Community as a call for justice

Brethren Volunteer Service - winter The Volunteer newsletter

By Naomi Yilma, Brethren Volunteer Service Unit 325

“Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.”
— Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

According to a press release from the People’s Vaccine Alliance, 9 out of 10 people in poor countries are set to miss out on the COVID-19 vaccine in 2021, while rich countries have hoarded enough doses to vaccinate their entire populations nearly 3 times over. During a pandemic that has affected millions across the globe, the need for a beloved community becomes ever more urgent. This is a community that, according to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., is based on the love of one’s fellow human beings and, in turn, puts the just treatment of all humans at the center of its values. In recognizing the humanity of those around us, we would work towards systems that give everyone in the community access to healthcare, food, and shelter, especially in crisis situations. In a beloved community, we would prioritize giving vaccines to those who bear the brunt of the health and economic fallout from the pandemic.

At my project with the Church of the Brethren’s Office of Peacebuilding and Policy, I have contributed to a series of blog posts on simple living, racial justice, environmental justice, and economic justice. My work so far has helped me recognize the interconnectedness of our society and the systems that exist within it. It has helped me recognize that systemic injustices that were fostered over decades play a huge role in magnifying the health and economic impacts of COVID-19 in Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities. I have also learned that issues of justice are multidimensional and must be approached as such. In the words of former BVSer Susu Lassa, “Climate justice is economic justice and economic justice is racial justice.”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached that the end goal of non-violence is a beloved community. As we build a beloved community that encompasses all forms of justice for all people, advocacy geared towards equitable distribution of resources and opportunities should take center stage.

This article was originally featured in the most recent issue of The Volunteer newsletter published by Brethren Volunteer Service. Learn more about this ministry of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/bvs or support it today at www.brethren.org/givebvs.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Make room

A woodcarving featured at New Carlisle Church of the Brethren.
Photo by Traci Rabenstein

By David Steele, general secretary

In these early days of 2021, I have found myself not only caught up in the unsettling events of recent weeks, but also reflecting on the last several years of life together in the Church of the Brethren. One cannot deny the pain, fear, brokenness, and division inside our church, neighborhoods, and world. The impact of the pandemic is real for many, but the cold and hollowness of division and the “us” versus “them” mentality pervades not only our culture but our church. Republican versus Democrat, progressive versus conservative, liberal versus evangelical, and the list goes on. The fences we have worked so hard to build in our neighborhoods—to protect ourselves from the things we fear or to keep those who do not believe like us on the other side—are now making it difficult for our neighbors to find us and, more significantly, making it difficult for us to reveal Jesus in our neighborhoods at a time when Jesus is needed most.

I grieve the place we have arrived in our life together, the families and congregations that have been torn apart by a vote, and the congregations, friends, and family who have left us. I mourn the loss of our ability to gather at the table to study scripture, pray, and have fellowship together without being suspicious of one another. I lament that we as the body of Christ struggle to celebrate the values, priorities, and hopes that we hold in common. And most of all, I regret that, for some, our faith in Christ and our commitment to follow him no longer seem to be enough.

During Advent, I was drawn to the words of the 2017 Casting Crown’s song Make Room. The song tells of the Savior’s birth into a fearful, lost, and hurting world, and offers the invitation to make room in our hearts for God’s story to be written in us and among us. This became my prayer for Advent and Christmas, and remains with me in this new year.

In this season of struggle and challenge, how are you making room in your heart for God’s unfolding story? Are you opening yourself to opportunities to participate in God’s redemptive work? I am excited about the renewed possibilities of God’s story within the Church of the Brethren as we prepare for our conversation and affirmation of the compelling vision at Annual Conference, together with the Mission and Ministry Board’s new strategic plan that is oriented around “Jesus in the Neighborhood.” These movements are worth celebrating.  However, before authentically finding this posture, we must make room in our hearts for a new chapter of God’s story by first acknowledging and praying for God’s blessings on those who feel called to ministry outside our fold, and second, by spending time in self reflection, repenting for:

  • failing to build up the body and contributing to division,
  • casting judgments on others and believing that we are right,
  • putting personal needs and preferences before the needs of others,
  • wielding power and influence against others,
  • using social media to tear down brothers and sisters in Christ,
  • believing that enforcing polity and policy will fix division and brokenness,
  • withholding prayerful (or other) support from the family of faith,
  • harboring a lack of grace and forgiveness,
  • diminishing the personhood of others and not loving our neighbor as ourselves, and
  • (add your own).

For us to make room in our hearts, we need to let go of what stands in the way of allowing God to write God’s story. In our broken and hurting world, country, and church, may we make a commitment to one another to make room in our hearts so that we can, with a renewed sense of call and purpose, be united in our efforts to live for Jesus in our neighborhoods.

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.)

Service is never unbearable

BVS volunteer Evan Ulrich works at a Rebuilding project in Dayton, Ohio.
Photo courtesy of Evan Ulrich

By Evan Ulrich, member of Brethren Volunteer Service Unit 325

Dayton, Ohio, was never on my radar for places to live after I graduated from Juniata College. However, as a member of Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS) Unit 325, I found myself signing up to spend my year of service with Brethren Disaster Ministries’ (BDM) Rebuilding Program.

And I am so glad I did. BVS helped steer me toward volunteering with BDM—an organization that allows Brethren (and anyone else willing to pick up a hammer) to act upon our shared belief of serving others. In that case, that means serving others by rebuilding homes that were destroyed or damaged by natural disasters.

What I find unique and remarkable about BDM is its long-term goal. Each site focuses on long-term recovery. After all the media coverage and initial assistance has died down, BDM comes in to pick up where others left off. Sometimes even years after a disaster there is still much work to be done.

As I write this there are two sites open for volunteers—one in Bayboro, N.C., to assist those hit by Hurricane Florence in 2018, and the other here in Dayton. Our site is located a few miles east of downtown, in a recently closed Presbyterian church. Our work encompasses the greater Dayton area as we help rebuild homes damaged when 15 devastating tornadoes ripped through the area on Memorial Day in 2019.

Due to the type of disaster, the majority of our work involves repairing damaged roofs, installing new siding, and performing interior repairs due to water damage. Hanging and finishing drywall seems to be a never-ending project. I’m getting lots of practice! The work can sometimes be tedious, hot, cold, and occasionally quite odorous. Added on top of this is the duty to keep everyone safe during the pandemic and adhering to all COVID-19 safety precautions.

But helping fellow humans through love is never unbearable. It is a true blessing and the highest privilege to lay your needs down and pick up the needs of a stranger. I am grateful for being able to see this occur every day with the volunteers who come out.

Being a part of the site long-term, I have the opportunity to see the timeline of recovery over its full span. Each week brings something new: a different set of volunteers, and a different energy. But what never ceases to amaze me is the amount of quality work that gets accomplished by even the most inexperienced group of volunteers. Everyone has an important job, no matter the skill set.

One survivor of a disaster expressed his gratitude by simply saying how nice it was to not have rain coming into his house. This short statement made me step back and realize how many comforts we take for granted—and how important it is for us to safely serve others through love.

Brethren Volunteer Service and Brethren Disaster Ministries are ministries of the Church of the Brethren. Support them today at www.brethren.org/give.

This reflection was originally featured in
Messenger magazine.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Transformed by the Christmas story

By Traci Rabenstein, director of Mission Advancement

As we draw near to Christmas—after a year that posed many faith-testing issues in our global community, in our country, and in our denomination—I find myself spending time in reflection about what the Christmas season means for humanity. We will soon celebrate and be filled with hope by remembering the birth of our Lord and Savior. What peace it brings to us to know that God loved us so much that Jesus was sent to take our place on the cross and was resurrected so that we might have the opportunity for life eternal through him. But in a time of uncertainty and unrest, are these truths enough to help us get beyond the reports through the news outlets that we hear or the posts on social media that we read (or write ourselves) that can prompt anger or grief? How does the message of Christ’s birth change our perspective and how does that perspective reach a hurting, angry, lost world?

I struggle with all of this. These are questions I find myself wrestling with personally and as I serve our denomination. I try to remind myself that it is not my political identity, my theology, or my personal opinions that define me. What defines me is my relationship with Jesus Christ. What shapes who I am is connected to who I serve and what I believe in. The day I accepted this “babe born in the city of David” into my life, into my heart, as my Lord, Savior, Master, Redeemer, is the day I died and was resurrected with a new Spirit, the Holy Spirit. The same Spirit that entered Christ on the day of his baptism. It’s the same Spirit that cast out demons, made the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, and brought a sick girl and Lazarus back from the clenches of death.

On the I dedicated myself to Jesus, my life was no longer my own, but his. My thoughts are not my own, but his. It is not about my will or my wants, but his will. Does the church need to regain this vision? Have we listened more closely to the rhetoric of the world than to the powerful voice of the One who created all things and for whom all things were created? 

So God sent his Son—now what? We could almost stop there, and, indeed, let’s sit with this challenging question for a moment and let it linger in our mind and wrestle with our spirit. However, let’s also look at Hebrews 2:10-18 to learn more about this babe lying in a manger.

“For this reason he [Christ] had to be made like them [us], fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17).

Jesus is our leader, our captain of salvation. He was made to be like us so that he could later intercede for us. Because of this, he and we are one, and he is not ashamed to call us “brethren,” his brothers and sisters. He knows us as his family. 

He understands what it means to be in our skin—figuratively and literally. He suffered so that through his sufferings we would be given a way to reconcile ourselves back to our Heavenly Father. He died and came back from death in order to conquer it so that we—as his brothers and sisters, joint heirs of the Kingdom of God—no longer need to fear the grave. Death has no meaning to those who have accepted the gift of the One whom wise men traveled to see, and shepherds visited to worship. 

He became human in order to become a compassionate High Priest and an atoning sacrifice for our wrong doings through his own suffering and temptation. Because he physically lived on this earth, he more fully understands our lives and can identify with our human struggles. Living and dying as a human and then being resurrected, and thereby conquering death, puts him in a unique position of being both sibling and Savior to us. 

Since Christ entered our world and scripture has imparted this understanding about him to us, how might we bring this transformative message to others? Here are two thoughts for us to consideration:

1. Personally, we work to move beyond the political and social noises that attempt to make everything acceptable and pleasing to us, so that we can hear God’s voice guiding us to be “light and salt” in the world. In 1 John 2:15-17 we are told, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” Our love and attention for God is to surpass all earthly things.

2. Together, we continue the work of Jesus, to share and live out the good news of his peace, his unconditional love, his way of reconciliation, and his gift of salvation.

Even after Christmas and into the new year, may the Christmas story that tells of Christ’s first coming also transform us in ways that will show the world “another way of living”—one that is counter-cultural and against the norms of the world, and one that continues the work of Jesus until he returns.

Learn more about the ministries of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org or make a year-end offering to support them at www.brethren.org/year-end-offering.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Growing the church around the world

Read a Global Mission reflection in this week's issue.
www.brethren.org/global

By Carol and Norm Spicher Waggy, interim directors of Global Mission

“Therefore, as you go, disciple people in all nations…” 

“…so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.”


– Matthew 28:19, Romans 1:12 (International Standard Version)

The Directional Goal of International Missions in the Strategic Plan of the Ministry and Mission Board for the last decade was: “Grow the church of Jesus Christ around the world in partnership with sisters and brothers within the Church of the Brethren and beyond.” This has been the guiding statement for the office of Global Mission.

A significant development during that time was the passing of the 2018 Annual Conference paper “A Vision for a Global Church of the Brethren.” It states, “We envision a Global Church of the Brethren as a spiritual community of independent, autonomous bodies that are mutually dependent on one another for fellowship, counsel, and mutual encouragement.” As the Church of the Brethren in the US tries to live into this vision, we are excited by the growing relationships with Church of the Brethren denominations in other countries. These relationships are highlighted in the “Global Church of the Brethren Communion” map.

Throughout this pandemic, through the newly instituted Country Advisory Teams, we have been able to share some of the joys as well as the challenges and prayer concerns with other countries. For example, the deaths of leaders in Brazil, Spain, and Venezuela and struggles due to COVID-19 in all our partnering countries have been shared on our social media outlets. Emergency Disaster Fund grants have been given to most of the places you will see on these two maps, and they are so much appreciated.

A second map (“Global Mission of the Church of the Brethren USA”) shows the 11 countries where there are registered denominations, shown in orange, along with an additional eight countries where we have partnerships, shown in green. For example, we have staff working in both South Sudan and China. India is striped in both orange and green because we have a partnership with the Church of North India as well as the First District Church of the Brethren in India, which is one of the global Church of the Brethren communions. The Global Food Initiative has given assistance to 27 different projects in an additional 10 countries, and there are international Brethren Volunteer Service placements in El Salvador, Japan, and Northern Ireland.

We are indeed growing the church of Jesus Christ around the world through these partnerships with our brothers and sisters. Thank you for your support of the Global Mission office. We are so grateful for your partnership.

Learn more about the Office of Global Mission at www.brethren.org/global or support its work today at www.brethren.org/givegms.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Rejoice: Sing a new song

Read an Advent Offering worship resource in this week's issue of eBrethren.
www.brethren.org/adventoffering
Art by Jessie Houff

A sermon starter by Nathan Hosler, director of the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy, for the 2020 Advent Offering

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for the Lord has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. -Luke 1:46-48

Mary’s song begins with rejoicing in the work of God. This work was a significant calling on her life. Her world was imbued with the action of God but also turned upside down by a call to participate in this work. And this was not passive participation and observing, but a co-creating and forming of the Christ Child. Not only did this radically change her life but would turn the world upside down—scattering the proud, bringing down rulers, lifting the humble, filling the hungry, and sending the rich away empty.

The song of Mary echoes in Acts 17 as the Good News is being proclaimed. The accusation brought against the disciples is, “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also.” The disciples were rejoicing and abiding in the presence and work of God while proclaiming and working for a world where well-being, justice, wholeness, and peace flourish.

As we seek to share the Good News in this season, may we, too, rejoice in the work of God, singing a new song for the world to hear.

This year’s Advent Offering is December 13. Find worship resources or learn more at www.brethren.org/adventoffering.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Rejoice: Sing a new song

Read a Giving Tuesday reflection in this week's issue of eBrethren.
Photos courtesy of Ruch Matos and Santos Terrero,
by Sammy Deacon, LaDonna Nkosi, and Jeff Boshart

By Matt DeBall, coordinator of Mission Advancement Communications

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for the Lord has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.”
-Luke 1:46-48

Difficult seasons are as old as time. Whether famine, disease, or oppression, the people of God have endured many times of trial throughout history.

Mary, a Jewish girl living in poverty, had seen the hardship of her family and the struggle of her nation for her entire young life. The angel Gabriel entered the heaviness of her experience and bestowed upon her a blessing and promise from God, shining heavenly light into earthly darkness. Mary then visited her cousin Elizabeth, and through the Holy Spirit, what Mary had previously heard in secret was confirmed in real-time by the experience of a loved one. Overflowing with joy from all that she had experienced, Mary poured forth praise. Her beautiful, heartfelt hymn is recorded in Luke 1:46-55.

Though the song that Mary sang is two millennia old, the invitation to join her is new and fresh in every age. The faithful love and blessings of God continue to flow over us through seasons of hardship and struggle, and the hope and joy we feel is echoed in the family of faith.

Despite all that we have faced this year, the ministries of the Church of the Brethren have continued strong by God’s blessing and through the generous gifts of individuals and congregations in 2020. Discipleship Ministries has gathered believers and church leaders for conversations for encouragement and growth through webinars, online book studies, and more. The Office of Ministry shifted ministerial ethics training online and invited multi-vocational pastors to take part in the new Part-Time Pastor, Full-Time Church program. Brethren Disaster Ministries and Children’s Disaster Services have shared resources to address COVID-19 challenges and other disasters. The Global Food Initiative has empowered farmers in many different countries and has supported US congregations in the faithful work of planting gardens. Brethren Volunteer Service has trained and sent out volunteers to be the hands of feet of Jesus, shifting to a new online orientation model. Global Mission staff have maintained connections with sisters denominations around the world. The Office of Peacebuilding and Policy raised awareness about the struggles of our sisters and brothers in Nigeria, among other advocacy efforts.

In every endeavor, God has been faithful. For all we have been able to do together, even in these uncertain times, we give thanks and rejoice.

Inspired by the heartfelt song of Mary, may we sing a new song, rejoicing together that God has looked upon us with favor. Join us in celebrating now and on Giving Tuesday (December 1) by making a gift to the Church of the Brethren.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

God still made a way

By Kaylee Deardorff, 2020 Ministry Summer Service intern

In the early spring, I was debating what to do for the summer before my junior year of college. The head of the chemistry department had encouraged me to apply to an amazing research opportunity in France. I also had been feeling a tug toward ministry, but I was so unsure of what that would mean for me, a pre-med student. My pastor encouraged me to consider Ministry Summer Service, but I was unsure if that was something I should do. It would be hard to pass up doing research abroad if it came time to choose, but I decided to apply for MSS anyway and see where God would lead me.

The day before I heard back about the research opportunity, a feeling of peace washed over me as I thought about doing MSS and resolved to turn down the research offer if I was accepted. Turns out I didn’t get the research position, and I wouldn’t have been able to go abroad anyway due to the pandemic, so it was just as well—funny how the Spirit works sometimes.

MSS shifted to a virtual format, which in many ways was a blessing in disguise. Our weekly Zoom calls were fascinating sessions, including subjects like theology, work styles, and worship/preaching, with some additional sessions by people we would not ordinarily have heard from if we were in-person.

Our diverse group of interns made for especially engaging conversations, and when we collectively decided we needed to have an additional conversation set aside for race and the church, we did so. It was perhaps the most memorable of the calls for me. That conversation emphasized the importance of engaging in conversations with our siblings in Christ, even when the subject is uncomfortable or challenging. Additionally, we discussed the church as a whole and the need to empower members of marginalized groups through the unconditional love and compassion we’re called to share. It’s that conversation and ongoing reflection that bring up new thoughts and actions that continue to encourage personal and collective growth.

Of course, I missed getting an in-person placement, but I’m grateful that I got to be involved in my home congregation, Peace Covenant Church of the Brethren [in Durham, N.C.]. I worked with pastor Dana Cassell on outreach ideas, preaching during online worship one Sunday, and worked on a project to create a digital collection of devotionals and online resources for the congregation.

Along with MSS, my summer included taking an online class, working with my campus ministry to plan for the fall semester, and working with patients in nursing homes and hospice facilities as a home care provider. It was this combined experience that made me realize that part-time ministry—a reality for so many—is possible for me too. And ministry can look like so many things, including preaching a sermon, leading a Bible study, and providing care for patients in their last days. I don’t necessarily have to choose between a call to medicine or to ministry.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to participate in MSS and that the denomination provides such an experience to young adults for this kind of discernment. After this summer, irrespective of its unexpected twists and turns due to the pandemic, I realize that ministry will be a part of the life I live, no matter what, and I look forward to seeing where God continues to lead me.

Ministry Summer Service is a leadership development program for college students in the Church of the Brethren, sponsored by the Youth and Young Adult Ministry and the Office of Ministry. Learn more about this ministry at www.brethren.org/mss or support its work today at www.brethren.org/giveyya.

This reflection was originally featured in the October issue of Messenger magazine.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Sowing peace through art


Art by Jessie Houff featured for the International Day of Peace service co-hosted by Washington City Church of the Brethren and the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy.
Photo by Jessie Houff

By Nathan Hosler, director of the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy

“Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. . . . A harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace” (James 13-14, 18, ESV).

“Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness” (James 3:18, NIV).

On Monday, September 21, Washington City Church of the Brethren and the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy co-hosted a service to mark and reflect on International Day of Peace—or Peace Day. With the recommendation of Rev. LaDonna Nkosi, director of Intercultural Ministries, we invited two speakers from the Race Education Team from Central Church of Brethren in Roanoke, Va. They are both retired—one a lawyer and one a pastor—and are beginning to invest in learning and teaching about the historic and ongoing racism and injustice in this country.  They have waded into a difficult topic and task, investing their time and selves.

At Peace Day we also invited Tori Bateman to speak. She invested two years in Brethren Volunteer Service with the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy and now works with the Quakers in DC. She reflected on how our financial investments demonstrate our values and priorities, noting that, in contrast, over 50 percent of the discretionary spending of the Federal government goes to matters of war-making.

Alongside my work with the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy, I am also a pastor at Washington City Church of the Brethren, which is five blocks from the Capitol building. While it had decades of ministry with paid pastoral staff, we decided it would be best to shift to a plural non-salaried pastoral team model in 2014.

Over years of ministry and discernment, the topic of art has surfaced. Art as an exploration of God’s good creation. Art as a form of social justice. The church as a site of creating and featuring art. Along the way, we took out the pews from our chapel, and turned it into a music studio as well as a venue for occasional art nights.

A little over a year ago, Jenn Hosler—a community psychologist, one of our pastors, and my spouse—made a very rare visit to Facebook and learned something interesting. Jessie Houff, someone Jenn knew of but didn’t really know, posted that she had just graduated with a Master’s of Fine Arts degree in Community Arts in Baltimore, Md. Her final show had several Brethren-related themes woven through it. Jenn felt the movement of the Spirit to reach out. It turns out that Jessie—a former Brethren Volunteer Service volunteer—really wanted to work with a church and had almost gone to seminary. We weren’t quite ready to move forward and she had a commitment for the year. We spent the next year in discernment and building a relationship.

On Peace Day, Jessie officially started as our Community Arts Minister and became our only paid (part-time) minister. This is a bit risky for all of us, but we felt a clear movement of the Spirit. It is an investment in the peace of our community. It is a proclamation, we believe, of the reconciling work of Jesus and a witness to the call to justice, wholeness, and community.

As ministers at Washington City Church of the Brethren, we mirror the focus of denominational staff to continue the work of Jesus. As we go into our days may we discern the movement of the Spirit, and may we invest ourselves and our resources for the glory of God and for our neighbors’ good. For “peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.”

The Office of Peacebuilding and Policy is a Core Ministry of the Church of the Brethren. Learn more about its work at www.brethren.org/peacebuilding or support it today at www.brethren.org/giveOPP

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)