Today in Omaha – July 12 and 13, 2022

“Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 150:6, NRSVue).

“My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we should be glad and celebrate! Your brother was dead, but he is now alive. He was lost and has now been found” (Luke 15:31-32).

“And looking at those who sat around him, he [Jesus] said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:34-35, NRSVue).

1) Delegates adopt new documents to guide pastors’ salaries and benefits, set COLA commensurate with rate of inflation

2) Conference adopts concerns of ‘Query: Standing with People of Color,’ sets in motion two-year study/action process

3) Leadership Team proposal to update polity for Annual Conference agencies is adopted

4) In other Annual Conference business

5) Chris Douglas and James Beckwith are honored for their years of service

6) Young adults visit Tri-Faith Initiative in Omaha

7) Annual Conference bits and pieces


“Walk in his ways (Deuteronomy 26:17).
Walk in love (Ephesians).
Walk humbly (Micah 6:8).
Walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4).
Walk in wisdom (Proverbs 28:26).
Walk in the light (Isaiah 2:5).
Walk by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7).”

— The themes of the Annual Report video from the Church of the Brethren, presented during the Tuesday afternoon business session. The report, which features photos and videos of the denominational ministries, paired with scripture texts and spoken word, is online at www.youtube.com/watch?v=K_NaUBkVL-A&t=1s or find the link on the Church of the Brethren’s home page at www.brethren.org.

Conferencegoers pose with some of the statues outside the CHI Health Center in Omaha. Photo by Donna Parcell
Steve Reid leading in Bible study. Photo by Glenn Riegel

“Think about George Floyd. ‘I can’t breathe.’ … What does it mean in Psalm 150 when breath is so central? What does it mean when we cut off someone’s breath, for our Christian faith? … The truth is that the vocation of the universe is to praise God. The challenge for us is that sin works against the intention of God…. The Psalmist’s imperative is to let everything that breathes praise the Lord and to let everything breathe…. Every creature breathes.”

— Stephen Breck Reid, vice provost for Faculty Diversity and Belonging at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, presenting Tuesday’s Bible study alongside Denise Kettering-Lane of the faculty of Bethany Theological Seminary in Richmond, Ind. Reid called on Conferencegoers to read Psalm 150 with new eyes, and led a meditative reading of the text inviting concern for creation care and concern for violence against the Black community.

“It is important to reflect on barriers that divide us [in a time of polarization] and ways to address those barriers… Bible study can do that…if understanding difference is allowed to come out of that experience.”

— Christina Bucher speaking for the Brethren Press and Messenger Dinner. She is the Carl W. Zigler Professor Emerita of Religion at Elizabethtown (Pa.) College and is co-writing a book on Luke and Acts with Robert W. Neff, whose denominational roles have included former general secretary of the Church of the Brethren and former faculty of Bethany Theological Seminary, among others. Their book is to be published by Brethren Press as the first in a new series titled “Turning the World Upside Down: Biblical Studies for Anabaptists and Pietists.”

Anna Lisa Gross preaches for the Tuesday evening worship service. Photo by Glenn Riegel

“‘Celebrate,’ calls Jesus…. To be Jesus in our neighborhood we have to give ourselves away…. Give away our church building maybe, give away our balance sheets…give away our resentments…. We have to give up our nostalgia…. When we have nothing left to lose, we have everything to celebrate.”

— Tuesday’s preacher, Anna Lisa Gross, speaking on the parable of the “Prodigal Son” from Luke 15. She is an ordained minister in the Church of the Brethren, co-interim district executive minister for South/Central Indiana District, and part-time pastor at Beacon Heights Church of the Brethren in Northern Indiana District.

“Our salvation is personal but it isn’t individual…. The church is a family…. The Church of the Brethren has an opportunity to continue to witness [this] to the world.”

— Wednesday’s preacher, Nathan Rittenhouse, pastor of New Hope Church of the Brethren in Green Bank, W.Va., speaking on Mark 3:31-35 and Romans 12:16.

Nathan Rittenhouse preaches for the Wednesday evening worship service. Photo by Keith Hollenberg

Tune into Annual Conference worship services yet to come at www.brethren.org/ac2022/webcasts.

Find photo albums from Omaha at www.brethren.org/photos/nggallery/annual-conference-2022. Expect more photos each day of the Conference to appear at this same link.

1) Delegates adopt new documents to guide pastors’ salaries and benefits, set COLA commensurate with rate of inflation

The Annual Conference on Tuesday adopted a new “Integrated Annual Ministry Agreement and Revised Guidelines for Pastors’ Salaries and Benefits” (new business item 5) and a “Revised Minimum Cash Salary Table for Pastors” (new business item 6) as presented by the Pastoral Compensation and Benefits Advisory Committee (PCBAC).

The delegates also approved the committee’s recommendation for an annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to the Minimum Cash Salary Table for Pastors of 8.2 percent for 2023 (new business item 7).

Read more at www.brethren.org/news/2022/new-pastoral-compensation-documents

Members of the Pastoral Compensation and Benefits Advisory Committee–(from left) chair Deb Oskin, director of the Office of Ministry Nancy Sollenberger Heishman, and Dan Rudy–bring items of business to the Conference. Photo by Glenn Riegel

2) Conference adopts concerns of ‘Query: Standing with People of Color,’ sets in motion two-year study/action process

The delegate body on Tuesday, July 12, took action on “Query: Standing with People of Color” (new business item 2) from Southern Ohio and Kentucky District, which asks, “How can the Church of the Brethren stand with People of Color to offer sanctuary from violence and dismantle systems of oppression and racial inequity in our congregations, neighborhoods, and throughout the nation?”

The Conference amended one sentence in the recommendation from the Standing Committee of district delegates.

Read more at www.brethren.org/news/2022/query-standing-with-people-of-color

Tuesday’s business items generated lines at the microphones. Shown here, Jennifer Quijano West, a Standing Committee delegate from Atlantic Northeast District, speaks to the delegate body. Photo by Glenn Riegel

3) Leadership Team proposal to update polity for Annual Conference agencies is adopted

The one unfinished business item coming to the 2022 Annual Conference was adopted on Wednesday, July 13. The item, “Update to Polity Regarding Annual Conference Agencies” (unfinished business 1) was brought by the denomination’s Leadership Team, which includes the Conference officers, the general secretary, a representative of the Council of District Executives, and the Conference director as ex-officio staff.

This item originated at the 2017 Annual Conference, in response to a recommendation from On Earth Peace–one of the three Annual Conference agencies along with Bethany Theological Seminary and Eder Financial (formerly Brethren Benefit Trust).

Read more at www.brethren.org/news/2022/polity-for-annual-conference-agencies

Irvin Heishman, co-chair of the board of On Earth Peace, was one of those speaking from the floor on the proposed polity for Annual Conference agencies. Photo by Keith Hollenberg

4) In other Annual Conference business

The Conference adopted amendments to the “Ethics in Ministry Relations” polity (new business item 1) in a section about appeals that involve termination of a ministerial license or ordination by a district. The amendments were brought by the Standing Committee of district delegates, which is the body that receives and hears such appeals. The amendments recognize Standing Committee’s need for more time to prepare to receive appeals; provide leeway when two or more appeals are received within a stated time period; and clarify in polity the current Standing Committee Appeal Process requiring that “the dissatisfied party shall have exhausted every means of resolution or reconsideration” at the district level before an appeal. One amendment was made, clarifying that when an appeal is received less than 60 days prior to the next Standing Committee meeting, it may be postponed to a subsequent meeting.

Revisions to the bylaws of the Church of the Brethren Inc. (new business item 4) were adopted by the two-thirds majority required for polity. Brought by the denomination’s Mission and Ministry Board, the revisions include a variety of nonsubstantial changes to the bylaws, correcting inconsistencies and grammatical errors, ensuring greater clarity, and aligning polity with current practice.

A three-person study committee was elected as part of the response to “Query: Breaking Down Barriers”: Jeanne Davies, Brandon Grady, and Daniel Poole.

A table facilitator holds up cards on which are written vote totals for his table, one color for “yes” votes and the other color for “no” votes. Photo by Keith Hollenberg

Board-elected and constituency-elected directors and trustees were affirmed or reported to the Conference:

Mission and Ministry Board: Michaela Alphonse, Miami (Fla.) First Church of the Brethren, in Atlantic Southeast District

Bethany Seminary Board of Trustees: Darla Kay Bowman Deardorff, Peace Covenant Church of the Brethren, Durham, N.C., Virlina District; and Michele Firebaugh, Freeport Church of the Brethren, Winnebago, Ill., Illinois and Wisconsin District

On Earth Peace Board: Beverly S. Eikenberry, Manchester (Ind.) Church of the Brethren, South/Central Indiana District; Jessica (Jessie) Houff, Washington (D.C.) City Church of the Brethren, Mid-Atlantic District; Tamara Shaw, Arlington, Va.

Eder Financial (formerly Brethren Benefit Trust): Donna March, Highland Avenue Church of the Brethren, Elgin, Ill., Illinois and Wisconsin District; Randy Yoder, Huntingdon (Pa.) Stone Church of the Brethren, Middle Pennsylvania District; Katherine Allen Haff, Manchester (Ind.) Church of the Brethren, South/Central Indiana District

Find the full background documents for the business agenda linked at www.brethren.org/ac2022/business.

5) Chris Douglas and James Beckwith are honored for their years of service

Annual Conference celebrated the service of Chris Douglas, who retired as Conference director last year, and James Beckwith, who is completing 10 years as Conference secretary, with presentations during the Tuesday afternoon business session. A reception followed.

Read more at www.brethren.org/news/2022/chris-douglas-and-james-beckwith-honored

Chris Douglas (left), who last year retired as Annual Conference director, receives a quilted wallhanging from the Association for the Arts in the Church of the Brethren. Photo by Glenn Riegel

6) Young adults visit Tri-Faith Initiative in Omaha

By Jess Hoffert

On Wednesday afternoon, a group of nine Brethren young adults carpooled to Tri-Faith, a spacious campus home to Temple Israel, Countryside Community Church, and American Muslim Institute. The three independent religious communities are all connected by a circular walkway known as Abraham’s Bridge, surrounded by native plants and near a community garden and orchard tended by all three groups. It’s the only place of its kind in the world.

Read more at www.brethren.org/news/2022/young-adults-visit-tri-faith-initiative

Photo by Jess Hoffert

7) Annual Conference bits and pieces

By the numbers:

1,315 total registration including 425 delegates, 748 nondelegates, plus 142 nondelegates attending virtually.

$10,617.71 was received for Girls, Inc. of Omaha in the Tuesday worship offering, which also included donations of material goods. A staff member and three girls who take part in the program were present and one of the girls spoke about her experience of receiving life training, job preparation, opportunity to be part of a music group, and more. A great pile of donations including back packs, sports equipment, hygiene supplies, and more were stacked against the front of the stage.

$6,559.46 was received for the Core Ministries of the Church of the Brethren denomination, in Wednesday’s offering during worship.

A Conferencegoer gives blood. Photo by Keith Hollenberg
Children’s activities included field trips around Omaha. Photo by Michele Gibbel

Online donation totals received to date: Thursday (Transportation) – $200, Wednesday (Core Ministries) – $475, Monday (Ministerial Training) – $400, Sunday (Annual Conference) – $1,400, Webcasting – $300.

101 total pints of blood were donated in the Annual Conference Blood Drive sponsored by Brethren Disaster Ministries in partnership with the American Red Cross.

— A series of skits or short plays have been performed during worship services, under the theme “Touching Moments from Our Past.” Written and enacted by Frank Ramirez and Jennifer Keeney Scarr, they have presented events from Brethren history in ways that are evocative of the struggles and challenges facing the church today, including past church splits in the 1880s–the topic of the Monday evening performance titled “Why Did Henry Holsinger Cross the Road?”–and the division in the country during the Civil War, among others. If you’re interested in using one of these skits at your church, contact Ramirez at ramirez.frank.r@gmail.com or Keeney Scarr at jkscarr07@gmail.com.

Why did Henry Holsinger cross the road? One of the short plays performed during worship. Photo by Keith Hollenberg
(Photo by Glenn Riegel)

— The Outdoor Ministries Association (OMA) gave its annual awards at a luncheon on Tuesday. The Volunteer of the Year Award was presented to Dennis Beckner for his involvement with Camp Alexander Mack. The Staff Member of the Year Award was presented to Karen Dillon for her dedicated service to Camp Sugarwood.

– As of Wednesday midday, there were at least 15 cases of COVID among Conference participants, according to an announcement from Conference director Rhonda Pittman Gingrich. She has continued to repeat reminders to “wear your masks and be careful.” She encouraged Conferencegoers to take advantage of free COVID tests in the first aid office, get tested if they feel any symptoms, and inform the Conference office of any positive results. Those who must isolate may request a remote log in to continue to participate virtually in business and worship.

— Correction: Monday’s Newsline incorrectly identified the district that Ben Polzin represents on Standing Committee. He is a delegate from Northern Ohio District.

The children’s choir. Photo by Keith Hollenberg
Fellowship with international guests. Photo by Donna Parcell
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