The ministry of showing up

Read a reflection from Walt Wiltschek in this week's issue.
The group at the Brethren Volunteer Service mid-year retreat.

By Walt Wiltschek; office coordinator of Brethren Volunteer Service, at-large editor of Messenger magazine, and district executive for Illinois and Wisconsin District

When I was a youth pastor in Maryland fresh out of seminary, I was fortunate to have in the congregation a retired pastor who became a trusted and invaluable mentor for me. He said many wise things to me over the time I knew him, but one I most remember involved his grandchildren, who also attended the congregation. The family was going through a lot while I was there, so I had tried my best to get to know them and connect.

“You know,” this retired pastor said one day, “no matter how good a preacher you become (and I wasn’t a very good one then), or how many good sermons you preach, or how many Sunday school classes or youth activities you lead, that’s not what my grandkids are going to remember. They’re going to remember when you came to their house and shot basketball with them on their driveway. They love basketball, and when you came and shared that with them, that’s when you became real.”

It seemed a rather routine thing at the time–and I’m not very good at basketball, either—but that’s stuck with me ever since, and something I’ve tried to make part of the youth ministry I do, and the other ministry, as well. Woody Allen once famously said that “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” And while I’m not sure that Woody Allen is the best model for anything theological, in this case I think he might have gotten it right. It’s amazing how much of ministry is simply showing up—being there—accompanying people on the journey of life and faith.

In an article I encountered recently, author Rich Anderson noted that “The life of Jesus is the blueprint for just showing up.” Every miraculous and ordinary thing he did and said in his ministry exemplified showing up for people in need. Anderson goes on to give some contemporary examples of showing up, including a nurse who proved to be a great help to his nervous 100-year-old mother during an emergency hospital stay and even brought her flowers to help her smile—a nurse who hadn’t been scheduled to work that evening but came in for overtime because he felt it was important to show up that day.

In Matthew 10:40-42, in The Message translation, Jesus says, “Anyone who accepts what you do, accepts me, the One who sent you. Anyone who accepts what I do accepts my Father who sent me. Accepting a messenger of God is as good as being God’s messenger. Accepting someone’s help is as good as giving someone help. This is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. It’s best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice.”

Mother Teresa once famously said that we can do “small things with great love.” As we in the Church of the Brethren and other denominations sometimes bemoan our shrinking numbers, perhaps we can also do loving things with our great smallness. Whatever our size, we can still show up and let God use us. Sometimes just showing up itself and being there is enough. Sometimes that’s the first step to listening or responding or taking action. But it begins with being there.

Thank you for showing up in the ministries of your congregation, community, district, and the larger denomination. Thank you for responding to people in crises, connecting across cultures, volunteering, stewarding resources, equipping fellow believers, supporting pastors and churches leaders, or doing the behind-the-scenes work that keeps everything going smoothly. However you participate in the ministry of showing up, you’re doing holy work.

Learn more about the work of the Church of the Brethren that provides opportunities to carry out the ministry of showing up at or support our ministries at

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Sent in the Spirit

A theme interpretation written by Matt DeBall, coordinator of Mission Advancement Communications, for the 2023 Pentecost Offering

“Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” ~John 20:21-22, NIV

It’s difficult to do anything without having sufficient support. It’s a privilege to be invited, but it’s a blessing to be given everything that is needed to move forward. When Jesus approached his terrified and weary followers, they needed divine vision but also heavenly provision.

To be clear, the disciples had good reason to be concerned. The Lord was known for being righteous and innocent of all crimes, but he was put to death as a scapegoat by a hate-filled religious mob and an unjust criminal justice system with more than one official who turned a blind eye to the whole ordeal. Those who followed Jesus were concerned that the people who pleaded for Jesus to be put to death would come after them next. Amid the uncertainty of their situation and of the future, Jesus appeared among them.

We may not be as fearful for our lives as the disciples, but we still have concerns about what the future holds. Offered compelling and compounding data that our sacred task is far too risky and our challenges too numerous, we convince ourselves that we can’t bring healing to our communities, to our country, to our world. And this conclusion, though morose, is correct. In our own strength and might, we simply can’t do or be all that is needed to step out of hiding and make a difference.

However, the Lord has not called us to abandon us. Sent by God, the risen Jesus set his transition plan in motion. Not only did Jesus put the train back on the track, but he also provided fuel for the engine. Like at the time of creation when God imparted the breath of life and animation to humanity (Hebrew “ruah”), so also does Jesus Christ breathe new life and reanimation into his followers (Greek “pneuma”)—with breath that revived his followers after the resurrection and stirs up new life in every age.

Through the missions and ministries of the Church of the Brethren, we recognize our God-given calling and that the Holy Spirit empowers us to continue the work of Jesus. We are calling and equipping fearless disciples and leaders, renewing and planting churches, and transforming communities. Your support of the Pentecost Offering supports these faith-building and life-changing endeavors that we do together—through the power of God and the unity of the Holy Spirit.

We have not been called and left hanging. We have been commissioned to important work and given the support we need to carry it out. We, indeed, have been sent in the Spirit. May we go forth with the Lord who has called us and the Spirit that sustains us.

Find this and other worship resources for the Pentecost Offering of the Church of the Brethren (suggested date May 28) at or give an offering today at

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Food, fundraising, and fellowship

By Kathy Hackleman, public relations coordinator at Annville (Pa.) Church of the Brethren

A successful fundraising effort requires multiple things: a product or service people are willing to pay to obtain and volunteers who are willing to organize, set up, and carry out the efforts involved in the fundraising event. In the case of Annville Church of the Brethren, the product is chicken pot pie and the volunteers who have organized the fundraiser for the past 10 years are church members Kathy Schrader and Kate Wentling.

The most recent annual fundraising sale of Pennsylvania Dutch chicken pot pie (most accurately described as a thick noodle soup) sold by the quart raised approximately $4,000 in March 2023. The recipient of the funds raised this year has not yet been selected but in past years, the fundraiser has benefited denominational ministries, church outreach projects, expenses for church youth to attend church camp or National Youth Conference, church kitchen renovations, or a need of the community.

Originally started as a dinner at the church where tickets were sold, over the years the annual fundraising dinner transitioned into its current form where quarts of pot pie are pre-sold. In a typical year, between 625 and 650 quarts of chicken pot pie are bought. Due to the rising cost of ingredients, the cost increased slightly this year to $8.50 per quart.

Held annually in March, the exact dates for preparing the pot pie varies from year to year as Kathy and Kate work around Easter and their own schedules to set the date. The final product is always put together and finished on a Friday and Saturday. Kathy and Kate begin working behind the scenes soon after the start of each new year. “We begin watching for good deals on ingredients in January,” Kathy explains. Of course, the main ingredient of chicken pot pie is chicken, and for 625-650 quarts of finished pot pie, that means about 60 chickens. Church members volunteer to cook down the chickens, sometimes at their homes and other times in small groups in the church kitchen.

Once the chickens are cooked and the meat removed from the bones, other ingredients are weighed and measured in preparation for a small group of volunteers who gather in the church kitchen to complete the pot pie. Those volunteers spend two days on tasks like peeling potatoes, working and rolling dough, stirring the pot pie as it cooks, and filling the containers.

Volunteers are recruited through announcements at church and individual contacts. People can sign up for the day or days they want to volunteer and for the specific job they wish to do. Volunteers are rewarded with doughnuts and breakfast casseroles on the days they work. Each of the two-day shifts is between two and five hours.

The specific recipe used for the chicken pot pie is a secret. The recipe originated decades ago from church members Charlotte and Gladys Wampler. It has been tweaked only slightly over the years, most often when ingredients have increased significantly in price or are no longer available. The original recipe called for specific brands of ingredients, which became problematic as the years passed. Also, the recipe has been changed to reflect precise measurements (Kate reports the original version called for the “white mug full of onions” and a specific number of eggs, which Kathy and Kate have found is more accurately measured by cups, not number since the size of eggs can vary widely). Even with the recipe and years of experience, Kathy and Kate say some years they need to adjust on the fly—like adding additional broth to make the finished pot pie “just right.”

Once all of the containers filled with pot pie are out the door, the work continues. Kathy and Kate write notes to include in the decades-old chicken pot pie folder, which includes details from each year’s fundraiser: the amount of money raised, cost of ingredients, where the funds were distributed, and any suggestions they have for the following year.

The annual spring chicken pot pie sale is only one of a number of kitchen projects Kathy and Kate coordinate at Annville Church of the Brethren. Another major effort is making chicken pot pie for the annual Brethren Disaster Relief Auction in Lebanon, Pa. For that, volunteers prepare about 100 quarts of the pot pie and deliver it to the auction where it is sold as part of a meal or by the bowl.

Although dozens of volunteers put in hundreds of hours to prepare the pot pie, Kathy and Kate contribute the lion’s share of work. However, it’s an effort they clearly enjoy, although both say they wish there was an easier, faster way to get the chickens cooked and prepared. Pot pie is not a difficult dish to prepare, Kathy notes, but it does take quite a bit of time since it involves multiple steps and quite a few ingredients. It’s continuing a decades-long tradition that propels Kate to do the work each year. “Annville is known locally for its pot pie, and I enjoy being a part of that,” she says. Kathy explains, “I enjoy the fellowship and I like it when people compliment the final product. There are some years where I feel like I can’t do it again, but then people tell me how much they look forward to it and how they wait all year for it, and I decide to do it again.”

The Office of Mission Advancement of the Church of the Brethren is grateful for this reflection from Kathy Hackleman. It represents the creativity and passion we strive to nurture together as followers of Jesus. For more inspirational stories about congregations being “Jesus in the neighborhood” visit Learn more about the missions and ministries of the Church of the Brethren at

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Restored by love

By Traci Rabenstein, director of Mission Advancement

“When Jesus saw [Mary] weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. ‘Where have you laid him?’ he asked.  //  ‘Come and see, Lord,’ they replied.  //  Jesus wept.  //  Then the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’  //  But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’”
–John 11:33-37

In John 11 we find a story of restorative love when Jesus is called to go to Bethany because His dear friend, Lazarus, is deathly ill. Jesus heard this news, He didn’t rush to His friend’s side, but instead cared for what was in front of him before telling the disciples it was time to move toward Jerusalem. Reading between the lines, no one around Him could have truly grasped how Lazarus’ illness, and ultimately his death, would provide a final opportunity for Jesus to reveal that He was the Messiah.

I don’t know if we can fully understand the relationship Jesus had with the three siblings of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. We read of their interactions with Him a few times in the gospels, but we don’t have a full picture of how close they were. What I understand as I read the text is that this relationship between the four of them was one of mutual love, care, and support. The gospel writer uses the Greek verbs “phileo,” connected to “philia”(verse 3), meaning a “brotherly or friendly” love, and “agapao,” connected to “agape” (verse 5), referring to a “deeper, self-giving” love. It’s the deep agape love that is at the heart of God and it is genuine philia love that Jesus embodies in relationship. This is where we better understand the depth, width, and height of the Lord’s love for Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. It also gives us a beautiful illustration of how Jesus loves us and how He desires to be in relationship with us and with all people.

When we live together in community, we celebrate love with hospitality for all, service to one another, and participation in each other’s afflictions. All of this creates a place where healing and restoration can occur because of the friendship we share. In these types of relationships, human predicaments are dealt with and well-being is restored.

We see Jesus participating in the painful predicaments of the world and through the resurrection offers us hope. He is Immanuel, God with us, not God “visiting” us. He is engaged with the world and is actively working in solidarity with the suffering of the world, because He experienced the worst parts of humanity. His mission is to engage with the suffering of the world and to redeem it and to restore humanity’s broken relationship with God. Discipleship calls for a similar type of engagement, for us to participate in the suffering of those around us, not to romanticize it, but to be realistic about the human condition and realize that our world aches for redemption.

A longing for restoration from destruction, for life after death, harkens back to Ezekiel chapter 37 where God asks the prophet “Can these dry bones live?” What follows is a direct command from Sovereign God to and through Ezekiel to proclaim, “Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you and will cause flesh to come upon you and cover you with skin and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord” (Ezekiel 37:5-6, NRSVUE). The bodies began to mend, and with the Word of God, the breath of new life entered them. It was the living Word, the gift of the Spirit that brought full restoration.

With a brotherly love, Jesus drew near to the grieving sisters, approached the tomb, and wept, entering fully into human suffering. And with a God-filled love, Jesus proclaimed with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” and the word of God restored the breath of life. And beyond the cross of Good Friday and the empty tomb of Easter, we believe that God’s unconditional love paired with words of life raised Jesus from the dead.

As the body of Christ, we serve together as friends and share the agape love of God in the hope that those we encounter may experience the same restorative love we have in Jesus. Through the shared missions and ministries of the Church of the Brethren, we serve globally, throughout the US, and in our neighborhoods, sharing words of life with all people. Filled with God’s love and the living word, may we continue the work of Jesus.

Learn more about the loving work of the Church of the Brethren at or support its missions and ministries at

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Hold our feet to the path

Nancy McCrickard sharing at a virtual staff meeting of the Church of the Brethren.

By Nancy McCrickard, Mission Advancement advocate

We hear in Psalm 66:9, “He holds our lives in his hands, and he holds our feet to the path” (TLB).

Take a moment and look at your feet. What shoes are you wearing today? Take one off and hold it up. Are you wearing heels? Or flats? Tennis shoes? Or work boots?

At the end of October 2022, I donned my tennis shoes–and my apron–to volunteer for a week (in between the Church of the Brethren District Conference schedule) at the Brethren Disaster Ministries project site in Waverly, Tenn.

This was an incredible opportunity to show that love is more than a word–to demonstrate love in action. It was eye-opening to live in the disaster-affected neighborhood, inspiring to hear firsthand survivor stories, moving to witness firsthand the devastation, and exciting to connect “around the table” with fellow volunteers. It was hard work. Daily I helped prepare breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the volunteers, and cleaned our living space, common bathrooms, and showers. I came away knowing that it truly takes everyone–with all abilities (and who wear varying types of shoes during their “day jobs”)–to be of service to our neighbors!

I’d like to share with you a glimpse of this experience:

“I hear…(on the television news)…and I forget.”
“I see…(in the newspaper)…and I remember.”
“I do…and I understand (better).”
– Confucius

A quote by Cathy Allen causes me to pause: “Life brings simple pleasures to us every day. It is up to us to make them wonderful memories.”

My week serving on this project brings so many cherished memories to mind: after dinner conversations with fellow volunteers, walking to local stores to purchase last-minute grocery items, and, my highlight, meal preparation with Doretta (simple tasks, yet now cherished memories). I realize, now more than ever before, that it is all about the people–the people we serve and those we serve with!

My fellow volunteers of “The Fun Bunch”

We are a people of service. May we be ever watchful for how we can “hold our feet to the path” and make Christ’s footprints more visible in neighborhoods across the country and around the world!

So let’s put on our shoes and enjoy the day!

Learn more about the ministries of the Church of the Brethren that make the footprints of Jesus visible in the neighborhood at or support them today at

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Living as servant leaders

Photos courtesy of Chris Elliott

A reflection by Chris Elliott about ministry for the Church of the Brethren in Rwanda

Among my favorite places on the planet is the little village of Gasiza in Rwanda. Nestled in the Virunga mountains, it isn’t exactly remote, as it’s less than a one hour drive from our home in Gisenyi. But a good bit of the journey is over very poor roads, giving one the impression that it’s farther out than it really is. 

The location is so beautiful that it might be described as stunning. The farms are well maintained and very productive. There are onions, cabbages, potatoes, beans, tomatoes, maize, bananas, eggplant, mangoes, avocados – and the list goes on. One hears dairy cows lowing and sheep bleating in the background. The view is incredible. On a clear day you can see Lake Kivu in the distance, as well as the volcano Mt. Niyirigongo in neighboring Congo. 

But the real reason it is one of my favorite spots is the Gasiza Church of the Brethren. The congregation is led by Peter Claver Habimana, a fifty-something man with a dear little wife, Mama Josephine, and a family of eight children. When a younger man, he was, by his own description, a drunkard and an atheist. God miraculously saved him and changed his life. He eventually became the pastor of a Pentecostal church and ultimately joined the Brethren in 2015.

Pastor Claver, as we call him, doesn’t have much education. He is though, a very gifted preacher, with a big heart. He works very hard as a bi-vocational pastor. Along with service to the church he is a carpenter and a farmer. His embodiment of a solid work ethic is powerful in an environment where many pastors are expecting others to do and provide for them. As a student at the Great Lakes Bible School (GLBS), Pastor Claver is learning English, applying previously learned Bible knowledge, and just as importantly, serving as a wonderful example for others.

One of the key teachings we are emphasizing in the Great Lakes Bible School is servant leadership. While pastors are indeed leaders of people, pastors are also servants. I suppose that most would recognize the importance of a pastor’s submission to the Master Jesus Christ. But all too often, leaders are subsequently expecting their church members to be in submission to them, rather than leading with the understanding that we all are in submission to each other (Ephesians 5:21).

Another important feature of GLBS is the mix of students and faculty. Age, education and experience range across the spectrum. At 66, I’m the oldest one. Our view is that the older ones will mentor the younger and that the younger bring energy and vitality. It has been heartwarming to watch the interactions among the students. The mentoring is quite obviously taking place, but the energy is also apparent, not only from the younger to the elder, but a mutual iron-sharpening-iron. Even though pastors like Claver are the seasoned ones, there is no attitude of superiority.

This past Sunday, Theoneste (principal/head teacher) and I, along with our two Burundian students made the road trip to Gasiza for morning worship. We arrived at 9 as the folks were just gathering. The music started promptly, with lots of dancing to accompany the singing. The four choirs took turns leading the congregation as the pastor intermittently spoke and read from the Scriptures. The guest preacher (me) shared for a half hour or so. After a closing song and prayer, the service concluded shortly before noon.

As the congregation dispersed, we stayed behind with the pastor and deacons. A feast was spread before us of beef, potatoes, rice, beans and Fanta. I noticed that neither the pastor nor his wife were eating. They were both busy ensuring that everyone else was taken care of. Finally, when all were served, they sat down to eat their own meal. I pointed this out to Theoneste. He said, “You’re right – they are servant leaders.” It is my prayer that all of our church leaders here in the Africa Great Lakes region will learn by their example.

Learn more about the Church of the Brethren in Rwanda at or support the Office of Global Mission at

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

It’s time to share

It’s time to share

A theme reflection and scriptural exegesis written by Rev. Barbara Essex for the 2023 One Great Hour of Sharing

“So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit. Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all.” ~Galatians 6:9-10, The Message

“Give a person a fish and you feed them for one day. Teach a person to fish and you feed them forever.”* The meaning of this phrase seems clear—take care of a need now or empower others to do for themselves. 

While the Apostle Paul does not talk about fishing or hunger or food insecurity in his letter to the Galatians, he does talk about how Christians are to live: generously helping and caring for others.  

In Paul’s day, more than half of the population lived at or below subsistence level, barely able to make ends meet. Many died prematurely due to malnutrition and ailments that resulted from lack of healthy and plentiful food. Most people—adults and children—experienced food insecurity.

Those who had money and power contributed to building roads and water systems, and hosted lavish banquets for their colleagues. Their public displays of generosity were often self-serving, though: the bigger and more public their acts of giving, the more they were esteemed in the eyes of those they wanted to impress. Acts of charity, on any scale to make a difference for those in need, were few and far between. Government safety nets were non-existent.

Paul understands that God raises the bar on community life—the care of the poor and vulnerable; the use of resources to benefit those who really need help; loving one’s neighbor; caring for the environment; and advocating social justice so all can live and thrive. For Paul, communities grounded in Jesus’ sacrificial life and death are to practice radical hospitality and generosity: making a place for all and using financial resources to help those who really need help. Community life means meeting immediate needs (giving fish) and working for long-term progress (teaching to fish). Food security requires both.

Paul also understands that radical hospitality and generosity are tiring. The needs of people keep growing. The call to help and to share is insistent, urgent, unending, exhausting. Paul reminds the Galatians that their communities are different; they are shaped and sustained by God’s Spirit. Their loving acts are responses to God’s own loving acts towards each of them. God keeps on giving, and so should they.

Paul compares sacrificial, communal love to harvesting. So much is needed for a bountiful harvest, and anything can disrupt its outcome. Embedded in harvesting is fatigue, uncertainty, and anxiety—yet, the planting, pruning, and tending are done as one waits, in hope, for the outcome. 

Paul encourages the Galatians, and us, to look at the bigger picture. Guided and strengthened by God’s Spirit, we are called to work, plant, grow, and produce until the final harvest day—the harvest that marks the fulfillment of God’s Reign, already started and yet to be completed in God’s own time.

Perhaps we grow weary because we do not know if our efforts truly make a difference. Will our dollars improve the devastating effects of climate change? Will our contributions feed every hungry person in the world? Do our ministries adequately address the spiritual needs of our community? How can we know if our gifts are worth it?

The One Great Hour of Sharing of the Church of the Brethren answers these questions. Whether a person has hunger in their body or soul, the work we do together as the body of Christ can make a difference. Your gifts help the Global Food Initiative and Brethren Disaster Ministries to respond to immediate and long-term hunger issues, no matter the cause, both locally and globally. With the help of your partnership, Discipleship Ministries and Global Mission offer hope in places near and far.

We cannot physically be everywhere or see all the results with our own eyes, but through your generous offerings and special gifts, you help promote the loving community that Paul advocates. Through One Great Hour of Sharing YOU are reaching into the world; working in partnership with people we will never meet, yet with whom we are connected. Your contributions are transforming lives for generations to come and are part of the harvest into which Paul invites us. Your gifts bring the reign/kindom of God closer to us all.

We can make a difference. We do make a difference. Your generosity makes all the difference in the world.

There is power in doing good and changing the lives of others. We cannot grow weary or quit—lives are at stake. God’s Spirit energizes and re-energizes us when we get tired. God helps us to help others.

The need has never been greater. Let us continue this good work. Let us stay energized. Let us give generously. The opportunity is now. It’s time to share.

Find this and other worship resources for the 2023 One Great Hour of Sharing (suggested date: March 19) at or give an offering today at

– – –
* A version of this phrase appeared 138 years ago in Anne Isabella Thackeray Ritchie’s novel, Mrs. Dymond, believed to be the first instance of its use.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

One Great Hour of Sharing 2023

Worship resources for the 2023 One Great Hour of Sharing of the Church of the Brethren

Freedom through the darkness

By David Steele, general secretary

“Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.” -Acts 4:32

After more than two years of pandemic-related limitations, I have returned to a more robust travel schedule. I share the sentiment of many that it is good to be gathered together again. Yet amid the celebratory spirit, there are also undertones of uncertainty, loss, and even trauma. It has been a difficult several years for the Church of the Brethren and its members.

As I was called into my first congregation as a pastor 30 years ago, I would have never imagined the church as it is today. Declining attendance, membership, and a waning commitment to the church were evident and real in the two congregations where I served those many years ago, but not the significant challenges I see the church is experiencing: the significant need for pastors and district executives and leaders; the distrust of the denomination and really anyone outside our local congregation that compounds a growing sense of isolation; the sharpening theological divide fueled by assumptions, social media, and political or social agendas; the diminishing ability to articulate a language of faith and discipleship; the vanishing of our distinctive Brethren witness; and the splintering of the larger church as local congregations withdraw, resulting in some instances of split congregations and families. Our current challenges didn’t just spring up overnight or recently—they have been in the making for years.

Much of my time and the church’s focus during my tenure as General Secretary has been on soul-sapping conflict. Along with other denominational and district leaders, I have spent countless hours prayerfully discussing, researching, discerning, and editing many, many emails and letters. I have met with numerous individuals, groups, and congregations to discuss the typical topics of concern in the Church of the Brethren (sexuality, authority of scripture, accountability, and fracturing of the church). There are other issues, but by far, these have dominated my denominational focus, time, and emotional energy.

There is an illustration in Robert J. Miller’s Lectio Divina series “Fire in the Deep,” of a man stuck in a cave who became so narrowly focused on a hole in the roof that he missed the opportunity to find the true freedom that was hidden in the darkness. I resonate with this story because I believe that we, like other denominations, have convinced ourselves that there is only one way out of our disagreements; therefore, we have been so narrowly focused on solving, addressing, and working to unify the whole of the church around a singular definitive answer that we have missed the freedom hidden in the darkness.

The book of Acts provides a glimpse of a church with a clear sense of unity and purpose–communal sharing that leads to the needs of all being met. Luke, the writer of Acts, emphasizes this sense of togetherness and common ownership at the conclusion of the Pentecost story. This glimpse of the early church is provocative and is less about selling all of our possessions and goods, and more about the radical generosity that was fueled by a love of God and neighbor, and a passionate responsibility to care for those in need.

Have we been so focused on our small holes that we avoided facing the shadows of crisis? I’m convinced we see the decline in membership—and have for 30 years—because of our waning commitments to adapt in ministry and love our neighbors radically. In recent years we have been so preoccupied with scrutinizing every word and action of nearby churches and pastors—or those of other communities and districts—and with seeking ways to hold others accountable that we have neglected our responsibility to care for our neighborhoods and invite people to life-changing conversion. This is about loving all of our brothers and sisters, not limited to those in our own congregations or those we agree with—a love without boundaries. The church in Act shows us that the simple expression of loving our neighbors becomes a radical generosity that unifies us and becomes a tangible sign that authenticates the message of Jesus.

Friends, we need to face the crisis before us together. The hope of God’s community is found when lives are changed. Quite simply, our communities need Jesus. The program and instructions are simple, radical generosity that is born out of love—our love of God, our loving commitment to Christ, and our love of neighbor. The early church had an intense sense of responsibility for each other. It is time that we reclaim that responsibility as we approach the darkness together. May we together find the freedom awaiting us as we encounter and serve as Jesus in our neighborhoods.

Learn more about the faith-building and life-changing ministries of the Church of the Brethren at or support them today at

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)