The ministry of fishing

By David Steele, general secretary

“Simon replied, ‘Master, we’ve worked hard all night and caught nothing.
But because you say so, I’ll drop the nets.’ So they dropped the nets and their catch was so huge that their nets were splitting. . . . Jesus said to Simon,

‘Do not be afraid. From now on, you will be fishing for people”
(Luke 5:5-6, 10; CEB).

Many within the Church of the Brethren are not afforded the opportunity to regularly experience the church beyond a local congregation or district setting. Without the privilege to worship, meet, and engage with congregations and districts across the country, it is difficult for someone to truly appreciate the richness of what we call the Church of the Brethren. Without those opportunities, one could easily see a denomination unsure of its own identity and miss the forest for the trees.

While we may talk about membership decline and its impact on giving, I would caution against making any direct correlation of that decline with competing notions of identity or a denomination unsure of its identity. A common purpose and identity are essential to the success of any organization, and I won’t deny that some have doubts or disagree with the identity articulated by the Mission and Ministry Board and Church of the Brethren staff. However, from my experiences as a pastor and a district executive, I believe membership declines have less to do with any common understanding of a true north “Brethren-ism” and much more to do with cultural and familial shifts, our hesitation to move beyond “the way we’ve always done things,” and pastors and church leadership at all levels struggling to meet the ministry needs of local communities and to live into the great commission.

In many ways, our predicament resembles that of the tired fisherman that Jesus encountered. We have labored in less-than-ideal circumstances, been left wanting for better results, and are weary from difficult, often thankless, work. And yet, Jesus is calling us to cast out the net again—not just to continue our usual work but to do the work of fishing for people.

Despite our challenges, our ministries and missions continue. The Mission and Ministry Board, with the help and support of districts, congregations, and members, is working to fan the positive sparks that are emerging. The outcome of the denominational compelling vision process will inform the shaping of our next strategic plan—a plan that will guide our ministries for the future.

While these movements will lead us forward, each of us must take seriously the role that we hold. Max Lucado once wrote, “When those who are called to fish don’t fish, they fight.” Until we whole-heartedly unite for the work of fishing, we will continue to fight and continue to struggle for a common identity and purpose.

Friends, our governing principles and Annual Conference statements cannot save a church filled with imperfect people. Being the church is messy, and there always will be differences among us. Yet in the midst of our circumstances, if we listen carefully to members from across this country, we hear common and familiar themes: service, peace witness, community, living simply, mission, and discipleship—one might say “Brethren-isms” that still point true north. These are at the center of the work and ministries of the Church of the Brethren and the methods we will use together to fish for people.

If we look around us, we will see passionate disciples continuing the work of Jesus. As followers of Christ, may we focus on the work ahead and keep our attention on the work of fishing. We have something unique that the world so desperately needs, and the Lord who calls us is faithfully beside us for our mission. It is for this reason that we may trust that the Church of the Brethren will flourish.

The Church of the Brethren continues the faithful work of fishing for people in the name of Jesus. Support its ministries today at www.brethren.org/give.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Anticipating Annual Conference

Photo by Glenn Riegel

By Chris Douglas, conference director

I have looked forward to Annual Conference each and every summer since I became a member of the Church of the Brethren in the 1970s.

I remember so vividly an Annual Conference more than twenty years ago in which we saw story after story in David Sollenberger’s videos in the General Board Live Report of what the Church of the Brethren was doing in mission around the world. Then at the close of the live report, we stood and sang together, “This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long.” I remember thinking, “all of the work of the church that I just saw really is MY story.”

There are many reasons why I love Annual Conference. It’s the place I see friends I only see once a year. It’s a place where we gather as a community to reflect on what it means to be Brethren and where we fellowship together, including with Brethren from around the world. And worship at Annual Conference is where we celebrate God’s majesty and holiness. Last summer I got goose bumps every time we sang, “Light of the World, into our darkness come.” We sang this at the opening of each worship time while candles were carried around the worship hall through the darkness. It was a wonderful reminder to be open to God’s leading.

This year’s theme, “Risk Hope”, is especially timely. Moderator Carol Scheppard’s monthly Bible studies have reminded us, “As we face the various storms of our times we gain strength and hope from the stories of God’s people in exile in Babylon.” When it is most difficult to find hope is the exact time that we must risk hope. This theme invites us to become a people who embody hope.

I am so grateful each summer when we can come together in person with our sisters and brothers to worship, sing, conduct business and fellowship together. Annual Conference also provides webcasting for persons who cannot be present so that, even from far away, Brethren can join in times of business and worship.

At its best, Annual Conference reminds us of who God is calling us to be as the body of Christ in the world. In the words of our mission statement: “Annual Conference exists to unite, strengthen, and equip the Church of the Brethren to follow Jesus.” In Grand Rapids this summer, may we take hold of the opportunities to unite, strengthen, and equip ourselves to follow Jesus!

Learn more or register for this year’s Annual Conference at www.brethren.org/ac .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Pure Michigan Wrap-Up

Kayaking in Michigan. Photo by Elizabeth Kinsey.


By Elizabeth Kinsey

Great Blue Heron on Jordan Lake. Photo by Elizabeth Kinsey.


Wherever you vacation in Michigan, you’re sure to have a great time. There’s something for everybody. Whether your preference is roughing it, camping with a camper or RV, staying in a motel or renting a cottage, you’ll find a spot that makes you want to start planning a return trip when you have more time.

Michigan bike trail

Michigan’s cities offer inspiration, gardens, theatre, concerts, cultural diversity and many educational opportunities. Nature’s at her best in Michigan, too, with hundreds of campgrounds and miles of bike trails and hiking trails across the state. If you can swing the time for a vacation before or after Annual Conference, be sure to make your plans early. The beauty of Michigan is not a big secret. It’s a favorite vacation spot, a summer home, a delightful return stop for many folks. Those of us who wait all year for those show-stopping Michigan summers don’t stray too far away from June through September. It’s just what we’ve been waiting to experience again. The summer weather is unpredictable in Michigan, so do come prepared with layers.

I sure hope you can play for a while in this beloved state I’ve called home for 62 years. I’ll be here ready to welcome you to Pure Michigan!

Sunset, Grand Rapids. Photo by Elizabeth Kinsey.

Lower Northeastern Michigan

Lake Huron Beach. Photo by Elizabeth Kinsey


By Elizabeth Kinsey

Although I grew up on the east side of Michigan close to the Saginaw Bay and Lake Huron, it had been a long time since I spent beach time there. What a pleasant surprise I had with hubby Jim and my sister Steph over Labor Day, time on beautiful Lake Huron shores near Au Gres. There is so much beauty on this shore but it’s not as populated as the western shores of Michigan. Life is more relaxed, less congested and more rustic. Towns are farther apart.

Relaxing around a campfire. Photo by Elizabeth Kinsey.

Lake Huron is delicious for a swim on a warm summer day, although you’ll want to wear water shoes for the small rocks that make water-walking a challenge. Tiny rentable cabin clusters dot the shore as you head north into Pinconning (don’t pass a cheese shop without a stop), Au Gres, Tawas City, East Tawas, Oscoda and parts even farther north.

Cabins in the Tawas Area. Photo by Elizabeth Kinsey.

One campground is right between the beach and the town of Tawas City. That’s a whole lot of fun without having to move your car! East Tawas also has a state park and a dog beach.

Inner Tubes on Lake Huron

If you’re an early bird, sunrises on Lake Huron are breathtaking and perfect for early morning meditations or long walks on the beach. Bike, hike, kayak, canoe, camp, fish, grill or do what we did on the beach, read, relax, walk, bob on an inner tube in the waves, chat and then find a restaurant for supper. The Lake Huron shoreline has it all!

Lake Huron sunrise. Photo by Elizabeth Kinsey.

Highway 2

Upper Peninsula straits. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Kinsey.

Upper Peninsula straits. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Kinsey.


By Elizabeth Kinsey

I would have to say that my favorite stretch of highway in Michigan is Highway 2 east of St Ignac in the Upper Peninsula, just over the Mackinac Bridge. There are scenic overlooks of the bridge. It’s a long highway, miles where one can get off the road and relax on the beach and in the water. My bladder is over 60, so I can’t stay there as long as I’d like since there are no bathrooms along this stretch of lake, but it’s just so beautiful and clean. There’s such a luxury in the view and the cold clean water. I can’t say enough about this stretch of Michigan! Oh, and you haven’t REALLY experienced the Upper Peninsula of Michigan unless you’ve enjoyed a hot pasty, meaty hot pockets that miners used to tuck in their shirts to keep themselves warm and for lunch deep in the mines later. Lehto’s Pasties is our favorite on Hwy. 2 just a few miles east of St. Ignac. It’s lunch-to-go, find an overlook and………….PERFECTION!

Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island


By Elizabeth Kinsey

Tour Mackinac Island by horse carriage

Tour Mackinac Island by horse carriage

I’m sure you’ve heard of Mackinac Island, a Michigan favorite! Well, you CAN get there from here, but you CAN’T drive to do so. Catch a ferry from Mackinaw City or St. Ignace for the short ride. There are no cars allowed on the island. Charming. You can enjoy Mackinac Island many ways. One is to take a carriage tour. These horse-driven tours give oodles of information and show you many sights of the island including the Butterfly House and interesting Arch Rock. Restaurants and beautiful gardens abound on the two main streets and up the hill as well as more shops than you’d care to visit.

Horse carriage on Mackinac Island

Horse carriage on Mackinac Island

The views of the Straits of Mackinac and the Mackinac Bridge are gorgeous. If you’re up to it, take a bike ride around the island. There are plenty of rental spots right off the ferry docks. It’s about eight miles around, all paved. You can make it in an hour, but most likely, you’ll want to take a bit more time so you can get off your bike and dabble your feet in the crystal clear cold water. Ride by horseback! Hike up into the middle of the island or around the island if you choose. Sit on the porch of the Grand Hotel (although that comes at a bit of a price).

Flowers on Mackinac Island

Flowers on Mackinac Island

If you visit Mackinac Island for the day, you’re considered a “fudgie” because few folks leave without a pound or two of Mackinac’s popular delicacy (and maybe a pound or two on the hips from all the free samples!). Summer stays on the island are pricy, but there are plenty of choices in nearby Mackinaw City or St. Ignace. While you’re in St. Ignace, you might like Castle Rock. Hang out with Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox! Head east to Sault Ste Marie, the Soo Locks. Boat tours take you through the locks. Very interesting! Or head north to the Tahquamenon Falls State Park, an Upper Peninsula gem. Hike to your heart’s content. Tour the Quincy Mine in Hancock and see how copper mining was done between 1846 and 1945. At Kitch-Iti-Kipi (The Big Spring) help guide a cable boat over the water that never freezes. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is considered the best place to see in the Upper Peninsula. Head to Munising and sign up for a boat ride with sights you’ll never forget. There’s so much to do, something for everybody!
View of Mackinac Bridge

View of Mackinac Bridge

Visit Crystal Lake

By Elizabeth Kinsey

Crystal Lake Resort sign

Crystal Lake Resort sign. Image courtesy of Elizabeth Kinsey.

Jim and I have spent summer time on Crystal Lake at the Crystal Lake Motel and Resort for decades. Sometimes we’re there for a week. Other summers we spend just a few nights. There are numerous places to stay in the area, but this is our favorite. Crystal Lake in Beulah is about two hours north of Grand Rapids. M31 makes a great drive through several lake towns, though you’re inland a on that route. We love Beulah because it is centrally located for so many of Michigan’s treasures. Once in Beulah, take M22 up to quaint Leland, summery Sutton’s Bay, then on to Traverse City and back. You can head to Frankfurt, the beach, the lighthouse, charming Main Street. Drive to Sleeping Bear sand dunes; appreciate the scenes overlooking Lake Michigan. Climb the bear if you’re inclined. Visit Point Betsy Lighthouse.

Crystal Lake Beach

Crystal Lake Beach. Image courtesy of Elizabeth Kinsey

Gwen Frostic welcome

Welcome at the Gwen Frostic studio. Image courtesy of Elizabeth Kinsey.

Near Beulah is the studio of the late artist Gwen Frostic, a Michigan icon. Pick up beautiful block print stationery, napkins, cards and books of poetry by the artist. See the printing press. Across the road stop at an interesting alpaca farm.
Gwen Frostic studio

Gwen Frostic studio. Image courtesy of Elizabeth Kinsey.


Gwen Frostic cards.

Gwen Frostic cards. Image courtesy of Elizabeth Kinsey.

Crystal Lake itself is a clear blue relaxing beauty. It’s perfect for swimming. If you’re up for more of a challenge a more refreshing dip, Lake Michigan beaches abound in that area. You can tube/canoe/kayak rivers, enjoy freshwater fish and ice cream, hike, whatever your heart desires in this Michigan goldmine. Just make sure you’re outside every sunset to enjoy the masterpieces of our favorite Artist!

Crystal Lake sunset

Crystal Lake sunset. Image courtesy of Elizabeth Kinsey

Things to see in Michigan

By Elizabeth Kinsey

There are many unique things to see in Michigan. Enjoy the Lake Michigan shoreline as you head north.

Lake Michigan overlook

Lake Michigan overlook. Image courtesy of Elizabeth Kinsey.

One of my favorite attractions is the mushroom houses of Earl Young in classy Charlevoix about three hours north of Grand Rapids right on Lake Michigan and Lake Charlevoix. You can take a boat ride on beautiful Lake Charlevoix and see a mushroom house or two, and you can get the map on-line and drive by several. They are so interesting.

Charlevoix waterfront

Charlevoix waterfront. Image courtesy of Elizabeth Kinsey.

Visit Castle Farms near Charlevoix. This mansion was constructed in 1918 by Albert Loeb who was the Vice President of Sears, Roebuck and Company. There’s quite a tale of ownership as it passed hands over the decades, even becoming a concert venue which didn’t go over very well with the locals, before being restored to its original beauty. Although it is currently an events venue, there is an informative AM tour to enjoy with a small museum. Look at many items from the early days of the Sear, Roebuck catalogue, a walk down Memory Lane. See posters advertising the variety of musicians who graced the stages. Some of them attracted such a wild audience that Charlevoix’s tiny upscale hospital emergency room had more than it could handle at the end of particularly wild concerts. The gardens are absolutely beautiful, especially in July and August!

Lavender Hill Farm

Lavender Hill Farm. Image courtesy of Elizabeth Kinsey.


When we drove around Lake Charlevoix, we found a treat, Lavender Hill Farm out in the country, a Boyne City address. Who can resist lavender? Their little shop has everything from stationery and dishcloths to lavender sugar and oils. Hmmmm! I can still smell that soothing aroma. For a short-cut across Lake Charlevoix, take the little Ironton Ferry. It’s a quaint way to find your way to the other side. Charlevoix is a Michigan gem that’s sure to please.

Things to see and do near Grand Rapids

By Elizabeth Kinsey

Right in the middle of the Michigan mitten near and in Grand Rapids, site of the 2017 Annual Conference, there are plenty of things to see and do. The Gerald R. Ford Museum is in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids. It’s an interesting walk through Ford’s presidency.

Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum

Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum. Image courtesy of Elizabeth Kinsey.

Berries at farmers market

Image courtesy of Elizabeth Kinsey


A mile or so from that is the Fuller/Fulton Street Farm Market, open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Where but in Michigan can you buy fresh Michigan strawberries, raspberries, famous Michigan sweet cherries, early blueberries, and maybe even a few early cling peaches and so much more? Throw in artisan bread and cheese and you’ve got most of a picnic to eat along the Grand River back at Annual Conference.
Blueberries and peaches

Fruit at the farmers market. Image courtesy of Elizabeth Kinsey.


Check the fresh market downtown for ethnic foods galore. I haven’t been there, but Joanna Willoughby can give you enticing suggestions for good eats there.
art prize

ArtPrize work. Image courtesy of Elizabeth Kinsey


Check around for remnants of the Grand Rapids ArtPrize, another reason to come BACK to Michigan in late September to early October. It’s when hundreds of thousands of folks enjoy art from around the country, on display all over Grand Rapids for two weeks every year.
A few miles from downtown, you won’t want to miss the award-winning Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park. There’s so much to see, even a little tram that will chauffeur you around in comfort. The Japanese gardens are especially popular there, I’m told! The sculptures are unique as well.
sculpture garden

Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park. Image courtey of Elizabeth Kinsey.

Beaches near Grand Rapids

shoreline

Image courtesy of Elizabeth Kinsey


By Elizabeth Kinsey

So…you’re coming to Michigan for Annual Conference? You will certainly want to make a vacation out of it! I’ve lived in Michigan all my life; it’s a treasure. I’ll share a few spots I’ve visited recently that you might like to try with your family. Any other Michiganders will be glad to give you their favorite spots, too! You won’t regret spending an extra week or two in beautiful Michigan!

Yacht

Image courtesy of Elizabeth Kinsey

Within an hour of Grand Rapids, there are many beaches to enjoy. My favorite is Oval Beach across the river and over the dunes from Saugatuck. It is easily accessible, especially if you get there in the morning. On the north end there’s even a boardwalk to the water for those who have mobility challenges. Beach walking is a pleasure. Swimming is a joy with Lake Michigan’s sandy bottom. Watch for waves and rip currents on wilder days, but there are plenty of days of calm. It’s a city park, $8 to use it.

paddlewheel boat

Image courtesy of Elizabeth Kinsey

State parks are more for the day, but worth it! Closer to Grand Rapids there’s Holland State Park, Tunnel Park in Holland, and Grand Haven State Park is great, too. In Grand Haven and Holland you can walk long piers. From Grand Haven State Park you can walk along the channel of the Grand River, walk into town and have access to great food and creamy treats. These are just three of the beaches I love near Grand Rapids.

sculpture

Image courtesy of Elizabeth Kinsey

Shopping Saugatuck, Holland and Grand Haven are sure to please if the weather doesn’t cooperate, especially because they are such artistic communities.