By Traci Rabenstein, director of Mission Advancement
“This is to God’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” – John 15:8, NIV modified
Thank you for your generous contributions to the Church of the Brethren. Overflowing with gratitude, we celebrate your partnership, which sustains our missions and ministries, and the fruit that we bear together in the name of Jesus for the glory of God.
Every gift is essential to the work of the Church of the Brethren. It is through the dedication of faithful people of passion like you that we serve across the US and around the world, bearing fruit in the name of Jesus. We are grateful for your partnership, your generous giving, and your prayers for those who serve and are served. Together, we expand Christ’s mission near and far by training disciples, developing and calling leaders, and transforming communities.
Thank you again for partnering with us through your generous gifts and persistent prayers. We are so thankful for you. Together we continue the work of Jesus!
By Evan Ulrich, Brethren Volunteer Service Unit 325
My hope for the future is a world where we can use our unique gifts together to serve our communities with love. A future where the focus is less on money and personal wealth, and more on the collective well-being of all of our sisters and brothers on the Earth we share. My time with BVS and serving with Brethren Disaster Ministries has allowed me to see the good works that we can do when we all work together. It has shown me how everyone working as a team, given the proper tools and instruction, can do just about anything. Serving with love starts with a willingness to learn, a willingness to put others before self, and a willingness to work hard for no personal gain or motive.
This mindset of service is needed now more than ever. The gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots” is widening. More and more people are finding themselves without a safe home and without reliable sources of food, water, or heat. I have come to see this every day while rebuilding homes in rural eastern North Carolina.
I remember a conversation I had with one of the homeowners whose house we were working on that truly opened my eyes to how I want to live my life. She was sharing her story that was full of loss, struggles, and hardships. Things I could not ever imagine going through. Yet with every sentence she spoke, she did not stop telling me how blessed she was. And she sincerely meant it. It made me question and realize how easy it is for me to see the things I do not have, rather than give thanks for what is abundant in my life. From the outside looking in I was the one serving her, but she gave me something even more special in return: perspective.
I hope that we can realize how exceptionally important each of our lives are. As we live in this world together, we are called to lift up our neighbors with kindness, share the burdens of the people we are intricately connected with, and serve the world in love.
This article was originally featured in the summer issue of The Volunteer newsletter published by Brethren Volunteer Service. Learn more about this Core Ministry of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/bvs or support its ministry of serving with love at www.brethren.org/givebvs.
In my favorite movie, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the main character Ferris reflects at the end, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” In our work/school/play, life moves very fast. We busy ourselves with daily tasks or assignments. We plan events and meetings into the day.
This year has been tough for most people. In addition to great loss and suffering, social distancing and safety protocols have canceled many fun events that usually get planned into our schedules. Due to the pandemic, there have been fewer in-person social events to connect with friends, family, and the church community. Even hobbies have been modified to reduce social contact. These changes, layered on top of our busy daily schedules, contribute to stress, anxiety, and loneliness.
Despite this season of stress and loneliness, may we find the time to stop and look around, to slow life down, and appreciate where we are right now. In our own ways, we have experienced new growth and persevered through trying times. Wherever we are, God is guiding us and promises to be by our side. Slow down for a minute: breathe new energy into your body, to center your mind to focus your thoughts, and to release your worries to God.
May we open our eyes to find the joy that is all around us: the blooming of the daffodil flowers, the warming of spring days, and the birds singing in the morning. May we open our hearts to God’s call through the bustle of daily life: to changing paths, to stepping into the unknown, to trying something new. May we focus our sights on the glimmer of hope on the horizon: that we may soon be through this dark season once and for all, and we can reconnect with everyone in our community soon!
A theme reflection/sermon starter for the 2021 Pentecost Offering written by Matt DeBall, coordinator of Mission Advancement Communications
“When the Advocate comes . . . the Spirit of truth . . . will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify.” ~John 15:26-27a
Not a day goes by that we aren’t bearing witness to something. Sharing about today’s local weather and how well it matches the forecast. Talking about the incredible meal we had from our favorite restaurant. Telling confidants about the person who went out of their way to help (or harm) us. Whenever words pass our lips, we are sharing a testimony.
As the resurrected Christ prepared for his transition to the heavenly realms, he outlined the essential elements of experiencing new life in the Holy Spirit. Jesus trusted his followers to continue his work and promised to provide them with what they needed to do it. The emerging advocate, the Holy Spirit, would bear witness about Jesus, reminding his followers how to hold him in their minds. In addition to receiving words from the Spirit, to continue the work of Jesus meant the disciples would bear witness as well.
As we hear the words of Jesus from the 15th chapter of John’s Gospel, the mission to testify should not surprise us. The whole account of John prominently features the Greek word “martyreō” meaning “to bear witness”—more than any other gospel, in fact. In the NRSV, variations of the word “testify” are present 30 times and “testimony” is mentioned 12. Indeed, to follow Jesus is to reveal in word and deed what we have seen, heard, and experienced.
Beyond the faithful act of sharing testimonies, the apostle John also reveals whose testimonies to whom we should stay attuned. In the family of faith, our witness is collective. Just as we aim to lift Jesus by the words that we share, so also do we elevate him in the world by the voices that we hear, amplify, and echo. To honor the testimonies in John’s Gospel involves inclining an ear to the same people today. This means listening to the stories of social outcasts (who, like John the Baptist, may be very aware of the redemptive work of God), believing the testimonies of women (the only preachers on Resurrection Sunday), and hearing the voices of people of color (without whom we wouldn’t have a single letter of the entire biblical narrative). Though some voices might be overlooked in other circles, expressions of new life in Jesus can be found everywhere that the church lends an ear.
With your help, the ministries of the Church of the Brethren testify to the work of Jesus and amplify unique life-giving testimonies that need to be heard. Through online conversations and webinars, fearless disciples and leaders are equipped to reveal the ministry of Jesus in new ways. Thank you for supporting this collective work that builds up the body of Christ and speaks words of healing and hope to a hurting world.
How are you testifying about the work of Jesus? Whose testimonies are you hearing regularly? What new voices need to be heard (in your household, church, community) for the redemptive work of Jesus to become more tangible near you? Together, empowered by the Spirit, how can we reveal the new life we have found in Christ to people in a broken world?
Whatever the conditions, the location, or the people you encounter, may we faithfully testify to the work of Jesus with each day that goes by.
By Stan Dueck, director of Organizational Leadership and co-coordinator of Discipleship Ministries
Christ is risen!
This is the Good News of Easter. But is it really news? We know the story. We’ve heard it for years. At times, it can be difficult to hear something new in this particular Good News.
Though this is the old, old story, our lives—renewed by the gospel of Jesus—are new each day. Every day is refreshed as we remember that Jesus Christ is alive, death has been conquered, our sins are forgiven, and we can live a new, confident, and courageous life. With the very real turmoil, distress, and risk of the world, our understanding of Christ’s victory brings daily renewal. The Easter response, “Christ is Risen, indeed!” echoes good news into each day. Though born centuries ago, Jesus is born again into our lives as we grow in faith. Though his resurrection occurred at a particular time in history, the resurrection power of Christ is ignited again and again as we connect with him through prayer, worship, service, and fellowship. Indeed, our faith endures because of new examples of how Jesus is alive in us and in the world.
Discipleship Ministries points toward new and renewing life in the Church of the Brethren. An example of this is the New and Renew Conference, happening next month (May 13-15). Once known as the Church Planting Conference, New and Renew emphasizes congregational renewal and new church starts. I have been encouraged to hear the stories of individuals who, after attending this event in past years, have planted a new church or provided leadership for the renewal of their congregation.
This year’s conference theme is “The Reward of Risk,” connected to Matthew 25:28-29a, “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live.” Often around the topics of church planting and church renewal, we talk about the possibility of failure due to risk. But have we ever stopped to ponder the possibility of reward amid risk? What might it look like to celebrate those who have taken risks faithfully for the Kingdom of God?
Though pandemic detoured plans for an in-person gathering, we are hosting a new virtual conference for pastors, leaders, members, and anyone who is passionate about new life in the church. Together we will worship, connect, and learn. This three-day virtual conference will lead us to think in new ways about church planting, congregational renewal, and leadership. In addition to workshops, inspirational worship and keynote speakers will nurture calling and passion for ministry as followers of Jesus.
We have invited more nationally known thought-leaders and practitioners to share their rich ideas and down-to-earth practices that empower churches to be the presence of Jesus in their neighborhoods and communities, and to share the Good News. In addition to incredible Brethren leaders, the depth of this conference’s speakers has never been greater with leaders such as Christiana Rice, José Humphreys, David Fitch, Coté Soerens, Darryl Williamson, and Michelle and Aaron Reyes.
As something new, the virtual conference will allow people to participate who otherwise would not have the opportunity due to challenges of finances, travel, church responsibilities, and work or personal schedules. You can register to attend the live events from wherever you are, or view the recorded sessions—3 sermons, 3 plenary sessions, and more than 20 workshops and breakout groups—at your leisure. (Ministers can earn more than 2.0 CEUs for both the live and recorded sessions.)
Thank you for generously supporting and participating in the work of renewal happening through Discipleship Ministries. We deeply appreciate your prayers and partnership. Together we declare that Christ is risen, confidently and courageously share God’s love, and walk toward a bright future.
Each time I receive an issue of Messengermagazine, I glance at the articles quickly and then turn to the back for the “Turning Points” section to review recent deaths. Later, I go back and read the articles more thoroughly.
Why, you may ask, do I look at the “Turning Points” section so intently?
Over the last three years of serving with the staff of the Church of the Brethren, I have formed relationships with many people across the denomination–people who are faithful, passionate supporters of the church.
As a Mission Advancement advocate for the denomination, I work to build relationships with ALL individuals who support the Church of the Brethren through their generosity of time, talent, and resources (regardless of the size of the gift). Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have “serenaded our supporters from the balcony” through phone calls, personal letters, handwritten notecards, emails, text messages, and Zoom meeting visits.
We have also embraced the paradigm shift in religious giving: from a traditional perspective that is often summarized as “fundraising is raising money,” to an emerging paradigm that suggests that “fundraising is nurturing generosity” and that supporters are collaborative partners.
We have sought to make our supporters more than a name on a page or a number in our database. And each week in our Mission Advancement team meeting, I share donor stories from correspondence over the past week that have inspired me so that all of us can be inspired together.
Subsequently, while reading the list of deceased members in Messenger, I find myself pausing to reflect on my fondest memory of that person. Memories like:
visiting a woman who was a missionary with her husband in Nigeria and seeing the original manuscript he wrote that led to books about their work;
telling a retirement community resident that it was okay for us to stop talking long enough for him to take his medications from the nurse (and not keep her waiting any longer);
having lunch with a couple and videotaping an impromptu scripture reading for them for an online worship service;
sharing a bag of Herr’s potato chips with two supporters at Annual Conference in 2019;
spending time with a widow after the death of her husband (who had passed shortly before a previously scheduled visit), hearing stories about his life as a Church of the Brethren pastor;
talking with a gentleman on the phone (a few months before he unexpectedly passed away) when he reiterated his commitment of support to the Church of the Brethren;
giving a loaf of blueberry bread to a couple to express gratitude after the gift of a beautiful, homegrown lily on my previous visit, and receiving a call at the end of the week so he could report they were “fighting over the last piece of bread”;
working from the home of supporters who graciously hosted me for a few days, enjoying meals together, walking with them to a nearby yard sale, and shedding tears as we departed, knowing that we likely would not meet again.
These stories uplift just a few individuals who have passed away in the past year and a half. All were just ordinary Brethren who have supported our denominational work. Many were also members of our Faith Forward Donor Circle (FFDC) after choosing to include the Church of the Brethren in their estate planning. I am honored to have met many faithful Christ-followers who have enriched my life and work.
Over the last few years, I have often said that I am hoping to learn from the individuals I meet, forming a mosaic of memories and experiences of those supporters. Each of these individuals have added one or more colorful tiles to the mosaic of my life. As a result, I strive to honor their legacy within the Church of the Brethren and to celebrate our shared mission.
In Bread for the Journey, Henri Nouwen noted that each of us adds a piece to the story of faith, like colorful tiles, and that together we reveal a beautiful picture of God’s face to the world.
Today, I invite you to consider the many “tile opportunities” in your life. How will the mosaic of your life take shape today, this week, this month, and in the years ahead? And, in the spirit of re-aligning perspectives: how might you add a spot of color to someone else’s life mosaic?
By William Kostlevy, director of the Brethren Historical Library and Archives
In the summer of 1981, I served an eight-week internship at the Brethren Historical Library and Archives (BHLA). As a Bethany Seminary student with a master’s degree in history, it was a natural fit. But little did I realize that it would a life-changing experience that would lead to a career in archives management, new friendships, and an addiction to Brethren history.
On a normal day that summer I would ride from the old Bethany Oak Brook campus with the truly legendary Bob Faus, director of Ministry for the church. While many remember Bob for his wonderful sense of humor (which I enjoyed as much as anyone), I remember his generous mentorship and infectious love for the complex and diverse Church of the Brethren. In truth, I learned more about the Church of the Brethren from Bob’s marvelous stories than I learned from any class I took at Bethany.
My primary work that summer was processing the many smaller archival collections that had accumulated over the years. Many were collections documenting the work of the Church of the Brethren in Illinois and included papers of Illinois pastor and Bethany faculty member J. W. Lear and his equally accomplished wife, an ordained minister named Martha Lear; Brethren educator C. Ernest Davis; the Civil War era diaries of John Emmert; and the many small collections of Illinois congregations. To this day the names Cerro Gordo, Lanark, and Polo conjure up images of ordinary rural Brethren serving and transforming their communities in unexpected ways. I met many remarkable volunteers that summer including former Messenger editor Kenneth Morse; founder of the Fellowship of Brethren Genealogists, Gwen Bobb; and the very interesting Edith Barnes whose memories of the church and Elgin dated from the arrival of her father to head the Mission Board in the 1920s.
My summer in the archives opened unexpected doors to work in the archives of the University of Notre Dame, a rare PEW Charitable Trust funded opportunity to create a comprehensive list of manuscript collections documenting the Wesleyan Holiness tradition at Asbury Theological Seminary, and archivist positions at Asbury Theological Seminary and Fuller Theological Seminary. All of these culminated in me returning as the director of the BHLA in 2013.
As director of the BHLA, I have sought to continue the work of my predecessors Jim Lynch, Ken Shaffer, and Terry Barkley. Our primary task is to preserve the heritage of the Church of the Brethren and make documentation of that heritage available. In this role, I have experienced the truly worldwide significance of Brethren witness with visitors and outside researchers from India, Nigeria, Sweden, Belgium, Spain, Korea, and especially China, using BHLA materials to tell the story Brethren service and mission in their respective countries. Working with gifted interns Keith Morphew, Andrew Pankratz, Kelley Brenneman, Aaron Neff, Fred Miller, Haley Steinhilber, Maddie McKeever, Zoe Zorndran and Allison Snyder, I have attempted to highlight the uplifting stories of the largely unknown figures who witnessed to and lived the gospel of Jesus Christ in unforgettable ways in Europe, North America, and around the world.
In May of 2013, I had the opportunity to spend a day with Dale and Lois Brown acquiring one of the most important manuscript collections documenting the Brethren story in the second half of the twentieth century and, more personally, the papers of a friend and mentor. Equally important were trips acquiring the papers of Warren Groff, Donald E. Miller, and later Gene Roop, another favorite and important personal mentor. Other adventures included a trip to Santa Barbara, Calif., to interview the noted actor Don Murray who raved about his experiences as a conscientious objector, completing alternative service with the Church of the Brethren in Europe. I especially enjoyed interviewing Esther Frye, member of Mount Morris (Ill.) Church of the Brethren, who clearly recalled an afternoon spent at the home of Bethany Theological Seminary co-founder at E. B. Hoff, ninety years earlier.
I will never forget the Chinese visitors whose enthusiasm for the work of Brethren missionaries in Shanxi Province reminded me that the Brethren story is truly a story that is not limited to North America. But closer to Elgin, I think of the truly extraordinary courage of Harold Row in offering Nathan Leopold, one of the most notorious figures of the last century, a chance to serve humanity outside a prison wall. Or the Indiana farmers who sought to end war and hunger by providing livestock to those in need. Or Anna Mow sharing the old Pietist dream of the possibility for all of us to have a new meaningful life in the power of the Holy Spirit.
In the end I am truly grateful to the Church of the Brethren for the priority and support given to the BHLA, and for giving me the privilege of having the job of a lifetime. Thank you for supporting the life-changing work of the Church of the Brethren and helping preserve our remarkable and rich history.
In March of 2018, Loyola University had an improbable run in the Men’s National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament. With dramatic game winning shots, winning the first three games by a total of four points, and then beating a high-ranking team by a large margin, it seemed as though they were destined to play in the national championship game. Unfortunately, their run ended in the semi-finals.
Along with the team’s dramatic run, many also remember Loyola’s most famous fan—Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, the team’s then 98-year-old chaplain. Sister Jean became a household name as she was interviewed regularly after games and was visible on TV as she cheered from the sidelines throughout the tournament.
Last year, as she approached her 101st birthday and in response to the growing pandemic, Sister Jean concluded a prayer for her alma mater with these words, “As the days go by, let us continue our team spirit. Let us bring happiness and joy to others. Let us ask our God to continue to protect us with our love.”
Words have purpose and meaning. They can divide, instill fear, and break people down, or they can empower and inspire others, lifting up their hearts and building them up. Surely, Sister Jean’s pre-game prayers and sage advice to the Loyola players were impactful, an important part of the team’s spirit that led to their success.
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul reminds us to use our words to build others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. In other words, we are called to use our words to speak life to one another, just as Jesus speaks life to each of us.
The last year has surely been a difficult one. It has been challenging to experience and hear stories of families being physically separated for long lengths of time and it has been heartbreaking to miss out on so many meaningful events that are important to us. In this socially distant environment, it could be argued that our words to one another matter even more now than ever before.
At this time when our Brethren value of hands-on service and our call to follow WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) may still be restricted, we must also consider WWJS (What Would Jesus Say). It’s important to remember that we can also be the hands and feet of Jesus to those we come in contact with every day through our words.
Even when we cannot meet in person, we can send a heartfelt text message or email to someone going through a difficult time. We can share something inspirational on social media. Or, a more novel idea, we can write a letter or perhaps send a post card (like those in the 2020 Annual Report “Living Letters,” still available for free by request) to friends or family who live far away. We can look over our fences and encourage our neighbors with a kindhearted word, giving them strength for whatever challenges they are facing. As the family of God, we can pray for someone whom we might not have thought to pray for before; another way to pray without ceasing.
There are also times when we, ourselves, are going through a difficult time and need to hear words of assurance. If this is the case, we can seek inspiring words wherever they can be found. We can talk with a dear friend. We can also look for encouragement in God’s Word, a daily affirmation, a devotional, a favorite hymn, or perhaps a Messenger article.
No matter how we choose to speak life to one another (or receive them), we are called to carefully choose words from the heart that are affirming, positive, genuine, life-giving, faith-filled, purposeful, fruitful, and inspiring. To faithfully follow Christ and the Word of God, our words will outdo one another in showing honor, reveal love to our neighbors and enemies, and put others ahead of ourselves.
Whether through seasons of victory or of difficulty, may we, like Sister Jean (who still serves as the chaplain of Loyola’s basketball team), continue our team spirit and choose to speak words of life to one another.
A theme interpretation written by Rev. Erin Wathen for the 2021 One Great Hour of Sharing
During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, it became clear that many western world constructs that were intended to create a sense of safety actually promoted a false sense of security. In a global crisis, we were faced with a danger that defied our usual protective hedges. While some were made more vulnerable by economic and geographical factors, everyone was affected by the virus.
As it turns out, lines on a map don’t stop the spread of disease; a pandemic does not recognize human-made boundaries. Whether we like it or not, our lives are deeply intertwined. Our well-being is bound, inextricably, to that of neighbors close to home, and those halfway around the world.
The sooner we recognize that human interconnectedness, the better we can let love flow—generously and indiscriminately—to those who need it most.
When water comes to a village, everything changes. Improved sanitation promotes health. Crops thrive, providing food security and better nutrition. People can provide for their families and care for their communities today while also planning for the future. In the same way, when our love flows, brothers and sisters around the world are sustained through difficult circumstances and their lives are transformed.
Isaiah 49:8-12 articulates a stunning vision for a world of justice and equity; a world where everyone has enough, and all live in safety and abundance. It is also a vision for a healthy world of interconnectedness. In this vision, what is good for you is also good for your neighbor; what is good for one country is good for the whole world; and what harms any one of us harms us all.
That Kingdom-oriented vision in our shared ministry through One Great Hour of Sharing is much like the stream that runs through Isaiah’s Kingdom vision. Human-made constructs too often hinder human thriving. A world built on that sort of imbalance is counter to God’s dream for creation. To help bring about that more just and abundant vision for humanity, One Great Hour of Sharing supports ministries around the world that create opportunities and empower communities. This includes: farmers participating in educational opportunities and working to establish food security; volunteers preparing for a year of Christ-like service; Brethren pastors, leaders, and members sharing in meaningful conversations and events; and individuals encouraging people and rebuilding homes affected by disaster.
In many ways, our world was not prepared for the weight of the COVID-19 pandemic. But because of your past generosity through One Great Hour of Sharing, many communities were better prepared to meet the challenges presented by COVID-19. Through your past support, more people were equipped for the crisis and were empowered to prevent the spread of disease among their family and neighbors.
And when you continue to give generously, you continue to give life to people in need around the world. You continue to build on the dream of a world in which there is no thirst, no hunger, no suffering… just the abundance of life.
When you share what God has provided, you “let love flow.” The love that we give—and the love that we receive from those who partner in ministry with us—crosses all sorts of spaces and dividing lines, knitting together a better human family, and bringing the Kingdom of God to earth in our time.
When you give to One Great Hour of Sharing, you support people near and far in tangible and spiritual ways. When you “let love flow,” lives are transformed—for the glory of God and our neighbor’s good.
The suggested date for this year’s One Great Hour of Sharing is March 21. Find worship resources or learn more at www.brethren.org/oghs.