Brethren bits for Jan. 7, 2022

– Remembrance: Steve Van Houten, a former coordinator of the Church of the Brethren’s Workcamp Ministry and a longtime volunteer leader at the denomination’s National Youth Conference (NYC), died unexpectedly at his home in Plymouth, Ind., on Jan. 1–his 66th birthday–following a brief illness. Born on Jan. 1, 1956, in Columbia City, Ind., he was the son of the late Dale O. and Doris (Zumbrun) Van Houten. He earned a degree in biochemistry from Manchester College (now Manchester University) and a master of divinity from Bethany Theological Seminary. On Sept. 13, 1980, he married Lisa Ann Drager. After graduating from seminary, the couple made their home in Elgin, Ill. They then moved to Cloverdale, Va., where he served as pastor of Cloverdale Church of the Brethren for 12 years. He also pastored Akron-Springfield (Ohio) Church of the Brethren for 11 years. In 2006, he moved back to the area of Plymouth to pastor Pine Creek Church of the Brethren, retiring in 2019. He was employed as coordinator for workcamps from July 2006 through Jan. 2008 and again as interim coordinator in 2019, after retirement. As a frequent volunteer for Church of the Brethren events and programs, he served as the NYC dean for numerous years, provided onsite assistance each year at Annual Conference, worked onsite at National Older Adult Conference, and also led workcamps as a volunteer. He loved sports and played three World Champion Fastpitch Softball tournaments as the catcher. He is survived by his wife, Lisa; children Josh (Karyn) Van Houten and Erin Van Houten, both of Plymouth; and grandchildren. Memorial gifts are received to Columbia City Church of the Brethren. Condolences may be sent to A memorial service was held on Friday, Jan. 7, at Columbia City (Ind.) Church of the Brethren. The service was to be recorded and made available on the church’s Facebook page at Find a full obituary at

— Remembrance: Larry L. Ditmars, 68, a longterm volunteer project leader for Brethren Disaster Ministries, died on Dec. 22 at his home in Washington, Kan., after a brief illness. He was born Sept. 11, 1953, in Belleville, Kan., to Lloyd and Catharine “Kay” (Dilling) Ditmars. On Nov. 8, 1980, he married Diane Zimbelmann. He was a jack of all trades and spent time working as a farmer, truck driver, bus driver, handyman, mechanic, and as a pastor. He also was an avid amateur photographer and volunteered as a camp counselor. He first served as a project leader for Brethren Disaster Ministries during the program’s response to a church burning in Orangeburg, S.C., in 1997. He served in that capacity 14 times over the years, with the last being in 2017 in Eureka, Mo. Most recently, he aided in the Brethren Disaster Ministries planning for a two-week, short-term response in King Lake, Neb., this past October. He is survived by his wife, Diane, and siblings, nieces, and nephews. A private family graveside service was held at Brethren Cemetery in Washington, Kan. A memorial fund is established and will be designated later. Contributions may be sent in care of Ward Funeral Home, Washington, Kan. Find a full obituary at

Gifts to the Church of the Brethren Global Mission office helped to fund a Christmas program at Cavalry Life Church in Uganda, report Global Mission co-executives Eric Miller and Ruoxia Li. Global Mission contributed $1,000 toward the $1,500 cost. Wrote Bwambale Sedrak: “This Christmas, we have again thought of doing a Christmas celebration for the orphans who are cared for by the Church of the Brethren in Uganda. The plan is for them to have a special Christmas service, a delicious meal, sing, and dance together. This year’s Christmas celebrations will be combined with our denominational Annual Youth Conference, which is designed to equip and inspire the youth of our church to share their faith.”

— The Brethren Historical Library and Archives is offering a Facebook Live event titled “Brethren Service Committee, Part 2” on Tuesday, Jan. 11. Said an announcement: “In part one of this two-part series, we covered the BSC and the many people that played roles in this program. Part two will cover a few of the many programs that made BSC and the service branch of the Church of the Brethren what it is and established a tradition of service our church holds so dear. We will include such programs as Civilian Public Service, workcamps, and Heifer International. (Brethren Volunteer Service is also one of the programs but that will be receiving it’s own Archives Live at a later date).” Go to

Messenger Radio is sharing a podcast featuring Frank Ramirez reading his “Potluck” piece from the January/February 2022 issue of Messenger magazine titled “That’s Our Church.” Listen in at

— The Association for the Arts in the Church of the Brethren is requesting quilt squares from Church of the Brethren congregations in order to construct quilts and wall hangings at the 2022 Annual Conference. Each year, these items are auctioned to raise money for hunger projects. Each church is encouraged to create an 8 1/2 inch square quilt block and send it in by May 15, along with a $1 or more donation to offset the costs of quilting materials. Quilt tops will be assembled before the Conference. Blocks must be made from pre-shrunk cotton or cotton blend, and if used, only water-soluble, very soft, or easily removed backing. Double knit fabrics, counted cross-stitch on canvas, liquid embroidery, padded blocks, or heat-applied designs or photos and glue should not be used. Use your own creativity to make your pattern design. Blocks should be cut to size after being pieced, embroidered, or appliquéd, and include the congregation’s name, state, and district. This information makes the quilts more valuable. Mail to AACB, c/o Margaret Weybright, 1801 Greencroft Blvd. Apt. #125, Goshen, IN 46526.

— The Virlina District Race Education Team has announced its next “Necessary Conversations” event planned for Sunday, Feb. 20, at 7 p.m. Don Mitchell and Eric Anspaugh will be interviewed about their Sankofa Journey in Oct. 2021. “Sankofa is a ‘Journey Toward Racial Righteousness,’” said the announcement. “Sankofa is a word from the Akan tribe in Ghana. It means San (to return), ko (to go), fa (to fetch, seek, and take). Sankofa attests that we must look backward (into our history), before we can faithfully move forward together, in the present and future. The Sankofa experience does just this, by exploring historic sites of the Civil Rights Movement, connecting the freedom struggle of the past to our present realities. Sankofa invites the church to understand racial righteousness as a critical component of our Christian discipleship. This immersive discipleship pilgrimage equips believers to participate in the kingdom mosaic and pursue biblical justice. Sankofa empowers participants to become ambassadors of reconciliation inside and outside the church.”

– Northern Plains District has announced Jesus in the Neighborhood Grants through its Witness Commission. Reported Dave Kerkove in the district newsletter: “The Northern Plains District Board voted unanimously at our fall meeting to offer $500 ‘Jesus in the Neighborhood’ grants to the congregations, fellowships, and projects of the Northern Plains District. Grants must be used for a ‘Jesus in the Neighborhood’ event, project, or activity in 2022.”

The district’s Witness Commission also is purchasing a copy of the new children’s book from Brethren Press, Maria’s Kit of Comfort written by Kathy Fry-Miller and David Doudt and illustrated by Kate Cosgrove, for every congregation, fellowship, and new church project in the district. The book tells the story of Children’s Disaster Services’ kit of comfort used in caring for young children affected by disasters–from a child’s point of view. Find out more about the book at

— Manchester University president Dave McFadden in November 2021 announced a board decision to raze the Administration Building on the university campus in North Manchester, Ind. A service at noon on Jan. 21 is planned to honor the legacy of the Administration Building. The event will take place in Petersime Chapel. After the 30-minute service, those in attendance will have the opportunity to walk over to the building together. Find a release at

— The Brethren Voices episode for January 2022 presents a featured performer of the annual Song and Story Fest family camp. Mike Stern, in concert, performs songs from his album and song book titled “Stand Up!” Stern is a Church of the Brethren folksinger and songwriter from Seattle, Wash., who recently retired from a long career as a family nurse practitioner and research clinician with a focus on vaccine development for preventable diseases. The episode includes some of Stern’s songs performed at a benefit for the World Friendship Center of Hiroshima, Japan. Bill Jolliff, also a frequent performer at the Song and Story Fest, provides accompaniment on guitar and banjo. Find this episode of Brethren Voices and many more posted on the show’s YouTube channel.

– The National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC) issued a statement in memory of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu this week. “We remember his strong spiritual witness and leadership in the long struggle against apartheid which he approached with humility, passion, and a fervent love for God’s people,” the remembrance said. “We hold dear his affection, compassion, kindness, and sense of humor, which helped to sustain him in the fight to end apartheid and throughout his life. We are thankful for his strong ecumenical commitment. His life’s work unified the church in the fight for racial justice. We remember his work with the World Council of Churches in Geneva from 1972-1975, and, during a crucial and dangerous time of the anti-apartheid campaign in South Africa, his service as the general secretary of the South African Council of Churches from 1978 to 1985. During this time, he was recognized with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984. The NCC looked to the South African Council of Churches and Archbishop Tutu for leadership and guidance in the long and difficult struggle to end the racist apartheid regime. The NCC grieves with the Anglican Church, the people of South Africa, and the global village, as we all mourn the loss of one of our great leaders. We are consoled knowing his legacy will continue across generations. May his memory be eternal.”

– The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, held Jan. 18-25 with sponsorship from the World Council of Churches (WCC), will draw together churches across the globe to reflect on the hope and joy in Matthew 2:2, “We saw the star in the East, and we came to worship him.” The Middle East Council of Churches, based in Beirut, Lebanon, convened the event’s drafting group for 2022 that included Christians from Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt, with input from representatives of the WCC and the Roman Catholic Church. Worship reflections “explore how Christians are called to be a sign to the world of God bringing about unity. Drawn from different cultures, races and languages, Christians share in a common search for Christ and a common desire to worship him,” said an announcement. The resources include an ecumenical opening prayer service, biblical reflections and prayers for eight days, and other elements of worship available in English, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and Arabic. Find out more at

— Jay Wittmeyer, a member of Highland Avenue Church of the Brethren in Elgin, Ill., and formerly executive director of Global Mission and Service for the Church of the Brethren, is to be presented the Humanitarian Award at the city of Elgin’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Prayer Breakfast on Jan. 15. For the second year running, the breakfast will be online-only. The award recognizes Wittmeyer’s decade of service to the local Dr. King Food Drive as well as his global engagement in mission, hunger, development, and justice ministries. While a member of the Witness Commission at the Highland Avenue Church, he was instrumental in arranging for the citywide food collections to be deposited, sorted, and boxed at the Church of the Brethren General Offices for distribution to area food pantries. The General Offices has hosted the sorting procedure for the past 10 years, staffed largely by student and youth volunteers (this year the food drive is hosted by Food for Greater Elgin). To find out more about the online event go to


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