Wednesday, August 26, 2009

BBT sends notification letters for recalculated annuity benefits.

Brethren Benefit Trust (BBT) has sent notification letters for recalculated annuity benefits for Church of the Brethren Pension Plan annuitants, on Aug. 19. Back in April, the BBT Board determined that because the market decline was so severe, it was necessary to recalculate all annuitized pension accounts at an assumption rate of 5 percent in order to preserve the solvency of the Retirement Benefits Fund, which continues to be well underfunded.

The recalculated benefit will be reflected in the October payment to Pension Plan annuitants. The September payment will be the same as the current benefit.

Knowing that this would be difficult for many annuitants, but would present a significant financial hardship for some, BBT has established a grant program to soften the reduction. This grant program, which will be reviewed annually, will use non-pension funds to pay out an amount that is equal to or less than the actual reduction in benefits to qualifying annuitants.

An application for the grant program was included in the notification letters mailed last week, and is available online at pages/GrantProgramApp.pdf to download in pdf format. The Brethren Pension Plan encourages members to complete and return the application form if they need this assistance.

In anticipation of questions resulting from this significant change, BBT is offering the following set of questions and answers:

Question: The markets have been doing well over the past few months, so why do we need to still go through with the reduction in Pension benefits? Answer: By Aug. 9, the markets had gained 11.9 percent for the year, as measured by the S&P 500. However, even with the positive market activity of this year’s second quarter, BBT estimates that the Retirement Benefits Fund current funding status is approximately 70 percent--a slight improvement from the Dec. 31, 2008, level of 68 percent. Currently, benefit payments of approximately $1.2 million are disbursed to our annuitants every month. At this rate, even with the recent market returns flowing into the fund, we have high confidence that it will remain underfunded and could simply evaporate without this reduction in benefits. This benefit reduction is still very necessary.

Q: When might we see our benefits increase? A: This question is more difficult to answer. Assuming the markets continue to recover, the assets of the Retirement Benefits Fund will likewise recover, based on the implementation of this benefit reduction. BBT simply does not know how quickly this will happen. The present goal is for the fund to be 100 percent funded--able to meet all of its benefit obligations today and into the future. Returning the Retirement Benefits Fund to fully funded status while continuing to pay out monthly benefits will take many years. However, once this goal has been met, the next step is to pursue two goals simultaneously--build up the Pension reserve to meet future financial crises, and pPay out additional benefits. Benefits were recalculated using a 5 percent assumption rate, but all past increases that were applied to an annuitant’s original benefit have been retained in the recalculation process and are reflected in the new benefit amount.

Q: Why did it take longer than expected to recalculate benefit amounts? A: The records of our more than 1,500 annuities span 40-plus years of service to the denomination. Many of the early records pre-date electronic recordkeeping, and approximately 75 percent of all annuity records have migrated through three different recordkeeping software systems. Many of these annuities have received several percentage increases over the past 30 years. These are several important factors that have made the recalculation process complex and have required a great deal of "hands-on" interaction. As BBT is committed to making sure each record was recalculated accurately, the process required more time than originally estimated. BBT promised at least 30 days’ notice regarding a change in benefit, so the time needed to accurately recalculate benefits determined the October start date for the recalculation to be reflected in monthly payments to annuitants.

Q: What is BBT doing to share the pain of these reductions? A: Cost of living increases have been frozen for BBT staff, and positions that are open but are not deemed critical at this time are not being filled. Staff also are trying to reduce expenses where possible by delaying or eliminating projects. To date, BBT’s expenses are more than $200,000 under budget for the year against an expense budget of $3.3 million. Today, BBT has five fewer staff members and an expense budget that is $500,000 less than in 1999. While BBT is committed to managing expenses, it does not serve our members to undercut on customer service. Maintaining a strong organization and offering excellent service to members will increase resources and benefit BBT members.

Q: How did the Retirement Benefits Fund become underfunded, and why did BBT return to a uniform assumption rate of 5 percent? A: This situation did not happen overnight. The sharp decline of the markets in 2008 had a huge impact on the Retirement Benefits Fund, but for a few years, a higher percentage rate was being paid out than was being returned through investments. BBT attempted to maintain the levels of benefits for existing annuitants by lowering rates for new annuitants, but that was not enough to offset the high rates being paid out. BBT has striven to pay the highest benefits possible to its members, including paying out 13th checks during some years when earnings were good and actualized assessments indicated that the fund was maintaining adequate reserves. Changing to a uniform 5 percent assumption rate is the only effective way to remedy the underfunded status of the fund. When the Retirement Benefits Fund is fully funded once again, and the markets allow it, members will once again benefit from that prosperity.

Brethren Pension Plan offers a section of FAQs at For further questions contact Scott Douglas, Pension Plan director, at 800-746-1505.

-- Patrice Nightingale and others in the communications staff at BBT provided this report.

Source: 8/26/2009 Newsline
Haitian Brethren name provisional board, hold blessing for first ministers.

Eglise des Freres Haitiens--the Haitian Church of the Brethren--has taken significant steps toward its formal establishment in Haiti with the naming of a provisional board, and the blessing of ministerial leadership during a recent ceremony.

Ludovic St. Fleur, Haiti mission coordinator and pastor of Eglise des Freres Haitiens in Miami, Fla., and Jay Wittmeyer, executive director of Global Mission Partnerships for the Church of the Brethren, both took part in the ceremony. A workcamp group attending the ceremony also represented the involvement of Brethren Disaster Ministries in mission and church development in Haiti.

A theological training for the Haitian church held in mid-August closed with the special evening worship service that received Pastor Yves Jean as the first ordained minister of Eglise des Freres Haitiens. The Church of the Brethren accepted his ordination as a transfer from another denomination.

Six people were licensed to ministry at the service: Telfort Jean Billy, Telfort Romy, Ely

Frenie, Dieupanou St. Brave, Altenor Jean Gesurand, and Altenor Duvelus. The licensed ministers also received the blessing of laying on of hands. Those who had completed the theological training received certificates.

Canned chicken donated from the meat canning project of Southern Pennsylvania District and Mid-Atlantic District was distributed during the service, evidence of the active collaboration between the Haitian Brethren, Global Mission Partnerships, and Brethren Disaster Ministries. The canned chicken was shipped to Haiti through the church’s Material Resources program and Brethren Disaster Ministries, as part of ongoing disaster relief work in Haiti following the four hurricanes and tropical storms that caused massive destruction there last year.

The Haiti Workcamp group was led by Jeff Boshart, Haiti disaster response coordinator, and Klebert Exceus, a Haitian consultant from Orlando, Fla. The group included five American Brethren, translators from the Haitian Brethren community in Florida, accompanied by members of Exceus’ family, and two Brethren pastors from the Dominican Republic--one of Haitian and one of Dominican background.

On the morning after the ordination and licensing service, Wittmeyer met with leaders of the Haitian church and the group established a provisional board for its new organization. The group elected leaders: Telfort Jean Billy of Croix de Bouquet Church of the Brethren was named as chair; Ely Frenie of Cap Haitian Church of the Brethren was named secretary; and Telfort Romy of Gonaives Church of the Brethren was named treasurer.

Source: 8/26/2009 Newsline
Workcamp ministry records another successful season.

The workcamp ministry of the Church of the Brethren Youth and Young Adult program had another successful season, with 31 workcamps and over 700 participants. It is inspiring to see the continued dedication of our youth and support of our congregations for the workcamp ministry.

Even in the current economic climate, junior and senior high youth and advisors, and young adult workcamp groups, gave a week of their time to serve others, worship together, meet new people, experience another culture, and have fun at a Church of the Brethren workcamp.

This workcamp year included two workcamps co-led by On Earth Peace: one on the topic of racism in Germantown, Pa.; and an intergenerational workcamp at the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Md., focused on the peace witness of the Church of the Brethren and its connection to service. It was the first year for the "We Are Able" workcamp for intellectually disabled young adult participants, also held at the Brethren Service Center.

Young adult participants traveled to Northern Ireland to learn about "the troubles" and efforts at peacemaking and reconciliation, as they served at Kilcranny House. Senior highs served in Mexico, Brooklyn, West Virginia, the Lakota Reservation, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic, among other locations.

Junior highs served at many places, including the John Kline Homestead, learning about Brethren history during the Civil War era. They also served at Innisfree Village, a residential community for intellectually disabled adults; at Indianapolis, helping restore houses; and at Washington, D.C., in soup kitchens and homeless shelters.

The 2009 workcamp theme was "Bound Together, Finely Woven" (2 Cor. 8:12-15). At each workcamp, participants explored their place in the tapestry of God’s creation and how the threads of their lives are interwoven with the lives of others, in both giving and receiving.

Watch for an upcoming photo album from this summer’s workcamps. Watch the workcamp website ( ) this fall for information about the 2010 workcamps. Brochures will be mailed to each Church of the Brethren congregation.

-- Jeanne Davies is coordinator of the Church of the Brethren’s workcamp ministry. The assistants coordinators for the 2009 workcamps were Meghan Horne, Bekah Houff, and Emily Laprade, serving through Brethren Volunteer Service.

Source: 8/26/2009 Newsline
Hoslers to work for peace and reconciliation with Nigerian Brethren.

Nathan and Jennifer Hosler of Elizabethtown, Pa., will begin serving in two new peace and reconciliation positions with Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN--the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria), working through the Church of the Brethren’s Global Mission Partnerships. The Hoslers are members of Chiques Church of the Brethren in Manheim, Pa.

The Hoslers will fill joint positions as teacher of peace and reconciliation at Kulp Bible College and peace and reconciliation worker with EYN. Start date for their work was Aug. 16, with plans to travel to Nigeria in September.

Jennifer Hosler has been a tutor of English as a Second Language with World Relief and AMF International, and has worked at the Naaman Center, a Christian nonprofit substance abuse treatment center in Elizabethtown. She holds a bachelor of arts in Biblical Language from Moody Bible Institute and a master’s degree in Community Psychology and Social Change from Penn State Harrisburg. She has participated in short-term mission trips to Kenya, Ethiopia, and Guatemala.

Nathan Hosler served in Germany with Weierhof Mennonite Church through Eastern Mennonite Missions, has work experience as a carpenter, and has been a groundsworker at Moody Bible Institute. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Biblical Language from Moody, and a master’s degree in International Relations from Salve Regina University in Newport, R.I.

The Hoslers both have been lay leaders at the Chiques Church, Nathan as a book and Bible study leader, and Jennifer as a lay Bible teacher. They also have served as summer ministry interns for the congregation. In May this year, they attended a youth conference of EYN as representatives of the Church of the Brethren.

Source: 8/26/2009 Newsline
Solem begins as publications coordinator for Brethren Benefit Trust.

Brian Solem has accepted the position of publications coordinator at Brethren Benefit Trust (BBT). He began his duties at the Church of the Brethren General Offices in Elgin, Ill., on Aug. 24, providing oversight for all BBT publications, the content of the BBT website, and other special projects.

Solem brings strong writing skills and energy to the position. He received a bachelor of arts degree in English, cum laude, from Loyola University Chicago. He also recently taught English vocabulary to adults in China for a year, from April 2008-April 2009. Prior to teaching, he worked for the Law Bulletin Publishing Company in Chicago, Ill., and was a classified advertising representative and contributing writer for "Legal Employment Weekly." He grew up in Elgin, and currently resides in Chicago.

Source: 8/26/2009 Newsline
Schofield resigns as director of academic services at Bethany Seminary.

Joanna Schofield, director of academic services for Bethany Theological Seminary and the Earlham School of Religion in Richmond, Ind., has submitted her resignation. She has served in the position since 1999.

Schofield has accepted an offer to work in a similar position for a newly created regional campus of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Representatives from both seminaries will work together to develop plans for an employee search process.

Source: 8/26/2009 Newsline
Brethren Volunteer Service unit begins work.

Members of the summer orientation unit of Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS) have begun work at their placements. The unit participated in training from July 19-Aug. 7 in Harrisonburg, Va. It was the 284th orientation unit for BVS.

Following are the new volunteers, their congregations or hometowns, and work placements:

Julia Dowling of Rumson, N.J., is serving at Jubilee USA Network in Washington, D.C.; Anna Ehscheidt of Neuwied, Germany, is serving at the International Community School in Decatur, Ga.; Becky Farfsing of Cincinnati, Ohio, is serving at the Forthspring Inter-Community Group in Belfast, N. Ireland; Emsi Hansen of Kropswolde, the Netherlands, and Sara Beth Stoltzfus of Elizabethtown (Pa.) Church of the Brethren, are serving at the Family Abuse Center in Waco, Texas; Audrey Hollenberg of Westminster (Md.) Church of the Brethren is serving with the Church of the Brethren’s Youth and Young Adult Ministry in Elgin, Ill.; Florian Koch of Gross Schneen, Germany, and Christian Schaefer of Bietigheim-Bissingen, Germany, are serving at Samaritan House in Atlanta, Ga.; Emily Osterhus of Durham, N.C., is serving at the Capital Area Food Bank in Washington, D.C.; John-Michael Pickens of Mechanicsburg (Pa.) Church of the Brethren is serving with On Earth Peace in Harrisburg, Pa.; Sarah Rinko of Terryville, Conn., is serving at Gould Farm, Monterey, Mass.; Myrta See of Mountain View McGaheysville (Va.) Church of the Brethren is serving with Su Casa in Chicago, Ill.; Emrah Sueruecue of Hamburg, Ga., is at Abode Service in Fremont, Calif.; Patricia Welch of Park City, Utah, is serving at the Palms of Sebring, Fla; and Steve Wiles of Elmira, N.Y., is serving at HRDC in Havre, Mont.

Source: 8/26/2009 Newsline
Bethany Theological Seminary begins its 105th academic year.

Bethany Theological Seminary in Richmond, Ind., begins its 105th academic year this week. Semester-long classes begin Aug. 27. Thirty-two new students are enrolled--including 28 in degree programs and 4 with non-degree status--the largest incoming class in more than a decade.

New master of divinity students enrolled in Connections, the seminary’s distance education program, met for their first class in retreat format in Camden, Ohio, during the weekend prior to the Aug. 24-25 orientation and returned to the Richmond campus to participate in orientation with residential students. During the retreat, the Connections students began their study of ministry and spiritual disciplines, shared spiritual autobiographies, and began to form spiritual sharing groups.

In her remarks at an orientation breakfast, Bethany president Ruthann Knechel Johansen encouraged new students to become more curious about and deeply acquainted with their particular gifts, and how they express love for God, others, and all creation.

"There is no more important work than the study of God and all the ways human beings have attempted to experience and speak about that ineffable mystery," Johansen said. "There is no more important work than the inquiring study of scripture and other texts, reflection on the nature and purpose of life, and the disciplining and commitment of your own life.... There is no more important work because the longing for love, justice, and peace in our families, churches, meetings, and societies throughout the world is profound. Because this hunger for love and meaning is pervasive, keep what you study here always in close conversation with what is happening beyond: in Afghanistan and in Richmond, in the Sudan and Washington, in your home communities and Jerusalem."

The transition from orientation to the beginning of classes will be celebrated at an opening convocation on Aug. 27 at 11:20 a.m. eastern time. Steven Schweitzer, Bethany's new academic dean, will speak on "Doing Theology in Community" (2 Chronicles 30).

The convocation will be webcast live at or visit the page at a later time to view a recording of the service.

-- Marcia Shetler is director of Public Relations for Bethany Theological Seminary.

Source: 8/26/2009 Newsline
International Day of Prayer for Peace campaign registers 100 groups.

On Earth Peace is encouraging Church of the Brethren congregations to take part in the International Day of Prayer for Peace, scheduled for Sept. 21 this year. The annual observance is an initiative of the World Council of Churches and its Decade to Overcome Violence. Michael Colvin and Mimi Copp are organizing the On Earth Peace campaign to promote the day.

As of today, a total of 100 congregations and groups have registered to take part in the On Earth Peace campaign, according to the organizers. Most congregations and groups are planning observances or vigils to mark the day. At least eight have taken up a challenge from On Earth Peace to hold listening initiatives in their local communities, in order to link the current economic challenges facing the country with the call to peacemaking.

In another development, Brethren musician and composer Shawn Kirchner, and Kay Guyer, a member of the church’s National Youth Cabinet and a budding video producer, will be working together on a new video for the campaign using photos and video clips contributed by this year’s participants.

A conference call tomorrow, Aug. 27, offered by On Earth Peace for organizers of International Day of Prayer for Peace events will address the topic "How to Get the Media’s Attention" and how groups can collect photos and video clips of their events. The call is scheduled for 12 noon-1 p.m. eastern time, facilitated by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of News Services for the Church of the Brethren. Contact to take part. The conference call phone number is 712-432-0080, and the access code is 357708#. For more go to

Source: 8/26/2009 Newsline
Congregations are invited to celebrate Bethany Sunday.

Bethany Theological Seminary is inviting Church of the Brethren congregations to lift up the mission and ministry of the seminary on Sunday, Sept. 13. Several resources are available for use in worship services and other settings.

The Living Word Bulletin for Sept. 13, available through Brethren Press, features a devotional by Bethany’s director of admissions Elizabeth Keller. Resource packets recently mailed to all Church of the Brethren congregations include a bulletin insert, worship resources written by Bethany students and alumni, and a brief update on seminary activities. These resources also can be downloaded from .

Congregations may request a free copy of the DVD titled, "Vines, Grapes, and Wineskins: Bethany Seminary’s Mission and Vision," a 22-minute skit that was presented as the seminary’s report to the 2009 Annual Conference. The skit features Brethren and Bethany personalities from the past and present meeting at a trolley stop, and engaging in conversation about Brethren history, pertinent questions Brethren face today, and the meaning of "another way of living." Request a copy of the DVD from Jenny Williams at or 800-287-8822 ext. 1825.

Source: 8/26/2009 Newsline
Brethren bits
  • Brethren Disaster Ministries has opened a disaster recovery project in Hammond in northwestern Indiana, having closed the Johnson County project in Greenwood, Ind. The Hammond area was hit with storms and flooding from remnants of Hurricane Ike last September. Approximately 17,000 residences were affected. With nearly 900 homes in this lower income, urban area still in need of assistance, Brethren Disaster Ministries has been called upon by the local recovery agency to assist with repair and reconstruction needs.

  • A team of five volunteers from Children’s Disaster Services responded to flooding in Silver Creek and Gowanda, N.Y., in mid-August. "The need was brief, so we were only there for two days," reported associate director Judy Bezon. If the area becomes a nationally declared disaster, she reported, there will be a more significant need for child care and Children’s Disaster Services will be called to help. In unofficial estimates, more than 500 homes in Gowanda were affected.

  • "Material Resource shipments have increased during August," reports Loretta Wolf, director of the Church of the Brethren’s Material Resources program that warehouses and ships disaster relief materials from the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Md. Recent international shipments include a 20-foot container of baby, school, and hygiene kits shipped to Jordan on behalf of Church World Service (CWS); a 20-foot container of blankets and baby, school, and hygiene kits to Help the Children in Moldova, on behalf of CWS; a 40-foot container shipped to Israel on behalf of Lutheran World Relief’s Jerusalem program, with 525 cartons of school kits; five 40-foot containers shipped to Burkina Faso for Lutheran World Relief with blankets, clothing, soap, and quilts, and sewing, school, layette, and health kits, as well as 20 cartons of IMA World Health medicine boxes. Domestic shipments included baby, school, and hygiene kits and 1,150 emergency cleanup buckets sent on behalf of CWS in response to flooding in New York State. "Both Church World Service and Lutheran World Relief are in need of kit donations," Wolf added. "Please encourage your church or civic group to consider assembling kits as a service project." For instructions to assemble kits go to

  • Panther Creek Church of the Brethren in Adel, Iowa, will celebrate its 140th anniversary on Aug. 30. An Inglenook Cookbook Potluck will follow the morning worship service with dishes made using a recipe from the Inglenook Cookbook of 1901.

  • Peter Becker Community held a "Meet the Authors" event for two residents of the Church of the Brethren retirement community in Harleysville, Pa. The event on Aug. 26 honored Bob Nace and Ronn Moyer, two writers who have produced two very different books, according to a release from the community. "Life Has Never Been Dull" by Bob Nace is recommended "if you like to laugh," the release said. The book is a collection of short stories sharing some of the author’s most embarrassing life moments. "Swimming with Crocodiles" by Ronn Moyer is the second book he has authored and tells the story of his choice to do alternative service as a young man and a conscientious objector. Moyer ended up working to improve education and nutrition for the people of northern Nigeria, an experience that propelled him into a lifetime of humanitarian service. For more information contact or 267-446-0327.

  • Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pa., has posted significant gains in the rankings of "America’s Top Colleges 2009" poll in and the ratings published by "US News & World Report," according to a release from the school. Juniata now ranks 75th in the nation in the Forbes poll, up from 113th last year; and has jumped 13 slots in the "US News & World Report" ratings. Juniata was ranked 85th in the top 100 liberal arts colleges in "US News & World Report," up from a 98 ranking last year. "College presidents aren't supposed to say that we are surprised by our ratings, but Juniata's move up the rankings means that more and more people are aware of our educational successes and outcomes and we are overjoyed at that recognition," said Juniata president Thomas R. Kepple. Of the other five Church of the Brethren colleges and university, Bridgewater (Va.) College is ranked in Tier 3 of the liberal arts colleges nationally; the University of La Verne, Calif., is in Tier 3 of the national universities rankings; McPherson (Kan.) College is in Tier 4 of the liberal arts colleges, having been named in the national rankings for two consecutive years according to a release from the school; Elizabethtown (Pa.) College is ranked 4th in the category of Baccalaureate Colleges (North); and Manchester College in North Manchester, Ind., is ranked 18th in the category Baccalaureate Colleges (Midwest) and 6th in the "Great Schools, Great Prices" Midwest rankings, having been named in the "US News & World Report" listing of America’s best colleges for the 15th consecutive year.

  • The World Council of Churches (WCC) Central Committee starts an eight-day meeting today, Aug. 26, in Geneva, Switzerland. "Messenger" editor Walt Wiltschek will be on the communication team for the meeting, seconded to the WCC from the Church of the Brethren staff. The committee is expected to elect a new general secretary for the WCC, to succeed Samuel Kobia who is not seeking a second term in office. According to Ecumenical News International, a news service related to the WCC, the ecumenical organization now has 349 member churches around the world. The Church of the Brethren is one of its member denominations.
Source: 8/26/2009 Newsline
Newsline is produced by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of news services for the Church of the Brethren, or 800-323-8039 ext. 260. Newsline appears every other Wednesday, with other special issues sent as needed. Jeri S. Kornegay, Patrice Nightingale, Marcia Shetler, Callie Surber, John Wall, and Jay Wittmeyer contributed to this report.