Worship service closes upper campus of the Brethren Service Center

Church of the Brethren Newsline
May 2, 2017

Photo by Nevin Dulabaum.


A worship service on Sunday, April 30, closed the upper campus of the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Md. Some 125 people gathered on the lawn in front of the Old Main building on a warm, sunny afternoon to remember and celebrate the ministries that have taken place at the campus.

The lower campus continues as the Brethren Service Center and houses office and/or warehouse facilities of Brethren Disaster Ministries, Children’s Disaster Services, Material Resources, On Earth Peace, and SERRV.

In November 2016, the Church of the Brethren signed a purchase agreement with Shanghai Yulun Education Group for the “upper campus” of the property in New Windsor, which had been listed for sale since July 2015. The purchaser intends to establish a private school on the property. It is anticipated the sale will be finalized later this spring. (See the Newsline report of Oct. 22, 2014, for background on the Mission and Ministry Board decision to market the property, www.brethren.org/news/2014/mission-and-ministry-board-fall-meeting.html .)

Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford.


A simple service

Those who led the simple, 40-minute service represented the leadership of the denomination and Annual Conference, Mid-Atlantic District, area congregations, and current and former staff of the center.

Opening and closing the service were Mission and Ministry Board chair Donald Fitzkee and general secretary David Steele, who gave a welcome and introduction, and Annual Conference moderator Carol Scheppard, who closed with prayer.

Scriptures were read by Gene Hagenberger, executive for Mid-Atlantic District, and Roy Winter, associate executive director of Global Mission and Service and Brethren Disaster Ministries.

Miller Davis, former manager of Emergency Response and Service Ministries, reviewed the history of the Brethren Service Center and the ministries that have taken place there.

Pastor Jim Benedict of Union Bridge Church of the Brethren gave a message that called the church to acknowledge its attachment to the place, and to acknowledge the importance of the ministries. “But we must be careful not to let our imaginations, memories, and love for this place keep us from seeing the opportunities that we still have to serve God,” he reminded. “We must continue to listen for God’s call, and be ready to get up and go when we hear it….

Photo by Nevin Dulabaum.


Decades of signatures and graffiti can still be found in the cupola of the Old Main building on the upper campus of the Brethren Service Center. On the afternoon of the closing worship service, BBT president Nevin Dulabaum climbed the flights of stairs to the cupola with his camera, in order to document the names of so many former volunteers, employees, and visitors who signed their names to mark their presence in what many have experienced as sacred space.

“Those who grieve would be wise to remember that there was a time before this place was ours, before there was such a thing as the Brethren Service Center, and no one but God knew that there ever would be such a place,” he continued, in part. “Our leaders would be wise to consider ways to recreate in new forms and new places the important things that have happened here. And we can all remember, and give thanks, that our God is consistent in his mercy and love but unpredictable in his methods, always surprising us and making a way where there seems to be no way.”

The order of worship and texts of several of the elements in the closing service follow below, including the full text of the remarks by Miller Davis and Jim Benedict.

Find a news report on the closing event from Carroll County Times reporter Kevin Earl Dayhoff at www.carrollcountytimes.com/news/newwindsor/

Three photo albums with pictures of the closing worship service and views of the upper campus are online:

— Closing Service for Upper Campus of the Brethren Service Center, by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford www.bluemelon.com/churchofthebrethren/

— BSC Upper Campus Closing Event, by Nevin Dulabaum www.bluemelon.com/churchofthebrethren/

— Signatures Inside the Old Main Cupola, by Nevin Dulabaum www.bluemelon.com/churchofthebrethren/

A panorama of the three largest buildings on the BSC upper campus. Photo by Nevin Dulabaum.


Brethren Service Center Closing Celebration and Worship Service

Sunday, April 30, 2017


–Donald Fitzkee, chair of the Mission and Ministry Board

Good afternoon. My name is Don Fitzkee and I am chairman of the Mission and Ministry Board. It is my bittersweet privilege to welcome you to this service of worship.

I suspect that each person here today is here because this place has touched your life, and perhaps enabled you to touch the lives of many others.  Some are here because you are a present or former employee of the Church of the Brethren. Some are here because you volunteer regularly. Others represent partner agencies who have served the church and the world from this place. Some of you may have had your BVS training here, served refugees here, met your spouse here, attended a life-changing conference or event here, donated heifers that traveled through here on their way to people who needed them.

I trust we all have our points of connection with the Brethren Service Center and that we are here to remember and celebrate what this space has meant to us.

My first connection with the center was during my senior year in high school–so about 15 years ago. A friend and I from the Chiques congregation attended what I think was one of the first Brethren World Peace Academies sponsored by what then was called the On Earth Peace Assembly. It would have been around 1982. An ancient patriarch of the church by the name of M.R. Zigler was living here, I believe, and I was introduced to M.R. during one of the sessions. Other than meeting M.R., I remember a couple things about that weekend: 1) It was the most systematic study of the church’s peace position and conscientious objection that I had done to that point; and 2) There were some cute girls from the Elizabethtown congregation who also attended. (What do you want; I was in high school.)

Since that first point of contact I have been back to New Windsor a number of times, and through experiences, conversations, and reading of books like Jan and Roma Jo Thompson’s Beyond Our Means I have come to have a deep respect for what this campus in this out-of-the-way corner of the world has meant to the Church of the Brethren and to people around the world. I’m here today to celebrate that.

I look now to Church of the Brethren General Secretary David Steele to come share his reflections and also to help us understand the ways that the Brethren will continue to serve from this place, even after this upper portion of the campus begins a new chapter in its story.


–David Steele, general secretary of the Church of the Brethren

These grounds have been part of the Church of the Brethren’s worldwide service and humanitarian relief efforts for some 73 years. M.R. Zigler, executive secretary and Paul H. Bowman, chairman of the Brethren Service Committee were present at the sale on September 6, 1944 with instructions to purchase, if possible, the college plant for the Brethren, which they did for $31,330 (“Beyond our Means: How the Brethren Service Center Dared to Embrace the World” by R. Jan and Roma Jo Thompson).

Since that time the Brethren Center has also served as a training and hospitality center for volunteers in various church ministries, and a central point for refugee resettlement programs. This has also been home to our ministry partners–Mid-Atlantic District,  IMA World Health, and SERRV.

In 2014 the Mission and Ministry Board made the decision to the sell the property and began to work toward that end. In more recent months the decision was made to sub-divide the property into what we have been calling the upper and lower campus with Maryland State Rt 31 serving as the dividing line of sorts. We did so so that the disaster and material resource ministries that are housed in the warehouse on the lower campus will continue as the Brethren Service Center.

In the early days of September 2016 we entered a sale agreement with the Shanghai Yulun Educational Group to sell the upper campus, the buildings and property to the west of Maryland State Rt 31. While we continue to finalize the details of the closing, we would anticipate that to be no later than May 31. They are working on plans to start the Springdale Preparatory School.

Today’s marks the official close of the Zigler Hospitality Center. With that close and the selling of the upper campus, 12 full- and part-time employees have or will be concluding their employment with the Church of the Brethren. We offer our thanks for their years of service with us, together with our prayers that new opportunities will emerge.

Other staff have been busy moving furniture, equipment, and other items down to the warehouse. They have also been preparing office accommodations for our business and IT staff (Barb Watt & Francie Coale) who have been housed in the Blue Ridge building and will be moving into their new offices at the Brethren Service Center in the coming days. We have also made accommodations to move On Earth Peace’s office into the Brethren Service Center offices.

SERRV will be closing their store and customer service on the Upper Campus but their distribution center will remain at the warehouse annex.

Participants in our service today are
–Gene Hagenberger -Mid-Atlantic District District Executive
–Miller Davis, Former Director of CenterOperations and Manager of Emergency Response & Service Ministries
–Roy Winter, Associate Executive – Brethren Disaster Ministries
–Jim Benedict, Pastor Union Bridge Church of the Brethren
–Carol Scheppard, Annual Conference Moderator

So today we gather in the spirit of worship, to celebrate all that these buildings–this space has meant to us and the many ways it has supported our Church of the Brethren ministry efforts.

Opening Prayer

–David Steele, general secretary of the Church of the Brethren

We praise you, O God, for the joy we find in the church; for communion with one another; for the sharing of bounty and burden; for the opportunities that we have to serve in your name. As we gather we celebrate and give thanks for this place, may the words offered today provide testimony to the many who have passed through these doors and have gone forth to sow seeds of your grace, peace and love. Above all may we remember that it is not the buildings or the place, but the people who are your hands and feet that offer the cup of cold water and because of that, the legacy of this place that we hold dear will continue on. Bless, O God, this time, this place, and the people who have gathered in your name to remember, to celebrate, and to continue the work of Jesus. Amen.

Scripture readings

–Gene Hagenberger, district executive of Mid-Atlantic District

“Lord, you have been our dwelling place
    in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
    or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
    from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Psalm 90:1-2).

“Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised;
    his greatness is unsearchable.
One generation shall laud your works to another,
    and shall declare your mighty acts.
On the glorious splendor of your majesty,
    and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
The might of your awesome deeds shall be proclaimed,
    and I will declare your greatness.
They shall celebrate the fame of your abundant goodness,
    and shall sing aloud of your righteousness” (Psalm 145:3-7).

Brethren Service Center History

–Miller Davis, former manager of Emergency Response and Service Ministries

As I considered what I might share today, the word TRANSFORMATION kept coming into my mind as a focus; not only of the changes to the physical plant but also to the lives of countless persons who have been involved in the work of the Brethren Service Center.  It is hard to summarize all that has happened here in a few minutes, but I will try.

OLD MAIN:  First building on campus, opened in 1850 as an institution of higher learning under several owners, including the COB and known as Blue Ridge College.  After being purchased in 1944, Old Main served as the main offices for Brethren programs, BVS Training, Maintenance Shop and Heating Plant for the two sister buildings.  After major renovations in the ’70s, Old Main joined Zigler Hall as part of the New Windsor Conference Center; housed the International Gift Shop and provided living accommodations for volunteers.  The Gift Shop was later moved to the SERRV Building and offices of Interchurch Medical Assistance were relocated to the lower level and first floor.

BECKER HALL:  Built as the Men’s Dormitory for Blue Ridge College.  Used as housing for staff including volunteers assigned to the Center, overflow lodging for BVSers in training, a Library for the campus and finally converted into an Apartment Building.

WINDSOR HALL:  Built as the Women’s Dormitory for Blue Ridge College.  I believe it was the first location for clothing processing, but not for long. Housed conference guests before Zigler Hall was built; mission 12 one example.  Lower level was kitchen and dining room.  Meeting room for BVS Training, hosted orientations for Polish Agricultural Exchangees, provided housing for refugees while waiting for their sponsorships to be completed, served as a safe house for domestic violence victims and was the first location of the On Earth Peace Office.  And it was a meeting space for weekly worship services, wedding receptions and General Board meetings.

BLUE RIDGE BUILDING:  Built as the gymnasium for Blue Ridge College.  Location for the processing and storing of clothing, bedding, health and school kits, soap, seeds, shoes, whatever was being collected to be shipped.  The cut garment department was located here where thousands of yards of flannel were cut for the making of layettes and an early version of the International Gift Shop was in this building.  Later, the gym was transformed into a multipurpose room and the warehouse space was converted into offices for Church of the Brethren Programs, Heifer International, CROP, Interchurch Medical Assistance, On Earth Peace, Mid Atlantic District, a Tour Room, Canning Center, BVS training, and Maintenance Shop.

SERRV BUILDING:  Built as a cinder block recreation building for volunteers and the community.  The basement was used as the first location for IMA shipments with two additions being added prior to the building of the distribution center to accommodate the growth of IMA.  Part of the building was used as the Maintenance Shop with the remainder used by SERRV.  To provide needed office space for SERRV, the building was expanded and a second floor was constructed for offices and an additional warehouse was added, creating the building you see today.

ZIGLER HALL:  Built in the late 1960s to provide more adequate food service preparation and dining facilities, Zigler Hall, named in honor of M. R. Zigler, expanded the opportunity to meet the needs of guests coming to the Center.  Coupled with Old Main and Windsor the New Windsor Conference Center offered a variety of options to groups looking for space to hold a retreat.  It also provided an improved location for the International Gift Shop located just inside the front doors.  Conference Center participants, Tour Groups, Volunteers working in one of programs, Employees, Refugees, Dignitaries from around the world have all broken bread in the Zigler Hall dining room.  Food for Meals on Wheels was prepared for many years and local organizations utilized the dining room for their banquets.

PERSONS LIVES:  But the story of TRANSFORMATION at the Brethren Service Center is more than how the buildings have been transformed to meet the needs of the various programs; it is also about the transformed lives of individuals who lived and worked in these buildings:  It is about Young men and women who arrived without any knowledge of the Brethren Service Center and left with a determination to receive additional education and with a very different view of the world.  It is about Refugees who learned English as a second language while waiting to be resettled.  It includes Polish Agricultural Exchangees who learned more about the Church of the Brethren and about the project where they would be located for the next couple of years.   It includes Young men who wanted to become over the road truck drivers and or carpenters being given opportunities to learn these trades here as they fulfilled their alternative service obligations.  And it includes the hundreds of thousands of persons whose lives have been changed because of the items shipped from this place and those who have benefited from the work of volunteers who have responded to disasters.

NEXT TRANSFORMATION: Today we celebrate the past and the next transformation of this upper campus as it is passed to new owners.  We trust that as this new transformation takes place, God will continue to bless what happens here and at the new Brethren Service Center located down the hill at 601 Main Street.  Brethren Disaster Ministries, Material Resources, Church of the Brethren offices, On Earth Peace and SERRV will continue to work from that location.

Scripture reading

–Roy Winter, associate executive of Global Mission and Service, Brethren Disaster Ministries

“For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:24-28).

Reflection on the meaning of the Brethren Service Center

–Jim Benedict, pastor of Union Bridge Church of the Brethren

Earle Fike, Jr., well known pastor and teacher in the Church of the Brethren, was not only a gifted preacher–he was gifted as well at coming up with snappy titles for his sermons.  One of my favorites was for a sermon based on the text in Genesis concerning the call of Abraham, where the patriarch is told, ““Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”  Fike’s crafty little title for that sermon was, “God is Two-Thirds Go.”

It’s true–in scripture God is always giving his people orders to go here or there, from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to Moses, Joshua, and Ruth, to Jonah and various other prophets, to Jesus and the Apostles.  The implication is plain–if you want to be serious about your faith, you’d be wise not to get too attached to particular places.  And yet we do.

It has been several years now since the farm where I grew up was bought by a developer, but it still hurts a little when I go back to visit my Dad and see the hulking industrial building where the south pasture used to be and the old cornfield now filled with a neat row of two-story houses.  I sometimes try to imagine an alternate history, in which I had come into enough wealth to buy the farm myself and somehow preserve it, just the way I remember it.  But, of course, that didn’t happen.  I was one of those called to go, in my case, into the ministry in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Maryland.

Brethren, on the whole, have done a pretty good job at maintaining a healthy detachment from particular places.  Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that the first Brethren were refugees, many of them driven from one place to another, in search of the opportunity to practice their faith without interference.  Whatever the reason, Brethren have never been the kind of folks who put much effort into building monuments, museums or shrines.  The buildings where we meet for worship are merely meetinghouses, not cathedrals or temples; functional spaces, not architectural marvels meant to inspire awe or allegiance.

And then there is this place.  We have to be honest–we’ve grown attached to it.  It would be hard not to be impressed with its buildings and park-like campus set on rolling hills.  But the real reason we’ve grown attached is because of what has happened here.  Here the Brethren created something–several things, actually–that expressed our deepest sense of who God has called us to be.  Here, Brethren of very different theological perspectives have come together and worked side-by-side, learning to know and trust one another.  Here, hundreds of Brethren young people have come of age, formed their sense of adult identity, made life-long friends, and even met their future spouses.  SERRV, Heifer International, Church World Service, Refugee Resettlement, and Disaster Ministries have all been housed here, at one time or another, providing opportunities for people to work for causes that made a positive difference in the world.  No wonder we’ve grown attached.

Now, we can see that it may no longer be feasible to keep this place, that an era has come to an end.  We know, as scripture tells us, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.”  And yet, with the poet Robert Frost, we may reply:

Ah, when to the heart of man
     Was it ever less than a treason
     To go with the drift of things,
     To yield with a grace to reason,
     And bow and accept the end
     Of a love or a season?

Treason is too strong a word, of course, but there is regret and sadness.  And many of us will find it hard to suppress the urge to imagine alternate histories that would have allowed us to hold on to this place.  But we must be careful not to let our imaginations, memories and love for this place keep us from seeing the opportunities that we still have to serve God.  We must continue to listen for God’s call, and be ready to get up and go when we hear it.

We Brethren don’t have temples, but the Jews in the time of Jesus certainly did.  The great temple in Jerusalem was spectacular, and represented to many the divine power and blessing the Jews received as the chosen people of God.  If ever a people were attached to buildings, it was then.  So imagine how the disciples and others must have reacted when Jesus said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”  To the faithful Jew, it was outrageous to even suggest such a thing.  Indeed, it may have been part of what got Jesus crucified.

Another, equally telling, indication that Jesus was less attached to particular places than most of his contemporaries comes from the story of his encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well.  At one point in their conversation, the woman challenges Jesus, saying, “Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain (Mount Gerezim), but you Jews say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.”  Jesus replied, “Woman, believe me., the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…. The hour is coming and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.”

Ultimately, neither here nor there matters; worship in spirit and truth matters.  That is not to say that it is wrong to love a particular place, or to treasure the time we spend there.  It is only to say that it is wrong to think that what has happened in one place cannot happen in other places.  And if the truth be told, for many of us that is our real concern as we bid farewell to this place:  where and how and when will the important things that happened here happen again?  Where and when and how will our Brethren genius for creating ministries to respond to practical human needs find expression?  Where will Brethren of different perspectives be brought together to get to know and trust each other?  Where and when will Brethren young people have the opportunity they once had here to come together, sort out their adult identity, and make life-long friends?

I do not know, but those who grieve would be wise to remember that there was a time before this place was ours, before there was such a thing as the Brethren Service Center, and no one but God knew that there ever would be such a place.  Our leaders would be wise to consider ways to recreate in new forms and new places the important things that have happened here.  And we can all remember, and give thanks, that our God is consistent in his mercy and love but unpredictable in his methods, always surprising us and making a way where there seems to be no way.

Thus, as Paul writes, “We grieve, but not as those who have no hope.”  Our hope is in God, Creator, Redeemer, and Holy Spirit, who moves in our midst and calls us to move together with each other and with God into a future we cannot yet see. Amen.

Congregational hymn: “Blessed Be the Tie that Binds,” Verse 1

Closing prayer

–Carol Scheppard, moderator of Annual Conference

Almighty God who made Heaven and Earth,
Who made the sun to shine by day and the moon by night,
Who caused the water to flow and the plants to grow,
And the creatures to roam the earth,
You breathed life to surge in regenerating cycles,
Seed to bud to leaf to mulch to nourish seed.
We who are gathered here today give witness to the hundreds and thousands
Who planted the seeds of work in the world,
Nurtured the growth of physical and spiritual ministries,
And reaped the harvest you brought forth both on these grounds and all across the world.
Thank you for these halls and the souls who made them sing.
Bless the fruits of their work that they might seed the future with blessing.
As the seasons change we raise our hearts in hope:
Hope for the new inhabitants of this campus
That their work might bear good fruit
Hope for the initiatives that began here
That they will thrive in new and spectacular ways
As your never-ending abundance transforms all things for good.
As resurrection people we witness to the evolving life cycle
And the regeneration you bring in this place and beyond.
Thank you for your abundant blessing.
May we be willing agents for You, as your Chosen People and your Eternal Servants.
We pray these things in the name of one who is Resurrection, Jesus Christ our Lord.

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