Thursday, September 24, 2009

NOAC makes connections between wisdom and legacy.

The Church of the Brethren held its 10th National Older Adult Conference (NOAC) on Sept. 7-11 at Lake Junaluska (N.C.) Conference and Retreat Center. The event is for people 50 and older. Registered participants numbering 928 came from across the country to attend.

The theme of "Legacies of Wisdom: Weaving Old and New" (1 Corinthians 2:6-7) and images of weaving informed the conference. Keynote speakers and preachers addressed the connections between legacies of life, faith, and wisdom, and ways to create new possibilities of hope.

Rachael Freed, founder of Life-Legacies and author of "Women’s Lives, Women’s Legacies," gave a keynote address on her work to reclaim the ancient Jewish tradition of the ethical will or legacy letter. She proposed the tradition of writing a legacy letter as a useful tool for older adults to pass on legacies of wisdom and faith to future generations. The idea is quite simple: a letter that a person writes to children, grandchildren, or other descendants in order to impart life lessons, values, meaningful stories, and blessings. Freed described it as "one of the examples of weaving the old to meet the needs in a new world."

David Waas, Church of the Brethren member and emeritus professor of history at Manchester College, asked NOAC, "What will be said about how we witnessed to our time?" Explaining that he asked the question from the point of view of two identities--Brethren and American--he said, "You and I have helped fashion not only our church, but...our nation." He traced current crises in the US, such as the economy and health care, focusing on the "crisis that we never seem to be able to talk about ... a shift to massive, ever-present military strength." He called for an alternative legacy that followers of Christ may offer. "We should adopt and reinvigorate the Christian vision to call the state to its highest ideals," he said. "We must work as never before to advocate for peace. You and I are citizens of a great land and we carry the mantle of ... a rich Brethren heritage which our nation needs."

Michael McKeever, a Brethren member who teaches at Judson University in Elgin, Ill., took NOAC "on the road" tying together biblical themes of people on the move with themes from popular film to talk about how a life journey may lead to reconciliation. He has taught a course on "Luke and the American Road Movie," also the subject of an upcoming book. He discussed three parables from Luke 15 about God’s search for the lost. Christians are portrayed as on the road or "followers of the way" in the New Testament, he reminded his audience, just as Americans identify with the Hollywood portrayal of "a restless people who go out on the road to find ourselves." The search for what has been lost--whether sheep, coin, or family relationship--takes "active and concerted effort," he noted. The work to seek what has been lost may seem foolish to the world, but it is the foolishness of God, McKeever said. And for the wise seeker, "giving up is not an option."

Also addressing NOAC were preachers for the three worship services: Christopher Bowman, pastor of Oakton Church of the Brethren in Vienna, Va., who preached on the story of the rebuilding of the temple from Ezra 3, in which the sounds of the crying of the old and the rejoicing of the young become blended together. "When the voices of the young and the voices of the old were united in one sound, the temple was born," he told the group of older adults. "We need each other."

Cynthia L. Hale, founding and senior pastor of Ray of Hope Christian Church in Decatur, Ga., spoke on the theme of growing older gracefully. "I like to think we get better with time," she said. "When we have Christ in our life we have the courage to live fully until the day we die."

Dennis Webb, pastor of Naperville (Ill.) Church of the Brethren, gave the closing message on "Hometown Showdown Downtown Your Town: Nazareth" (Mark 6:1-6). Focusing on the healing that Jesus performed despite the doubt that met him in his hometown, Webb assured that Jesus is able to act in our lives despite physical, spiritual, or emotional burdens--even for those who may have borne hurts or endured disabilities for decades. "The Bible is right. Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength," he asserted.

A series of morning Bible studies were given by Bob Neff, former professor of Old Testament at Bethany Seminary, former general secretary of the Church of the Brethren, and former president of Juniata College. He led the group in considering the legacies of family, service, and devotion, inspired by passages in Matthew.

Evening concerts were given by Quaker singer and songwriter Carrie Newcomer, and Andy and Terry Murray, well-loved musicians in the church whose songs have focused on the legacy of Brethren values and the stories of Brethren heroes.

In other activities, some 175 people joined in a Hike for Haiti that raised $3,541 for theological training in the Church of the Brethren in Haiti. A total of $25,124 was received in offerings, including $720 raised by the "Share to Shear" effort of the NOAC News team. The comic NOAC News video reports from the team of David Sollenberger, Chris Stover-Brown, and Larry Glick were a highlight of the conference.

A new NOAC record was set by the service project to collect Church World Service kits for disaster relief. A total of 1,299 kits were received including 4 clean-up buckets, 535 personal hygiene kits, and 760 kits of school supplies. Other events during the week included early morning devotions, hikes, bird watching, a golf tournament, ice cream socials, craft lessons, and interest groups on a wide variety of topics, among others.

Standing on the stage for the opening worship was a large loom into which worship leaders wove strands of fabric or ribbon during the service. Then the loom was moved to the exhibit hall for the rest of the week, and each NOAC participant was invited to add a piece to the weaving. The completed weaving stood on the stage for closing worship, a symbol of the way disparate legacies may come together to create something beautiful and new.

The NOAC Planning Committee included Deanna Brown, Barbara and Lester Kesselring, Joyce Nolen, and Glenn and Linda Timmons, and coordinator Kim Ebersole, who serves as director of Family and Older Adult Ministries for the Church of the Brethren. For more about the conference, including links to daily reports and online photo albums, go to

Source: 9/24/2009 Newsline

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