The Bible As… Pt. II – Guest Blogger, Jon Prater

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This blog post is part two of a four-part series adapted from transcripts preached during a revival at Forest Chapel Church of the Brethren.

The Word of God should not only be approached as rule. No, in fact, one of the most quoted Scriptures in regards to Biblical inspiration states that there must be multiple ways of engaging Scripture.Paul, in 2 Timothy 3:16, says “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” which speaks to the array of ways we can, and should, use the Word of God. If we search past the Word as rule we will next see the Word as confession.

The Bible as Confession

Consider books such as Lamentations or Psalms- the scope of these books is much broader than instruction. Yes, there are factual pieces of these books, but their greater use is in confession. After all, doctrine is of no value if there is no confession attached to it. A criminal can know the rules of the land, but until they confess to the value of the system the laws create, their knowledge does not transfer to a common value system. In other words, our society is much better off when people not only avoid drunk driving because they will face consequence if they are caught, but they also understand and confess to the more significant value of human life and the ways this law contributes to a more healthy society.

The Bible itself speaks to the Scriptures as confession. In Romans 10 Paul is expounding on thoughts regarding evangelism, the climax building to verse 9 when Paul states that those who “believe in their hearts and confess with their mouths will be saved”. However, this is not the end of the thought Paul is giving. If we track Paul’s train of thought we come to verse 17 “Faith,” says Paul, “comes by hearing and hearing comes from the Word of God” (emphasis mine). The word Paul uses here is pistis which is defined as “a conviction or belief respecting man’s relationship to God and divine things, generally with the included idea of trust and holy fervor born of faith and joined with it[1]

What this means is confession in the life of a Christ followers not only an admission of guilt but also an acknowledgment of truth. We can confess and not be guilty. Many theologians such as Knox, Luther, Augustine, and Lewis all have published some kids of confession- that being the core belief that forms who they are and the way that they interact with the world and God. This faith that Paul is speaking of, this burning passion is undoubtedly more than law. Faith, in this context, is not just what you believe, but what you do with your belief. To tap into James, this is related to the tension between faith and works; one drives the other; they are indicative of one another; not similes.

The Word of God as rule guides our behavior, but the Word as confession guides our identity. When we engage Scripture through the lens of rule it tells us how we are to live, but engaging through the lens of confession tells us why we are to live that way. Consider the framing of the Laws given in Scripture, most of them are framed in a structure of confession and rule. Take Exodus 20, the Ten Commandments, for example. God speaks to Moses a decree for confession before giving the Law. The terms of confession are found in 2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery…” God sets up the formula- declaration for confession, followed by action or consequence- if you believe I am God then this is your rule.

The problem that the church has seemed to battle for a majority of history is getting this formula out of order. Instead of allowing our identity to affirm our doctrine we invert the process so that our rule, or doctrinal infrastructure, informs our identity. Our convictions work contradictory to the grace God has given us; our church culture states that if your doctrine is right, you can identify with us; when in reality what the Scriptures seem to suggest is that if you identify with us, your doctrine should follow suit.
In recent years there has been debate on the traditional order of identifying with Christ. Traditionally practitioners have prescribed to a believe, behave, belong order for identifying with Christ. However, as the Emerging church movement gains momentum, this traditional rule has been called into question by many leaders. For the emerging church, a more efficient order for identification is belong, believe, behave. While some argue that this model leads to more ethical dilemmas, it certainly seems to fall more in line with Paul’s train of thought in Romans 10.

The lens of confession is rooted in the Christocentric and community hermeneutic. By offering a standard community confession, we are strengthening the fabric of the faith community. When asked why the Law was so central to the Israelites we are quick to identify that it kept them separate from other nations. I am not debating the truth in that statement, but I lift a consequential truth alongside it- it held the Israelites together. Sure, the sectarian truth is prevalent here, but the Israelites also shared their experience and tradition across their stories. The common confession that they shared in Yahweh led them to a common rule of practice and drew them around a collective identity- people of the Lord.

Perhaps this is one of the core pieces we can learn as faith communities- the Bible as confession invites following the rule of faith and practice to be a fruitful experience, not oppressive. Also, this pushes us past the individual adoption of doctrine and belief. When we move past these, we place the center of discerning rules of faith and practice back into the community setting, allowing for a more significant connection to our neighbor.

Jon Prater is the pastor of Mt. Zion Church of the Brethren in Linville, Virginia where he has served since 2020. He is a current MDiv student at Bethany Theological Seminary and has an undergraduate degree in Biblical Theology from Liberty University. A former church planter, Jon is a public speaker and workshop leader on subjects including church planting and church vitality. He is husband to Jessica and father to twin sons Aiden and Elijah.

  1. “Greek 4102.” Strong’s Greek: 4102. Πίστις (Pistis) — Faith, Faithfulness, Biblehub,Com, biblehub.com/greek/4102.htm.

Other referenced works

“Create a Sense of Belonging.” Psychology Today. Accessed February 22, 2017. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/pieces-mind/201403/create-sense-belonging.
“Genesis Chapter 1 (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible. Accessed January 13, 2017. https://www.blueletterbible.org/kjv/gen/1/1/s_1001.
“Spiritual but Not Religious.” Psychology Today. Accessed October 14, 2017. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/hot-thought/201610/spiritual-not-religious.

Image Credits: Protestant, and Christian Unity Ministries

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The Bible As… Pt. I – Guest Blogger, Jon Prater

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Earlier this year the Barna group released results from a series of surveys based on the American opinion of the Bible, and their research revealed some interesting trends. For example, 80% of those surveyed stated that they considered the Bible to be a “sacred text,” which was more than three times the amount of the Koran, the Book of Mormon, and the Torah combined. However, only 45% of people said that they strongly agreed that the Bible contained everything a person needs to live a meaningful life[1]. These studies also revealed that 71% of people confessed that the Bible was inspired the God in some way, but only 33% believe it is entirely accurate[2]. Finally, 51% of people responded that they engage the Bible at least two times a year outside of an organized church service- and 55% percent of responders say the Bible brings them closer to God[3].

It is no secret that the evolving culture around us has a complicated relationship with the Bible. Whereas the Bible may not have the central role in society it once had, to say that the majority of people in America have abandoned Scripture is not accurate, and in many ways is a hyperbolic response to a complicated issue. In fact, many people would identify that they have a high respect for the Bible, but they do not relate to the Scriptures in traditional ways. Therefore, through the next series of essays, I will present a four-fold way that Brethren can faithfully approach the Scriptures in a series I have titled “Witnessing the Word.” These essays will present engagement with the Bible as rule, confession, repentance, and proclamation. Each of these movements hopes to introduce a way that we can both personally and cooperatively engage the Word of God, and invite others around us to approach the Bible as well.

The Bible As Rule

The Church of the Brethren has always held a high view of the Bible- especially the New Testament. In 1998 Annual Conference adopted a statement entitled “The New Testament as Our Rule of Faith and Practice.” This paper has become a cornerstone of how our denomination functions together. The heart of this statement affirms that the Bible was central to the Brethren movement from the beginning. The 1998 delegate body affirmed that Alexander Mack himself taught that one should “resolve to sacrifice your life, property, family, yes, all that you have in the whole world rather than waiver from [the Bible’s] teaching].”[4] The Bible as rule is not new to who we are but deeply seeded in our Brethren DNA.

The conflict arises not from the Bible as rule, but the purpose of that rule. For many people, the rule of the Bible is about legislation, judication, and punishment. For these people, the Bible is a standard; we should place our lives against that measure to assess reward, discipline, and eternal destination. Much of this way of thinking find roots in Augustine and his dogmatic method of relating to Scripture[5]. The tension here can be that a dogmatic method of Scripture interpretation can easily call us away from specific behaviors, rather than inviting us into a more holistic way of living.

For others, most Brethren included, Scripture is not about judication, but relationship. Brethren have traditionally approached Scripture with a two-fold hermeneutic- Christocentric and Communal[6]. In other words, the Brethren read the Bible with the understanding that all Scripture is centered around Jesus, and all Scripture is best understood and applied in the community setting. Emphasising the communal hermeneutic means shifting from I and me language when interpreting the Scriptures to us and we language, because the rule of Scripture is not just about the individual, but that certain individuals place in the community of faith, and the world as a whole. Furthermore, the Brethren hermeneutic offers a conviction that Biblical literacy is not about merely factual memorization, but in the lifestyle of a person. Perhaps this conviction is best framed by Dale Brown, who said that the Brethren hermeneutic “becomes a genuine living authority when stories and messages of texts make a difference in the lives of believers, even vessels of clay.”[7] This is the connection between the New Testament as our rule and our practice.

By applying this hermeneutic to the rule of Scripture, we are led to focus on the Scriptures as a way of encouraging us to flourish in the Kingdom of God, not merely offering a list of offenses punishable in the Kingdom. In many ways, this kind of interpretation seems to line up alongside the original intent of Old Testament Law. Many people would emphasize passages like Exodus 19:5-6 which says “Now, therefore if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, 6 but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites” (NRSV) to summarize the intent of the Law. However, this does not seem to be the end of the story. Yes, God used the Law (rule) to create a holy people, but passages like Galatians 3:10 emphasize that keeping the Law is a curse, and impossible to do with human strength. Paul then teaches in Galatians 3 that the Law was not merely given to push us to try harder but to point us to our great need for a savior- Jesus Christ.

Scripture, then, is not merely about innocence and guilt, but relationship. The “rules” of Scripture function as parameters for engaging the most healthy relationship with both God and neighbor. When juxtaposed against worldly rule we see that the laws of the government are not merely to legislate who is guilty or innocent, or to prevent anarchy, but to provide parameters for a flourishing society. In the same way, the rule of Scripture is not just about heaven and hell, but about empowering the Kingdom of God to come in our lives in the healthiest way possible.

This blog post is part one of a four-part series adapted from transcripts preached during a revival at Forest Chapel Church of the Brethren.

Jon Prater is the pastor of Mt. Zion Church of the Brethren in Linville, Virginia where he has served since 2020. He is a current MDiv student at Bethany Theological Seminary and has an undergraduate degree in Biblical Theology from Liberty University. A former church planter, Jon is a public speaker and workshop leader on subjects including church planting and church vitality. He is husband to Jessica and father to twin sons Aiden and Elijah.

[1] “The Bible in America.”
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] “The New Testament as Our Rule of Faith and Practice.”
[5] McKnight, Postmodern Use of the Bible. 29.
[6] Brown, Another Way of Believing. 101.
[7] Ibid. 103.

Image Credits: Jesus without Baggage and Quote HD

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For Courage and Healing: A Reflection on Training with Christian Peacemaker Teams – Guest Blogger, Jennifer Keeney Scarr

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I turned off my car and opened the driver’s side door, stepping out onto 21st Street. After five hours driving from my home in Ohio, it was a relief to stretch my legs and breathe in that Chicago city air. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous, this journey was a long time coming.
I looked up the street toward the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) offices and training center – my home for the next 31 days.

With a deep breath, I slung my purse over my shoulder and pocketed my keys, “Here goes nothing.”

Jen studies training material on Kingian Nonviolence.

Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) is an organization building partnerships to transform violence and oppression across the globe with teams based in Colombia, Palestine/Israel, Iraqi Kurdistan, Canada, and Greece. In 2013 I was lucky enough to join a delegation to Palestine/Israel to meet not only the CPTers working in the city of Hebron but also the Palestinians and Israeli partners using creative nonviolence to transform the oppression of the Israeli Military. By the end of my time there, I felt the call to join the work of CPT and began asking questions about how to do just that. After four years of delays, conflicting schedules, major life changes, and lots of prayers I finally found my way to Chicago, Illinois to participate in the month-long intensive training for the CPT Corps.

In one sentence, training was an intense journey toward strengthening my capacity for courage and awakening to what peacemaking looks like in motion.

The first days of training I felt small and unprepared. These feelings typically accompany my engagement with something bigger and beyond myself. I especially feel this way when I read the news both local and global. That small and unprepared feeling kept me silent, hidden, and willfully detached from the painful effects of racism, sexism, and heterosexism in our world. Those are big words. The weight of them is suffocating.

Jen listens to a presentation on public witness in preparation for later action drawing awareness to the 50th anniversary of Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

Our training cohort, a group of people from Canada, Brazil, Colombia, Czech Republic, the United States, and Germany most of whom had backgrounds in social justice, hit the ground running immediately. In just four days we were asked to plan a fully fleshed out demonstration to take place in downtown Chicago at noon that Friday. Given the 50 year anniversary of the Israeli military’s occupation of Palestine, our trainers felt this was a timely topic. After speaking with Palestinian partners on the ground and receiving input from experienced CPTers, we poured our hearts into the project sacrificing sleep and downtime to bring this action to life. It felt so big and nearly impossible, but we did it. The action we planned was a success. One week down.

Our second week was focused on Undoing Oppressions and Conflict Transformation. Meaning our trainers deeply challenged us to come to terms with those big “isms” I mentioned earlier: sexism, racism, heterosexism. Each day we focused on a different “ism” unpacking the effect each one has on our personal lives and the lives of others. Each day we sat with the heavy impact of those “isms” and each day we committed to be part of the force that heals them. We ended the week with a crash course in becoming an ally, concluding that undoing these oppressions is a lifelong work which takes dedication, courage, and endless amounts of listening.

Jen with some of her cohort-mates resting near Lake Michigan.

The remaining two weeks focused more specifically on preparation for being in the field on a CPT team all the while talking about self-care. Self-care is so much more than making sure a day off is honored or remembering to drink water, though both of these are essential. Self-care is discovering that which gives life and energy to your soul and inviting that into the rhythm of your life even while in the field with CPT. For many on our training team, this energy and life was time spent with beloved people over a beverage or good food. It was exercise on nature’s trails or getting lost in the rhythm of music. It was spiritual and faith-based, it was different for each of us. Self-care is that which sustains us for the hard work we do.

This was never more clear to me than on the day we talked about kidnapping, torture, and death. These are the three worst things that could happen to a CPTer in the field. Thankfully these worst case scenarios are not regular occurrences, but they have happened. On this day we were asked to write a statement of conviction stating why we are committed to the work we do. These statements are kept on file at the CPT office to be pulled out and given to family, friends, or the media in the event we are kidnapped or killed. It was strange to write a letter I pray no one will ever have to read. Writing the letter, was also incredibly important. It forced me to think clearly and concisely about why I’m willing to risk my wonderful life for the opportunity to be part of the work CPT does. This is an excerpt of the statement I submitted:

“I’ve come to understand that the holy lands are not the lands on which Jesus walked, but the lands on which he is still walking. The holy land is the place where people of faith stand in resistance to all that seeks to destroy. Not just in Palestine but also in Colombia, Iraqi Kurdistan, Lesbos, Canada, and your hometown. I am called to walk this holy land faithfully with our partners, and I am deeply humbled to be able to do so.”

The final day of training arrived with a whirlwind of music, celebration, Chicago-style deep dish pizza, and way more tears than I’m comfortable admitting. To the tune of “For the Healing of the Nations,” each of us walked down the graduation line receiving certificates and some of us receiving invitations to join the corps. When that beautiful red hat covered my head, it felt like an anointing. I was a CPT Reservist. Finally.

 

Jennifer Keeney Scarr is pastor of the Trotwood Church of the Brethren and a newly minted Christian Peacemaker Teams Reservist. The daughter of two pastors, she lived in Southern California before moving to the Midwest to attend Bethany Theological Seminary from which she earned an MDiv in Peace Studies Conflict Transformation. She now lives in Trotwood, Ohio with her husband, Jonathan Brumbaugh Scarr. Pastor Jen is also an active leader among Progressive Brethren, most recently moderating the Womaen’s Caucus’ women in ministry panel at the Church of the Brethren’s Annual Conference this past summer in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Image Credits: Jennifer Keeney Scarr and Leia Tijou

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Book Review of “Peace, Power, Righteousness: An Indigenous Manifesto” by Taiaiake Alfred – Guest Blogger, Tim Heishman

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Few writers can unmask the injustice of colonialism, both 500 years ago and even today as I write this, the way Taiaiake Alfred can. Alfred is a Kahnawake Mohawk scholar who can walk easily between Native and settler cultures, helping us see what we could not see before. The heart of this book is a call to Native people to disentangle themselves from North American culture, values, and society as a whole and return to indigenous forms of leadership, politics, and governance. Colonialism is a tremendously difficult force to resist. It may have a kinder face today than it did 500 years ago but it is no less powerful. In this book, Alfred walks the reader through the indigenous values of peace, power, and righteousness, never losing sight of his thesis that a new kind of Native leadership, characterized by a return to indigenous forms of self-government, is needed to effectively resist colonialism and preserve what still exists of Native American culture and life.

The book is organized similarly to a “Rotinohshonni condolence ritual” in written form (21). The first section takes the form of a dialogue and laments how much knowledge has been lost over the last 500 years as well as how much work it will take to restore and implement what is left (21). The Indian Act in Canada and the Indian Reorganization Act in the United States lay out the current system of governance in Native American communities. In Canada, for example, band councils are the typical intermediary between indigenous tribes and the federal government. Band council members are indigenous but work closely with the federal government. Alfred has much to say about how governments have worked hard to co-opt Native leaders and about how Native leaders have allowed themselves to be co-opted by colonial governments (27). Alfred argues for an end to this co-optation and a restoration of indigenous forms of government. Band councils, while made up of indigenous persons, are structured according to Western, or settler, understandings of legal, cultural, and societal norms. Thus, a Native governance has a colonial mindset built into it, which Alfred argues serves to continue colonizing the minds of indigenous people. He writes, “it is the duty of Native leaders to satisfy not mainstream but indigenous cultural criteria” (62).

After the first section on peace, Alfred moves to power. Here he focuses on what political leadership, values, and culture should look like (21). Key characteristics of justice in Western circles are individualistic in nature while key characteristics of justice in indigenous circles has much more to do with coexistence, balance, and the interdependency of all things (66). Thus, reconciliation and restoring justice in indigenous culture is much more dialogical and communal than individualistic (67). Also, decisions are often made by consensus rather than electoral politics (69). Indigenous people have a different understanding of power. According to Alfred, “power is used in a way that contributes to the creation and maintenance of balance and peaceful coexistence in a web of relationships” (73). Native people operate with a completely different paradigm and way of thinking. The colonial political structure imposed on them not only changes thousands of years of how they have governed themselves effectively but it has a huge impact on their culture. Governance, culture, and religion are intertwined in indigenous political culture. Finally, a discussion on political power must explore the strategies settler governments use to co-opt indigenous leaders. Settler governments try to support leaders who are the least threatening to the present order, encourage divisions in indigenous communities, create dependency on settler governments, and co-opt Native leaders by trying to incorporate them into the settler agenda (99). Native political culture, is quite different from Western settler political culture and the settler states of Canada and the United States have actively sought to impose their political culture on indigenous nations.

After peace and power, Alfred moves to righteousness. In this section, he reviews themes discussed earlier in the book but applies them to the current context. Difficulties that Native people face today include co-optation in exchange for money, the temptation to self-govern with Western political structures and make treaties, and the reality that young persons are becoming disillusioned with colonial political structures that are corrupt (21). A problem related to struggling to build the types of self-government that Alfred advocates from traditional culture is that there are many immediate incentives to sell out to the colonial governments now and the benefits of the indigenous way will take much longer (121). Instead, Alfred urges Native people to discontinue electoral politics as well as other forms of colonial government and return to indigenous political tradition, begin speaking Native languages again, become economically self-sufficient, and relate to the Canadian and United States governments on a level playing field of equals (172). In many ways, this book is a guide to decolonization and a restoration of traditional indigenous culture as well as well as forms of self-government faithful to indigenous ways.

What are we to do with all of this information? Throughout this book, Alfred issues challenges to white settlers and Native Americans. He asserts that “white people are ignorant of history” and Native Americans “have wavered on their commitment to the goal of freedom from colonial domination” (122). No one gets off easy in this book. Everyone shoulders blame for the present injustices. With that in mind, our first step in response should be to learn about the history of indigenous nations in Canada and the United States. We cannot be ignorant of the injustices that have taken place upon the land where we live. Second, we should learn about the injustices Native Americans face today, injustices that are a continuation of 500 years of colonialism. To learn about history and present injustices facing Native Americans, my wife Katie and I joined Christian Peacemaker Team’s Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Delegation to Manitoba and Ontario this summer. Third, read this book! Fourth, we need to start conversations with other settlers as well as Native Americans in the state we live. What tribes live in your state today? Fifth, begin to practice a land acknowledgment statement in public gatherings. A simple statement could be a short line we speak whenever we gather for worship, such as “Welcome to worship this morning! The land we worship on today is home to the Iroquois, Siouan, Shawnee, and Tuscarora tribes, the original inhabitants of this beautiful place. We are grateful for how they cared for this land for thousands of years before European settlers arrived. We seek right relations with the original inhabitants of this land, a relationship based on respect, peace, and friendship.” Even acknowledging the land we stand on is a powerful act of justice. What steps will you take?

Tim Heishman is a “city kid” who is currently living in the woods. He shares the position of Co-Program Director at Brethren Woods Camp & Retreat Center with his wife Katie as they both are working towards their MDiv degrees at Bethany Theological Seminary. Tim spent his growing up years in Harrisburg, PA and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic before returning to the U.S. to study at Eastern Mennonite University. Tim, along with Katie, is a former National Youth Conference Coordinator for the Church of the Brethren. Now, living in Virginia, Tim and Katie attend Linville Creek Church of the Brethren. In his spare time, which is rare for seminary students and ministers, Tim enjoys traveling and learning about other cultures, gardening and cooking, keeping up with political news, running, and playing board games.
Image Credits: Amazon and Tim Heishman
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Summer Camp and the Rule of Life – Guest Blogger, Katie Heishman

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Brethren Woods Camp & Retreat Center’s new logo updated 04/2017.

Working as a program director might be one of the only “office” jobs that connects me to the cyclical design of nature. As we move from season to season, our programming shifts in rhythm with the movement of nature. In the winter, we slow down, observing a slower pace, a slower schedule. Into the spring, the pace of life and work perk up with the greening of life all around camp. By the time summer erupts around us, we’re matching the pace of buzzing bees and the vibrancy of the natural world bursting around us. Then with a flicker summer blazes into fall, the erratic pace of summer giving way to the vibrancy found in restful sleep, dreaming of new seasons, and preparing for winter weather.

The summer months sneak up on me and leave with a sense of disbelief, “Is this really happening? Are the summer staff really arriving today?” Despite my disbelief at the fast-paced reality, it’s really happening. Our summer staff begins to arrive in the middle of May—we spend two weeks training and planning with our Assistant Program directors. They take charge of the day-to-day routines of camp making sure meals and activities are happening on time. They allow Tim and I space to step back from the day to day of summer camp and prepare for next week or the coming months of programming. The calendar still spins on—even if I’m living in the disbelief of summer all around me.

2017 Summer Staff after a commissioning ceremony

My disbelief stretches from the arrival of summer to the people who show up to summer camp. Each summer that the summer staff—full of male and female counselors, support staff, and leadership—is a gift from God! Finding faithful young adults who will be getting paid can be a struggle, but finding people to come for free—well, that floors me! Brethren Woods has a faithful base of adult volunteers for health managers and deans who take a week from their job or their summer to spend time at camp serving.

As an extrovert, the buzzing about of volunteers and summer staff is a real treat for me. Every volunteer brings a unique spin to their leadership. I am blessed seeing nuanced styles at play throughout the whole summer. The worship stays fresh week to week with the movement of deans, who provide daily Bible study lessons and lead the campers in evening worship, adding personal songs or stories to the mix. Adult counselors resurrect games from the late 80s and early 90s that the kids love! Health managers each have a different system for grading the “cleanest cabin” from yellow cards to the Mr. Clean Broom, and a dancing duck. I’m in awe of the time and commitment folks will put into their roles. My favorite question to ask volunteers is, “What are sacred memories or moments that you have around Brethren Woods?” Everyone’s answer is different and each one leaves me in awe at the many ways we can each experience a place where God speaks to us.

Everyone wishes that life could be more like summer camp…and I’m one of the lucky kids that gets to experience it every summer. Supervising the summer is obviously not the same as sleeping in a cabin with seven other souls, but summer camp’s rhythm lends itself to a “rule of life.” A rule of life is a pattern of spiritual disciplines that give our lives structure and strengthen our walk with God. Camp’s rule of life looks like rising with bunk mates; praising God by the lake with croaking bullfrogs; blessing breakfast, lunch, and dinner and eating family style; reading scripture and studying the Bible; evening worship hosts a painted sky that fades to twinkling stars; and reflections of the day and God’s movement are shared with bunkmates by flashlight.

During the summer months, I’m reminded of the enormous impact the camp rule of life has on camper’s and staff’s lives. A whole community is committing to immerse themselves in rhythms that encourage their awakening to God’s movement in their lives. Most of the time, we don’t create these spaces and these rhythms to encounter God in the same way that we can at camp or on spiritual retreats. Camp is a technology-free zone, but most of my life involves daily attentiveness to a laptop or a phone. Even as a seminary student and worker in outdoor ministries I need reminders to cultivate a consistent rule of life that allows me to abide with Jesus. How can I cultivate a life with sacred, joyful rhythms like summer camp? What does a faithful rule of life look like when I must create it myself? What would a rule of life for a family or household include? What sacred rhythms do you want to cultivate together?

While I work on drafting my rule of life for the coming, slower seasons—I wonder about what volunteers, staff, and campers will carry with them from this summer season. At the end of the season, summer staff usually share about the immense deepening of their faith because of their time at camp. Many learned spiritual disciplines like centering prayer and breath prayer for the first time and I’m hopeful for their continued walk with God. Sometimes we hear about campers initiating baptism and membership classes with their pastors when they come home from camp. Many heard calls to follow Jesus more intentionally, committing to an intentional step in their journey and I’m grateful for church communities there to support them. I finish thank you cards for volunteers—thanking them for the gift of their time and energy, which in this day and age are fleeting more and more. I am grateful for their spiritual maturity and their commitment to join in the sacred camp rule of life over and over again each summer.

 

Heishman is an MDiv student at Bethany Theological Seminary and co-Program Director at Brethren Woods Camp and Retreat Center with her husband, Tim. They live in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and attend Linville Creek Church of the Brethren.

Image Credits: Camp Brethren Woods, Faith and Worship, and Rule of Life

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Paul, Money, and You: A Reflection on Urban Intercultural Stewardship – Chibuzo Petty

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(S)Paul of Tarsus is, after Jesus, the most consequential New Testament figure. Many would, with some validity, claim (S)Paul’s influence on the development of Christian theology has even been greater than that of Christ himself. A prolific writer, he also serves as one of the main characters in Luke’s Acts of the Apostles. (S)Paul was born in Tarsus (Acts 9:11) but raised in Jerusalem (Acts 22:3). Having Roman citizenship, he was well traveled and one of the most cosmopolitan of the New Testament characters. He was instrumental in the early Church’s shift of focus from Jerusalem to Antioch – though we will see in 2 Corinthians that this is more complex than it immediately seems. Antioch was where Jesus followers were first called Christians and remains the center of Western Rite Syriac Christians.

Ancient Corinth was a major Greek city during the time of (S)Paul. It was his practice to travel to various cities on his missionary journeys. Acts suggests that he would go to cities with stable Jewish populations. Using synagogues as his launching pad, he would reach righteous Gentiles and convert them to Christianity. His letters, including this one, are unique because of his predominantly Gentile audience – in contrast to Luke’s writing, for instance. Because 2 Corinthians touches on so many topics, I have chosen to focus my reflections on 2 Corinthians 8-9.

The selected passage is important for many reasons. First, it is worth noting that, at least at first glance, (S)Paul’s tone might seem more manipulative than a modern reader would be comfortable with. He writes to the Corinthians in several paragraphs about how important it is for them to give, how he’ll be so disappointed if they do not give, how the broader Church will be disappointed if they do not give, how they should be embarrassed if they do not give, and how he is not only writing them to ensure they give but also sending three people ahead of him for good measure. Still, he writes that they should only give gladly and not due to pressure. This seems to border on the absurd. He certainly seems to be pressuring them into giving.

To be fair to (S)Paul, giving is an essential aspect of church life. Giving of time, talent, and treasurer is a vow many take when being baptized, declaring their faith, officially joining a congregation, etc. In our modern context, financial giving not only pays staff, bills, and taxes but furthers the mission of the church through local and global service. Despite financial giving being such a high priority for congregational leadership, it is not a priority for most members. Studies show than less than ¼ of a congregation tithes. 80% of tithers are giving at just a 2.0-2.5% rate. (The Hebrew Scripture’s standard is 10%.) This lackluster giving rate is even below that during the Great Depression when Christians gave at a rate of 3.3%.

There is also some reason to believe that those who have the least to give actually give the most. Broadening the conversation to charitable giving, the lowest income bracket, people making less than $20,000 annually, give 4.3% of their income to charity. Remaining income levels give at an average of 2.3%. Counting the three lowest income levels (i.e., those making less than $58,000), which are the three most generous per capita, they average a giving rate of 3.2% compared to $2.0 for those making $58,000+. This should not surprise us. Nor should it go without recognizing that Jesus praises this sort of behavior. The Scriptures say:

While Jesus was in the Temple, he watched the rich people dropping their gifts in the collection box. Then a poor widow came by and dropped in two small coins. “I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “this poor widow has given more than all the rest of them. For they have given a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she has.” – Luke 21:1-4 (NLT)

This is an important image as we think about urban ministry. While the national poverty rate is 13.5%, the urban poverty rate is 16%. Further, urban poverty is growing increasingly concentrated. In Dayton, Ohio, the urban area nearest me, 60.3% of the poor live in neighborhoods with a 20%+ poverty rate.

Beyond tithing, these chapters illustrate the importance of Christian stewardship, more broadly. I think the most meaningful aspect of the passage for urban ministry is that it illustrates the importance of building a network of support, ideally connected to a sending congregation. I really like the early model of Jerusalem, the mother church, sending apostles out to plant other churches. I appreciate that these congregations did not only have a relationship with the mother church but with one another as well. This relationship included prayer, fellowship, and some degree of shared finances. In a modern context, I believe this model remains relevant. If urban ministry, especially church planting, is to succeed, it will take a lot of prayer. New church starts will almost certainly need connection with other, more established, congregations. And, this connection will almost certainly need to go beyond fellowship to financial support. I have been pleased to see many seminaries, as well as large, influential churches, establishing entrepreneurial ministry training programs in recent years. I think this is a really excellent idea. As I think of future ministry opportunities, money is clearly an object. I do not believe this is my succumbing to modern temptations. (S)Paul understood the power and importance of money in ministry.

Image Credits: Crosswalk, Fuller Youth Institute, and Teen Quest.

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What is a Prayer School? – Guest Blogger, Ryan Braught

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We drove on to the church campus which was surrounded by fields and fields of corn. A seemingly strange place for a megachurch. We entered the building, and since we were early, we found our way to the Bookstore/Coffeehouse called Solomon’s Porch. As we waited, we talked about what brought us to this place, our struggles, our questions, and our fears about what we were there for. And would it be just another workshop notebook thrown onto the pile of other workshop notebooks on my bookshelf or in my filing cabinet? When it was close to time for the workshop to start, we walked down the hall and were transported from the evangelical megachurch in the cornfield in the midwest, to what resembled a Catholic chapel in either a monastery or in a cathedral. And all we did was open a set of ornate wooden doors into what is called The Upper Room. We were instantly awash in the glow of candles, the sound of Chant music playing, and the beautiful art of the Stations of the Cross hanging on the walls.

Image result for brian zahnd prayer schoolWe took our seat waiting for the beginning of the workshop. I knew that I was in the right place, when the speaker, Brian Zahnd, said he had been praying this prayer liturgy for 10 years, but he had been a pastor for 30. You see we were in St. Joseph, Missouri at Word of Life Church for Brian’s Prayer School. We were there to learn how to pray, after being in ministry for 20 years, 8 of those years serving in a church plant that my wife and I founded.

You see, honestly, I have never felt very spiritual. I have never been really good at praying, being still and being quiet. I would hear other Pastors talk about waking up at 5 AM and praying for 3-4 hours and I thought I could never do that. Prayer for me “often becomes a giant cesspool of guilt.” I’ve often been told to pray, but not been given the resources to pray well. And that is why I was at Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, MO that July weekend with my wife.

I knew that I needed help in learning how to pray, and in growing my prayer life. I knew that I need a resource to help me pray well. I knew that if I were to last another 20 years in ministry, especially in church planting, that I would need to learn how to develop a rhythm of prayer. I needed, what Brian, called a trellis, a liturgy to guide my prayer life. To get my prayer life off the ground, like the roses that grow up trellises. And so that I could be properly formed in the ways and life of Jesus. And being at Prayer School has given me a liturgy of prayer that I am seeking to follow each and every morning.

This prayer liturgy is like walking a labyrinth. The first half of the liturgy moves us into the presence of Christ culminating in the center with a time of contemplation or in other terms, sitting with Jesus. As you “walk” (pray) toward the center of the prayer liturgy your walking companions have been walking with Jesus for a very long time. You walk with the Psalms. You journey with the Jesus Prayer. You walk with the Lord’s Prayer. You pray through the gospels. You pray prayers of confession. You recite the Apostles Creed. And you also spend time praying for your family and other prayer requests that you want to bring and leave at the feet of Jesus.

The second half of the prayer liturgy moves us out in the world, helping us have proper position in the world because we have sat with and at the feet of Jesus. When we have been sitting with and at the feet of Jesus, spending time walking with him and having other walking companions, our prayers change, we change, and then we want to go out and be change agents in the world. As we “walk” out the prayer liturgy into our world, our prayers begin to shape us into the kind of people Jesus wants us to be in his world. Our outward journey from the center includes walking through the beatitudes, praying prayers of peace, and praying the Prayer of Saint Francis. We also walk with the Prayer of the Week from the Book of Common Prayer. Finally, as we round the corner of this prayer liturgy and begin to see the light of the world around us, we pray a prayer of mercy, a confession of mystery, and finish with the Jesus Prayer.

Image result for brian zahnd prayer schoolWith that, we walk out of the Prayer Liturgy and into the world that Jesus loves.
We have spent time in the presence of Jesus. And we have gained new eyes to see
the world the way that he does. Our prayers have changed. We have changed. If you, like me, don’t feel very spiritual. If you, like me, have trouble getting your prayer life off the ground. If you are looking for a way to connect honestly, authentically, and transparently with God. If you are looking for a way to be formed in the ways and life of Jesus. Then I would highly recommend checking out Prayer School with Brian Zahnd. Visit www.wolc.com to find out when they will be offering Prayer School. But if you can’t get to St. Joseph’s, MO, like my wife and I, then at least pick up his book Water to Wine in which he spells out this prayer liturgy. And I trust that when you begin using the prayer liturgy each and every morning your prayer life will get off the ground just like roses clinging to a trellis in a garden. And you will find yourself being formed in the ways and life of Jesus.

Image may contain: 1 personRyan Braught is the Pastor/Church Planter of Veritas. Along with his wife, Kim, and kids, Kaiden and Trinity, he founded Veritas in 2009. Ryan has a BS in Telecommunications from Kutztown University and a Master of Arts in Religion from Evangelical Theological Seminary. Besides his work with Veritas, Ryan loves to read, listen to music, snowboard, and spend time with his family.

Image Credits: Word of Life Church and Eventbrite

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This I (want you to) Believe – Chibuzo Petty with Guest Blogger, Katie Heishman

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For this blog post, we are publishing two audio recordings in the style of NPR’s “This I Believe.” Below are the audio files as well as their respective transcripts. Each piece is less than four minutes. So listen. You will get a lot more out of both pieces this way. They are meant to be listened to rather than read. Enjoy these creative and thought-provoking pieces!

Thinking about Plastic Straws

I had never really thought much about plastic straws. The disposable ones from fast food that are punched into plastic lids or from sit down restaurants where waiters leave the paper lining at the tip top so the customer can feel like the straw is sanitized. I used them, I needed them, and they came without my prompting. I had never really thought much about plastic straws until I saw a video.

The video showed a team of microbiologists surrounding a giant sea turtle that had been brought onto their boat for routine study. The angle focuses in on the turtle’s face—a tan crinkled piece of something lodged into his nose. Hands move in and out of the frame—hands holding him in place, a hand moves in with pliers towards the bit in his nose. They grasp hold of the crinkled piece of something and begin pulling slowly—it doesn’t come with ease—the turtle’s eyes close in a wince. The turtle hisses in pain as the pliers make slow progress. Eight painstaking minutes later, the pliers extract a wizened 4-inch plastic straw. The disposable ones with the stripe on either side of the straw.

There’s something like 7 billion people in the world. If we all went for a single fast food run or restaurant visit this week, just one, there’d be 7 billion straws released into the waste stream. If we all went twice, there’d be 14 billion straws floating. If we went once this week, and once next week, and then the next week and then the next there’d be 28 billion straws just in a month. Every restaurant I have ever been to in 27 years has never been without plastic straws.

Plastic straws don’t go away. They drift to ocean floors and mistaken for gangly see grass they are eaten by sea turtles. Can you imagine sneezing and a hard spaghetti noodle lodging in your nose? Plastic straws don’t go away because plastic doesn’t go away. Every piece of plastic ever created still exists. I didn’t shove that straw into that turtle’s nose, but I have used plenty of straws at McDonalds or Olive Garden. I’d left them in glasses, tossed cups into the trash—not following the flow of that glowing black trash bag. I acquiesced to a little piece of plastic over and over and over again.

Why do I need a plastic straw in my glass of water at a restaurant? I don’t use a straw for any drink I have at home. I drink water out of a glass like an adult. It’s not hard drinking water straight from a glass at a restaurant, if you have the facilities to do so. The effort is in a simple phrase uttered with an order: “No straw, please.” Waiters and waitresses used to middle-class requests bring a glass full of water, empty of a straw. I had never really thought much about plastic straws before and maybe one day, we won’t have to again.

Black Lives Matter… in Public Health Too

As a child, I remember my grandmother locking the car doors when we entered the city. She lived in fear (about a lot of things, really). But, was she afraid of the right things?

I’ve twice heard sounds of gun violence. Admittedly, both times were in cities. But, I’ve known several people living in active addiction, even some who died of overdose or drug instigated suicide, and none of them grew up in the city. Most went to supposedly nice middle-class schools.

“Tonight’s lead story: A child shot and killed on Apple St. Fun and recreation have been stripped from the weekend by the macabre – as increasing gun violence leads area parents to keep their children indoors. Mondays are now a respite from voluntary house arrest as school playgrounds remain the only safe place to play.”

Gun violence kills. That’s not a belief. It’s a fact.

“Next comes devastating new data from the Sheriff’s Office. Heroin overdoses have quadrupled to roughly twenty deaths monthly. Mothers. Sons. Dead. Buried. Such staggering numbers leave this newscaster wondering how many more preventable deaths are necessary before the Drug War is finally be won.”

Drug abuse kills. That’s not a belief. It’s a fact.

But, where are the headlines about heart disease? High blood pressure? Diabetes? Infant mortality? Guns and drugs are serious. But fake and fast food are really killing us. If you’re a black member of the urban poor, you’re much more likely to be killed by Popeye’s Chicken in your gut than a bullet in your chest or a needle in your arm.

I believe that Black Lives Matter in public health too. Urban lives. Poor lives. Single-parent lives. The lives of those without reliable transportation.

Sure, I believe in beef brisket. In venison sausage. In pulled pork. And fried turkey. I believe in macaroni and cheese. And in potatoes fried at least a dozen ways.

But, I don’t need to believe that diabetes can lead to limb amputation… I’ve seen it.

I don’t need to believe that it’s easier to buy Ho Hos than fresh spinach. A million reluctant and sorrow-filled mothers will confirm this as they begrudgingly give their sons a buck fifty and send them to the convenience store. I’ve lived in the burbs and in the city and I don’t need to believe that the grocery stores are different. I have seen it. My wallet and my stomach know this to be true.

If I were a betting man, I wouldn’t like the odds finding someone who takes homemade rice crispy treats as seriously as I do.

I believe grandmas and aunties in the kitchen are saints.

I enjoy a cool glass of moscato d’asti. I might even enjoy a second. I know I can handle that… because I’m over six feet tall and weigh over two hundred pounds. I also know, though, that addiction runs in my family. And that I’m prone to the obsessive. I dare not flirt with crossing the line into dependency.

As much as I love a good brisket or believe that cereal isn’t meant for milk but for marshmallows and butter. I believe in temperance. In moderation. In food prep on Sunday nights so my busy schedule doesn’t tempt me to visit the Colonel. I also believe, beyond any action I can take, that healthy, nutritious food is a human right.

I’ll never forget being in a room full of family, watching them all take their blood pressure, believing the cuff was malfunctioning because it said each of them was reading high. I’ll never forget the chill in that room when mine read 108 over 69.

 

SAMSUNG CSCKatie Heishman is an MDiv student at Bethany Theological Seminary and co-Program Director at Brethren Woods Camp and Retreat Center with her husband, Tim. They live in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and attend Linville Creek Church of the Brethren.

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A Look Behind the Curtain: Three Writers Reflect on the Writing Process – Chibuzo Petty with Guest Bloggers Karen Duhai and Emily Hollenberg

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The following are reflections on the writing processes of three writers: Chibuzo Petty, Karen Duhai, and Emily Hollenberg.

In two of the pieces, the authors use the phrase “shitty first drafts.” The phrase is not used by the authors stylistically or crudely. The phrase is in reference to a section from Anne Lamott’s 1994 book Bird by Bird. 

Persistence – Chibuzo Petty’s Writing Process

For the past year, I have served as the Social Media Editor for Brethren Life and Thought, the Church of the Brethren’s academic journal. I previously served on the journal’s board and now solicit and edit the content published on our blog. (Each post is ~1,000 words; with new posts usually published weekly.) I also curate the content shared on our Facebook page. As a result, my writing has taken a back seat so I can better focus on reading and editing other’s writing. (I do have a poem and a few book reviews that will be published in our print journal this fall, though!)

Honestly, email is the writing genre to which the vast majority of my writing belongs.

Though I preach quite regularly, I am not a manuscript preacher. My sermons tend to be heavily dependent on my ability to performatively exposit Scripture. This choice in approach and tone certainly impacts my sermon-writing style. (Again, little “writing” takes place in this context.)

I find the concept of “waiting for the muse” rather interesting. That one could set aside a thought until later seems outlandish to me. That your mind might be still or clear enough for you to notice when the next great idea comes upon you is also perplexing in its elusiveness. For years, I have been in treatment for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I say that not in the flippant way our culture talks about ADD, OCD, and other similar disorders. I mean it in the “every aspect of my life is impacted by this illness in real, concrete terms” sort of way. My primary symptom is racing, intrusive thoughts. I obsess. I ruminate. I spend ungodly amounts of time thinking and rethinking and thinking some more. My condition means I am a slow writer (and reader for that matter). I stop and start a great deal, getting frustrated by the non-stop churning going on inside. Proofreading is a nightmare, seeming only to feed the beast within.

Further complicating things is my chronic physical illness impacting both my central nervous and musculoskeletal systems. My pain prevents me from staying in one spot long enough to get a good work rhythm going whether in bed, a chair, or at my standing desk. The pain’s severity also feeds my intrusive thoughts. The ease with which physical pain exacerbates my mental anguish never ceases to amaze me. My conditions’ impact on my central nervous system also leads to fatigue and minor challenges with memory – due in part to previous seizures. All of this makes the writing process more complicated. More irritating. More
draining.

When I think about my writing process, I think of persistence. The writing process is about drive. Commitment. Shitty first drafts. Over-analyzing. And, giving myself the grace to simply stop.

Absolute Chaos – Karen Duhai’s Writing Process

I was an English major as an undergrad and want to return to writing as a creative outlet. That said, I am also a bit weary of words. Who hasn’t been worn out by the torrent of arguments and memes and insensitive comments on social media? But I also believe that words are powerful and that as ministering people the things we say carry weight and we SHOULD be engaged with what is happening in the world. Learning to engage in a sensitive and conscious manner, though, is crucial.

As for my writing process, I have this vision of a very calm, beautiful writing process where there are careful reflections, multiple drafts, outlines, and, you know, birds chirping and small furry animals doing my housework. The reality is that it’s pretty much madness. It’s a combination of excitement and enthusiasm but also absolute dread and the perpetual question, “Why did I want to do this again?!” To help illustrate this point, I’ve created a flow chart of sorts which can be seen below. Enjoy.

 

If I Can Fail at Writing, I Can Fail at Bullet Journaling Too – Emily Hollenberg’s Writing Process

I have tried three times to bullet journal. Once in September of 2016 when I began my journey at Bethany, second around Christmastime when I decided that I just needed a new bullet journal layout, and third when I decided that instead of journaling about my mental health, I should probably be keeping better track of my eating habits. All three times I bought fancy colored pens, brand new Moleskine journals, a new ruler, and stencils for my icons. I tried to make a layout that would work for me as well as look beautiful. And of course, it never looked beautiful like bullet journal pictures did on the internet.

This is the largest problem that I face while writing, such as Anne Lamott faces the voices that she drops into mason jars after she turns them into mice. I begin to write, and then I think to myself, Is this as good as my favorite novel? Absolutely not. Can I even see my novel on a shelf at Barnes and Noble? Would anybody even read it besides my fiance? When I saw my bullet journals weren’t beautiful, I stopped writing in them, even though I had told myself that my journaling was supposed to be the real me, not the Instagram me. I wanted the beautiful Instagram layout where I suddenly knew how to write in calligraphy. I want my novels to be the same way.

I’m at the stage that Barton and Howard describe as not being ready to engage with an audience. I’m on the Lamott shitty first draft stage. I’m just still accepting that it’s so.

I’ve talked about this in writing classes before: in college, I had a professor who had a writing habit so deep and profound that it broke up his first marriage. I worked him with closely during my undergrad time and it gave me an incredibly messed up idea about writing processes. I figured that if I didn’t lose my boyfriend during my process, I wasn’t doing it right. Maybe I should forgo eating. Stay up until four in the morning writing. Quit my job and become a hermit. Walk around in curtain drapes singing until my writing can flow out of me like a dirty river. Having worked with someone like this for so long, it’s made me always feel like I don’t have a writing process.

But I do. I take time out of my day to work on my novel. I work in Google docs and I comment on sections for myself to come back to later. I try to engage with my perceived reader. And I tell myself that even if I don’t want to write, even if I don’t have a magical muse that doesn’t exist, I have to get something down, and it’s fine if it’s shitty.

That’s writing. And I’m not failing at it.

Friends, attached is my daily writing process as a bullet journal entry. You better believe that I spent four hours on it making it Instagram worthy.

Karen Duhai is the receptionist and accounts payable specialist at Bethany Theological Seminary. An MDiv graduate of the seminary, Karen is also currently studying in the seminary’s MA program. Karen has held a variety of ministerial leadership positions in the Church of the Brethren and beyond including serving as a BVSer in Northern Ireland, Middle Pennsylvania District Youth Coordinator, and Program Director of Girls Inc. of Wayne County, Indiana.

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, closeupEmily Hollenberg lives and works in Fort Wayne, Indiana where she works in the front office of Memorial Park Middle School and coaches for USA Swimming. Emily attends Beacon Heights CoB and is in Bethany’s Theopoetics and Theological Imagination Graduate Certificate Program.

 

Image Credits: Karen Duhai and Emily Hollenberg

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In A Reunion Like This We Can Share – Guest Blogger, Anita Hooley Yoder

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The following originally appeared on the blog Anabaptist Historians and was republished here with the permission of the author. For more on Anabaptist Historians, check out https://anabaptisthistorians.org/about/

History matters in the church. It matters what kinds of stories are told about our past, and who gets to tell them.

This was obvious at the recent Mennonite Church USA convention in Orlando, where a timeline exercise brought up some past events and issues but left out others. (See Joel Nofziger’s recent post)

As I worked on a book on the history of Mennonite women’s organizations, I found myself especially captivated by stories I had not heard before, and did not fit neatly into a typical understanding of Mennonite women. I was specifically fascinated to learn about the activities of Black and Hispanic Mennonite women, which began in an organized way in the 1970s and, to some extent, continue to today.

These activities are narrated in just one chapter in the book, but I hope the chapter I wrote is just the beginning of more writing and sharing about what happened at these events and the way God continues to work through Mennonite women of all kinds of backgrounds.

Below is an excerpt from Circles of Sisterhood, about the start of the Hispanic Mennonite women’s conferences. To read more, purchase the book! You can order online from Mennonite Women USA or MennoMedia.

Seferina De León speaking at an Hispanic Mennonite women’s conference in the 1970s

The first Spanish-speaking Mennonite women’s conference was held in April 1973 in Moline, Illinois. Maria Bustos, wife of pastor Mac Bustos, coordinated the gathering, along with Lupe Bustos and Maria Rivera Snyder. Several reasons were given for the one-day event, which was called a servicio de inspiración. Seferina De León described it as an opportunity “to have a group of our own to listen to each other and figure out how we can help each other.”1 The organizers specifically wanted to gather women whose husbands were involved in church work and spent much time traveling, so the women could have a meaningful time together while their husbands stayed home.2 In a Voice article about the conference, Lupe Bustos wrote that the gathering arose from a concern for women who could not speak English and had never had the benefit of participating in the WMSC [the Mennonite Church women’s organization].3 As a woman of “American-Spanish descent,” she had been encouraged by attending WMSC meetings and wanted to provide similar encouragement for Spanish-speaking women.4

At the first conference, about sixty women gathered from churches in several Midwestern states as well as New York and Texas. Lupe Bustos’s article described the event as having women’s marks of creativity and care: hospitable overnight hosts, corsages for each participant, a craft project fashioning crosses out of a variety of materials. But the most memorable aspect of the event was the spiritual presence that pervaded it. The Spirit-led singing, prayer, and testimonies came to a climax when the women gathered to take communion. Mac Bustos wished to join the group for the communion service, which was led by pastor Mario Bustos. Suffering from leg pain and other health complications so severe that he was planning to give up his pastoral work, Pastor Mac was assisted into the sanctuary. Women nearby laid hands on him as they prayed and praised God. Suddenly, Mac got up and said, “Praise the Lord, all pain is gone!” He began going up and down the steps to show his increased mobility.5 “Tears just streamed from all of us,” Lupe Bustos wrote. “We realized that God still performs miracles; and a miracle happened to all of us there, because we were renewed again in Him.”6

The conference’s leaders viewed the miraculous healing of Mac Bustos as confirmation of God’s presence with them and as encouragement to continue their gatherings. At the October 1973 Minority Ministries Council meeting, they made plans for another conference and also adopted the name Conferencia Femenil Hispana Menonita (Hispanic Mennonite Women’s Conference). This is the name the group uses today, after a several-year period of using the name Sociedad de Damas Cristianas en Acción (Society of Christian Women in Action).

A 1974 gathering was planned for Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The first gathering was presumably paid for by the women themselves; Maria Bustos lists “faith” in the finances column on a chart showing figures for the early conferences.7 To help with the second conference, the Concilio leaders wrote to the WMSC requesting a grant of $3,000 for “las hermanas.” The WMSC executive committee decided to make the money available, even though it required some temporary reallocation of funds. Beulah Kauffman, WMSC director, wrote a letter to the WMSC district presidents explaining the move and reminding them of the WMSC meeting at the 1973 MC assembly. . . . At that meeting, women had expressed that they would “stand ready to help in whatever ways possible” when “clearly defined” needs of Spanish-speaking members were presented. Kauffman described this request as just such a need and expressed hope that women across the denomination would consider making the Hispanic women’s conference their annual giving project.8

The WMSC money was apparently the only outside funding received for the 1974 conference. Women from many Hispanic churches contributed through offerings, craft sales, and other fundraisers, either to support the conference in general or to fund the travel of their own members. Lois Gunden Clemens attended the gathering as a WMSC representative. She reflected in a July 1974 Voice article: “It has been good for me at various times to be a minority within a Christian group representing a cultural heritage different from mine. My heart has been strangely warmed in sensing the oneness I could feel with them. This was true again when I joined our Spanish-speaking sisters gathered together in their Lancaster meeting.”9 Enriqueta Diaz summed up her sentiments about the conference in an August 1974 Voice article: “It is marvelous that in a reunion like this we can share with each other ideas, emotions, and thoughts, all in our own language and in a cordial environment. Praise God for His love!”10

Excerpt and photo are from Circles of Sisterhood by Anita Hooley Yoder. © 2017 Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Va. All rights reserved. Used with permission. www.HeraldPress.com

Anita Hooley Yoder works as Campus Ministry Coordinator at Notre Dame College in South Euclid, Ohio. She and her husband live in the Cleveland area and attend Friendship Mennonite Church. She is also the author of the recently published book on Mennonite women’s organizations, Circles of Sisterhood. Anita serves as secretary of the Brethren Journal Association Board.

  1. Quoted in Felipe Hinojosa, Latino Mennonites: Civil Rights, Faith, and Evangelical Culture (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press), 152. Maria Bustos is often referred to as “Mary Bustos” in publications, since there were many other “Marias” involved with the organization. I follow Hinojosa in using “Maria.”
  2. Ibid., 152–53.
  3. Lupe Bustos, “Historic Women’s Assembly,” Voice, April 1973, 5.
  4. Ibid.
  5. This event is also written about in several other places, including Hinojosa, Latino Mennonites, 153.
  6. Bustos, “Historic Women’s Assembly,” 5–6.
  7. Mary Bustos, “Report to the Executive Committee,” November 10, 1978, box 1, folder 3, WMSC Partnerships Records, 1973–1992 (IV-20-008), MCUSAA– Elkhart.
  8. Beulah Kauffman, letter to district WMSC presidents, April 3, 1974, box 4, folder 19, Women’s Missionary and Service Commission Executive Committee Records, 1917–1997 (IV-20-001), MCUSAA– Elkhart.
  9. Lois Gunden Clemens, “Editorially Speaking,” Voice, July 1974, 2.
  10. Enriqueta Díaz, “Hispanic Women’s Conference,” Voice, August 1974, 11.
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