Newsline for March 19, 2021

1) Mission and Ministry Board meeting focuses on new strategic plan
2) National Council of Churches issues statement on the shooting deaths in Atlanta
3) Brethren Press managing editor joins in meeting of Committee on the Uniform Lessons Series
4) Brethren Volunteer Service participates in Volunteer Fest and #WhyService campaign

5) Hosler is presenter for the Durnbaugh Lecture of the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies
6) Two-part Moderator’s Town Hall in April will feature Brethren historians
7) Dunker Punks plans online love feast, seeks pastors and worship planners to submit recordings
8) ‘Let us pray together in the time of COVID-19’: World Council of Churches to convene worldwide online prayer service

9) Trail thoughts on surrender: Trekking toward God’s adventurous future

10) Brethren bits: Correction, International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on March 21, remembering Ronald Duane Spire, job opening, personnel note, video for Leadership Summit on Wellbeing, celebrating Bill Kostlevy’s retirement, 2021 Living Peace Award, lots of great webinars, and more

Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

Landing page of Church of the Brethren COVID 19 related resources and information: www.brethren.org/covid19

Church of the Brethren congregations offering online worship in English and other languages: www.brethren.org/news/2020/church-of-the-brethren-congregations-worship-online.html
*Spanish/bilingual; **Haitian Kreyol/bilingual; ***Arabic/bilingual
*español/bilingüe, ** kreyol haitiano/bilingüe, ***عربي / ثنائي اللغة

Lifting up Brethren who are active in health care: www.brethren.org/news/2020/brethren-active-in-health-care.html

Send information about churches to be added to the listing of online worship offerings to cobnews@brethren.org.

Add a person to the list of Brethren active in health care by sending first name, county, and state to cobnews@brethren.org.

1) Mission and Ministry Board meeting focuses on new strategic plan

The Mission and Ministry Board continues its use of different colors of cards to make decisions, even during meetings held online. Shown here, board members hold up green cards (or other green items) to indicate agreement with the consent agenda at the March 2021 meeting. Also shown are ex-officio members of the board.

The Mission and Ministry Board of the Church of the Brethren held spring meetings via Zoom on Friday through Sunday, March 12-14, 2021. Main items of business continued work on the board’s new strategic plan and received year-end financial reporting for 2020.

Patrick Starkey, chair, led meetings from the denomination’s General Offices in Elgin, Ill., where he was joined by chair-elect Carl Fike, general secretary David Steele, and a few staff. The rest of the board joined in via Zoom from across the country.

The sessions on Saturday morning and afternoon and Sunday afternoon were open to the public via a published link. The Executive Committee and other board committees met on Friday, and some closed sessions of the full board were held in the evenings. As always, the meetings opened and closed with worship.

Strategic plan

Leaders of the board met in person at the Church of the Brethren General Offices in Elgin, Ill., during the March 2021 meetings of the Mission and Ministry Board, accompanied by a few staff. From left: chair-elect Carl Fike, IT staff Fabiola Fernandez, general secretary David Steele, and chair Patrick Starkey. Photo by Nancy Miner

Early work under the board’s new strategic plan is being carried out by several task teams and the Executive Committee. The strategic plan will guide the board and the denominational staff as they shape and reshape the ministries.

The board approved two of four proposals for new “foreground initiatives” presented by the Strategic Planning Committee. New task teams will be assigned to develop “road maps” or “game plans” for the following:

— “On the Road to Jericho (Plan for Defining Neighborhoods),” creating a resource for use by congregations in discovering and defining their “neighborhood” for missional focus; and

— “Each in Our Own Language (Plan for Recognizing Injustice),” creating a curriculum resource to help congregations identify aspects of racial injustice that may be present in their contextual settings.

The Evaluating Systems and Processes Task Team proposed numerous revisions to various documents including the Mission and Ministry Board Member Manual, the bylaws of the Church of the Brethren, the denomination’s Financial Policies and Communication Policy, and the Employee Handbook. Many of the revisions simply bring documents up to date with current nomenclature and practice, while others identify “potential impediments” to the strategic plan. The board adopted Executive Committee recommendations to refer revisions to the General Secretary, staff, or board committees.


The board received pre-audit financial reports including a year-end report for 2020. Treasurer Ed Woolf gave his report in the form of a pre-recorded video and financial documents.

The mostly positive year-end report for 2020 also raised concerns about how the pandemic continues to affect certain ministry areas, and continuing trends seen especially in decreased congregational giving.

Financial reporting covered both the Core Ministries Fund and the Church of the Brethren’s “self-funded” ministries, including the Conference Office, Brethren Press, and Material Resources. Special purpose funds, including the Emergency Disaster Fund (EDF, which supports Brethren Disaster Ministries), the Global Food Initiative Fund (GFIF, which supports the Global Food Initiative), and the Emerging Global Mission Fund were also reported on.

The Core Ministries Fund ended 2020 with a surplus of $127,500, almost $235,000 ahead of the revised budget. Woolf noted that factors leading to the surplus included a mid-year budget revision to take into account pandemic effects on finances, cancellation of staff travel, cancellation of some large events, moving other events online, and decreased use of office space and related utilities as most staff worked from home. This positive outcome allowed $200,000 to be set aside for future budget shortfalls and $50,000 for costs of implementing the new strategic plan. As a result of the significant surplus, a budgeted transfer from reserves was not needed.

Brethren Press received more than $117,000 in donations in 2020 through a special fundraising campaign, in what Woolf called “a show of overwhelming support for the Brethren publishing house.” This generosity made it possible for Brethren Press to end the year with a small deficit of just over $4,600. “Brethren Press sales were drastically impacted by pandemic upheaval in congregations; 2020 gross sales fell by more than $150,000 from the year before,” he said. The staff creatively worked to provide new products to meet the needs of the church during the pandemic, and Woolf noted the growth in devotional sales and the sales of face masks with Brethren messaging.

In 2021, Brethren Press will receive a one-time special distribution of $100,000 from the Gahagen Trust, Woolf announced. This will help the publishing house weather continuing pandemic conditions. The money will pay for Brethren Press expenses related to production of the children’s Christian education curriculum Shine, which is jointly published with MennoMedia. “We are sincerely grateful to the trustees of the Gahagen Trust for distributing these funds,” Woolf said.

The GFI Fund and the EDF experienced decreased donations in 2020. For the EDF, the decrease was especially dramatic because of cancellations of disaster auctions that usually raise more than $500,000 each year. In total, donations to the EDF decreased more than $860,000 from 2019.

Material Resources ended the year with a deficit of almost $122,000, experiencing many difficulties during the pandemic. The ministry had to close warehouse facilities from March through May last year, canceled volunteer groups to prevent COVID-19 spread, and saw a slowdown of activity by partner organizations. The program warehouses and ships disaster relief materials out of the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Md. The program has a negative net asset balance that has steadily increased over the past decade. Woolf reported that staff are working on a new business plan.

The Conference Office ended the year with a deficit of $116,000, after having had to cancel the 2020 Annual Conference because of the pandemic. More than $70,000 in donations helped to offset a loss of income from registrations.

In an analysis of giving, combined giving from congregations and individuals to the Core Ministries Fund finished ahead of the 2020 revised budget. Overall, however, donations from congregations to the total ministries of the denomination fell 20 percent in 2020, as compared to 2019. This continues a trend of decreasing financial support from congregations. The number of congregations that gave to the denomination also continued to decrease. Only 528 of the denomination’s 900 congregations gave financial support to the Core Ministries Fund in 2020.

Total combined giving from individuals and congregations to all denominational ministries also decreased over 2019, mostly due to decreases in restricted giving and bequest income.

However, there was an increase in giving from individuals to the Core Ministries Fund, as compared to 2018 and 2019. Also, the number of people who donated increased. The 1,500-plus number of individual donors to Core Ministries was well above last year’s total.

The net asset balance–the denomination’s total value including all funds and capital assets–grew again this year, continuing a positive trend seen over four of the past five years. The net investment balance grew accordingly, and Woolf reported much of the increase was due to market gains. The denomination’s investments are managed by the Brethren Foundation of Brethren Benefit Trust. The Church of the Brethren’s current net asset value is $42.3 million, which Woolf described as a “very healthy” financial position.

The treasurer also celebrated that the Church of the Brethren was able to provide more than $1,000,000 in grants and special allocations in 2020, aiding congregations, camps, retirement communities, and other church-related organizations that were in need of financial help because of the pandemic. This was accomplished, in large part, with the help of generous donors, he said.

“The key take-away…is that in the midst of talking about declining membership numbers, the Church of the Brethren saw a significant increase in donor participation,” said Woolf. “We are truly humbled by our donors’ generosity, especially in the midst of…this very challenging pandemic season.”

In other business

The board welcomed the new co-executive directors of Global Mission, Ruoxia Li and Eric Miller.

The board approved a recommendation for the Brethren Faith in Action Fund (BFIA) to extend through 2021 the eligibility of Church of the Brethren camps to receive grants, as well as the option for camps and congregations to request a waiver of a matching funds requirement.

Staff reports to the board as well as reports from the Annual Conference moderator, the Council of District Executives, and the Conference agencies–Bethany Theological Seminary, Brethren Benefit Trust, and On Earth Peace–were received as pre‐recorded videos. The board engaged in live question and answer time with those who provided prerecorded reports.

Drew G. I. Hart and LaDonna Sanders Nkosi led a two-hour “Healing Racism” training for the board, also open to the public. Nkosi is director of Intercultural Ministries for the Church of the Brethren. Hart, who is a member of Harrisburg (Pa.) First Church of the Brethren, is assistant professor of theology at Messiah University where he directs the Thriving Together: Congregations for Racial Justice program, and author of Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism and Who Will Be a Witness? Igniting Activism for God’s Justice, Love, and Deliverance.

In a Sunday afternoon closed session, the board received the resignation of member Paul Liepelt, whose term had been extended a year due to the cancelation of the 2020 Annual Conference.

For the video reports and background documents go to www.brethren.org/mmb/meeting-info.

2) National Council of Churches issues statement on the shooting deaths in Atlanta

“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain in my soul,
and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?” (Psalm 13:1-2)

The National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC) laments the tragic shooting deaths at three locations in Atlanta and the surrounding area on Tuesday evening. Reports indicate that six of the eight victims were of Asian descent and seven were women, deepening our concerns about the increasing anti-Asian and gender-based violence against women and girls in this nation.

We grieve for those who have lost their lives and send our condolences to their families. May the heaviness of their sorrow be lifted and may they find peace.

While we do not yet know if the shootings are hate crimes, we do know that 3,795 hate incidents were documented by the Stop AAPI Hate reporting center from March 2020 to February 2021. We also recognize that reported incidences represent only a fraction of the number of hate instances that occur against Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) persons.

Since the use of the derogatory term “China virus” was used for political purposes, our AAPI neighbors have experienced a heightened level of discrimination and anti-Asian xenophobia during the COVID-19 pandemic. An alarming series of violent crimes and brutal attacks has occurred across the country while this hateful rhetoric spreads. NCC stands with all who live in fear due to the discrimination unleashed on the AAIP community.

Historically, white-only immigration policies in the United States have discriminated against people from Asian countries, which was most evident in the Chinese Exclusion Act in the late 19th century. During World War II, people of Japanese descent were the majority of those suspected of being an enemy and unjustly incarcerated in internment camps.

“We lament the fear and pain that grips the Asian American community and we stand in solidarity with them,” said Jim Winkler, NCC president and general secretary. “Racism is ensconced in our country’s history, which is founded on injustice and white supremacy. We all need to confront discriminatory acts and racial vitriol that deems people as ‘foreigners’ or the ‘other.’ In order to end racism, we must dedicate ourselves to changing the hearts, minds, and behaviors of people in our churches and society to bring healing and wholeness to all.”

“I weep at the senseless loss of these precious lives,” stated John Dorhauer, general minister and president of the United Church of Christ and chair of the NCC Governing Board. “It is becoming far too easy for white men with guns to act on what they see as their right to purge from America people they have not come to accept as their equal. I am sick of that, and hope that every person of faith commits to ending racism and gun violence. I also cry out to legislators to take away access to the weapons that these bigots wield.”

NCC calls for members of our churches to be allies and co-laborers alongside the Asian community by including their concerns in our shared work toward ending racism and by challenging Asian stereotypes in their communities and networks of influence. Sadly, problems in the Asian community are often ignored because of harmful stereotypes that silence our AAPI neighbors when they should be supported.

When violent attacks occur and the perpetrators are found to have acted based on a bias against the victim being Asian American or of Asian descent, we call for their prosecution as hate crimes. To end racism in our society, we must name it wherever it emerges and do everything in our power to root it out and replace it with just, safe, and equitable communities for all of God’s people.

This statement is online at https://nationalcouncilofchurches.us/statement-on-the-shooting-deaths-in-atlanta.

3) Brethren Press managing editor joins in meeting of Committee on the Uniform Lessons Series

Brethren Press managing editor James Deaton (shown at center) attended the 2021 annual meeting of the Committee on the Uniform Lessons Series (CUS).

Brethren Press managing editor James Deaton attended the 2021 annual meeting of the Committee on the Uniform Lessons Series (CUS). The series is a basis for Bible study curriculum used in common by many denominations and publishing partners. Deaton attended on behalf of the Church of the Brethren publishing house, which uses the adult curriculum outlines for A Guide for Biblical Studies. He also is a member of the Adult Age‐Level Team, which reviews the development of the curriculum outlines for adults and creates teaching strategies.

Following is an excerpt from the National Council of Churches USA (NCC) release about the meeting held March 2-3:

Typically, representatives of the 25 denominational and publishing partners gather in person to make business decisions, review and vote to approve previous work on the Guide to Lessons and Home Daily Bible Readings, write and collaborate on new curriculum outlines, as well as worship and fellowship together. This year, the 30 registered participants signed on to Zoom from time zones across the US and Puerto Rico and from as far away as Nigeria.

Those who gathered can proudly trace the first Uniform Lesson Outlines to 1872 when the International Sunday School Association wrote their first plan to systematically study the Bible.

A liturgy led by Garland F. Pierce, chair of the committee and executive director of the Department of Christian Education of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, reflected on Jesus clearing the Temple courts in John 2:13-22. Jesus’ anger was inspired by the exclusion that was happening in God’s house, he explained. The money changers’ tables and the marketplace left little room for true worship. And Jesus’ life was about making room for all. As followers of Christ, as Christian educators, making room is also the goal of the CUS.

This opening reflection set the tone for the conference’s focus on elevating and exegeting scripture in service of the spiritual care and faith formation of learners across the life-span.

Dennis Edwards, associate professor of New Testament at North Park University, supported the conference objectives with his two lectures “Core Beliefs of the Christian Faith” and “Social Teachings of the Bible.” These lecture titles were drawn from lesson outlines that the 2021 conference participants will use for their upcoming writing assignments. There is an added historical element to this year’s assignment in that these same texts are included in the 1929-30 CUS outlines.

This is one of the ways that CUS has chosen to recognize its upcoming sesquicentennial anniversary. In considering “core beliefs” and “social issues” that faithful Christians confronted in the early 1900s, the 2021 conference participants give fresh consideration for how the church is bringing Christ to bear in their own day and time.

Substantial business was also conducted at this year’s meeting, including the vote to approve the six-year proposed outline for Cycle 25 (Fall 2026 through Summer 2032). The cycle theme is “We Have a Story to Tell.”

La Verne Tolbert, chair of the Scope and Sequence Committee tasked with developing Cycle 25, and vice president, editorial of Urban Ministries, Inc., explained, “Rather than imposing themes on the texts, Cycle 25 lets the Bible speak through the characters, circumstances, setting, and events of the Old and New Testaments.”

Developing curriculum outlines for the study of the Bible has been the work of the CUS for 149 years. While they look forward to celebrating the committee’s 150th anniversary next year, they continue to trust all that the Holy Spirit accomplishes in their midst–whether in person or in cyberspace. The Uniform Lessons stand as a witness to their unity in Christ, and their commitment both to bring and to teach Christ’s countercultural message in a broken world.

Read the full release at https://nationalcouncilofchurches.us/committee-on-the-uniform-lessons-series-annual-meeting-held-online.

4) Brethren Volunteer Service participates in Volunteer Fest and #WhyService campaign

An illustration of the Remo live networking space used at the Volunteer Fest.

By Pauline Liu and Kara Miller

Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS) attended Volunteer Fest on March 8-11, a four-night event hosted by Catholic Volunteer Network to connect with prospective volunteers about volunteering with faith-based organizations. The theme of this week was #WhyService, why is service important and why do people want to do service?

BVS also is hosting a virtual mid-year retreat from March 22-24 for volunteers in the Summer Unit 325 and Fall Unit 327. During that time, we will be connecting through several sessions to prepare volunteers for life after their service. Volunteers will also be engaging with one another through games and meaningful daily devotions, as well as gathering together as a form of respite from their projects.

Volunteer Fest

Most of the attendees at Volunteer Fest were organizations, and BVS staff attended on behalf of Brethren Volunteer Service. The platform we used was Remo, advertised as a live networking space with different tables you can jump around to by double-clicking.

Monday (March 8) featured a time of Table Talk answering seven big questions organizations often get about #WhyService:

  1. Why choose faith-based service now?
  2. Why does it matter where I serve?
  3. Why is faith-based service good for my career?
  4. Why am I drawn to a certain ministry/sector/population?
  5. Why serve in a time of COVID?
  6. Why does a certain spirituality draw me?
  7. Why should “I” serve?

Tuesday and Wednesday (March 9 and 10) featured more than 50 organizations at virtual booths.

Thursday (March 11) featured a mentorship/discernment night of intentional conversations to help with next steps.

Check out our Instagram feed @bvs1948 for pictures from current volunteers about their answers to #WhyService.

— Pauline Liu is coordinator of volunteers for Brethren Volunteer Service. Kara Miller is a BVSer serving as orientation assistant in the BVS office.


5) Hosler is presenter for the Durnbaugh Lecture of the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies

“Weapons Transfers as Foreign Policy: Theological Ethics, Economics, and Strategy” is the subject of an upcoming online lecture to be given by Nathan Hosler, director of the Church of the Brethren Office of Peacebuilding and Policy. This is the 2021 Durnbaugh Lecture of the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown (Pa.) College.

The event takes place Thursday, March 25, at 7 p.m. (Eastern time) via Facebook at www.facebook.com/events/281571206662583.

“The church has always contended that matters of killing must be subject to theological ethics. Though many traditions have not rejected all use of deadly force, all have made judgments on when, how, and by whom this can be done,” said an introduction to the event.

“One of the ‘tools’ within US foreign policy is the selling or giving of weapons and related systems. This practice is used to strengthen diplomatic relations, further national interests, and bring economic benefit to the US arms industry. This lecture will describe how this process is seen within the strategic planning of Washington, challenge underlying assumptions, and argue that such transfers cannot be separated from war-making and must be subject to ethical reasoning.”

For more information see www.etown.edu/centers/young-center/events.aspx.

6) Two-part Moderator’s Town Hall in April will feature Brethren historians

A special two-part Moderator’s Town Hall has been announced for April, with an array of Brethren historians as resource people on the topic “Today’s Headlines, Yesterday’s Wisdom: Historical Insights for the Contemporary Church.” Featured Brethren historians include Carl Bowman, William Kostlevy, Stephen Longenecker, Carol Sheppard, and Dale Stoffer.

The first event on April 15 from 7-8:15 p.m. (Eastern time) will be a 75-minute question and answer format in line with previous Moderator’s Town Halls. Register at tinyurl.com/ModTownHallApr2021.

The second event on April 17 from 1-6 p.m. (Eastern time) will be an extended session featuring content presentations from each historian on a specific topic, followed by opportunities for questions after each presentation. Register at tinyurl.com/TownHallApr2021Part2.

Though all the presenters will participate on April 17, not all will be able to participate on April 15.

Participants can attend one or both events.

“We will consider various issues confronting the church: accountability, biblical authority, compelling vision, division, and nationalism,” said an announcement. “Though every era is unique, there is much to learn from the experience of history. The Brethren historians will explore the richness of our heritage, highlighting the depth of our tradition and offer practical learnings applicable to today’s church. The intent is not to return to the past but to profit from history’s wisdom as we strive to transform the contemporary church.”


Carl Bowman will address the topic of nationalism in the extended town hall on April 17. He is director of survey research for the University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture. Bowman is widely recognized for his studies of Anabaptist religious groups and is an expert on the social and cultural history of the Church of the Brethren. The author of various books, chapters, and monographs, he is best known as the author of Brethren Society: The Cultural Transformation of a Peculiar People. He holds a master’s degree in sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a doctorate from the University of Virginia.

William Kostlevy will address the topic of the compelling vision in the extended town hall on April 17. He is director of the Brethren Historical Library and Archives at the Church of the Brethren General Offices in Elgin, Ill. Kostlevy holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Asbury College; a master’s degree in history from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wis.; a master of theology from Bethany Theological Seminary; and a master’s degree and doctorate in history from the University of Notre Dame. He has been a fellow at the Young Center at Elizabethtown (Pa.) College and was a member of the Church of the Brethren Historical Committee 1997-2007.

Stephen Longenecker will address the topic of division in the extended town hall on April 17. He is the Edwin L. Turner Distinguished Professor of History at Bridgewater (Va.) College. Longenecker is author of The Brethren During the Age of World War, along with five other books on American religious history. He earned his master’s from West Virginia University and his doctorate in history from Johns Hopkins University.

Carol Scheppard will address the topic of accountability in the extended town hall on April 17. She is Professor of the College and professor of philosophy and religion at Bridgewater College, where she also was vice president and dean for academic affairs 2007-2016. Scheppard holds a master of divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary and a doctorate in religion from the University of Pennsylvania. She served as Annual Conference moderator in 2017. She served 10 years as a member of the board of trustees for Bethany Theological Seminary.

Dale Stoffer will address the topic of biblical authority in the extended town hall on April 17. He
is emeritus professor of historical theology at Ashland (Ohio) Theological Seminary, where he taught from 1992 to 2017. Stoffer earned a master of divinity from Ashland and a doctorate in historical theology from Fuller Seminary. He is the monographs editor for the Brethren Encyclopedia and author of Background and Development of Brethren Doctrines 1650-2015.

For questions about these events, email cobmoderatorstownhall@gmail.com.

7) Dunker Punks plans online love feast, seeks pastors and worship planners to submit recordings

From a Dunker Punks release

As we journey through Lent and look toward Holy Week and Easter, a group of Dunker Punks are right now preparing another Love Feast service bonus episode for the beloved community. You are invited to join in!

We seek to once again support the denomination in a time when many churches may not be hosting in‐person love feast services.

Last year’s online offering of the Brethren Maundy Thursday tradition was a digitally shared experience amongst over 1,500 people via the Dunker Punks podcast feed and a special companion YouTube version. Where that service was a traditional interpretation, this service is being planned with the Dunker Punk twist.

So, WWDPPLFLL–What Would a Dunker Punks Podcast Love Feast Look Like? The most punk part about being a Dunker is following Jesus in that particular way you feel the calling, and Dunker Punks do discipleship together.

Be a part of this year’s online Dunker Punks Love Feast by recording and uploading your 30-second or so answer to one or more of the following questions:

— When have you been shown great love?

— Where have you seen great acts of service?

— How have you experienced humility?

Help create a meaningful virtual love feast service and get a chance to be a voice on the show! The Dunker Punks Podcast is not a one-way project in which you only put on the headphones: we are a ministry community where we pass the mic to learn from each other in mutual spiritual aid and action. One of the key components is that sense of togetherness we feel by hearing voices of Dunkers from across the country on the podcast, so we would love to hear from you!

If you are a pastor or worship planner, email us at dpp@arlingtoncob.org to learn more about how your community might partner with us on this episode.

And no matter your religious affiliation, age, or preferred communion bread recipe, record a 30-second or so audio or video clip to your phone and upload it through the following link to be featured on this year’s Love Feast episode. The deadline is March 28. Send to http://bit.ly/DPP_DropBox4LoveFeast.

8) ‘Let us pray together in the time of COVID-19’: World Council of Churches to convene worldwide online prayer service

From a WCC release

“We pray in lament. We pray for our communities. We pray for our leaders. For protection. For healing.”

The World Council of Churches (WCC) will convene a global online prayer service on March 26 at 9 a.m. (Eastern time, or 2 p.m. Central European Time) as part of “A Week of Prayer in the Time of the COVID-19 Pandemic.” The week of prayer begins Monday, March 22, to commemorate a year since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the spread of COVID-19 a pandemic.

One year into the pandemic, answering the request of its member churches and regional partners, the WCC is convening this time of prayer and reflection, of meeting and commemorating.

“We will come believing that God hears and answers prayers,” said WCC acting general secretary Ioan Sauca. “We will come with thanksgiving, keeping hope alive.”

The global prayer service, drawing on voices from diverse regions and communities, will touch upon the six facets of the week of prayer: lament, hurting and suffering communities, leaders, healing, protection, and hope.

“We will bring a sense of lament–yet we express and experience hope,” said Sauca. “During what has been a year of unprecedented suffering, there also has been an extraordinary drawing together of churches in new ways to adapt, respond and accompany communities through mental, physical, economical, spiritual, and environmental crises.”

Throughout the week, WCC member churches and ecumenical partners are sharing prayers and spiritual resources produced in response to the pandemic.

The WCC has published a book for the week, titled Voices of Lament, Hope, and Courage. This book was designed as a resource for use in prayer groups, congregational services, personal prayer, and in the pastoral accompaniment of those directly affected in different ways by the pandemic. The prayers, messages, reflections, statistics, and WCC resources have roots in faith challenged by mourning, fear, and uncertainty in different contexts worldwide. Download the book in various formats at www.oikoumene.org/resources/publications/voices-of-lament-hope-and-courage.

For more about the Week of Prayer in the Time of the COVID-19 Pandemic see www.oikoumene.org/events/a-week-of-prayer-in-the-time-of-the-covid-19-pandemic.

A link to the livestream prayer service will soon be available at www.oikoumene.org/live.


9) Trail thoughts on surrender: Trekking toward God’s adventurous future

A quarterly pastoral letter from Paul Mundey, Annual Conference moderator

There is much self-posturing these days. My opinion, my interpretation, my tribe, my truth is conclusive and supreme. But scripture’s accent lands in a different place, stressing humility, sacrifice, self-emptying…surrender.

The Cross, our center point during Lent, graphically underscores this counter-cultural leaning. As Paul notes in Philippians 2, “though [Jesus] existed in the form of God [he] did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave…sharing in human nature. He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross! As a result God highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name” (Phil. 2:6-9 NET).

As Michael Gorman recounts, “For Paul, the will of God is known in essence in the obedient death of Jesus. [Thus] in concrete and specific ways…God’s will is known only when one offers oneself…daily as a living sacrifice to one’s rightful Lord” (1). Thus, authentic discipleship emerges from surrender to the merciful sway of Jesus. The Apostle Paul affirms such recasting of faithfulness. “[T]he love of Christ controls us since we have concluded…Christ died for all; therefore, all have died…[thus] those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised” (2 Cor. 5:14-15 NET).

Such self-emptying results in a far-reaching, rescued life saved from iniquity and saved for a new pattern of being. As Brenda Colijn notes: “We are rescued [through Christ] from sin [and] Satan…to experience healing, [bringing] life in…fullness. We are also saved for a purpose: good works and holy living…Salvation [then] is not a one-time event completed at conversion. It involves a growth in relationship and in wholeness…past, present and future… [So] we should look forward with anticipation [engaging] in the work God has called us to do [now]” (2).

Thus, Christ’s sacrifice, our salvation, is not just a “ticket to heaven” but an invitation to life. It’s a contemporary undertaking challenging us to abandon the unholy and adopt aspects of Jesus not matching our current routine and ethic. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer stresses, “When Christ calls a man [or woman], he bids him [or her] come and die…In fact, every command of Jesus is a call to die, with all our affections and lusts.” But as Bonhoeffer reminds us: “[W]e do not want to die…[nevertheless]…Jesus Christ and his call are necessarily our death as well as our life” (3).

This is such a hard truth, but it’s a wise truth, as it reminds us that the most faithful thing we can do is to die to self and a fixation on my gain. And a preoccupation with my opinion. One of the glaring logjams of contemporary culture and church is the bent to “do life” within a narrow bandwidth, bolstering my “rightness.” Often referred to as an echo chamber, it’s a closed system stubbornly maintaining my ego and opinion, eroding any sense of humility and empathy, especially toward those who differ from us.

As Christine Emba reflects: “The tendency to promote one’s favored narrative is natural, but too much confirmation distances us from other perspectives and makes us unable to see the truth when it’s finally presented–what the ‘Echo Chamber’ researchers referred to as ‘a kind of cognitive inoculation.’ And in the end, a constant us-vs.-them mentality depersonalizes the holders of alternative views” (4).

Sadly, we are becoming inoculated–closed to other stances–depersonalizing holders of alternative views, addicted to the echo of our voice and opinion as us-vs.-them escalates. But it’s Lent, and another opinion rises, as Jesus sheds blood on a Cross, modeling another way of living–echoing not his preference but the preference of the Father (Matthew 26:36-46)–self-emptying, giving up self and gain for God and others.

“Who would have believed [it]…He sprouted up like a twig before God, like a root out of parched soil; he had no stately form or majesty that might catch our attention, no special appearance that we should want to follow him. He was despised and rejected by people…people hid their faces from him; he [was considered] insignificant. But…he carried our pain…He was wounded because of our rebellious deeds, crushed because of our sins; he endured punishment that made us well; because of his wounds we have been healed” (Isaiah 53:1-5 NET).

I pray such surrender will inspire our surrender, prompting radical sacrifice to God, as we jettison any obsession with self-opinion and gain, echoing not our preference but the Father’s longing.

At the beginning of each year, United Methodists recite a covenant prayer. Crafted by Richard Alleine, it was first voiced by John Wesley in 1755, advancing a radical yielding to God, calling us beyond personal opinion and desire. “I am no longer my own, but yours. Put me…with whom you will; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you, let me be full, let me be empty, let me have all things, let me have nothing; I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal. And now, glorious and blessed God…you are mine, and I am yours. So be it” (5).

Wesley reminds us that our first love must not be a cause, person, want, or opinion, but God in Christ who calls us to filter everything first through Him as crucified Messiah. Thus, the most faithful life is a Cross-shaped life, obedient to Christ, echoing not our preference but God’s preference, dying to self yet anticipating resurrection in Jesus!

Discussion starters and questions

Moderator Paul contends: “There is much self-posturing these days. My opinion, my interpretation, my tribe is conclusive and supreme. But scripture’s accent…[stresses] humility, sacrifice, self-emptying…surrender.” Give and discuss examples of culture’s accent on self-posturing and scripture’s accent on humility.

Brenda Colijn advances that salvation in Christ is not just salvation from, but salvation for. What are we saved from–and what are we saved for? Why are both emphases needed for faithful discipleship?

Moderator Paul observes: “One of the glaring logjams of contemporary culture and church is a bent to live within a narrow bandwidth that reinforces my ‘rightness.’” He refers to such a tendency as an echo chamber. Have you ever lived within an echo chamber or been aware of one, in either culture or church?

Reread John Wesley’s Covenant Prayer. Where do you find his prayer relevant and convicting? Where do you find his prayer “too much” or unrealistic?

To dig deeper

Brenda Colijn. Images of Salvation in the New Testament. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2010.

E. Stanley Jones. Victory Through Surrender. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2018.

(1) Michael Gorman. Cruciformity. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001. p. 134.

(2) Brenda Colijn. Images of Salvation in the New Testament. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2010. p. 141-142.

(3) Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The Cost of Discipleship. New York: Macmillan, 1973. p. 99.

(4) www.washingtonpost.com/news/in-theory/wp/2016/07/14/confirmed-echo-chambers-exist-on-social-media-but-what-can-we-do-about-them

(5) John Wesley. A Covenant with God (Modern Version).

Download the quarterly Trail Thoughts at www.brethren.org/ac2021/moderator/trail-thoughts.

10) Brethren bits

Correction: The start time is 7 p.m (Eastern time) for the webinar “Healing Racism Congregations and Communities #ConversationsTogether Meetup” on March 25. The event welcomes all who are interested in participating in Healing Racism Congregations and Communities. “Save the date and plan to join us,” said an invitation from Intercultural Ministries director LaDonna Nkosi. “If your community or congregation is involved or would like to be involved in the path to healing racism, join with us.” Register in advance at https://zoom.us/meeting/register/tJcsdOChpjgsHdVhoWy1JxphwarGFCEewz0Y.

Remembrance: Ronald Duane Spire (87) of Dandridge, Tenn., former district executive minister for the Church of the Brethren’s Southeastern District, died March 16. He was born to Glenn and Laura Struble Spire in Bryan, Ohio, on Nov. 30, 1933. He held degrees from Manchester College (now Manchester University in N. Manchester, Ind.), Bethany Theological Seminary, East Tennessee State College, and the University of Tennessee, where he earned a doctorate in education. Along with his wife, Shirley, he was a district executive for Southeastern District for 15 years. He was a member of French Broad Church of the Brethren, where he had served as pastor for several years. He also served churches in upper East Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina. He retired from Knox County Schools as a teacher in 1998, serving most of those years at Carter Elementary. He also taught in Johnson City, Tenn., and Silver Spring, Md. He married Shirley Imogene McCracken in 1957. He is preceded in death by his youngest son, Richie. Survivors include his wife, Shirley; children Rosanne Spire of Knoxville, Tenn.; Rob Spire (Darla) of Kennesaw, Ga.; Sam Spire (Gloria) of Woodstock, Va.; Steve Spire (Stephanie) of Bridgewater, Va.; grandchildren and great grandchild. Visitation for family and friends will be at French Broad Church of the Brethren from 2-4 p.m on Saturday, March 20, followed by the memorial service at 4 p.m., with burial after. Please wear a mask and abide by social distancing protocols. Find the full obituary at www.farrarfuneralhome.com/obituaries/Ronald-Spire/#!/Obituary.

“Come, all of you who have been ostracised and marginalised.
Come, all of you who have been indifferent in the face of racial injustice.
Come, all of you who have prophetically challenged racism.
Come, all of you who have perpetrated acts of racial injustice.
Come all and receive rest for your weary souls.
Come to the fountain of life and receive grace upon grace.”

This invitation to worship opens a prayer service to observe the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on March 21. The full order of worship for this prayer service is being made available by the World Council of Churches (WCC). “This International Day is also the sad anniversary of the day police in Sharpeville, South Africa, opened fire and killed 69 people at a peaceful demonstration against apartheid in 1960,” noted a release. The ecumenical prayer service was prepared by WCC colleagues from Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant traditions as an invitation to be in solidarity with one another, to be in prayer together, and to condemn all forms of racial injustice. Racism is the thematic focus of the 2021 WCC Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace. Find the prayer service at www.oikoumene.org/resources/documents/ecumenical-prayer-to-mark-the-international-day-for-the-elimination-of-racial-discrimination.

Atlantic Northeast District of the Church of the Brethren seeks a church video streaming specialist to fill a newly created district staff position. The pandemic has brought about many changes to congregational life, the most significant being the need for congregations to gather online, as well as a shift that includes worshipers attending from a distance as well as in person. The district has recognized it can offer critical support for current and future congregational vitality by aiding churches, regardless of size, with streaming technology and answering questions. Responsibilities include fostering churches’ growth in technology by assisting with designing streaming solutions that are affordable and manageable; making designs consistent, yet tailored to each congregation’s needs, resources, and worship style; collaboration of design enabling churches to share their worship services with their congregation members who are unable to attend in person, as well as with the wider community for evangelism and mission. The district has set aside resources for a full-time position, including benefits. Contact kbernstein@ani-cob.org or 717-367-4730.

— As the search to fill a full-time position of church video streaming specialist in Atlantic Northeast District begins, the district has called Enten Eller of Palmyra, Pa., as an interim to fill the position half-time. Eller has been an integral part of the district’s technical team serving congregations since July 2020. He is an ordained minister who has pastored churches in a number of districts from Idaho to Pennsylvania, and formerly served as director of Distributed Education and Electronic Communication at Bethany Theological Seminary. He continues as pastor at Ambler (Pa.) Church of the Brethren and as pastor and tech deacon for Living Stream Church of the Brethren, the denomination’s only fully online congregation.

A short video is now available about the upcoming Leadership Summit on Wellbeing, which is offered by the Church of the Brethren denominational staff as an online event on April 19-22. The summit will open Monday evening, April 19, with a keynote presentation by clinical psychologist and professor Dr. Jessica Young-Brown of Virginia Union University’s Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology. Find the video and more information at www.brethren.org/leadership-wellbeing. “Early bird” registration for the event has been extended until April 10. Continuing education credit is available only for the live event; recordings will not be available following the live event. Registrants may earn .7 credits by viewing the pre-recorded sessions, attending the live Monday night keynote, and attending the five Q&A sessions.

Register for this youth and young adult online Bible study at http://ow.ly/7TK350E1E8Y.

The deadline has been extended for young adults to apply for the Stewards Program at the World Council of Churches (WCC) 11th Assembly in 2022 in Karlsruhe, Germany. Joy Eva Bohol, WCC program executive for Youth Engagement, notes that the new deadline is made with the view to encourage a wider diversity participating in the program, bringing their faith, experiences and visions to an ecumenical experience of togetherness and friendship. The deadline extension also takes into consideration the delays imposed by the current COVID-19 situation, and requests received from aspiring young participants. The new deadline for applications is now June 30, 2021. Click here for guidelines and the application form: www.oikoumene.org/resources/documents/guidelines-application-form-wcc-stewards-programme-2022.

The Brethren Historical Library and Archives (BHLA) is hosting a “Q&A with Bill/Digital Retirement Party” as a Facebook Live event on April 6 at 10 a.m. (Central time). This is “the proper sendoff that Bill [Kostlevy] deserves before he heads into his retirement,” said an announcement. The event will celebrate BHLA archivist and director William Kostlevy on his retirement, which has been announced for April 17. “His wealth of knowledge on Church of the Brethren history has served the BHLA so well in his tenure as director and will be greatly missed,” the announcement said. “We will talk about his works and research he has done and the chat feature during the live event will be open for the questions you have for Bill. (Research questions that he either doesn’t have the answer for or requires an extensive search should still be directed to our email.) We look forward to this event and hope you will join us.” Find out more at www.facebook.com/events/430362324692878.

Ecumenical Advocacy Days is a virtual event this year, on April 18-21. The theme is “Imagine! God’s Earth and People Restored.” Staff of the Church of the Brethren Office of Peacebuilding and Policy help to organize this annual event, usually held in Washington, D.C. “EAD 2021 is an opportunity to support this global movement centered on and led by the people and communities most vulnerable to climate impacts due to historic racial and colonial inequities,” said an announcement. “Together, we will passionately advocate and reimagine a world that lives out the values of justice, equity, and the beloved community.” Early bird registration is available until April 1 for only $25. Go to https://advocacydays.org.

On Earth Peace has developed and published a set of Easter prayer and worship resources that can be used for personal prayer, as well as during a congregational worship service. Find them at www.onearthpeace.org/easter_resources_2021.

Also from On Earth Peace, the agency is publicizing webinars or online meetings focused on conversations with authors about their books:

On March 20 and March 21, On Earth Peace’s Migrant Justice Learning Action Community is offering a two-part virtual event titled “Phyllis Yvonne Dodd Presents, Love Has No Borders: True Stories of Desperation as Seen by a Social Worker,” featuring the story of a woman seeking asylum. Session 1 takes place on March 20 at 6 p.m. (Eastern time). Session 2 is on March 21, also at 6 p.m. (Eastern time). “Dodd has devoted her life to providing assistance, healing, and opportunity for the most vulnerable among us,” said an announcement. The first session will focus on her recent book Love Has No Borders. In the second session, a woman seeking asylum will share her story “to provide hope and to help others who have also experienced sexual abuse and domestic violence,” said the announcement. “This event is designed to further understand why asylum seekers, immigrants, and refugees escape their countries to find safety in the United States as well as the traumas they face on their journeys. It will provide an opportunity to personally reflect and collectively explore how to apply this knowledge to our migrant justice work.” Participants must attend the first session to access the second session. Find out more and register at www.onearthpeace.org/love_has_no_borders_true_stories_of_desperation.

On March 31 at 7 p.m. (Eastern time) a webinar with author Kazu Haga will discuss his book Healing Resistance. Find out more and register at www.onearthpeace.org/healing_resistance_with_kazu_haga.

On April 2 at 3 p.m. (Eastern time) a Community Meetup on “Resurrection Peacemaking” takes its theme from a new book by Church of the Brethren peacemaker Cliff Kindy. It will focus on bringing the community together during these “all virtual” days, said an announcement. The event will “run in tandem” with the agency’s Easter resources as well as Kindy’s book Resurrection Peacemaking: Plowsharing the Tools of War–Thirty Years with Christian Peacemaker Teams. “You don’t need to have read the book prior to the event,” said the announcement. Find out more at register at www.onearthpeace.org/oep_cv12.

Iglesia Cristo Sion Church of the Brethren in Pacific Southwest District is moving to Glendora (Calif.) Church of the Brethren from its former location at Pomona (Calif.) Fellowship Church of the Brethren. The Cristo Sion congregation is pastored by David and Rita Flores, and has accepted an invitation from the Glendora congregation to share space with them. They will be relocating during the beginning of April. The two congregations will explore ways in which they might partner in ministry going forward, said an announcement from the district.

The 2021 Living Peace Award event in Shenandoah District will take place via Zoom on April 15 at 7 p.m. (Eastern time). Each year, Shenandoah District Pastors for Peace recognizes a person or group for embodying the vocation of Christian peacemaking here in the district. This year’s recipient is Robbie Miller, chaplain at Bridgewater (Va.) College. “You will learn about Robbie’s work as a peacemaker,” said an invitation, “and, in addition, Carol Scheppard is giving the event’s presentation on peacemaking.” Registration is free. Register by April 7 at https://shencob.org/event/pastors-for-peace.

Tom Doeppner. Courtesy of Ron Doeppner and Sarah Doeppner Snow.

McPherson (Kan.) College will be featured in an upcoming digital program of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, to be held live on the museum’s Facebook page on March 24 at 9:30 a.m. (Eastern time). A link is on the museum’s website at www.ushmm.org. The program will discuss how students at McPherson and other schools took action to help refugees in the 1930s and 1940s. Speakers include Leila Braun from the University of Michigan and Rebecca Erbelding of the museum. “Young Americans, while growing up in a time of racial segregation and the Great Depression, looked beyond the struggles of their own nation to respond to the Nazi threat in Europe,” said a McPherson release. “In 1938, McPherson College students were moved to take action after learning about the events in November of that year, known as Kristallnacht–violent anti-Jewish protests throughout Germany and Austria. Students raised money to support Tom Doeppner, an 18-year-old German-born refugee. He was brought to the United States to attend at McPherson College. Sarah Snow, Doeppner’s granddaughter, said, “This was an action out of compassion, but also sacrifice and amazing coordination on the part of the students. Opa (what she called her grandfather) was in a very precarious position, so this scholarship and acceptance to a school in the United States was literally a life-saving invitation.” Snow compiled research used in a recent exhibit at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, which included articles from the McPherson College student newspaper, and an original copy loaned by the college was included in the exhibit.

The National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC) has joined the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Orthodox Church of America to reiterate the importance of the Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) peace process. The NCC is calling “for the United States to provide urgently needed humanitarian aid for the people of Artsakh who were forced to flee their homes during the unprovoked attack by Azerbaijan and Turkey that displaced more than 50,000 ethnic Armenians in the region. We plead for the United States to actively negotiate the safe return of Armenian soldiers and citizens who are being held in violation of the ceasefire agreement signed on Nov. 9, 2020. We also urge the broad recognition of the Armenian Genocide of the early 20th century by all political and faith leaders throughout the United States.” The release went on to applaud a letter signed by 101 members of Congress that was sent to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to stress the importance of addressing the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh). “We commend the strong bipartisan support of this letter toward insuring the well-being of the displaced Armenian people from Artsakh,” it said, in part. “We call for prayers to comfort those held prisoner, their anguished families, and those displaced from their homes, so that they may all know God’s true compassion and find strength to persevere during this time of persecution.”

For World Water Day on March 22, the World Council of Churches (WCC) is offering a webinar titled “Spiritual and Ethical Values of Water: A Faith Perspective.” The event will take place at 10 a.m. (Eastern time, or 15:00 Central European Time). It is organized by the WCC Ecumenical Water Network along with the office of the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Right to Water and Sanitation, Pedro Arrojo-Agudo. “Water means different things to different people,” said an announcement. “Unfortunately, in today’s market-driven trend, the economic value of water supersedes the spiritual and ethical values of water. As church and faith-based organizations, it is our moral imperative to ensure that water for life gets the priority over water for profit. Recently water was listed on Wall Street for the future water market as a tradable commodity, like oil and gold. Those who have the money can buy the water and control the access and tariff. This can jeopardize the human right to water for the poor, marginalized, and vulnerable communities, including the smallholding farmers.” Register at https://forms.gle/h3bGtfN1QqLf8ABPA.

Newsline is the email news service of the Church of the Brethren. Inclusion in Newsline does not necessarily convey endorsement by the Church of the Brethren. All submissions are subject to editing. Newsline stories may be reprinted if Newsline is cited as the source. Contributors to this issue include Kelly Bernstein, James Deaton, Brenda Sanford Diehl, Dennis Duett, Tina Goodwin, Nathan Hosler, Rachel Kelley, Suzanne Lay, Pauline Liu, Wendy McFadden, Kara Miller, Nancy Miner, Paul Mundey, Matt Rittle, David Steele, Joe Vecchio, Ed Woolf, and editor Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of News Services for the Church of the Brethren. Please send news tips and submissions to cobnews@brethren.org . Find the Newsline archive at www.brethren.org/news . Sign up for Newsline and other Church of the Brethren email newsletters, make subscription changes, or unsubscribe at www.brethren.org/intouch .

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