Jesus Is… Moving in the BIC Church Today! (Monday Evening Service Recap)

How is Jesus moving in the BIC Church today?

That question seemed to linger in the air as attendees gathered last night for the final evening worship service of the 2014 General Conference of the Brethren in Christ Church in the U.S. Last night, delegates came together to lift our voices in song, share in a communion meal, hear testimonies from pastors in our BIC family, and listen to the hears of our regional conference bishops as they shared their own responses to the conference theme: “Jesus is…”

Indeed, as the service drew to a close, it was clear to many delegates and attendees that Jesus is… moving in the BIC Church today! May that continue to be true as we minister in word and deed to the broken, hurting world around us.

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Monday Activities and Events

The second day of business sessions is currently underway here at General Conference 2014. As delegates dialogue and make decisions about the future of our church community, they also look forward to times for fellowship and learning.

A few events will be taking place later today that delegates may want to know about:

Peace and Justice Project luncheon
12:30-1:30 p.m., Dining Hall LL, Room 117
Featuring an interview with Jonny Rashid (Circle of Hope), Jeff Piepho (Revolution BIC), and Kurt Willems (Pangea Communities) on the subject of “ministering in word and deed in the United States today.” Everyone is welcome to bring their lunches and join us.

Sider Institute for Anabaptist, Pietist and Wesleyan Studies luncheon
12:30-1:30 p.m., G. Parke Book Building, Room 302
The Sider Institute is one of our denomination’s only outlets for theological and historical reflection on our BIC heritage. Join us for a time of brainstorming future Institute programming, especially themes and subjects you’d like to see explored at future Institute study conferences. Everyone is welcome to bring their lunches and join us.

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Singing, Sharing, Testifying (Sunday Service Recap)

Last night, attendees to the 2014 General Conference of the Brethren in Christ Church in the U.S. convened for a third evening worship service. We were honored to be led in singing by Tapestry, the gospel choir of the Harrisburg (Pa.) BIC Church, and to hear testimonies from Grace Holland (of Dillsburg [Pa.] BIC) and Alan Claassen Thrush (of Upland [Calif.] BIC). Together, we shared our resources in an offering for the BIC Global Compassion Fund, donating almost $15,000 for relief and recovery efforts around the globe.

Our evening sermon came to us from Alex Alvarado, senior pastor of Ciudad de Dios, a BIC congregation in San José, Costa Rica, who preached on the theme, “Jesus is… our justice.”

Below, check out a selection of images from last night’s worship service.

 

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Bible Quizzing Finals – The Results!

Congratulations to the team from Dillsburg (Pa.) BIC for winning the 2014 BIC Bible quizzing finals tonight! Teams from Five Forks BIC (Waynesboro, Pa.) and New Vision BIC (Pewaukee, Wisc.) clinched the second and third place titles, respectively.

Congratulations to all quiz teams for their sportsmanship and awe-inspiring dedication to hiding God’s Word in their hearts” (Psalm 119:11). You guys rock!

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Bible Quizzing Finals – Tonight!

quizzingAfter a tense afternoon of head-to-head competition, the Bible Quiz teams from Dillsburg (Pa.) BIC and Five Forks BIC (Waynesboro, Pa.) have made it to the Denominational Quiz Finals. Congratulations to the incredible young men and women on both teams, who have worked hard to master the books of Romans and James.

Denominational quiz finals will take place tonight, at 6 p.m. Tune in to the GC 2014 live stream to catch the competition live! And be sure to check out the BIC Bible Quizzing Facebook page for pictures and more.

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Nurturing a Common Identity in Christ (Saturday Service Recap)

Overflow, a music group from several BIC churches in Southeast Florida, led worship through song during our Saturday evening service.

Overflow, a music group from several BIC churches in Southeast Florida, led worship through song during our Saturday evening service.

One of the most important transformations of the U.S. BIC community in recent decades has been the explosive growth of Hispanic congregations in Southeast Florida. Because of the rapid growth of these BIC communities—and similar communities in Pennsylvania, California, Ohio, and elsewhere—a fifth of our church now worships in the Spanish language. Through the providence of God and the leadership of dedicated, pioneering church planters, our community is beginning to realize the blessings of increased cultural and ethnic diversity.

That transformation was celebrated in the Saturday evening worship service at the 2014 General Conference of the BIC Church in the U.S. Our time together began with music from Overflow, a worship band from Miami, singing in both English and Spanish. The band’s enthusiasm and passion was evident as they led us to sing a number of contemporary worship songs, including “Jesus Be the Center”:

From my heart to the heavens

Jesus be the center

It’s all about you

Yes, it’s all about you

Bishop Aner Morejon (right) preaches in the Saturday evening worship service. His daughter Magbys (left) translates.

Bishop Aner Morejon (right) preaches in the Saturday evening worship service. His daughter Magbys (left) translates.

The message of Christ’s centrality in the lives of his people continued in the evening sermon by Aner Morejon, bishop of the Southeast Regional Conference of the BIC Church in the U.S. Preaching in Spanish, with translation by his daughter Magbys, Bishop Aner asserted that “Jesus is… our identity.” He warned listeners to guard against “identity theft” (which occurs when believers allow their Christian identity to be “stolen” by acculturation) and “false identity” (which occurs when people claim they are Christians in word, but fail to bear Christ-like fruit with their lives). “Identity,” Bishop Aner reminded us, “is not just saying what I am; it’s living out what I say I am.”

Bishop Aner urged those participating in the service to claim their identity as BIC—an identity rooted in our relationship with Christ and our heritage of faithfulness to Scripture and separation from “the world.” As BIC, he claimed, “our name and identity set us apart as a distinctive people of God. Can the world around us see that Jesus is our identity as BIC?”

Too often, we BIC link our identity to external factors: our ability to plant new churches; our capacity to grow existing churches; our willingness to embrace diversity in our congregations. And while these things are good and should be celebrated by God’s people, as we did during last night’s worship service, they do not constitute our fundamental identity. As Overflow reminded us in song, Jesus is the center – of our ministry, of our local congregations, and of our life together as the BIC community in the United States. May we embrace and embody this reality each and every day!

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Leadership, Transparency, Dialogue: Saturday Business Sessions Recap

A shot of the morning business session at the 2014 General Conference

A shot of the morning business session at the 2014 General Conference

Delegates to the GC 2014 had a full morning and afternoon of dialogue and discussion during our scheduled business sessions. At times, passions ran high, but as one pastor Tweeted during the debate: “I love when discussions ‘get real’ beyond surface pleasantries. Gentleness/respect = good. Community = great. #BICConf14 actually matters!” Indeed, “getting real” is part of our life together… and part of the reason we meet every two years as a General Conference!

In his morning announcements, National Director Alan Robinson explained the structure of Conference will follow what he termed a 3-D approach. On Saturday, delegates will spend business sessions in Dialogue: asking questions, requesting clarifications, sharing experiences and concerns. On Sunday, no business sessions will be held but delegates will be expected to participate in grassroots Discernment by reflecting on the discussion and participating in information conversations. Finally, on Monday, delegates will gather for two more business sessions (morning and afternoon) in which they will Decide — in other words, vote on recommendations made in the Conference Agenda or on the Conference floor.

And discuss we did! In examining the Agenda report from the General Church Board, delegates voiced questions and concerns over a number of matters. Chief among them was the non-renewal of employment for now-former BIC World Missions (BICWM) Executive Director Chris Sharp, who transitioned out of her position earlier this year. Delegates asked a number of probing questions, including questions about the transparency surrounding the process of Sharp’s transition; they also raised concerns about the current lack of an Executive Director for BICWM. (Since Sharp’s transition, BICWM is being overseen by a interim leadership team.)

In addition, delegates devoted considerable time to discussing the Financial Reports. Discussion was wide-ranging, covering issues like designated giving, Cooperative Ministries, and the underfunding of the pension plan. In his sponsorship of the reports, outgoing General Conference Board treasurer John Cox expressed confidence in the church’s current financial state, while also admitting that we have much work to do. Candidly, Cox admitted, “At General Conference two years ago (2012), I was very worried about our denomination’s future. Today, I’m very excited about where we’re heading… and feel confident about our ability to fund ongoing Kingdom work.”

An afternoon session proceeded along similar lines. One major theme of the discussion was accountability in leadership. How do we trust one another, especially our leaders? How do we want to be led as a body of believers? What does it mean to be “transparent” in leadership? These are hard questions, and not ones that were easily answered in our sessions. But our commitment to brother- and sisterhood enables us to ask these questions even as we declare our commitment to a common mission: of seeing lives transformed by Jesus Christ.

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Quizzing: Day 2 Results

While delegates to General Conference have been dialoguing about important issues related to the future of our faith family, eight teams of young women and men from our U.S. congregations have been engaged in equally important work: high-intensity, friendly competition in our denominational Bible quizzing finals!

Today was the second day of round robin quizzing, as teams competed for seeding in tomorrow’s double-elimination finals. After an intense day of close matches, with each team quizzing each opponent once, the rankings look like this:

1. Dillsburg
2. New Vision
3. Five Forks
4. Hanover
5. Fairview Avenue
6. Elizabethtown
7. Harrisburg Narcissus
8. Harrisburg Rufus

To see photos and other updates from today’s and yesterday’s quizzing, check out the BIC Quizzing Facebook page.

Tomorrow, quizzers will enter into double-elimination playoffs at 2 p.m. Stay tuned to the BIC Quizzing Facebook page for periodic updates, and be sure to catch the live stream video of the final quiz tomorrow (Sunday) evening.

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Saturday Activities and Events

The first day of business sessions is about to get underway here at GC 2014. As delegates come together to dialogue and make decisions about the future of our church community, they also look forward to times for fellowship and learning.

A few events will be taking place later today that delegates may want to know about:

 mccMennonite Central Committee (MCC) Alumni luncheon
12:30-1:30 p.m., Dining Hall LL, Room 117
Alumni and friends of MCC are invited to gather for fellowship and hear stories of MCC’s work. Everyone is welcome to bring their lunches and join us; if you don’t have a meal plan, you can still come — drinks, snacks, and desserts will be provided for all.

Council for Women in Ministry and Leadership luncheon
12:30-1:30 p.m., G. Parke Book Building, Room 302
Featuring Bishops Perry and Pauline dialoguing on “Women in Pastoral Ministry: Today and Tomorrow.” Everyone is welcome to bring their lunches and join us.

ashlandAshland Theological Seminary Alumni & Friends dinner
5:30-6:30 p.m., G. Parke Book Building, Room 302
Alumni and friends of Ashland Seminary are invited to join us for a dinner to hear about the wonderful things God continues to do at our institution. Bring your dinner, or take advantage of light refreshments available for those without a meal plan.

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Celebrating Our Past, Anticipating Our Future (Friday Service Recap)

evening5

In his sermon, National Director Alan Robinson reminded attendees that “Jesus is… serious” in what he says and what he calls people to do.

Heritage and horizon: these dual themes suffused the opening worship service of the 2014 General Conference of the Brethren in Christ Church in the U.S.

The celebration of our heritage was evident in the first songs sung during tonight’s service: the classic hymns “And Can It Be” and “Arise and Shine” (penned by two BIC leaders of the early 20th century). Reflecting historic practices within our community, attendees were separated along gender lines – men sitting on one side of the sanctuary, and women on the other – and invited to sing without instrumental accompaniment. The beautiful four-part harmonies resonated gloriously through the High Fine Arts Center auditorium at Lancaster Mennonite School, as brothers and sisters in Christ raised their voices in praise to our everlasting God.

The celebration of our heritage was also evident as we honored the service of many long-time BIC leaders transitioning out of ministry roles at this General Conference: Warren Hoffman, moderator of the BIC Church; Elvin Peifer, CEO of the BIC Foundation; Chris Sharp, executive director of BIC World Missions (BICWM); and Pauline Peifer, bishop of the Atlantic Regional Conference.

In her tribute to Sharp, Mirta Colloca, chair of the BICWM board, quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s wise observation, “Everybody can be great . . . because anybody can serve.” These words could apply equally to each of these dedicated BIC leaders, who have guided our church family through both triumphs and tribulations, during their many years of service.

The worship team from Carlisle BIC Church leads attendees in singing "10,000 Reasons."

The worship team from Carlisle BIC Church leads attendees in singing “10,000 Reasons.”

And yet even as we celebrated our treasured heritage as the BIC family, we also anticipated our future, looking expectantly toward the horizon. As we sang great hymns of the faith, we also joined our voices together in more contemporary songs, like “10,000 Reasons.” We welcomed Alan Robinson, our new National Director, to his first General Conference in this role. And we listened to Kris G., a BICWM missionary serving among unreached / least reached groups, as she shared her enthusiasm for the BIC Church’s strategic vision on reaching these people with the good news of Jesus Christ.

National Director Alan Robinson blended these themes of legacy and looking forward in his sermon. Drawing on the Conference theme of “Jesus is…,” Robinson reminded attendees that Jesus is serious – in both what he says, and what he calls his followers to do. Jesus was serious when he called his disciples to lives of costly obedience; he was serious when he called his disciples to lives of devotion and service. He’s just as serious today. Alluding to Dr. Carlton O. Wittlinger’s book Quest for Piety and Obedience – the classic history of the Brethren in Christ Church – Robinson declared, “The great heritage we have as a faith family is a heritage of taking Jesus seriously: of living lives of piety and obedience.” That heritage, Robinson further claimed, must be embraced today. “We BIC have a great heritage,” Robinson concluded. “But our horizons are yet to be taken. The challenge for us to is take that next step in fath.”

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