Newsline for November 16, 2018

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly
Background photo by Aaron Burden on


1) Fire likely destroys Paradise (Calif.) congregation

2) SVMC celebrates its silver anniversary

3) Haiti Medical Project makes progress on pure water program

4) Conference examines Native American boarding school history


5) Office of Ministry seeks program manager for new initiative


6) Workcamp Office announces 2019 summer schedule

7) NOAC planning committee unveils 2019 logo


8) Brethren Academy offers “Christianity in the Early-Modern and Modern Worlds”

9) Brethren bits: Remembrance, personnel, Brethren Historical Committee, Action Alert, district conferences and news, workshops, recognitions, “Brethren Voices,” and more.

Quote of the week:

“We often talk about God answering our prayers. We can answer Jesus’ prayer by working together.”
— George Bowers, pastor of Antioch Church of the Brethren (Woodstock, Va.), speaking in an article by “The Arlington Catholic Herald” about an ecumenical effort in the Woodstock area to create Family Promise of Shenandoah County, which provides services for the homeless.

1) Fire likely destroys Paradise (Calif.) congregation

Paradise Church of the Brethren building
Paradise Church of the Brethren (Calif.)

A Church of the Brethren congregation is among the many places impacted by the deadly wildfires raging in California this month.

Paradise (Calif.) Community Church of the Brethren, located about 15 miles east of Chico in the northern part of the state, is assumed to be destroyed, along with its parsonage. Pacific Southwest District executive Russ Matteson sent out an initial update late Thursday after talking with pastor Melvin Campbell, who had just evacuated the town with his wife, Jane.

Campbell said he “felt certain” that the church and surrounding structures had been consumed by the fire based on reports of the area, and Matteson said today he has “a hard time imagining it isn’t gone.” The district has not yet received official confirmation of damage, however, and residents are not being permitted back into town as the situation remains dangerous.

“It’s going to take a while” to get all the information and then proceed with insurance and other needs, Matteson said. He said the district is looking into other ways to assist fire victims, such as preparing disaster kits. Matteson said he hopes to visit Campbell late this month, possibly visiting Paradise if the area has re-opened.

The Pacific Southwest District conference held this past weekend in La Verne, Calif., opened with a time of prayer for the congregation and for those fighting the fires. News outlets were reporting this week that at least 60 people had died in the Camp Fire, with hundreds more missing.

“I invite you to hold the members of the Paradise congregation, their partner church The Rock Fellowship, and all the citizens of Paradise and the surrounding area in Butte County in your prayers,” Matteson said in his update last week.

Paradise is the northernmost of the district’s 26 congregations. Matteson said no other congregations in the district were in immediate danger. The nearest congregation to Paradise, the Live Oak (Calif.) Church of the Brethren, is about 40 miles away. Some fires are also burning in southern California, but no Brethren churches are nearby. A Catholic retreat center in Malibu is often used by the district, however, and that facility was still standing as of today, Matteson said.

This article was edited on 11/16 to update status and numbers.

2) SVMC celebrates its silver anniversary

People planting a peace lily
Planting a peace lily at the anniversary celebration for the Susquehanna Valley Ministry Center. Photo by Walt Wiltschek.

With a festive banquet meal and worship, the Susquehanna Valley Ministry Center (SVMC) celebrated its 25th anniversary Nov. 3 at Chambersburg (Pa.) Church of the Brethren.

About 85 people attended the event, spanning the five districts served by SVMC—Atlantic Northeast, Southern Pennsylvania, Middle Pennsylvania, Western Pennsylvania, and Mid-Atlantic—along with denominational staff.

SVMC, which began as the Susquehanna Valley Satellite with two district partners in 1993, was created to provide quality Brethren ministry education in the area of the country with the denomination’s densest population. To date, it has served more than 2,900 students in continuing education, TRIM and ACTS ministry training programs, and graduate courses.

Warren Eshbach, who served as dean from 1997 to 2006, provided a broad historical overview, noting that SVMC is “one of the few regional organizations in the Church of the Brethren.”

“The Lord has given growth to this entity, and God has provided a rich abundance of leadership,” Eshbach said. “The spark is still present.”

Many changes and additions have occurred over the past quarter-century, but current SVMC director Donna Rhodes said that the organization’s mission “is as strong today as it was 25 years ago.” That strength, she said, was due in large part to the healthy partnerships that SVMC has nurtured with its partners, especially the cooperating districts and Bethany Theological Seminary and the Brethren Academy for Ministerial Leadership.

Bethany dean Steven Schweitzer served as the featured speaker for the evening’s worship, drawing from the anniversary theme, “Growing in Knowledge, Rooted in Christ.”

“To be rooted in Christ and growing in knowledge—such an enterprise requires all of us, together, as we find our unity in Christ,” Schweitzer said. Such work requires “patience, determination, and joy,” he added.

Rhodes and her husband, Loren, provided several stunning four-handed piano pieces for the worship service, which also included a “ritual of blessing” in which representatives of SVMC’s various partners combined small containers of soil into a pot that will hold a peace lily at SVMC’s office, located at Elizabethtown (Pa.) College.

Other highlights of the evening included the auction of a painting created by Brethren artist and pastor David Weiss during the event (which raised $300), a PowerPoint presentation of SVMC’s history, and an opening hymn sing led by Eshbach.

In his prayer before the banquet, Chambersburg pastor Joel Nogle expressed his hopes for the ongoing ministry of SVMC.

“We give you the glory for this monumental evening,” he said. “We continue to believe that our best work—your best work—is ahead of us in the next 25 years.”

3) Haiti Medical Project makes progress on pure water program

Haitian person with water jug
Photo courtesy of Haiti Medical Project

The efforts of the Church of the Brethren’s Haiti Medical Project (HMP) to provide pure water to 20 communities via two dozen projects by the end of 2020 are taking root.

The program aimed to carry out eight such projects by the end of 2018, and as of this fall two had been completed, one was nearing completion, and several more were expected to begin by year’s end. Another eight projects are planned for 2019, and eight more for 2020.

Completed water projects include a drilled well in Croix-des-Bouquets, in the eastern suburbs of the capital of Port-au-Prince, and a drilled well in Bohoc, in the central plateau region. As of the last report, a drilled well in Marin—in the far northern suburbs of Port-au-Prince—was nearing completion.

A well in Cannan launched this fall, and projects in Tom Gateau (drilled well), Gran Bwa (reforestation and purification), La Ferrier (rooftop water catchment system with cistern and purification), and Cap Haitien (reverse osmosis purification system) were set to begin.

“The effort to bring pure water to each community where Église des Frères (Church of the Brethren in Haiti) has congregations or preaching points is challenging and potentially very fruitful,” said Dale Minnich, HMP volunteer staff, in the fall report.

HMP grew out of the Church of the Brethren’s disaster response to the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti. It now serves 28 communities with medical care, rural dispensaries, community health education, leadership training, and agricultural projects, plus the pure water program. Funding comes from the Royer Family Foundation, Growing Hope Worldwide, and Brethren donors. More details are at

4) Conference examines Native American boarding school history

Monica McFadden and Dotti Seitz at the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition conference
Monica McFadden (left) and Dotti Seitz at the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition conference. Photo courtesy of Monica McFadden.

The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition on Oct. 2-3 held their first-ever boarding school healing conference, called “The Spirit Survives: A National Movement Toward Healing.”

Monica McFadden, a Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS) worker at the Church of the Brethren Office of Peacebuilding and Policy with a focus on racial justice, attended the conference with Dotti Seitz, who is part of Harrisburg (Pa.) First Church of the Brethren and a member of the Southern Cheyenne tribe.

The conference was held in Carlisle, Pa., the location of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, perhaps the most famous of the Native American boarding schools in the US Boarding schools functioned as a way for the US government to take children from their homes on reservations and abusively strip them of their traditional cultures. Attendees of the conference were a mix of boarding school survivors, descendants of survivors, other Native people, and a number of Christian and white representatives of various organizations.

The two-day conference consisted of a range of panels and breakout sessions on topics such as “Truth, Healing, and Reconciliation,” “Healing through Art and Storytelling,” “Rethinking, Repurposing, and Reclaiming Indian Boarding Schools,” and “Allyship and Healing within Christian Denominations.” Some key themes of discussion were the historical trauma that still lives on from the boarding school generation, having access to records and information from boarding schools, how to approach healing from trauma, and how non-Natives can commit to hearing the truth of this often invisible history. Much of boarding school history is unknown by non-Natives, and many stories remain untold, so truth was at the center of conversations about healing.

“When we talk about truth, it’s also about getting to a place of justice,” said Vicky Stott, program officer for the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, as she spoke on the Truth, Healing, and Reconciliation panel. “One, take in the truth. [And then] two, what does that truth obligate us to do?”

Seitz said that the conference was a great experience, prompting her to think more about her own journey of healing, one she said she’s only recently begun. Seitz did not grow up on a reservation or at a boarding school, but trauma and separation are common narratives in many Native people’s experiences.

“It’s easy for people to think this history has nothing to do with them,” said McFadden. “But all of our homes and churches are on Native land, and we have to ask ourselves why that is and how we benefit from it. This history is tied up in our own, and it’s our job as the church to reckon with that.”

5) Office of Ministry seeks program manager for new initiative

The Office of Ministry is seeking a part-time program manager for the Lilly Endowment, Inc.-funded program “Part-Time Pastor; Full-Time Church.” The program manager will work with an advisory committee to implement this new program initiative that addresses the practical needs of multivocational ministers in the Church of the Brethren.

The program will include recruiting and training qualified individuals to serve as “Circuit Riders”—those who assess ministers’ immediate concerns—as well as Exemplars—those who provide expertise regarding concerns identified as most common for multivocational clergy. The program manager will also manage requests for services, schedule service providers (Circuit Riders and Exemplars), and meet ongoing administrative needs including completion of required reports to the grant provider.

Further details regarding the grant, as well as a detailed position description, are available online or by request. Interested persons may apply for this position by sending a cover letter, resumé, and two letters of recommendation to The position is available Jan. 1. Location is flexible, with travel as needed.

6) Workcamp Office announces 2019 summer schedule

2019 workcamps brochure "Grow"
2019 Brethren workcamps brochure

The Church of the Brethren Workcamp Office has released dates and locations for the 2019 workcamp schedule. A total of 18 different workcamps will be offered for junior high, senior high, young adult, and “We Are Able” participants.

The six junior high sites are in Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Senior high workcamps will take place in 10 locations from coast to coast, including Oregon, Idaho, Colorado, Tennessee, and Massachusetts. Young adults may choose to travel to China, or to assist in Elgin, Ill., with the “We Are Able” workcamp for youth and young adults with intellectual disabilities.

To view the full schedule, which includes the dates, location, cost, and description of each workcamp, visit Registration will open on Jan. 17 at 7 p.m. Central Time. All youth and young adults in the denomination are encouraged to attend. For questions or to receive a 2019 workcamp brochure (pictured) by mail, contact the Workcamp Office at

7) NOAC planning committee unveils 2019 logo

NOAC 2019 logo "Reaching into joy"

Planners of the 2019 Church of the Brethren National Older Adult Conference (NOAC) have unveiled the logo for the event, highlighting the conference theme, “Reaching … across generations, beyond differences, through conflict … into joy,” based on Romans 15:7. The flowing blue and green logo was designed by Brethren graphic artist Debbie Noffsinger.

The conference will take place Sept. 2-6, 2019, at the Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center near Waynesville, N.C. The NOAC web page,, will go live with 2019 information in January. Registration opens in April.

Christy Waltersdorff, pastor of York Center Church of the Brethren in Lombard, Ill., is serving as NOAC 2019 coordinator. Serving with her on the planning team are Rex Miller, Pat Roberts, Karen Dillon, Glenn Bollinger, Paula Ziegler Ulrich, and Church of the Brethren staff members Stan Dueck and Josh Brockway.

NOAC planning committee members
Seated, from left: Pat Roberts, Christy Waltersdorff Standing (from left): Stan Dueck, Glen Bollinger, Karen Dillon, Rex Miller, and Josh Brockway. Photo courtesy of NOAC.

8) Brethren Academy offers “Christianity in the Early-Modern and Modern Worlds”

The Brethren Academy for Ministerial Leadership is offering “Christianity in the Early-Modern and Modern Worlds” Jan. 23 to March 13 with Bethany Theological Seminary professor Ken Rogers as the instructor. TRIM/EFSM students will receive one credit in Bible/Theology and Bethany Experience upon completion. Continuing education students will receive 2.0 CEUs. This course is also available for laypersons for their own personal enrichment.

This 8-week online course will provide a brief overview of the history of Christianity from the Reformation to World War II. Topics of study include the Magisterial Reformation, the Radical Reformation, Roman Catholic reform, Protestant Orthodoxy, Pietism and the Evangelical Awakening, the impact of Enlightenment rationalism, missionary expansion, Protestant liberalism and fundamentalism, the ecumenical movement, and Christianity in developing countries.

Registration deadline is Dec. 19. Further details and online registration are available at

9) Brethren bits

In this issue: Remembrance, personnel, Brethren Historical Committee, Action Alert, district conferences and news, workshops, recognitions, “Brethren Voices,” and more.

Esther Frey died Nov. 13 in Mount Morris, Ill. She had celebrated her 100th birthday in April. Born in California, she graduated from La Verne (Calif.) College and Bethany Theological Seminary and served as a school teacher for many years. She did volunteer work in Zimbabwe, wrote curriculum for Brethren Press, and served in a variety of district and denominational roles. A memorial service will be held Nov. 24 at 2 p.m. at Mount Morris Church of the Brethren.

Anne Wessell Stokes of Pottstown, Pa., began Nov. 5 as COBYS Family Services director of development. She has served as COBYS development associate since January and previously served in fundraising, event planning, and grant administration positions with the Girl Scouts of Western Pennsylvania and United Way of Greater Cincinnati. She grew up in Spring CreekChurch of the Brethren (Hershey, Pa.), completed a summer internship with Brethren Housing Association in 2009, and served for a year through Brethren Volunteer Service, coordinating children’s ministries and communication for the Cincinnati Church of the Brethren. COBYS, located in Lancaster, Pa., is affiliated with the Atlantic Northeast District.

Sarah O’Hara, from Liberty Mills Church of the Brethren, began as the administrative assistant for the South/Central Indiana District office on Nov. 1.

—The Brethren Historical Committee (BHC) held its annual meeting at the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown (Pa.) College Nov. 2-4, hosted by Young Center director Jeff Bach. Among those attending were Bill Kostlevy, director of the Brethren Historical Library and Archives (BHLA) and ex officio on the BHC, and his current archival intern, Maddie McKeever. Committee members include Bach, Dawne Dewey, Terry Barkley (chair), and Kelly Brenneman. On Sunday the BHC traveled to Germantown Church of the Brethren in Philadelphia, where they worshiped with the congregation and shared a fellowship meal.

The Church of the Brethren Office of Peacebuilding and Policy this week issued an “Action Alert” asking Brethren to contact their US congressional offices and ask them to support reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. It cites a 1985 Church of the Brethren statement that notes “land is central to God’s covenant with people, central to the shaping of human community, and central to justice among all peoples who dwell on earth.”

School of the Americas Watch is holding its third “Border Encuentro” this weekend in Nogales, Arizona/Mexico as a witness on immigration issues. Until 2016, the organization—which bills itself as “the largest grassroots Latin America solidarity movement in the United States”—held its annual witness event at Fort Benning, Ga., with annual Brethren participation.

Doris Abdullah with UN staff members in New York City, August 2018

Doris Abdullah, Church of the Brethren representative to the United Nations, reported after the 73rd opening of the UN’s General Assembly: “I still believe that the vast number of nations and the people of the globe continue to work for the common interest of all of humanity.” Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garces, former foreign minister of Ecuador, is serving as president of this assembly, the fourth woman elected to the post. The October edition of “Brethren Voices” highlighted Abdullah’s UN involvement.

Shenandoah District held its district conference Nov. 2-3 at Antioch Church of the Brethren in Woodstock, Va. Delegates approved two minor changes to the district constitution but did not give the two-thirds majority needed for a change that would have allowed nominations from the floor for leadership positions. A Friday offering raised more than $2,400 for the Nigeria Crisis Fund. An altar display memorialized 2018 moderator Richi Yowell, who passed away in July. Several others convened sessions in his place.

—The Middle Pennsylvania District conference held Oct. 12-13 at Roaring Spring (Pa.) First Church of the Brethren collected two offerings totaling nearly $9,000 for hurricane recovery efforts in Puerto Rico. The Heritage Fair at Camp Blue Diamond (Petersburg, Pa.) raised more than $25,700 for camp and district ministries.

Atlantic Northeast District is sponsoring an “Anabaptist Historical Bus Trip” to the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia on Dec. 1. Stops are planned at the John Kline Homestead in Broadway and the Crossroads Valley Mennonite-Brethren Heritage Center in Harrisonburg, as well as a visit to the Dunker Meetinghouse at the Antietam National Battlefield in Maryland, en route.

Northern Ohio District will hold a Healthy Congregations Workshop April 12-13 at Maple Grove Church of the Brethren (Ashland). Richard Blackburn, executive director of Lombard (Ill.) Mennonite Peace Center, will provide leadership. Registration is $25, with a preregistration deadline of April 2. Details are at

Shepherd’s Spring Ministries Center (Sharpsburg, Md.) will host a workshop titled “By the Heart, from the Heart: Biblical Storytelling for the 21st century” on Jan. 19. The main presenter is Robert Alley, a retired pastor and former Annual Conference moderator whose current focus is biblical storytelling. The event is for both pastors and laypeople. Cost is $50, and CEUs are available for Church of the Brethren pastors for an additional fee. For further details, contact Judith Clister at 304-379-3564 or

Cerro Gordo (Ill.) Church of the Brethren was recently featured in the “Herald & Review” of Decatur, Ill., for its work with the local Cerro Gordo Quilters group. The group creates cloth bags “used to hold some of the equipment women need following mastectomy surgery,” along with other outreach projects.

Paradise Church of the Brethren (Smithville, Ohio) was recognized recently in “The Daily Record” of Wooster for its diaper ministry, which aims to help parents of babies with costs through bulk purchasing. The article says the congregation got the idea after hearing a report about a similar project on National Public Radio (NPR).

Sue and John Strawser
Sue and John Strawser. Credit: The Early Bird/Bluebag Media. Used by permission.

John Strawser, board chair at Pitsburg (Ohio) Church of the Brethren, received this year’s Community Service Volunteerism award at the Ohio State Grange Banquet and State Convention Oct. 19 in Dublin, Ohio, according to a report in “The Early Bird” of Darke County. In addition to his service at the church, the article says Strawser works regularly with the State of the Heart Health Care Veteran Recognition Program.

—The November edition of “Brethren Voices features author Mark Charles, interviewed at the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference in Cincinnati. “Charles shares the complexities of American history regarding race, culture, and faith in order to help forge a path of healing and reconciliation for the nation,” according to a release. Interviewed by Brent Carlson, host of “Brethren Voices,” Charles shares his feelings of being Navajo, as well as history of our Native Americans. Another upcoming program on the show interviews Kim and Jim Therrien, directors of Lybrook Community Ministries in New Mexico, a long-time mission point for the Church of the Brethren. DVD copies of the programs may be requested from Ed Groff,

—The Global Women’s Project recently welcomed Sarah Neher, Katie Heishman, Anna Lisa Gross, and Kim Hill Smith to new terms on its steering committee. The group met in late October in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Newsline is the email news service of the Church of the Brethren. Newsline stories may be reprinted if Newsline is cited as the source. The Newsline editor is Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of News Services for the Church of the Brethren. Contributors to this issue of Newsline include guest editor Walt Wiltschek, Russ Matteson, Monica McFadden, Marissa Witkovsky-Eldred, Nancy Sollenberger Heishman, Terry Barkley, Don Fitzkee, Ginny Haney, Judith Clister, Ed Groff, and Fran Massie. Please send news tips and submissions to the editor at Find the Newsline archive at Sign up for Newsline and other Church of the Brethren emails, or make changes to your subscription, at

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