Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Newsline Special


On Sept. 15-16 Germantown Church of the Brethren in Philadelphia hosted the opening event of a year-long celebration of the 300th anniversary of the Brethren movement, which began in Germany in 1708. Events took place at the "mother church," the first congregation of Brethren in the Americas, and featured worship, workshops, tours, exhibits, and music. About 150 people registered Saturday, and close to 220 attended worship on Sunday, filling the Germantown sanctuary to capacity.

Throughout the weekend, the historic setting remained at the center--alongside recognition of the current ministry of the Germantown church. "For 285 years...the gospel of Jesus Christ has been preached" at Germantown, said pastor Richard Kyerematen as he led worship Sunday morning. The congregation was founded on Christmas Day 1723 by German immigrants to the Americas, and its meetinghouse built in 1770 was the first Brethren meetinghouse in the US. Today the predominantly African-American congregation includes several members from African countries, with pastor Kyerematen himself coming originally from Ghana.

Festivities kicked off with a lunch served by the Germantown Women's Fellowship under a tent on the church's front lawn. The tent also housed exhibits by the 300th Anniversary Committee, Brethren Press, the Brethren Church, the Germantown Trust, the Brethren Encyclopedia Inc., and the Atlantic Northeast District Historical Committee.

Following lunch, participants chose from a variety of workshops on subjects such as the Sauer Bible, outreach ministries at Germantown, the history of the congregation, a Bible study on the anniversary theme, and several others. A Germantown Cemetery Tour was led by Ken Cosgrove, a Grace Brethren member and treasurer of the Germantown Trust, featuring the gravestones of Alexander Mack Sr., the founder of the Brethren movement, and several other important Brethren figures. A Wissahickon Creek Tour took participants to the site of the first Brethren baptisms in the Americas in 1723.

Children's activities were designed to give hands-on experiences of the life and work of early Brethren leaders. The children did paper stamping after talking about the Sauer press, for example. As a service project, the group of about a dozen children planted bulbs to create a flower border around the Germantown parsonage. The planting project harked back to the farming profession of the founder of Coventry Church of the Brethren in Pottstown, Pa., which is the second oldest Brethren church in the US. The children's activities were led by Karen Christophel, a member at Coventry.

Late afternoon Saturday, an adventurous group participated in a humorous re-enactment of the crossing of the Atlantic about 1730, led by members of the 300th Anniversary Committee. The group sat in a "ship" in an arched tunnel leading to the Germantown Cemetery, to get a taste of some of the hardships experienced by the first Brethren to travel to the Americas.

A worship concert by musicians and ministers at Germantown closed out the first afternoon of the celebration, and offered a reminder of the fundamental reason for the church's existence. "Standing in this great church that we love, we desire that God minister to you, as he does to us," said Joseph Craddock as he gave a welcome. "This is a happening church!"

Craddock is one of the Germantown ministers involved in the church's ministry of visitation to nursing homes. Other outreach ministries include a food pantry, involvement in Philadelphia's "Point Man Ministries" for veterans with Germantown minister Lester Outterbridge serving as coordinator, a developing youth program, and a beginner's class taught by pastor Kyerematen "for people who desire to learn the Bible and live right," as Outterbridge told his workshop group. Part of the offering from the weekend will go to a new multipurpose center, housed in a building next door to the parsonage, which will provide space for community events and ministries such as a computer lab for seniors and tutoring for children.

That evening, Coventry Church of the Brethren hosted a hymn sing and pastor Sandy Christophel gave a presentation on the history of the congregation and its links to the Germantown church.

Worship continued on Sunday with a morning service led by the Germantown congregation, and an afternoon service sponsored by the Church of the Brethren denomination, with a catered lunch between.

Earl Ziegler preached for the morning service, with pastor Kyerematen as worship leader and Germantown musicians leading praise hymns and songs. Ziegler, former executive minister of Atlantic Northeast District and a former Annual Conference moderator, called for continuing balance between sharing the Gospel and the work of serving others as the church moves into the future. In the past, as Brethren witnessed for peace during times of war, witnessed against the slave trade, started international missions, birthed Heifer International, and were active in Brethren Service and disaster relief, "Brethren moved forward with vision and courage," he said. "Our witness has been a powerful witness in the national and international communities. All of this was launched in the Schwarzenau beginnings." Referring to Acts 1:8, the account of the first Christians receiving the Holy Spirit, Ziegler said, "We have the power. Do we have the vision worthy of that power?"

Afternoon worship began with a procession of pastors and district and denominational leaders, and greetings were given from the denomination, district, and congregation. Belita Mitchell, who moderated the 2007 Annual Conference and pastors First Church of the Brethren in Harrisburg, Pa., gave the message. Robert Kettering, pastor at Lititz (Pa.) Church of the Brethren and a former associate minister for Atlantic Northeast District, directed the hymns and served as worship leader. Music was brought by the Inspirational Choir from Harrisburg First.

Preaching on Acts 19:1-6, and continuing the theme from the morning of receiving power through the Holy Spirit, Mitchell said that sharing the good news of Jesus Christ through the grace of God is the witness of the Spirit. "That's what the early Brethren did, and that's what we're to do too.... The Holy Spirit gives you the power, power to anticipate the future," she said, as she called the church to look ahead with hope, to plan for diversity, and to welcome new people into the Brethren movement. "We who are here need to leave a little room for the brothers and sisters who are coming," she said. "If we're doing it right, they're coming. Don't you feel the Holy Spirit?"

A comment from Renee Ibo of the Germantown church summed up the celebratory atmosphere of the day's worship services: "It gives me such a blessing to be part of a church that has such a rich heritage."

Major support for the celebration came from the Germantown Trust and the five agencies of the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference: the General Board, the Association of Brethren Caregivers, Bethany Theological Seminary, Brethren Benefit Trust, and On Earth Peace.

The Germantown Event Committee that organized the weekend included pastor Kyerematen, Marilyn Ansah, George Ansah, Sandy Christophel, Karen Christophel, Joseph Craddock, Norma Keith, Jeff Bach, and Lorele Yager. The Church of the Brethren's 300th Anniversary Committee includes chair Jeff Bach, director of the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown (Pa.) College; Dean Garrett, an ordained minister at Poplar Grove Church of the Brethren in Union City, Ohio; Rhonda Pittman Gingrich of Open Circle Church of the Brethren in Burnsville, Minn.; Leslie Lake, associate pastor of East Chippewa Church of the Brethren in Orrville, Ohio; and Lorele Yager of Churubusco, Ind.

A photo journal of the Germantown event is online at www.brethren.org, click on "Photo Journal." For more about the 300th anniversary celebrations, go to www.churchofthebrethrenanniversary.org.

Source: 9/18/2007 Newsline Special Edition

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