Shop till I drop

By Katarina Eller, Brot und Rosen Community, Hamburg, Germany

Katarina Eller in Germany

BVS volunteer Katarina Eller in Germany. Photo by Kristin Flory.

My days mostly consist of cleaning, chopping vegetables, and food shopping. Our day begins with devotions in the chapel, with a simple prayer-song-Bible-reading-silence-song-prayer model…. Like a sandwich, or an Oreo cookie. Almost all of the songs come from the Taize movement. (You know you live at Brot & Rosen when most of the songs stuck in your head are in Latin.)

Sometime after breakfast and light cleaning or email-checking, I might start with lunch prep. Leftovers from the night before are warmed up, and some type of salad is made. More often than not, it is a green salad. My favorite part of lunch prep is making the salad dressing (I never want to buy pre-made salad dressing ever again). And the worst is washing the salad. It is usually donated to us from an organic food store and can be very earth-filled and/or sometimes tiny-insect-infested. It can be the case that there is no green salad. But not to worry, other variations are possible! Carrot salad with grated carrots and apples, and oranges with oil and lemon juice for example; or red beet salad with chopped onions, vinegar, oil, salt, pepper, and caraway seeds. Or chicory salad with apples, oranges, bananas and a yogurt, lemon, curry dressing.

Katarina Eller

Katarina Eller at Brot und Rosen in Hamburg, Germany

I usually don’t cook dinner. Dinner is very intimidating. Often around 15 people show up, and the children don’t eat anything that might contain nutrition for healthy development. So I leave dinner to the professionals (unless of course they’re not around), and chop vegetables for them. We may be unofficially part of what is called the Slow Food Movement (correct me if I’m wrong). Since I’ve been here, I have made/or experienced the making of: salad dressing, bread, jelly, orange juice, tomato sauce, pralines, mixed drinks, pizza, vegan chocolate, vegan cheese, mashed potatoes, African chili salsa, guacamole, fufu European style, applesauce etc. I’m not gonna lie, one of my initial thoughts during my very first week at B & R was: uh-oh. Yeah, sometimes I still feel like that, but it’s all good, that’s why I live in community, so other people can take over when they see me start on a crazy culinary maneuver.

It is my job to buy everything that is not donated by the food bank, organic food store, or ordered from said store. So, a large portion of my shopping includes cooking oil, lemons, noodles, tomato sauce, and toilet paper. Sometimes I have to make more than one trip, even though I use a rolling shopping-hamper-thingy. (I don’t know what we call them, but they are all over Germany.) And sometimes the cashier is like, “Oh it’s you again!” and I think “Yeah, because if you only had a wheely cart and two little chicken-bone arms you’d be back again, too.” Then there’s the whole discussion of what we should buy fair-trade, regional, and organic. And, if organic tomato sauce from who knows where is worth the price, or even really organic, and whether it’s better to buy organic sugar or the normal sugar that says on the package that it’s made in northern Germany from sugar beets but is probably not organic etc. As usual with Brot& Rosen, as soon as I ask a question as to what I should buy, I get eight different answers. So as usual with Brot& Rosen, I just do whatever I want to.

That’s Christian Anarchy for you!

Find out more about Brethren Volunteer Service.

Three ways to help your leaders be healthier

  1. Pay for a gym membership or other recreational equipment that they enjoy
  2. Rather than meeting for lunch, invite them to walk and talk
  3. Laugh a lot together

The May issue of Basin & Towel magazine is all about the idea of calling, which includes caring for and sustaining those who have answered their call. How do you support your pastor and other church leaders? What would you add to this list and previous posts?

The Beginnings

By Allison Snyder

Allison Snyder

Allison Snyder, BVS unit #304

I will begin as most stories do, unless you’re Kurt Vonnegut, at the beginning. BVS began following World War II as an alternative to military action. It’s been ongoing ever since and has become a big thing in my church denomination, the Church of the Brethren. Basically, it is a smaller version of all of those organizations like the Peace Corps.

My BVS experience had a rocky start. My body reacted adversely to the anxious jitters and plane ride movement. I was greeted by people as nervous as I was about meeting them. It was awkward, as all first meetings go; one guy thought I was from Ohio instead of Iowa, a common mistake that happens a lot more than you think it would. Fortunately for our group, we were small and quickly grew used to each other in a way that made getting to know each other very easy.

I learned a lot from orientation as a whole. Most of our learning took place in the sessions that we participated in. I couldn’t tell you what each one was about but the overlying theme was developing people who could hold up and utilize their skills in their placements. The first week’s sessions tackled shopping and cooking on an extreme budget (basically poverty), conflict and finding the project placement that best suits you. One of the guest speakers who came during this week sold the project and location so well that I ended up there.

In between sessions, we had a lot of free time to do as we pleased, and at Camp Ithiel, in Gotha, Florida, there was plenty to do. I still can’t get over the fact that I played sand volleyball in the middle of February.

A lot of the free time in the first week was spent on creating our faith journeys on paper. This was a neat experience to both interact with the people in our group and reflect on yourself. Mine looked nice at the end but only because the one medium of visual art that I actually was good at and knew what to do with was available to me, smudge chalk. Drawing frustrates me. Mine turned a bit dark but that’s what my faith journey consists of and it’s made me who I am.

The sessions taught us about work styles and conflict resolution while the free time and devotion taught us about our fellow BVS’ers and the inner workings of a changing and growing self.

Three weeks isn’t a long time but in that kind of setting you get to know the people around you quickly and deeply. There are things that these people know that friends that I’ve had for a while don’t. I don’t get self-conscious about singing in front of them or sharing the stuff that I wrote with them. Jacob and I spotted two dolphins when we went to the ocean and ran after them on the shore without a care that we might look silly (it was amazing!). We did hymn singing twice during the three weeks and had a foot washing for the commissioning service and I participated in both without being ashamed and it was freeing. I trust BVS Unit #304 completely.

There is so much that I learned and experienced during BVS orientation, more than I can or dare say; wouldn’t want you getting bored. As a group, we learned how to create our own fun. I learned how to lose at a game I love (Settlers of Catan) graciously and that faith is a practice, not something you can preach at people without the discipline and understanding that it requires. Walking through Apopka, Florida, looking to help, I learned the capacity I have for patience, how fortuitous timing a thief had to dress in purple the same day as our group did and how to talk to the cops in that kind of a situation. I learned that it’s okay to be goofy and silly and that judgement is not as bad as you think it is. It was three weeks of self-discovery mixed in between sessions about peace and workdays and I left it as prepared as I could be for Cincinnati, Ohio, probably the farthest place from a country farm in Iowa that I could get.

Want to read more about BVS orientation? Or find out more about BVS in general?


Photo courtesy of the Greater Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau and by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

Photo courtesy of the Greater Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau and by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

By Matt DeBall

The Annual Conference office is in the swing of preparations for the Church of the Brethren’s Annual Conference July 2-6 in Columbus, Ohio. Columbus is vibrant and boasts many activities and sight-seeing opportunities for people of all ages.

The official Conference hotel is the Hyatt, and is in the same building as the conference center. But the Crowne and Drury hotels are connected by skywalks. “To have 75 percent of our rooms adjacent to the convention center is amazing,” said Chris Douglas, director of the Annual Conference Office.

Restaurant and food options are also convenient, as well as numerous. “You can’t beat the food court next to the conference center,” shared Chris. And only a block away is the North Market, which features 35 merchants of different ethnic foods, fresh produce, flowers, spices, and other gifts. Across the street is Bareburger, a restaurant where you can build a burger from a variety of meats (grass-fed, organically raised animals) and ingredients. Jon Kobel, Annual Conference assistant, also recommended the Northstar Cafe, one of several great restaurants in the Short North District, less than a mile from the convention center.

Columbus promises many sights to see. One is German Village, an original settlement that has been restored to its old glory. “We’re offering a bus tour for non-delegates,” said Jon. “Tickets can still be purchased online.” The Columbus Zoo and Center of Science and Information (which features a Sherlock Holmes exhibit) are both top-rated attractions in the country.

“If you’re looking for beauty in creation,” said Chris, “Franklin Park, where the BBT Fitness Challenge 5k walk/run will be, is magnificent.” Within walking distance from the conference center, Brethren baseball fans can also see the Columbus Flyers AAA team, who will be in town the week of Conference. “On Saturday night we’re having an intergenerational gathering, co-sponsored by the Outdoor Ministries Association,” said Jon. “We will have a lot of fun and games, and concerts too.”

Annual Conference in Columbus promises to be a Spirit-led, fun-filled gathering. Online registration closes June 3, so be sure to visit soon!

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

#BringBackOurGirls: Zooming Out But Staying Focused

The world has been watching, lamenting, and agitating for over a month now about the 276 kidnapped girls from Chibok. We are still waiting and praying for their release or rescue, and while we wait, the world’s powers have been trying to catch up and see what they can do to help our Nigerian sisters.

Nigerian Girls in Captivity

The #BringBackOurGirls movement has gone from obscurity to oversaturating the media in the span of a couple weeks. It has garnered so much attention that on Thursday May 15th the US Senate convened a hearing with the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls in its title. But has all this attention even been helpful or what exactly can the US do that wouldn’t make things worse than they already are?

Our Action Alert called upon Brethren to contact their elected leaders to raise awareness and ask them to encourage the State Department and other government actors to take notice and assess how we could help. But what is it that they’ve determined and how is the US getting involved? That’s what we went to this hearing to find out.

Much of what was discussed by the Subcommittee on African Affairs revolved around Boko Haram’s origins, the contextual situation of Northern/Northeastern Nigeria, and finally how the US and international community is already involved and how it plans to continue its involvement. Speakers from the State Department, USAID, and Pentagon all testified, and by the end of their testimony it was clear that although the concern was great, there are many tangible realities limiting any effective outside response to the kidnapping.

As Brethren are all too aware, life in Northern Nigeria is tough, and it has been that way for a while. This kidnapping did not happen in a vacuum, but rather is a grotesque manifestation of the insecurity that exists there all the time. The lack of good governance, quality education, reliable infrastructure, widespread peacebuilding practices, and stable local policing has created a region in Northern Nigeria where corruption is rife and many Nigerians are left to fend for themselves. Especially children. We heard in a separate Congressional briefing the day before that 10.5 million of the world’s 57.5 million primary school aged children that do not attend school are Nigerian. And of those 10.5 million Nigerians, 9 million are from the North. According to A World At School, these figures mean Nigeria has the largest number of out of school children in the whole world.

I say these things not to distract us from the plight of our girls, but instead to point us to some of the larger issues that this crisis was born out of. We are mistaken if we think that all of a sudden these social problems will be solved if the Nigerian government gets its act together and safely rescues the girls. We cannot allow ourselves to entertain such fantasies or even the idea that the US can solve these issues for the Nigerians. The problems that have presented themselves are much more complex than that. This last point was hammered home at the hearing.

We heard that an inter-agency team had been deployed to Nigeria with representatives from State/USAID/Pentagon “to provide military and law enforcement assistance, as well as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support” (Jackson 2). But all of the panelists testifying would not go any further in speculating what the US would do in response, and although that seems very frustrating, it is probably a good sign.

Too often the United States has jumped head first into conflicts without thinking through what exactly its goals are or what unforeseen consequences could arise. Obviously we want to bring back the girls who have been kidnapped, but we also don’t want to go in and make more of a mess than what is already present. And we definitely don’t want to perpetuate the idea that once these girls are back home safe, that everything will be hunky dory in Nigeria. There is no easy solution, and that’s scary.

What we truly have to do is zoom out and see the big picture while still holding the plight of the girls in our hearts. This is where the final testimony from Nigerian peacebuilder Lantana Adbullahi comes in to play. Ms. Abdullahi, a Muslim peacebuilder who works for Search For Common Ground in Jos, Nigeria, praised the US and other countries for raising up the plight of the girls, but she was quick to add,

“While securing the girls’ release will be a short term gain, ensuring lasting peace in the region requires that the militancy issue be addressed from multiple angles. It also requires the engagement of all stakeholders – communities, civil society, government, and its international partners – to ensure context-specific and sustainable solutions to improve human security, peacebuilding, and the prevention of future atrocities.”

This is the tough pill that we must swallow. Peace does not come instantaneously or with a swift military response, but rather through the consistent embodiment of Christ’s peace through the hard work of reconciliation and empowerment that people like Ms. Abdullahi and our EYN brothers and sisters do each day in their communities. We must continue to pray for God’s great power to save these girls, but we must also pray for the guidance and humility to become faithful disciples that learn how to build and teach peace in our communities and around the world.

In situations like this, the world can feel utterly broken beyond repair, but we must never forget that our savior remains, as Pastor Brian Zahnd recently remarked, a carpenter who is repairing and restoring God’s good world.


-Bryan Hanger


Supporting Leaders: Emotional Support

  1. Send notes, emails and calls of appreciation
  2. Keep an eye out for opportunities to offer random acts of kindness and support to the pastor and other leaders: an impromptu meal delivered, the lawn mowed, car washed, etc.
  3. Provide free childcare for a night out. Go a step further and give them gift cards for dinner and a movie
  4. Evaluate and learn from mistakes; don’t use them to attack one another

The May issue of Basin & Towel magazine is all about the idea of calling, which includes caring for and sustaining those who have answered their call. How do you support your pastor and other church leaders? What would you add to this list and previous posts?

Hyper-real Unconditional Positive Regard: BVS Orientation

By Emily Davis

Perception of reality is often so subjective and inconsistent that it can subvert being present with others. That in conversation or from moment to moment there is a sense of surreal space and time, where situations seem distant, foreign or magnified; where waking consciousness seems more sleep-like. A friend recently spoke so eloquently of these dream-states it made me realize their rarity and that I’d been feeling them most frequently in my life during transitions.

I spent the last three weeks in one of those otherworldly states, in extended moments of fantastic and absurd loving reality at Brethren Volunteer Service orientation.

BVS orientation candle

Photo by Emily Davis

Twenty-four volunteers, making up BVS fall Unit #303, chose year-long, individual volunteer placements, each at a domestic or international non-profit organization focused on social justice and peace work. Together, among the picturesque rolling hills and corn fields of New Windsor, Maryland, we considered our vocational callings, attended training sessions, cooked for each other, worked in the community, sang hymns, threw dance parties, practiced devotional meditations, told nonsensical stories and played ridiculous amounts of four square.

Our group of uncommonly kind individuals opened up to each other relatively fast. We shared deep insecurities, hard pasts, and current joys so fiercely that we cultivated a strong sense of trust and connection. And some vocalized a feeling of being part of a magic bubble or alternative reality made of communal strength and safety.

Our last weekend we stayed at Harrisburg First Church of the Brethren and volunteered with the Brethren Housing Association. For me, and others I think, those few days gave a vivid example of what the Church of the Brethren is about. Although there are a small number of congregants, there is an enormous, humble partnership being built with that community; where structural impact can be seen in many small but persistent ways. On Sunday morning Pastor Belita spoke of a multifaceted faith in God that is planted in grace and personal relationships in order to serve others. In Harrisburg and later, I fell in love with those combined Brethren ideals: living in peaceful simple community, serving others together.

Those values provided a framework of thought and action that was a central part of the mystical-community-reality of orientation. In that space I was hyper-sensitive to past feelings, present thoughts, and future expectations, and immersed in thinking about how to use my particular passions and gifts to serve.

Domestic volunteers from our unit moved to their placement cities and started work this week. Going out into the world where Brethren ideals are not the norm or structure of thought and where those expectations or intentions are not necessarily clear, is daunting. The task seems infinitely lonely and substantially more difficult without intentional community, where a winking smile, compassionate hug and true support were easy to find. It was a magical, surreal place because trust, acceptance and love were abundant.

I leave for Hinche, Haiti in early November and I want to stay in that dream-state of mindful reality during my service. Where moments may seem subjective, raw or strange but they’re hyper-real and CLEARER because I’ll be questioning my faith journey, vocation, power, paradigms of thought, and intentions; and actively working to make meaningful connections with those around me. I am SO thrilled for these two years of Brethren Volunteer Service because I get to work through the model of loving kindness and pragmatic solidarity, spreading and emanating that energy I found at orientation of cosmic unconditional love.

Find out more about Brethren Volunteer Service.

Too Much Armor, Too Little Brain: The Risks of Political Advocacy & the Hope Our God Offers

Working for peace in Washington often feels like a losing battle, but perhaps the problem is that we often view the work of peace through a combative lens. Whether the issue is gun violence, drones, or any other issue of militarism, we often talk of “fighting back” against these issues and eventually building up enough support to “defeat our opposition”. But what if this paradigm is limiting our imagination and holding us back from working for and embodying Christ’s transformative kingdom?

I reflected on this tension after attending a conference held at the United States Institute of Peace that covered the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons. There were speakers from Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Buddhist backgrounds, and their testimonies and stories of the religious community’s advocacy were very compelling and in stark contrast to the message of perhaps the most anticipated speaker at the event, Anita Friedt, who works for the State Department on US Nuclear Policy.

Mrs. Friedt’s speech was a fairly typical DC speech that was short on concrete ideas or promises and chock full of vague legalese that boiled down to an appreciation of the work the religious community does to make the world safe from nuclear weapons, while simultaneously patting us on the head to let us know that the political reality was much more complicated. She even tried to reassure us that the United States would never consider using these weapons except in the most extreme circumstances, but neglected to enlighten us as to what those circumstances might look like.

My friend and colleague, Rev. Michael Neuroth summed up many of our reactions to Mrs. Friedt’s remarks by ending his subsequent presentation with a quote from longtime peace activist Rev. William Sloane Coffin who once said, “We are beginning to resemble extinct dinosaurs who suffered from too much armor and too little brain”.

We all approvingly applauded the succinct remark, but if we are not careful, the Church’s political advocacy and activism can become confined by this same armor employed by Mrs. Friedt. When the real life problems of our communities and world become “issues” we talk about abstractly, we can speak and act on them divorced from their context and the people actually affected. To do this betrays not only the people affected but also our vocation as the Church.

When we engage in this manner, we’ve allowed our own armor to shroud and influence our vision to the point that we cannot even begin to imagine a world that is wildly different and more restorative than the reality we currently inhabit. Scholar and theologian Walter Brueggemann speaks about this tension at length in his book the Prophetic Imagination. In our line of work, we often like to talk about hope and peace in our world, but Brueggemann rightly reminds us that these words mean nothing out of their context:

“Hope expressed only in the present tense will no doubt be co-opted by the managers of this age…Therefore the symbols of hope cannot be general and universal but must be those that have been known concretely in this particular history…The memory of this community begins in God’s promissory address to the darkness of chaos, to barren Sarah, and to oppressed Egyptian slaves. The speech of God is first about an alternative future. (The Prophetic Imagination, pg. 64)

We are not a people without a history and we are not a people without a God. We know and believe that the status quo is not the best we can hope for because we have this unique story of God’s freedom and liberation working in the world. The same spirit in the “Cloud by Day/Fire by Night” that guided the Israelites out of the wilderness continues to pull us forward today into new possibilities of liberation and reconciliation.

Francisco de Goya's "Fire By Night"

Francisco de Goya’s “Fire By Night”

To speak of such things in our society makes us sound strange and unfamiliar, but speaking about them also gives us a clinging hope that feels unwarranted and yet incredibly necessary

Especially necessary when we’re confronted with inexplicable madness like the kidnapping of the Nigerian girls in Chibok. To respond with disembodied calls for peace and hope in Nigeria from a cozy office in Washington feels inadequate at best and totally disingenuous at worst. But when we ground our work in communion and solidarity with our Nigerian sisters and brothers, we can once again plug back into our story and remind ourselves of who we are and whose we are.

Only when grounded in this context can we faithfully speak an energizing word of hope, advocate for a just policy, or pray a prayer for peace. Only when we tap into the imagination and creativity of the Spirit can we begin to embody the reality of God that is here waiting to be shared and lived into.

This is our hope as an office. To witness to the story we’ve been given and grafted into by Christ. To recognize the areas of our country and world where this witness and promise of God’s alternative reality can make a difference, and pray that our work is not in vain.

May we learn to strip off the armor that limits our hope and shrouds our vision. And may we remember that we are clothed in Christ, the one who renews our mind and spirit to be courageous disciples who have no need of any armor but the Spirit of the Lord that goes with us.


-Bryan Hanger

A time to receive

“All care is given and received freely because it is done in the name of Jesus.” Photos by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

“All care is given and received freely because it is done in the name of Jesus.”
Photos by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

Adapted from a reflection by William Cave in celebration of Older Adult Month.

“For everything there is a season…”

These opening words from chapter three of Ecclesiastes have captured imaginations throughout history. The author is believed to have been a philosopher and teacher. He identified with “reason” as a way to interpret life, but that approach left him baffled. Still, he believed that life, even with its limitations, is worth living.

It’s interesting that the predetermined patterns of life listed by the Ecclesiastes philosopher do not include seasons when it is necessary—even a blessing—to receive rather than to give. This seems out of place in our culture that is dominated by models of economic exchange which expect that any gift will be reciprocated. A spirit of generosity and gratitude has been replaced with one of investment and return.

The danger with this model is devaluing people who have nothing to give. It becomes easy to exclude such persons, even within the fellowship of believers, since our rules of engagement require the ability to offer some reasonable return—something that will benefit others.

And yet, the author of Ecclesiastes contends that there is a season for “every matter under heaven.” Our lives experience rhythms, including times when, for health, time, or financial reasons, we cannot contribute much to others—we have nothing to exchange. That is a season when the only proper role is to receive the care of others; that time when it is actually more blessed to receive than to give.

As Christians, we embrace the truth that within the fellowship of believers, all care is given and received freely because it is done in the name of Jesus, the Christ. May we find within our respective faith communities the permission and strength to receive care of others with grace and dignity.

William Cave, of Cleona, Pa., is an ordained minister in the Church of the Brethren whose passion is helping others learn about the aging process and ways to share Christ’s compassion with older adults. Read his reflection in full, as well as several other resources for Older Adult Month, at the . Support the important work of Older Adult Ministries at .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Supporting Leaders: Sabbath Rest

Serra Retreat Center in Malibu, California

Clergy Women’s Retreat 2014 in Malibu, California . Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford.

  1. Honor the pastor’s days off – no phone calls, emails, visits unless an absolute emergency
  2. Make sure that vacation time is honored, both by granting it and ensuring that the leadership needs are cared for while the pastor is away (no interruptions!)
  3. Support Sabbath rests/sabbaticals for pastors, and other leaders as well
  4. Notice and give value to your leaders’ hobbies and avocations

The May issue of Basin & Towel magazine is all about the idea of calling, which includes caring for and sustaining those who have answered their call. How do you support your pastor and other church leaders? What would you add to this list and the previous post? Future posts in this series will cover supporting leaders in the areas of health and emotional support. Join the conversation, share ideas, and learn from others!