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Over the generations, those of us in the Brethren movement have claimed “simple living” as a core value. Of course, as with any socio-spiritual conviction we’ve found vastly different ways of living in ways we might consider simple. It used to be plain clothes and abstaining from anything that might be considered “fancy.” More recently we’ve taken to focusing on living within our means, not falling prey to the prevalent consumer culture that surrounds us, or not relying on consumer credit to buy luxuries we can’t really afford.

Another way that many folks I know have taken to living simply involves trying to opt-out of complex corporate/industrial systems that are seen as working against the common good of all humanity. Yet it seems that such efforts often lead to a lifestyle that is far from simple, at least when judged by our traditional ideas of simplicity. Read the rest of this entry »

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How do we as young adults and church leaders engage with social media sites? While this might seem like an innocent enough question at first, with seemingly easy answers (I use site x not site y, etc.) in actuality it’s much more complex.

I was recently at a local blogging workshop where they were discussing institutional involvement in social media (aka social networking). The presenter was speaking out of his experience working with colleges and universities that are trying to be more active in connecting with prospectives, students, and alumni using current and emerging social media sites. One example that he gave was how the chancellor of our regional campus of Indiana University (IU East) is using Twitter to make a personal connection with people, in addition to several other IU East-related Twitter feeds.

While I was impressed by how well IU East has integrated social media into their public relations, I immediately I started thinking of how different this is from how I use social media on a regular basis.
Read the rest of this entry »

Maybe it’s my exposure to a disproportionately large percentage of Church of the Brethren folks who are seminary trained and highly ecumenically involved, but it seems to me that there is a growing interest within our tradition in more “liturgically-oriented” worship practices.

I can think of several examples of this: more Brethren pastors following the Lectionary, increased interest in special, more liturgical services like Ash Wednesday, Tenebrae, etc., and even movement toward a more high-church style of worship on Sunday mornings.

I’ll admit that I too find myself appreciating and being influenced by such liturgical expressions, especially as they relate to more ancient Christian practices that pre-date the Protestant Reformation. Still, I’m left wondering, “why?”

Despite my opening statement, I don’t think it is just the highly ecumenical and the seminary folks who connect with this trend. In my own congregation we’ve begun having more of these small gatherings, like tonight’s Ash Wednesday service, and it’s a relatively broad demographic that generally attends. Another good example of this is last year’s Tenebrae service, when a group of about 20 local college students came and participated. It seems to me that young adults and youth particularly are finding deep connections with these kinds of worship.

My questions for you are: Does any of this ring true in your experience? What are your thoughts as to why we might be witnessing this shift within our tradition which has been very “low-church” for many years? How do you personally find yourself connecting (or dis-connecting) with more liturgically-leaning worship?

I always find it humorous when I read books and articles that are targeted at “smaller churches” and realize that within the broader context of Christianity the definition of a small church encompasses the vast majority of congregations within the Church of the Brethren. I just don’t see it that way. For me, a church with 150 people is BIG! And yet there are many people out there who would consider it to be small (and not just the megachurch crowd.) I wonder what they would think about the church I worshiped with for several years that averaged about 20 attendees?

I’ve been working with Micah 5:2-5a for this final Sunday in Advent and in the process I’ve been reminded that being small and seemingly insignificant isn’t always a detriment. After all, Bethlehem was small too. Yet despite its size and status among the “lesser” clans of Judah it will be forever remembered as the birthplace of Jesus. And don’t forget Nazareth – “can anything good come from Nazareth?” But the towns of Jesus’ origin are in no way the only examples of the lowly being lifted up – just consider David or Joseph, or Mary the young teenage mother. The history of our faith is filled with similar stories! God often works through the people and places that our world is quick to write off.

So I’m left thinking – what does this mean for us, a relatively small denomination of about 1,000 churches, most of which are smaller and therefore seemingly less attractive to the general populace. According to one resource I found, smaller churches only draw about 11 percent of those who attend (Christian but not Catholic or Orthodox) worship in the US, while at least 50 percent of that same demographic attend the largest 10% of congregations, with an average attendance of 350 or greater.

It’s easy to get depressed about being a bunch of small churches in a small denomination. Still, I think there are also blessings that come with occupying this particular ecclesiological niche. Yes, being small has its challenges, but I don’t think we should think for a moment that God cannot work through us in amazing, world-changing ways!

So my question for you is this – what are your experiences of how being a relatively small church (both congregationally and denominationally) can be a blessing? How do you think our size makes us well-suited for this increasingly postmodern, post-Christendom age? What opportunities afforded by our size are we poised to take advantage of, and which ones are we missing?

I’ll be thinking about these questions (and many others this topic raises) and will contribute some more of my thoughts in the comments …

I don’t think anyone will argue we live in a diverse world. Today’s technology and culture have made amazing advances in connecting us to others who are very different than we are. However, the church (worldwide, denominational, and local) has been reluctant, hesitant, and at times flat out refused to embrace this diversity.

Thankfully, some of these trends seem to be shifting. I read with great interest about the “emerging” church that is growing in recognition and numbers. Part of my affinity comes from strong similarities I sense between their commitments to living out the life and teachings of Jesus in the midst of community. Yet one of the distinctive elements of many (most?) of these groups is their tolerance, acceptance, and comfort with diversity. Read the rest of this entry »

The last several posts on here have touched on the issue of belief, particular beliefs and practices we understand to be “Brethren” in nature. Rather than talking about particular beliefs, I’d like to take a step back and foster some discussion on belief in general.

Recently I stumbled across this excerpt from a recent Rolling Stone interview of comedian and satirist Steven Colbert:

Rolling Stone: A lot of people view what you do as liberal vs. conservative. But what you’re saying is that the show is really about people who are flexible in their beliefs vs. people who are fixed in their beliefs?

Colbert: If there’s a target in our present society, it’s people not willing to change their minds. If you’re not willing to change your mind about anything, given how much is changing and how the sands are shifting underneath our feet, then that dishonesty is certainly worth a joke or too.

It got me thinking about how having flexible beliefs in the midst of our quickly changing, shifting world relates to being people of faith. Read the rest of this entry »

A great conversation has spontaneously erupted over on Facebook and I’m following up on the suggestion to open the conversation up to the “wider world” outside of our Facebook friends lists.

It all started when Josh Brockway posed the question:

Is the Church of the Brethren congregational or connectional in polity?

He later clarified  his meanings with:

Congregational- the local congregation is free to act autonomously and is thus the primary locus of decision making within the denomination. (Think American Baptist)

Connectional- the local congregation is related to a wider network of constituencies. Thus decisions are made in reference and understanding of the wider denomination. (Think United Methodist)

Comments thus far have been all over the board, from “connectional in polity, congregational in practice” to “congregational in polity, connectional in practice” and many points in between. Read the rest of this entry »

Welcome to Already and Not Yet, a blog coinciding with the upcoming Young Adult Forum: A Theological Conversation on Ministry sponsored by the Church of the Brethren‘s Office of Ministry.

For the time being this site is still somewhat “under construction” so don’t be surprised if you notice little changes here and there. We will be posting some content between now and the forum, so feel free to go ahead and begin responding using the comments sections at the bottom of each page.

As we prepare to gather in Arizona in about a month to formally begin our conversation, what thoughts are on your mind? What does being “called” mean to you? How can our tradition of “set-apart” ministry best serve and enliven a church facing major changes? What should leadership look like within the church? Feel free to share your responses in the comments section below: