District News & Announcements – October 2016


District News & Announcements

October 2016

 “District News and Announcements” is a monthly e-newsletter for members and friends of the Church of the Brethren in the Northern Plains District.  District Leaders, Commissions, Committees, and those doing special ministries share information on programs and activities.  Local churches share news and invitations.  Send submissions by October 25th for inclusion in next month’s newsletter to Hannah Button-Harrison, Interim Director of Communications,

Get a printable version of the newsletter here.

In this issue

  1. West Central Iowa Love Feast: Oct. 2
  2. Sending of the Seventy Workshop: Oct. 7-8
  3. Southern Iowa Spiritual Renewal Circuit Ride: October 9-12
  4. Ivester Lasagna Fundraiser: Nov. 13
  5. BDM work Trip: Nov. 13-19
  6. Nigeria: Books, Church rebuilding fund and upcoming Workcamps
  7. Message from the Moderator
  8. Leadership Development Musings
  9. Holiness in our Midst
  10. In Our Prayers: Jeannette Grove
  11. History of Robins Church of the Brethren – 1856-2016
  12. Annual Conference Ballot
  13. NCP Learning Tours
  14. Website Survey
  15. Congregational Newsletters
Quick info
Calendar of Events | District Staff & Leadership Contacts | Documents & Resources

Banner photo: Photo collage from the Robin’s Church Closing Service.  Photo taken by Barbara Wise Lewczak.  Send in your photos for future newsletters!  Email

James Benedict: Something Better – Robins Church of the Brethren Closing Ceremony

Sermon for Saturday, September 10, 2016
Ecclesiastes 3:1-5
Hebrews 11:8-16; 32-40img_0823Something Better

I must start by thanking the Robins congregation and the Northern Plains District for the honor of being asked to preach on this special occasion.  Forty-two years ago, I stood nervously behind this same pulpit and preached my very first sermon at the age of fifteen.  Three years after that, I was licensed to the ministry here, and I have since spent over thirty years in the full-time ministry in other congregations.  So I am deeply grateful for the privilege of being here to help celebrate the life and ministry of this congregation that has meant so much to me, and to many others also.

I am honored, but I am trying not to “get the big head.”  That was always my grandmother’s warning to me, whenever I would share with her any special accomplishment or honors I received – good grades, getting into college, having an article published.  She would say, “That’s nice, but Jimmie, don’t get the big head.”

She and my grandfather sat back there, a row or two in front of where I sat with my mom and dad, brothers and sister.  Our family sat in the back row, I suspect so that just in case one of us would misbehave, mom or dad wouldn’t have far to go to take us out of the sanctuary for appropriate discipline – not that it was necessary very often.

I can remember sitting back there, elbow to elbow with one or more of my brothers, trying to behave and trying not to drop the quarter that I had been given for the offering because – as you can see – the floor slopes down, and chances were good that if I dropped it, it would roll all the way to the front, and then my dad might take me outside for some of that appropriate discipline.

On a September day like today, it would usually be hot, because we didn’t have air conditioning in the church back then.  In fact, we didn’t even have a bathroom indoors – you had to go out back to the outhouse.  But because it was so hot, we would have the windows open and we would fan ourselves with the fans provided by the local funeral director, pieces of cardboard stapled to an oversized tongue depressor.  Even so, we would sweat, and many times our backs would stick to the back of the pew.

And on a September day like today, chances are that my nose would be running and I would be trying not to sneeze anymore than I absolutely had to.  I had terrible hay fever as a kid, and this was a bad time of year with ragweed and goldenrod at their peak.  It didn’t help that I spent a lot of time outdoors with my brothers, exploring in the woods and the pasture, wading and fishing in the creek, or even just walking the quarter mile from the bus stop to my home, past ditches filled with ragweed and goldenrod.

Ragweed doesn’t have much to commend it, but goldenrod is at least attractive, with its yellow blooms.  Poet Mary Oliver, has honored it in one of her better-known poems:

On roadsides,
in fall fields,
in rumpy bunches,
saffron and orange and pale gold,

in little towers,
soft as mash,
sneeze-bringers and seed-bearers,
full of bees, sand, yellow beads and perfect flowerlets

and orange butterflies.
I don’t suppose
much notice comes of it, except for honey,
and how it heartens the heart with its

blank blaze.
I don’t suppose anything loves it, except, perhaps,
the rocky voids
filled by its dumb dazzle.

For myself,
I was just passing by, when the wind flared
and the blossoms rustled,
and the glittering pandemonium

leaned on me.
I was just minding my own business
when I found myself on their straw hillsides,
citron and butter-colored,

and was happy, and why not?
Are not the difficult labors of our lives
full of dark hours?
And what has consciousness come to anyway, so far,

that is better than these light-filled bodies?


All day
on their airy backbones
they toss in the wind,

they bend as though it was natural and godly to bend,
they rise in a stiff sweetness,
in the pure peace of giving
one’s gold away.


That poem helped me learn to love goldenrod, in spite of its effects on me, much as I suppose God loves us in spite of our sins.  Goldenrod is for me a reminder that, for those of us with eyes to see and a heart willing to let ourselves see, there is beauty to be found in that which brings us trouble or even sorrow – like the closing of a beloved congregation.

Of course, another thing goldenrod has in its favor, as far as I am concerned, is that it doesn’t last forever.  In a few weeks, a killing frost will put an end to it, at least for another year or so.  As the prophet Isaiah informs us, “The grass withers and the flower fades, because the breath of the Lord blows upon it.”   The prophet makes the same point as the Preacher, who reminds us in the passage we read from the book of Ecclesiastes, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven; a time to be born and a time to die.”

For everything there is a season.  That includes congregations.  They are born, grow, flourish, grow old and die.  Some outlast the normal human lifespan (no one is here today who was present when the Robins church was organized in 1856), but sooner or later, they prove to be mortal.  On average in the United States, approximately ten congregations close every day.  They are human institutions.  Why would we expect it to be otherwise?

When Jesus spoke of the church, against which the gates of hell could not prevail, he did not have in mind some specific local congregation.  Instead, it was the church as God’s people, throughout the world and throughout time, persisting in spite of setbacks, moving, thriving first here and then there.  Remember those 10 churches a day that are closing in the United States?  At the same time, 11 are opening, and that is just here.  Elsewhere in the world, in Africa and Asia, there is even greater growth.  Our hope is not in the ability of any specific congregation to survive.  Our hope is in God, Creator, Redeemer and Holy Spirit, at work in congregations and individuals near and far.

Our hope is in what God is doing, because we believe that God is at work reclaiming, redeeming and reforming the whole creation.  Each Christian and each congregation is called to participate in that work, with the resources at their disposal, in the place and time afforded to them.  

That is what the folks who made up this congregation did – they did their part, with the resources at their disposal, in the time and place afforded to them.  They came from Pennsylvania, Ohio and other points east, and settled here when Iowa had been a state for less than a single decade.  They began to meet in 1854, and organized in 1856, calling themselves the First Dry Creek Church of the German Baptists.  You have to admire the optimism in that name – you call yourself the first only if you expect there to someday be a second, and maybe a third.  

They built their first meeting house in 1858 and by 1881 had 125 members and 5 ministers.  The congregation, like others among the Brethren, survived a devastating split that year, with half the congregation and four fifths of the ministers breaking away to be part of the Old Order.  That led to the building of another new meeting house in 1883, and growth back to 100 members a few years after that.  In 1915, this current building was built and for a time the church flourished with large families.  Then things changed, families got smaller, and children who grew up here more often moved away than stuck around to raise families of their own.

Yet for a season – a long season – this was a vital congregation.  It was a congregation that inspired, comforted, challenged and served.  It was a congregation that called forth leaders, sent people to work with Brethren Disaster Ministries, and provided a place for people to come to know God through Jesus Christ.  For a season, a long season, this congregation carried out the work God gave it to do and sought to follow where God led.

The season is now over, and for those who have loved this congregation (and especially those of us whose faith was formed here), it hurts.  We grieve, and rightfully so.  As another of my favorite poets, Robert Frost has written:


Out through the fields and the woods

   And over the walls I have wended;

I have climbed the hills of view

   And looked at the world, and descended;

I have come by the highway home,

   And lo, it is ended.


The leaves are all dead on the ground,

   Save those that the oak is keeping

To ravel them one by one

   And let them go scraping and creeping

Out over the crusted snow,

   When others are sleeping.


And the dead leaves lie huddled and still,

   No longer blown hither and thither;

The last lone aster is gone;

   The flowers of the witch hazel wither;

The heart is still aching to seek,

   But the feet question ‘Whither?’


Ah, when to the heart of man

   Was it ever less than a treason

To go with the drift of things,

   To yield with a grace to reason,

And bow and accept the end

   Of a love or a season?


Yes, we grieve, but as Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, we do not grieve as do others who have no hope.  For we have hope, hope in God, hope in the work God is doing, and hope that our part of that work matters and has made a difference.  For now, we can accept that this congregation’s season has come to an end, and yet we understand that God’s work is not done.  So we are like those mentioned in the Letter to the Hebrews, who “though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.”

The vision of the author of the Letter to the Hebrews, and the vision of the New Testament in general, is that God’s work is larger than any one congregation, or any one generation.  Each congregation, each generation, spends its season doing what it can, and then becomes part of that “great cloud of witnesses,” to inspire those who follow after, until that day when the work is done, and all together will be made perfect.

Seasons come and seasons go, but scripture teaches us that it is not all just an endless cycle.  Scripture teaches us that history is headed somewhere, that God has elected to work through history – through human beings and human institutions that live and die, that rise and fall – to bring us all to glory.   

That glory is described in many different ways in different places in the New Testament, but one description especially worth noticing on this occasion is the description offered in the book of Revelation, where we hear of a new “Jerusalem,” the heavenly city in which there is no more death, mourning, crying or pain.  It is a beautiful city, and a city in which the people who dwell there have everything they need.  But one thing is noticeably missing – the Temple, the visible symbol of institutional religion.  The new Jerusalem needs no Temple because “its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb,” just as it “has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb.”

That is our destination, and God will see that we get there, but we aren’t there yet.  For now, we need our temples and churches, our congregations and meeting houses – places where we can meet, encourage one another, learn and grow.  And when such a place and such a community is lost, we do grieve, just as the people of God have always grieved when patriarchs, matriarchs and saints of various kinds have died “without receiving what was promised.”  Still, we believe that they, and we, and others will someday come together and experience a joy and completeness that is so much better than even the very best day in the life of any single individual or congregation.

Yes, the grass withers and the flower fades, but the Robins Church of the Brethren bloomed where it was planted and brightened the world for a season.  And someday it will be part of the most spectacular bouquet, the fragrance of which will reach to every corner of the promised holy city, where God will wipe away every tear.  Amen.

History of Robins Church of the Brethren – 1856-2016

Compiled by Tim Button-Harrison for Closing Service on September 10, 2016

church-buildingThe history of the Robins Church of the Brethren goes back to Germany where the Brethren movement started in 1708.  Yet within twenty years, due to persecution, most of the Brethren had migrated to Pennsylvania searching for a place they could practice their faith without being harassed by authorities.  

When the middle and western states opened for settlement, some Brethren who were descendants of these 18th century German immigrants were among the first pioneers in Iowa.  In 1854, Brethren Elder Thomas Snyder and his family moved from Blair County, Pennsylvania and settled two miles west of Robins.  They were followed in 1856 by Elder Jacob Waters and his family from Cambria County, Pennsylvania.  Many other Brethren were also settling in Iowa at this time.   

In 1856, in the home of Elder Waters, Brethren from Linn, Cedar, Delaware and parts of Benton came together and organized the First Dry Creek Church of the German Baptist Brethren with ten charter members.  That fall they held their first love feast in Elder Snyder’s barn and elected Thomas Snyder to the ministry.  Within a few years, other Brethren families were locating in this vicinity: Stamys, Mentzers, Millers, Holsingers, Hoovers, Albaughs, and Heefners.  

In 1858 they built their first meetinghouse just north of the Dunkard cemetery in Monroe Township.  It was made from native lumber; a 30 x 40 foot structure, 12 feet high, with a 16 by 18 foot kitchen.  For 25 years they worshipped in this church house.  Ministers serving in that period, besides Thomas G. Snyder and Jacob O. Waters, already mentioned, were Jonathan Rees, J. C. Miller, Soloman Stamy, Martin Boyd, John Filmore, Moses Rogers, John Voach, Daniel Holsinger and Abraham Stamy.  During this period, within the wider Brethren church there were disagreements and debates concerning missions, Sunday Schools, and education.  In 1881, the Old Order Brethren, opposing these innovations, separated and formed their own church.  About half of the congregation broke away and went to the Old Order Brethren.  

A second church house, to replace the first, was built in 1883 in a place called Sand Ridge.  This new building served the congregation for 32 years.  Ministers serving at Sand Ridge were T. G. Snyder, S. C. Miller, D.W. Miller, L. D. Bosserman, J. Kurtz Miller, George Hagerman and S. B. Miller.

A third church house was built in Cedar Rapids in 1892 at 4th Avenue and 12th Street and it became a separate congregation in 1905.  

In 1914 the old church property was sold and in 1915 the Sand Ridge Church was torn down and its materials were used to build this church building we are now in.  It was built by Morris Eikenberry of Dallas Center and it was dedicated in December of 1915 with Galen Royer preaching.  Ministers serving at this location from 1915 until the purchase of the first parsonage in 1932 were Jonathan Meyers, G. S. Nickey, S. B. Miller, Claire Miller, D. W. Miller, A. T. Olinger, U. H. Hoefle.  

During that period, in 1920, the Sisters Aid Society was started “to render such aid to the needy, financially and otherwise as may be needful, to develop the missionary and Devotional spirit of its members, to assist the church, home and foreign missions and other worthy causes.”  From 1920 forward the Ladies Aid helped with the finances by holding suppers, cooked for farm sales, and had ice cream socials.  Many quilts were made, and given away or sold.  Ladies Aid also helped with Vacation Bible School and wherever they were needed.

When the parsonage was purchased in 1932, the first minister to occupy it was D. C. Snider (1932-1934) followed by O. A. Myers (1934-1943), Leland Emrick (1944-1945), Earl Snader (1945-1946), Ben Buckingham (1946-1951) and Russell Jarboe (1951-1953).

During that period, in 1939, the church’s name changed from Dry Creek to Robins Church of the Brethren.  

From 1953 to 1966, the Robins Church yoked with the Cedar Rapids Church and four pastors were shared during those 13 years: John Wieand (1953-1954), Russell Burris (1954-1960), Robert Faus (1960-1963), David Hykes (1963-1966).  From 1966 to 1978 the Robins Church yoked with the Garrison Church and three pastors were shared during those 12 years: Elmer West (1966-1972), Harold Justice (1972-1974), Gene Burry (1974-1978).  Rex and Joyce Barber then served Robins (1979-1986) followed by Nick Shrope (1987-1999) and Eileene Sauer who served as a lay minister up to the present time.  

Three young men of the church were licensed into the ministry.  Warren Hoover (1944), James H. Hoover (1948) and James Benedict (1977).

Leadership Development Musings: October 2016

Micah 5:2-4: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are too small to be among the army groups from Judah, from you will come one who will rule Israel for me. He comes from very old times, from days long ago. The Lord will give up his people until the one who is having a baby gives birth; then the rest of his relatives will return to the people of Israel. At that time the ruler of Israel will stand and take care of his people with the Lord’s strength and with the power of the name of the Lord his God. The Israelites will live in safety, because his greatness will reach all over the earth.”

A Leader Who Overcame

He grew up in the country, an area so rural that he had to study on his own because it was too far to travel to the nearest school. In fact, by the time he was an adult, his total official schooling amounted to no more than one year. His parents were uneducated, his mother was unable to read or write.

His family wasn’t rich, so he had to stay around the homestead with his brothers and sisters to help keep up the farm. Because of his limited traveling, he knew little of the world outside of Illinois until he was eighteen years old.

Small town, no schooling, unfamiliar with the world. With a background like that, you might not expect this person to become one of the greatest leaders in U.S. history: Abraham Lincoln.

There’s more to being a leader than where you were brought up, whether you’re rich, or whom you know. Lincoln was a good leader because of his wisdom, honesty, and trustworthiness. People felt confident under his leadership.

The above scripture passage from Micah shares with us another world leader who was born in the “backwoods” town of Bethlehem in Judah. He too overcame his obstacles to lead others to Christ in his own leadership style of ministry.

All of us come from various places, levels of education, and income levels BUT! don’t allow these things to be an obstacle in your pursuit of being a leader in whatever capacity or ministry that might look like as there are ways to overcome these obstacles of say, where you live, your level of education, and even your level of income.

As Barbara shared last month, be in contact with either of us and let us be about God’s work together in ministry.

Blessings on the Journey,
Pastor Laura Leighton-Harris
Co-Minister of Leadership Development

Message from the Moderator: October 2016

By David Whitten, District Conference Moderator, 2017

District Theme 2017-Clean copyTo everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven (Ecclesiastes 3:1 KJV).

My very first engagement as the Moderator of the Northern Plains District of the Church of the Brethren was to assist with the closing of the Robins congregation on September 10. This was not an easy thing to do. In an earlier meeting with the few, remaining members of the congregation following a closing prayer to adjourn one of the members buried her head in my breast and wept uncontrollably. Her family had been members there for three generations. The closing of a congregation celebrating 160 years of existence is like a funeral. We grieve over it.

And yet, we were uplifted by the words of our guest speaker, Rev. James Benedict, a man who was born and raised in the Robins congregation (Please read his sermon in this month’s district newsletter) and presently pastor at the Union Bridge Church in the Mid Atlantic District. Rev. Benedict commented on Ecclesiastes 3:1 and the reality that there is a season for everything including congregations. He then pointed to the fact that in the imagery of Revelation 21 and the new Jerusalem there was something glaringly absent. What was missing was the temple, something so central to the people of God in the old Jerusalem and yet not present in the new. In the first earth and first heaven the church was perceived as a dwelling place for the Spirit of God. In the new Jerusalem there will be no need for that because God becomes their dwelling place and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes . . . neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore for the former things have passed away (Revelation 21: 4 ESV).       

I don’t know but I left there feeling encouraged by the words of Rev. Benedict. That ultimately when all is said and done even our beloved churches will become obsolete in the kingdom of God.

We closed the ceremony and the congregation with the tolling of the church’s bell chimed to be heard throughout the community and then no more. For those whose heart was first touched by God’s Holy Spirit, for those who came to faith in an altar call, for the baptisms, the prayers, the sermons, the singing, the countless reading of the Word of God, the legacy lives on from the Robins Church of the Brethren. To God be the Glory. RIP

Holiness in our Midst: Session 49

Holiness in our Midst


STORY CIRCLE PROMPT: Share an autumn memory.

In my early teens, we lived in Urbandale, IA. As a family, we did lots of fun outings. An autumn memory stands out. One September Saturday morning we picked up black walnuts at Walnut Woods State Park in West Des Moines, a wooded bottomland along the Raccoon River. It was holy ground: The family togetherness, the leafy canopies of red, yellow and gold, the chilly weather that made us huddle closer. It was a time before my sisters Jean and Janet went off to college The rest of us (my father, stepmother, brother Jerry, sister Jill, and me) hopscotched from Iowa to Minnesota and on to Colorado by the time I graduated from high school. But that beautiful day, time stood still as we stooped to fill bushel baskets full of black walnuts, some with and others without hulls. Our bright sweaters blended with the colors in the trees. We were a contented bunch, laughing and calling to each other, “Over here. Over here.” On the way home, we stopped at an orchard to buy several boxes of Golden Delicious apples. The distinctive odors of walnuts and apples permeated the car, even though the harvest bounty was in the trunk.

That evening my brother and father sorted the walnuts for drying in the basement. In time, they would take off the hulls and crack the shells. I remember that a vice and a hammer were involved. The rest of us were assigned to pick “the meats” with nut picks, careful to toss any shells. The walnuts were stored in plastic bags in the freezer in the basement (the “deep freeze,” we called it), ready to be added to cakes and cookies.

Later in the season, we reaped the rewards of our outing. Mom made baked apples with walnuts; I don’t remember the exact recipe, but cinnamon, brown sugar, and butter were among the ingredients. My parents made applesauce. During the holidays, Dad made his caramels and fudge, some batches with walnuts, using his mother’s recipes. The apples were kept in boxes in the garage, fair game for snacking anytime throughout the long winter months. Our bounty lasted through the winter and the memories a lifetime.


  1. Read the above reflection.
  2. Write a journal entry about an autumn memory. Recall where you were, who you were with, and the sights, sounds and aromas of the day. Why does it stand out?


  1.   Read aloud Session XLVIV.
  2.   Ask each person to answer the Story Circle Prompt.

[View Past Sessions Here]

Note: Holiness in Our Midst: Sharing Our Stories to Encourage and Heal is a monthly on-line feature created by Janis Pyle to facilitate sharing of our personal experiences, thoughts, beliefs, and spiritual practices with one another, especially through stories. Barriers are broken down when we begin to see all persons, even those with whom we disagree ideologically, as sacred and constantly attended to by a loving Creator. Each column is accompanied by a “story circle” prompt and study guides for personal and group reflection. To share your stories, contact Hannah Button-Harrison at Janis Pyle can be reached at

District News & Announcements – September 2016

District News & Announcements

September 2016

 “District News and Announcements” is a monthly e-newsletter for members and friends of the Church of the Brethren in the Northern Plains District.  District Leaders, Commissions, Committees, and those doing special ministries share information on programs and activities.  Local churches share news and invitations.  Send submissions by September 24th for inclusion in next month’s newsletter to Hannah Button-Harrison, Interim Director of Communications,

South Bend Work Camp Reflections

Work camp 2016 South Bend Indiana

By Beth Cage

IMG_4075Four 12-13 year old girls and two adult advisors went from the Northern Plains District to serve in the South Bend, Indiana area for a the junior high aged work camp. There were three kids from the Prince of Peace Church in South Bend that also were at the work camp.  These three had all done the same work camp the previous year.  We worked at the Center for the Homeless that houses individuals for up to 2 years at a time.  There are mothers with kids, single men and single women who live there.  We weeded the garden and planted sunflowers.  Then we had lunch with folks who live there.  We got to wrap birthday presents for the kids who live there, which was fun and age appropriate for Jr. high kids.  After that we were able to listen to two persons who were graduating from the recovery program tell their stories of how they became homeless.   This was hard because when you hear about someone’s pain and trouble, you feel sympathetic to their situation and want to hug them and say it will all work out, but that is what they are learning through the classes that they teach at the center.

IMG_4083The next day we worked at a plot of ground called the Unity Garden.  It is a garden that has no fences or fees.  Anyone can come and pick vegetables or fruit.   We mulched the paths and planted flowers.  The sugar peas were ready and so we picked some and took them back to cook for our supper.  

After that we went to the food bank to work with the food distribution.  I was called to work at the checkout and got to help folks box up their selections. Some of the kids worked in the produce section, looking over the donated produce to see if it was still good and stocking shelves. The customers were allowed to take as much produce (fresh fruits and veggies) as they wanted.  There was a 20-40 can limit on canned goods.  One frozen meat, and they had a huge donation of ice cream and they each got a pack of 8 cartons of Hagen Daz.  It was interesting to see what folks chose.  They all were thankful and expressed appreciation for the food pantry.  It made me wonder if this was the main staple that would feed them for the next few weeks.

IMG_4096For our fun day, we went to Lake Michigan and climbed the sand dunes and splashed in the lake.   The water was cold.  We also went to see a community theater production of Aladdin.  Overall, I think the work camp brought to our attention that there are a lot of people in the world who are looking for ways to get by, and if you are in that situation, there are a lot ways to connect and get help.

Waco Work Camp Reflections

My Summer Adventures

By Parker Cage

IMG_4212This summer I’ve had quite an adventure.  First, my mom and I flew down to Greensboro, North Carolina to attend Annual Conference.  While the delegates were dealing with the boring business of the church, I participated in a fun group with other kids my age.  In our group we had different speakers come in to cover a variety of issues that affect us in today’s sometimes gloomy world.  My favorite activity that we did was going to the Civil Rights museum in downtown Greensboro.  This museum is special because during the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s, four African American college students peacefully protested segregation by sitting at a white only lunch counter, and not leaving until they were served lunch.  The Greensboro Four started a nationwide movement of sit-ins at lunch counters, and helped bring attention to the segregation in America.  The museum is the Woolworth’s original lunch counter where the sit-in took place.  After annual conference wrapped up, I made my way to the airport early Sunday morning for my flight to Dallas.

That Sunday afternoon when I touched down in Dallas, I was excited to start another work camp with my friends.  Our work camp was located in Waco, Texas, which about a hour and a half drive from Dallas.  Our group worked at a Family Abuse Center in Waco.  This center is a private center for women and their children to go if they are being abused.  The shelter allows women to stay for up to 3 months at a time so that they can get back on their feet.  The abuse center offers child care and legal services for the clients staying there.  

IMG_4208On our first day of work, we had to stain a fence.  This fence stretched around the backyard and playground area, and probably stretched the length of two football fields.  Now, you may think that staining a fence sounds easy enough, but when you add in the 108 degree Texas summer heat, things get a little bit more challenging.  By days end, we got about half of the fence stained, and were ready to go back to the church to rest.  That evening we went to a place called Magnolia Gardens, which is a place that was a host site to a TV show.

The next day, and the day after that, we went to work in the thrift store that the shelter gets donations from, and finishing the fence.  At the thrift store, we sorted through all kinds of different clothing and shoes.  Our biggest task there was cleaning out the backroom, so people could walk through it.  On that day we found some pretty neat things, from old china to dehumidifiers.  On our last day of work at the family abuse center, we finished painting the fence and still had some time before we left.  Our supervisor said that she didn’t have anymore work for us to do, and that she was very grateful for all of our hard work.  Later that evening our group went to a picnic with all of the clients.  It was nice to hear their stories, and play with some of the children.  

IMG_4289The last day before our fun day, we went to a local woman’s house to paint it.  The women was getting old, and couldn’t paint her whole house by herself.  While we were painting, she was telling us about her life and how she had spent 34 years homeless.  She said that she thanked God everyday for the house that she was able to live in.  When we were about done, a news team showed up to interview the women, and to take pictures of us!  That story of us was shown that night on the local news!  It was really inspiring to hear the woman’s story, and that made me think that I should be more appreciative of what I have.

Due to the shootings in Dallas, we had to spend our free day in Austin Texas.  There, we went to swim in a naturally fed spring.  The water was clear, and was the coldest i’ve ever felt.  After a week of craving burgers, an advisor and I walked about half a mile to the Texas burger chain Whataburger.  The burger was good, but not as good as Culver’s.  The rest of the day was spent walking around Austin, and enjoying the nice weather.

The next morning we said our goodbyes and headed home.  Annual Conference and Workcamp were both really good experiences for me to grow in my faith and as an individual.  I have learned to have a deeper trust in God in all things that I do in my life.

Message from the (New!) Moderator: September 2016

Moderator’s Musings – September 2016

David Whitten, District Conference Moderator

District Theme 2017-Clean copyThere was this little owlet sitting with his mother on a limb on a tree at dusk. The little owlet struggled with self- identity. He asked his mother, “Mom, am I really an owl like you? I’m not something else am I? I’m an owl, right?” The mom answered, “Yes, son, that’s right, you’re an owl. Why do you ask?” The little owlet peered into the twilight and said, “Because it’s really getting dark out here!”

It helps to be reminded of who we are when change darkens our horizons. And change darkens the horizon of the Church of the Brethren. There’s been a lot of discussion concerning the numbers coming out of Elgin. It’s a situation we’re only too familiar with in the Northern Plains District. Where once bustling, prosperous churches dotted the prairie landscape there now sits empty relics. Members that once numbered in the hundreds now barely fill a pew. Congregations that enjoyed a balanced fiscal health no longer employ full-time pastors and are strapped with maintaining buildings too old, too large, and too out of date. Congregations are experiencing a tremendous sense of loss constantly comparing today’s struggling church with the way it used to be. I catch myself doing it too.

But I’m reminded of the stories from the Bible where God specifically used small to overcome large, the weak to defeat the strong, the foolish to confound the wise. The story of Gideon is a story of how God used a weak-kneed, self-confessing coward to accomplish great things! The story of Gideon reminds us that no matter our size, no matter how great the odds are against us . . . if God formed, called, and sent us . . . nothing will impede us!

In many ways the story of Gideon is the story of the Church of the Brethren.

We have never been a large denomination. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t done great things. Nor does it mean we can’t continue to do great things. The decline in membership and fiscal shortfalls may just be a part of God’s plan to remind us that the survival of the church is in God’s hands not ours. Our call is to be faithful; to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ in word and deed.

As the theme for the District in 2017, I use the words from God to Gideon in Judges 6:14. After Gideon complained that his family was the least among the families in the least of Israel’s tribes, God had Gideon look towards the approaching darkness, affirmed Gideon’s call and said Go in the strength you have . . . . Am I not sending you (Judges 6:14 NIV)?

And so, for you and me, members of the Northern Plains District of the Church of the Brethren, be affirmed of who you are. Do not struggle with self-identity. You are the church! God equips you and sends you strengthened by his Holy Spirit to your mission field where He has placed you. Go in the strength you have is God not sending you?