Newsline for Jan. 7, 2022

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven…so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose” (Isaiah 55:10-11a).

NEWS
1) Church of the Brethren Yearbook for 2021 includes 2020 statistical information for the denomination

2) Church of the Brethren funds close out year with final grants for 2021

3) Exercising caution during this surge / Actuar con precaución durante este aumento repentino

4) Three brothers killed in two communities attacked in northeastern Nigeria, Nigerian church mourns loss of EYN president’s father

PERSONNEL
5) ‘Bill’s service at OEP’: An On Earth Peace release marking the end of Bill Scheurer’s term in leadership

6) Lauren Bukszar to join Church of the Brethren IT team

UPCOMING EVENTS
7) FaithX registration for summer 2022 events opens next week

8) ‘Pathways for Effective Leadership’ course is offered by SVMC

JESUS IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD: STORIES FROM CONGREGATIONS
9) Midland Church opens its doors as a warming shelter after blizzard

10) Helping Hands Benevolence Fund to the rescue

12) Brethren bits: Remembering Steven Van Houten and Larry Ditmars, Global Mission helps fund a Christmas party in Uganda, the next BHLA Facebook Live event offers a “part 2” on the Brethren Service Committee, and more


A note to readers: We want to update our listing of Churches of the Brethren worship services at www.brethren.org/news/2020/church-of-the-brethren-congregations-worship-online.html. Please send new information to cobnews@brethren.org.


Lifting up Brethren who are active in health care: www.brethren.org/news/2020/brethren-active-in-health-care.html. Add a person to the list by sending first name, county, and state to cobnews@brethren.org.


1) Church of the Brethren Yearbook for 2021 includes 2020 statistical information for the denomination

By Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

Church of the Brethren membership in the United States and Puerto Rico is just over 91,000, according to the most recent statistical report in the 2021 Church of the Brethren Yearbook from Brethren Press. The 2021 Yearbook–published last fall–includes the 2020 statistical report and the 2021 directory for the denomination.

The directory features detailed information about Church of the Brethren structure and leadership including listings of congregations, districts, ministers, and more. The statistical report on membership, worship attendance, giving, and more derives from self-reporting by congregations. Over recent decades, the number of congregations that report has fallen off. The 2020 statistics reflect the reports returned by 481 or 52 percent of the churches in the denomination, which means Yearbook figures are approximate.

The Church of the Brethren Yearbook is published annually as a searchable document in pdf format. The 2021 Yearbook may be purchased for $24.95 at www.brethrenpress.com/SearchResults.asp?Cat=70. The 2021 edition includes the 2021 directory for the denomination and the 2020 statistical report.

Find inspiring stories from Church of the Brethren congregations at www.brethren.org/church/#church-stories.

Denominations that are part of the Global Church of the Brethren Communion outside the US and Puerto Rico are not included in the Yearbook directory or statistical report.

The Church of the Brethren Yearbook is published annually as a searchable document in pdf format. It may be purchased for $24.95 at www.brethrenpress.com/SearchResults.asp?Cat=70.

Statistics from 2020

The Yearbook reported 91,608 members in 24 districts and 915 local worshiping communities (congregations, fellowships, and new church projects) across the Church of the Brethren denomination in 2020. This represents a net loss of 7,072 members over the previous year.

Average worship attendance for the denomination was reported as 30,247.

The number of local worshiping communities in the denomination included 874 congregations, 29 fellowships, and 12 new church projects.

Comparisons over the years

The statistical report includes a comparison over five years, revealing that a decades-long gradual slide in membership is increasing year-on-year:

— In 2016, denominational membership was 111,413, a net loss of 1,225 over 2015.

— In 2017, the net membership loss increased to 2,172.

— In 2018, the net loss more than doubled to 4,813.

— In 2019, the net loss increased to 5,766.

— In 2020, the net loss was 7,072.

To compare total membership over a “baker’s dozen” years, for 2008 the Yearbook reported a total membership of 124,408. In 2008, when the Church of the Brethren celebrated its 300th anniversary, the denomination for the first time since the 1920s recorded a membership total below 125,000. In 2008, 66.2 percent of congregations reported (www.brethren.org/news/2009/newsline-for-june-3-2009).

A comparison of the number of local worshiping communities over five years reveals an annual loss, sharply increased in 2020:

— In 2016, there was a net loss of 6 local worshiping communities over the previous year, for a total of 1,015.

— In 2017, the net loss increased to 16.

— In 2018, the net loss was 5.

— In 2019, there was another net loss of 16.

— In 2020, the net loss was 63.

The loss of local worshiping communities represents those that have become inactive or have been closed by their districts (usually because of insurmountable membership losses or financial difficulties) and those that have left the denomination. While some congregations that left in recent years were influenced by a split-off group, others chose to go independent.

In the last couple of years, the largest losses of congregations have happened in just a few districts with three–Western Pennsylvania, West Marva, and Southeastern–each losing from a dozen to more than 20 congregations.

In 2021, two districts continued to lose numbers of congregations

Two of the 24 districts continued to lose numbers of congregations in 2021, in statistical reporting that will be published in the Church of the Brethren Yearbook for 2022. Typically, closing or leaving congregations are reported to or confirmed by district conferences in the summer or fall and then reported to the Yearbook office, which keeps the official listing of congregations.

West Marva and Western Pennsylvania are the two districts that reported a loss of more than just a few congregations in 2021: 14 congregations closed or left West Marva in 2021, and 9 closed or left Western Pennsylvania in 2021, according to preliminary reports from the Yearbook office. The other 22 districts each reported 3 or fewer congregations closing or leaving in 2021.

More district statistics

Shenandoah District, with 13,253 members, and Atlantic Northeast District, with 10,683 members, were reported as the two largest districts and the only with more than 10,000 members in 2020. Atlantic Northeast reported the largest total worship attendance of 4,348 followed by Shenandoah at 3,922. No other district reported an average worship attendance of more than 3,000.

Of the smaller districts, 6 had a membership of less than 1,000 in 2020: Pacific Northwest with 763 members, Southeastern with 794, Southern Plains with 469, Idaho and Western Montana with 437, Missouri and Arkansas with 343, and Puerto Rico with 339.

— Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford is director of News Services for the Church of the Brethren and associate editor of Messenger magazine. James Miner in the Yearbook Office contributed to this report.


2) Church of the Brethren funds close out year with final grants for 2021

The Church of the Brethren’s Emergency Disaster Fund (EDF), Global Food Initiative Fund (GFI), and Brethren Faith in Action Fund (BFIA) announced final grants for the year 2021. Included were an EDF grant to a humanitarian partner organization in Burundi, a GFI grant to a pig project in Rwanda, and BFIA grants to three congregations and three camps.

An EDF grant of $3,000 was given for repairs to the roof of the Trauma Healing and Reconciliation Services (THARS) training center in Gitega, Burundi, after a powerful storm on Oct. 24, 2021. The roof was badly damaged by the storm, but the building is still structurally sound. THARS is a long-time partner organization of the Church of the Brethren Global Mission and the Global Food Initiative. The repairs will allow THARS to continue programming that provides humanitarian relief.

A GFI grant of $15,270 was given to the Church of the Brethren in Rwanda to support Phase 2, the “passing the gift” phase, of its pig project. Animals from a central farm established in the project’s first year will be given to Batwa families, formerly a hunter-gatherer tribe that continue to be a major outreach focus of the church in Rwanda. Two communal mini barns for the pigs will be built near the villages of Mudende and Kanembwe, one to be used by five families and the other by six families.

A pig-raising project in Rwanda is among the recipients of final grants in 2021 given by Church of the Brethren fund. Photo by Etienne Nsanzimana, courtesy of the Global Food Initiative

Six BFIA grants were given:

— $5,000 to University Park (Md.) Church of the Brethren for the first of a three-phase project to update audio/video capabilities to enhance capacity to offer a hybrid worship service;

— $5,000 to Camp Colorado in Sedalia, Colo., to cover the cost of a survey to establish the property boundary lines of the camp, where maintaining fencing and accurate property lines is an ongoing challenge due to the forested and mountainous terrain (Camp Colorado was granted a waiver of the matching fund requirement);

— $5,000 to Camp Koinonia in Cle Elum, Wash., for the purchase and installation of a new speaker and sound system in the lodge and meeting hall, and outdoor speakers to expand usable space;

— $5,000 to Camp Peaceful Pines in Dardanelle, Calif., for the removal of invasive brush and dead trees from the camp property to comply with Forest Service regulations and insurance company requirements for wildfire risk;

— $5,000 to Whitestone Church of the Brethren in Tonasket, Wash., for materials to construct Corsi-Rosenthal air filtration boxes to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 (the congregation
was granted a waiver of the matching funds requirement);

— $5,000 to Washington (D.C.) City Church of the Brethren for the renovation of unused basement space as an art gallery and meeting rooms. The congregation’s Community Arts Ministry was created to increase the congregation’s capacity to meet its shared vision of “Seeking Justice, Wholeness, and Community through the Gospel of Jesus.”

To support these grants financially, go to www.brethren.org/give.


3) Exercising caution during this surge / Actuar con precaución durante este aumento repentino

By Russ Matteson

The following letter was shared with all of the pastoral leaders in Pacific Southwest District by district executive minister Russ Matteson. The Church of the Brethren’s Office of Ministry provided it for use in Newsline:

Dear pastoral leaders / Queridos líderes pastorales,

Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus in the early days of this new year!
¡Saludos en el nombre de nuestro Señor Jesús en los primeros días de este nuevo año!

As you are aware there is a significant increase in the transmission of COVID coming out of the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. In California the indoor mask mandate for all people in public spaces has been extended until Feb. 15. Arizona and Nevada may also be implementing steps to slow the spread.

Como saben, hay un aumento significativo en la transmisión de COVID a partir de las fiestas de Navidad y Año Nuevo. En California, el mandato de máscaras de interior para todas las personas en espacios públicos se ha extendido hasta el 15 de febrero. Arizona y Nevada también pueden estar implementando medidas para frenar la propagación.

I do think it would be wise for you and your leadership group to consult and determine what steps you should consider for the next few weeks as the virus spread is significant. That may mean making a return to online gatherings, at a minimum mask wearing should be encouraged if not expected. All of this is to work to care for each other and especially for the most vulnerable among us, which include children who may be too young to be masked.

Creo que sería prudente que usted y su grupo de liderazgo consulten y determinen qué pasos deben considerar durante las próximas semanas, ya que la propagación del virus es significativa. Eso puede significar regresar a las reuniones en línea, como mínimo, se debe alentar el uso de una máscara si no se espera. Todo esto es para trabajar para cuidarnos unos a otros y especialmente por los más vulnerables entre nosotros, que incluyen a los niños que pueden ser demasiado pequeños para ser enmascarados.

I know that this is not an easy time to be in pastoral leadership, and not where any of us hoped we would find ourselves related to the pandemic at this point in time. If you would like to connect with me on the situation in your congregation, please call me or send an email asking me to connect with you.

Sé que este no es un momento fácil para estar en el liderazgo pastoral, y no donde ninguno de nosotros esperaba encontrarnos relacionados con la pandemia en este momento. Si desea comunicarse conmigo sobre la situación en su congregación, por favor llámeme o envíe un correo electrónico pidiéndome que me comunique con usted.

Pace e bene, Paz y bien, Peace and all good.

— Russ Matteson is district executive minister for the Church of the Brethren’s Pacific Southwest District. Find out more about the district at www.pswdcob.org. Nancy Sollenberger Heishman is director of the Church of the Brethren’s Office of Ministry, www.brethren.org/ministryoffice.


4) Three brothers killed in two communities attacked in northeastern Nigeria, Nigerian church mourns loss of EYN president’s father

By Zakariya Musa

Two Borno and Adamawa communities were attacked in northeastern Nigeria in late December, as prayers were intensifying for the release of Andrawus Indawa, coordinator of Pastoral Enhancement Ministry for Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria).

The clergyman was kidnapped on Dec. 27 in the middle of the night at his residence at Mararaban Mubi, Hong Local Government Area (LGA), Adamawa State. He was released just a few days later, before the end of the year.

In more news from EYN, the denomination is mourning the loss of Stephen Billi, 86, who died Jan. 2 after a prolonged illness. He was a minister in the church and the father of EYN president Joel S. Billi. His burial was scheduled for Friday, Jan. 7, at his home town of Hildi, Hong LGA. Church of the Brethren general secretary David Steele has sent a letter of condolence on behalf of the American church.

Nigerian church continues to suffer violent attacks

In a continued attacks on the church, two reports were received of attacks on Vengo in Madagali LGA in Adamawa State and Koraghuma in Chibok LGA in Borno State. The Vengo attack, which is believed to have been carried out by Boko Haram, left three brothers–Dauda Amos, Ibrahim Amos, and Filibus Amos–killed at a location around the Mandara Mountains, where they sought refuge for fear of attack.

“We have just conducted their burial today, Dec. 30,” said Ishaya Ndirmbula, the pastor in charge of the Vengo congregation of EYN, who also pled for prayers for three more youths who were kidnapped from the village.

At Koraghuma, 18 houses, 9 shops, a church auditorium, and a parsonage were burned down and a car was forcefully taken away in the Dec. 30 night attack. Three teenage girls, all below the age of 12, and a housewife were kidnapped. Military jet fighters were commended for their intervention during the attack, which left the community in devastation.

Two EYN members who were kidnapped in Kwaransa, where a new EYN congregation was organized recently, have gained their freedom according to the district secretary for Giima, Yohanna Dama.

Kidnapping for ransom and killings of innocent citizens by bandits, ISWAP, or Boko Haram are on the increase in all regions of the country of Nigeria, which is considered the giant of Africa. Twenty police personnel were rescued, for example, following a counter operation by troops of the Nigerian army against invading Boko Haram/ISWAP terrorists who stormed the police station in Buni Yadi in Yobe State. A total of 91 terrorists, bandits, and kidnappers met their waterloo during several offensives against them at Kala Balge, Rann, Dikwa, and Biu in Borno State, Gombi in Adamawa State, and Zamfara State. Acting director of Defense Media Operations, Brigadier-General Bernard Onyeuko, however regretted that some officers and soldiers were killed during the offensives.

– Zakariya Musa is head of media for Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria).


PERSONNEL

5) ‘Bill’s service at OEP’: An On Earth Peace release marking the end of Bill Scheurer’s term in leadership

By Matt Guynn

Bill Scheurer completed nine-and-a-half years as On Earth Peace executive director before the organization decided to restructure in 2021. His position completes on Jan. 7, 2022. The staff will work in a collaborative interim model until a more permanent restructuring in 2023.

Scheurer’s term of service was shaped by crisis and challenge within OEP, with the Church of the Brethren denomination, and in clarifying the organization’s identity. Bill reflects, “It’s been our shared work to address those three areas of crisis together as staff and board.”

With a style that deferred to the stewardship of staff colleagues while stating his own insights firmly, Bill led the way in focusing OEP’s work around two constituencies: youth and young adults, and churches and community groups. He strongly supported the staff’s work on a revamped internship program which led to more than 90 interns participating since 2016. He also supported the adoption of Kingian Nonviolence as a core framework for the institution’s life and work, lifting up Kingian principles and practices while celebrating OEP’s emergence as a vital center in the contemporary application of the Kingian Nonviolence legacy.

Bill brought to On Earth Peace his pre-existing relationships with organizations that resist the militarization of youth, and to the peace and nonviolence work of the Fellowship of Reconciliation USA (FOR), serving as board chair for FOR during his tenure at OEP. These connections built on earlier counter-recruitment work at OEP, linked to OEP’s origins preparing youth to resist the military draft as Christian conscientious objectors, and helped OEP become more visible in the family of peace and justice organizations.

In recent years, Bill prompted the organization to recreate its Values, Vision, and Mission, and to create a three-year set of Strategic Priorities (2020-2022). This work has offered a real consensus and foundation for reimagining the program and future of On Earth Peace. Bill celebrates that nearly our entire inner circle can tell you our values, vision, and mission!

By the end of Bill’s term, the organization was realistically grappling with longstanding financial challenges, and staff began to freshly address budgetary constraints with new plans and practices.

During the time Bill was executive director, OEP clarified our understanding that justice is an integral part of peacemaking, including continuing our 20-year journey of anti-racism and anti-oppression.

Bill arrived soon after OEP’s 2011 Statement of Inclusion, and he was on his own journey with regards to anti-racism and anti-oppression. He arrived with next-to-no experience in diverse communities and had a steep learning curve on race, gender, and sexuality. A controversial OEP poster produced in 2015, which touched on race, gender, and sexuality, helped catapult Bill to stand alongside the Statement of Inclusion and speak up for a more holistic anti-oppression stance and leadership.

Bill entered the organization during a period of internal crisis among staff and board related to anti-racism and anti-oppression. These conflicts prompted Bill to develop new skills in holding or maintaining space, while also impelling him on his own learning path.

Bill led OEP’s engagement with the denomination in years of interaction with church officials around questions of full inclusion and work for justice. During this period, many Church of the Brethren constituents and leaders maintained a steady stream of challenging engagements with OEP about our support for LGBTQ+ people and racial justice advocacy. During this time, often together with OEP board leadership, Bill met with the Church of the Brethren Standing Committee, Leadership Team, Council of District Executives, Brethren Revival Fellowship leadership and constituents, and many others, to interpret our commitments as we sought to be faithful to our understandings of the work of Christian peacemaking and justice advocacy.

After a decade or more of discernment on the organization’s part, Bill was the director who moved us to join the Supportive Communities Network (SCN) in 2019. As we joined SCN, Bill modeled how we might incorporate more voices as partners in our discernment and dialogue. Bill also served as an ex-officio member of OEP’s Anti-Racism Transformation Team, which helps ground and develop the organization’s journey to being authentically multiracial and multicultural.

The nearly 10 years of Bill’s tenure have been a period of momentous development for On Earth Peace, and as he leaves the organization is vibrant and expanding. We give thanks for Bill’s time and energy these past nearly 10 years and offer our prayers of support as he moves into his next adventures.

– Matt Guynn is director of organizing for On Earth Peace. Find this release posted online at www.onearthpeace.org/bill_s_service_at_oep.


6) Lauren Bukszar to join Church of the Brethren IT team

Lauren Bukszar has been hired by the Church of the Brethren as a part-time database support specialist in the Information Technology team. She will work from her home in Maryland and at the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Md., starting on Jan. 10.

She is a graduate of Towson University with a bachelor of arts degree in International Studies, and of Johns Hopkins University with a master of arts degree in teaching.


UPCOMING EVENTS

7) FaithX registration for summer 2022 events opens next week

Registration for FaithX (formerly workcamps) events in the summer of 2022 opens online next Thursday, Jan. 13, at 8 p.m. (Eastern time) at www.brethren.org/faithx.

“Boundless Faith” is the theme for the 2022 FaithX events. “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7) is the theme scripture.

Said a theme statement:

“We are told that we walk by faith, but what does that mean? What does our faith look like and how do we make sense of it? Let us find out together. Let us imagine a bigger and bolder faith to go with a big and bold God that we serve. Push past the usual answers and seek deeper truths. Go forth and serve outside the safety of normality. Move beyond the mundane and walk with us, together, in boundless faith.”

Sample registrations are posted on the FaithX webpage to help those interested in participating to prepare and gather information. Find the sample registrations at www.brethren.org/faithx.


8) ‘Pathways for Effective Leadership’ course is offered by SVMC

By Donna Rhodes

The Susquehanna Valley Ministry Center (SVMC) is offering the TRIM (Training in Ministry) course “Pathways for Effective Leadership, Part 1,” with Randy Yoder as the instructor. This is scheduled as an intensive course to be held online over two weekends, March 25‐26, 2022, and April 29‐30, 2022.

The SVMC is a partnership of five Church of the Brethren districts–Atlantic Northeast, Southern Pennsylvania, Middle Pennsylvania, Western Pennsylvania, and Mid-Atlantic–with Bethany Theological Seminary and the Brethren Academy for Ministerial Leadership.

Students in the academy’s TRIM and/or EFSM (Education for Shared Ministry) programs will receive one credit in ministry skills upon completion. Continuing education students including credentialed ministers and pastors will receive 2.0 continuing education units. The course also is available for laypeople for their own personal enrichment.

Part 1 of the course will deal with the more technical skills for nurturing strong and relevant congregations. Part 2 will occur in the spring of 2023. This course is relevant for both fulltime and multi‐vocational ministers. The two parts of the course can be done individually, although participating in both is highly recommended.

Please consider participating in this class. The registration deadline is Feb. 25. Register through, and send payment to, the Susquehanna Valley Ministry Center at the address listed on the course brochure at www.etown.edu/programs/svmc/Pathways%20for%20Effective%20Leadership%20P1%20Brochure.pdf. You also may choose to register online using the link in the brochure. If you have questions, please contact SVMC@etown.edu.

— Donna Rhodes is executive director of the Susquehanna Valley Ministry Center, based on the campus of Elizabethtown (Pa.) College. For more information go to www.etown.edu/svmc.


JESUS IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD: STORIES FROM CONGREGATIONS

9) Midland Church opens its doors as a warming shelter after blizzard

Midland (Va.) Church of the Brethren was one of two locations opening their doors as warming facilities after a blizzard brought as much as 14 inches of snow to parts of Fauquier County, Va. Almost 3,400 homes and businesses in the county were without electricity on Tuesday. The church’s warming center stayed open throughout the night and Wednesday, until it was no longer needed.

Local news, including Fauquiernow.com, reported on the work to restore power by the three electrical companies that serve the county: Rappahannock Electric Cooperative restoring electricity to more than 90,000 customers statewide, Dominion Energy with more than 600 customers without power, and Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative with more than 350 Fauquier customers without power. Several hundred mutual-aid field employees from as far away as Indiana, Ohio, Missouri, Georgia, and Florida joined local crews to make repairs and restore power, news outlets reported.

Midland Church of the Brethren in the snow. Photo courtesy of Regina Holmes

At the Midland Church, anyone in need of relief from the cold was welcome to drop by or stay the night. Available services included power stations for charging devices, warming up and relaxing with games and puzzles, bathrooms available but no showers. The kitchen provided pre-packaged snacks. COVID social distancing was required.

Midland Church also was one of the locations named by the Fauquier Times as open and offering shelter in advance of another snowstorm that was forecast to hit the area Thursday night into Friday this week. The church was open 24 hours on Thursday and Friday. See www.fauquier.com/news/governor-declares-state-of-emergency-ahead-of-expected-snowstorm/article_12f974e4-6f10-11ec-a494-db00e95cd752.html.

– Provided to Newsline by Regina Holmes, a member at Midland and a frequent contributor of photography coverage of Annual Conference and other Church of the Brethren events.


10) Helping Hands Benevolence Fund to the rescue

From the Atlantic Northeast District newsletter

Oasis of Hope Fellowship (Iglesia Berith, Oasis De Esperanza) located in Lebanon, Pa., was recently able to make a difference in the life of a family in their church. This family found themselves in a difficult situation this summer. The roof of their home was damaged and water would come through the roof whenever there was rain. The ceiling inside the house was falling from the humidity. In addition, the entire family was suffering from asthma and other health issues so the strong smell of humidity in the home was danger for them. The family was at a loss because they did not have the financial means to repair the roof. They had reached out to their homeowner’s insurance company, who declined to help them with this serious situation.

Pastor Arlyn Morales reached out to the Atlantic Northeast District to request help from the Helping Hands Benevolence Fund. She explained that the church was eager to help this family but that there were very limited funds available. The district Witness and Outreach Commission approved a grant of $5,000 to be used toward the needed repairs to this roof.

The work has now been completed and the family is doing well. They are happy and thankful with all the help that they received from the Atlantic Northeast District Helping Hands Benevolence Fund!

Find the January/February 2022 newsletter from Atlantic Northeast District at www.ane-cob.org.


12) Brethren bits

– 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 www.smithandsonsfuneralhome.com. 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 www.facebook.com/columbiacitycob. Find a full obituary at www.kpcnews.com/obituaries/article_740fcde1-b38d-530a-8ede-39923da6a234.html.

— 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 www.wardfuneralhomekansas.com/obituary/larry-ditmars.

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 www.facebook.com/events/286329523447797.

— 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 www.brethren.org/messenger/potluck/thats-our-church.

— 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 www.brethrenpress.com/ProductDetails.asp?ProductCode=9780871783073.

– 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 www.manchester.edu/alumni/news-media/newsletter/@manchester-newsletter-december-2021/board-votes-to-raze-administration-building.

— 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 www.oikoumene.org/news/week-of-prayer-for-christian-unity-will-draw-together-churches-across-the-world-in-hope.

— 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 www.cityofelgin.org/1023/Martin-Luther-King-Jr-Events.


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 Jan Fischer Bachman, Jeff Boshart, Shamek Cardona, James Deaton, Stan Dueck, Andrea Garnett, Kim Gingerich, Ed Groff, Matt Guynn, Nancy Sollenberger Heishman, Regina Holmes, Zech Houser, Ruoxia Li, Russ Matteson, Eric Miller, Jim Miner, Nancy Miner, Zakariya Musa, Carol Pfeiffer, Donna Rhodes, Howard Royer, Roy Winter, 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 and make subscription changes at www.brethren.org/intouch . Unsubscribe by using the link at the top of any Newsline email.


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