Wednesday, May 07, 2008

300th Anniversary update: Churches celebrate Tercentennial with Love Feast.

"Do this in remembrance of me." Robert Sell used these words to remind a group of Brethren celebrating the Tercentennial of the denomination that their Love Feast "is one of the most important acts identified with the Church of the Brethren."

Sell, this year's moderator of Middle Pennsylvania District, was welcoming members of Area 3 congregations, which constitutes those within and around Bedford County. The event was held on Sunday, April 20, at 6 p.m., at the Barn at Friendship Village in Bedford.

After the manner of the Old Brethren, four Brethren were seated at the front to share their understanding of scripture. Instead of choosing four elders, the planners chose four of the younger leaders of the churches.

The service opened with Morgan Knepp's explanation of the preparation for Love Feast. Noting that things have changed over the years, she said, "Sometimes it's hard to find an evening free to spend with the family. Imagine how hard it would be to find time for the Annual Deacon Visit." Knepp, from the Everett congregation, described the practice of the 19th century, when teams of deacons would meet with every member prior to the Love Feast to see if they were still in accord with Brethren doctrine, and if there was harmony among all members. If there was not, they would attempt to achieve reconciliation. If there was no reconciliation, those individuals were excluded.

"Nowadays," Knepp said, "everyone is welcome. Differences are set aside. We are all sinners." Adding that whereas in previous times, Love Feast was a three-day event, now it takes place within a few hours, she said, "Times have changed, for better or for worse, but that is what we have now."

Brady Plummer from the Bedford congregation introduced footwashing by reading a portion of John 13. "The symbols of the church are not clearly recognized. This act is overlooked or disregarded. It's important. It has always been known in our church." The Brethren instituted footwashing, he said, because in their reading of the Bible, "they connected the dots.... We look to footwashing to point to the purpose of the life of Jesus, a call to be servant. It is as important today as it was 2,000 years ago."

Staci Manges of Snake Spring Valley Church of the Brethren introduced the Fellowship Meal. She reminded worshipers that the purpose of food is both to nurture and nourish. The early Christians "shared more than just food. They shared all things in common." The Fellowship Meal, she said, is not just a reenactment of the past, but points towards the table of the Lamb as it will be experienced in heaven, its "perfect fulfillment. Even strangers will be welcome at that great banquet."

Jerome Bollman, from the Cherry Lane congregation, closed the service by speaking about the bread and cup. "It is the high point," he said, pointing to "the sacrifice that atoned for our sins. Brethren believe that Christ is present in the church body. The bread and cup as practiced in the Church of the Brethren is not a sacrament, but an ordinance or commandment," and points to the fact that "God is with us in all of life."

Bollman chronicled one of the great changes in the way communion is practiced among the Brethren, the 1910 decision that allowed women to break bread among themselves as did the men, without a church elder to break the bread for them. This break through was the result of a nearly half-century struggle by Julia Gilbert. He also spoke about the shift in the 19th century from wine to grape juice.

The three-part Love Feast, which included footwashing, the Fellowship Meal, along with the bread and cup, was organized by Eleanor Fix, pastor of Cherry Lane Church of the Brethren; Marilyn Lerch, pastor of Bedford Church of the Brethren; Janet Sell, pastor of Snake Spring Valley Church of the Brethren; and Beverly Swindell, assistant pastor of Everett Church of the Brethren.

The Fellowship Meal consisted of beef and broth poured over bread in special 300th Anniversary mugs, which were kept by worshipers.

The Barn at Friendship Village was made available to the Area 3 churches by Ken and Darla Rhodes. Leah Pepple led the singing, which was a cappella after the manner of the Old Brethren. Women and men sat at different sides of the aisle. A pounding rain only seemed to enhance the service.

--Frank Ramirez is pastor of Everett (Pa.) Church of the Brethren. This article was originally written as a press release for local media in the Everett area.

Source: 5/07/2008 Newsline Extra

No comments: