Newsline for March 26, 2021

The whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,

‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!’

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.’ He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out’” (Luke 19:37b-40).

NEWS
1) National Council of Churches laments mass shooting in Boulder, calls for gun violence to end

2) COVID emergency grants for church workers are extended again

3) Manchester University launches two nursing programs

4) Bridgewater College announces the Bonnie Forrer and John Harvey Rhodes School of Arts and Humanities

UPCOMING EVENTS
5) National Youth Sunday invites youth to lead in worship, theme acknowledges their pandemic struggle

6) Gather with the Dunker Punks for a virtual love feast

7) Pacific Southwest District offers online love feast

Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

RESOURCES
8) Church of the Brethren Yearbook new web page has downloadable resources

9) New Vacation Bible School curriculum invites children to ‘Come to the Table’

REFLECTION
10) Taking nature Black

11) Brethren bits: Messenger online archive, new help for funeral costs from COVID-19, letters to the President support refugees, Material Resources shipments, young adult newsletter, Justice for Black Farmers Act, Good Friday Tenebrae Service, and more


Quote of the week:

“Stones pave Jesus’ wild way from cradle to grave. The stone once rejected is now the cornerstone. The disciples shout praises on Palm Sunday, and the religious elite want them to shut up. Jesus declares that even the stones would cry out!”

Anna Lisa Gross in the devotion for Good Friday from The Wild Way of Jesus: 2021 Lenten Devotional from Brethren Press.


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) National Council of Churches laments mass shooting in Boulder, calls for gun violence to end

A statement from the NCC

“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you” (Jeremiah 29:11-12).

The National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC) laments the second deadly mass shooting in the United States in the last week. This time in a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado, where people were shopping. We cry in anguish that we cannot even purchase food without fearing for our lives in this country.

Our hearts grieve for the 10 victims and we send our condolences to their families and friends who struggle now with a numbing wave of grief over the loss of their loved ones. May the heaviness of their sorrow be lifted and may they find peace.

If mass shootings are defined as a gun incident with four or more people dying or being wounded, then in the last week, since eight were killed in the Atlanta area shootings, there have been five other mass shootings in the US including in Stockton, Calif.; Gresham, Ore.; Houston, Texas; Dallas, Texas; and Philadelphia, Pa., totaling seven mass shootings in seven days.

The unchecked gun violence in this nation must end. In 1967, the NCC adopted a statement calling for firearms control while proclaiming at the time that it represented “a long overdue measure which might have prevented much tragic loss of life.”

Over 50 years later, these basic commonsense changes to our gun laws still have not been enacted and they are far beyond overdue.

Today, we again reaffirm, as we did in our 1967 statement, that the God-given “right to life” is fundamental and sacred and hold that it is not possible to protect life and maintain public order when individuals have unregulated access to firearms.

In 1967, NCC called for permit requirements that incorporate “proper identification of applicant (by the fingerprint method if possible), and a waiting period prior to issuance so that an adequate check can be made of the prospective purchaser to verify such matters as age, absence of mental illness, and lack of a felony record.”

In 2010, NCC called upon our local, state, and federal legislators “to enact reforms that limit access to assault weapons and handguns, including closing the so-called federal ‘gun show loophole,’ which allows for the purchase of firearms from private sellers without submitting to a background check, or providing documentation of the purchase.”

“Enough is enough,” declared Jim Winkler, NCC president and general secretary. “For over 50 years, NCC has professed the need for stronger gun laws in this country to protect lives. The time for action is now. We cannot make any more excuses, because each day that we do, more lives are lost.”

“I stand firmly with the vast majority of Americans who are demanding an end to gun violence and the passage of legislation that requires greater screening, longer waiting periods for background checks, and the elimination of rapid fire guns,” stated John Dorhauer, general minister and president of the United Church of Christ and chair of the NCC Governing Board. “While I do pray for the families whose loved ones were killed, those prayers mean little if they are not backed up with action and legislation that mitigate against the escalation of these domestic acts of terror and mass murder.”

Find this NCC statement online at https://nationalcouncilofchurches.us/statement-on-senseless-deaths-due-to-the-lack-of-gun-laws.


2) COVID emergency grants for church workers are extended again

A release from Brethren Benefit Trust

When the pandemic hit the US in full force in March 2020, it quickly became apparent to some that financial pressures were impacting a group of pastors and church, district, and camp employees. Brethren Benefit Trust (BBT) was one entity that quickly realized the need.

“Our customer service representatives started receiving calls by those who almost overnight found themselves in financial difficulty, for any number of reasons,” said Nevin Dulabaum, BBT president. “Our Employee Benefits team approached me with the message that we should address this need, and so we quickly assessed our options, and in the matter of a few days created the COVID-19 emergency relief grant program.”

The Church Workers’ Assistance Plan was created as an Annual Conference directive, which in 1998 asked BBT to serve as administrator of the benevolence program. Funds contributed by the churches, districts, and camps provide financial support grants to church workers in dire financial need. BBT distributes the grants through an application system that is cared for by BBT staff.

In 2020, the Church Workers’ Assistance Plan program provided $290,000 in grants to 45 people. However, once the pandemic hit, it was immediately obvious that the need for assistance might escalate.

BBT set aside a block of funds for a special COVID-19 Emergency Grant program; got a separate, streamlined application up and running; and put the word out. Working in conjunction with the district executives, the first round of grants became available on March 20, 2020, and applications were accepted for four months.

As the district executives let BBT know how helpful this grant money was and expressed worry that the need was going to continue, BBT responded by opening up additional grant funds, in four-month blocks, three more times since then.

The next round of grants begins April 1 and runs through the end of July 2021.

“In meeting with the district executives early this year, BBT heard their strong support for extending the COVID-19 grants through the end of 2021,” Dulabaum said. “BBT will consider doing so, based on how quickly the country recovers from the pandemic as the vaccination of Americans continues,” he added.

It is important to maintain strict privacy guidelines for our grant recipients, but we can share that of the 94 COVID-19 grants awarded so far, 76 have been distributed to church employees, and 14 have been distributed to camp employees.

Please visit the BBT website, www.cobbt.org, for more information and the grant application form.


3) Manchester University launches two nursing programs

By Anne Gregory

Manchester University based in North Manchester, Ind., is building on its longstanding reputation for excellence in the health sciences to launch two nursing programs.

It is accepting applications for:

Accelerated BSN Second Degree, an accelerated program for those who already have a bachelor’s degree in another field and want to pursue a bachelor’s degree in nursing. The BSN Second Degree track is a fulltime, 16-month program at Manchester’s Fort Wayne, Ind., campus. It offers students an immersive nursing education to quickly meet the increasing demand for health care professionals.

Traditional BSN, a four-year program for recent high school graduates seeking a bachelor of science in nursing. Traditional BSN nursing students start with two years at the North Manchester campus before moving on to more advanced work at the Fort Wayne campus.

Nursing classes begin this fall 2021. Graduates will be eligible to take the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN), required to become licensed as a registered nurse.

“Nursing is a natural extension of Manchester’s historic strengths in health sciences, from undergraduate preparation for medical, dental, and optometry doctoral programs, as well as Manchester University’s own Doctor of Pharmacy Program,” said university president Dave McFadden. “Manchester’s longstanding reputation for excellence in the health sciences and its foundation in the liberal arts will assure that Manchester University nursing graduates are well-rounded health care professionals, ready to provide ethical, evidence-based and compassionate care.”

Lea Johnson joined Manchester in 2018 as vice president for health science initiatives to plan, develop, and launch nursing and other programs to help Manchester advance its mission to “graduate persons of ability and conviction who draw upon their education and faith to lead principled, productive and compassionate lives that improve the human condition.”

Hired in 2019, Beth Schultz is founding director of the nursing program. “When you graduate from a Manchester nursing program, you’ll be equipped as a highly skilled and caring professional. Our faculty will foster an appreciation for the greater good and provide the know-how to ensure positive outcomes for patients, their families and communities,” Schultz said.

Manchester nursing education is distinctive:
— It focuses on both rural and urban health.
— It incorporates a strong interdisciplinary learning model.
— It is infused with liberal arts competencies such as communication, conflict resolution, critical thinking, cultural sensitivity, service, collaboration, and leadership.

Service learning is an integral component, giving students opportunities to grow professionally and personally. Manchester University nursing students will take part in a wide variety of clinical experiences, including specialized care facilities, regional hospitals, and community-centered clinics.

Even the classrooms will be experiential, incorporating the latest in virtual technologies, such as the zSpace augmented and virtual reality learning platform; the Sentinel City learning platform that focuses on community and population health; and the Anatomage 3D anatomy simulator.

“Although the teaching tools are advanced, Manchester nursing programs are built on a strong set of values that include a deep commitment to integrity, a respect for the infinite worth of every individual and a goal to serve others,” Johnson said.

More information can be found at www.manchester.edu/nursing.

Anne Gregory works in media relations and the Office of Strategic Communications for Manchester University. Find this release online at www.manchester.edu/about-manchester/news/news-articles/2021-news-articles/manchester-launches-two-nursing-programs.


4) Bridgewater College announces the Bonnie Forrer and John Harvey Rhodes School of Arts and Humanities

By Mary Kay Heatwole

Bridgewater (Va.) College is pleased to announce the establishment of the Bonnie Forrer and John Harvey Rhodes School of Arts and Humanities. The Rhodes School will combine the college’s existing Division of Communication Studies, Fine Arts, and Literature with the current Division of Humanities and Social Sciences to create the college’s first endowed, named school.

The result of a $5 million gift from Bonnie (’62) and the late John Rhodes, the creation of the Rhodes School recognizes the central role the arts and humanities play in Bridgewater’s liberal arts mission to educate the whole person and graduate engaged citizens. The endowed fund will support greater opportunities for student success as well as a strengthened faculty of teachers, scholars, and mentors. The Rhodes’s gift will directly impact faculty development, improvements to classroom teaching, expanded opportunities for student-faculty scholarship, and stronger competitive positioning for external funding.

“We are humbled by John and Bonnie’s generosity and their belief in the transformative power of a liberal arts education. Strengthening our academic programs through endowed funding support is a key piece of the college’s Strategic Plan 2025, and we are grateful for the Rhodes’s partnership as we work toward our vision for the future of Bridgewater College,” said Bridgewater president David W. Bushman. “The Rhodeses committed to this extraordinary gift just prior to John’s recent passing, and we will work tirelessly to honor his greatest wishes in perpetuity, elevating the quality of a Bridgewater education as a result of John and Bonnie’s visionary support.”

The funds from this transformative gift will enhance faculty development; strengthen investment in equipment, digital resources, specialized software, and computer hardware to support teaching and learning in lectures and studios; provide more opportunities for student research and conference travel; establish a new pre-tenure sabbatical program; and establish an endowed chair for the school.

“This is a pivotal moment for Bridgewater College,” said provost and vice president for Academic Affairs Leona A. Sevick. “A gift of this magnitude enables us to implement programs and practices typically seen at the very best and most well-respected institutions. It provides us with meaningful resources to benefit student learning and success as well as faculty development.”

“John’s world was that of business and finance. I grew up on a farm, and as a child I read voraciously, listened to classical music, and tuned into Texaco Metropolitan Opera on the radio every Saturday. This, along with my entire educational experience at Bridgewater College, helped me understand how the whole world was connected,” said Bonnie Rhodes. “As a couple, our lives were so much richer because of our passion for literature, art, music, and culture. In fact, the last present from John to me was attending the 10 best symphonies in the US. I know John was proud, and I’m so pleased, to be part of broadening students’ horizons through Bridgewater College’s Rhodes School of Arts and Humanities.”

Bonnie Rhodes is a dedicated member of the Bridgewater College Board of Trustees. She and her late husband, John, are the primary benefactors of the college’s John Kenny Forrer Learning Commons, a tribute to Bonnie’s father.

— Mary Kay Heatwole is media relations assistant in the Office of Marketing and Communications at Bridgewater College.


UPCOMING EVENTS

5) National Youth Sunday invites youth to lead in worship, theme acknowledges their pandemic struggle

By Becky Ullom Naugle

National Youth Sunday is in early May and provides congregations the chance to experience and celebrate the faith and creativity of their youth within the context of worship. In other words, it’s a chance for youth to “take over” worship from the adults, offering their own perspectives and leadership in many forms.

This year’s theme, “…lonely and afflicted,” is from Psalm 25:15-17. Here are the words from the NRSV: “My eyes are ever toward the Lord, for he will pluck my feet out of the net. Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. Relieve the troubles of my heart, and bring me out of my distress.”

This year has been tough for many people, and perhaps especially for youth. Identity formation is a key developmental task for teenagers, and a key part of identity formation is peer interaction. What does it mean that teens, who struggled with increasing isolation in the morass of technology before the pandemic, were practically confined within that same morass for all forms of education and social interaction during the pandemic?

We don’t really know how the pandemic will affect today’s teenagers in the long term. Anecdotally, we know rates of depression and anxiety are up. Even before the pandemic, we knew that suicide rates were rising and alarmingly high for young people.

It’s easy to scoff at teenage angst, but it is real and devastating. Intellectually mature enough to see and understand how messed up the world can be, but without much practice navigating through profound change, teenagers have been challenged in ways difficult to understand for many non-teenagers.

I hesitated with this National Youth Sunday theme because I didn’t want youth to feel pressured or exposed. It is unfair to ask youth to be brave in ways that adults aren’t willing to be brave themselves. Too often youth feel pressure to put on their best Sunday school smile when they offer leadership in their congregation.

Yet more than ever, I hope youth feel empowered to be honest and vulnerable about where they find themselves these days. One of the blessings of being part of a faith community is realizing where our own individual experience overlaps with universal experience. Who among us does not catch our breath a little when hearing the plea, “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted?”

All of us have felt lonely and afflicted within the last year–even if in different ways, and at different times, and to different degrees. How does God reach out to us when we are lonely and afflicted? How is the Holy Spirit going to move when the youth of a congregation ask that question and lead the conversation in worship?

As your congregation celebrates National Youth Sunday, or simply as you encounter teenagers in your daily life, remember to behold youth with an extra measure of compassion.

Worship resources will be available by April 1 at www.brethren.org/yya/national-youth-sunday.

A recommended video resource is titled “Numb,” a powerful, four-minute video produced by a Canadian 9th grader named Liv McNeil. She created it for a school project, alluding to the experiences of isolation that many teens have experienced as a result of COVID-19. Find it at https://youtu.be/iSkbd6hRkXo.

— Becky Ullom Naugle is director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries for the Church of the Brethren.


6) Gather with the Dunker Punks for a virtual love feast

A Dunker Punks release

With Holy Week around the corner, the Dunker Punks team is finalizing another Virtual Love Feast service for the beloved community.

Motivated to support the denomination in a time when many churches are still not hosting in‐person services, the Dunker Punks invite everyone to come together digitally to renew our commitment to follow Jesus’ example of love.

The Dunker Punks Virtual Love Feast webpage is www.virtuallovefeast.com.

Since love feast in person is made up of simple, meaningful acts recreating the night of the Last Supper, the Virtual Love Feast simply recreates those symbols by gathering voices from across the country to speak them into the ears of every sister, brother, and sibling who tunes in.

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 each person may feel called, while still doing discipleship together.

There are two ways to be a part of this year’s Virtual Love Feast community: 1. gather your congregation to listen together and 2. send in a video recording of your voice.

1. The Dunker Punks Podcast is about young people starting important, faithful conversations. If you are a pastor or worship planner, consider bringing your congregation together around this virtual offering and adding in a time of response after watching it together. For example, set a Zoom (or your preferred online meeting space) for Thursday evening. Share your screen to watch Virtual Love Feast together and then stay together for a time of discussion. You will find links to the YouTube version and audio version at www.virtuallovefeast.com. Email dpp@arlingtoncob.org to receive a download of the show file to play directly, an order of service for the viewing, a list of discussion prompts, and a closing prayer to guide the concluding conversation.

2. There’s still time to be on the show and help lead the service! 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! Grab your phone or sit down at your computer and respond to one of the following questions. Record a video of your 30-second or so reflection and upload it to http://bit.ly/DPP_DropBox4LoveFeast by the end of the day on Sunday, March 28.

— When have you been shown great love?
— Where have you seen great acts of service?
— How have you experienced humility?

The Dunker Punks team prays that you have a meaningful Holy Week, a beautiful Easter, and that our Virtual Love Feast is a significant opportunity for you to connect with others and focus this season on Jesus’ way of servant love.


7) Pacific Southwest District offers online love feast

The Church of the Brethren’s Pacific Southwest District is offering an online love feast service on Maundy Thursday, April 1, beginning at 6:30 p.m. (Pacific time). Those from around the denomination are welcome to join with others on the district’s YouTube channel as it premiers, or view it later as the service will remain on YouTube through Easter Sunday.

The service will be in both English and Spanish, with captions in the alternate language so that all may participate. Attendees are encouraged to prepare to participate in the service by having ready a bowl of water to touch during the footwashing, a simple snack for the symbolic meal, and bread and juice for communion.

The service includes musical pieces from the La Verne and Principe de Paz congregations, video images of footwashing, and leadership by pastors and youth from around the district.

The district’s YouTube Channel is at www.youtube.com/channel/UC_9v4N-GBE6UCUENoAylf_g. Those viewing at the premier will have the opportunity to chat with one another and share reflections during a few contemplative sharing times during the service.

A table set for love feast. Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

RESOURCES

8) Church of the Brethren Yearbook new web page has downloadable resources

The Church of the Brethren Yearbook is now offering resources that may be downloaded and printed from a new web page at www.brethren.org/yearbook.

The Yearbook is published annually by Brethren Press. It includes statistics as reported by congregations and districts and a denominational directory of districts, congregations, ministers, and more.

The new web page provides instructions and other resources to assist congregations and districts in submitting their annual Yearbook forms, which are a vital way for the denomination to stay connected. Paper copies of the forms have been mailed to each congregation and district.

April 15 is the deadline for congregational forms to be received by the Yearbook office in order for information to be included in the 2021 Yearbook.

Resources now available on the new web page include:

for congregations: Yearbook forms instructions, guidance for reporting worship attendance for 2020, and the Statistical Form as a fillable PDF;

for districts: Yearbook forms instructions (forms due April 5);

published statistical data including the Denominational Five-Year Comparison 2015-2019 and district statistics for 2019.

For questions contact Jim Miner, Yearbook specialist, at 800-323-8039 ext. 320 or yearbook@brethren.org. Mail completed forms to Yearbook, Church of the Brethren, 1451 Dundee Ave., Elgin, IL 60120.

Purchase the 2020 Yearbook as a downloadable pdf at www.brethrenpress.com/SearchResults.asp?Cat=70.


9) New Vacation Bible School curriculum invites children to ‘Come to the Table’

“When you eat with Jesus, anything can happen!” said an announcement of the new “Come to the Table” Vacation Bible School from Shine, the Sunday school curriculum jointly produced by Brethren Press and MennoMedia.

The new Vacation Bible School curriculum is an interactive VBS “where children learn that everyone is welcome at God’s table,” said the announcement. The five Bible stories in this curriculum explore Jesus’ teachings and interactions with people from the Gospels of Luke and John. Through worship and drama, Bible study, art projects, and active games, “children are welcomed to taste and share at God’s table, where there is always enough!”

The Come to the Table VBS Starter Kit comes with everything needed to implement an engaging, Bible-based VBS program, no matter your setting. This boxed kit costs $179.99. Kit contents also may be purchased separately. Go to www.brethrenpress.com/SearchResults.asp?Cat=80.


REFLECTION

10) Taking nature Black

By Susu Lassa

I had the opportunity to attend the 2021 Taking Nature Black Virtual Conference, which took place from Feb. 23 to Feb. 27. It was put on by the Audubon Naturalist Society as a Black history month celebration, with the theme being “Call and Response: Elevating Our Stories, Naturally.”

Between classes this semester and work obligations, I was able to attend at least one panel a day. The panels I attended were “Living On and Off the Land; The Politics of the Environment”; “Breaking Decolonization’s Hold on the Environment”; and “Minding the Gap: Cultivating the Next Generation of Diverse Agricultural and EJ Activists.” I intend to share some of my outtakes from these panels in this blog post, and I hope that the insights gleaned from this experience will foster a nuanced understanding of the experience of Black people in nature and ecological justice spaces.

How is the understanding of Black people in nature framed?

As this conference was intended as a space for healing, learning, dialogue, and organizing, an understanding of how the issue of Black people in ecological and ecological justice (EJ) spaces is framed is essential to this endeavor. The issue is usually framed as “Black people are not in nature because they do not like nature/don’t want to be in nature.” However, the issue actually includes the centering of whiteness as normative or even aspirational and the reception of Black people in these spaces, as well as the very real history of racism and segregation that deters Black people from feeling safe in urban park and agricultural spaces.

To that second point, I know the tangible hesitation that I personally felt being in public lands and parks in Washington, D.C., after participating in the protests at the White House following the murder of George Floyd and various other people at the hands of the police. Seeing the highly militarized park police in riot gear brutalizing people and recognizing that such a militarized presence is present in public parks around the city and country made me wary of utilizing those spaces, and I do not think that I am alone in this sentiment.

What then is the experience of Black people in nature and in ecological justice spaces?

During the “Living On and Off the Land” panel, which was a conversation engaging Black farmers, the biggest issue experienced by Black people engaging with urban agriculture is access to land, there not being enough land to feed entire communities. Throw in issues of soil quality in predominantly Black communities, and the issue gains more nuance. Militarized public spaces, issues around access to public lands, and hesitation to engage due to the legacy of slavery are also reasons that can help us develop an understanding of the experience of Black people in nature.

During the “Breaking Decolonization’s Hold on the Environment” panel, the issue of “diversity and inclusion” in ecological/ecological justice spaces came up, illumining an aversion to encouraging Black people–collapsed into “diversity”–into these white-centric spaces, when focus and effort should be geared towards interrogating the ownership of these spaces that see Black people as having to be “invited-in.” Thus, this perception of Black people as “diversity” and not as stakeholders in these spaces forces Black people to pull back and invest in movements that do not pigeonhole them.

How and why is the environment political?

The environment is political by virtue of the inequitable nature of land use. Thus, the salient interest is proprietorship, and politics in an adversarial context elevates economic gain and profit at the expense of the environment. It is key to remember that the health and wellbeing of the environment is a political fight in a political space because it is less about the land itself and more about wealth.

Knowing what we know, how can we move forward?

A good first step would be encouraging a reorientation of minds from a consumption mindset to a mindset that encourages growth for both the land and the people. This insight was shared by a Black farmer in the south with the aim of shedding the reputation of sharecroppers imposed on black landowners and farmworkers in the south.

A second step is to encourage an understanding of public land as a necessary component of Black healthy living. We can also find and support individual efforts geared at urban agriculture–if you live in an urban setting–as there is funding available for agricultural communities that are disbursed by NGOs, which do not often trickle down to these efforts.

What can we do politically?

We should encourage and emphasize the interconnected nature of land stewardship issues taking place in various communities nationwide based on geographical location, while understanding that there is no one fix. We should also tie urban agriculture to bigger initiatives of the Biden administration’s climate initiatives, i.e. growing food near to communities, which cuts down on carbon emissions. Lastly, we should make sure to always connect domestic ecological justice work to global issues. In the words of one of the panelists, “We can’t play whack-a-mole with these issues, as solutions pop-up here and more issues there.”

What can we do educationally?

We should encourage environmental literacy, especially in young people of color as young people live at the forefront of civil rights and social justice spaces. By providing youth with the tools for advocacy and empowerment regarding ecological justice issues, we will be able to utilize this current time in history and mobilize young people around ecological justice issues and natural science/agriculture fields.

During the “Minding the Gap: Cultivating the Next Generation of Diverse Agricultural and Ecological Justice Activists” panel, I learned that some of the barriers to underrepresented youth pursuing natural science and agricultural fields include a deep stigma related to environmental/agricultural fields due to the history of racism, as well as a misunderstanding of the diversity of careers in these fields and a lack of representation (seeing people who look like they do). Thus, by creating channels for kids to foster relationships with people in these fields and nurturing the sense of agency and efficacy in young people, youth will be enabled to know their worth and value in community spaces addressing these issues and have the confidence to take on roadblocks.

In parting, those of us in ecological justice movement spaces and organizations must understand that it is not about being Black in movements, it is about changing the norm that centers and elevates whiteness in these spaces so that everyone can bring their talents and skills, regardless of social location. Because, in the words of Ella Baker, contact with all people, if you are interested in people, can be valuable.

Susu Lassa is a former Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS) worker at the Church of the Brethren Office of Peacebuilding and Policy, presently studying at Bethany Theological Seminary with a focus on ecological justice.


11) Brethren bits

Brethren Disaster Ministries is announcing a new program from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that will be rolling out in April to help assist individuals with funeral costs for those who have died from COVID-19. Families struggling to pay for funerals of loved ones who experienced COVID-19 related deaths in the United States after Jan. 20, 2020, and meet eligibility requirements will be able to apply. An official death certificate will be required that attributes the death to COVID-19 or indicates the death may have been caused by or was likely the result of COVID-19 or COVID-like symptoms. Eligible funeral expenses are capped at $9,000 per applicant, and must not have been reimbursed through another source. Brethren Disaster Ministries will be sharing more information soon about the program.

Church of the Brethren general secretary David Steele and staff of the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy have signed on to letters calling for the President to sign a revised refugee admissions goal for fiscal year 2021 and restore refugee allocation numbers.

An interfaith letter organized by Church World Service (CWS) was sent to President Biden on March 18, expressing concern over the cancellation of flights into the US that were to carry refugees seeking asylum, and calling for revised refugee admissions goals and restoration of refugee allocations based on vulnerability and need. CWS has a program for refugee resettlement. “We are deeply concerned about the 200-plus canceled flights and the plan to cancel even more flights this month,” the letter said, in part. “It is important to note that not only are refugee families anxious to be reunified, but also a lot of resettlement sites have already secured housing and set up welcome teams for arrivals that have been assured and booked for travel. Urgently signing the new refugee admissions goal will prevent the cancellation of travel for hundreds of refugees scheduled to arrive over the coming weeks, honor your promise to protect refugee families, and reverse much of the damage done to the resettlement program under the previous administration. We are called by our sacred texts and faith principles to love our neighbor, accompany the vulnerable, and welcome the sojourner. Our congregations, synagogues, and mosques have historically played key roles in assisting refugees.”

The full archive of past issues of Messenger, the Church of the Brethren denominational magazine, is now online. Available to the general public are Messenger issues from 2000-2019 at www.brethren.org/messenger/archive, where there also is a link to access the issues of Gospel Messenger and Messenger from 1883-2000 that are saved in the Brethren Digital Archives. The most recent two years of the magazine–currently 2020 and 2021–are reserved for subscribers to the print magazine, who receive a password to access those digital copies. For questions contact cobweb@brethren.org.

A letter to the President organized by the Refugee Council USA and signed by more than 200 national, state, and local organizations including religious and humanitarian groups was sent March 24. “We are deeply concerned that the FY21 refugee admissions goal has not yet been signed and that the previous administration’s restrictive allocations have not been lifted,” the letter said, in part. “This delay has caused serious harm, including the cancellation of more than 700 flights this month alone and fewer monthly refugee arrivals today than last year under the previous administration. We urge you to immediately sign a new, revised FY21 refugee admissions goal of 62,500 and restore regional allocations based on vulnerability and need…. We know our nation has strong refugee laws that provide for asylum for refugees seeking protection from persecution, as well as a strong refugee resettlement program, which have existed and operated in tandem for decades. Refugees are powerful ambassadors of our founding principles of equal opportunity, religious freedom, and liberty and justice for all. Refugees contribute greatly to the United States in ordinary times, and have continued to show up for their new communities during the COVID-19 crisis, with many working on the frontlines of the pandemic, including 176,000 refugees serving in the healthcare field and 175,000 working as part of the food supply chain. Our experiences working alongside refugees mirror the statistics that demonstrate that refugees bring tangible benefits to U.S. communities by starting businesses, becoming homeowners, revitalizing local economies, and becoming civic leaders.” The letter noted that March 17, 2021 was the 41st anniversary of the signing of the bipartisan Refugee Act of 1980, landmark legislation establishing the US refugee resettlement program.

Staff of the Church of the Brethren Material Resources program loaded two shipments this week on behalf of Brothers Brother Foundation. The program warehouses and ships relief materials on behalf of a number of partner organizations, working out of the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Md. A shipment of hospital equipment and 13 pallets of hospital supplies are on their way to be consolidated with other supplies and shipped to Sierra Leone. Another 40-foot container loaded with beds and other equipment is on its way to a hospital in Jamaica.

The latest issue of Bridge, the Church of the Brethren young adult newsletter, is now available online. Features include reflections on the theme of this year’s National Young Adult Conference, “Unfolding Grace,” and introductions of the conference leadership; reflections on life during the pandemic including an interview with nurse Krystal Bellis; an article by Jenna Walmer about STAND, a student-led organization to end mass atrocities; Mylea Evans’ mural for Harrisburg (Pa.) First Church of the Brethren and an article about Alyssa Parker’s role at bcm PEACE in Harrisburg; and more. Find the newsletter at https://issuu.com/brethrenyya/docs/bridge-spring2021.final.

An action alert from the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy calls Brethren to contact their senators in support of the Justice for Black Farmers Act. “For nearly a century, racial discrimination in agriculture, exclusion from federal relief programs, and laws that preyed upon the economically disadvantaged have slashed the number of Black farmers in America from the nearly one million who farmed in 1920 to fewer than 50,000 today,” the alert said, in part. Citing the 1991 Annual Conference Report of Committee on Brethren and Black Americans, the alert explained that “by supporting the Justice for Black Farmers Act, you are advocating for an independent board to review appeals of civil rights complaints filed against the USDA, investigate complaints of discrimination within the department, and oversee the farmer-elected county committees that guide operations at local USDA offices. It also would increase funding for a USDA program to resolve the ‘heirs property’ issue of land passed from one generation of a family to another without a clear title. A new Equitable Land Access Service would issue land grants of 160 acres apiece to up to 20,000 experienced Black farmers annually through 2030.” Find the full action alert at https://mailchi.mp/brethren.org/justice-for-black-farmers?e=df09813496.

A Good Friday Tenebrae Service of Shadows is available in video format, originally prepared for Good Friday 2020. In this moving video of a “Service of Shadows” viewers participate in a Tenebrae service modeled after one that has been a tradition for Creekside Church of the Brethren in Indiana. “Hear Good Friday scriptures read as candles go out, leaving us in the darkness that (for a time) follows the crucifixion of Jesus,” said an invitation. “This simple, meditative piece can be appreciated by both congregations and individuals.” Created by a team led by Creekside pastor Rosanna Eller McFadden, the video is published by Brethren Press. Find it at www.brethren.org/tenebrae.

The Meat Canning Committee has announced in the Southern Pennsylvania District newsletter that the annual meat canning has been canceled for this year after not enough volunteers signed up to cover all the needed shifts. “The committee is aware of the immense local and global need, therefore the committee has decided to use the funds that have been donated to purchase canned meat for distribution,” the announcement said. “Thank you to the congregations and individual that made sacrificial donations and for each volunteer’s willingness to serve!”

“Help pass the Federal Death Penalty Prohibition Act of 2021 in the first 100 days of the Biden administration,” said this week’s newsletter from the Church of the Brethren’s Death Row Support Project. The bill has been introduced by Rep. Ayanna Pressley in collaboration with Sen. Dick Durbin, who has introduced a companion bill in the Senate. “Everyone who wants to abolish the death penalty is asked to help ensure your members of Congress sign on to the bill as co-sponsors, or at least commit to supporting it when it comes up for a vote,” the announcement said. Find out more about the Death Row Support Project at www.brethren.org/drsp.

“All children of God, all siblings in Christ have gifts to share with the world,” said an announcement of the next podcast from Dunker Punks. “How are we as Brethren failing to practice what we preach as we hold prejudices and prevent others from spiritual growth and leadership? In this intimate episode, Gabe Padilla shares with us stories from his life and transitioning from Catholicism to Anabaptism and from female to male.” Listen at bit.ly/DPP_Episode111 and subscribe to the podcast at bit.ly/DPP_iTunes.

“With pointed urgency, faiths rise for climate justice,” said a release from the World Council of Churches. The WCC has joined grassroots religious activists and high-level faith leaders in a statement that issues 10 demands and condemns inadequate progress by governments and financial institutions. An event on March 11 included more than 400 grassroots religious actions in 43 countries and thousands of people of faith calling on political and financial leaders to meet a series of ambitious climate demands at the COP26 (the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties, which will be held in Glasgow, Scotland, on Nov. 1-12, 2021). Said the WCC release: “The statement calls on governments and banks immediately to end their support for new fossil fuel infrastructure and tropical deforestation, to commit to universal access to clean and affordable energy, to enact policies creating green jobs and a just transition for impacted workers and communities, to secure policies and funding supporting those forced to migrate due to climate impacts, and more. Members of the Greenfaith International Network noted that as the COVID-19 pandemic has cost millions of people their jobs and their health, the fossil fuel industry has secured billions of dollars of emergency bailout funding while lobbying to weaken climate and environmental protections. In addition, during the past year in Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Indonesia, home to the world’s largest tropical rainforests, governments have actually made it easier for agribusinesses to accelerate logging.” Find the full statement at https://actionnetwork.org/forms/sacred-people-sacred-earth-sign-the-multi-faith-climate-statement.

The United Nations is warning that more than 30 million people around the world are just “one step away from starvation.” In an article about the warning from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Program, the Guardian newspaper reported that contributing to the rise in hunger worldwide are the pandemic, climate crisis, conflict situations, and plagues of locusts. Starvation already is being reported in areas of Yemen and South Sudan, the report said, and those two locations plus northern Nigeria top the list of areas facing catastrophic levels of acute hunger. Most of the places most at risk are in Africa but others are across the globe in Afghanistan, Syria, Lebanon, Haiti, and elsewhere. Find the FAO report at www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/1382490/icode. Find the Guardian article at www.theguardian.com/global-development/2021/mar/24/over-30-million-people-one-step-away-from-starvation-un-warns.


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 Jean Bednar, Jacob Crouse, James Deaton, Jenn Dorsch-Messler, Nevin Dulabaum, Jan Fischer Bachman, Anne Gregory, Mary Kay Heatwole, Nathan Hosler, Susu Lassa, Suzanne Lay, Russ Matteson, Jim Miner, Zakariya Musa, Becky Ullom Naugle, Matt Rittle, Roy Winter, Loretta Wolf, Naomi Yilma, 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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