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Holiness in our Midst: Session 103

Holiness in our Midst

SESSION CIII: ON COVID ‘POSITIVES’

Story Circle Prompt: Are there “positive” outcomes in your life from the pandemic? Name some changes (or one) you would like to take into life after The Lockdown. 

Covid “Positives.” No, I have not tested positive for the virus. I coined the term Covid “Positives” to refer to the good things that have come out of this dark time. The deaths, economic and financial losses, and relationship setbacks are real enough. But I have also experienced shifts in perspective that have offered healing and hope for my future. Is this true for you, too?

Here are some Lessons from The Lockdown that I want to take into the coming era of eased restrictions:

Lesson 1: A Resolution to Limit Choices. Suddenly, a year ago, life as I knew it stopped cold. No more coffee shop breakfasts, in-person worship church services, or library hangout days. Rising prices meant fewer trips just for the fun of it, like going to the grocery store several times a week or cruising the Iowa countryside daily (joy-driving I call it). At first, I was wandering around like a lost puppy. But after a period of wrenching withdrawal, I discovered that some of these activities had been distractions from getting to the tasks at hand each day: cleaning house, advancing writing, completing volunteer assignments, focusing on relationships, being rested for work. Now, as opportunities open back up to resume my former free-wheeling lifestyle, I am vowing to stop and think about priorities, particularly before I spend money. As examples, my religious life must remain a focus, but restaurant visits can be reserved for special occasions. Above all, I no longer take any of these common places and meaningful activities for granted. They have, in fact, become sacred.

Lesson 2: A New Gratitude for Face-to-Face Gatherings. Creating events in both vocational and volunteer roles has brought me great joy. I have thrived on planning and actively participating in conferences, retreats, workshops, church programs, and book forums. For them to be relegated to “Zoom” formats is something I have experienced as extreme loss. I look forward to the day when the exchange of ideas and presentation of entertainment can happen in person again, complete with handshakes and hugs. I will no longer assume that we will always be able to look one another in the eye. It took a lockdown to name the indescribable value of “togetherness” and presence.

Lesson 3: A Heightened Appreciation for the Little Gifts Each Day. This unprecedented moment in time has offered a free crash course in seeing more acutely the little daily gifts outside my window —birds in flight, leaves changing with the season, children playing with abandon. I vow not to lose this ability to look for and celebrate the miracles along my path when life speeds up once more.

Lesson 4: A Conviction to Practice Discernment. Social media sites have become a substitute for real social life during this Covid year. We have come to rely on the Internet for shopping and entertainment. More channels are out there disseminating news. Unfortunately, with all our new choices, bad actors are exploiting the vulnerable with disinformation and misinformation. A new daily need has emerged to discern whether what we see and hear is truthful. What interests are represented by what we are being offered or told? I now ask myself that each hour. I simply trust that I can bring that discernment to life after The Lockdown.

Lesson 5: A Heightened Understanding of Earth’s and My Own Fragility. The pandemic has been like a long Sabbath rest for the Earth, my environment-conscious friends say. That is all to the good. But can I continue to keep our Planet in mind as my choices become more conscious? I hope so. Similarly, I am aware that my year has had a Sabbatical quality to it. I have survived, along with my immediate family members. In response, I trust that I will use my time remaining on Earth to treat the gift of life with the preciousness it deserves. 

 

FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:

  1. Read the above reflection. In your journal, write about both Covid “Positives’ and Covid “Negatives” for you. Which of the two wins out? Why?

FOR GROUP STUDY:

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

[View Past Sessions Here]

Note: Holiness in Our MidstSharing 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 communications@nplains.org. Janis Pyle can be reached at janispyle@yahoo.com.

District News & Announcements – March 2021

District News & Announcements

March 2021

“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 March 25th for inclusion in next month’s newsletter to Hannah Button-Harrison, Director of Communications, communications@nplains.org.

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Holiness in our Midst: Session 102

Holiness in our Midst

SESSION CII: ON FOOTPRINTS II

Where have you figuratively left your footprint(s), that is, made your mark on the world?

Last month we explored leaving footprints and the stories along the way. (Story Circle Prompt: Where have you literally left footprints? A story or two from your travels?) For the personal/journal reflection, I advanced the following exercise: “On a map of the United States or world, first mark with an x all the places you have lived. Then draw footprints between those places, connecting them in chronological order. Then draw dotted lines from each of the places you have lived to the places where you visited or vacationed. Reflect about the exercise in your journal: Where were the turning points in your life? Who influenced those changes? What continuities do you see in your life journey? What changes would you like to make?”

First, I drew my map and answered the questions toward naming what I have already done. I saw that I come alive when I am sharing stories, taking photos, interpreting mission work, planning community events, furthering hunger and homelessness causes and giving direct care in residential settings. Now this overall life review has proved helpful in discerning a direction for the final phase of my life. Where can I build on these interests? Should I commit to further schooling? What activities complete what I have begun?

Even as I have been actively engaged in life-planning, I have become deeply aware that, ultimately, my influence will be determined by others. This week a conversation reminded me that, consciously or not, I was already leaving a spiritual legacy every day. I was at work in the kitchen of the assisted living center where I work. I told a young co-worker that I read in the paper that one of our residents who had been in hospice had passed away. She teared up and we agreed that this person was very dear to us. Then, she turned to me suddenly and said, “Don’t die! Please don’t die! I don’t think I could handle it!” I assured her that, though I would pass away sometime, I wasn’t planning on it anytime soon. I realized that all of us are leaving our mark every day, wherever we are. Others count on us, sometimes more than we are aware. 

On that day, a quote attributed to Maya Angelou, came to mind (and remains as I do planning): “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” 

 

 FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:

  1. Read the above reflection. How have you made your mark on your daily rounds? Try living a whole day being conscious of how you make others feel. Is there a difference in how you treat those you would choose to have along your path and those you wouldn’t? Write about your experiences. 

FOR GROUP STUDY:

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

 

[View Past Sessions Here]

Note: Holiness in Our MidstSharing 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 communications@nplains.org. Janis Pyle can be reached at janispyle@yahoo.com.

Message from District Board and Cluster Ministers on COVID-19 Pandemic Response

Date:  February 6, 2021
To: Pastors, Lay Leaders and Congregations of Northern Plains District
From: Northern Plains District Board of Administration and Cluster Ministers
Re:  COVID-19 Pandemic

We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 1:2).

We are filled with deep gratitude for the pastors, lay leaders, and congregations of the Northern Plains District, who have faithfully sought to share the good news of Jesus Christ throughout this pandemic.  You have found creative ways to gather and continue the work of Jesus—online and in person—ever mindful of the safety and health of your members.

Sometimes this has involved learning how to use new technology.  Sometimes this has required pivoting quickly to respond to an ever-changing situation.  Sometimes this has meant listening to and balancing different viewpoints.  Sometimes it has required making difficult and unpopular decisions.  Sometimes it has involved personal risk.  Always it has involved courage and innovation.  It has been a work of faith, a labor of love, an expression of hope.  And we give God thanks and continue to remember you in our prayers.

As the vaccine rollout continues, it can be tempting to relax the restrictions we have put in place to keep everyone safe and ensure that our faith communities don’t become super spreaders.  However, we encourage you to remain faithful in the call to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).  Please be mindful of the situation in your geographic area as you make decisions about next steps.  Pay attention to the numbers and whether the case count is rising, has leveled off, or is declining in your community.  Respect the recommendations of your state and local authorities regarding in-person gatherings and how best to prevent the spread of COVID-19.  Continue adhering to what we know to be best practices regarding social distancing, wearing masks, and cleaning.

In addition, studies have shown that singing can contribute to spread.  If you are gathering in person and choosing to sing, please do so in ways that are limited and safe to minimize the risk.  We know this is difficult.  We long to gather in person.  We long to greet one another with a warm hug.  We long to share communal meals.  We long to “sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God” (Ephesians 5:19).  However, even as we cherish the glimmer of hope offered by the vaccine, we must remain diligent in our efforts to protect one another.

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you…” (Hebrews 13:7).  COVID-19 has affected us all.  Pastors and church leaders have experienced the added weight/stress of making decisions (that affect many) about something they’ve never experienced before.  As we all seek to respond to continually changing circumstances, please be slow to criticize, quick to encourage, constant in prayer, and eager to extend grace to pastors, church leaders, and one another.  “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).

As we continue to make decisions about gathering together in person, let us discern together the timeless wisdom of scripture: “…Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).  “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3).  “Love never gives up.  Loves cares more for others than for self.  Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.  Love doesn’t strut, doesn’t have a swelled head, doesn’t force itself on others, isn’t always ‘me first,’ doesn’t fly off the handle, doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, doesn’t revel when others grovel, takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, puts up with anything, trusts God always, always looks for the best, never looks back, but keeps going to the end.  Love never dies” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a; The Message).

Additional resources may be found at:
·         COVID-19 Pandemic Response – Church of the Brethren
·         Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) | CDC
·         Resources on COVID-19 for Churches (nationalcouncilofchurches.us)
·         Iowa Department of Public Health – Protecting and Improving the Health of Iowans > Home
·         Minnesota Department of Health (state.mn.us)
·         Home (mt.gov).

Let us continue the work of Jesus through these challenging times, as we know you are doing, with an attitude of respect, courtesy, humility and love.  And may these guidelines help us continue as good stewards in containing the virus and deciding how and when we should meet in person.

Dave Kerkove, District Board President and Cluster Minister
davekerkove@gmail.com, 515-313-3705
Paul Shaver, District Moderator and Cluster Minister
repaul.ivestercob@gmail.com, 319-423-9034
Beth Cage, District Recording Secretary and Cluster Minister
bcage@hbcsc.net, 507-951-4532
Tim Button-Harrison, District Executive Minister
de@nplains.org, 641-485-5604

District News & Announcements – February 2021

District News & Announcements

February 2021

“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 February 22nd for inclusion in next month’s newsletter to Hannah Button-Harrison, Director of Communications, communications@nplains.org.

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In this issue

  1. Camp Pine Lake Updates
  2. Healing Racism Congregations and Communities Series
  3. Pastor’s Professional Growth Event: February 25
  4. Denomination-wide online worship: February 27
  5. Moderator Moment
  6. Holiness in our Midst
  7. Leadership Development Musings
  8. Church Allocations
  9. Compelling Vision Team – 13 week Bible Study
  10. Congregational Newsletters

Quick info

Calendar of Events | District Staff & Leadership Contacts | Documents & Resources

Banner photo: The entryway at Panther Creek Church of the Brethren, featuring a pillow by Susan Mack-Overla, made from a sweater that belonged to one of Panther’s newest member of our great cloud of witnesses. Send in your photos for future newsletters!  Email communications@nplains.org.

Holiness in our Midst: Session 101

Holiness in our Midst

SESSION CI: ON FOOTPRINTS – I

 

Story Circle Prompt: Where have you literally left footprints? A story or two from your travels?

The subject of footprints entered my contemplative consciousness in January 2021, right after a heavy snowstorm. I was in Covid hibernation, with time on my hands. Looking out the window at the park-like front lawn of my apartment complex, a line of children’s footprints etched in the snow caught my attention. A question emerged: Where have I left footprints?

I began to trace my steps by sketching a map of the world, marking my homes, then connecting the places in chronological order with little footprints. I was astonished that the places I had lived and traveled encompassed 34 states and 5 continents. (If you are interested, the exercise is explained below under “For Personal/Journal Reflection.”) 

As I re-lived my adventures, two stories about footprints came back:

  • In January of 2002, I was on a Faith Expedition near Yei in southern Sudan (now South Sudan) in my role as coordinator for mission connections for the Church of the Brethren.  We were welcomed with songs of joy! Our delegation, we were told, was the first one from North America to visit the compound. This fact impressed me. In a free moment, I even walked around the perimeter of the site and tromped around, so I would further be the only North American who stepped foot on that very piece of ground. We were there to deliver kits that U.S. congregations had created, based on what Sudanese leaders said were their greatest needs: Salt, Soap and Towels. The village gathered in solemn ceremony to receive these gifts. I watched in awe as the leaders, in triage fashion, distributed the precious items. The towels went to elderly women to use as blankets and to mothers for wrapping their babies. I might have left my footprints on the place, but it left a more lasting imprint on me. Whenever I wake up cold in the night, I remember that there are those who graciously give to those who have greater need, even if they themselves must suffer the night chill of the grasslands.

 

 

  • In February of 2004, I was in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), Vietnam, to report about the ministry of Grace Mishler. She was a professor on the Faculty of Social Work at Ho Chi Minh City University of Social Sciences and Humanities. She was my guide on a week-long tour through the Mekong Delta Region sharing her projects which promoted social awareness of persons with disabilities. On a day when we weren’t traveling, Grace arranged for a student to give me a walking tour of Ho Chi Minh City. This lovely young woman took me to exquisitely beautiful open-air markets, fancy restaurants, luxurious high-end department stores and shops where fine artworks were created by artisans in back rooms. She even took me to places of worship. At one point, she stopped at a Buddhist statue and bowed, saying, “This is where my God lives.” Then she took me to a Catholic cathedral and said, “This is where your God lives.” She also said, “Please, can we be friends even though we have different Gods?” “Yes,” I said. Later that evening, my guide gave me a thoughtful gift to seal the friendship. It was a map of the city, with our itinerary highlighted in yellow marker. I have a record of the day when our footprints were side by side! 

 

Next Month’s Story Circle Prompt: Where have you figurately left your footprint(s), that is, made your mark on the world?

 

FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:

  1. Read the above reflection. On a map of the United States or world, first mark with an x all the places you have lived. Then draw footprints between those places, connecting them in chronological order. Then draw dotted lines from each of the places you have lived to the places where you visited or vacationed. Reflect about the exercise in your journal: Where were the turning points in your life? Who influenced those changes? What continuities do you see in your life journey? What changes would you like to make?

FOR GROUP STUDY:

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

 

[View Past Sessions Here]

Note: Holiness in Our MidstSharing 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 communications@nplains.org. Janis Pyle can be reached at janispyle@yahoo.com.

District News & Announcements – January 2021

District News & Announcements

January 2021

“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 January 25th for inclusion in next month’s newsletter to Hannah Button-Harrison, Director of Communications, communications@nplains.org.

Trouble viewing pictures and videos? 
Click here to view the newsletter in your browser.

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Holiness in our Midst: Session 100

Holiness in our Midst

SESSION C: ON OPEN SPACES

1: Story Circle Prompt: Do you have an open space or prairie you visit for renewal? Where is it? What does it mean to you?

2: Going deeper: What New Year’s Resolution can you make for the coming year related to climate action? 

Even as the Covid pandemic has forced us to stay at home more, it has also propelled us to intentionally seek get-away places where we can rediscover nature. Friends, near and far, their Christmas letters affirm, have been exploring the “open spaces” of state and national parks and local nature preserves. 

As an example, my former colleague, Howard Royer, and his wife Gene from Elgin, IL, wrote this about their “discombobulating” year: “…we attest to alternate measures of enrichment and joy. One is a deepening appreciation of nature, of sunsets and moon rises, of tending growing things in yard and garden. Of achieving a longtime goal of summer outings, 30 in all, to surrounding forest preserves and parks, most within a half hour of home.” 

My friends, retired librarians David and Mary Gregory, wrote on their Christmas card: “…we took great delight in visiting as many of Iowa’s state parks as we could, hiking around lakes and along rivers, and enjoying quiet picnic lunches in all kind of weather, right into December. What a joy to discover all this natural beauty, within a day’s drive of Ames. So far, we have visited 42 of Iowa 64 state parks, and learned, incidentally, that this is the 100th anniversary of the founding of Iowa’s state park system.”

My “open space” is on the north side of Ames, IA. Ada Hayden Heritage Park is a 430-acre local treasure named for the first woman to earn a doctorate from Iowa State. It features hiking trails, two lakes for fishing and boating, scenic overlooks, picnic areas and seasonal gardens. Where better to maintain social distance, breathe in fresh air and behold pristine prairie land!

Tying my New Year’s Resolution with preservation of my favorite outdoor spot, I plan to become a member of Friends of Ada Hayden Heritage Park this year. I want to undergird this organization’s mission to expand “public awareness, educational programs and research efforts” connected to the park. How can you support the spaces and places that sustain you in these times?

 

FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:

  1. Read the above reflection. In your journal, explore how you can better care for creation this year. As a starting point, reflect on this quote by Aldo Leopold (highlighted in David and Mary Gregory’s Christmas card): “When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” 

FOR GROUP STUDY:

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

 

[View Past Sessions Here]

Note: Holiness in Our MidstSharing 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 communications@nplains.org. Janis Pyle can be reached at janispyle@yahoo.com.

Advent Newsletter 2020

District Advent Calendar 2020

Fairview COB
Ivester COB
Panther Creek COB
Sheldon COB
South Waterloo COB

Please contact each church if you have questions about the programs mentioned below.

Other News:
The Light of Hope Returning – Concert by Shawn Kirchner

District News & Announcements – December 2020

District News & Announcements

December 2020

“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 December 29th for inclusion in next month’s newsletter to Hannah Button-Harrison, Director of Communications, communications@nplains.org.

Trouble viewing pictures and videos? 
Click here to view the newsletter in your browser.

TO PRINT – go to browser view
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In this issue

  1. In Our Prayers
  2. Camp Pine Lake Updates
  3. BVS Informational Session & Remembering Volunteers
  4. Church of the Brethren Pandemic Resources
  5. Moderator Moment
  6. Holiness in our Midst
  7. Leadership Development Musings
  8. Lisa Ames-Kruse Begins Interim Ministry with Hammond Avenue Brethren Church
  9. Northern Plains Ministers and Churches to Receive Brethren Press Certificates
  10. Reminder: Allocation Deadline December 15th
  11. Submit your Congregation’s Events to the Advent Newsletter
  12. Congregational Newsletters

Quick info

Calendar of Events | District Staff & Leadership Contacts | Documents & Resources

Banner photo: Home Advent Wreath kits sent to members of the Church of the Brethren at Ankeny.  Photo by Barbara Wise Lewczak. Send in your photos for future newsletters!  Email communications@nplains.org.