Newsline for Dec. 13, 2019

Peace pole at the Church of the Brethren General Offices. Photo by Wendy McFadden

They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Isaiah 2:4b).


1) Brethren gather to discern a global Brethren alliance
2) Preachers for the 2020 Annual Conference are announced
3) Church of the Brethren signs letter to presidential candidates on military budget
4) A witness to ancient stones and living stones of faith


5) New and Renew church planting event to focus on ‘The Reward of Risk’
6) Webinar is offered on topic of ‘Mission and Money in Church Planting’
7) Spring break service trips are offered by Brethren Volunteer Service

8) Brethren bits: Remembering Samuel H. Flora Jr. and Ernest G. Barr, personnel notices, jobs, BVSer Christmas cards, live nativities at Church of the Brethren congregations, Living Stream’s Longest Night retreat, Dranesville’s Civil War/Civil Peace event, Roundtable, and more

Quote of the week:

“It seems like there’s a new political crisis bearing down on us every Christmas season. How do these words [from Isaiah 2:4] help you look past war to see more clearly what the birth of the Prince of Peace means to you?”

— Frank Ramirez writing in the 2019 Advent devotional from Brethren Press, titled “Ready.” Purchase a copy at .

1) Brethren gather to discern a global Brethren alliance

By Jay Wittmeyer

Meeting in Kwarhi, Nigeria, Brethren gathered from across the globe to discuss the vision of becoming a global church body. Photo courtesy of Jay Wittmeyer

Meeting in Kwarhi, Nigeria, Brethren gathered from across the globe to discuss the vision of becoming a global church body. Hosted by the Nigerian Brethren, representatives came from Haiti, the Dominican Republic, the United States, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Spain, and Nigeria for the meeting.

The four-day conference on Dec. 2-5 began with introductions and a detailed report of each sister church, its leadership, church structure, membership, and most importantly how and why each came to join the global Brethren movement. The conference then tested the US proposal that autonomous Brethren groups should move more closely together and develop a global structure for the Church of the Brethren.

Unanimously, representatives affirmed their hopes for the establishment of a global body and shared how they hoped such a structure might positively impact their communities and the broader witness of the Brethren. Many expressed the need to magnify the Brethren voice for peace and expressed hope that such a structure might re-affirm Brethren beliefs and practices and give a deep sense of Brethren identity, as well as be a vehicle to develop shared mission programming.

Participants also discussed their concerns regarding moving forward with such a global structure and the challenges and obstacles that might be encountered as Brethren seek to form such a body. A lack of resources and the difficulty in procuring visas to travel was highlighted as a major obstacle in moving forward, while fears of discrimination and prejudice were mentioned as concerns. Would all be treated equally? The group also expressed concerns that the body could identify and agree to adhere to shared biblical principles.

On the third day of the conference, the conversation shifted to recommendations to be reported out from the conference and the next steps to move forward. The group recommended that a temporary board be established to work toward a constitution, develop guiding principles, and define points for sharing resources and programming. The Nigerian Brethren suggested Global Brethren Communion (GBC) to be used as a temporary name until a permanent name can be agree upon through a global structure.

Participants also toured the headquarters buildings and programs of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN) including Kulp Theological Seminary, met with EYN leadership and directors, and visited the EYN health clinic, Comprehensive Secondary School, and agriculture programs. The group traveled to Mubi for an introduction to the Theological Education by Extension program and spent an afternoon in Michika, where EYN church members including president Joel Billi shared about the day Boko Haram attacked the city and burned the EYN church. The group attended worship services in the Utako congregation in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city.

Many expressed deep appreciation for the gathering, the singing, the Bible study, and the privilege to be with EYN and its members, for whom there has been years of intense prayer and support. While most participants have interacted through the American church, participants expressed gratitude to see the Brethren through the eyes of the Nigerian members. While visa procurement proved to be a huge encumbrance, for those who were able to make the conference, it was truly a milestone in their lives. 

The group of 23 people–18 men and 5 women–included the EYN president, vice-president, and general secretary. Jay Wittmeyer, Global Mission and Service executive director, and Jeff Boshart, director of the Global Food Initiative, joined from the US. Regrettably, several representatives were unable to join the gathering due to difficulties in procuring visas, including all representatives from Brazil and India and Carol Waggy from the US. Venezuela was also invited to join the discussion, although it is still a new Brethren mission, but because of the complexity of the country’s political situation the Venezuelan representatives decided it was too difficult and expensive to make the journey.

— Jay Wittmeyer is executive director of Global Mission and Service for the Church of the Brethren.

2) Preachers for the 2020 Annual Conference are announced

2020 Annual Conference Logo

The Annual Conference Program and Arrangements Committee has released the names of those preaching for the daily worship services at the 2020 Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren. The Conference takes place in Grand Rapids, Mich., on July 1-5.

In related news, the 2020 Conference will devote significant time to spiritual engagement around a proposed compelling vision for the Church of the Brethren. “The Annual Conference officers feel such a process is crucial to provide delegates ample, prayerful space as they move toward an affirmation of a compelling vision for the denomination,” said an announcement from the Conference office. “Though other business will be entertained, no polity/structural changes will be considered. It is the discernment of the Annual Conference officers that such items are best considered after the 2020 Annual Conference, after a compelling vision has been determined.”

Annual Conference preachers for 2020

On the opening evening of the Conference, Wednesday July 1, the sermon will be brought by Annual Conference moderator Paul Mundey of Frederick, Md.

Thursday evening’s preacher on July 2 will be Richard Zapata of Anaheim, Calif., a pastor of Santa Ana Principe de Paz Church of the Brethren.

On Friday evening, July 3, the sermon will be given by sister-and-brother team Chelsea Goss and Tyler Goss of Mechanicsville, Va., and Harrisonburg, Va., respectively.

Saturday evening’s sermon on July 4 will be preached by Beth Sollenberger, executive minister for South Central Indiana District.

The closing sermon of the Conference on Sunday morning, July 5, will be given by Patrick Starkey of Cloverdale, Va., who is chair of the denomination’s Mission and Ministry Board.

For more information about Annual Conference go to .

3) Church of the Brethren signs letter to presidential candidates on military budget

The Church of the Brethren is one of 32 faith groups that signed a letter to the 2020 presidential candidates calling for a reduction in military spending and redirection of those funds to address needs such as poverty, hunger, education, healthcare, and the environment, among others. An additional 70 or so individual faith leaders also signed the letter.

“While roughly 40 million people in the United States are not sure they can afford enough food for their family, Congress and the president have agreed to spend more than $70 billion of our nation’s resources on another year of fighting overseas wars,” the letter said, in part. “Salaries for the nation’s teachers have fallen by 4.5% over the past decade, yet our latest budget devotes another $9 billion for F-35 war planes. Veterans of our nation’s wars are dying of suicide and drug overdose at alarming rates, yet Congress is poised to spend well over a trillion dollars to refurbish a nuclear weapons arsenal for a type of war that Ronald Reagan once said “cannot be won and must never be fought. This misallocation of our tax dollars is a gross misrepresentation of our values.”

The full text of the letter follows:

December 9, 2019

Dear 2020 Presidential Candidates,

As faith-based groups and local faith leaders, we see the challenges that our communities face up close. We also witness first-hand the growth and joy that can be nurtured through wise investments of our bountiful national resources. Our faith and daily experiences tell us that our nation does best when our taxpayer dollars are spent on proven interventions that help make our communities healthier, safer, and stronger–like educating children, caring for the sick, feeding the hungry, and building peace in communities torn by violence.

We are therefore deeply troubled by our federal budget’s increasingly distorted emphasis on spending to fight and equip for war, at the expense of investments in our communities at home and our pursuit of peace abroad. We call on you to reverse this harmful trend and reduce military spending, reinvesting our nation’s resources in our communities and peacebuilding instead.

We represent a diversity of faith teachings on the question of when–and whether–the organized violence of war is morally acceptable. Where our faiths all agree is that war must never be a first resort or a mindless preference. The immediate effect of war and military violence, even when pursued with the aim of protecting others or ending wrongs, is to wreck, wound, and cut short lives. Faith calls on us to build, heal, and nurture.

With the July 2019 budget agreement, Congress voted to spend over half of the discretionary federal budget on war and today’s military. With this decision, we see even more clearly how distorted our national priorities have become. Today the federal budget allocates over $2 billion each day–more than $1 million every minute–to spending on war, weapons, and the military. The budget agreement will increase spending on the military by at least $20 billion over last year; just that increase is more than double the entire annual budget of the Environmental Protection Agency, and fully one-third of last year’s total foreign aid and diplomacy budget.

While roughly 40 million people in the United States are not sure they can afford enough food for their family, Congress and the president have agreed to spend more than $70 billion of our nation’s resources on another year of fighting overseas wars. Salaries for the nation’s teachers have fallen by 4.5% over the past decade, yet our latest budget devotes another $9 billion for F-35 war planes. Veterans of our nation’s wars are dying of suicide and drug overdose at alarming rates, yet Congress is poised to spend well over a trillion dollars to refurbish a nuclear weapons arsenal for a type of war that Ronald Reagan once said “cannot be won and must never be fought.”

This misallocation of our tax dollars is a gross misrepresentation of our values. Our faith insists that spending ever more resources on the tools and threats of violence will not bring us true security. In order to be truly secure, our communities need a just peace built on the dignity and strength of education, healthcare, housing, nutrition, sustainable employment, and lasting conflict resolution. Instead, Congress has repeatedly put our tax dollars towards weapons and war–tools and actions that harm communities, rather than build them.

Over half a century ago, President Dwight D. Eisenhower reminded us of what our nation loses when it wastes its resources on the tools and business of war: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.

“This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.”

Our faith calls on us to choose a better path today. Though varied in practice and theology, all of our various faith traditions call us to honor the sacred dignity of each person and to attend to the needs of society’s most vulnerable people both in the United States and abroad. It is immoral to spend excessively on the weapons and conduct of war, especially at the cost of food for the hungry, healthcare for the sick, education for our children, and prevention of and recovery from violent conflict.

We urge you to call for significant cuts to our nation’s military budget, for major reinvestments in our communities at home, and for a more peaceful approach to the world beyond.

Find the letter with the list of signers at .

4) A witness to ancient stones and living stones of faith

By Nathan Hosler

Nathan Hosler, front right, talking with community leaders on delegation with Churches for Middle East Peace in Iraqi Kurdistan. Photo by Weldon Nisly of Christian Peacemaker Teams

A few weeks ago, I traveled with the executive director of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP), Mae Elise Cannon, and Erik Apelgårdh of the World Council of Churches (WCC), to Iraqi Kurdistan. The intent was to expand CMEP’s work in the region, with a particular focus on the sustainability of the historic Christian communities and access to humanitarian assistance.

The Church of the Brethren is one of nearly 30 member communions or national bodies that comprise CMEP and I am the chair of the board. In this capacity, I participated to support CMEP’s work, but also to extend the ministry of the Church of the Brethren. This was an important step in meeting the mandate the 2015 Annual Conference statement “Christian Minority Communities.” The statement reads in part:

“As members of the global body of Christ we are concerned with the destruction of Christian communities in regions where Christians are targeted as religious minorities. 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. ‘So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith’ (Galatians 6:10).

“We also are alarmed by the rapidly diminishing Christian communities in places such as Iraq, Palestine, and Syria. The elimination of these ancient yet still vital Christian communities would not only be a human rights disaster and a loss for the peoples of the region, but also a tragic loss of historic Christian witness in the land where the church first took root.”

With a strong organizational mandate and an invitation from a church leader in Baghdad, we worked to schedule a trip. However, only a few weeks before leaving, protests began in Baghdad and increased in intensity with violent government repression. As of this writing, more than 350 protesters have been killed. Additionally, there was the Turkish invasion of northeast Syria following the announcement and sudden withdrawal of many of the US troops from northeast Syria. Although we decided not to enter federal Iraq due to the protests, we went to the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan.

Beginning in Erbil, we met with church leaders, humanitarian organizations, and with the US Agency for International Development (USAID). The church leaders spoke of the displacement and severe decrease of their members in the last years. Their numbers have dropped from 1.5 million Christians before the US invasion in 2003, to perhaps 200,000 presently. We saw a vineyard growing in a church yard that had once housed people who fled ISIS in Mosul. We also saw a new hospital being built. These and others were signs of a vibrant church community and ongoing ministry despite much hardship. It also highlighted a reoccurring message, that church based institutions are needed to both meet needs and provide a sense of future for the communities.

The next day we traveled with the Christian Peacemaker Team north to near the Turkish border. We heard of CPT’s accompaniment and human rights documentation on the cross-border bombing, as well as directly from the communities. Meeting at an Assyrian church in the village of Kashkawa, with people from eight different nearby villages, we heard of the difficult situation. One strong plea was for us to challenge the United States support and military assistance to the Turkish government. The day’s visit was concluded by a wonderful meal together around a long table and tea in the courtyard.

We continued on to Duhok. From there, we visited Alqosh, whose inhabitants fled as ISIS advanced, and then to Telskuf, which was occupied by ISIS–but everyone fled before they arrived. Although the town has been liberated for some time, only 700 families live in a town that used to have 1,600; even many of the present families are not originally from there. Nearby we briefly visited a Yazidi displacement camp where most occupants have lived since 2014. After one man walked past, our guide noted that his wife and daughter are still missing.

Throughout the trip we heard both words of affirmation and appreciation, as well as hard challenges. One worshiper after an evening service said, “Whenever we see you, remember that we are not alone but there are Christians around the world.” A few days later, a priest expressed anger that so many churches and organizations had come and not provided any assistance.

As we left the city of Duhok to drive back to Erbil and fly home, we saw buses of refugees arriving from the border of Syria. Traveling down the highway as we passed by the buses, we could see children looking out the windows.

On the way back, we briefly visited the Yazidi temple in Lalesh where abducted women and girls were welcomed back. We also visited ruins from ancient Assyria and the Mar Mattai Monastery (Monastery of St. Matthew) founded in the year 363, overlooking the Nineveh plan about 15 miles from Mosul. Both the ancient stones and the “living stones” are vibrant but also at risk.

As we move in next steps of this work, but also towards Christmas, I look forward to the moving of the Spirit to guide us in the way of peace and wellbeing for all.

— Nathan Hosler is director of the Church of the Brethren’s Office of Peacebuilding and Policy in Washington, D.C.

5) New and Renew church planting event to focus on ‘The Reward of Risk’

The Church of the Brethren’s church planting and church revitalization conference, held every other year, will meet next on May 13-15, 2020. Under the title “New and Renew: Revitalize – Plant – Grow” the theme is “The Reward of Risk” based on Matthew 25:28 in The Message: “Take the thousand and give it to the one who risked the most.”

The 2020 event will be held at the Church of the Brethren General Offices in Elgin, Ill., not at Bethany Seminary as has been the practice in previous years. It is sponsored by Discipleship Ministries and the New Church Development Advisory Committee.

“Many times, in our conversations around church planting and church renewal, we talk about the possibility of failure in regard to risk,” said an announcement. “But have we ever stopped to ponder the possibility of reward in the midst of risk? What might it look like to celebrate those who stepped out and took a risk for the Kingdom of God?”

The keynote speakers will be José Humphreys and Christiana Rice. Humphreys is a social worker, consultant, and minister providing training around culture building, organizational development, transformative dialogue, and emotionally intelligent leadership. He is a pastor of Metro Hope Covenant Church, a multiethnic and multicultural church in East Harlem, N.Y. Rice, who is from San Diego, Calif., is an on-the-ground practitioner and visionary voice in the Parish Church movement, serving as co-director of the Parish Collective. She is co-author with Michael Frost of the book “To Alter Your World: Partnering with God to Rebirth Our Communities.”

A flier for the event may be downloaded from . More information will be posted at . Registration will open on Feb. 6, 2020.

6) Webinar is offered on topic of ‘Mission and Money in Church Planting’

David Fitch

A webinar on “Mission and Money in Church Planting” is offered by the Church of the Brethren Discipleship Ministries on March 10, 2020, at 3-4 p.m. (Eastern time). The presenter will be David Fitch is Betty R. Lindner Chair of Evangelical Theology at Northern Seminary in Chicago, Ill.

“Fitch will lead our learning topic on funding models and church planting,” said an announcement of the online seminar. “This free webcast is a New and Renew event sponsored by the New Church Advisory Committee of the Church of the Brethren.”

In addition to his role at Northern Seminary, Fitch is founding pastor of Life on the Vine Christian Community, a missional church in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, and coaches a network of related church plants. He is a lecturer and author on issues the church faces in mission including cultural engagement, leadership, and theology. His books include “Faithful Presence” and “The Church of Us vs. Them.”

Ministers may receive .1 continuing education credit for attending the live webinar. The link for the webcast is . Spanish translation will be available. No preregistration is required to attend the free webinar. For more information contact Stan Dueck, director of Organizational Leadership, at 847-429-4343 or .

7) Spring break service trips are offered by Brethren Volunteer Service

By Hannah Shultz

For the first time, Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS) is offering spring break service trips for college students. Join BVS in Boston either the first or second week of March 2020 for the opportunity to serve with organizations that are working to end hunger and provide essential resources to the Boston community.

Dates of the two service trips are March 3-8 and March 7-12. Over the weekend in between the two weeks, participants will join together to explore Boston and learn more about the city’s rich history. The United Parish of Brookline will host both groups.

All college students are welcome. Cost is $385 (transportation not included). Registration opens Dec. 4. Visit for more information. For questions contact Hannah Shultz at or 847-429-4337.

Join BVS in Massachusetts as we explore what it means to be a just and compassionate global citizen in one of the nation’s oldest cities!

— Hannah Shultz is coordinator of short-term service with BVS.

8) Brethren bits

— Remembrance: Samuel H. Flora Jr., 95, a former district executive in the Church of the Brethren and a former member of the denominational board, died Nov. 18 in Bridgewater, Va. He was born on Dec. 11, 1923, in Snow Creek, Va., son of the late Samuel H. Sr. and Annie Leah (Eller) Flora. He was a graduate of Bridgewater College, Westminster Theological Seminary, and Bethany Biblical Seminary. An ordained pastor for 76 years, he served several congregations in five districts of the Church of the Brethren. He served on the General Board for five years. He also was a district executive for a term of five years, and was on the original planning committees for the Bridgewater Home and Camp Brethren Woods. He is survived by his wife, Lillie Ann Baldwin Flora, whom he married on June 27, 1948; and sons Kenneth L. Flora, John W. Flora, and Paul R. Flora, and their families. A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. on Nov. 23 at Bridgewater Church of the Brethren, where he was a member. The family will receive friends following the service. Memorial contributions are received to Bridgewater Healthcare Foundation and Bethany Theological Seminary. Find a full obituary at .

— Remembrance: Ernest G. Barr, 93, died Nov. 24 at Timbercrest Retirement Community in North Manchester, Ind. Among other volunteer service to the church, he filled two top leadership positions in the Church of the Brethren including chair of the former General Board and chair of the board of Bethany Theological Seminary. In addition, he served as chair of the South/Central Indiana District board and as moderator of that district, and served as member of the Manchester College Board of Trustees. He was born in Chicago, Ill., on Sept. 7, 1926, the second son of the late Francis H. Barr and Rebecca (McKonly) Barr Fike. As a conscientious objector he served 20 months in Civilian Public Service in 1944-46. He graduated from Manchester College with a degree in chemistry and from Purdue University with a master’s degree. He was an emeritus member of the American Chemical Society and worked his entire career of 37 years at Eli Lilly and Company. Following retirement, he worked 17 years in Methodist Hospital, Indianapolis, and Lutheran Hospital, Fort Wayne, as a volunteer chaplain. In 1994, Manchester College honored him with a Manchester College Alumni Award and in 1999 an honorary Doctor of Science degree. On June 3, 1949, he married Cleona Neher of Gettysburg, Ohio; she died May 24, 2018. He also was preceded in death by daughter Carol Barr Miller. He is survived by daughter Kathleen (Stephen P.) Barr Hollenberg of Goshen, Ind.; grandchildren and great-grandchildren. A memorial service will be at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 29, at Timbercrest Chapel in North Manchester, with visitation one hour prior the service. Memorials gifts are received to the Ernest and Cleona Barr Endowment for Peace Studies at Manchester University.

— Camp Eder’s executive director, Bryan Smith, resigned on Oct. 11, according to the Southern Pennsylvania District newsletter. “The camp staff and board members are working to continue and improve the ongoing ministry of Camp Eder,” said the announcement. “Please continue to support us with your prayers, participation, and donations.”

— Camp Pine Lake, a Church of the Brethren camp that borders Pine Lake State Park near Eldora, Iowa, is seeking an enthusiastic, multitalented individual to serve as camp director. The position is open as of Jan. 1, 2020. The position includes working with the camp board, general operation of the camp (including program, office and business management, personnel management, maintenance, etc.), district/public relations, and other responsibilities. In addition to hosting Church of the Brethren camps and events, Camp Pine Lake’s facilities are available for rental by other church groups, families, and individuals. Qualifications include strong hospitality, program, administrative, and accounting skills; enthusiasm for the mission of Camp Pine Lake; leadership skills; a spirit of cooperation; and a desire to promote the ministries provided to the Northern Plains District through outdoor experiences. The camp director should be a committed Christian who supports the principles of the Church of the Brethren. A college degree is preferred, along with experience in Christian camping leadership, education, public relations, promotional activities, and communication. Health benefits are not included but a salary, on-site housing (in the form of a separate dwelling), and utilities are provided for the camp director. For more information call 641-751-0998 or visit . To apply send a cover letter and resumé to Camp Pine Lake, 23008 W. Ave., Eldora, IA 50627 or by email attachment to Camp Pine Lake Joint Committee Chair, Paul Neher, .

 “Do you love Brethren workcamps?” said an announcement for the position of 2021 assistant workcamp coordinator. The position is open to those who will serve through Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS) to help plan and lead the 2021 summer workcamp ministry of the Church of the Brethren. Application deadline is Jan. 27, 2020. A link to the application form and a position description are online at .

— Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS) is inviting Church of the Brethren congregations to send Christmas cards and holiday greetings to the current BVS volunteers. “Our volunteers love receiving cards and greetings from Brethren congregations!” said an announcement. To request a list of the current BVS volunteers contact .

— The Church of the Brethren Service Sunday will be recognized the first Sunday in February 2020. Congregations and leaders are asked to use the day to celebrate the church’s history of service and recognize all who serve. The 2020 theme is “Voices for Peace” based on Romans 15:1-6. “This scripture tells us that our lives sing in harmony to God when we lend a helping hand and serve one another,” said an announcement. Worship resources on the 2020 theme are available at .

— Registration opened Dec. 2 for the 2020 Christian Citizenship Seminar. This event for high school-age youth and their adult advisors takes place in New York City and Washington, D.C. It is designed to give youth the chance to explore the relationship between faith and a particular political issue and then act from a faith perspective regarding that issue. This year’s seminar focuses on pursuing economic justice. Dates are April 25-30, 2020. Go to .

— Dec. 18 is the registration deadline for the Brethren Academy for Ministerial Leadership online course “Nurturing Vital Spirituality in a Changing World,” taught by Rhonda Pittman Gingrich. The course is offered Jan. 22-March 17, 2020. Go to .

— Jan. 15, 2020, is the last day to register for the Clergy Tax Seminar taking place Jan. 25 online and onsite at Bethany Theological Seminary in Richmond, Ind. It is recommended for pastors, church treasurers and board chairs, and others who wish to understand clergy taxes and how to comply with regulations while maximizing tax deductions. For more information go to .

— Canton (Ill.) Church of the Brethren is featured in an exhibit that opened at the Canton Area Heritage Center on Nov. 22. The “Canton Daily Ledger” noted, “Throughout the world, including Fulton County, churches have been focal points of communities for centuries. With that in mind, a new exhibit called ‘Historic Churches’ is coming to the Canton Area Heritage Center. The exhibit will feature history, pictures, documents, momentos, and more from six area churches including Canton Church of the Brethren, First Presbyterian Church of Canton, First Presbyterian Church of Lewistown, Salvation Army of Canton, Trinity Lutheran Church of Canton, and Wesley United Methodist Church of Canton.” The display featuring the first six churches will continue through May 2020, with other area churches scheduled to be featured through December 2020. See .

— Every year several Church of the Brethren congregations in various parts of the country offer live nativity events for their communities. Here are a few: 
     The aptly named Bethlehem Church of the Brethren in Boones Mill, Va., on Dec. 7 hosted “Come to Bethlehem and See…” as an outdoor, walk-through live nativity program followed by cookies and hot chocolate.
     On Saturday, Dec. 14, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. a drive-through live nativity will be offered by Chambersburg (Pa.) Church of the Brethren.
     Potsdam (Ohio) Church of the Brethren also is having a live nativity this Saturday from 5-7 p.m. The event includes “delicious homemade cookies and cocoa, and even a visit with Santa!” said an invitation.
     On Dec. 21-23 from 7-9 p.m. Mill Creek Church of the Brethren in Port Republic, Va., will hold a live nativity at Michael’s Barn at 8218 Port Republic Road.

— York (Pa.) Second Church of the Brethren/Iglesia Arca de Salvacion helped host a unique Christmas experience, the fourth annual “Walk-a-Christmas Mile” in the city of York’s east end. It was one of four churches acting as waystations for a walk that took participants along on the Christmas journey via scripture, song, and prayer. The theme was “Follow the Star” for the event on the evening of Dec. 9. Transportation was available for those unable to walk all or part of the distance.

 Living Stream Church of the Brethren, an online congregation based in Pacific Northwest District, is planning a special event on the longest night of the year. The “Longest Night Retreat” takes place at 7:30-9:30 p.m. (Eastern time) on Saturday, Dec. 21, for those who experience the holidays as a difficult time. This is true “for many people, especially those of us who are grieving a lost loved one or an estranged relationship, or who do not have the means to celebrate in the contemporary fashion of our culture,” said an invitation. “Entering into the shortest days of the year can also be challenging for those of us who are energized by sunshine and warmth. Yet there is a wisdom also in the darkness: the tomb is also a womb of resurrection and rebirth. We will gather to reach out to one another across the miles and hold each other tight through the darkness, praying and reflecting together with scripture, poetry, images, and music. Both pain and joy are part of the story of Incarnation, and we will be present to and make room for both.” The event will be led by pastor Bobbi Dykema. Join in at .

— Dranesville Church of the Brethren in Herndon, Va., is holding an event called “Civil War/Civil Peace” on Dec. 15 at 7 p.m. It commemorates a battle between Union and Confederate troops on the church’s grounds that took place five days before Christmas, and was one of the earliest Civil War battles. “It was the first Union victory in the East against the Confederacy,” said a flier. Participants will “find out how the battle unfolded, what scars the battle left, and what the Church of the Brethren, one of the oldest peace churches, teaches about war.” The evening will include a lecture on the battle, with a time for discussion, and refreshments. The evening benefits Cecilia Cornejo School of Music and the University Arts and Entertainment Council. “All welcome!” said the flier. Contact 703-430-7872.

— Elizabethtown (Pa.) Church of the Brethren has announced the next phase of its $7 million building project. “Beginning in early 2020 and lasting 4-6 months, this next phase will involve preparation of building specifications in consultation with program leaders and building users including Sunday School teachers, deacons, commission members, pastors and staff, and the congregation at large, along with representatives from building occupants Elizabethtown Community Child Care Center and Elizabethtown Community Nursery School,” said a release. Following the design and development phase, the congregation will be consulted for approval of a final bid and financial package.

 “A small group can make a big difference,” reported the Baltimore Sun in an article about a disaster relief trip by a group from Westminster (Md.) Church of the Brethren “That’s what a dozen local residents found when they traveled…to Jacksonville, Florida, in late September for a week filled with hard work–but laughter, too–as they labored to rebuild three homes for families in need.” Find the article with photos at .

— Leslie Sperry of Beacon Heights Church of the Brethren has published a reflection in the “Journal Gazette” newspaper on a return trip to the US/Mexico border at McAllen and Brownsville, Texas. “Mission to provide meal for asylum seekers reveals policy cruelties” tells of the experience of returning to the border with fellow church members a year after a first such trip by a Beacon Heights group. “We were expecting to see many differences, and we did. Our visit was challenging, informative, enriching, and ultimately reaffirms our commitment to justice,” Sperry wrote. The group visited with Team Brownsville, an organization serving those waiting in Mexico to claim asylum. Read the reflection at .

— The Climate Justice Task Force of Southern Ohio and Kentucky District will meet on Jan. 8, from 7-9 p.m., at Salem Church of the Brethren. The meeting is open to all, according to the district e-newsletter. “Pastor Doug Kaufman from the Mary Lea Environmental Center will join us via ZOOM and hopefully a member of the local Climate Reality group will join us personally,” said the announcement. “We also hope to show a video recently done by former Vice President, Al Gore, on the science of climate change and what we might do.” The group also hopes to hold a climate retreat for the Southern Ohio and Kentucky Churches of the Brethren next fall. Contact Mark Lancaster for more information at 510-809-6721 or .

— In more news from Southern Ohio and Kentucky, the district is “adopting” families who were affected by Memorial Day tornadoes earlier this year. “During this season of giving, many congregations look for ways they can reach out to our neighbors and friends who may be struggling,” said an announcement. “This year, especially, we have families in our backyard who are still reeling from devastating losses during the Memorial Day tornadoes. What many may not  understand is if a family’s house was made uninhabitable by the tornado their mortgage payments don’t stop. Now they have their monthly mortgage payment plus rent for their temporary home or motel bill. FEMA and insurance benefits are running out. Just imagine if each of our 48 congregations would adopt just one or two families for Christmas what an impact we could make!” The effort is led by Sam Dewey of Pleasant Hill Church of the Brethren, working with the Trotwood Madison School and the Trotwood school systems.
— Western Pennsylvania District held its 14th Annual District Auction at Camp Harmony, receiving total income, before expenses, of $10,500. “The top three churches in donations were: Maple Spring, Pleasant Hill, and Fair View,” said the district newsletter. “Camp Harmony will receive 10 percent of the profits, after expenses, toward their debt reduction. Looking forward to the 15th Annual District Auction, Nov. 7, 2020. Mark your calendars!”

— The 2019 Northern Indiana District Conference recognized two ministers for 55 years of ordination: Donald Jordon and Verne Leininger.

— Camp Inspiration Hills in Northern Ohio District is hosting a New Year’s Eve Celebration retreat for junior and senior high youth in grades 6 to 12. “Grab your friends and celebrate NYE at camp! You will be the first to experience the 2020 summer camp theme ‘Shout to the Lord!’” said an announcement. The retreat will include worship, Bible study, hands-on activities, night hikes, glow-in-the-dark outdoor games, and more. “As always, we will have a live countdown and ball drop,” the announcement added. The retreat begins Dec. 31 at 7 p.m. and ends Jan. 1 at 10 a.m. Cost is $45 if registered before Dec. 15. Go to .
— Manchester University has successfully reinvigorated its Camp Mack Day event, as reported to Northern Indiana District Conference by Laura Brubaker. This year about 625 students attended.

— Hosted by the Interdistrict Youth Cabinet at Bridgewater (Va.) College, the southeastern regional youth conference called “Roundtable” takes place Feb. 28-March 1, 2020. Kyle Remnant, a musician and speaker from Bridgewater, will speak on the topic “2020 Vision: Seeing as Jesus Does.” The event will include Bible study led by the immediate past Roundtable speaker Dennis Beckner, small groups, workshops, fellowship, a variety show, vespers, and more. The Interdistrict Youth Cabinet serves the six southeastern districts of the Church of the Brethren: Mid-Atlantic, West Marva, Shenandoah, Virlina, Southeastern, and Atlantic Southeast. Roundtable also welcomes youth from neighboring districts. Questions? Email .

— “Live in such a way that those who know you but don’t know God will come to know God because they know you.” In this crossover episode of Dunker Punks Podcast with the Choose Wisely Podcast, Logan JP Schrag interviews his father, Rick, about his career in chaplaincy and hospice care. How do you keep true to your beliefs in your daily life? Listen on your favorite podcast app or by following the link .

— The Womaen’s Caucus, a Church of the Brethren-related group, has published an issue of its “Femailing” newsletter featuring “Feminist Advent Resources.” An announcement directed interested readers to the November “Femailing” at .

— “Brethren Voices” is suggesting an idea for alternative gift giving this season in its last episode for 2019. Writes producer Ed Groff, the program “encourages a financial gift this year to   the Brethren Disaster Ministries, in the name of that special someone on your list.” The December episode features the work that continues to be provided by Brethren volunteers to the survivors of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. “For Brethren Disaster Ministries, those being assisted with home rebuilding are those who have fallen through the cracks,” Groff writes. “They are people who do not qualify for assistance from FEMA, the state or federal government. For  BDM, one does not have to be a ‘card carrying Brethren’ to receive assistance.” Also in this episode, Andy Murray, known by many Brethren as a pastor, educator, and musician, shares one of his songs, “A Christmas Carol.” (Video and photos were provided by David Sollenberger and Brethren Disaster Ministries.) View the Brethren Voices show on .

— On Saturday, Dec. 14, the Brethren and Mennonite Heritage Center in Harrisonburg, Va., holds “A Heritage Christmas” event from 2-6 p.m. The event includes crafts, live music, singing, and refreshments. Cost is $10 for adults, $5 for students, and free for children age 5 and under.

— “If we should be true to our faith, we cannot be quiet when we see what is happening,” reads the declaration of the Interfaith Liaison Committee to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The declaration was made to the UN climate change summit called “COP25,” taking place in Madrid, Spain, on Dec. 2-13. “We are voices that are driven by hope and compassion. In a most urgent situation to bend the emissions down faith traditions must contribute to the urgent transformation.” Said a release from the World Council of Churches, the group has been seeking “to offer a positive and empowering voice of hope over fear, of compassion over indifference, and urgent and fair action as a moral obligation.” A group of 10 people representing different parts of the world, indigenous people, youth, and different religions hand delivered the declaration to UN officials, “inspired by the conviction that faith traditions from all over the world can be the pivotal force in coming to terms with the climate emergency,” said the release. Read the full text of the declaration at .

— Raymond Johnson of Manchester Church of the Brethren in North Manchester, Ind., has written a reflection for “The Upper Room” November-December 2019 issue on the topic “True Freedom” (Galatians 5:9). In the past, Johnson has shared with the Church of the Brethren “Messenger” magazine his story of being discipled into the church while on death row. For “The Upper Room” devotion for Nov. 30, he wrote, in part: “I am currently imprisoned on death row because of mistakes I made when I was a prisoner to gangs, money, and drugs. But the apostle Paul tells us that ‘it is for freedom that Christ has set us free’ Christ offers me a freedom that releases me spiritually from my cold, damp prison cell to live as a follower of his way.”

— Carl Harman participated in his 66th consecutive love feast and communion at Spruce Run Church of the Brethren in Lindside, W.Va., on Oct. 26. The Virlina District e-newsletter reported that his first communion at 14 years old was in “the old church building” in 1953. “Bro. Carl has served the Spruce Run congregation faithfully in the Church of the Brethren Youth Fellowship (CBYF), in the men’s fellowship leadership, in the choir, on the ministerial board, and as a deacon,” the newsletter said.

— Sisters Kendra Flory and Janelle Flory Schrock have been featured in the media as part of a new bell choir in Newton, Kan., called Prairie Bronze. An article in the “McPherson (Kan.) Sentinel” reported that “bell ringing has been a part of the sisters’ lives since they were children, and in high school they were part of a church choir that helped light the fire for both of them.” Flory has directed a bell choir at McPherson Church of the Brethren for several years and works at McPherson College in the admissions office. Flory Schrock works at Dyck Arboretum of the Plains. The paper reported that the sisters have performed duets in recent years but until they joined the new group have not been able to ring bells together in a choir. “I am glad to have the opportunity to do it again with her,” Flory said. “Ringing in a choir is something that we both enjoy more than anything else.” Find the Sentinel article at .

Peace garden project by Shaun Deardorff. Photo courtesy of Shaun Deardorff

— Shaun Deardorff, a high school senior and Church of the Brethren member, has completed his Eagle Scout project at Campus Hills Park in Durham, N.C., with the help of a team of 45 volunteers. The “World Peace Garden and Anti-Gun Violence and Terrorism Memorial” is meant to “counteract violent events that have occurred in our nation and internationally, as well as local gun violence” and “encapsulates and epitomizes optimism and hope, and provides a meaningful place for peace contemplation and is a catalyst for change,” Deardorff said in a release. The garden and memorial site is inside a roundabout in front of the community center at Campus Hills Park. At its center is a 15-foot aluminum sculpture designed by Deardorff and fabricated by his project mentor Joseph Lemmens. Incorporated are a heart symbolizing that “love is the cornerstone of peace”; a three-dimensional peace sign forming a globe shape, symbolizing world peace; and four pedestal legs symbolizing the four corners of the Earth. An aluminum tube that forms the globe is meant to be one continuous piece of metal, symbolizing the never-ending goal of peace. Behind the sculpture stands a peace pole with the phrase “May peace prevail on Earth” in seven languages chosen to symbolize a significant conflict with the US: Cherokee, Russian, Vietnamese, Japanese, German, Arabic, and English. It also states, “May peace be in our schools,” to memorialize mass shootings and domestic terrorism in schools–including a gun threat at C.E. Jordan High School where Deardorff is a senior, made the week before the project was completed. All are invited to stop by Campus Hills Park to view the project.

— Marietta Dunlap from Indiana (Pa.) Church of the Brethren has celebrated her 100th birthday. She was born Nov. 15, 1919, in Alum Bank, Bedford County, Pa. The congregation held a celebration for her on Nov. 10.

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