From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Newsline - Church of the Brethren news update

Date Thu, 13 Dec 2001 18:04:31 EST

Date: Dec. 14, 2001
Contact: Walt Wiltschek
V: 847/742-5100 F: 847/742-6103

 1) President George W. Bush visits Brethren Service Center.
 2) Bridgewater College to play for national football title.
 3) Brethren bits: Iraq, General Ministries Fund, and more. 


 1) The Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Md., stepped into
the spotlight last Saturday, Dec. 8, as President George W. Bush
and first lady Laura Bush stopped by to highlight Afghanistan
relief efforts.

The Saturday morning visit came at the invitation of the American
Red Cross, which has the Carroll County office of its Central
Maryland Chapter on the center's campus. The Red Cross has been
coordinating donations from children to the America's Fund for
Afghan Children, and it requested the center as the site for the
event so that people--especially the children who had
contributed--could see the supplies they had helped to purchase.

Bush, during a televised speech on Oct. 11, had called for US
children to give $1 to the relief effort. About $1.5 million was
raised in the first week after the appeal went out--before the
anthrax scare halted mail to the White House, according to Red
Cross International Disaster Response regional associate Barbara

That money, along with some material donations, was used to put
together a shipment of relief supplies that included 1,050 tents,
1,658 winter jackets, and 10,000 gift parcels containing food,
hygiene products, school supplies, and toys. The materials were
prepared for shipping at the New Windsor distribution center, where
Bush spoke, and loaded onto five trucks for delivery to
Washington's Dulles International Airport.

"We have a collaborative relationship with the Church of the
Brethren," Red Cross interim CEO Harold Decker said. "It's a
long-standing relationship. We needed a large volume of space for
this, and they had it." 

A FedEx plane was to fly the shipment the following morning to
Germany, where it was then to be put on another flight to
Turkmenistan and finally taken by truck to two communities in
northern Afghanistan. Wetsig said it was the fund's first relief
flight from the US to Afghanistan.

Bush called the New Windsor center a "warehouse of love and
decency" as he opened his remarks to the invited crowd, which
consisted of about 300 children and parents from the
Baltimore-Washington area and numerous media representatives from
newspapers and all major networks. Kristen Thompson, a 7th-grader
at nearby New Windsor Middle School, introduced the president.

Bush thanked the many people and groups who had been part of the
effort, then concluded the litany of gratitude by saying, "Finally,
I want to thank the Church of the Brethren for your compassion and
love, and for donating your warehouse for this noble project."

"For the first time, it's really hit home on a global scale of what
we do," said Westminster (Md.) Church of the Brethren member Marc
Held, who attended with his son, Hunter, after their Scout troop
received an invitation. "I'm very proud I'm a member of the Church
of the Brethren."

The 45-minute visit required US Secret Service sweeps, security
clearances, and extra time and preparation for the staff of the
center, which is owned and operated by the Church of the Brethren
General Board. Staff also accommodated a late shift from an outdoor
event to an indoor one due to the threat of rain, which began
shortly after the president's visit.

Brethren Service Center director Stan Noffsinger said he recognized
that the event might get a mixed reaction from church members, but
he felt the opportunity was a unique one. Despite all the work and
the potential for controversy, Noffsinger said that the chance to
support a partner at the center and to provide the ministry of
hospitality made it worthwhile.

He cited the example of M.R. Zigler, who frequently interacted with
government leaders of all ideologies and once expressed the wish
that every US president could visit the center and see the service
that occurred there.

"We understood as a staff very clearly the ramifications of us
having the president on our campus, especially during this time of
war as it conflicts with our historic peace statement," said
Noffsinger, who briefly greeted the president and first lady upon
their arrival. "We did not ask for this event, but we're delighted
to be able to let the world know about this wonderful partnership
(with the Red Cross) that extends all around the world. . . . We
took the liberty at every corner to share who we are." 

A group of about a dozen Brethren members and Brethren Volunteer
Service (BVS) workers came to the center to hold a protest vigil,
holding signs with messages such as "The Church of the Brethren
Opposes War" and "Aid Not Bombs." They said that hosting the
president could "create implications" for the church's mission. 

"We are not protesting humanitarian aid," said BVS volunteer Carrie
Eikler. "We are bringing to light the contradiction of sending
humanitarian aid while dropping bombs and waging a military action.
The Church of the Brethren does not support war."

The US Secret Service had asked Noffsinger if the Church of the
Brethren wanted to prohibit any demonstrations on the center's
property, but Noffsinger refused that request, saying differing
voices have always been welcomed at the center.

The group initially gathered along Route 31, where the president
was to travel by limousine after landing by helicopter at the
nearby middle school. The US Secret Service, however, requested
they move to a spot on the far side of the campus; Noffsinger said
it was much farther away from the president's route than the
designated protest spot that had been agreed upon earlier. 

Following the move to the distant spot, protester Ruth Aukerman of
Union Bridge, Md., said in a prayer: "At this time we remember the
birth of Christ. Like Christ, we, too, have been cast aside today,
forced to speak behind police tape what we believe to be the
lessons of Jesus."

The Church of the Brethren has been directly active in its own
Afghanistan relief efforts, to date sending $100,000 through the
General Board's Emergency Disaster Fund and Global Food Crisis Fund
to support Church World Service programs in Pakistan and

The General Board also passed a statement related to the Sept. 11
attacks at its fall board meeting, calling for the "immediate
cessation of military action . . . against Afghanistan" and asking
the government to take note of global inequities. Several other
Annual Conference agencies, most notably On Earth Peace--which has
its main offices at the Brethren Service Center, have also made
statements lifting up the denomination's peace position and
provided resources in the months since the attacks.

Despite the voices expressing displeasure over Bush's appearance,
some of them forcefully, Noffsinger said the visit was not
incompatible with the church's history or present mission. Many
Brethren have also spoken out in support of the visit, he said.

"We have opened a door," Noffsinger said. "We can now carry the
peace witness to the White House. This is a chance for people to
hear us."

 2) A week after the Brethren Service Center made national
headlines with a visit by President George W. Bush, a Brethren
college football team will be in the national limelight.

The Bridgewater (Va.) College Eagles will play Mount Union College
of Alliance, Ohio, for the Division III national championship at 8
p.m. this Saturday, Dec. 15. The game, called the Stagg Bowl, will
be broadcast live from Salem, Va., on ESPN2. It is Bridgewater's
first-ever appearance in the national title game.

Bridgewater planned a special sendoff for the team on Thursday,
inviting people to line up along the route the team bus was using
to leave town. A large contingent of Eagles' faithful was also
expected at the sold-out game in Salem, which is located only about
100 miles southwest of Bridgewater along Interstate 81. The school
chartered several buses to transport fans.

A tailgate party is planned before the game Saturday, with anyone
wearing Bridgewater apparel invited as guests. Another gathering
was planned following the game at a restaurant in nearby Roanoke.

It completes a marked turnaround for the team, which went winless
just a few years ago before reaching the Division III playoffs for
the first time last year. This year's squad, coached by Mike Clark,
is ranked No. 4 in the national polls and defeated Rowan University
29-24 last Saturday to improve its record to 12-0 and reach the

Top-ranked Mount Union beat Saint John's of Minnesota 35-14. Mount
Union has won the Division III title five times, including last
year, and has won 81 of its last 82 games.

 3) Brethren bits: Other brief news notes from around the
denomination and elsewhere.
 *The six-member Church of the Brethren General Board delegation
traveling to Iraq arrived safely in Amman, Jordan, this week and
was awaiting final approval for visas to enter Iraq as of Thursday
afternoon. The group is carrying nearly 3,000 Christmas and Ramadan
cards from US Brethren and planned a series of visits to show
solidarity with the people of Iraq and to learn more about the
situation there.

 *Total giving to the General Ministries Fund of the Church of the
Brethren General Board, which covers most operations of the
denomination's main program arm, remains down this year.
Congregational giving in particular has lagged severely in 2001,
nearly $150,000 behind budget. Strong individual giving has made up
much of the difference, but that gap, plus shortfalls in investment
and other income, has left the fund nearly $217,000 behind budget
as of Nov. 30. Finance staff said overall giving to the General
Board had remained at near-stable levels, but more money this year
was going to designated funds. Giving to the Global Food Crisis
Fund and Emergency Disaster Fund were both up sharply from 2000,
and the new Emerging Global Mission Fund had received more than
$100,000. Staff were hoping for a strong ending to the fourth
quarter to balance the books. Other agencies have been experiencing
similar struggles.

 *An anthrax scare at one of the buildings at Mennonite Central
Committee's headquarters in Akron, Ohio, proved to be a hoax,
according to the Dec. 11 issue of "The Mennonite." A letter
containing a threatening message and white powder arrived at the
building's mailroom on Nov. 28. The FBI and local law enforcement
officials responded, and the building was shut down for the day.
The building houses MCC overseas programs and support services.

Newsline is produced by Walt Wiltschek, manager of news services
for the Church of the Brethren General Board, on the first, third
and fifth Friday of each month, with other editions as needed.
Newsline stories may be reprinted provided that Newsline is cited
as the source.

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