One of Mambula’s tasks will be to serve as a mentor to the EYN students who will be able to take real-time theological courses through Bethany’s Technology Room. That room has already helped create community among students scattered across the four time zones of the United States. It is expected to do the same with Nigerian and American students. “The Lord has been so good and gracious to the church of the Brethren in Nigeria,” said Mambula. He recounted the mission and partnership story of the two denominations, and spoke about his hopes for “distance learning.”
— At the Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS) luncheon, director of BVS Dan McFadden and European coordinator Kristen Flory presented the annual “Partners in Service Award” to L’Arche Ireland and Northern Ireland.
— At the Congregational Life Ministries and Intercultural Dinner, former denominational staff member Shantilal Bhagat was honored with the Revelation 7:9 Award. Now in his early 90s and living in La Verne, Calif., Bhagat is originally from India where he worked with the Church of the Brethren for 16 years at the Rural Service Center in Anklesvar. He came to the United States in 1968 to take a position at the Church of the Brethren General Offices in Elgin, Ill. He served with the former General Board of the denomination for over 30 years, in a variety of roles including as coordinator of social services for the Foreign Mission Commission, as community development representative, as Asia representative, as representative to the United Nations, and more. He wrote three books during his career, and made a focus on small church concerns, environmental concerns, and racism important parts of his ministry.
— Church World Service (CWS) president and CEO John McCullough brought an award to the Annual Conference this year, with help from two Church of the Brethren members who are active with the organization–Dennis Metzger and Jordan Bles. McCullough presented the CWS “Founder’s Award for 70 Years of Help and Hope” to the Church of the Brethren in recognition of the Brethren history of helping to found CWS some 70 years ago, and for having given significant leadership and support to CWS in the years since.
— For the first time, Congregational Life Ministries and the Disabilities Ministry have sponsored a Disabilities Ombudsman at Annual Conference. Rebekah Flores of Highland Avenue Church of the Brethren in Elgin, Ill., provided support for those with physical and/or intellectual disabilities, a listening presence for caregivers, and information and advocacy to make the Conference a worthwhile and beneficial experience for all. Flores serves as an Anabaptist Disabilities Network field associate.
— The junior high group at Annual Conference adopted its own queries, after being led in a query-writing session and mock business session by former Annual Conference moderator Nancy Sollenberger Heishman. The group also created its own Standing Committee, and acted on three queries related to creation care. “Query: Better Re-using of Earth’s Resources” and “Query: Reducing Pesticide Use” were both approved by the junior high “delegate body,” while “Query: Helping Persons Affected by Climate Change” was not approved. The moderator did not keep a record of vote counts. Standing Committee members were Miriam Erbaugh, Isaac Kraenbring, Molly Stover-Brown, Noah Jones, Kyle Yenser, and Sean Therrien. “It was a great experience,” Heishman said.
— A heifer named Joy visited the Brethren Press bookstore, with help from Church of the Brethren friends in Indiana and elsewhere. Bringing a heifer to Annual Conference this year was a part of an effort to share the story of Heifer Project’s seagoing cowboys who took livestock across the ocean to aid war-ravaged Europe after World War II. The new Brethren Press book “Seagoing Cowboy” by Peggy Reiff Miller is an illustrated children’s book that shares the story with the next generation.
— A gift of $10 million is the largest ever given to the University of La Verne (ULV) in La Verne, Calif., according to news of the gift shared with the ULV Luncheon at Annual Conference. The gift is from the La Fetra family, and the university is naming La Fetra College of Education in honor of the family’s support. In more news from ULV, the university’s 125th anniversary will include a celebration next March honoring 125 individuals who have played significant roles in ULV’s history.
— Global Mission executive Jay Wittmeyer shared news of the sudden death of Freny Elie, the general secretary of Eglise des Freres Haitiens (the Church of the Brethren in Haiti). Freny, who was only about 40 years old, leaves behind his wife and four children. He was an ordained minister and pastor of the congregation in Cap Haitien. He had been a key leader for the Haitian Brethren since the time of the 2010 earthquake, and had participated in training to help church members and others heal from the trauma of that catastrophe. “He was such a brilliant theologian,” Wittmeyer said. “It’s really sad, sad news,”