Denominational events bring a new level of virtual experience to the Church of the Brethren

The virtual denominational choir sings “I See a New World Coming” with direction from Enten Eller.

Three online denominational events last week have brought a new level of virtual experience to the Church of the Brethren: a children’s worship and a denominational worship service on the evening of Wednesday, July 1, and a Church of the Brethren concert on the evening of Thursday, July 2, with both worship experiences available in Spanish as well as English. These virtual events were timed to happen on what would have been the first two evenings of the now-canceled 2020 Annual Conference. Recordings of all three events including the worship experiences in Spanish are available at .

“The Program and Arrangements Committee is to be commended for initiating and crafting these rich and varied events,” said Annual Conference moderator Paul Mundey. “Though they were not intended to replace Annual Conference, they added great value to the church, nevertheless, during the week many anticipated gathering together in Grand Rapids. We are grateful for the inspiration, depth, and encouragement these events provided during a vulnerable and challenging season for our denomination.”     

Annual Conference director Chris Douglas emphasized the hard work by many people that went into the worship services and concert. She thanked “all who participated in the three events, sharing their gifts and faith with the whole church.”

In particular, she said, “We’d like to give special recognition to Dave Sollenberger for much videotaping and hours of editing; Enten Eller for hours editing with Dave on the three virtual choir hymns; Wil Zapata for translating the denominational worship service; Nohemi Flores for translating the children’s worship; to Program and Arrangements Committee who did the planning and follow-through: Jan King, Emily Shonk Edwards, Carol Hipps Elmore, Jim Beckwith, Paul Mundey, and Dave Sollenberger.”

Two worship services and a concert

The worship services began with a half-hour planned particularly for children, but also meaningful for adults, followed by a service featuring numerous speakers and musicians from across the Church of the Brethren, inspiring video stories from congregations and international mission, and a first-ever virtual denominational choir that included dozens of singers. The choir’s rendition of “I See a New World Coming,” a hymn written by Brethren composer Steve Engle–which marks its 50th anniversary this year–highlighted the theme of the service and a focus of Annual Conference moderator Paul’s Mundey’s message: “Our Kinsman, Redeemer,” based the image of God in Isaiah 43:1-3 and 5. Mundey highlighted the God who accompanies the people even in exile and quagmire, promising a new Creation.

The concert similarly featured dozens of Church of the Brethren musicians from various national backgrounds singing and playing a wide variety of instruments in a real mix of musical styles. Excerpts recorded at previous Annual Conferences and other concerts were intermixed with pieces recorded by musicians under pandemic stay-at-home orders. Program and Arrangements Committee members Emily Shonk Edwards and Carol Elmore served as hosts for the concert.

A highlight came at the very start of the concert, with the first performance of a new song by Ken Medema, written specifically for the event. Medema is a Christian musician and song writer and a popular performer at many Church of the Brethren conferences including Annual Conference, National Youth Conference, and National Older Adult Conference.

His new song has roots in a hymn that is beloved to the denomination, “Brethren We Have Met to Worship.” The first stanzas of the song are reprinted here with permission:

A screenshot of Ken Medema performing the new song he wrote for the Church of the Brethren concert on July 2

“Brethren we have met to worship
and adore the Lord our God.
Text and screen and sound and image
now we join to preach the word.

“In these days we know the Spirit
of the Holy One comes down.
We’ll become the Holy Manna
richly scattered all around.

“We are Brethren on the line,
you in the place that you call home and I in mine.
Separated but together we are singing to each other.
We are Brethren on the line.

“We’ll take all the tools, and love what’s in our hands.
With God’s children, bruised and broken, we will stand.
Sure, we long for the day we can sit together
in the meeting house again,
but for now we are Brethren on the line….”

An audience in the thousands

The three events garnered an audience in the thousands. Eller reported viewing statistics for the three events, including the recordings that continue to be available.

As of midday Monday, July 6, the children’s worship and denominational worship service combined had a total of 4,883 views, with an additional 65 views of the children’s worship only and 207 of the denominational worship service only. The Spanish translation of the children’s worship and denominational worship service had 97 views. The Church of the Brethren concert had a total of 2,677 views.

Photo courtesy of Dave Sollenberger
Dave Sollenberger tapes a performance by Joseph Helfrich for the Church of the Brethren concert, an online event that was streamed on the evening of July 2..

Eller reported that on the night of the webcast of the worship services, 472 was the peak number of live log-ins for the children’s worship in English with an addition 8 log-ins for the service in Spanish. Live attendance for the denominational worship service that evening peaked at 986, with an additional 18 log-ins to the service in Spanish. The webcast of the concert peaked at 727 simultaneous live logins.

These numbers represent the times that devices linked to the events. A good number may have been seen by more than one person, as families and households may have participated together in viewing the worship services and concert.

Find links to the recordings at . Also available are various elements of the worship services and concert, including the three hymns sung by the denominational choir, which Sollenberger has separated out so that individual viewers or congregations can use particular pieces as desired.

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