Praising the Lord everywhere

www.brethren.org/missionoffering

A theme reflection for the 2022 Mission Offering by Chris Elliott, pastor from Pennsylvania who recently visited Rwanda as a representative of the Office of Global Mission

“Everywhere—from east to west— praise the name of the Lord.”
~Psalm 113:3, NLT


Such joyful words that flow from the psalmist’s pen! “Everywhere, everyone—praise the name of the Lord!”  Psalm 113 begins and ends with “Praise the Lord!”

The Psalms in general run the gamut of human emotion, from the deepest sorrow to the most exuberant praise, with Psalm 113 on the latter end of that spectrum. For me, as one coming from a quiet worship setting in North American Christendom, it has been stretching to experience worship services among our sisters and brothers in Latin America and Africa.

What strikes me most in this passage, aside from the obvious call to joyful (maybe even giddy) praise of the Lord, is the universality of its application. “Everywhere—from east to west,” not unlike the message we find in Romans 1, when Paul reminds us that all of nature cries out for us to recognize and exalt the Creator. No one is excused or exempt from the call to worship.

Likewise, we mustn’t miss the correlation of Psalm 113:3 to Revelation 7:9-10: “After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a great roar, ‘Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!’” We prepare for this eschatological praise-fest in our present day worship—our psalms and hymns and spiritual songs—but also by our work of Gospel-sharing, based on Jesus’ command to “Go… and make disciples” (Matthew 28:18).

I have been fascinated by the paradigm shift in missions of recent years. In times past we would send missionaries to faraway lands for them to learn language and culture. They would translate Scripture, present the gospel, and pray that many would come to Christ. A new era of missions is developing, as believers in Africa, Europe, and Latin America are coming to us and saying, “We are ‘Brethren’—we are your brothers and sisters.” It is a healthy relationship, no longer like a parent and child, but more like an equal friendship or partnership.

These new relationships are maintained not only by occasional visits, but also with the benefit of the internet.  Daily communication by methods like email, Facebook, and WhatsApp keep the connections strong. Together we grow in Christ. Together we are encouraged in our faith. Together we share the gospel message. Together we are praising the Lord everywhere!

Find this and other worship resources for the Mission Offering (suggested date: September 18) at www.brethren.org/missionoffering or give an offering today at www.brethren.org/giveoffering.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Unwavering hope

A skit during the closing worship service of National Youth Conference acted out the story from John 21, in which Peter leaps from the fishing boat to swim to shore to meet Jesus.
Photo by Glenn Riegel

By Erika Clary, serving through Brethren Volunteer Service as the 2022 National Youth Conference coordinator with Youth and Young Adult Ministries

Over the last year, I coordinated National Youth Conference (NYC), which took place at the end of July.

I would like to thank Church of the Brethren staff, volunteers, members, and supporters for your encouragement over the last year. Thank you especially to those who worked behind the scenes to make NYC a success. I’m sure many times as staff or even as advisors, planning this event may have felt thankless, so I want to explicitly say right now–thank you so much. NYC takes more than just a village; it takes a whole metropolitan area.

It feels almost impossible to sum up all the emotions that arose from NYC. The one thing that has consistently come to mind is a feeling of unwavering hope. Time and time again throughout the week, the youth showed why we should have no problem entrusting them with the church.

One thing the worship team was adamant about this year was youth involvement. We initially struggled to assemble the NYC band, but this challenge ended up being a perfect opportunity to ask youth to participate. Through singing and the playing of a variety of instruments (viola, flute, drums, guitar, and more), the youth showed courage and extraordinary leadership. They also brought their gifts of reading liturgy and acting in scripture dramas. We saw youth literally jumping out of the boat (as seen in the photo above).

One thing about these youth that has given me so much hope is how they simply showed up. Youth groups struggled to fundraise and hadn’t spent imperative time together in community because of the pandemic. They could have remained scattered and their minds could have been drawn to so many other things, but they still chose to show up. And they didn’t just show up to NYC itself or to play in the band or read liturgy like I talked about; they showed up for one another.

Youth cheered on their friends who played in the band or read liturgy, and they held each other tight after being anointed. They sat with one another in small groups, and shared meals in the dining halls.  Amid the stress and anxiety that went into planning NYC over the last year, the fact that the youth showed up and showed up for one another reminded me why I did this job in the first place.

One of the things that strengthened my unwavering sense of hope was the youth speech contest winners. The theme of this year’s youth speech contest was “Bring Your Own Jesus Story.” The worship coordinators asked youth to consider how Jesus is foundational to their lives, pick a story about Jesus that relates to their story, and then preach on it. Kara Bidgood Enders talked about the story of the Good Samaritan, Hannah Smith talked about Jesus calming the storm, and finally, Anna Schweitzer related to the story about Jesus healing the blind man.

I remember watching their video submissions months ago and sitting in my office crying because of how vulnerable and wise those young women were. They weren’t just representing themselves, they were representing their peers, too. The three young women talked about being neighborly, about crying out to Jesus in waves of depression and anxiety, and about doing good things for people without hoping for any credit. Their words inspired not just the youth, but everyone in attendance. They definitely inspired me. It wasn’t that long ago that I was their age, and I can’t imagine going on stage in front of 900 people and being that vulnerable. And yet, they did it. They showed up. And they gave us hope.

There are many lessons I’ve learned in the last year, but one of them is that we need to simply learn to pass the microphone to the youth. They are strong, fearless, and adaptable, and always lift each other up. Though the verses may be familiar, 1 Timothy 4:12-14 is worth repeating. I like how the Message translation says it best: “Get the word out. Teach all these things. And don’t let anyone put you down because you’re young. Teach believers with your life: by word, by demeanor, by love, by faith, by integrity. Stay at your post reading Scripture, giving counsel, teaching. And that special gift of ministry you were given when the leaders of the church laid hands on you and prayed–keep that dusted off and in use.” If I had to sum up the hope the youth at NYC made me feel, it would be through these verses. They are teaching with their lives. I know they are teaching me.

We need to give our youth space to show up, to pass them the microphone, to listen to their stories, and to show up for them the same way they show up for us. They are the future, after all.

In closing, I want to share a sending that Cindy Laprade Lattimer, one of our worship coordinators, wrote for the NYC worship that the youth speech contest winners, after sharing their speeches, proclaimed together (as seen below). I teared up when I heard it.

We are all made of stories. Go and embrace God’s story by loving others, no matter the circumstance. Go and live your story, knowing that you are never alone, whatever storms arise. Go and share the story, doing the unexpected and acting neighborly. Amen.

Learn more about the 2022 National Youth Conference at www.brethren.org/nyc or support Youth and Young Adult Ministries today at www.brethren.org/giveyya.

Kara Bidgood Enders, Hannah Smith, and Anna Schweitzer, the 2022 youth speech contest winners, sharing a sending during worship at National Youth Conference.
Photo by Glenn Riegel

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Growing in love for the Lord and one another

www.brethren.org/greatthings

“As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples.”
– John 13:34-35, NIV

Dear family, friends, and faithful supporters of the Church of the Brethren:

It is with deep gratitude that I extend words of thanks to you for your contributions to support the Church of the Brethren. On behalf of those who will be blessed because of your generosity, thank you for growing in love for the Lord and others.

The 2022 Narrative Budget shows how your gifts do great things. It reveals how financial gifts entrusted to the Church of the Brethren are used for its faith-building and life-changing missions and ministries. It also highlights a broad view of 2021 ministry expenses and impacts, and current endeavors.

Thank you for partnering with us through your generous gifts and persistent prayers. We are so grateful for you as, together, we serve as the hands and feet of Jesus in our neighborhoods!

With gratitude,

Traci Rabenstein, director of Mission Advancement

< View the 2022 Narrative budget >

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Loving your neighbor in an unusually good way

By Roger and Kathy Edmark, Brethren Volunteer Service Unit #319

Loving our neighbor usually involves people we run into everyday–the people next door, those in stores we frequent, those we encounter on the streets, our family, friends, and work associates. There are many opportunities to help people in their time of need, or maybe just with a smile. In our day-to-day lives these encounters make a difference and change the world around us. This is something we all can do each day.

But sometimes we get an unusual opportunity to meet new people in a place we have never lived before. An opportunity to help serve and love our neighbors in a little different way you may never have thought to do.

My wife and I did just that in August of 2019. We were sent by Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS) to Hiroshima, Japan to serve with World Friendship Center (WFC) as the volunteer directors. We were met by dedicated volunteers, English class students, and staff who all became our friends.

For seven months, before the pandemic closed the borders of Japan to tourists, we also received people from all over the world who wanted to study peace at WFC. World leaders of many countries consider atomic bombs to be “strategic” weapons of mass destruction. Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors (hibakusha) know of the personal pain and devastation that atomic bombs indiscriminately wreaked havoc on everyone within the shadow of their destructive heat, hurricane force winds, and radiation. Barbara Reynolds, in 1965, established WFC as a place where people could come to hear the stories of the hibakusha and to work together for peace. The hibakusha’s cry is “No More Hiroshimas, No More Nagasakis!”

As you can imagine, this opportunity to live and serve in Hiroshima had a great impact on our lives. We are thankful that BVS works to connect people willing to serve “in a little different way.” BVSers serve with organizations all over the world needing volunteers, side-by-side with amazing people and groups making a difference.

You may have a heart to do something a little different too. If you decide to do something unusual or go someplace you have never been to, it may, like it did for us, change your life.

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 at www.brethren.org/givebvs.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Called for such a time as this

Erika Clary, NYC coordinator, and NYC 2022 logo
www.brethren.org/nyc

An interview by Jenna Walmer with Erika Clary, serving through Brethren Volunteer Service as the 2022 National Youth Conference coordinator with Youth and Young Adult Ministries

Tell me about your journey to becoming the National Youth Conference (NYC) coordinator. Were there any “God moments” where you knew this is what you wanted to do?

I attended NYC for the first time as a youth in 2014. Until that point, I went to National Junior High Conference and district events, but I never experienced anything quite like NYC. NYC 2014 was a mountaintop experience for me, both physically and spiritually. I remember thinking about how cool it would be to be an NYC coordinator and plan something that influential. I was a member of the 2017-2018 National Youth Cabinet, so I got to help plan NYC 2018.

There have only been a few times in my life when I feel like I truly thrived somewhere, and NYC 2018 was one of those times. It was so rewarding to pick the theme and watch it come to life in 2018. When I was a student at Bridgewater (Va.) College, I served on the inter-district Youth Cabinet, which plans Roundtable. In 2020, I served as the Roundtable coordinator. Roundtable is like a mini-NYC, and I loved coordinating that conference, so I knew I would love coordinating NYC just as much, if not more.

As much as I knew I wanted to apply to be NYC Coordinator for 2022, I still had some reservations—like living so far from home. That is where my major “God moment” comes into play, I have always loved the “for such a time as this” scripture from the book of Esther. In the fall of last year, someone sent me the theme song from NYC 2002, when the theme literally was “For Such a Time as This.” I really thought about the words in that scripture and in the theme song and realized that I could let my fears overcome me and not apply to be coordinator, because someone else could do it. But if I didn’t even try, I would never forgive myself for not applying for something I was (and still am) so passionate about. After that moment and realization, I began to realize that Esther 4:14 was following me everywhere. I would see it/hear it at the most random times and I just knew that was God’s nudge to me to apply. Thankfully, I took what I like to call my “Esther moment.”

What is your advice for people thinking about being a BVSer?

BVS has truly changed my life! It provides so many valuable life experiences. I barely knew how to cook anything before BVS, but since I live in a community house—and cook for myself and my housemates—I have learned how to make so many dishes. BVS, but specifically orientation, has made me realize so many things about myself and about my faith that could have taken me much longer to realize otherwise. This is the first time in my life when I’m not a student, so I am truly learning who I am outside of academics, which has been quite beautiful. If you are thinking about serving in BVS: do it. I could talk about my experience for days! It will change your life for the better.

Do you have any final words, advice, or wisdom to share about spiritual direction, following the call, or being in ministry or service?

I think my best advice is to do things in your own time. If you feel like the time is right to serve, whether through BVS or in ministry, try it! If you want to wait and try that later, then do that. I think we are conditioned to think that we must work on everyone else’s schedule and that we must know exactly what is going to happen next, but neither of those things is true. When you are called to do something, I think you will know the right time to take the leap of faith. When you are following God’s plans for your life, timing and perfection really don’t matter all that much. Following God’s plan is messy and doesn’t always feel perfect, but that’s okay. Do what you need to do for you and your relationship with God.

This interview is excerpted from the spring issue of Bridge produced by Youth and Young Adult Ministries. Learn more about National Youth Conference at www.brethren.org/nyc or support Youth and Young Adult Ministries today at www.brethren.org/giveyya.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Prayer and expectation for Annual Conference

A message from David Sollenberger, moderator of the 235th Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren

As we anticipate meeting in person for the first time in three years for our Annual Conference, we recognize that we come from varied places, circumstances, and experiences. One common denominator, however, is a belief in the power that prayer affords us as we seek God’s leading and direction for this time together.

Pentecost Sunday, this year on June 5, is celebrated by many Christians as the “birthday” of the Church. We take time on that day and in the weeks that follow to remember the special gift of the Holy Spirit coming to those faithful apostles that were gathered, after the ascension of our Lord, in prayer and expectation.

It was the power of that Spirit that transformed a small, discouraged, and disorganized group of followers into a courageous movement of disciples that took the Gospel, in a few decades, to nearly all of the known world. More than 2,000 years later, we remember the exhilaration and might of that moment as part of our own “birth” story.

This is an invitation to pray through this season of Pentecost in preparation and expectation for the gathering of the Brethren in Omaha this summer, July 10-14. I ask that you join me in this opportunity to remember and pray for Annual Conference—in your family and in your congregation.

Pray that we might be open to, and guided by, the Spirit in our worship, our study, and our deliberations. Pray that we will be given the grace to treat each other as brothers and sisters in Christ in the best tradition of the Church of the Brethren. Pray for safe travels for those that give of their time and talent by serving the church at Annual Conference. Pray that each person who gathers in Omaha will experience a renewed anointing of the Spirit that will give energy and courage in abundance for moving Christ’s church into a confident future.

Thank you for considering these thoughts and this request. Thank you most graciously for all you do on behalf of our Lord and his Church.

Online registration for Annual Conference closes this Friday, June 10. Register today to participate in-person or online at www.brethren.org/ac.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Gathering in community

A sermon starter written by Nancy Sollenberger Heishman, director of the Office of Ministry, for the 2022 Pentecost Offering

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.” ~Acts 2:1

When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples, numbering 120, were all together in one place. All together? In one place? What might that have meant for them? What could it mean for us? From the gospel stories we know that being “all together” for the disciples in that place signified a community with no small number of differences. Within the original 12 disciples and those who had accompanied them in following Jesus, there were significant differences including culture, political leanings, conflicting personalities, economic and social status, proven loyalty, cowardice, and even betrayal regarding Jesus, and on and on. What must “all together” have meant to them? How comfortable was being “in one place” for disciples struggling with the trauma of Jesus’ public execution followed by his astounding resurrection?

How about for us in our congregations and communities as we are “all together in one place”? Are we relieved to finally be all together in one physical space even while still amid a seemingly unending pandemic? Does “in one place” include only physical space in church buildings or are we embracing our gathering place of worship as including virtual space? Are we increasingly finding ourselves out in new neighborhood spaces as we meet the challenge to embody Jesus’ presence in the neighborhood? What has changed in the last few years in our being “all together in one place”? What still needs to change in and among us as we gather so that we are more faithful to Jesus’ call?

Certainly, no effort is needed today to find differences in society and even the church that prompt alienation, segregation, and hostility, even a silent contempt of the other. Negative reactions to differences are often motivated by fear and can result in anger. Leaders can stoke those fears and fuel anger, but Pentecost Christians are called to reshape the current narrative based on an enthusiastic embrace of the story of the Holy Spirit’s powerful anointing.

The Pentecost story was certainly one of proximity, which is so essential to a faithful following of Jesus. At the recent graduation at Eastern Mennonite University (Harrisonburg, Va.), Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative and author of the book, Just Mercy, began the commencement address with a call to graduates to live out their Christian faith through a very intentional proximity with the “least of these” who are in most need of Christ’s compassion and justice. Choose to be “all together in one place” with those you might not normally encounter, he suggested.

In a society where our lives are increasingly segregated in neighborhoods of homogeneity, the choice of intentional proximity to those in need of care puts us in the center of the Pentecost story where the Holy Spirit’s power transforms lives, creating God’s shalom. It does so as we learn to know our neighbors, sharing their joys and pains, hearing their dreams and longings, responding with the good news of Jesus.

Stevenson’s address was a fitting call to young leaders to embrace Pentecost’s power to prophetically do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. It will require living in deliberate proximity with those whose differences may challenge an easy togetherness. Proclaiming a narrative of Christ’s embracing welcome can counter tropes of fearful anger. Persistently holding on to a divinely inspired mission, Pentecost-powered hope keeps the foundation of one’s shared place spiritually resilient. Saying a bold “yes” to Jesus’ inconvenient and often uncomfortable call to costly discipleship keeps Pentecost power alive and vibrant. All this speaks to what can happen when disciples of Jesus are deliberately and delightfully and surprisingly “all together … in one place.”

Find this sermon starter, offering announcements, and other worship resources for the Pentecost Offering of the Church of the Brethren (suggested date June 5) or give an offering today at www.brethren.org/give-offering.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

I am because we are

www.brethren.org/yac

I am because we are
National Young Adult Conference focuses on the life-giving quality of community

By Becky Ullom Naugle, director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries

“So we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.” ~Romans 12:5, NRSV

After so much pandemic living and the isolation it’s caused, the centrality of community in this scripture compelled the Young Adult Steering Committee (YASC) to choose Romans 12:5 as the theme for National Young Adult Conference (NYAC) 2022. Christians spend significant time focusing on the verses before and after this one–reminding ourselves that there are “many gifts but the same Spirit.” While the reality of variety in giftedness certainly deserves attention and study, it is occasionally challenging to recognize and identify God’s presence in another. However, as the world has learned so painfully over the last two years in our isolation, God built us to need each other.

Even if we chafe at standards and boundaries placed to enable peaceful and healthy living, humans have a deep and strong desire to be with others. We are undeniably affected by the relationships we create. Simply put, we are affected by our community. Often the implications of this reality are seen as a liability. However, NYAC participants will focus on the ways this reality is an asset. How are we as individuals enriched by being part of a community? How is life better when we are together, rather than apart? If we felt empathy for others due to such a deep connection through our baptism into the family of Jesus and the call to live as one of his disciples, what would our lives look like?

It is precisely such deep connection to a group that allows an aspen tree to live. From above ground, where we spend most of our time, we see distinct trees. If we are paying enough attention, however, we might note that aspen trees tend to grow in groups. But did you know that the “distinct” aspen trees are actually part of the same organism? They share a root system and resources (like water and nutrients).’ Aspens are a living expression of Romans 12:5: the “individual” thrives due to its deep connection to the larger body. After so much time away from the larger body, the Young Adult Steering Committee is eager for young adults to remember and strengthen connections with each other.

This article was originally featured in the spring issue of Bridge produced by Youth and Young Adult Ministries. Learn more or register for National Young Adult Conference at www.brethren.org/yac or support Youth and Young Adult Ministries today at www.brethren.org/giveyya.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)