Taking a Blogging Vacation

vacation-graphicIt’s time for The Search for Piety and Obedience to take a summer vacation — mostly so I can relax on my summer vacation!

We’ll be back on August 1 with our next Photo Friday installment. See you next month!

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2014 General Conference, Update #3

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While I continue to pull together some personal reflections on the 2014 General Conference of the Brethren in Christ Church in the U.S. (as I promised here and here), I wanted to share some smart reflections from my friend, colleague, and fellow blogger Harriet Sider Bicksler.

At her blog Pieces of Peace, Harriet reflects on the recent General Conference gathering — and especially the trust (or lack thereof) displayed by both conference delegates and church leaders.

Here’s an excerpt from her excellent post, “What I’ve Been Thinking About This Summer“:

In denominational business meetings last weekend where I was a delegate from my congregation, as questions were raised about proposed changes in governance, the issue of trust took center stage. I firmly believe that our denominational leaders want what is best for the church; I also understand and sympathize with those who were questioning past actions and current proposals and displaying what appeared to be a lack of trust in their leaders.

I’ve been on both sides of this matter of organizational trust. I’ve been on boards (and chaired one of them) that made decisions that weren’t always appreciated or supported by the rank-and-file. I’ve been hurt by accusations both direct and indirect that the board didn’t know what it was doing, we had some kind of hidden agenda, we weren’t worthy of trust. The truth is that members of the boards I was on really had the best interests of the organization at heart, tried to be wise and careful in our decision-making, but among many good decisions also made some that in hindsight didn’t work out so well. Being considered untrustworthy feels like a low blow when we were doing our best to do the right thing.

On the other hand, I’ve also been the “victim” of decisions by organizations that didn’t make sense to me, seemed to head the organization in a direction that would result in a loss of things I believe(d) critical to the organization’s mission and identity, and could have unintended consequences (or perhaps intended, I would think, when I was in my most distrustful and cynical frame of mind). I’ve been frustrated by leaders, who when challenged say something like, “you chose us to be your leaders, so you need to trust us; you need to submit to our authority.” It doesn’t sit well with me when those who support organizational decisions and directions seem to want to shut down dissent and conversation and move on.

Harriet’s words reflect my own personal processing of the Conference proceedings. Read her whole blog post here.

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Born-Again Brethren in Christ: Week #2 & 3 — An Apology and a Methodological Reflection

Screen shot 2014-07-01 at 12.51.11 AMClick here for some background on this post.

Well, I’ve already failed (dare I use that word?) in my promise to write weekly updates in my attempt to turn my master’s thesis into a publication-worthy article. Some readers of The Search for Piety and Obedience may have noticed that I didn’t publish an update on my progress last week. That’s likely because – frankly – I haven’t done a single bit of work on “Born-Again Brethren in Christ” in the last ten days! Between the Brethren in Christ General Conference (which I blogged about here and here), some pre-vacation work wrap-up, and various personal/family projects, I have been preoccupied by other things. As a result, my project has suffered.

But the work has never been far from my mind. This was particularly true as I spent time with my denominational brothers and sisters in Lancaster, Pa., a week or so ago. On more than one occasion, the “problem” of Evangelicalism within the Brethren in Christ Church cropped up in our dialogue, both interpersonally and on the floor of Conference. In a moment of surprising honesty while addressing the General Conference body, one pastor (not mentioning names!) accused some within the denomination of being “Southern Baptists in drag” when it comes to their theology. The implication, of course, was that Evangelicalism had “infiltrated” (and was continuing to infiltrate) our denominational community and affected the way some pastors teach and preach our stated theology.

When I hear statements like these, I tend to react in two ways. First, I react confessionally — as someone committed to the Brethren in Christ community’s core values and involved in the life and ministry of the church. As I detailed in my last post in this series, my own personal spiritual sojourn has occurred at the intersection of Anabaptism and Evangelicalism, within the context of the Brethren in Christ community, and so I can’t escape the fact that I have confessional convictions that shape the way I respond to the issue at hand.

Second, I react as a scholar. I feel the need to take a step back from the fracas and put the issue into historical perspective. I want to contextualize my brothers’ and sisters’ concerns by appealing to what others said five, ten, twenty, or fifty years earlier about the exact same issue. I want to tell stories about people like C. N. Hostetter, Jr., a former Messiah College president and peace advocate; Arthur Climenhaga, a Brethren in Christ bishop who left his post to lead an Evangelical para-church agency; and Ruth Dourte, a pastor’s wife whose interactions with Evangelicals convinced her that she didn’t need to wear a head covering — but that she did need to stay committed to counter-cultural practices like peacemaking. I want to remind my brothers and sisters that there are multiple ways to read the same sets of evidence — and that the “infiltration” argument is only one of many arguments being made, historically and contemporarily, about the relationship between the Brethren in Christ community and Evangelicalism.

My role as a participant-observer naturally makes my research a bit more difficult: it raises questions about bias, perspective, and intent. It threatens to skew my conclusions if not held in proper check. It also makes me an unpopular voice in both pro- and anti-Evangelical camps within the church, since I’m unwilling to jump on one bandwagon or the other. But this dual role also enables me to meet a felt need with a community of meaning. In other words, it allows me to connect the somewhat abstract, indifferent work of historical research with the practical, concrete questions being asked by a specific group of people. Ultimately, it allows me to produce scholarship that matters.

And in the end, it’s that opportunity that keeps me working on “Born-Again Brethren in Christ” — a process I’ll continue sharing with you in the coming weeks.

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2014 General Conference, Update #2

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Author’s Note: This post was scheduled to go “live” on Tuesday, July 15. Somehow, it stayed unpublished. Sorry for the delay!

The 2014 General Conference of the Brethren in Christ Church in the U.S. has wrapped up in Lancaster, Pa. It’s been a busy four days of fellowship, worship, business meetings, and other activities.

To hear more about what happened during Conference, check out the General Conference 2014 blog or follow the #BICconf14 hashtag on Twitter and Facebook. Video of the evening worship services and business sessions are also available online.

I’m hoping to post some thoughts on the Conference this week or next. In the meantime, check out the thoughts already being shared about General Conference by my sister and brothers from Circle of Hope (a Brethren in Christ network of cells and congregations in Philadelphia): Rachel Sensenig, Jonny Rashid, and Rod White.

As I said in my last post, I was so glad to attend General Conference this year, especially after missing it in 2012. I got to meet new folks doing important ministry across the U.S. Brethren in Christ Church. I was able to catch up with friends I haven’t seen in months or even years. And perhaps most importantly for my blog readers, I got to meet folks who regularly read The Search for Piety and Obedience!

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2014 General Conference, Update #1

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Are you keeping up with the 2014 General Conference of the Brethren in Christ Church in the U.S.? It’s happening right now in Lancaster, Pa., at Lancaster Mennonite School. For the last two days, delegates have been hard at work discussing matters related to the future of the denomination, and participating in fellowship and in worship.

I’ve been privileged to attend. It’s been wonderful to chat with old and new friends — and even hear from some of the readers of The Search for Piety and Obedience!

Perhaps you’re following the #BICconf14 hashtag on Twitter and Facebook. Maybe you’ve tuned in to the livestream of the business sessions and/or evening services.

If not, you might want to check out the General Conference 2014 blog. It includes recaps of each of the evening services and business sessions, as well as offering periodic updates on the Bible quizzing tournament and other activities.

I’ll offer some concluding thoughts on Conference next week. Stay tuned!

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Photo Friday: A General Conference in the Birthplace of the Brethren in Christ

A session at the Brethren in Christ General Conference of 1946, held at the Cross Roads Church in Mt. Joy, Pennsylvania. (Brethren in Christ HIstorical Library and Archives)

A session at the Brethren in Christ General Conference of 1946, held at the Cross Roads Church in Mt. Joy, Pennsylvania. (Brethren in Christ HIstorical Library and Archives)

As most readers of The Search for Piety and Obedience know, the Brethren in Christ community was born in the midst of a pietistic revival that swept through Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, in the late 18th century. Several European Anabaptist immigrants to the British Colonies — likely Swiss-German, and mostly Mennonites — experienced warm-hearted conversions and determined to start a new fellowship, baptizing one another in the Conoy Creek.

And most readers also know that the U.S.-based heirs of these “River Brethren” (as early Brethren in Christ were sometimes known) will be meeting for their biennial General Conference this weekend — and that they’ll be doing so in the “birthplace” of the church: Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

What readers may not know is that the 2014 General Conference marks the first gathering of Brethren in Christ in Lancaster County since 1946.

Today’s Photo Friday offers a snapshot of the last Brethren in Christ General Conference held in Lancaster — one that took place at the Cross Roads congregation in Mt. Joy, in Lancaster County. The image shows what is likely a sermon being delivered to Conference attendees by Jacob T. Ginder, a long-time bishop in the Lancaster County area.

I love this photo for the glimpse of Brethren in Christ life it gives us. In the 1940s, the Brethren in Christ were not yet building more modern-looking church buildings, especially not in Lancaster County, one of the church’s most conservative areas. The Cross Roads congregation still met in a meetinghouse, and theirs is a class version of the Brethren in Christ meetinghouse structure! You can see that there’s no pulpit (as many churches have today) but rather a long bench along the back wall behind a railing. There’s no divided chancel, and pews run the length of the room. To the extreme right of the photo, you’ll see the space where men could hang the broad-brimmed hats they wore (a typical piece of Brethren in Christ garb in this era).

I kinda doubt that the General Conference meeting this weekend will gather in such a simple space. What do you think, readers?

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Getting Ready for General Conference 2014

The Brethren in Christ Historical Society team hard at work doing research for our social media campaign, #BICHistoryMatters

The Brethren in Christ Historical Society team hard at work doing research for our social media campaign, #BICHistoryMatters

Here at The Search for Piety and Obedience I’ve already posted once or twice about the upcoming 2014 General Conference of the Brethren in Christ Church in the U.S., which will convene this weekend at Lancaster Mennonite School in Lancaster, Pa.

I’ve especially highlighted the role I’ll be playing at the Conference, as I work with the Brethren in Christ Historical Society on their social media campaign, #BICHistoryMatters.

I’ve been privileged to work on this campaign alongside two excellent colleagues, Kristine Frey (current Historical Society board member and former editor for Brethren in Christ Communications) and Harriet Sider Bicksler, the editor of Historical Society publications.

Kristine Frey pages through images from the Brethren in Christ Historical Library and Archives' photo collection

Kristine Frey pages through images from the Brethren in Christ Historical Library and Archives’ photo collection

Together over the last two weeks we’ve spent multiple hours in the Brethren in Christ Historical Library and Archives at Messiah College preparing for our campaign. We’ve brainstormed strategy and approach. We’ve folded and stuffed new Historical Society brochures. We’ve scoured the archival holdings for past Conference ephemera to share with followers: quotations, fun facts, photos, and other tidbits.

Kristine and Harriet are thoughtful, creative people whose energy and determination are seemingly limitless, and whose enthusiasm for our work is infectious. I’ve learned a lot from them during our work on this campaign, and I’ve enjoyed our many conversations!

We’re looking forward to launching the campaign this afternoon — and we hope that you’ll follow along with us on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #BICHistoryMatters.

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