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)

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)

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)

Move mountains

As we seek to raise valleys and lower mountains  to make way for our God, your help is essential. Photo by Glenn Riegel

As we seek to raise valleys and lower mountains
to make way for our God, your help is essential.
Photo by Glenn Riegel

By Matt DeBall, coordinator of Donor Communications

January. A new beginning. A fresh start. In these first few weeks of the year, we have the perfect opportunity to take stock of lifestyle habits, try new patterns, set goals, or even chart a new course altogether. For Christ-followers, it only seems natural to also consider how to love God and neighbor in new ways.

In seeking to respond anew to the movement of God, I can’t help but think of our recent celebration of Christmas. The prophet Isaiah shares, “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low…. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed” (Isaiah 4:3-5).

While this scripture is traditionally used in beautiful Advent liturgies and alludes to the coming of the Christ-child, it is also a call to continually make way for the Kingdom of God in our world. Our God is coming, and we need to move mountains to make the road ready. This challenge from the prophet also reveals the way in which God, as our sovereign Lord, desires for us to be prepared for the Holy Spirit to make bold moves in us and through us every day.

Changing geological features as Isaiah describes certainly seems like a daunting task, but as Jesus shared with his disciples, faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains (Matthew 17:20). By trusting in our Savior, we have enough faith to raise any valley and flatten every mountain. With Jesus, every roadblock to God’s Kingdom is removed.

As we begin this year, your Church of the Brethren staff are planning for numerous opportunities to make way for our God and share love with one another. Brethren Volunteer Service is getting ready to recruit, train, and place volunteers in the US and around the world. Congregational Life Ministries is preparing to grow faith and train leaders at events like the Church Planting Conference and National Young Adult Conference, and partner with the Office of Public Witness to facilitate discussions about “Proclaiming Freedom: The Racial Injustice of Mass Incarceration.” The Workcamp Office is gearing up for a summer of “Blazing with Holiness” at more than 20 workcamps in the US, Puerto Rico, and Northern Ireland. Youth and Young Adult Ministries and the Office of Ministry are preparing for Ministry Summer Service interns and mentors. Global Mission and Service continues to walk with international partners and sense new places where God may be leading.

In preparing for God’s favor and a fruitful year of ministry, we recognize that we can’t do this alone. As the saying goes, “many hands make light work.” Now and throughout this year, we need your prayerful and financial support. As we seek to raise valleys and lower mountains to make way for our God, your help is essential. We pray that you will join us as we love God and neighbor in the year ahead.

(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)

Columbus, here we come!

Photo by Joel Brumbaugh-Cayford

Photo by Joel Brumbaugh-Cayford

“I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now” (Philippians 1:3-5).

Annual Conference is two weeks away! Whether you’ll be in Columbus in person or not, there are many ways to participate in this important ministry of the Church of the Brethren. Here are a few ideas:

  • Daily offerings – During most evening worship services, an offering will be taken to support the ministry of Annual Conference. Funds raised will help cover the many expenses of producing such an efficient and creative conference. To participate online, visit www.brethren.org/giveac2014 .
  • Webcasting – If you won’t be at Annual Conference in person, be sure to join us online for all worship services and business sessions at www.brethren.org/acwebast . Webcasting is complimentary, but it is expensive, so please support our virtual community at www.brethren.org/giveac2014 .
  • Witness to the Host City – During Thursday evening worship, socks, disposable diapers, and hygiene kits will be collected for this year’s Witness to the Host City. Visit www.brethren.org/acwitnessto find what you can bring to share the love of Jesus with Columbus.
  • Special offering – A special offering will be taken during Friday evening worship this year. It will support the core mission and ministries of the Church of the Brethren like Congregational Life Ministries, Global Mission and Service, the Offices of Ministry and Public Witness, and many, many others. Participating in this special offering on July 4 will support the life-changing ministries of the Church of the Brethren, but if you can’t wait until then, visit www.brethren.org/give today.

“Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9).

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

 

Not alone

"Being together is reason enough to be together." Photos by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

“Being together is reason enough to be together.”
Photos by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

By Dana Cassell

Being a pastor is a lonely gig. Just ask your own pastor, if you dare. It’s a big job to be present for so many people’s every spiritual and emotional need, and at the same time, be unable to share openly with them about your own.

So it was refreshing to gather with 43 others at last month’s Church of the Brethren Clergy Women’s Retreat. We laughed, prayed, played in the Pacific, and thought intentionally about friendship, fellowship… and the lack thereof.

But pastors aren’t alone in loneliness. Melissa Wiginton guided our conversation about togetherness, and she shared a study by UCLA that says 30 percent of Americans self-identify as lonely at any given moment. Even more striking? Three out of every five American adults over the age of 45 feel consistently lonely.

What does this mean for ministry, for the church, for our own discipleship?

A couple of things. First, as I watch my own congregation delight in simple fellowship—sharing a meal, or conversation after worship—I am convinced that the church’s mission is, at base, to provide space and invitation for people to enter into deep, Christ-centered relationship.

And second, I’m struck by how restorative it was to spend time with other clergy women. The opportunity to simply be with others who are also out there, doing this lonely, beautiful work of ministry was a blessing.

Part of the gift of our Brethren tradition is the assumption that being together is reason enough to be together. This is a gift that we can share, a ministry in itself.

So next time you go to church, take a minute to thank your pastor or another leader in your congregation. And then take a step further and bring that blessing to the streets. Sometimes all it takes is eye contact and a smile for the cashier across the counter, or a classmate in the hall, to feel less alone. Imagine the blessing that a church on this kind of mission could be to a culture so filled with lonely people.

Dana Cassell is minister for Youth Formation at Manassas Church of the Brethren in Virginia. She was one of several participants in the Clergy Women’s Retreat last month, which was sponsored by the Church of the Brethren’s Office of Ministry. To support this and other uplifting denominational ministries, visit www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

‘I knew that we would all be kindred spirits’

–Blogging from the Church of the Brethren Clergy Women’s Retreat

“I knew that we would all be kindred spirits,” said our worship leader tonight. She gave a presentation on a recent trip to the island of Iona, and said she had been looking forward to this Clergy Women’s Retreat while there and had prayed for the women who would come to this retreat. She brought small stones from Iona to give to each participant.

I looked around the room and thought, are we in fact all kindred spirits?

One might assume that a gathering of Brethren clergy women would, for the most part, be homogenous. But a statistician could find a lot of differentiation among us. This group could easily be “sliced and diced” in a number of ways.

We could be grouped by European or African or Native American or Asian ancestry–which may not all be apparent from our skin tones or accents or names.

If grouped by age or generation, differences would quickly become apparent, variations of culture and lifestyle assumptions would emerge in the baby boomers as opposed to the Gen Xers, for example.

There are women here with decades of experience in pastoral or other forms of ministry. And there are the newly licensed, and some who have been in ministry for only a couple of years or less.

There are extroverts and introverts, artists and writers, academics and administrators, preachers and counselors, chaplains and teachers.

Women have come here from very different geographical places, from the east, the south, the west, the midwest, the mountain states. Each of those settings has its own cultural and political and theological geography–and a varying scale of welcome for women in church leadership.

The group includes women doing ministry in the large metropolises of Chicago, greater Los Angeles, D.C. It also includes women serving in rural settings, where the only way to get to church might be by gravel road.

Some have been in the Church of the Brethren all their lives. Some are brand new to the denomination.

Are we kindred spirits? At one level, I believe so. In Ephesians 4 it is called “the calling with which you have been called.” All called to ministry, all answering God’s call in one way or another. That’s how the women in this gathering are kin, and that is the place our spirits meet.

–Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
Director of News Services