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New resources created in effort to save Brethren Medical Plan.
Brethren Benefit Trust (BBT) is making new resources available as part of its effort to save the Brethren Medical Plan. The plan is for Church of the Brethren pastors and church employees, district employees, and employees of Annual Conference agencies, and affiliated agencies and institutions, and their families. A video addressing questions about the plan, a power point presentation on the history of the plan, information about Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), and information about all of the Brethren Insurance Plans, are being made available free of charge. BBT also has worked with the districts, agencies, and Ministers' Association to create an advisory panel for the plan, is training advocates to promote the plan in districts, and will begin providing HSAs in 2006.
The Brethren Medical Plan is in a "death spiral," a downward cyclical phenomenon caused by decreased membership and the erosion of a good spread of risk, increased health care costs, and increased premiums (see the Newsline of Dec. 3, 2004). With the agencies and in districts that have more than 75 percent participation among eligible pastors and staff, the premiums-to-claims ratio is such that the plan should be able to survive, BBT reported. In districts where there is less than 75 percent participation, the premiums-to-claims ratio is such that, left unchecked, the plan could go bankrupt in several years.
Revitalization of the Brethren Medical Plan will come through increased membership and a better spread of health risk. BBT has reinstated a requirement of 75 percent participation among eligible congregations in each district, for districts to continue in the plan. If a district does not have commitments from its congregations by Aug. 31, 2006, to meet that goal, all church employees in the district will be ineligible for the plan on Jan. 1, 2007. BBT states that the 75 percent requirement was part of the Brethren Medical Plan when it began in the 1950s, but "fell by the wayside" in the early 1980s. "The plan must regain an appropriate spread of risk in order to continue," BBT said.
The video helps answer many questions about the Brethren Medical Plan, according to BBT's "Insurance Update" newsletter. It explains the benefits of guaranteed group insurance coverage and the ramifications for pastors and church employees if a district does not meet the 75 percent goal. The video premiered Feb. 2 during a meeting of BBT staff and the Council of District Executives.
BBT has begun training advocates to work in each district to promote the plan with congregations and church leaders. The advocates will use the new video to help rebuild participation in the plan. A first group of seven advocates was trained on March 7-8. As of March 17, 12 of the denomination's 23 districts had named advocates. More advocate trainings will be held in late spring.
In addition, a Brethren Medical Plan Advisory Panel has been formed to create a high-deductible medical plan design using HSAs. The panel includes one person each from the Pastoral Compensation and Benefits Advisory Committee (an Annual Conference committee), the Council of District Executives, the Ministers' Association, the Annual Conference agencies, and BBT staff. The panel will hold its first meeting March 31. HSAs, which must be used in conjunction with a high-deductible health plan, are "a way to set aside money for medical, dental, and vision care expenses not paid by an insurance plan or a flexible spending account," BBT said in the newsletter. The Brethren Medical Plan will begin implementing HSAs on Jan. 1, 2006.
An April 18 follow-up meeting between BBT and the Council of District Executives will be held in Richmond, Ind. It was requested by the district executives, BBT said, and will include members of BBT's board and staff, executives of the Annual Conference agencies, representatives of Annual Conference, and members of the Pastoral Compensation and Benefits Advisory Committee. This summer the Brethren Medical Plan will be a major topic of discussion at Annual Conference in Peoria, Ill.
To order the video in DVD or VHS format, or to receive any other resource mentioned above, call 800-746-1505 ext. 374 or e-mail email@example.com.
Brethren congregations address issue of global hunger.
Growing projects are taking off in several Brethren congregations, reports Howard Royer, manager of the General Board's Global Food Crisis Fund. For most of the congregations, 2005 marks the first year of engagement in a growing project, made possible by the Foods Resource Bank. Through the Global Food Crisis Fund, in 2004 the Church of the Brethren became the 16th member of the Foods Resource Bank.
A growing project is initiated by a congregation starting with donated or rented acreage, using donated seed and materials. The congregation plants and tills the crop--usually corn, soybeans, or wheat. The harvest is sold and the income designated to the Foods Resource Bank for development of food production overseas. Rural and urban churches may team up as partners. A dollar invested in the spring generally "grows" into $2.50 by fall, Royer said. Through a one-to-one matching grant from the Foods Resource Bank, funded by a $1 million grant from the US Agency for International Development, the initial investment expands to $5.
At South Waterloo (Iowa) Church of the Brethren, Joan Fumetti of the Foods Resource Bank made a presentation in Sunday school March 6 and asked members of Ivester Church of the Brethren in Grundy Center, Iowa, and the Conrad community to help out. South Waterloo has 12 acres lined up for a growing project. The Ivester church will join the Conrad growing project again this year, where a crop of 147 acres is to be planted at four sites, one of which is owned by Ivester's Keith and Dorothy Sheller. Ivester's Lois Kruse is chairing the Conrad planning committee. A field blessing is set for April 17.
At Decatur, Ind., the Pleasant Dale congregation heard from several of its farmers who plan to cultivate a 20-25 acre growing project this season. Pastor Jay Carter indicated the group already has been pledged enough seed corn and chemicals to care for the acreage.
Several other congregations also will be involved in growing projects in 2005. In Illinois, Mount Morris Church of the Brethren and Highland Avenue Church of the Brethren will "twin" on a growing project of eight acres. The Polo congregation has invited Tinley Park United Presbyterian Church to be its partner in cultivating 10-20 acres as part of Polo's centennial observance. In Lanark, Cherry Grove Church of the Brethren member Penny Lauritzen is inviting each landowner of farms she manages to donate one or more acres for a growing project. An Episcopal church in Dixon has been invited to twin with the 15-20 acre project, which has the endorsement of Agriwomen of Illinois.
The McPherson and Monitor congregations in Kansas may join together in a growing project in 2005 or 2006. Brad White of the Rockingham Church of the Brethren in Hardin, Mo., is launching a 25-acre project, and nearby Bethany church may be invited in as a partner. The Eel River church in Indiana is exploring a growing project for 2006.
In a signal act of generosity, the "Brethren account" at the Foods Resource Bank from which the Church of the Brethren may designate specific foods security support, was bolstered by $10,483 given by Norm and Carol Braksick of Portage, Mich. The gift represents the 2004 income from the Braksick family farm, a growing project in Napoleon, Mo. Norm Braksick retired early this year after four years as volunteer executive of Foods Resource Bank.
At Annual Conference in Peoria, Ill., the Foods Resource Bank will have an exhibit and an insight session July 5 will focus on growing projects with Lois Kruse, Joan Fumetti, and Jay Carter as presenters.
Only two Brethren congregations have indicated they will apply for growing projects start-up grants from the Global Food Crisis Fund: Mount Morris and Pleasant Dale. Ten such grants are available. For more information call Howard Royer at 800-323-8039 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Council to develop plan for marketing Annual Conference.
The Annual Conference Council, meeting March 9 in Elgin, Ill., approved the naming of a ministry team to develop a plan for marketing future Annual Conferences, reported secretary Fred Swartz. The council also plans to present a final draft of a strategic plan for Annual Conference, including goals for the next five years, to the 2005 Standing Committee.
The need for a marketing plan arises out of the council's desire to promote a wider knowledge of Annual Conference among the denomination's membership and to insure a growing base of support. A "marketing ministry team" will be appointed by the council following approval of a job description for the team. It is expected that the team will include seasoned and new Annual Conference participants, as well as people who can relate to congregational issues.
In other business the council took action aimed at clarifying the role of a denominational "spokesperson" and unified representation for the denomination. The council agreed to draft a document asking the 2005-07 Review and Evaluation Committee, which will be appointed at this year's Annual Conference, to revisit the issue in light of the multiple-agency structure that has followed the redesign of the General Board. Previously, the general secretary of the General Board was the designated spokesperson for all matters concerning denominational participation or response, Swartz said. "The Review and Evaluation Committee report of 2001 seems to confirm this position at one point, but then also refers to other agency heads as authorized to speak `even in ecumenical circles' on matters relating to programs managed by that agency," he reported. "Further, in its recommendation on `Who Speaks for the Church' the committee refers to denominational polity that names the Annual Conference moderator as 'the official representative of the church.'" The council will ask the 2005-07 Review and Evaluation Committee to be more specific in its consideration of the issue.
The council continued to pursue answers to questions concerning ministry presented in the 2003 "Query of Clarification of Confusion." The General Board's Ministry Office provided the council with a reference guide to existing statements on ministry. The council voted to seek a more comprehensive understanding of ministry to satisfy the deep issues raised by the query. The council hopes to secure a wider discussion of the issue with district executives, the director of the Ministry Office, and others.
ABC board focuses on wellness, plans 'Lighten Up, Brethren!'
The Association of Brethren Caregivers (ABC) board learned of a newly revamped Wellness Ministry during meetings March 18-19 in Elgin, Ill. ABC provides publications, education, and faith opportunities that encourage the church to do caring ministries as the work of Jesus Christ.
The Wellness Ministry's seven-person committee met a day prior to the board to develop a new mission statement and activities for the coming year. The ministry hopes to challenge Brethren to adopt healthy living behaviors by focusing on "metabolic syndrome"--obesity, hypertension, glucose intolerance, and high cholesterol. These medical conditions, while affected by genetics, can be reduced by lifestyle changes. To raise awareness about the consequences of the syndrome, ABC will provide information under a campaign titled "Lighten Up, Brethren!"
Other goals for the ministry include engaging the church in the current public debate about health care delivery, access, finance reform, and stewardship of healthcare resources. The ministry also will promote simple living, "which is healthy and spiritually centered living," said Kathy Reid, ABC 's executive director and staff liaison for the ministry. The ministry's mission "is an enduring sign of our belief that every person is a treasure, every life a sacred gift, every human being a unity of body, mind, and spirit," she added.
Vernne Greiner, ABC board and Wellness Ministry member, committed to losing ten pounds before the board's next meeting in September, and challenged the board to embrace the campaign by doing the same. Seven other board members accepted the challenge.
In other business, the ABC board approved a new structure for peace church work in health and senior care, as an outgrowth of collaboration between ABC, Friends Services for the Aging, and Mennonite Health Services Alliance. The new structure will allow joint projects to be housed under Peace Church Management, a nonprofit corporation already created by the three groups.
The board heard reports on the Annual Forum, a conference for executives and staff of Brethren retirement centers April 21-23 in North Manchester, Ind.; and Caring Ministries Assembly, a conference for deacons, pastors, chaplains, and caregivers Aug. 11-13 in Bridgewater, Va. The board also participated in a development program on Pietism in the Church of the Brethren.
Manchester College in North Manchester, Ind., has appointed Glenn R. Sharfman as vice president and dean for academic affairs effective July 1. He succeeds Jo Young Switzer who became president of the college on Dec. 1, 2004. Sharfman has served as chair of the History Department and as associate dean and director of graduate studies at Hiram College.
Shanita Hamlin began as customer resource specialist for Brethren Press in Elgin, Ill., on March 21. She has ten years of customer service background including three years with a religious organization. She is a part-time business administration student at the College of Dupage.
The General Board's Brethren Witness/Washington Office is highlighting Earth Sunday April 24 as "an excellent opportunity for congregations to reflect on their relationship with God's creation." Worship resources and a bulletin insert on the National Council of Churches' emphasis for the day, "S.acred O.ceans & S.eas," including action suggestions for protecting the oceans, are available from the office. Call 800-785-3246 or e-mail email@example.com.
Good Shepherd Church of the Brethren in Blacksburg, Va., is holding a Mortgage Burning Celebration at 3 p.m. Sunday, April 10. The church also seeks letters with memories and stories of the church's ministry for a scrapbook. Call 540-951-2588 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Northern Plains District has joined other Christians asking for prayer for Red Lake, Minn., following a school shooting March 21. "Let us pray for the Red Lake community. May Christ be present as we continue in this Holy Week," wrote district executive Connie Burkholder in an e-mail to the district. She also communicated the response of the Minnesota Council of Churches, of which the district is a member. The council expressed condolences to the Red Lake Band of Chippewa and urged people to pray, offer support, and cherish children. Council staff also attended a Pipe Ceremony at the state capitol, contacted the All Nations Church to offer assistance, and contacted the Jewish Community Relations Council to express concern about the Nazi website component of the tragedy.
"Building Health Congregations: Equipping Conflict Transformation Teams," a Ministry of Reconciliation workshop for pastors and church leaders, will be held April 5-8 at the New Windsor (Md.) Conference Center. The workshop led by Barbara Date will prepare participants to understand and work with personal style differences, assist those in conflict, and plan strategies for intervention. It is co-sponsored by the Ministry of Reconciliation program of On Earth Peace and the districts of Atlantic Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Middle Pennsylvania, Southern Pennsylvania, Western Pennsylvania, Shenandoah, Virlina, and West Marva.
Dan Southerland, founder of Church Transitions, Inc., will lead a workshop on "Leading Your Church Through Change... and Living to Tell About It" sponsored by the Church Life and Growth Team of Western Pennsylvania District on April 1-2 in Johnstown, Pa. Cost is $90. Participants may receive continuing education units. Call 814-479-7058 or e-mail email@example.com.
A January-term class at the University of La Verne, Calif., took on a service learning project for Habitat for Humanity. In three weeks, the class organized a dinner, auction, dance, and raffle to benefit a blitz-build of six houses in six days. Proceeds totaled more than $6,000. "The real winners of the event were the students who had a sense of camaraderie and the ability to make a difference for those in need," reported Julia Wheeler, university relations staff.
A 10th annual Wenger Foundation Praise Dinner on April 21 at the Lebanon (Pa.) Expo Center will benefit COBYS Family Services among other nonprofit groups. COBYS is affiliated with Atlantic Northeast District and serves children and families in several Pennsylvania counties. The Wenger Foundation, Inc., was established in 1996 as a response to a tragic death of a family member, and has since awarded more than $750,000 to a variety of nonprofits. Many in the Wenger family are members of Myerstown (Pa.) Church of the Brethren, reported Donald R. Fitzkee, development and interpretation coordinator for COBYS. The Booth Brothers Trio and the Old Time Gospel Hour Quartet, both winners of the Southern Gospel Music Association's New Artist of the Year Award, will provide the entertainment at the dinner. Cost is $100 per person or $1,000 for a table of ten.
Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) announces delegations to the US/Mexico borderlands May 26-June 7, June 25-July 2, and July 30-Aug. 6. "US border control policies deliberately channel migrants into the most dangerous and inhospitable areas of the desert, resulting in more than 200 migrant deaths in the Arizona borderlands over each of the past two years," CPT reported. "A dramatic increase in the number of Border Patrol agents has militarized the area and residents of US border towns have reported violations of their civil rights." The first delegation will include a six-day, 75-mile walk from Sasabe, Sonora, Mexico, to Tucson, Ariz. Cost of $350 includes on-ground transportation, food, simple accommodations, and fees. See www.cpt.org (click on "Delegations"), call 773-277-0253, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. CPT is an initiative of the historic peace churches (Mennonites, Church of the Brethren, and Quakers) with support and membership from a range of Catholic and Protestant denominations.
Members have been named for the Youth Peace Travel Team 2005. The team will include Nicole Fowler of First Church of the Brethren in Roanoke, Va.; Rachel McFadden, Manchester Church of the Brethren, North Manchester, Ind.; Ben Bear, Nokesville (Va.) Church of the Brethren; and Ben Ritchey Martin, Grossnickle Church of the Brethren, Myersville, Md.
This young adult team will begin its work with Ministry Summer Service Orientation June 5-9 at Bethany Theological Seminary in Richmond, Ind., and then spend the summer traveling to Church of the Brethren camps in the East and Midwest to lead peace education for youth. The team is sponsored by the Outdoor Ministries Association, On Earth Peace, and the General Board's Brethren Witness/Washington Office, Brethren Volunteer Service, and Youth and Young Adult Ministry.
On Earth Peace sponsors counter-recruitment conference call.
In response to increased numbers of requests for information about how to counter military recruitment in high schools, On Earth Peace has scheduled a conference call for April 5, from 6-7:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, to discuss the issue. On Earth Peace is a peace education organization in the Church of the Brethren. Part of its mission is to "empower people to discern the things that make for peace."
The purpose of the conference call is to bring people together who are concerned and working on the issue of counter-recruitment so that they can share experiences and ideas, reported Kim Stuckey Hissong, On Earth Peace program coordinator of Peacemaker Formation. Oskar Castro, program associate for the National Youth and Militarism Program of the American Friends Service Committee, will serve as a specially invited resource person to answer questions, provide guidance, and give up-to-date information. Phil Jones, of the General Board's Brethren Witness/Washington Office, also will participate. The conference call will be moderated by On Earth Peace staff.
"There is a growing movement in the country by persons concerned about the prevalence of military recruiting and the increase in JROTC programs in local high schools," said Hissong. "Counter-recruitment offers students different opportunities for post-graduation plans and helps students to see that information provided by military recruiters may not always be reliable and factual."
For the agenda and information about how to join the conference call, contact Matt Guynn at 765-962-6234 or e-mail email@example.com.
In other news from On Earth Peace, Brethren can now stay up to date on peace news with a new monthly column, "Living Peace Church News and Notes." The column sent by e-mail in PDF format will have information about topics of concern for Brethren peacemakers, announcements of upcoming events, and practical guides for reconciliation and peace work, and is intended for congregations and districts to include in newsletters and publications. To receive it, send your e-mail address to firstname.lastname@example.org. Specify if the column should be sent to an address other than your own.
On Earth Peace's Peace Witness Action List, another e-mail service, provides positive news about creative nonviolence in the US and around the world. The list's 380 members receive 3-10 e-mails per week. To join, send your e-mail address to email@example.com.
Peters Creek youth participate in Souper Bowl of Caring.
By Jack Lowe
Peters Creek Church of the Brethren in Roanoke, Va., has participated in the Souper Bowl of Caring for the past ten years. I learned of it several years before in a mailing from the organization. It seemed like such a simple idea that I was surprised to learn how few churches were actually involved.
I asked the youth of Peters Creek to assist in receiving a special offering for the Souper Bowl of Caring. That's how it works. On Super Bowl Sunday youth stand at the doors of the church following worship with soup pots or bowls. Worshipers are asked to put in $1 as they leave worship. The funds are given to an agency that works on world hunger--a soup kitchen, a food pantry, a denominational hunger fund, or a like agency.
We chose RAM House, a ministry of Roanoke Area Ministries, where people can receive a free breakfast and lunch, food assistance, financial assistance for utilities and prescriptions, and employment assistance. This year our offering included an added component. Our challenge was to raise $250 and receive 250 cans of soup. Results were an offering of $146 and 150 cans of soup, plus other food and paper items. We canceled worship on the last two Sundays of January because of snow and ice, so a special "Joyful Noise Offering" and an offering for tsunami relief also fell to Super Bowl Sunday. Our total for the three special offerings was over $1,700.
The Souper Bowl of Caring began when seminarian Brad Smith prayed in worship at Spring Valley Presbyterian Church in Columbia, S.C., on Super Bowl Sunday 1989. "Lord, even as we enjoy the Super Bowl football game, help us be mindful of those who are without a bowl of soup to eat," he said. The youth were inspired by the prayer and planned the first Souper Bowl of Caring in the Columbia area in 1990. From 22 churches, it has grown to 10,673 churches and schools raising $3,803,833 so far in 2005. In the Roanoke Valley, Peters Creek is one of over 50 churches that participate. Each year, we seek to recruit at least one new church. My hope is that every Church of the Brethren congregation will join in. For more information see www.souperbowl.org or write to Souper Bowl, Inc., P.O. Box 29224, Columbia, SC 29224.
--Jack Lowe pastors Peters Creek Church of the Brethren in Roanoke, Va.
To drill or not to drill--it's not just about the environment.
By David Radcliff
The debate over whether or not to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge often centers on environmental concerns. The narrow coastal plain of the 19-million acre preserve--where the drilling is proposed--is summer home to 130 species of birds, as well as mammals as diverse as musk ox and polar bears.
And there's the Porcupine Caribou Herd. The herd, numbering some 130,000 animals, heads to the coastal plain each spring to give birth to as many as 40,000 calves. As a maternity ward for caribou, this is an ideal spot: flat so as to give warning of predators, with wind to keep mosquitoes at bay, and with plenty of tender plant shoots to nourish calves for their end-of-the-summer departure on a 400-mile migration south.
Arguments for and against drilling turn on how much oil is there (some say as little as six-months' worth of US demand), whether there are better ways to reduce our energy dependence (raising the fuel efficiency of the US vehicle fleet, which remains at 1980 levels), and what the impact will be on wildlife and the pristine nature of the area--the last five percent of the northern shore of Alaska that hasn't been opened to oil exploration.
Over the past several years, I have been learning about another dimension of the debate: the effect drilling may have on people 100 miles south of the coastal plain. The Gwich'in people of Arctic Village, Alaska, who host New Community Project delegations, have lived in this part of the world for thousands of years. They are Native American by birth, Episcopalian by baptism, and caribou by culture. In other words, their life revolves around the Porcupine Caribou Herd as it migrates past their village, and others like theirs.
Caribou is a central part of the Gwich'in diet, providing as much as 75 percent of their food. In earlier times, and to some extent today, clothing and tools were derived from the animals. An equally important feature of the Gwich'in relationship with the caribou can be said to be spiritual. "We have always been here," says Gwich'in leader Sarah James. "The Creator put us here to take care of this part of the world."
According to skilled hunter and community leader Charlie Swaney, his people won't go up on the coastal plain to hunt even if they're starving. "We call it `the sacred place where life began.'" There are rules for hunting: not taking the female caribou with calves, and not killing the herd's leaders. Many members of the community take part in the hunt itself, setting up camps on the mountainside nearby. Being in camp provides an opportunity for tribal elders to pass on hunting skills as well as stories of their people to the next generation.
In an action reminiscent of Paul's admonition to the Corinthians concerning the Lord's Supper, the food that the hunters get is shared with others in the community. One of our delegations was with a young hunter named Danny Gemmil when he managed to bag five caribou in one lucky afternoon--just what his growing family needed to make it through the winter. When the animals were taken back to the village, however, they didn't end up in his smokehouse alone. Before the end of the day, people from around the community had stopped by to congratulate him, and take home a portion for themselves.
To drill or not to drill--that may be the question. But it's about more than oil, and our nation's insatiable appetite for it, and the impact drilling is bound to have on the ecosystem. It's also about our neighbors the Gwich'in, the life they have lived for millennia, and what they may have to teach us about community and the sanctity of God's creation.
Want to do something to preserve the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge? Write Congress to oppose drilling in ANWR and support higher mileage standards for vehicles (House: Washington, DC 20515; Senate: Washington, DC 20510). Cut down on your oil consumption--driving a hybrid vehicle will save 3,500 gallons of gasoline in ten years, a bike will save lots more. Visit the Arctic to learn about the Gwich'in and their way of life.
--David Radcliff directs the New Community Project, a Church of the Brethren-related nonprofit organization. He has led delegations to the Arctic each summer since 2002. This year New Community Project will hold an Arctic Village Learning Tour Aug. 20-29. See www.newcommunityproject.org.
Newsline is produced by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of news services for the Church of the Brethren General Board, on every other Wednesday with other editions as needed. Newsline stories may be reprinted provided that Newsline is cited as the source. Chris Douglas, Mary Dulabaum, Nevin Dulabaum, Kim Stuckey Hissong, Jeri S. Kornegay, Howard Royer, Fred Swartz, and Julia Wheeler contributed to this report.