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)

Se Habla Español (Spanish is spoken here)

Imelda Velasquez Diaz (first on left) and Nancy Sollenberger Heishman (second from right) serving with the children’s ministry at West Charleston Church of the Brethren. Photo by Mary Bowman

Imelda Velasquez Diaz (first on left) and Nancy Sollenberger Heishman (second from right) serving with the children’s ministry at West Charleston Church of the Brethren.
Photo by Mary Bowman

An interview by Gimbiya Kettering, director of Intercultural Ministries

On July 22, Nancy Sollenberger Heishman began as part-time coordinator of the SEBAH-COB, the Spanish-Language Ministry Training Programs for the Brethren Academy for Ministerial Leadership (a joint effort between the Church of the Brethren and Bethany Theological Seminary). Nancy holds a master’s of divinity from Bethany Theological Seminary and continues to co-pastor West Charleston Church of the Brethren in Tipp City, Ohio, with her husband, Irv Heishman.

What does SeBAH stand for?
Seminario Biblico Anabautista Hispano. It is a ministry training program for Hispanic pastors and congregational leaders coordinated by Bethany Academy in partnership with the districts. As coordinator, I will design a Spanish-language track for the Education for a Shared Ministry.

Before becoming the 2013 Annual Conference moderator, you were an interim coordinator for SeBAH. What excites you about returning to this role?
I look forward to reconnecting with students I worked with several years ago. I’m excited about encouraging and supporting more Hispanic leaders within the Church of the Brethren as they grow in their skills and understanding of ministry. I also look forward to working with Hispanic leaders to develop new programs that meet the unique needs of Hispanic Brethren.

How did you learn Spanish?

I began studying Spanish at age 48, which proves it’s never too late to learn a new language! When we arrived as mission coordinators in Santo Domingo in 2003, we spent a few months in intensive study at a language school, and then continued weekly classes as we began serving. However, I made the most progress in learning Spanish when I taught theological education classes in Spanish. That required quick learning for me, and lots of patience from my students.

What is your greatest challenge?
As an introvert, I have to continually challenge myself to reach out, being aware that my Spanish won’t be perfect, and depending on God’s grace and the patience of others.

What are your goals for SeBAH?
I would love to see an explosion of Hispanic congregations and ministries develop from the leaders trained through SeBAH. I hope the experiences of SEBAH students will lead to Hispanic Brethren taking on greater leadership roles on district, and denominational or related agency levels, transforming Brethren institutions and structures with their unique gifts and perspectives of the gospel. I also dream of many materials communicating Brethren identity, beliefs, practices, and understandings of the church being available in Spanish.

Learn more about Nancy Sollenberger Heishman’s role as coordinator of SeBAH at www.brethren.org/news/2015/nancy-heishman-to-lead-spanish-training.html .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Thinking About Ferguson – Again

This is not a one year old problem –Efrem Smith

A year ago, I had never heard of Ferguson – despite having traveled to Missouri several times, and despite loving a sci-fi show set in St. Louis. Or if I heard of it, it didn’t register. Not the way it does now.

Now I cannot hear “Ferguson” without flinching.

As we approached the first “anniversary” of the shooting of Michael Brown, I found myself reflecting on what had happened in the past year. I have been completely overwhelmed and saddened by the long list of unarmed African Americans who have been killed. I have been inspired by the national conversation this awareness has sparked. I have been afraid that nothing is going to change.

I had a feeling of déjà vu when I heard there were protests in Ferguson – again. Of course, I expected something to happen but I was not prepared for more violence and another state of emergency. I was not expecting me to be looking away from the news with tears in my eyes and too discouraged to find solace in prayer.

EFREM 44 DSC_0192
Efrem Smith, a pastor at the Covenant Church who spoke at the 2014 Church Planting Conference, has written eloquently on it. He has kept his eyes on our faith, the role of Christ in all of this.

I encourage you to read: http://www.efremsmith.com/category/blog/2015/08/a-year-from-ferguson/?utm_content=buffer6a679&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford


As Director of Intercultural Ministries, Gimbiya Kettering seeks to continue and expand the conversation and ministry work for those working in intercultural and cross-cultural settings. To join the conversation leave a comment or email her directly at gkettering@brethern.org.

photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

Keep On, Keeping On

Almost every week, someone asks “What should I do? What should my congregation be doing?”

Thomas Dowdy

Rev. Thomas Dowdy speaks at Annual Conference 2015 in Tampa, Florida. Photo by Glenn Riegel.

In light of the news about the militarization of the police force, the prison industrial complex, and social inequities it seems that we must do something…often something new. And, often we are seeking out new and different ways of doing ministry because we want to see different results.

Yet, whatever we “should be doing” needs to happen within the context of our faith. At Annual Conference, Rev. Brother Thomas Dowdy also reminded us that we have to keep doing what Jesus commanded us to do: Preach the Gospel, Equip Servant Leaders, Assist the Poor, Care for the Sick, and Educate the Next Generation.

Sometimes we have to “keep on, keeping on” – doing what we have been doing until there is enough momentum to really be a part of the change. To stay on the path because though we are early in the journey, we are travelling in the right direction. These tried but true ways are as relevant today as they were when Christ gave us the great commission and can be applied to the work ahead of us, in America, as we seek to address the disturbing current events and trends around race, ethnicity, and intercultural ministries.

What ministries will your church be continuing that could be an example of “What should we do?”

As Director of Intercultural Ministries, Gimbiya Kettering seeks to continue and expand the conversation and ministry work for those working in intercultural and cross-cultural settings. To join the conversation leave a comment or email her directly at gkettering@brethern.org.

After Amen

By Gimbiya Kettering

After tragedy comes prayer. What comes after prayer?

Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. —Romans 8:26 (KJV)
For the past month, people have shared articles and essays and online photo albums with me on every possible social media platform about the shootings, about the shooter, about South Carolina’s flag, and about the complicated, terrible story of race in our country. I have been grateful for every day that has passed in peace—without protests turning violent and self-destructive. I have stopped mid-step to listen to the radio reports about Charleston. I have read articles and editorials and tweets but I have not known what to say.For the past month, I have been praying—or trying to pray for the grieving families of those killed, the congregation of Emanuel AME Church, for the people of Charleston, the leaders of South Carolina, for the wider African Methodist Episcopal denomination, for all of us as Americans. Often words have failed me in the rising tide of my grief, rage, and confusion. I have wanted, perhaps more than anything, to be able to push back time. But I cannot continue to pray for a return to the week before last week, before any of this happened, and to pray for something different. That is not the type of intercession God does.

I may never find the words for the prayers that I want to articulate. But, in my silence, I am also preparing for the strength and courage for the actions I need to take next week and the week after that. The actions that will make a difference.

What have you done or said in response to the shootings at the Emanuel AME Church?

How have people received your contributions?

What actions do you think we could take as individuals, as congregations, and as a denomination to be part of the healing after these shootings and other incidents of racialized violence in our community?

Please share your stories so that they can inspire me and others who are seeking a ways forward in our broken, beautiful world. You can send your stories to gkettering@brethren.org or call me at 1-80-323-8039 xt 387.

Gimbiya Kettering is the director of Intercultural Ministries — and this blog series is a way of continuing the conversation about how race, culture, ethnicity, and language impact our relationships with one another and how we do ministry. If you have a question or comment to share, please email her directly at gkettering@brethren.org. More about Intercultural Ministries at:www.brethren.org/intercultural

New steps in the new year

Where will God lead you in 2015? Photo by Glenn Riegel

Where will God lead you in 2015?
Photo by Glenn Riegel

By Matt DeBall, coordinator of Donor Communications

January can be a great time for setting goals and reflecting; a time to observe our steps from last year and chart a new path for this year. We might make personal challenges related to fitness, nutrition, recreation, relationships, or finances, but sometimes we also receive challenges from God.

God has surely given great challenges to others in the past. For Abraham, God called him to leave his family and explore a foreign land filled with unfamiliar people. For Esther, God led her to a new role and called her to take a great risk to save her people. For both, the choice was available to reject God’s call, but by trusting in God and summoning a great amount of courage, they stepped forward and accepted God’s challenge.

In 2015, there are many events and opportunities to partake in ministry through the Church of the Brethren. Perhaps God is calling you to participate in one or more of the following ways:

Pray for our international partners by receiving the weekly Global Mission Prayer Guide.

Grow by attending a transformative conference like the Intercultural Gathering, Young Adult Conference, National Junior High Conference, Annual Conference, and National Older Adult Conference.

Serve through Brethren Volunteer Service for a year-long project, attend a summer workcamp of the Workcamp Ministry, or spend a week at a disaster project of Brethren Disaster Ministries.

Give to support the continued work of the many life-changing ministries of the Church of the Brethren.

Like Abraham and Esther, we have the choice to remain where we are or to follow where God is leading. While it would be easier to carry on in 2015 just as we did in 2014, God may be challenging us to do something new. May we listen to the Spirit of God, step forward in faith, and trust God to guide our steps in the coming year.

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Great things in 2014

From all of the staff, volunteers, and Mission and Ministry Board members of the Church of the Brethren, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

From all of the staff, volunteers, and Mission and Ministry
Board members of the Church of the Brethren,
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

Thank you for praying, serving, giving to support the Church of the Brethren in 2014. There are many things that we were able to do together:

2,390 students, advisers, staff, and volunteers attended National Youth Conference (and 19 from international Brethren groups).

123 volunteers served 248,720 hours at Brethren Volunteer Service projects.

9 Ministry Summer Service interns explored their vocations in ministry placements across the country.

Volunteers maintained a Brethren presence in 9 different countries.

Over 377 deacons and church leaders attended 9 deacon training events.

19 BVS volunteers served at international projects, and 11 international students served in the US.

98 individuals participated in the Church Planting Conference.

152 Global Mission Advocates are now connected to the network.

165 individuals attended 4 Intercultural Ministry related events.

140 participants served at 8 workcamps.

83 congregations began or continued participating in the Vital Ministry Journey.

62 individuals represented 13 districts at Young Adult Conference.

3 Mission and Ministry Board meetings were held and 3 new members were welcomed.

684 congregations financially supported the Church of the Brethren.

151 donors gave to the core ministries of the Church of the Brethren for the first time.

And so much more!

Thank you for generously giving to your church. Your faithful support is inspiring, and ensures that the many life-changing, loving-giving ministries of the Church of the Brethren will continue into the future.

If you are excited about or have been blessed by the ministries of the Church of the Brethren, support them at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

NYC-bound

The youth group held a carwash to fundraise for National Youth Conference. Each is excited to join a multitude of Church of the Brethren youth at NYC. Photos by Daniel D'Oleo

The youth group held a carwash to fundraise for National Youth Conference.
Each is excited to join a multitude of Church of the Brethren youth at NYC.
Photos by Daniel D’Oleo

By Gimbiya Kettering, Intercultural Ministries coordinator

Five years ago, Daniel D’Oleo and Dava Hensley met over a shared vision. As Church of the Brethren pastors (one of a new Spanish-speaking congregation, the other of an established “Anglo” one) they had decided to share a building. They discussed the practical details about shared space, utilities, and timing of events, and trusted that the Spirit would move in their midst. But neither could foresee how deeply Roanoke First Church of the Brethren and Roanoke Renacer would unite in their shared space. They certainly couldn’t have imagined how it would impact their youth.

Just over a year ago, the two youth groups decided to merge into one, big, multicultural crowd. The youth quickly bonded, and the groups became woven together into an inseparable mix. What started as a practical consideration of resources was revealed to be the Spirit of God blessing a vibrant gathering of young people.

There was just one problem: Roanoke First Church of the Brethren had been raising and saving money to send “their” youth to National Youth Conference since 2010, but the new, combined group was much larger than they had planned. Roanoke Renacer had not had as much time to plan for the conference, so they couldn’t send all the youth who came from that congregation.

Separating the youth group was unthinkable, so the two congregations combined their resources and the youth began joint fundraising in earnest. Between carwashes and luncheons, camping en route to save money on the trip to Colorado, and scholarships from Congregational Life Ministries, they made their goal. All the youth from Roanoke Renacer and First Church of the Brethren, as one large group, are NYC-bound.

For some, attending NYC will be a continuation of a faith and family tradition. For others, it will be the first time anyone from their family will have attended. Regardless of their history, each is excited to join a multitude of Church of the Brethren youth at National Youth Conference. And all are excited to do so together, as one, big, beautiful group, born of a shared vision, moved by the Spirit.

National Youth Conference is July 19-24. Register at www.brethren.org/nyc .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)