Brethren bits for Dec. 20, 2020

Germantown Church of the Brethren in Philadelphia, Pa., hosted a Christmas Live virtual concert on Dec. 19. The event is available on the church’s Facebook page.

Remembrance: John H. Gingrich, 80, former dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and professor emeritus of religion and philosophy at the University of La Verne (ULV) in southern California, died peacefully in his sleep Dec. 7. He lived in Claremont, Calif. He was an ordained minister in the Church of the Brethren and began his 38-year career at ULV in 1968 as campus minister. Student newspaper the Campus Times, reported he continued to teach philosophy and religion classes until his retirement in 2006. “Dr. Gingrich helped the university in its transition from a small sectarian college to a doctoral granting university,” the article said, quoting provost Jonathan Reed, “He was also instrumental in forming the university’s current core values and mission of inclusivity, ethical reflection, and service.” In a profile published in Messenger in 1976, Gingrich commented on his work with students on faith and doubt, saying, “In terms of Christianity, I hope what I can do is to help people see they can be thinking persons and still have a faith position. It is possible to raise the hard questions and still believe that Christianity is a viable worldview and a way of seeing reality and approaching life.” Gingrich’s community and professional involvements included service as first chairperson of the Cobb Institute: A Community for Process and Practice based in Claremont. A remembrance posted by the institute noted that Gingrich studied under John Cobb and completed his doctorate at Claremont Graduate University in 1973. He held a master of divinity from Bethany Theological Seminary and a bachelor’s from Manchester University in N. Manchester, Ind. Among his service to the denomination, he was a Bethany Seminary trustee starting in 1979, returning to the position for at least one more term starting in 1992, when he chaired the Academic and Student Affairs Committee. He and his wife, Jacki, also spent time in Germany as directors of Brethren Colleges Abroad. Gingrich was a professional choral singer with the Los Angeles Master Chorale and the Roger Wagner Chorale, singing with the latter group when it performed for the inauguration celebration of President Nixon in 1973. In an interview, he said he appreciated the “exhilarating” musical experience but “my sympathies were much more with the demonstrators at the inauguration” who were against the Vietnam War. He was originally from New Holland, Pa. He is survived by his wife, Jacki; sons John and Joel; and grandsons. La Verne Church of the Brethren will hold a memorial service, time and date to be announced.

Remembrance: Georgianna J. “GG” Schmidtke, 90, a former employee of the Church of the Brethren, died on Nov. 15 at Highland Oaks Apostolic Christian Resthaven in Elgin, Ill. She worked for the denomination beginning in 1989. When she left employment in 2003 hers was one of nine positions cut by the former General Board amid financial constraints. At the time she was serving as District Ministry office secretary at the denomination’s General Offices in Elgin. She was a resident of the Dundee (Ill.) area for more than 50 years and a longtime member of First United Methodist Church of Elgin. Find a full obituary at!/Obituary.

Prayers are requested for members of Quinter (Kan.) Church of the Brethren and family and neighbors who have lost loved ones resident in Gove County, which was the focus of a Dec. 12 USA Today article titled “Deadliest Place in America.” The report told the story of how the county came to have the highest per-capita number of COVID-19 related deaths in the United States, along with tragic personal stories of those who have died. Find the article at

The Church of the Brethren’s Pacific Northwest District has hired Daniel Klayton as the new administrative assistant in the district office.

Samuel S. Funkhouser

Samuel S. Funkhouser has been hired as executive director of the Brethren and Mennonite Heritage Center in Harrisonburg, Va., beginning Jan. 1, 2021. He grew up in Wakeman’s Grove Church of the Brethren near Edinburg, Va., where his great-great grandfather had served as the congregation’s first ordained minister and where he himself was called to the ministry. He holds degrees from James Madison University and Princeton Theological Seminary. While at Princeton, he completed a significant research project on the history and theology of early English-language Brethren hymnals, soon to be published in book form by the Brethren Encyclopedia. After graduating from Princeton, he and his family moved to Franklin County, Va., where they joined the Old German Baptist Brethren Church, New Conference. His previous jobs have included director of risk management for Family Preservation Services, a community-based mental health provider with locations throughout Virginia.

The Church of the Brethren Office of Peacebuilding and Policy is one of a coalition of 17 Christian groups and denominations that have asked President-elect Biden to roll back the current administration’s policies on Israel and Palestine. Specifically, the letter asked the incoming administration to ensure all parties are respected and included in negotiations for a just and lasting peace based on international law, restate a US position that Israeli settlements are illegal under international law and take action to ensure political consequences if any further Israeli settlement construction and growth takes place, resume funding to the Palestinian Authority as well as the UN Relief and Works Agency and other UN and humanitarian organizations working in the West Bank and Gaza, reiterate the US position that territory controlled by Israel as a result of the 1967 war–including East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights–are occupied territories subject to international law and not recognized as parts of Israel, make clear that criticism of Israel such as support for boycotts or divestment is protected and legitimate speech, and ensure accountability, noting that “Israel remains the largest recipient of US foreign aid, receiving approximately $3.8 billion in military aid each year. This funding helps the government of Israel maintain the occupation of the Palestinian territories, making the US complicit in Israel’s detention of Palestinian children in military prisons, violent repression of peaceful protestors, and demolitions of Palestinian homes and communities.”

Brethren Press has announced a $25,000 matching gift challenge. “A donor who seeks to inspire others to give has offered to match all gifts to Brethren Press through the end of the year, up to $25,000. If you give now, your donation will be doubled!” said the invitation from publisher Wendy McFadden. Those who are interested in participating in the challenge may give online at or by mailing a check to Brethren Press, 1451 Dundee Ave., Elgin, IL 60120 (write “gift” in the memo line). Added McFadden: “We are deeply grateful for the donations and messages of support that we have already received from across the denomination. Thank you so much! Your gifts to Brethren Press are an investment in the future of the Church of the Brethren. You are helping publish the good news.”

Bethany Theological Seminary is recruiting international students who have graduated from or have been attending Church of the Brethren-related colleges and universities–Bridgewater College, Elizabethtown College, Manchester University, McPherson College, Juniata College, or the University of La Verne. “These individuals can now apply for the Residency Scholarship, a program that makes it possible for students to earn a Bethany degree as residential students without taking on additional student or commercial debt,” said a release. “The Residency Scholarship is part of Bethany’s Pillars and Pathways program, a robust effort to reduce student debt and make seminary accessible and affordable for all qualified students. The program includes scholarships, housing support, work and service opportunities, and coursework related to personal finance.” Participants are expected to commit to simple living and to earn up to $7,500 per year through work-study and other employment. International students must meet certain academic and financial requirements. Contact Read the full release at

Dawn Ottoni-Wilhelm of the faculty at Bethany Theological Seminary in Richmond, Ind., has been appointed senior editor of Homiletic, a journal of the Academy of Homiletics. Her responsibilities include overseeing the semi-annual publication, receiving and moderating the jurying of scholarly articles, chairing the editorial board, and overseeing the work of staff and the journal’s finances in coordination with a managing editor. Learn more about the journal at

Dupont Church of the Brethren gained media attention for its Fresh Encounters Woods Christmas light experience. According to Continental (Ohio) eNews: “This weekend the lights will be on Saturday 6:30-8:30, and Sunday 6:30-8:30. Bring your family out and get a picture in front of the big Christmas tree, and grab a cup of free hot chocolate or coffee and walk the trail, and the chapel decked out with Christmas lights. We look forward to seeing your family. Have a merry CHRISTmas.”

The “Heart and Flowers” quilt auctioned by quilters at Little Swatara Church of the Brethren.

Quilters at Little Swatara Church of the Brethren in Bethel, Pa., have raised $1,500 for disaster relief. “When the late J. Hershey and Anna Mary Myer started the process of down-sizing, they were very generous in giving the quilters at Little Swatara several appliqued quilt tops and a wall hanging,” reported the Atlantic Northeast District newsletter. “One of the quilt tops, Hearts and Flowers, was quilted and ready to be donated to the annual Disaster Relief Auction in September. When the auction for 2020 was cancelled, due to the coronavirus, the quilters decided to hold a silent auction.” After publicizing the quilt and receiving bidding via the church newsletter and social media, among other means, the final bid of $1500 came from an anonymous donor. “The quilters were overjoyed that their labor of love would be able to help so many persons suffering from disasters.”

This angel drawn by Sylvia Hobbs set the theme for the Christmas Tea virtual event sponsored by the women at Onekama Church of the Brethren.

Onekama (Mich.) Church of the Brethren pastor Frances Townsend has shared an update on the congregation’s annual Christmas Tea, sponsored by the women’s group, which was featured in the December Messenger. “We were going to try doing the tea online this year. It worked!” she wrote. The group invited friends and supporters through a special Facebook group, where participants posted cookie recipes and music, as an alternative to in-person decorations and refreshments. The play that is the annual entertainment for the tea was performed on Zoom by members of the women’s group, with art done by two girls in the church. A picture of an angel by Sylvia Hobbs set the theme for the celebration. “I am so glad we took the opportunity to make something happen even during this pandemic season,” Townsend wrote. “We had people join us from much farther away than could ever have come in person.”

Virlina District has formed a Race Education Team within its Commission on Witness “with the objective of understanding how racism affects our congregations and communities,” said the district newsletter. “Jesus’ command for us to love one another serves as our guide star as we explore how racial inequities have influenced our history and contemporary society.” The team includes Eric Anspaugh (Roanoke-Central congregation), Dava Hensley (Roanoke-First), Anne Mitchell (Lighthouse), Ellen Phillips (Roanoke-Oak Grove) and Jennie Waering (Roanoke-Central). The team is developing a video presentation on racial issues titled “Necessary Conversations” and featuring as special guests Barbara Pendergrass Richmond of Bethel AME Church and Ron Robinson of Roanoke-Oak Grove Church of the Brethren.

At Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pa., the chapter of the Society of Physics Students has won an Outstanding Chapter Award from the SPS National Office for the 22nd consecutive year. Said the president’s e-newsletter: “This is a recognition of the chapter’s excellence as a top-tier student-led physical sciences organization, a designation given to fewer than 10 percent of all chapters at colleges and universities in the United States and internationally and the longest uninterrupted run of recognition in the country.”

Episode 109 of the Dunker Punks Podast–the last episode of this season–takes a trip “down under” with Tyler and Chelsea Goss as they reflect on their time with Jarrod McKenna and the First Home Project in Australia. Listen to stories about living in an intentional community geared toward helping refugees and asylum seekers, protesting for social justice, and discussing theology and Anabaptism with people from varying faiths and social backgrounds. Added the announcement: “Wishing you a lovely Christmas and a hopeful New Year from the Dunker Punks Podcast team!” Listen to Episode 109, “Love Makes a Way,” at and subscribe on iTunes or your favorite podcast app.

Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) is raising awareness of the threat to Chi’chil Bildagoteel, a sacred site of the San Carlos Apache people commonly called Oak Flat, located within Tonto National Forest in Arizona. “The US Forest Service is set to make a decision in the next few days regarding the Oak Flat land exchange that would hand over the sacred lands of the San Carlos Apache to Resolution Copper, owned by Rio Tinto, one of the largest mining companies in the world,” said an alert. Rio Tinto is an Anglo-Australian multinational corporation. In May this year, Rio Tinto blew up caves in Australia that held ancient artifacts tracing the Aboriginal people’s long history, in the process of mining iron ore. The prehistoric rock shelters in the Juukan Gorge were sacred to two Australian Aboriginal groups. An international outcry and a shareholder revolt resulted in the announcement in September that chief executive Jean-Sébastien Jacques would step down. Monday, Dec. 21, has been announced as an International Day of Prayer and Action to #SaveOakFlat including an online rally. Find out more at Read a reflection on the sacred nature of Oak Flat by former CPT director Carol Rose at

Libby and Jim Kinsey have been featured by the Ionia Sentinel in Standard-Ionia, Mich., for their project to raise funds to bring diverse stories to the Lakewood Public Schools. Libby Kinsey is retired from teaching in the district. The article by Evan Sasiela outlined the couple’s project called “Stories from America’s Landscape,” which has the goal of raising money to buy books about different cultures and diverse backgrounds for the kindergarten through eighth grade students in the district. Libby Kinsey also has a connection with Scholastic Books, which has helped provide funding. “If our community becomes a kinder, gentler place, then that’s our goal,” said Libby Kinsey. As of Dec. 15, a GoFundMe page has raised $25,260 since the project started in July, and donations have arrived from across the United States. The Kinseys anticipate distributing the books next April. Read the article at


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