7) Brethren bits: Remembrances, BVS project need, congregational and district news and events, Clergy Women’s Retreat, tax seminar, and more.
Quote of the week:
“Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshipers met together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be, were they to become ‘unity’ conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.”
— 20th century pastor and author A.W. Tozer, in “The Pursuit of God: The Human Thirst for the Divine.”
1) Brethren Disaster Ministries responds to Hurricane Michael, other needs
Staff from Brethren Disaster Ministries (BDM) and its Children’s Disaster Services (CDS) program carefully monitored Hurricane Michael as it made landfall as a strong Category 4 storm along the Florida panhandle on Oct. 10 before moving inland.
CDS deployed a project manager to Florida five days after landfall to meet with Red Cross and emergency shelter staff to establish locations where CDS teams could best serve children in the area. As of Oct. 16, two teams had arrived in Panama City, Fla., and began working at two large shelters in one of the areas hardest hit by Michael.
“Facing no power, no cell phones, and limited resources, these teams were eager to step in and go to help all the families affected despite the challenges ahead,” CDS director Lisa Crouch said.
Meanwhile, the CDS response to Hurricane Florence in North Carolina wrapped up on Oct. 11 with a total of 550 children contacts over the course of 24 days despite challenges posed by secondary flooding, which affected the teams’ mobility in getting to shelters. Thirty-two volunteers served over the course of the response.
Crouch shared a note that a family posted to the CDS Facebook page, which said, “The children and parents REALLY needed you. Thank you for what you do!”
Other BDM work continues in the region, with teams currently working again in both North and South Carolina. The teams are helping with clean-up and debris removal from Florence and still repairing homes damaged by Hurricane Matthew in 2016.
Some Brethren communities have also been affected. Virlina District executive David Shumate wrote this week that the remnants of Michael had “been much more devastating to our area than Florence.” The Red Hill Church of the Brethren in Roanoke, Va., had water damage to both the church and parsonage, he said, and the parsonage garage was washed away and destroyed. The Clearbrook area south of Roanoke suffered severe flash flooding and landslides, Shumate added.
BDM will continue to assess needs in all the affected areas. Volunteers are currently being sought for projects in the Carolinas, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands. Those wishing to support BDM work financially can donate to the denomination’s Emergency Disaster Fund (EDF). A number of congregations and districts are already doing special offerings.
Elsewhere in disaster relief work:
Earthquake damage in Haiti, 2018. Photo by Romy Telfort. [/caption]
—A 5.9-magnitude earthquake struck just off the coast of northwest Haiti on Oct. 6, injuring 427 people and causing at least 18 deaths. It was Haiti’s strongest earthquake since 2010. The United Nations has reported damage to homes and other structures along the coast. The Eglises des Freres d’Haiti (Church of the Brethren of Haiti) has a congregation in St. Louis du Nord impacted by the earthquake.
An initial assessment by local leadership found dozens of members injured, damaged homes, one destroyed home, and damage to the New Covenant School. Miami (Fla.) Haitian pastor and former mission staff Ilexene Alphonse traveled to Haiti on Oct. 15 to represent BDM and provide additional damage assessment while beginning response planning with the Haitian Church.
BDM is also supporting four mobile clinics provided by the Haiti Medical Project. As the needs assessments are completed, a response plan will be created. Rebuilding of homes affected by Hurricane Matthew also continues in Haiti. The last of the home repairs and construction is expected to be completed by the end of the year.
—A CDS presence continues along the Texas-Mexico border, responding to the refugee crisis there. A team of four was deployed to McAllen, Texas, on Oct. 8 to continue support of children at the border coming through the Humanitarian Respite Center. The team had seen 873 children over a seven-day period as of earlier this week. “Their little faces just light up when they enter the designated play area, and they see the toys and smiling faces welcoming them to the center,” a CDS report said. The team planned to remain at the center through Sunday, Oct. 21. Another CDS team is scheduled for a 14-day deployment to the center in November to continue the response.
—And in Puerto Rico, BDM work continues as a response to last year’s devastating Hurricane Maria, with volunteers based at Castañer Church of the Brethren. “The project looks very different from any other BDM site, with some struggles such as unreliable water and electricity,” volunteer manager Carrie Miller wrote. “We cannot be as independent as we like, but we are thankful for our Puerto Rican brothers and sisters here who go out of their way to make sure we have exactly what we need.” Blue tarps still cover many rooftops, they added, and many homes have mold damage, which is affecting health.
2) Atlantic Northeast District rejects “Policy on Same-Sex Marriage”
A proposed “Policy on Same-Sex Marriage” in Atlantic Northeast District did not receive the two-thirds majority necessary to pass as delegates met at Elizabethtown (Pa.) College Oct. 5-6. The policy would have established penalties, including termination of ministry credentials, for a pastor who officiated at a same-sex marriage ceremony.
Before the final vote on the item, delegates accepted an amendment from the Chiques Church of the Brethren (Manheim, Pa.) official board to strengthen the language of the proposed policy by recommending sanctions for any minister who “promotes and accepts the practice of homosexuality as a lifestyle that is approved by God.” The amendment required only a simple majority vote, but the overall policy—as a change in polity with significant implications for the district—required the higher threshold, and it fell short.
A local LNP (Lancaster, Pa.) newspaper online report initially reported incorrectly that the district already had a policy for removal of credentials in place, and that only the amendment had failed. The error was later corrected for online and print editions.
“There is no policy that we have now in the district since that (proposed policy) failed,” Atlantic Northeast District executive Pete Kontra said. “We sent an email to all district ministers to clarify that now that the district body has said ‘No,’ we’re not going to terminate credentials.” He added, however, that it’s not “a green light now for pastors” to officiate same-sex weddings, citing past district and denominational statements that “speak against promoting homosexuality.”
The Elizabethtown (Pa.) and Ambler (Pa.) congregations had requested in advance of the conference that the district withdraw the item from consideration, citing concerns over its implications for church life and its lack of a spirit of forbearance.
Elizabethtown pastor Greg Davidson-Laszakovits said the congregation was “relieved” after the policy failed.
“The amendment that got added would have really put us and many other congregations in difficult positions,” Davidson-Laszakovits said. “If that policy would have passed, we would have faced immediate consequences, I’m guessing, in terms of credentialing.”
Davidson-Laszakovits said he was impressed with the respect and good tone of the conversation at the conference, despite the divisive issue—something he said hasn’t always happened in denominational debate on the topic. He said many people offered encouraging words, both publicly and privately.
“There are a lot of people who I think are supportive of where Elizabethtown and a number of congregations are on this,” he said. “We’re glad to be able to be a voice for the voiceless.”
He and Kontra both credited moderator Misty Wintsch for doing a good job in her role and making sure everyone was heard. A series of regional district meetings held in advance of the conference also helped to proactively answer many questions and provide information.
Wintsch, for her part, said she felt both she and the conference were “bathed in prayer from all over our district and our denomination.” “I knew people needed to feel heard, and I wanted them to be able to express themselves,” she said. “With grace, love, and peace, that is exactly what happened.”
Now, all parties will endeavor to find their way forward. Davidson-Laszakovits said Elizabethtown “remains committed to the district and to finding a way forward together.”
“I think a number of congregations have threatened to or are already withholding funds,” he said. “Elizabethtown has not done that. We’re looking for a way that we can all focus on the ministries we do, even in a district that’s very diverse theologically.”
Kontra said he has already had good conversations with some congregations, including Elizabethtown, and the district ministry commission was working on a letter outlining the current situation and inviting ongoing dialogue to determine next steps. In the meantime, he said, the district’s ministry goes on.
”We continue to communicate to the district that there is much good that God is still doing,” Kontra said. “We tend to focus on these issues, but there’s so much good that God is doing in the church and in the district, and we really want to go back to focusing on that. … As difficult and challenging as this was, we’re still ready to move on and work together.”
3) On Earth Peace board meets, addresses anti-racism initiatives
By Melisa Leiter-Grandison and Irvin Heishman
The On Earth Peace board held its fall meeting Oct. 4-6 at First Church of the Brethren in Harrisburg, Pa. The generous hospitality of this vibrant urban congregation was deeply appreciated. It enabled the board to continue its commitment to meet in people of color majority communities.
Most board members were able to be present for the meetings, while others participated through Zoom video connections. Russ Matteson represented and reported on behalf of the Council of District Executives.
The meeting marked the three-and-a-half-year anniversary of the official launch of the board’s Anti-Racism Transformation Team (ARTT). This racially diverse, nine-member team guides the On Earth Peace board in meeting its commitment to become a multicultural “beloved community” of Jesus focused on overcoming conflicts rooted in racism and oppression. Carla Gillespie, who serves as co-chair of ARTT along with Heidi Gross, presented the report.
The anti-racist transformation the board is seeking began to take shape, with several recommendations approved at the meeting. A new calling process and leadership structure was approved. The new structure allows for possibilities seen in a previous experiment with a co-chair model. The hope was that the organization might be led by an interracial team. Toward that end, a careful calling process was approved utilizing white and people of color caucusing groups. Each separately discussed how internalized racial superiority and oppression shape and mis-shape questions and images of leadership. Then each caucus separately prepared slates to present to the full board. Remarkably, both groups independently came up with the same slate, calling Melisa Leiter-Grandison and Irvin Heishman to serve as co-chairs of the board for the next two years. The slate was then affirmed through the board’s values-based consensus process, which is used for all board decisions.
The board also called new leaders for its executive committee. Jordan Bles will chair the finance committee. The nominating committee will be chaired by Caitlin Haynes. Beverly Eikenberry will chair the advancement and personnel committees. The latter groups were asked to work together on a new overall board committee design that will better serve the board’s governance responsibilities given its new commitments and challenges.
The board expressed thanks to several members who have completed their service with the board, including Erin Gratz, Barbara Avant, and Cheryl Thomas. Christy Crouse, who has stepped down to pursue studies at the University of Chicago Law School, interacted with the board by Zoom to share about her year of teaching English in Colombia.
The finance committee reported adequate income for 2018 for organizational program expenses including significant one-time bequests. These generous gifts from legacy donors are playing a critical role in this time of transition in our work and finances and are deeply appreciated. However, the finance committee and board are carefully monitoring three-year goals toward long-term sustainability. Confirmation of a 2019 budget will be considered in January following year-end actual reports.
Following the meeting, several board members and staff journeyed to the Atlantic Northeast District conference. As representatives of OEP, they sought to provide a supportive presence for persons distressed by proposals that would have revoked the ordination of pastors offering pastoral services to LGBTQ+ persons.
The board concluded its meeting with a two-hour conversation led by OEP’s executive director, Bill Scheurer. Formatted as a “Jeopardy” game, the board responded with answers to what the most important questions are for On Earth Peace at this time. The answers, in the form of questions, will be the basis of conversations that will be continued at the spring meeting.
4) Bethany welcomes nine new students this fall
By Jenny Williams
When fall semester classes at Bethany Theological Seminary (Richmond, Ind.) began on Aug. 30, nine new students joined the seminary community. Four are entering the Master of Divinity program, two are entering the Master of Arts program, and three are pursuing a Certificate in Theopoetics and Theological Imagination.
The students come from the Atlantic Northeast, Southern Pennsylvania, and Illinois-Wisconsin Districts as well as Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria) and from the Universalist Unitarian, Episcopalian, Mennonite, and nondenominational traditions.
The second year of Bethany’s Pillars and Pathways Residency Scholarship also began this fall. A cooperative effort between the student and the seminary, the scholarship gives recipients the opportunity to complete their seminary studies without incurring additional educational or consumer debt. In addition to maintaining eligibility for the Academic Excellence Scholarship, the recipients commit to living in the Bethany Neighborhood, engaging in group reflection and campus activities, volunteering in the Richmond area, earning a set amount through employment and/or work study, and living within their means.
Karen Duhai, director of student development, notes that Bethany has six Resident Scholars this fall. “The recipients are working at building community both within and outside of the Bethany Neighborhood,” she said. “From our Monday morning breakfasts when we eat and fellowship together to their weekly volunteer placements, these first weeks of the semester are a time to explore what it means to be in community and to begin to create the kind of neighborhood they want to be a part of.”
5) Church of the Brethren seeks Mission Advancement Advocate
The Church of the Brethren is seeking a Mission Advancement Advocate. The full-time, salaried position has a flexible location, but willingness to travel to the General Offices in Elgin, Ill., for meetings is required.
Major responsibilities include strengthening and nurturing the individual and congregational stewardship, direct gift, planned-giving, and enlistment programs of the Church of the Brethren through face-to-face visits with individuals and congregations and individuals. The primary focus will be on positively impacting individual giving in support of denominational ministries.
Applicants should be well-grounded in Church of the Brethren heritage, theology, and polity and able to operate out of that vision; have at least three years of experience in planned/deferred giving and/or five years of experience in development-related activities in the not-for-profit sector or comparable experience; be able to interact and relate with individuals and groups; and have basic computer skills. A bachelor’s degree or equivalent work experience is required.
Applicants will be reviewed on an ongoing basis until the position is filled. Interested and qualified applicants should send a resume’ to COBApply@brethren.org.
6) Mission and Ministry Board gathers for fall meeting
The Church of the Brethren Mission and Ministry Board (MMB) holds its fall meeting in Elgin, Ill., this weekend. Events began yesterday with new board member orientation, and meetings will continue through Monday, Oct. 22.
Much of today’s meeting is a closed session, first for the executive committee and then for the full board and general secretary David Steele. Most of the Saturday through Monday meeting sessions are open, and board members and staff will worship in local congregations Sunday morning.
Items on the agenda include reports, a financial update, participation in the denomination’s Compelling Vision process, presentation of the proposed 2019 budget, and an update on a possible future proposal to install solar panels on the roof of the General Offices. Annual Conference officers will give a response to proposed changes in the MMB’s structure and format, and the board will spend time hearing from a delegation from the Supportive Communities Network.
Connie Burk Davis of Westminster, Md., chairs the board, which includes 17 voting members from across the denomination and a number of Leadership Team members and other ex officio members.
In related news, LaDonna Sanders Nkosi of Chicago has resigned from membership on the MMB, recognizing that other obligations will prevent her from fulfilling MMB responsibilities as she had hoped. The Annual Conference Standing Committee Nominating Committee has appointed Paul Schrock, of Northview Church of the Brethren (Indianapolis), South/Central Indiana District, to fill her term. Schrock was the other candidate on the 2018 ballot for the Area 2 position. He will begin serving immediately.
7) Brethren bits
In this issue: Remembrances, BVS project need, congregational and district news and events, Clergy Women’s Retreat, tax seminar, and more.
—Robert (Bob) Pittman, 88, of Astoria, Ill., died Oct. 12. An alumnus of McPherson (Kan.) College and the University of Illinois, he was a long-time project director for Brethren Disaster Ministries (BDM) after a career in teaching. An email from BDM said, “He was a faithful disciple, embodying gentle strength, servant leadership, and above all unconditional love.” Pittman also trained many project directors for the denomination, and he and his wife, Marianne, served as interim directors of BDM from January to June 1999. Their daughter, Rhonda Pittman Gingrich, currently serves as convener for the Compelling Vision Process Team. A celebration of life service was held Oct. 17 in Astoria.
—Ruby Mae Bollinger, 95, died Oct. 7 at Carroll Hospice Dove House in Westminster, Md. A long-time employee of the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Md., Bollinger served as head cook for 33 years until her retirement in 1989. A memorial service was held Oct. 12.
—Sunnybrook Church of the Brethren (Bristol, Tenn.) on Oct. 7 premiered a national television program called “Sunday at Sunnybrook.” The weekly 30-minute program, an abbreviated version of the Sunday morning worship service, airs on the YouToo America network. The church celebrated the launch with a special love feast service. Senior pastor Jamie Osborne said Sunnybrook “plans to use the video distribution platforms as a means of launching what the church hopes will eventually be hundreds of local ‘missional communities.’ ”
—This year’s Floyd County (Va.) Historical Society calendar is featuring the county’s churches, and among the congregations featured with full spreads are Topeco Church of the Brethren, Pleasant Valley Church of the Brethren, Burks Fork Church of the Brethren, and Copper Hill Church of the Brethren. Several other Brethren congregations are also featured among the 38 images.
—Delegates at Mid-Atlantic District conference, held Oct. 12-13 in Manassas, Va., approved the creation of a new half-time Manager of District Operations position for a three-year period, with continuance dependent on ongoing funding. The position will assist district executive Gene Hagenberger by overseeing administrative and fundraising functions for the district.
—Districts holding conferences this weekend include Southern Ohio/Kentucky at Salem Church of the Brethren, Englewood, Ohio; and Western Pennsylvania at Camp Harmony, Hooversville, Pa. Next up are Illinois/Wisconsin, meeting Nov. 2-3 at Cerro Gordo (Ill.) Church of the Brethren; Shenandoah, Nov. 2-3 at Antioch Church of the Brethren, Woodstock, Va.; and Atlantic Southeast, Nov. 3 at Saving Grace Church of the Brethren, North Fort Myers, Fla.
—Pacific Southwest District will hold its conference Nov. 9-11 in La Verne, Calif. Items of business will include formally adding Nevada as part of the district (which currently includes California and Arizona) and disorganization of the New Harvest Lindsay (Calif.) congregation.
—The Camp Eder (Fairfield, Pa.) Fall Festival takes place this Saturday, Oct. 20. The major annual fundraiser includes live and silent auctions, kids’ activities, a pig roast and turkey feast, a bake sale and food concessions, music, and more.
—Mount Aloysius College (Cresson, Pa.) partnered with Western Pennsylvania District to collect more than 2,500 pairs of shoes for a project to benefit nonprofit Funds2orgs, which works with children in developing countries, according to a report in the “Clarion (Pa.) News.”
—Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria) leader Samuel Dali will be visiting congregations in Roanoke, Va., Nov. 3-4. He will speak about the recent struggles of EYN at 7 p.m. Nov. 3 at Roanoke Central and preach at the morning worship at Oak Grove on Nov. 4.
—The Church of the Brethren Office of Ministry has announced Jan. 6-9, 2020, as the dates for the next Clergy Women’s Retreat, at the Franciscan Renewal Center in Scottsdale, Ariz. Mandy Smith, lead pastor of University Christian Church in Cincinnati, will be the presenter. A brochure is available at www.brethren.org/ministryoffice.
—The Brethren Academy for Ministerial Leadership will again offer a Clergy Tax Seminar on Jan. 19, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., with a lunch break. Deb Oskin will provide leadership. Participants can attend in person at Bethany Theological Seminary in Richmond, Ind., or online. Cost is $30 except for current Bethany or TRIM/EFSM/SeBAH students. Registration deadline is Jan. 10. Details are at https://bethanyseminary.edu/brethren-academy/clergy-tax-seminar.
—Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria) has announced it “continues establishing new congregations in the face of rebuilding and coping” in the wake of violence over the past several years. The EYN Leadership Team recently granted “certificates of autonomy” to the Kofare congregation, in Jimeta Yola, and Tsamiya, in Garkida (EYN’s birthplace), both in Adawama State. EYN’s Theological Education by Extension program also recently awarded diplomas to 51 new graduates. US representatives Galen and Doris Heckman attended.
—Foods Resource Bank, which had planned to change its name to “Growing Hope Worldwide,” is instead becoming “Growing Hope Globally.” “This adjustment was necessary to ensure we have a strong position in a very crowded space where many non-profit organizations use a combination of hope and worldwide in their name,” a statement from CEO Max Finberg said. The organization officially celebrated the change to the new name on Oct. 16, World Food Day.
—Richard L. Bowman of Harrisonburg, Va., former professor at Bridgewater (Va.) College and Elizabethtown (Pa.) College and a former member of BCA (formerly Brethren Colleges Abroad) in Kochi, India, is among five new members recently elected to the steering committee of the Anabaptist Center for Religion and Society at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg.
Newsline is the email news service of the Church of the Brethren. Newsline stories may be reprinted if Newsline is cited as the source. Contributors to this issue included guest editor Walt Wiltschek, Roy Winter, Lisa Crouch, Melisa Leiter-Grandison, Irvin Heishman, Jenny Williams, Nancy Sollenberger Heishman, Nancy Miner, Kim McDowell, Emily Tyler, Kristin Flory, Zakariya Musa, Joe Vecchio, and Newsline editor Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of News Services for the Church of the Brethren. Please send news tips and submissions to the editor at email@example.com. Find the Newsline archive at www.brethren.org/news. Sign up for Newsline and other Church of the Brethren emails, or make changes to your subscription at www.brethren.org/intouch.