Worship Resources for the 2020 Advent Offering
of the Church of the Brethren
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.”
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.)
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.)
It feels like the past few months of the pandemic have been a slew of shocking numbers thrown at me. Like the number 7.3 million- the number of COVID infections in the US. 200,000- the number of COVID deaths in the US as of September 30th. But COVID-19 is not only a health problem. It is an economic problem with consequences that are expected to far outlast the pandemic. 40,000,000- the number of people who filed for unemployment since the pandemic. 637,000,000,000- the dollar amount that billionaires added to their wealth since the pandemic. As we journey to explore and reaffirm simple living, stewardship, just dealings, and mutuality in relation to economic justice and economic peacemaking in this pandemic, this second post in a series of four, looks at the need to address economic injustice through a racial equity lens.
Addressing Racial Inequalities to Fight Economic Injustice.
The deeply rooted racial inequality in the United States presents itself in disparities in income, wealth, access to education, housing, access to healthcare, and other economic indicators. Inequality.org defines income inequality as “the extent to which income is distributed in an uneven manner among a population”, and income as, “the revenue streams from wages, salaries, interest on a savings account, dividends from shares of stock, rent, and profits from selling something for more than you paid for it.” According to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, for the last quarter of 2019, the median White worker made 28% and 35% more than the median Black and Latino workers respectively. Systemic racism and inequalities in the distribution of income present a hurdle in the accumulation of the generational wealth that is essential for economic security. (Inequality.org) Consequentially, racially minoritized populations do not enjoy the security blanket that generational wealth provides their white counterparts and are at risk of financial fallout from changes in economic conditions.
COVID 19 has exacerbated these inequalities.
In one way or the other, this pandemic has transformed all our lives. However, it is essential to note the magnitude of its impact on different racial and economic demographics. According to the Washington Post, “The economic collapse sparked by the pandemic is triggering the most unequal recession in modern U.S. history, delivering a mild setback for those at or near the top and a depression-like blow for those at the bottom.” “Historically, people of color and Americans with less education have been overrepresented in low-paying service jobs.” This overrepresentation in low-paying service jobs not only puts these groups at a disproportionately high risk of being exposed to the virus but also forces them to bear the brunt of its economic consequences. For example, Black women have only recovered 34% of the jobs they lost compared to White women who have recovered 61%. This is a major setback as it took Black Women up until 2018 to recover from the Great Recession.
The Post also found that “White Americans have recovered more than half of their jobs lost between April and February. Meanwhile, Black Americans have recovered just over a third of employment lost in the pandemic.”
If the bodies making decisions on how to respond to the economic consequences of COVID-19 are those that have suffered least and are recovering the fastest, it is difficult to imagine the responses will be equitable. In our path to recovery, the goal should not be to return to normal. Instead, the goal should be to create systems that prioritize equity for minoritized populations. We must be proactive in advocating for COVID-19 response policies that apply a racial lens when addressing issues. We must educate ourselves about systemic racism and be aware that it can present itself in subtle, seemingly unrecognizable ways. We must try to use our voices to amplify and build up minoritized voices in the fight to dismantle oppressive systems. We must be mindful that the policies we support, or not, have life-changing impacts on many others. As such, we must be more intentional than ever in how we use our voices.
“Applying a Racial Equity Lens to End Hunger.” Bread for the World, 1 July 2020, www.bread.org/library/applying-racial-equity-lens-end-hunger.
“Coronavirus Cases:” Worldometer, www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/.
“Racial Economic Inequality.” Inequality.org, 25 Sept. 2020, inequality.org/facts/racial-inequality/.
Report • By Elise Gould and Valerie Wilson • June 1. “Black Workers Face Two of the Most Lethal Preexisting Conditions for Coronavirus-Racism and Economic Inequality.” Economic Policy Institute, www.epi.org/publication/black-workers-covid/.
Van Dam, Andrew, et al. The Covid-19 Recession Is the Most Unequal in Modern U.S. History. 30 Sept. 2020, www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/business/coronavirus-recession-equality/?utm_campaign=wp_post_most.
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.)
By Jeffrey Boshart, manager of the Global Food Initiative
“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.”
– Jeremiah 29:5, NIV
These are strange and difficult days. If you are like me, this year is not turning out like you had hoped. (This may be the biggest understatement ever!) My travel plans for the Global Food Initiative (GFI) in the spring and summer were cancelled. Our family’s spring break vacation was taken off the calendar. I was planning to host visitors from Haiti and Nigeria this summer, and that did not happen. COVID-19 brought many inconveniences for us; however, the reality for our international partners involves very real hardship, not just a change in schedule.
A pastor in Honduras reported that there have been families in her community who cannot go to work and cannot purchase diapers or food for their children. A friend in Ecuador shared how fear swept the country after a rapid spread of the virus and many lives were lost in a major city. In Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Haiti, stay-at-home rules from the government were not accompanied by relief bills, unemployment checks, or any form of assistance, and therefore, staying at home meant going hungry.
Through the bad news and uncertainty about the future, I am encouraged by our partners around the world who have unwavering faith and hope that God will bring us through. They share the belief that it is important for Christ-followers to witness to their neighbors in word and deed, especially during these times. Like the Israelites exiled in Babylon, they continue to plant gardens and fields. This is also true here in the US where churches are using GFI grants for community gardens. During this pandemic, people are committed to doing more, reaching out more, and serving their neighbors sacrificially. Please prayerfully consider how you can help our sisters and brothers during this time of great need.
Your generosity to the Global Food Initiative prepares us to respond. Over the past year, we responded to requests for assistance from 27 partner organizations in 10 countries and in the US. The total amount provided in grants was more than $200,000! In 2020, the GFI continues to receive calls for support at a time of a global financial crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Thank you for being part of this important ministry and empowering many to plant gardens in these difficult days.
By Traci Rabenstein, director of Mission Advancement
“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”
During my junior and senior years in high school, I joined speech club. We would select readings (whether original pieces or stories, published articles, or famous poetry) to present for a panel of judges who would critique our delivery. Competitions were placed in categories, and the one I fell in love with, and participated in the most, was poetry reading.
While in speech club, I found Robert Frost. He had a few poems published in the US in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but it wasn’t until his family moved to England that he wrote and published two books of poetry that were successful immediately. In 1915, he returned to New England and continued to write. He won four Pulitzer Prizes for poetry and became the Poet Laureate Consultant for Poetry for the Library of Congress from 1958-59. He recited his poem “The Gift Outright” at the 1961 inauguration of President John F. Kennedy. Out of all his work, my favorite was (and still is) “The Road Not Taken.”
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
In the September 2015 issue of the Paris Review online magazine, David Orr wrote a review of the poem in which he said, “Most readers consider ‘The Road Not Taken’ to be a paean to triumphant self-assertion… but the literal meaning of the poem’s speaker tells us … the road he will later call less traveled is actually the road equally traveled. The two roads are interchangeable.”
I see parallels of this in my own journey. There are times when I stand before two decisions, two roads, and have to determine which one to take. Sometimes, after making a decision and heading down one pathway, I wonder what might have been if I had made the opposite decision. Would it have been easier to travel on the other road?
Over the past several months, we have found ourselves on a road not traveled often. One where we have had to shelter-in-place, wear masks when we are in public places, and learn how to stay connected in new, virtual ways as families and congregations. For some, this has been a season of slowing down and reflecting, taking time to identify what is most important. Some of us have been taking measures to slow down after realizing that the pace we had been living pre-pandemic was not the road we necessarily wanted to be on.
I’ve also been thinking about the road Christ journeyed. In the 40 days after Jesus’ baptism, he traveled into the wilderness and was tempted by Satan. Matthew and Luke provide examples of how Satan tried to entice Jesus into revealing himself as God’s son before the appointed time. I marvel at the willpower he had as someone who had been fasting and wandering alone in such a solitary place. Satan tried to divert him to another path, but he stayed the course of preparing for what was to come and taking the road “less traveled.”
In our own lives, when the hardships of humanity seem to hold us back, pressuring us to take “the other (road), as just as fair / And having perhaps the better claim / Because it was grassy and wanted wear,” we can look to the temptation of Jesus. From him we find how to address the stresses of life, face daily temptations, and find solace. By following the path of Christ, we remain near to God and find strength and hope to stay in tune with his will and recognize his movements in our lives. This is the road, the “one less traveled by,” that makes all the difference.
The Office of Mission Advancement works to cultivate passion for the missions and ministries of the Church of the Brethren. If you have any questions or if there is any way they can support you in this season, please reach out to MA@brethren.org.
(Read this issue of eBrethren.)
As the pandemic brings to light the injustices that were for so long swept under the rugs, one can’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of helplessness. Perhaps these injustices were always there in broad daylight- but the hustle and bustle of our day-to-day lives gave us an excuse to avoid thinking about things much further. In a blog earlier this summer, Susu Lassa wrote, “COVID-19 ripped back the curtain on the various systemic problems in the U.S and worldwide, and police brutality and racial injustice were once again cast into the limelight…” This pandemic has also pulled back the curtains on the economic injustices as while over 40 million Americans filled for unemployment over the past couple of months, billionaires added a staggering $637 billion to their wealth. Looking at figures like these it seems more necessary than ever to reflect and reassess the choices we make with regards to how we live and how we consume. Over the next few blog posts, we will explore and reaffirm simple living, stewardship, just dealings, and mutuality as they relate to economic justice and economic peacemaking; especially as we go forward during this pandemic. This first post in a series of four, explores simple living in a time of consumerism and consumer culture.
Over the years there have been numerous Annual Conference Statements on Christian living, stewardship, and creation care -all of which, I believe, point to the importance of simple living. A 1980 annual conference statement emphasizes simplicity as a Christian way of life. But what is simple living?
Not to be confused with minimalism, which often refers to simplicity as it pertains to physical possessions; Simple living refers to a mindset focused on reduced consumption, with value placed on essentials and things that bring us joy. (Babauta) Simple living is more than just a cleared-out closet and rejection of luxury goods. It is a mindset in which value is placed on finding joy in our human connections, our community, and nature. In his book Freedom of Simplicity, Richard J. Foster argues that simplicity is “an inward reality that results in an outward lifestyle.”
By choosing to live simply, we make mental and financial space to develop our spiritual life. We shift our focus from finding ways to preserve our affluent lifestyles, to working to grow our understanding of God and all creation.
Consumer Culture and Consumerism
“Consumer culture denotes a social arrangement in which the relations between lived culture and social resources, and between meaningful ways of life and the symbolic and material resources on which they depend, are mediated through markets.” (Arnould and Thompson, 869) Rather than being a means of reflecting cultural values, consumption has become a culture value, contributing to the ever-expanding list of our needs and desires. (Goodman and Cohen)
Be aware of Consumer Culture and intentional in how you navigate through it.
Most things we do are a matter of habit, conditioning, training, and unconscious imitation. We are programmed by culture, family, and media, seldom questioning why we act as we do, or whether we are doing the things we value most. Many of the Influences which shape our behavior – hedonism, triumphalism, cynicism, legalism – run counter to the lifestyle of the kingdom of God which Jesus lived and proclaimed. (AC 1980, Christian Lifestyle)
Author Kit Yarrow in her book Decoding The New Consumer Mind writes that studies show that hidden, unconscious cues such as scents, colors, product placement, and how words sound, are now more influential to our purchase decision process than ever before. We are told what we need and increasingly our ability to discern our needs from our wants is fading -or at least it seems to be. As such, there is great power in awareness because only when people become aware of a habit are they able to make intentional decisions to combat it.
As I finish up writing this piece, I realize just how all over the place it is. But isn’t that more telling of the interwoven nature of our lives? How our choice to live simply will not only benefit us spiritually and financially, but can also benefit the community, the environment, and the next generation. For a BVS’er like me, on a tight budget, practicing simple living is the only choice. But I hope I develop a way of living that extends beyond my year here. I want to make sure that I do not take up more space and resources in this world than what was allotted for me; so that others who share this Earth with me and those coming after me can enjoy it as I have.
Suggested Reading: Consumer Culture by Goodman and Cohen
The masterpiece of a simple life | Maura Malloy | TEDxIndianapolis
Babauta, Leo. “The Simple Guide to a Minimalist Life.” Amazon, Publisher Not Identified, 2009, www.amazon.com/Simple-Guide-Minimalist-Life/dp/1455831972.
Eric J. Arnould, Craig J. Thompson, Consumer Culture Theory (CCT): Twenty Years of Research, Journal of Consumer Research, Volume 31, Issue 4, March 2005, Pages 868–882, https://doi.org/10.1086/426626
Goodman, Douglas J., and Mirelle Cohen. Consumer Culture: a Reference Handbook. ABC-CLIO, 2004.
Yarrow, Kit. Decoding the New Consumer Mind: How and Why We Shop and Buy. Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Brand, 2014.
By Carol and Norm Waggy, interim directors of Global Mission
“So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.”
~Romans 14:12, NIV
We live in very trying times. With each passing day, it seems that there are ever more opportunities for disagreement and division. How do we respond at different stages of the pandemic? What should we think about social unrest? Who should we call upon for leadership? Even with much communal reflection and discussion, these topics can lead us to more questions than answers, and when disagreements occur, it can seem easier to find comfort with like-minded people than find common ground with those who think differently.
In Romans 14:1-12, Paul encourages the church in Rome to address differences and conflict with forbearance. We all belong to the Lord and we will all be accountable to God. Therefore, we should not pass judgment on our brothers and sisters when they make decisions that differ from our own. Again, examples of these differences abound and include:
– responses to COVID-19 restrictions (Is it the weak or the strong who wear masks?)
– theological differences (How do we love those who differ from us in our interpretation of scripture?)
– political differences (How do we function in unity as we approach an increasingly divisive election?)
On these issues and more, we are accountable to God when we make observations or decisions. William Greenway in Feasting on the Word shares:
“If you see any controversy dividing today’s church as a basis for exclusion of fellowship, Paul is speaking to you. Paul is not suggesting that we should stop advocating for our respective views. …Paul’s concern and passion here is the spirit of Christians who are arguing, not the rectitude of their position” (p.62).
As long as this life lasts, tension and conflict will exist. However, through loving one another and surrendering ourselves to the Lord, we can live as the body of Christ in the world. May the words of Paul both challenge and comfort you and your congregation in these (and future) trying times.
This reflection was written as a sermon starter for the 2020 Mission Offering of the Church of the Brethren. Find this and other worship resources or give an offering today at www.brethren.org/giveoffering.
(Read this issue of eBrethren.)