This week, we take a break from our four-part series, “The Bible As…” by Jon Prater, to welcome back frequent Brethren Life & Thought blog contributor, Jonathan Stauffer. Stauffer writes about his experience attending Brethren Woods Camp and Retreat Center’s recent Simplify Conference. Stauffer accompanied two current Bethany Theological Seminary students as part of a partnership between Bethany’s Peace Forum and conference organizers, (also) current Bethany students, Katie and Tim Heishman.
Nestled in vibrantly-colored trees above the Shenandoah Valley, I attend a weekend retreat at Brethren Woods Camp and Retreat Center located a few miles northeast of Harrisonburg, VA. The retreat, aptly entitled “Simplify,” explored a Christian witness through simple living principles largely drawing from the Anabaptist traditions. Beginning on Friday night, attendees watched a video called “The Story of Stuff,” which described the harm a hyper-consumerist culture places on God’s earth and its inhabitants. Later that evening, several small groups discussed how simple lifestyles could alleviate such harm and steward toward the healing of all creation.
After a good night’s sleep, Saturday provided a full day to explore simple living and creation care principles further. The first keynote speaker, Sam Funkhouser, grew up Church of the Brethren but as an adult joined the Old German Baptist Brethren New Conference.* Sam accepts the socio-economic concerns presented by climate change and global capitalism as a needing a Christian response. Yet he also appreciates the tradition of nonconformity, a form of simple living practiced by the Old German Baptist Brethren. Motivated by their sectarian faith, Sam and his wife, Stephanie, make their own clothes and have modified their car to become as fuel-efficient as possible. Both topics were expounded during smaller group sessions later that day.
Other workshop sessions were offered later on Saturday. Yakubu and Diana Bakfwash, Nigerian-born Brethren members, are ministers at GraceWay Church located east of Baltimore, MD. Using the example of Jesus in washing the disciples’ feet, Yakubu and Diana talked about service leadership in a context that acts beyond the church walls. Nancy Heisey, a professor of biblical studies at Eastern Mennonite University, facilitated a workshop on the role of technology in our lives. Spending some time to carefully reflect on the gadgets we use daily, Nancy says, helps one decide when technology is an effective tool or becomes a distraction in light of our faith values.
The afternoon keynote speaker, Jenn Hosler, presented a biblical call to creation care and simple living. Starting from Genesis, Jenn outlined the instances of God’s care towards creation in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. She went beyond the first chapters of Genesis and the Gospel of John. The Prophets, wisdom books, and New Testament letters also reveal a cosmic order to the Heavenly Kingdom, one that blesses and desires to renew creation. In terms of simple living, the Bible raises up God’s blessing in those living responsibly and compassionately rather than idolizing material possessions (Mark 10:17-25 and James 4:1-10 are a few examples).
Between thoughtful speakers and rich group discussions, there was a lot one could take away from this event on simple living practices. The question remains: what is the first step for one to live more simply?
Jonathan Stauffer is a member of the Polo (IL) Church of the Brethren congregation. Currently a substitute teacher, Jonathan is a recent graduate of Bethany Theological Seminary, receiving an MA with a concentration in theological studies.
*The New Conference formed out of the Old German Baptist Brethren in 2009. Interestingly, the split was largely centered around the church’s authority over internet use. More details can be found in the following article: Mast, Gerald J. “The Old German Baptist Brethren Church Division of 2009: The Debate over the Internet and the Authority of Annual Meeting.” The Mennonite Quarterly Review 88, no. 1 (January 2014): 45–64.
Image Credits: Jonathan Stuaffer