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Reflections on the Brethren Prayer and Worship Summit

Editorial

July/August, 2018
Volume 53, Number 4


This edition of the BRF Witness is largely a review and report of the recent Prayer and Worship Summit that was held on April 20-21, 2018 in Harrisonburg, Virginia. The event sought to gather as many people together as possible for spiritual renewal and refreshment.

The Bible is clear that the people of God should gather together regularly for worship, encouragement and exhortation (Hebrews 10:25). But there is also something to be said for special gatherings, big events that are out of the ordinary. The Bible is full of such gatherings, often occurring at pivotal and crucial times in the history of the people of God.

Moses led the people for over 40 years, and when he knew that his time was drawing to a close, he gathered the people together in the land of Moab to renew the covenant (Deuteronomy 29). King Solomon called a big meeting for the dedication of the temple (1 Kings 8). King Josiah organized a special event at the temple in Jerusalem after it was learned that the Book of the Law had again been found. All the people (from the least to the greatest) gathered at the temple to hear again the words of the ancient Book. And when they saw that King Josiah himself renewed his commitment to the Covenant, they took courage, and “all the people took a stand for the Covenant” (2 Kings 23:3).

Big events and big meetings are often where monumental changes occur (both corporately and individually). Indecision and neglect are confronted with urgency and commitment. Aimlessness and confusion are replaced with vision and direction. Big meetings can stand as milestones in our Christian pilgrimage, because there is power in the gathered corporate body as together we seek a clear path forward. Such was the case with the Prayer and Worship Summit in Virginia. Decisions were made, not about polity or policy, but about commitment and devotion to the gospel and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Please read the following reviews of the Summit and continue to be in prayer for our churches and denomination.

— Eric Brubaker


Prayer and Worship Summit

By Craig Alan Myers

Prelude to the Summit

Brethren from around the United States and Nigeria gathered on August 19, 2017 at the Moorefield Church of the Brethren to pray, share, and possibly plan for the future after a disappointing Annual Conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Like-minded brothers and sisters from 16 Districts and Nigeria were seeking to find ways to help preserve the Church of the Brethren. This was after major missteps by national Brethren staff and an Annual Conference agency threatened to severely strain or even disrupt the denomination.

The Moorefield Gathering, as it came to be known, appointed a team of five members to take the concerns of the meeting to the next Mission and Ministry Board meeting. The team consisted of Grover Duling (West Marva District), Scott Kinnick(Southeastern District), Musa Mambula (Southern Pennsylvania District), James Myer (Atlantic Northeast District), and Craig Alan Myers (Northern Indiana District). The team found a respectful hearing, and some warm support in its presentation that sought to report the results of Moorefield, and the overall concern for the health of the Church of the Brethren. There was cordial and open sharing of the Moorefield concerns. This was reported in a previous BRF Witness (“Groundswells Among the Brethren,” BRF Witness, Volume 52, Number 6, November/December 2017).

Planning and Organizing

Then, out of the experience in Elgin, the appointed team began to dream about a follow-up gathering for 2018. There was a concern to “keep the momentum going,” and maintain interest in revival within the Church of the Brethren—beyond the usual circles of the BRF. The stated goal was to “seek God’s direction for the future of the Church of the Brethren.”

After much discussion, worn shoe-leather, and many phone calls, the Brethren Prayer and Worship Summit was born. Unlike the Moorefield Gathering, this Summit was to be open to anyone to attend.

There was to be no charge, though offerings and other contributions would be received to defray the costs.

This Summit was not a BRF-organized event, though the BRF Committee endorsed the concept of a larger general gathering, and agreed to support the Summit with advance financial support and publicity through BRF channels. Two BRF Committee members were on the program committee.

Almost immediately, possible dates and venues were explored. It was decided that a larger meeting should be easily accessible and scheduled in early to mid-Spring. There was a possibility that this gathering could number over 500 attendees, so a large venue was located in Harrisonburg, Virginia, that was just off of Interstate 81 and had a number of nearby hotels available.

In conjunction with the program team (the original Moorefield appointed team with the addition of Roy McVey of the Virlina District), sub-teams for publicity, local planning, logistics, registration, and finance were brought together to arrange the event.

Dozens of people were involved in the planning and preparation. All gave their time joyfully and sacrificially.

The program team determined that this Harrisonburg gathering would not be a “gripe session” to complain about the Church, but instead focus our attention on prayer and worship, to seek God’s face for our Brotherhood. Rather than confront the immediate issues of the church, the devotions, prayer times, discussions, and addresses deliberately would address the spiritual situation. They would focus on sub-themes of repentance and confession, grace and forgiveness, and healing and hope.

The main speakers chosen were Julian Rittenhouse (Shenandoah District), Stafford Frederick (Virlina District), and Joel Billi, President of EYN (Church of the Brethren), Nigeria.

And so the invitation went out to the Church of the Brethren to “Come one, come all!” Meeting notices were sent to Messenger, the General Offices, Districts, and congregations. A website (brethrenprayersummit.com) was set up for information and registrations. The addresses and phone numbers of the program team  members were available for anyone to contact for suggestions, questions, and concerns. A BRF Witness main article (“If My People: The Promise and the Practice,” BRF Witness, Volume 53, Number 2) explored the theme verse of 2 Chronicles 7:14 in preparation for the event.

Round tables were set up to reflect the recent trend of Annual Conference, and to promote helpful discussion. Food, snacks, and beverages were purchased for break times and lunch.

Initial Reaction

Some, including some District and denominational leaders, expressed concern that such an event would stir further negative attitudes and comments about the Church. The fear was that the messages and discussion would necessarily discuss current issues and promote further division in the Church. Some declined participation due to this concern. Scheduling conflicts kept others from attending.

Yet, from the beginning, the program team was unwavering that the meeting would be surrounded by prayer, open the Word of God, and engage in heartfelt and helpful discussion. The speakers and discussion leaders were agreed on this. To admit our own failures and involvement in denominational brokenness was a key part of the meeting.

Representatives of the Mission and Ministry Board, Brethren Benefit Trust, On Earth Peace, and several Districts attended. They were welcomed, encouraged, and spoke well of the event in hindsight.

The Main Sessions

What a blessing to arrive on Friday evening and see the building filled with around 400 persons ready to pray and worship together. The sessions were built

around themes:

Repentance and Confession

An opening devotion by Jim Myer centered around the theme verse for the gathering, 2 Chronicles 7:14. He drew attention to small squares of burlap sackcloth on the tables and invited all to take one and feel it, and imagine wearing it in confession and mourning of our sin as they did in Biblical days. He asked that the participants take it home and recall this event and the constant need for humbling ourselves before God. “I believe we have been too prayer-less. I have to wonder if instead of having 200-plus Annual Conferences in our record books we had 200-plus prayer summits, how would things be different? This is long overdue…. I really believe God has some things for us to work on.”

Julian Rittenhouse (Shenandoah District) brought a message on “Repentance and Confession.” He related how in trying to refuse the invitation to speak, the more reason he had to accept. He preached to himself first, confronting his own sin, unfaithfulness, and hypocrisy. He spoke of Jonah, a wicked preacher sent to a wicked city. God had to deal with the preacher, as He has to deal with us before He can send us out with His Gospel.

Rittenhouse continued to call the church to begin again with our cleansing from sin before a holy God. “We need to fall in love with Jesus. We need to have an encounter with Jesus, and stay rooted in Him.”

“I believe the best days of the Church of the Brethren could still be ahead, for a people who will humble themselves and seek His face. That we could go back to having a mission program, and understand that there are souls that are going to hell and dying without Christ, and we must be busy about the Kingdom of God and making disciples of all nations.”

“We need to be a people who have experienced the life-changing grace of God. We need to drop our stones and drop on our knees to call for mercy. The message is for all of us that we repent and that we live.”

Kendal Elmore (West Marva District Executive) shared the Friday evening closing devotions. He spoke of how easy it is to point the finger at others, but yet we know we each have our place in confession and repentance. He spoke of Wilbert

Stone, who years ago, in response to the complaints of younger Brethren about the denomination, said, “Yes, she’s got problems, but she’s a good old church!”

God’s Grace and Forgiveness

On Saturday morning, Craig Alan Myers began the day with devotions on Psalm 130 that the Lord offers forgiveness to all who come to Him in trust, and hope for the future. He noted that the Lord is not finished with the Church of the Brethren and that in Christ there can be a bright future.

Then Stafford Frederick (recently retired pastor in the Virlina District) brought a message on God’s Grace and Forgiveness. He began by saying that, “The only reason we are here this morning is because of grace and forgiveness.” He then expounded on the experience of Jacob’s sons as they faced Joseph on the death of Jacob. Joseph extended grace and forgiveness, telling them, “That is in the past, and even though you planned evil against me, God intended it for good.” They remembered what they did to Joseph and were afraid, yet Joseph gave them assurance of his forgiveness and that they needed not to fear.

The Church must move in the direction of living out the Word of God, “Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.”

Frederick shared his own experience of coming to Christ at age 17 in Trinidad because of real Christian living by other young men whom he observed. He wanted what the other young men had, that a preacher at a campmeeting preached about.

“If you’re living with guilt, Jesus has made the way for us. Just ask for forgiveness, and move on. God wants you to understand that His grace is

sufficient….Jesus has a way of solving all the issues we get hung up on as a church. What Jesus wants us to get all hung up on is this: Go into all the world and preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Musa Mambula, international scholar in residence at Bethany Seminary, shared the pre-lunch devotions. The church, he said, must develop moral excellence, based on 2 Peter 1:5-8. “The Lord Jesus calls us to be holy.” “Church, where do you stand? What is your lifestyle?”

Healing and Hope

After a generous lunch, Southeastern District Executive Scott Kinnick led in devotions on 2 Chronicles 16:9. He related that when we realize who we are as a Church, we are empowered by Jesus Christ, although, we do not always exercise that spiritual power in its fullest sense. Almighty God is looking for the one whose heart is fully turned towards Him. Kinnick gave some practical suggestions on how we might turn to God each day. He confessed his initial doubt that there would be many attending a “prayer and worship summit,” but was excited when he saw so many show up.

The final message of the weekend, on “Healing and Hope,” was preached by Joel Billi, president of the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria (EYN). Pastor Billi, whose own congregation was hard hit by the Boko Haram terrorists, has, since being elected president of the church in 2016, visited all the Nigerian congregations damaged or disrupted by the militants. In the wake of the attacks on the church, EYN has continued to ordain ministers, rebuild former churches, and plant congregations. It has not allowed the horrific devastation to deter it from its God-given mission of preaching the Gospel.

Billi related how EYN is praying for the Church of the Brethren and appreciates its close connection with the American church. He said that preaching at the prayer summit was “the highest honor I have ever received, and the peak of my calling.” He began with Luke 3:4-6 and John the Baptist’s message on the preparation for the coming of the Lord. He spoke on the need to depend on God’s immutability—that His Word and His promises of the past stand for today, and forever.

Holding up his Bible, Billi said, “This Holy Book is uneditable… who is the man who would question this Book?”

“God has given us an awesome power. When we were overrun in 2014, God did a miracle, as He did for the Israelites at the Red Sea.”

“Whenever we find ourselves at crossroads, in predicaments, in difficulties, in crisis, so long as we call upon the name of the living God, God will surely answer our prayers,” Billi said.

When we look to God’s promises, He gives us hope for the healing of our souls, our bodies, and our churches. Healing and hope are what Christians expect from our good God. “God is on top of our problems,” Billi preached.

“As long as we hand over this problem to Jesus Christ, and pray with fervency, God will answer your prayer. EYN has organized special prayer and fasting for the Church of the Brethren. Because COB problems are EYN problems. If you become well, we will be well.”

Following the messages, Nathan Rittenhouse, Roy McVey, and Kendal Elmore led prayer and discussion with selected Scriptures and prayer points.

James Myer led in the closing devotions, and he challenged the Brethren present to pray for two minutes per day for the next 400 days or so, for the ministries and future of the Church of the Brethren.

This would take us through the next two Annual Conferences at Cincinnati and Greensboro, and creation of the “Compelling Vision” for the Church. He called on those present to take this prayer call back to their congregations and expand the circle of prayer.

Positive Responses

The solid exposition of the Bible, the spirited and heartfelt singing, the energetic special music, and the deep fellowship around the tables, made for a productive weekend of prayer and worship. The offerings for the weekend covered all the expenses.

Many left the gathering with a renewed sense of hope, and were encouraged to continue serving the Lord, upholding the Word of God, and preaching the Gospel. Some expressed the hope that perhaps Annual Conference could be like the Prayer and Worship Summit.

In reviewing the written evaluations, the responses of those participating was uniformly affirming. The only downside reported was the need for more prayer!

Here are some comments made by those attending:

“It was uplifting: to attend a Church of the Brethren event where all sermons and messages were solid; to meet with brothers and sisters focused on worship and prayer; to see a challenge to hold the COB in prayer two minutes per day…” (an Ohio pastor).

“It was marvelous! There was no better place I would rather have been” (a Virginia pastor).

“It was truly a “summit” (mountain top). Thanks to all for the excellent planning and provision!” (a Pennsylvania pastor).

“Thanks for all the work and those who did the work that made it happen.” (a District Executive).

“Awesome speakers, and the Holy Spirit was felt as we worshipped” (an Ohio layman).

“I was renewed and refreshed!” (a Pennsylvania laywoman).

The Church of the Brethren Newsline reported, “The event had the feel of an old-style revival.”

Jon Prater and Marty Doss produced a Prayer and Worship Summit edition of their podcast, “2 Preachers Talking,” with interviews of Summit leaders on location at the event.

Grover Duling is to be commended for the vision for the Brethren Prayer and Worship Summit, and the teams he assembled and led are to be thanked for their efforts in making the Summit a true time spent in communion with God.

For those unable to attend the Prayer and Worship Summit, or for those wanting to hear the messages again, complete audio and video recordings are available at no charge at the summit website, brethrenprayersummit.com or directly on YouTube.

What Now?

There has been some discussion of perhaps having a similar event in 2019. While no firm plans have been made, there is a sense that such a meeting may happen to prepare the Church of the Brethren for the final adoption of the “Compelling Vision” at the Greensboro Annual Conference.

Stay tuned, and continue praying!


Brethren Prayer and Worship Summit

We recently had the opportunity to attend the first Brethren Prayer and Worship Summit at the Rockingham County Fair Grounds in Harrisonburg, VA.

It was a great experience of gathering together with brothers and sisters. This was a unifying meeting that was designed to draw us together in prayer for ourselves and our denomination.

The meeting was divided into topics that centered on repentance, forgiveness, and healing. We sat at round tables, very similar to Annual Conference. Discussion was experienced with each other and we had prayer at the tables too.

The first discussion was on repentance. We all acknowledged that we are in need of repentance in our lives. We discussed what it is like to have a repentant spirit before God and what we could expect from our prayer of repentance.

After that we discussed forgiveness. What is it like to experience forgiveness from God? What do we need to forgive others for? Forgiveness is vital to our relationship with God and with others. There is a great need for more forgiveness among others and in the church.

Healing was another topic. Many of us have experienced healing in one form or another. Healing is a wonderful gift from God that restores us to health and strength in our lives. How can we help to bring healing to each other in our relationships? How can we invite God to heal us in the church?

As we prepared to go, we wondered how the effects of this summit would last into the future. One of the speakers gave us a challenge to pray for the Church of the Brethren for 2 minutes a day for the next 400 days. It was felt with this much prayer over the next year we would see God make a big difference in our church and in our relationships with each other. I would like to issue this same challenge to you right now to pray for the Church of the Brethren for 2 minutes a day for 400 days. Let’s be a part of this great move of God in the church. Let’s ask God to lead our denomination in His will to reach the world with the gospel message of His love for all. I look forward to praying each day and hope you will too.

–Randy Cosner

Pastor of the Briery Branch CoB

(Shenandoah District)