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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)

Being the church

David Steele speaking with the group at the Atlantic Northeast District Listening Session. Photo by Glenn Riegel

David Steele speaking with the group at the
Atlantic Northeast District Listening Session.
Photo by Glenn Riegel

By David Steele, general secretary

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope”(Romans 15:13).

My first 100 days as general secretary have come and gone. These first weeks have been exhilarating, challenging, and joy-filled. Assessment, questions, review of past board and committee minutes, and many meetings have filled my days. What has been and will continue to be central in my work and ministry has been listening—listening to staff and you, the church. From the hallways and meeting rooms of the General Offices and Brethren Service Center to the listening sessions being held across the denomination, I am learning much. I count it a privilege to meet with you to hear your hopes, passions, and concerns, and I look forward to many more listening opportunities as I continue to schedule listening sessions in other districts.

What am I learning from your sharing? We are passionate about the Church of the Brethren and our common ministries of service, mission, discipleship, and evangelism. Yet, we are also distracted by dwindling numbers and whether we will split over our diverging or opposite views related to human sexuality and same-gender marriage. Many of your hopes have been centered in a desire for unity, reconciliation, and focusing on what unites us. Much of your sharing can be taken at face value; however, for some our desire for unity and staying together are tied to certain outcomes.

The issues we face as a church will not go away. Let’s not kid ourselves. Given our diversity, there is no decision that we can make about a social issue that will satisfy all of us. And when we do make a decision about a social issue, it will likely be replaced by another, and another, and another.

Being the church is messy. It always has been. I have always appreciated the diversity of the church and the opportunities and challenges such diversity offers. In 1 Corinthians 12:12 we read, “The body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body.” Each part of the body is essential and cannot be denied its place in the body. “God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose” (12:18).

I believe we must work together as one body—the body of Christ—to attend to the issues before us and those that we will face in the future. Our rich diversity provides us the ability to speak to a very complex and diverse world and model another way of living—the way of Jesus. Our working together, despite our differences, is not a denial of our convictions, but an acknowledgment of our conviction that Jesus is central in our lives and that we are part of one body in Christ. Sure, it is easier to seek out and gather with those who think and believe like us, but where would be our sense of smell, sight, ability to walk, to touch? As one dear brother said in one of the listening sessions, “I need those of you calling me to purity equally as much as I need those calling me to grace and compassion.”

As we step into this new year, I am committed to our common struggle together as the body of Christ. In the midst of distractions, it has been most exhilarating in my first 100 days to experience firsthand the tireless efforts of staff and leaders to be the church. Mission work around the globe, disaster response ministries, workcamps for youth, discipleship ministries and working with congregations in efforts of vitality and evangelism, intercultural ministries, church planting coaching and support, and planning for Christian Citizenship Seminar, Young Adult Conference, and Inspiration 2017 (National Older Adult Conference)and the list could go on.

We are called to another way of living, a way that looks much different from the world around us. I invite you to support and join in our mission and ministry—to be the church. Being the church is where our body finds its unity and strength through Jesus.

Learn more about the ministries of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org or support it today at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

God has a plan for you

Laura (pictured left) and her colleagues.  Photo by Laura Slattery

Laura (pictured left) and her colleagues.
Photo by Laura Slattery

By Laura Hassel, Brethren Volunteer Service volunteer from Unit 313

Two weeks after my high school graduation in Essen, Germany, was my flight to the US and the start of three weeks at orientation. The time before orientation was very stressful for me. I constantly looked at the available projects, always asking where I will serve for this year. On my flight to the United States, I thought: “Laura don’t be so stressed out. God has a plan for you and you will go to the place you are called.” These thoughts were right.

In my second week at orientation, I was placed at “The Gubbio Project” in San Francisco. Now, after a few weeks at my project, I have the feeling that I was called to be here.

At The Gubbio Project, we try to create a welcoming community for people dealing with homelessness. There are two churches where unhoused people find a sacred place to sleep. In these sacred places, we try to create a community where people feel welcome. The Gubbio is also a place where unhoused and housed people get in touch with each other. Both are children of God, both are in a holy space, and both have a similar way of using this space.

My jobs range from making sure the space is clean, coordinating volunteers, writing letters to different churches about preaching there, and taking care of donations. I love my work and how much variety is in it. I also see and feel how important and nessessary it is. God chose this place for me and I give thanks every day for this opportunity.

We need to remember to not get stressed out if we have not found our calling yet. Maybe you already found your vocation. Maybe you don’t know what you are called to do. Nobody knows the plan of God and what life holds for them. We have to trust in God that the plan he has for us is the right one.

Learn more about the work of Brethren Volunteer Service at www.brethren.org/bvs or support it today at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

God’s gift of love

Workcampers in Portland, Ore., shared God’s love through serving at SnowCap community gardens.

Workcampers in Portland, Ore., shared God’s love
through serving at SnowCap community gardens.

By Matt DeBall, coordinator of Donor Communications

Christmas is a beautiful season of celebration. Though visible in many ways, one image of celebration is the assortment of beautifully wrapped gifts. Regardless of how many presents surround our Christmas trees, these packages of colorful paper and bows represent the love we have for one another. Additionally, gifts with our names on them raise anticipation and invite us to have hope for what we will receive.

Some 2,000 years ago, God gave us the ultimate gift. Wrapped in a form that we would recognize, God entered our world. Like the presents we place under our decorated trees, the gift of Jesus is an expression of God’s love for us.

Remembering the gift of Jesus in this season, we re-imagine the anticipation that Israel felt for the coming of the Messiah. This experience isn’t very difficult since we see the injustices and disharmony in our world and our anticipation for the second coming of Jesus grows. Held in tension between what we experience now and what we will experience when Jesus returns, we wait with hope for what will come.

As this year comes to a close, we invite you to consider how you can give a gift of love to the Church of the Brethren. Though we all are held in the tension of what has been and what will be, we pray and give with expectation of what God will do.

May you experience God’s presence in this season of waiting, and may you be filled with hope as we celebrate Jesus, God’s gift of love to the world.

Learn more about the ministries of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org or support them today at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Seeing God at work

MSS volunteer Ruth Ritchie-Moore reading to students at Buffalo Valley Church of the Brethren. Photos by Donita Keister

MSS volunteer Ruth Ritchie-Moore reading
to students at Buffalo Valley Church of the Brethren.
Photos by Donita Keister

By Donita Keister, associate pastor for Children and Pastoral Care at Buffalo Valley (Pa.) Church of the Brethren and Mission and Ministry Board member.

Days are refreshingly cooler now that Fall has finally arrived. This summer in central Pennsylvania was particularly warm, and had a unique sense of warmth for me that went beyond the sun’s intense rays. Each summer at Buffalo Valley Church of the Brethren, I supervise a summer full of programming for children in our community that includes a Wednesday day camp along with other ministry activities. Last fall our Children’s Ministry Team became aware of Ministry Summer Service, a leadership development program during which college students in the Church of the Brethren spend nine weeks in a church-related setting. As we applied to become a site for an MSS volunteer, we looked forward to the extra set of hands and feet that would lighten the heavy load of summer ministry.

We were excited to learn that our application was accepted and we would welcome Ruth Ritchie-Moore into our lives and ministry. As we prepared for her work among us, I slowly gained a deeper understanding of what MSS was all about. Yes, Ruth would be among us as “hands and feet,” but the relationship would go well beyond that to a place of heartfelt ministry on a number of different levels. I learned that I would have the responsibility to mentor Ruth, who had entrusted her summer to my care. Her experience with our congregation would help form her view of her own ministry and call in her chosen vocation.

Ruth and I were partners as we planned our times of ministry with the children. I challenged her to confidently grow in her obvious ability to articulate her particularly deep insights and to share her heart. She challenged me to be organized and prepared for my day (although I’m pretty sure she was not aware of that… I have a tendency to “fly by the seat of my pants” more often than I should). I challenged her to be open to God’s calling in surprising and unexpected places. Her quiet and reflective presence challenged me to “be still and know” daily with more intentionality and presence in order to see God’s hand at work. These lessons and others brought the unique sense of warmth and friendship into our mentor/mentee relationship.

As our time together drew to a close I discovered new things about Ruth that I wished I had seen earlier. I wished for more time at a slower pace, not only so I could mentor her longer, but in order that she could continue to “mentee” me.

Ministry Summer Service is a shared ministry of Youth and Young Adult Ministries and the Office of Ministry. Your gift to the Church of the Brethren supports faith and leadership formation programs like this. Learn more about Ministry Summer Service at www.brethren.org/mss or give now at www.brethren.org/give.

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Giving Tuesday 2016

A workcamp in Kyle, S.D., international mission work in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Christian Citizenship Seminar 2016. Photos by Jennifer Coale, Christian Elliot, and Kendra Harbeck.

A workcamp in Kyle, S.D., international mission work in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Christian Citizenship Seminar 2016.
Photos by Jennifer Coale, Christian Elliot, and Kendra Harbeck.

By Matt DeBall, coordinator of Donor Communications

“Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:7-8).

God is generous. Though each person witnesses this quality in different ways, we all experience the abundant, unwarranted, and wonderful blessings of God. God is so gracious, providing all that we need, and in many cases, giving us more than we could imagine. As we give thanks to God, we also have the opportunity to share what we have received. The abundant gifts in our lives are not only meant to bless us and our families, but also the church and the world.

Though our culture is filled with consumerism and over-spending during the holidays, Giving Tuesday is a reminder that there is more to the story. As we give, we partake in the generous and gracious giving of God.

Through gifts to the Church of the Brethren, its ministries are able to provide:

  • Conferences to discern together the work of God in our midst and in the world;
  • Trainings for deacons, pastors, and licensed ministers to lead and care for their communities;
  • Opportunities to nurture existing relationships with international partners and follow God’s leading into new relationships;
  • Communications that inform, encourage, and inspire the larger church; and
  • So much more!

As we celebrate Giving Tuesday on November 29, we invite you to consider how God may be leading you to give to the Church of the Brethren. All gifts to the denominational ministries of your church support life-changing opportunities that share the love of God.

Learn more about Giving Tuesday or give now at www.brethren.org/givingtuesday.

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

You can’t rush perfection

Find worship resources at www.brethren.org/adventoffering

Find worship resources at www.brethren.org/adventoffering

 

A sermon starter for the 2016 Advent Offering written by Eric Landram, pastor of Lititz (Pa.) Church of the Brethren.

“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord” (Isaiah 11:1-2).

“You can’t rush perfection!” My dad uses that line every single time he is grilling for a cookout. When he is hard at work, our family constantly hovers around him and the pleasant aromas from his cooking device of choice. “How much longer? We can’t stand waiting much longer,” we wail. “Can’t rush perfection, sorry,” he replies. He’s right. You shouldn’t rush a good thing.

Now that Halloween is over, our society has rushed right to Christmas. In a mad dash for your consumer dollar, businesses and corporations anticipate your holiday spending with joyful glee. We rush, blazing right past the Thanksgiving turkey and straight to the Christmas tree. We want the perfect Christmas and we want it now.

In the church, we can have a tendency to fall into this same pattern. We are quick to begin singing Christmas carols that proclaim the Messiah’s birth. Our sermons, scripture readings, and youth pageants put us on the theological fast-track to the manger, complete with wise men. We would do well to remember to slow down.

This is Isaiah’s new vision of hope. The stump has sprouted and the branch is growing, but it will take time. There is a sense of “good things come to those who wait” and “trust in the Lord” going on here. Isaiah is speaking to a people that are so desperate, so hopeless, and so defeated by the state of their world. Isaiah’s words are a comfort. Good news! There is someone coming who will bring about a new vision of hope and a new sense of belonging. The best part? This someone will usher in a new era of righteousness.

This new world looks radically different. Wolves and lambs, leopards and kids, the fiercest hunters in nature will live at peace with those whom they have consumed in the past. Isaiah says, “For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord.” The words of Jesus, and his life, from manger to cross and tomb have given us the knowledge of God’s plan for all people. Isaiah’s words are relevant and serve as a reminder for us even today. The Kingdom of God is growing. The branch of righteousness has sprung! We, as the church, are to tend the garden, to assist the branch in springing forth.

Our Advent sermons should take some time to acknowledge the difficulty in waiting for the birth of the Messiah while at the same time lifting up the significance of anticipating and waiting for this promised savior. If Advent is anything for us as followers of Jesus, it is the reminder to slow down in the midst of the clanging and gonging of our modern world, and listen for that still small voice that reminds us each year that “Christ is coming soon.” You can’t rush perfection.

The suggested date for the Advent Offering is December 4. Find worship resources at www.brethren.org/adventoffering or give today at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

True Colors

"May we never be afraid to show our true colors..."  Photo by Cherise Glunz

“May we never be afraid to show our true colors…”
Photo by Cherise Glunz

By Nathan Hollenberg, pastor at Linville Creek Church of the Brethren in Broadway, Va.

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20).

I always find myself eager for fall weather, my favorite season! Recently I read a fascinating and very scientific article about the changing colors of leaves during fall. Essentially the individual who wrote this article argued that when the leaves change their colors we are actually seeing the trees’ “true colors” instead of our typically held belief that tree leaves are naturally green.

Without going into too much scientific detail the point is that leaves get their green appearance during the spring and summer because they produce high levels of chlorophyll, which aids in photosynthesis and helps the plant produce food. As the days grow shorter and fall arrives this process breaks down and the chlorophyll dis­sipates, causing the green color of leaves to fade and the “true color” of the leaves to be seen. It’s interesting that it is this time of year, when the tree dies back, that we often think trees are at their “peak” beauty. I have always found the changing of the leaves to be awe inspiring and especially beautiful here where I live, in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Perhaps we would rather leave the science out of it and simply appreciate the miracle of the seasons God has included in creation.

However, for me, this idea of the trees showing their “true colors” reminded me of a reality of faith mirrored in the Galatians passage above. Just as trees show their true beauty, their true colors, through a process of letting go, we too have been called to die to self and to let go so that the glory and beauty of God may shine through. We have been “crucified with Christ” so that Christ would become visible in our lives. It seems sometimes that it is in letting go of all our busyness and the hard work that so often distracts us that we allow our true beauty found in Christ to shine forth. Fall is often one of these busy seasons as school starts back up, sports seasons get under way, and our yards need attending. Perhaps then this season of autumn is an ap­propriate time to remember to slow down and rediscover the beauty of Christ in you.

Recognize that it is Christ who lives in and through us in order to reveal the beauty and majesty of God. May we never be afraid to show our true colors, giving God the praise and adoration as we discover that beauty in us and in others.

This reflection was originally featured in the October issue of Messenger magazine. Learn more about the ministries of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org or support them  at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Mutuality in mission

Debbie Eisenbise leading a workshop at the  2016 New Church Planting Conference.  Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

Debbie Eisenbise leading a workshop at the
2016 New Church Planting Conference.
Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

By Debbie Eisenbise, director of Intergenerational Ministries

Someone recently asked me what I believe it means to be Brethren. Thinking back, I realized that it was a simple phrase that convinced me to join the church. I didn’t grow up in the Church of the Brethren. I grew up going to church, studied religion in college, and then became acquainted with the denomination through Brethren Volunteer Service. There, I first heard the phrase, “mutuality in mission.”

Mission philosophies come and go, and we may not talk about our engagement with the world this way anymore. However, what struck me at the time (and still does) was not the words themselves but how they are embodied in our church. We are people who put faith into action, and do so with others. We look for ways to work with others, to engage in community efforts, and to be of service where needs have been identified by local groups. We listen to others. We make decisions together.

Mutuality in mission requires us to respond to the needs of people in the church and in the world, and to work alongside others for the good of all. It is faith in action. Before I met the Brethren, I thought faith was a private thing, a way of believing that helped each person maintain a particular perspective on life. Now I know that, while faith is personal, it is not private, and the gifts of faith that each of us possess are to be used for the common good.

Before I came into the Church of the Brethren, I had never participated in feetwashing. Although I was familiar with the Bible, I’m not sure that scripture (John 13) made much of an impact on me. In the Church of the Brethren, I was surprised to find that this scripture was not only frequently cited but also enacted. It wasn’t just a story about Jesus and his disciples at that last supper. These were also instructions for us today. Jesus tells us: “I have set you an example that you also should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15). As Brethren, we take this quite literally, and not just in worship. Mutuality in mission means that we serve others, and, acknowledging our own vulnerability, allow others to serve us in return. Indeed, faith in action is relational. We give and receive. Together we share God’s love and build community.

I saw this happening at various denominational conferences I attended in May. At the New Church Planting Conference, Brethren brothers and sisters of various races and cultures came together to pray for each other’s ministries. At the Church of the Brethren Spiritual Directors’ retreat, ideas were shared about how to make spiritual direction more available to pastors to strengthen and encourage them in ministry. At the National Young Adult Conference, participants took time one afternoon to connect across generations with older adults at Timbercrest Senior Living Community.

Congregations across the country are joining the Open Roof Fellowship through intentionally ministering to and with persons of all physical, mental, and developmental abilities. Others are actively engaged in creating safe spaces for all people, particularly children and vulnerable adults, to worship, learn, fellowship, and serve together. At our conferences, in workcamps, through Brethren Volunteer Service, and in our congregations, we come together to put our faith into action, to engage in mutuality in mission. Thank you for all you do to respond to this call through prayers, gifts, worship, and service.

Learn more about the Congregational Life Ministries of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/clm or support them today at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Special

Workcampers in Kyle, S.D. Photo by Jennifer Coale

Workcampers in Kyle, S.D.
Photo by Jennifer Coale

By Deanna Beckner, assistant workcamp coordinator

As Rachel Berry from the hit Fox television show Glee proclaimed when she received her Tony Award, explicating a lesson she learned from her high school choir teacher Mr. Schuester, “Being a part of something special does not make you special. Something is special because you are a part of it.” That is how I see each of the participants and directors who came to Church of the Brethren workcamps this summer. Their enthusiasm, beautiful personalities, and tenacious willingness to serve in the Lord’s name coalesced at each and every workcamp as they grew as individuals and as newly-gathered communities. Workcamps provide unique opportunities, but it is the participants who come and serve who make the time together special.

Now that the workcamp season is over, I miss the workcampers every day. In looking through pictures, all of the memories of bumps in the road are juxtaposed with the fantastically fun and silly moments, the incredibly meaningful moments, and the insightful faith moments. And somehow, amidst everything that happened this summer, it is the good stuff that stands out the most.

Getting stuck in the rain after a dinner cookout but spending time getting to know one another, or playing hacky sack in the courtyard of a homeless shelter with a new friend, or playing group games that bring out the deepest laughter, or singing songs in the van together as we ride along to the evening activity—these are the moments that warm my heart, that flit through my mind as I prepare for a new year of workcamps.

I could tell you about all of the work that went into this past summer, the ways I have changed, and the many places I have traveled to, but really, I could jabber on and on about the lasting memories that I spent having fun and learning with the workcampers and directors. I feel blessed to be on this journey, to have God leading me through these workcamps, and picking me up when I make mistakes. I feel blessed to be a part of this body of believers who spend time at a workcamp to serve and to be served, to meet new friends and rekindle previous friendships, to grow in faith and to share faith with others. And because of all of this, I feel special.

Deanna Beckner served as an assistant workcamp coordinator with Amanda McLearn-Montz for the 2016 workcamp season, and will continue serving for the 2017 season with Shelley Weachter. Learn more about the Workcamp Ministry at www.brethren.org/workcamps or support it today at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)