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)

Watching for the Spirit

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Gardeners gathered for the Going to the Garden retreat and vision meeting. Photo by Growing Power

A reflection by Nathan Hosler, director of the Office of Public Witness

It was late March a few years ago, and the winter chill seemed to be breaking. Since the day was beautiful and I was feeling good, I decided, mid-run, to go a little farther. After crossing the Anacostia River at the 11th Street bridge, I continued along the riverside trail. The morning sun was shining on my left shoulder and my back as I trotted on the bike trail, tall and dry meadow grass on both sides. I then saw a red-winged blackbird. It was perched and wobbling on a plant. The bird tipped toward me and then—as I caught a full view of red-orange patches illuminated in direct morning sunlight—it took flight.

A few days before Pentecost this year, I was running in the morning, again. This time it was in Wisconsin at a Going to the Garden retreat and vision meeting. On this particular run through the farmland I noticed a wild turkey take flight—fast, heavy, barreling through the sky just above the field. Upon returning to our lodging, I paused next to a flowering bush and watched hummingbirds flit and dip.

We had gathered to watch for the Spirit with gardeners from the lower ninth ward in New Orleans, Maryland, Alaska, and near a Navajo reservation in New Mexico. Going to the Garden began several years ago as a way to encourage and support congregations to engage their communities and address food insecurity and hunger. This project has been a joint effort between the Office of Public Witness in Washington, D.C., and the Global Food Initiative (formerly the Global Food Crisis Fund).

Most of the gardeners did not start with a grand plan but caught a glimpse of a new possible reality. In Alaska, a connection with people from the Gwich’in First Nation was formed through a shared experience of hunting, which led to a new relationship and an invitation to return. Through this relationship, we learned about the health challenges of the Gwich’in community, and consequently drew Brethren to garden there every summer for nearly 10 years.

From the Wisconsin gathering emerged the idea of garden advocates. Several interested Going to the Garden partners will be able to apply for funding through the Global Food Initiative to fund a member of their local community to become a garden advocate. These advocates will work to expand the capacity of the projects, engage with the Office of Public Witness in local and national level advocacy as it relates to food security and hunger, and provide additional support for publicity and outreach.

We have heard stories of efforts meeting community needs for food, connections forming between churches and their communities, youth being empowered, grandparents in Native American communities sharing food-growing knowledge with youth, and how valuable denominational staff have been for support. The movement of the Spirit has been evident and noted. Many of these stories have and will continue to show up in places likes Messenger magazine, the Going to the Garden Facebook page and webpage, and on YouTube.

The Holy Spirit often is pictured as a dove. I don’t want to claim too much for the red-winged blackbird, the hummingbird, or even the turkey, but the flight of these birds is a reminder of the movement of God all around us. While denominational structures shift, individuals in leadership change, and programs morph for new vision, the Spirit continues to move.

As we continue to watch for the Spirit, I invite you to support the ongoing work of the Office of Public Witness, and all of the ministries of the Church of the Brethren, both financially and prayerfully. Your partnership is essential for the ongoing work of these programs, and it is only through your support that these ministries continue.

Learn more about the work of the Office of Public Witness at www.brethren.org/witness or support it today at www.brethren.org/give .

Amazing

Mark Flory Steury at the Church of the Brethren General Offices. Photo by Dewayne Heck

Mark Flory Steury at the Church of the Brethren General Offices.
Photo by Dewayne Heck

By Mark Flory Steury, Donor Relations representative

“It’s amazing how much the Church of the Brethren is able to do.”

This is a comment I hear often as I talk with congregational leaders and pastors about the denominational work of the Church of the Brethren. It has been my joy to visit many congregations over the past five years, and to thank them for being so generous! For well over one hundred years, congregations have faithfully supported the work of the church through their offerings.

When I visit a congregation, we talk about the ways the Church of the Brethren is currently serving in ministry both domestically and abroad. Globally we have partners in Nigeria, India, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Haiti, Spain, South Sudan and many other places. We help people in times of need through Brethren Disaster Ministries, Children’s Disaster Services, and the Global Food Initiative. Volunteers serve as the hands and feet of Jesus through Brethren Volunteer Service and Workcamps. These are some of the ways that we extend the love of God to others.

We also provide resources for churches and individuals across the country. We support the work of new churches through the Church Planting Conference. We equip church leaders and members through the work of Congregational Life Ministries, the Ministry Office, and Brethren Academy for Ministerial Leaderships, and through materials like Vital Ministry Journey, the Anabaptist Worship Exchange, the Shine curriculum, and webinars. Faith-forming, community-fostering conferences and programs are provided throughout the year like National Junior High Conference, Christian Citizenship Seminar, Ministry Summer Service, National Young Adult Conference, and National Older Adult Conference. Conversation and information are shared through Newsline and Messenger magazine. We also have wonderful historical resources preserved through the Brethren Historical Library and Archives. This is just a brief overview of the many ministries we do together!

Amazing! How is the Church of the Brethren able to do all of this? It’s only with the support of congregations and individuals who are willing to work together for a common mission and ministry.

It is remarkable how much the Church of the Brethren is able to do. Thank you so much for your awesome support. We can do this work only because of your partnership. May God bless us as we continue in our work together.

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)

Following the path

Tyler leading chapel at the General Offices. Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

Tyler leading chapel at the General Offices.
Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

By Tyler Roebuck, 2016 Ministry Summer Service intern

This summer, I worked at the General Offices in Elgin, Ill., as a Ministry Summer Service intern with the communications and Messenger staff. A writer by trade and Brethren by choice, I found it to be a fulfilling internship in many measures.

I began the summer not knowing how to cook or budget, or how to occupy my free time. Through dedication and practice, I resolved these things and have gained much confidence in myself. I even started to understand flavor pairings with foods and what works well together. I know in restaurants what works, but when doing it for myself on a budget, I had to be creative.

Independence has never been my strongest trait, and I was genuinely worried at the beginning of the summer about how I would function on my own in an unfamiliar city. Not having a car was a major concern. I’m from rural northern Indiana, where it is absolutely necessary to have a reliable car. When everything, from the grocery store to the bowling alley, is at least a 20- minute drive away, you become quite accustomed to driving everywhere. This is why I had initial anxieties about living without my car. I had a bicycle, which helped with these anxieties. Through the summer, I did quite well, and even became more confident in my abilities and in pursuing my goals free from the expectations of others. Not only did I do well on my own, I enjoyed it.

My work this summer pointed me in a good direction professionally. Being part of the news team at Annual Conference showed me that not only am I capable of working with high-pressure deadlines regularly, but I love it. I had the thrill of working during Conference, writing a story every night, and meeting and interviewing people. It was very vocationally fulfilling.

Perhaps the most valuable growth in me this summer was in self confidence. I put on a good face when necessary, but often I am cripplingly shy and full of self doubt. Or at least I was before this summer. Having to function on my own and discovering that I excel at it was a tremendous boost for my self confidence, and successfully completing quality work under pressure assured me that I am following the path I am intended to.

Tyler Roebuck was one of 10 young adults who served across the denomination this summer through Ministry Summer Service. Learn more about this ministry of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/mss or support it today at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)