By Gimbiya Kettering
When the founders of Bermudian Church of the Brethren in East Berlin, Pa., stood on their hill and looked over the river where baptisms occurred, they must have felt like they were on holy ground. As pastor Larry Dentler says, “We have been here since before America was America.”
In many ways, this a congregation that continues traditions that predate the Declaration of Independence, such as a love feast in the original sanctuary with soup cooked on the old stove held on the first Sunday in May–regardless of when Easter falls. The drive to the church, through picturesque fields, can feel like stepping back in time. Once inside the sanctuary, it is easy to picture the original members standing together to sing German hymns a capella.
The original members of Bermudian Church of the Brethren may not have imagined a music style described as a combination of “salsa and soul.” But the congregation’s tradition of hospitality continued when the church hosted the Bittersweet Gospel Band during its East Coast Tour.
Bittersweet was founded by Gilbert Romero of Restoration Church of the Brethren in Los Angeles, Calif., formerly Bella Vista Church of the Brethren, and is managed by Scott Duffey, pastor of Staunton (Va.) Church of the Brethren. The band uses its tours to strengthen and expand the work of Bittersweet Ministries, an outreach ministry serving people in northwestern Mexico by sharing the gospel, building homes, distributing food, and building relationships.
The modern, multicultural sound of the band reminds us of our call as Christians to be a part of Jesus’ work in the world today. It is catchy, contemporary music that brings people to their feet, clapping, swaying with arms around each other, and praising the Lord.
Bermudian today is a congregation connected to the issues of our time and the wider world–as evidenced by a new building, a youth room with a foosball table, and people wearing t-shirts supporting the Nigerian mission. The Bermudian congregation and guests from neighboring churches who attended the Bittersweet concert were clearly moved during the screening of the band’s most recent music video “Cardboard Hotel.” This song is inspired by the outreach and church planting happening at the site of a dump on the Mexico-US border, where impoverished, displaced families search through the trash for anything that can be eaten, burned for warmth, reused, or sold.
It is a meager life on the dump, especially for the children who have had to help their families and provide for themselves by searching through the trash piles. Yet the ministry of Bittersweet, supported by Brethren donations, recognizes them as brothers and sisters in Christ and seeks to accompany them.
Global Mission and Service executive Jay Wittmeyer has been to the mission in Mexico that is supported by Bittersweet Ministry and says, “There is a real opportunity for the Brethren to have a witness there, with great linkages with us. I wish we had more time and money to do witness there.”
You can watch the Bittersweet video, “Jesus in the Line” at www.youtube.com/watch?v=GJ_P-IVNfi4 .
— Gimbiya Kettering is director of Intercultural Ministries for the Church of the Brethren and a member of the Congregational Life Ministries staff.