“And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13)
Quote of the week:
“As part of one body of humanity, we suffer together with those affected by this outbreak [coronavirus]. Our prayers and thoughts are with the millions of people who have been impacted. We remember the persons who have passed away and their bereaving families; the people who are suffering from the infection, and their family members; and the healthcare workers who are serving the communities selflessly. We are deeply inspired by Christians in China, who are playing a vital role at the forefront to overcome the disease.”— Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC)
1) ‘Our end goal is unity’: An interview with general secretary David Steele
“Our end goal is unity,” said Church of the Brethren general secretary David Steele in an interview about an effort by a group called Covenant Brethren Church to explore separation from the Church of the Brethren. Steele said that the denomination’s leadership “recognize there are differences and diversity within the Church of the Brethren, but our goal is to strive for unity.”
On Saturday, Feb. 1, Steele and Annual Conference moderator Paul Mundey met with leaders of the new group for some three hours of conversation. That meeting followed on previous meetings that members of the Church of the Brethren’s Leadership Team have had with members of the group. The Leadership Team includes the Annual Conference officers, general secretary, and a representative of the Council of District Executives.
Steele said these meetings have been held “to hear their concerns, what they are working at. We are making efforts to keep the communication lines open.” At the Feb. 1 meeting, Steele said the Covenant Brethren Church leadership made it clear that their intentions are no longer simply exploratory but that separation will happen.
The Covenant Brethren Church chose its name at a meeting in Woodstock, Va., last November. The decision to explore separation was made last July in Chambersburg, Pa., at a meeting of some 50 people from 13 districts. The group is exploring office locations in West Virginia, has named a temporary executive board and task groups, and is developing bylaws and a statement of faith. The temporary board includes both Brethren Revival Fellowship (BRF) leadership and prayer summit leadership, including Grover Duling (chair), Eric Brubaker, Larry Dentler, Scott Kinnick, James F. Myer, and Craig Alan Myers. The temporary board includes a district executive, district moderators, and BRF leaders.
The group has said its reasons to explore separation are to provide “a haven for congregations who are making the decision to leave, but want to retain their Brethren values, and do not want to be independent” as well as “failure of the denomination to stand strong on biblical authority” and a complaint that the compelling vision process does not address “the homosexual issue.”
Steele shared his concern to dispel rumors swirling around the denomination about the Covenant Brethren Church. One is that there are many congregations that have left or are planning to leave the denomination. Another is that congregations are leaving in order to join the new group. However, Steele said that to date he has confirmation of only a dozen or more congregations that have withdrawn, in just a handful of districts, for a variety of reasons. There is no indication that they intend to join the new group, he said, and sexuality may not be a factor for all of them, he noted. Some have been functionally separate from denomination and district for many years, evidenced by their lack of giving and lack of participation in Annual Conferences and district conferences. He gave the example of one congregation that has been disaffected for decades based on disagreements over ecumenical organizations. Others simply want to go independent. Steele also dispelled rumors that whole districts may separate. There is no process in Church of the Brethren polity for a district to take such a step, he said.
“I recognize that there is a secondary narrative that has emerged in our life together, one that is living out frustrations, that is moving away from the church rather than seeking unity, rather than continuing conversation and prayer and reading scripture together,” Steele said.
In response to criticism of the compelling vision process, Steele emphasized it was never intended to address sexuality but is intended “to move the conversation above that to matters of faith and vision and where the church ought to be.” The committees working on the compelling vision over the past few years have gleaned data from gatherings across the denomination and two Annual Conferences in order to seek a vision. He believes that the process did not fall short “but did exactly what we were intending for it to do. Compelling vision was not intended to fix us, but it does point us in a direction that we can all embrace and focus on.”
Steele highlighted other recent successes that he would like the members of the church to focus on right now, instead of focusing on division. Those successes include districts that are taking vigorous steps to renew their passion for ministry together, and the December meeting of leaders of international Brethren bodies who strongly affirmed a new global structure for the Church of the Brethren worldwide. These successes “are exciting and can bring new life,” he said. “We lose track of these when the secondary narrative becomes dominant. It is not all doom and gloom.”
Challenges for denominational leaders during this time include how to find a way to work together. One challenge he named is that districts are employing different approaches toward leaving congregations. “This is a time for collegial conversation,” Steele said. “I believe it really begins with the Leadership Team and the Council of District Executives finding a common pathway forward, a commitment to work together.”
Similarly, Steele wants to work toward an understanding with leaving congregations. He is deeply concerned about how congregational separation “is tearing congregations apart. There is a sense that some people in those congregations want to stay in the denomination. They are torn between relationships with their family and friends and their loyalty to the Church of the Brethren.”
— Additional information may be found in a statement from the Leadership Team published last November at www.brethren.org/news/2019/denominational-leadership-teamstatement.html .
2) National Youth Cabinet selects National Youth Sunday theme
By Rachel Johnson and Eric Finet
The National Youth Cabinet would like to let you know what we did at our annual meeting, along with who came and what the theme for National Youth Sunday 2020 will be. The meeting was at the Church of the Brethren General Offices in Elgin, Ill.
At this meeting there were eight of us present, including
— Madison Creps of Mechanicsburg (Pa.) Church of the Brethren;
— Eric Finet of Nokesville (Va.) Church of the Brethren;
— Rachel Johnson of Mechanic Grove Church of the Brethren in Quarryville, Pa.;
— Lucas Musselmann of Oak Grove Church of the Brethren in Roanoke, Va.;
— Grace van Asselt of McPherson (Kan.) Church of the Brethren;
— Dennis Beckner of Columbia City (Ind.) Church of the Brethren, an adult advisor;
— Becky Ullom Naugle, director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries, and Nolan McBride, assistant for Youth and Young Adult Ministries, as staff.
Leslie Lake of Polo (Ill.) Church of the Brethren, an adult advisor, and Tristen Craighead of Manassas (Va.) Church of the Brethren were unable to travel to be with us.
We discussed what our scripture focus and theme should be for this year’s National Youth Sunday. After much deliberation, we chose “Through My Fear I Trust in God,” based on Psalm 56:1-4.
During our three days together, the cabinet participated in various activities like eating dinner with general secretary David Steele and leading worship at Highland Avenue Church of the Brethren in Elgin.
We cannot wait for all the youth across the country to prepare for National Youth Sunday on May 3!
— Rachel Johnson and Eric Finet are members of the Church of the Brethren’s National Youth Cabinet.
3) Blogposts and online ‘coffee talks’ are part of Black History 2020 emphasis
“Looking Back to Live Forward: Black History 2020″ is the title and theme of a special emphasis for the month of February sponsored jointly by the Church of the Brethren’s Intercultural Ministry and Office of Peacebuilding and Policy.
LaDonna Nkosi, director of Intercultural Ministries, and Alexandra Toms, Racial Justice associate in the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy, are leading the joint observance. “We will be offering various blogs, videos, and articles throughout the month of February exploring the intersections of faith, Black history, and current-day racism,” said an announcement. “We hope you join us this month to read, listen, and reflect as we look back through history, so we can better live into Christ.”
All resources will be distributed through the Church of the Brethren blog at https://blog.brethren.org/category/peacebuilding and via social media including the Facebook pages at www.facebook.com/interculturalcob and www.facebook.com/ChurchOfTheBrethrenOPP .
Two online gatherings or “coffee talks” will be offered for those who have been participating in the program’s blogposts, articles, and videos, in order to discuss their experiences. The coffee talks are scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 20, at 12:30 p.m. (Eastern time), register at http://brethren.org/onlinecoffeetalk1 ; and on Tuesday, March 3, at 12:30 p.m. (Eastern time), register at http://brethren.org/onlinecoffeetalk2 .
4) ‘Holy Manna’ is the Lenten devotional from Brethren Press
The Brethren Press 2020 Lenten devotional book for Ash Wednesday through Easter is titled “Holy Manna” and written by Paula Bowser. The pocket-sized paperback features a daily devotion from Feb. 26, Ash Wednesday, through April 12, Easter Sunday, including a reading, scripture, and prayer for each day of the season.
With a focus on the wilderness experience in which God fed the people with manna, Bowser offers daily thoughts centered on some kind of trial or test. This year, an original poem is part of the daily devotion for each Sunday in Lent.
“We will all endure a wilderness experience at some point in our lives, whether it is divinely appointed or self-imposed, as in the freely embraced discipline of Lent,” Bowser writes in the introduction. “Yet, however we get there, we are never alone and never without provision for the trek. God is always present, leading and feeding us along the way.”
The devotional is suitable for individual use and for congregations to provide to their members. Cost per booklet is $4 or $7.95 for large print. Order online at www.brethrenpress.com/ProductDetails.asp?ProductCode=8496 or call Brethren Press at 800-441-3712.
5) Ecumenical Advocacy Days 2020 imagines God’s earth and people restored
The 2020 Ecumenical Advocacy Days (EAD) take place April 24-27 in Washington, D.C. The event includes a national gathering of Christian advocates and activists, and a lobby day. The theme this year, “Imagine! God’s Earth and People Restored,” explores the intersection of climate change and economic injustice.
The Church of the Brethren’s Office of Peacebuilding and Policy serves on the leadership team that helps plan this gathering, and the Church of the Brethren is a sponsoring body.
The EAD weekend includes worship, speakers, and workshops centered around the theme, concluding on Monday with a focused lobby day involving conversations with members of Congress. Lobbying will be based on a specific climate and economic justice “Legislative Ask” grounded in Christian social justice traditions.
This event can help provide knowledge and skills to better fulfill the Annual Conference statement “Creation Care,” which states, “to value God’s creation, the scriptures teach us we must be mindful of over-consumption, to seek justice for the weak and powerless, [and] reflect God’s light to the world.”
Early bird registration rates end March 16. Register and find more information at https://advocacydays.org .
Today is the deadline for students or young adults ages 18-35 to apply for limited scholarships based on need. The deadline for scholarship applications is 11:59 p.m. on Feb. 15. Go to https://advocacydays.org/2020-imagine-gods-earth-people-restored/scholarship-application-form .
— Alexandra Toms, an associate at the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy, contributed this information to Newsline.
6) Brethren bits
— Gieta Gresh has resigned as camp administrator for Camp Mardela in Denton, Md., one of two camps in Mid-Atlantic District, effective the end of August. She and her husband, Ken Gresh, will move to Pennsylvania following the 2020 summer camp season. She has served in the position since April 2005. In an online post Gresh said, “These 15 years have been an amazing journey…it has been my honor to serve as the camp administrator. I am thankful to be a part of a ministry where many lives have been touched by the love and transforming power of Jesus.” Camp Mardela has enjoyed a strong run during her tenure, with improved facilities, increased community connections, solid summer camper and rental numbers, and a stable budget. The camp board expressed its gratitude for the long service of “Chief Gieta” and said it looks forward to continuing to work with her during upcoming months of transition.
— Priscilla Weddle has begun as an intern at the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy in Washington, D.C. She is pursuing a master’s degree in public administration, with a concentration in nonprofit management and governance from Old Dominion University. “Priscilla’s passion for peacebuilding and policy stems from her academic background and previous experiences with poverty,” said an announcement. “As a child, Priscilla and her family experienced homelessness and relied on organizations for assistance. Because of this experience, she recognizes how important it is to help others in need, volunteering at the local homeless and animal shelters. This has led to her desire to pursue a career in the nonprofit sector to combat food insecurity.”
— “Mission and Money in Church Planting” is the topic of a webinar offered by the Church of the Brethren’s Discipleship Ministries as a “New and Renew” event sponsored by the New Church Advisory Committee. This free event is led by David Fitch and scheduled for Tuesday, March 10, at 3-4 p.m. (Eastern time), with Spanish translation available. Fitch is the Betty R. Lindner Chair of Evangelical Theology at Northern Seminary in Chicago, Ill., and founding pastor of Life on the Vine Christian Community, a missional church in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. He also coaches a network of church plants linked to Life on the Vine. His latest books are “Faithful Presence” and “The Church of Us vs. Them.” Those who attend the live webinar may earn 0.1 continuing education units. To attend the webinar go to “Mission and Money in Church Planting” at https://zoom.us/j/505754099 .
— Children’s Disaster Services (CDS) is publicizing upcoming training workshops: Feb. 29-March 1 in La Verne, Calif. (full, waiting list only); March 6-7 in Bridgewater, Va.; March 27-28 in Lombard, Ill.; April 17-18 in Tulsa, Okla.; May 1-2 in Victor, N.Y. For more information about training to become a CDS volunteer serving children and families affected by disaster, go to www.brethren.org/cds .
— A call for Congress to oppose the expansion of the “Muslim Ban” was issued by the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy as an action alert. On Jan. 31 the US administration announced an expanded ban that suspends immigrant visas that can lead to permanent status in the US for people from Nigeria as well as Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, and Burma. In addition, it banned people from Sudan and Tanzania from obtaining “diversity visas” provided to individuals from countries with low rates of immigration into the US. The alert cited the 1982 Annual Conference “Statement on Undocumented Persons and Refugees in the United States” for Brethren to take action on behalf of “our brother and sister immigrants.” The Annual Conference statement says, in part, “Christ has made another appearance among us, as Himself an immigrant and refugee in the person of political dissidents, the economically deprived, and foreigners on the run. We are to join them as pilgrims in search of that city yet to come, with foundations of love and justice whose architect and builder is God.” The alert asked Brethren to contact representatives in Congress to urge the adoption of legislation called the “NO BAN Act” (S.1123/H.R.2214).
— The Office of Peacebuilding and Policy was represented at the National Farm Worker Ministry board meeting Jan. 30-Feb. 2 in Tampa, Fla., by office associate and Brethren Volunteer Service worker Susu Lassa. “The meeting was centered around working in solidarity with farm workers calling for better wages and working conditions, recognizing the inherent dignity of all persons, and galvanizing to support farm worker movements nationally,” said the office newsletter. “The board heard from groups such as the Farm Worker Association of Florida, and spent a day in Immokalee, Fla., meeting with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) to find ways in which the faith-based ministry can support CIW’s national Fair Food Campaign.” Learn more at www.ciw-online.org .
— The Workcamp Ministry has chosen Rwanda for this year’s international workcamp from May 28-June 8. “Often referred to as the land of a thousand hills, Rwanda is known for its breathtaking scenery, exotic wildlife, and safari experiences,” said an announcement. “It is also home to a new Church of the Brethren community that is actively worshiping, praying, and training students to be theologians and peacemakers. The Rwanda Brethren are rapidly growing their community by meeting the needs of the community around them including the marginalized Batwa Pygmy community, an indigenous group from the Great Lakes Region in Africa. During this workcamp, participants will engage in relational service, getting to know the four congregations and their various ministries, and getting a sense for Rwandan history and culture.” The workcamp will serve alongside Rwandan Brethren in a construction project for a new church building in Gisenyi. The Workcamp Ministry is receiving donations to purchase building materials. Donations may be sent to the Workcamp Office, Church of the Brethren, 1451 Dundee Ave., Elgin, IL 60120; or donate online at www.brethren.org/RwandaChurchBuild2020 .
— Bethany Theological Seminary has been recognized among “Seminaries that Change the World” by the Center for Faith and Service, for the fifth consecutive year. The recognition goes to seminaries and divinity schools that demonstrate a commitment to service and justice through their curriculum, scholarships, internships, and student-life experiences. In addition, qualities considered for inclusion in the list are collaboration, affordability, and innovation. “The selection of Bethany reflects our commitment to the values of service and justice exemplified in our curricula and in the opportunities that students have to make a difference in the world and embody the gospel,” said Steve Schweitzer, academic dean, in a release. See https://bethanyseminary.edu/bethany-named-to-seminaries-that-change-the-world-2 .
— The Church in Drive, a Church of the Brethren congregation in Saginaw, Mich., is among the football fans who are helping the City Rescue Mission of Saginaw according to Mid-Michigan Now and Fox Channel 66. The church hosted a game-night party and collected clothes and food for the mission. “It’s really good for us to contribute money to organizations overseas or other really good causes,” pastor Nate Polzin said. “But when you can actually put something in somebody’s hands–that’s going to directly benefit them–that’s a different kind of feeling.” See https://nbc25news.com/news/local/game-night-party-collects-donations-for-homeless-shelter .
— Church of the Brethren congregations and venues across several districts are hosting the new “Can We Talk? Conversations for Change through Story and Song” from Ted & Co. that for the first time features Mennonite actor and comedian Ted Swartz and Christian musician Ken Medema together in a joint production. Here is a list of upcoming locations where Brethren may see “Can We Talk?”:
Manassas (Va.) Church of the Brethren on March 6 at 7 p.m.;
Bridgewater (Va.) Church of the Brethren on March 7 at 7 p.m., free admission with an offering for Harrisonburg-Rockingham Bridge of Hope;
Central Roanoke (Va.) Church of the Brethren on March 8 at 4 p.m., free admission with donations accepted for the World Hunger Auction;
Avalon Theatre in Easton, Md., sponsored by Easton Church of the Brethren, on March 11 starting at 7 p.m., admission is $15, proceeds over expenses will benefit the Talbot Interfaith Shelter, for tickets contact the church at 410-822-0475 or firstname.lastname@example.org ;
Union Center Church of the Brethren in Nappanee, Ind., on March 13 at 6:30 p.m., free admission;
Manchester Church of the Brethren in North Manchester, Ind., on March 14 at 7 p.m.;
Northmont High School Auditorium in Clayton, Ohio, hosted by Southern Ohio and Kentucky District, on March 15 starting at 7 p.m., free admission with an offering for Brethren Disaster Ministries Memorial Day Tornado Relief.
For the full schedule go to www.tedandcompany.com/events .
— The February 2020 program of “Brethren Voices” television show updates a May 2018 program on “March for Our Lives” with a focus on the alarming statistics on gun violence in the US. “Every day, 100 people are killed from gun violence in this country,” said an announcement. “Following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, there were marches in Washington, D.C., and over 800 locations throughout the United States and around the world. It was described by many as a possible tipping point in this country for gun control legislation.” In 2018 “Brethren Voices” joined with other Brethren to support the youth at one of the 800 sites. John Jones of Myrtle Point, Ore., marched with the walkers to get their thoughts about the event, and also was interviewed by host Brent Carlson. This February the program provides an update about the organization, March For Our Lives, and current statistics on gun violence in the US. Brethren Voices is a monthly public access TV show produced by Portland (Ore.) Peace Church of the Brethren and is available on YouTube.
— Iglesia de los Hermanos (the Church of the Brethren in the Dominican Republic) held their Asamblea, or annual conference, on the first weekend in February. Jeff Boshart, director of the Global Food Initiative, reports that the Asamblea was led by moderator Santa Elena Gramonte Contreras. She and her husband, Ariel Rosario Abreu, are pastors of the Vid Verdadera congregation in Los Guaricanos, Santo Domingo.
— A webinar on “Zionism and Palestine” is presented by Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) on Feb. 25 at 7 p.m. (Eastern time). “The roots of Zionism run deep in Christianity and Judaism, and their impacts are felt in Palestine. In this webinar, Linda Holtzman and Amy Yoder McGloughlin will share stories about their recent trip to Palestine, and how they see Zionism impacting this occupied territory,” said an announcement. Holtzman is a Jewish rabbi and the organizer of Tikkun Olam Chavurah, a group that pursues social justice work together as a community. She serves on the Board of Directors for Jewish Voice for Peace. McGloughlin is pastor at Frazer Mennonite Church in Malvern, Pa., and since 2015 has been leading multi-faith delegations to Palestine with CPT. She serves on the CPT Steering Committee representing the Mennonite Church USA. Register at https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_psFu8reXRJyLMKakfKnr3A .
— The World Council of Churches (WCC) has begun a worldwide campaign for 70 days of prayer to end the 70-year Korean War. “A war erupted on the Korean Peninsula 70 years ago that divided Korea and that has yet to end,” said a release. The campaign was inspired in part by the WCC’s increased ecumenical efforts for peace and reunification of the divided Korean people since its 10th Assembly was held in South Korea in 2013. One goal is to replace the Armistice Agreement with a peace treaty, the release said. The campaign will last from March 1 to Aug. 15, “during which hundreds of thousands of people worldwide will say: ‘We Pray, Peace Now, End the War!’” the release said. “The Korean War that divided the country in two was fought from 1950 to 1953, but fighting ceased only with an armistice, and a peace treaty is yet to be signed. At least three million people are thought to have died in the fighting and families were wrenched apart by the division of the country.” Aug. 15 was chosen as the end date for the campaign because it is the anniversary date of the division of the peninsula, but also is celebrated as Liberation Day in both North and South Korea as the date in 1945 when Korea won independence from Japanese colonial oppression. WCC work has included bringing together representatives from the Korean Christian Federation of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and from the National Council of Churches in the Republic of Korea to reflect together.