Stewardship in the small church


A reflection by H. Fred Bernhard

“Tell those rich in this world’s goods to quit being so full of themselves and so obsessed with money: which is here today and gone tomorrow. Tell them to go after God, who piles on all the riches we could ever manage—to do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous. If they do that they’ll build a treasury that will last, gaining life that is truly life” (1 Timothy 6:18-19, The Message).

In 1995 my wife and I were invited to attend a stewardship conference. While there, I experienced a mindset change from scarcity to abundance, realizing that we as Americans are far richer than other peoples around the world. It changed my whole perspective on how I view wealth and material possessions.

Small congregations usually view themselves as congregations with limited resources, both financial and in people skills. Pastors of these congregations hear these responses: “We can’t do that; we don’t have enough money.” “We don’t have the time to do that; all of us are already too busy.” “We’re not like the big church down the street. Let them do that.”

From my own experience, I can testify that a bigger worshiping community does not mean a more effective church. Size may make multiple programs possible, but congregational vitality can be achieved in congregations of all sizes.

The common denominator is passion. Congregations who possess passion know that they can make a difference for Christ in their community and around the world. They know that, no matter how small, they can do big things for God. The secret is a passion for a purposeful, mission-­driven, congregational life. Persons are drawn to such churches because they want to serve.

A mission committee struggled for weeks trying to come up with ways to buy one heifer for Heifer International. With a little help from the pastor, the congregation caught the vision and turned it into a passion for a mission. The result was 32 heifers purchased and donated to Heifer International.

That congregation experienced a mindset change: from scarcity to abundance. What no one thought possible became a reality when they caught the vision and their compassion fulfilled the mission. In simple terms, they put their hands where their mouths were. It’s a spiritual condition, isn’t it? Giving isn’t about the receiver or the gift but the giver.

It’s a sign of our spiritual discipline. We give because it’s the only concrete way we have of saying that we’re glad to be alive and well. Giving is a way of taking the focus off the money we make and putting it back where it belongs—on the lives we lead, the God we serve, the families we raise, the communities which nurture us. Our spiritual condition can be summed up with this prayer: “No matter what we say or do, God, this offering is what we think of you.”

When your congregation, however small, puts its trust in God and changes your attitude from scarcity to abundance, amazing things will happen—things beyond your wildest imagination. Just ask that church’s mission committee!

Fred Bernhard is an ordained minister in the Church of the Brethren and has served as a pastor and interim pastor in many congregations.

This reflection was originally published in Giving magazine, produced by the Ecumenical Stewardship Center. E-mail ebrethren@brethren.org to receive a complimentary copy of the 2017 issue of Giving magazine.

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Strengthening relationships

Jay Wittmeyer with Mr. and Mrs. Fafa Lawan Kapi from Chibok.
Photo by Marcus Gamache

By Jay Wittmeyer, executive director of Global Mission and Service

As executive director of Global Mission and Service, my responsibilities include strengthening relationships with our sister churches in other parts of the world. I recently returned from a trip to be with the Nigerian Brethren as they convened their 70th Majalisa (annual conference).

This conference was particularly significant for the Nigerian Brethren as they returned home after two years of displacement and exile. There have been ongoing efforts to de-Christianize the historic homeland of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN), and the Brethren counted it a tremendous blessing to be present in Kwarhi. To celebrate this and to express gratitude to the Church of the Brethren for assisting EYN through their time suffering, leadership invited me to participate in the Majalisa and deliver the opening sermon.

Among those present at the Majalisa were the governor of Adamawa State, who gave a speech, and his entourage. In response, EYN president Joel Billi shared. “We request a place. Our people have lived here for centuries,” he said, “and we want to continue to live here. We do not want to go anywhere else.”

Going to Nigeria also allowed me to visit Chibok for the first time. Chibok is about an hour from Kwarhi. The paved road finishes miles before Chibok and the remaining stretch is gravel with deep potholes. Chibok is noticeably drier than many areas and extremely dry in April.

The Brethren established a missionary presence in Chibok in the 1930s, started a school, and even established a Bible school. (To my amazement, I learned that the Bible school still holds classes and currently has 13 students.) Long-term mission worker Gerald Neher wrote several books focused on his time in Chibok.

Despite its deep Brethren roots, however, Chibok became known internationally on April 14, 2014, when the radical sect Boko Haram drove dozens of heavily armed vehicles into the compound of the Government Girls Secondary School and forcefully abducted 276 girls. This prompted international outrage, reflected in the #BringBackOurGirls campaign. (Our prayers continue for these girls.)

The Nigerian security forces have a heavy presence in Chibok. But since I was traveling with Paul Yang, EYN district secretary, we were given permission to enter the town, visit EYN churches and the Bible school, and meet with EYN families. What had a significant impact on me in Chibok was seeing the youth brigades practice their marching. They are tasked to assist in patrolling the community and to alert the security forces of any attacks.

It was inspiring to meet Laban Wadi, an EYN member who, despite the attacks, decided he and his family should stay in Chibok. They were forced to flee and spend eight nights in the bush, but otherwise have been safe living in the town while others on the outskirts had to flee. Laban retired as a medical assistant, a trade he learned from the Brethren. He expressed gratitude for my visit and asked me to bring greetings to Brethren in the United States. He mentioned Roger Schrock, Owen Shankster, and Roger Ingold, and was saddened to learn that Gerald Neher passed away last year. Laban was baptized by Gerald in 1958. Laban also reported that the last rainy season was good and he harvested 30 bags of peanuts alone.

On our way back from Chibok, we stopped to see the church in Uba. When Boko Haram attacked the area in 2014, they went from town to town burning churches by the hundreds. EYN lost 250 large churches, and the church at Uba was among them. The congregation is now meeting under a temporary structure as it works to raise funds to rebuild. Several thousand members attend worship every week and the footprint of the new church is very large. It will not have wooden rafters and will not be easily burned.

When you give to the Church of the Brethren, you support new and ongoing partnerships around the world. Your prayers and financial contributions make it possible for relationships to grow and communities to thrive through the partnerships of Global Mission and Service. We are so thankful for your support of this important, life-changing ministry of the Church of the Brethren.

Learn more about the work of Global Mission and Service at www.brethren.org/global. Support this and all of the ministries of the Church of the Brethren today at www.brethren.org/give.  

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Unplug, refresh, and change perspective

Photo by Traci Rabenstein

By Traci Rabenstein, congregational support representative

Every spring, with summer just around the corner, I dream about the beach! Squishing sand between my toes, sitting in a beach chair with a good book, people watching, and all around enjoying the majesty of the ocean—the mighty work of God.

A couple of years ago, I went to the Outer Banks in North Carolina with my mother and childhood best friend. We did several things during our week together, but watching the sun rise on the Atlantic Ocean was a favorite activity. Those tranquil moments were great for reflecting on life and God’s creation. The quiet, beautiful setting served as a powerful reminder of how awesome our Creator God is, and I found solace in those moments.

Unfortunately, those moments of peacefulness were (and are) fleeting. Just a few weeks after returning from our trip, I found myself in a tense and stressed posture. It was as if I had forgotten how to relax and feel centered. Looking out my office window and pondering what my life had become, I considered what it would take to unplug from the issues I dealt with.

My thoughts wandered to an article about what it means to “reboot.” Author Peter Bregman shared a story for Harvard Business Review about having Internet connection problems and becoming frustrated. Initially, instead of trying to fix the issue, he ignored it and worked to complete an article for his editor. After finishing the article, however, he still couldn’t connect to the Internet. He tried everything he could think of, which included yelling at the computer, but was unsuccessful. Then he remembered something that had worked before. He unplugged everything—the computer, the router, everything—and waited.

As he waited, he realized that his frustration and annoyance drifted away, and he wasn’t as angry about the situation as he was originally. He shares, “It’s strange, because one minute is so little time, but when the time was up, I felt noticeably different… [and] oddly refreshed. My situation hadn’t changed, but my perspective had.”

Changing our perspective is purposeful work and something that we need to practice regularly. A volatile mindset can become the agenda of our day, and lead us into a rhythm of hostility and lashing out at others when we get frustrated. However, as Christ-followers, we are called to a different rhythm. One that says, “love one another.” It is often easier said than done, and it can even seem easier when interacting with strangers than with one another, but it’s the work we’re called to do.

What can we do to unplug, reboot, and change perspective in the situations of life? It’s a difficult question, but a cherished Bible verse of my great-uncle might help: “I will lift up my eyes to the hills, From whence comes my help? My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1-2. NKJV).

May we be willing to unplug from the grind of life, find time and space to refresh ourselves, and allow our perspective to be changed by the wonderful work of God around us and in us.

The ministries of the Church of the Brethren can help you or your congregation unplug, refresh, and change perspective. Learn more about them at www.brethren.org or support them at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Investigating a Brethren myth: A connection to the Peace Corps

Don Murray during his time in Brethren Service.
Photo from the Brethren Historical Library and Archives

By Bill Kostlevy, director of the Brethren Historical Library and Archives

As is fitting for a people who gather around Scripture, Brethren also gather around stories of heroes in the faith. Unfortunately, given the lack of documentary evidence, early Brethren history is often shrouded in mystery. Documentation is sparse and the room for conjecture large. This is where the Brethren Historical Library and Archives (BHLA) enters the equation.

Tasked with the assignment of collecting and preserving the historical record of the Brethren experience, the BHLA is the repository for far more than the official agencies of the Church of the Brethren. It is committed to preserving the documentary evidence for a movement that has left a deep impact wherever its members have been. This includes local communities in North America, the establishment of hospitals and schools in India, Shanxi Province China, and Nigeria. Brethren also pioneered in evangelical and social justice outreach in locations like Denmark, Austria, and even in war-torn countries of Spain and Vietnam.

As a historian, I know there are certain commonly believed Brethren stories, and even strongly held beliefs, where supporting evidence is either thin or non-existent. Despite the beard, Abraham Lincoln was not secretly baptized into the Dunker fold. Nor did the early Brethren invent Sunday school. Or on a more controversial note, it is puzzling that folks who believed in no force of religion also disciplined erring brothers and sisters by disowning them.

The story of Brethren influence in the creation of the Peace Corps has always intrigued me. Did Brethren Service really provide the model for the Peace Corps? In an age of false news and alternative truth, I sought to find the answer to this question.

In November, I interviewed Don Murray—a conscientious objector to war, distinguished actor, and former Brethren Service worker. He served in Brethren Service from 1953-1956 working in Germany, among refugees in Naples, and later in Sardinia with both Brethren Service and the Congregational Church. In Sardinia, he organized the Homeless European Land Program (HELP) which on 130 acres built homes and established several businesses providing both a community and employment for refugee families. For Don Murray, Brethren Service was a transforming experience. As he tells the story, the Peace Corps was the product of an importune speech he made in Hibbing, Minnesota, in 1956. A recent co-star with Marilyn Monroe in Bus Stop, Murray was asked to introduce the Democratic vice-presidential candidate at a campaign rally. When the vice-presidential candidate’s plane was late, Murray was asked to entertain the audience with stories from Hollywood. Since the New York-based Murray, who had spent most of the last three years in Europe, had little Hollywood gossip, he regaled the audience with stories of his Brethren Service experience.

Among those in the audience was Minnesota Senator and later Vice-President Hubert Humphrey. A serious Christian and Methodist, Humphrey was moved by the story and arranged an interview for Murray with President Dwight Eisenhower. Although not enacted during the Eisenhower administration, Humphrey’s, or as Humphrey called it, “Murray’s plan,” was subsequently introduced in Congress. It was this legislation that laid the ground work for the Peace Corps.

Today Don Murray, who became a member of the Church of the Brethren and considers his time in Brethren Service as one of the most meaningful experiences in his life, remains deeply committed to the values he learned from his Church of the Brethren. He was blessed with many Brethren friends and mentors including Dan West, Harold Row, Dale Aukerman, Ken Kreider, and Don Miller.

The interview with Don Murray is one of many treasures housed in the Brethren Historical Library and Archives. While there may not be evidence for some of our Brethren myths, it is inspiring to know that there is for this one. Don Murray’s story is a reminder of the power of the faith and actions of all who are willing to serve the world in the spirit of our Savior.

Learn more about the Brethren Historical Library and Archives at www.brethren.org/bhla or support it today at www.brethren.org/give.

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Anticipating Annual Conference

Photo by Glenn Riegel

By Chris Douglas, conference director

I have looked forward to Annual Conference each and every summer since I became a member of the Church of the Brethren in the 1970s.

I remember so vividly an Annual Conference more than twenty years ago in which we saw story after story in David Sollenberger’s videos in the General Board Live Report of what the Church of the Brethren was doing in mission around the world. Then at the close of the live report, we stood and sang together, “This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long.” I remember thinking, “all of the work of the church that I just saw really is MY story.”

There are many reasons why I love Annual Conference. It’s the place I see friends I only see once a year. It’s a place where we gather as a community to reflect on what it means to be Brethren and where we fellowship together, including with Brethren from around the world. And worship at Annual Conference is where we celebrate God’s majesty and holiness. Last summer I got goose bumps every time we sang, “Light of the World, into our darkness come.” We sang this at the opening of each worship time while candles were carried around the worship hall through the darkness. It was a wonderful reminder to be open to God’s leading.

This year’s theme, “Risk Hope”, is especially timely. Moderator Carol Scheppard’s monthly Bible studies have reminded us, “As we face the various storms of our times we gain strength and hope from the stories of God’s people in exile in Babylon.” When it is most difficult to find hope is the exact time that we must risk hope. This theme invites us to become a people who embody hope.

I am so grateful each summer when we can come together in person with our sisters and brothers to worship, sing, conduct business and fellowship together. Annual Conference also provides webcasting for persons who cannot be present so that, even from far away, Brethren can join in times of business and worship.

At its best, Annual Conference reminds us of who God is calling us to be as the body of Christ in the world. In the words of our mission statement: “Annual Conference exists to unite, strengthen, and equip the Church of the Brethren to follow Jesus.” In Grand Rapids this summer, may we take hold of the opportunities to unite, strengthen, and equip ourselves to follow Jesus!

Learn more or register for this year’s Annual Conference at www.brethren.org/ac .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Can these bones live?

Photo by Matt DeBall

By Matt DeBall, coordinator of Donor Communications

“The hand of the LORD came upon me, and… set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones…. [God] said to me, ‘Mortal, can these bones live?’ I answered, ‘O Lord GOD, you know.’ Then [God] said to me, ‘Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.… I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live’” (Ezekiel 37:1-5).

Nothing reveals death and destruction more clearly than a large heap of bones. For Ezekiel, this vision represented the destruction of his beloved people—the destruction of God’s chosen nation. Ezekiel must have been horrified and full of despair as he surveyed this valley of death.

Though our circumstances may not be as dire as Ezekiel’s vision, they can sometimes feel very similar. Even without intentionally searching, it’s easy to find decay in our world—in the brutal destruction of human life, in the ever-widening chasm of animosity between opposing groups, and, in general, in the diminishing focus to care for all people. If God asked us if broken forms could be restored, our words might mimic those of Ezekiel—whether of despair (“O Lord, [only] you know [if it’s possible]”) or even disgust (“O Lord, [surely] you know [it isn’t possible]”). What reason could we have to respond differently?

Thankfully, the God who asks the question is also the God who answers it. In Ezekiel’s vision, God instructed him to prophesy to the bones, and in response, God breathed new life into them and regenerated those broken bodies. This was a promise of restoration for Israel, but was it just a vision or a metaphor? Surely such things don’t happen in real life.

As we approach Easter, we remember that God does more than tell wonderful stories. We remember Jesus, the Savior, who became a lifeless bag of bones but did not stay that way. Though the conditions of nature declare that dry bones cannot be re-animated, the Creator and Redeemer of all life is not bound by these principles. What was only a shadow of hope in the vision of Ezekiel is fully realized in the resurrection of Jesus. And what God has done once, God can surely do again.

The resurrection power of God still works today. The new life of Jesus is the new life that we experience in following him. The resurrected body of Jesus is represented each year in the new life of plants and flowers. Though we may not see renewal in all areas and realms of life, God invites us to speak to any pile of bones, declaring God’s promise for restoration.

May we have the courage to accept God’s promise for restoration and declare it to a world full of death and decay. May God once again breathe new life into dry bones.

Learn more about the work of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org or make an Easter gift to the ministries that you love at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Seeking the welfare of the city

Congregational Life Ministry staff Joshua Brockway (front row, second from left)
and Debbie Eisenbise (center) with spiritual directors at a retreat in June 2016.
Photo courtesy of Debbie Eisenbise

By Josh Brockway, director of Spiritual Life and Discipleship

I attended worship on New Year’s Eve with close friends at their congregation. The sermon that night emerged from the pastor’s study of Jeremiah 29. For that time of the year, his sermon was appropriately focused on verse 11: “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”

As I often do, I started reading the verses before that important verse. In reading the book of Jeremiah, we learn that the letter presented to the exiles in Babylon begins with a less than hopeful note, especially for those who were longing to be released. “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage.” For those in exile, it sounds like they are going to be waiting a while. And in fact, in verse 10, that truth is confirmed. “For thus says the Lord, only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.”

Certainly, this is a word from God to a people in a land not of their own making. That is the definition of exile. Yet, this word has a profound message beyond how long the people could expect to be held captive by Babylon. The people of God, says the prophet, are to “seek the welfare of the city” (Jeremiah 29:7). For in the peace of the city, the exiles will find their own welfare.

These words are not a weak reminder to live at peace with those around them. Rather, it is a posture with deep theological connotations. This welfare, this peace is nothing short of shalom, the peace of God that offers wellness and wholeness to all God’s people. The captives are to work for this kind of peace for their captors. They are not, as some false prophets suggested, to incite a revolt to overthrow the imperial rulers. Rather, the welfare of God’s people is bound up together with the peace of those who are also their judgment.

Today, many feel like our land is not our own. Some have even gone so far as to invoke the image of exile for the church. If we are indeed exiles, how then should we live? Should we pray for revolt, bloodless or otherwise, or should we seek the welfare of our neighbors, living by the peace of God in the midst of a foreign culture?

Brethren have long been misfits in Christendom. Much of our early growth can be traced to the peculiar way of life that sought the wellbeing of those around them. At the same time, the early Brethren refused to take part in revolution, either in the peaceful transition of power or by the sword itself. Instead, they continued to live within the blessing of God’s peace, praying for friend and foe alike.

Ministries and programs of the Church of the Brethren continue to shape us as disciples, sending us into the world as we seek the welfare of all. Congregational Life Ministries coordinates a network of spiritual directors who have the gifts and skills to help us look for where God is at work around us. The Office of Ministry supports pastors, district executives, and others through the ordination process, and asks that candidates for ordination work with a coach or spiritual director so that their own eyes are fixed on the presence of God in their ministries. The Office of Public Witness continues to provide avenues for our prayerful presence within an ever-changing culture. All of these and more reveal the sacrificial love of God and the peace of Christ, which are for all people.

As we envision the Church of the Brethren in the coming years, may we seek the welfare of the city. May we continue the long history of caring for the sick and marginalized. May we continue to find ways to teach our youth the blessing of God’s peace. And may we find ways to strengthen our congregations as places known for their local ministries of reconciliation.

Your prayers and financial support help keep this witness alive. Thank you for continuing to seek the welfare of the city, and for supporting the ministries of your local and denominational church. For our greatest witness to the world comes in our patient efforts to embody God’s shalom for all those around us.

Learn more about the work of Congregational Life Ministries at www.brethren.org/clm. Support these and all of the ministries of the Church of the Brethren today at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Communicating God’s love

Deanna (front right) with
workcampers in Knoxville, Tenn.
Photo courtesy of Deanna Beckner

By Deanna Beckner, assistant workcamp coordinator

The way we communicate is extremely important. For example: do you know why you can only “ran” in a campground? This is because it’s past tents (past tense). As exemplified by this joke, language is complex and can be understood or misunderstood.

Think about the importance of talking with each other. If we say one thing but mean another, or say something but do the opposite, our message will be very confusing. There is a game where you sometimes have to do what the “leader” says but say the opposite, and other times say what the “leader” says but do the opposite. This makes for a challenging, fun game, but would not be fun in real life.

Reference.com shares three reasons to communicate: “to make or maintain relationships, to share or receive information, and to persuade.” With this in mind, how does God want us to communicate with one other?

Romans 12:14-19 says, “Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down…. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody…. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. ‘I’ll do the judging,’ says God. ‘I’ll take care of it’” (The Message).

Wow! This is quite a challenge. Get along with everybody? Yes, this even means a person you don’t agree with, a friend you’ve stopped talking to, or a family member with whom you have argued in the past.

And what do our actions communicate to others? What forms of entertainment (video games, TV, books, etc.) receive the best of our time and energy? Are we respectful of other people’s time? Do our actions reflect that God is important in our lives and that we love our neighbors? It’s not easy to change our priorities, but it’s not impossible.

The biblical story of Ruth offers us some inspiration. She embodied loyal love. Let’s review the story together.

Act 1: Family trip for food. Father Elimelech, mother Naomi, and sons Mahlon and Killion travel from Bethlehem to Moab to escape a famine, and Elimelech dies.

Act 2: Two marriages and funerals. Mahlon and Killion marry Orpah and Ruth, and after a decade, both sons die. This leaves Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth together as widows.

Act 3: Homeward bound. Naomi prepares to return to Bethlehem once the famine is over. Bitter about the death of her husband and sons, Naomi encourages Orpah and Ruth to return to their own families, but they both choose to stay with her. Naomi explains that she can’t bear sons for them to wait to wed and insists that they leave her. The three women cry together, Orpah departs, but Ruth clings tightly to Naomi.

Ruth pleads with Naomi: “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!” (Ruth 1:16).

Act 4: Resolution. Naomi and Ruth return to Bethlehem. Ruth supports Naomi in a time of need, and later Ruth marries Boaz to continue the family line—the lineage that leads to Jesus.

When we reflect God’s character through our interactions with others, we bring glory to God. Ruth’s sacrifice and hard work to provide for Naomi reflected God’s love.

Like Ruth, God can use us to touch the lives of others. Are you allowing God to use you to share love? Our words and actions can reveal to others that “you count, and everyone counts.” How can you reveal that every person matters? Answering this question will allow you to communicate God’s love in a way that others will understand.

Deanna Beckner and Shelley Weachter are the 2017 assistant workcamp coordinators. A great way to communicate God’s love this summer is by participating in a workcamp or inviting someone to sign up. Register or learn more today at www.brethren.org/workcamps.

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Inspiration 2017

By Debbie Eisenbise, director of Intergenerational Ministries

There should be an adage, “to live is to age.” We don’t often consider that God’s plan for humanity, for all of creation, includes aging. As time passes, we experience change and loss. We grow out of certain pastimes and activities. We slow down a bit, priorities shift, our bodies change, and new roles and relationships emerge in our families, at work, and at church.

With our children grown up and our years of child-bearing and rearing behind us, we enter into the second half of life and explore questions about meaning, purpose, and legacy. We need time and space, not only on our own but with others, to reflect, converse, share, laugh, sing, and pray. Every other year for the past 25 years, our denomination has provided a week to do just this for those age 50 and older.

The first National Older Adult Conference (NOAC) took place in 1992 in North Carolina at the Lake Junaluska Conference Center (a spot that was familiar to those who had attended the 1958 National Youth Conference). Called “Say ‘Yes’ to Years,” the gathering was to “celebrate relationships, stimulate personal growth, and affirm [older adults’] place in church and society.” By 1996, participation reached 1,000, and in 2015, 19 participants had attended all of the conferences ever held.

The reason and energy for establishing this conference came from the 1985 Church of the Brethren Annual Conference Statement on Aging that affirms: “All life is a gift from God. Aging, the living out of that gift, is a life-long experience. Aging is an interrelated process involving social, spiritual, psychological and biological dimensions. The Church of the Brethren … envisions the church as a nurturing, supportive community which regards older persons as growing, learning, and contributing members of family, church, and society.”

Throughout the last quarter-century, the conference has evolved into an intergenerational event. Those older than 50 years old now represent four distinct generations: Generation X (those in their 50s and born after 1964), the Baby Boomer generation (born 1946-1964), the Silent generation (born 1927-1945), and the Greatest generation (born prior to 1927). Regardless of which generation a person is part of, this year’s conference theme, “Generations,” explores God’s call to us: “One generation shall laud God’s works to another and shall declare God’s mighty acts” (Psalm 145:4).

All who are 50+ are invited to join in this “Spirit-filled gathering of adults who love learning and discerning together, exploring God’s call for their lives and living out that call by sharing their energy, insight, and legacy with their families, communities, and the world.” We hope you will join us to celebrate God’s gift of life.

Learn more about the upcoming National Older Adult Conference, “Inspiration 2017” at www.brethren.org/NOAC or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/cobnoac . Ask questions by calling 1-800-323-8039 x. 361 or e-mailing Inspiration2017@brethren.org.

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

You are here

One Great Hour of Sharing  Photo by Jeffrey Abyei

One Great Hour of Sharing
Photo by Jeffrey Abyei

By Laura Jean Torgerson

“Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me”(Matthew 25:40).

Paul reminds us that as members of the church, we are so closely connected that we may consider ourselves as parts of one body. The New Testament constantly refers to followers of Jesus, not as Christians, but as a family— brothers and sisters.

Many churches live this out when someone is ill, mourning, or facing difficulty. We show up. We are present with loved ones who are in need. We show love in tangible ways with casseroles and cards, and with hugs and spoken words of prayer. These acts let our brothers and sisters in Christ know that we are present with them. They know they are not alone because we are beside them.

Maybe you have been through diagnosis and treatment, or unimaginable sorrow, and your church—your family—has been there to let you know that you are not forgotten in times of trouble. When someone is with you through difficult times, all their truest words and most loving actions simply declare, “I am here.”

The Bible tells us that God is like us in this way. When one of God’s beloved children suffers, God declares, “I am here.” God hears the cries of the poor and oppressed (Exodus 3:9, Psalm 10:17, 69:33), is near to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18), and is near to all who call out to God (Psalm 145:18). The promise that God will be with us is a constant refrain from Genesis to Revelation.

When we see the latest tragedy on the news, we might ask, “Where are you, God?” But we already know the answer—God is present in the midst of those who are hurting.

When Jesus tells the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-40), he reveals a mystery to us. God is most tangibly present in the world where people hunger, thirst, lack adequate clothing or shelter, and are sick or imprisoned. Christ claims as family members people who suffer and says Christ is so present in them that when you feed the hungry, care for the sick, welcome the stranger—you feed, care for, and welcome Christ.

Not just your fellow Christians, but anyone in need, anywhere in the world—these are your sisters, your brothers, your children. Their needs might seem different than the person you worship with on Sunday, but your tangible gifts declare the same message: “I am here.” By reaching out to those who suffer from natural disasters, war, or systemic poverty, you let them know that they are not forgotten. Even when the need seems far away, by acting together as the body of Christ, we are able to be present for these members of Christ’s family.

You show love with gifts of food. You are present by providing seeds and training for sustainable agriculture. Through medical kits, school supplies, temporary shelters, and safe housing, you show up.

In the midst of suffering, where is God? God is here. Where are you? When you give to One Great Hour of Sharing, you are here.

This theme interpretation was written for the 2017 One Great Hour of Sharing. Find this and other worship resources for the offering at www.brethren.org/oghs or give today at www.brethren.org/giveoghs .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)