Matt and Jodi Coppess and children.

Matt and Jodi Coppess and children.

Steve Dennie, Communications Director

For the second year, Bishop Phil Whipple created an NCAA bracket on ESPN and invited UB ministers, missionaries, and national office staff to participate. A total of 73 persons filled out brackets. Of those, 44 picked Kentucky to win, 11 picked Wisconsin, and 7 picked Duke. Six persons got the Final Four right, but none of them picked a Wisconsin vs. Duke final, and none of them picked Duke to win it all.

Bishop emeritus Paul Hirschy was solidly in the lead going into the Final Four. However, both of his teams (Kentucky and Michigan State) lost on Saturday, so Paul dropped out of contention.

The winner was a new guy: Matt Coppess. In October 2014, Matt became Pastor of Family Ministries at Heart O the Lakes UB church in Brooklyn, Mich. He finished with 1400 points, 30 points above second-place finisher James Hippensteel, Pastor of Congregational Care at The Well in Huntington, Ind.

Congratulations, Matt! And welcome to the United Brethren family!

Matt is an interesting guy. He grew up in Lansing, Mich., and for a good part of his childhood attended the UB church in Sunfield, Mich. In Lansing, he was part of Youth for Christ groups directed by another UB, Trent Bushnell.

Matt always wanted to become an officer in the military, and to play football at one of the military academies. His good grades and gridiron skills provided two choices: West Point, or the Air Force Academy. He says he chose West Point because his hero, George Patton, wasn’t in the Air Force.

Matt played offensive tackle for three years at West Point. He spent one summer serving at Fort Benning, in Georgia, as a drill sergeant.

Then, in a wrestling class, Matt injured his shoulder. Badly. He returned to Lansing to spend a year on medical leave, trying to rehab the shoulder, and then went back to West Point. Matt knew his shoulder was still messed up, but he tried to fake it. However, doctors saw through it, and said his shoulder wasn’t good enough for military life.

So, back to Michigan. He finished his studies at Michigan State, and embarked on 20 years with Youth for Christ. He started with ten years in Lansing, where he developed student leader curriculum and supervised both paid staff and volunteers. In 1999, he married Jodi Traynor, a 1996 Huntington University graduate with a degree in youth ministry. She served on staff with Lansing YFC for ten years, 1995-2005.

In 2005, after the birth of their first child, Jake, the Coppess family moved to Saginaw, where Matt served as executive director for Great Lakes Bay YFC. Cristin and Zach joined the family in 2006 and 2009.

After nine years in Saginaw, Matt took a YFC position in Tuscaloosa, Ala. But Matt grew weary of fundraising. After a year, he learned about a staff position open at Heart O the Lakes. He was familiar with the pastor, Kevin Cherry, who had previously pastored the Sunfield church. He applied…and there they are.

Roxie Stahl

Roxie Stahl

Steve Dennie, Communications Director

Roxie Stahl, 88, passed away March 18, 2013, at a retirement community in North Manchester, Ind. She spent 26 years working for Huntington University, 1964-1990, serving as editor, publications director, and public relations director.

Like many former Huntington University students, not to mention the numerous faculty and staff who worked alongside her, I have very fond memories of Roxie.

First of all, Roxie was clearly a highly talented writer and graphic artist. She was a book illustrator and graphic artist before joining the college staff, and did chalk presentations for churches and organizations across the Midwest. At Huntington University, she juggled many responsibilities in what was basically, in those years, a one-person communications shop. She could wear all of the necessary hats, cranking out quality material in whatever genre was needed.

But I also remember, with gratitude, the interest she took in me as a student. Sure, it helped that I liked to write and that she knew my parents (Dad worked with her at the college for a couple of years). But she just enjoyed students, and thrived in the college environment. I always found her pleasant, personable…and Christ-like.

In my case, Roxie took a special interest in developing my writing ability. She found great pleasure in sending some of my campus writings to Huntington and Fort Wayne newspapers, and was absolutely thrilled–more thrilled than I was, I think–when something appeared with my byline. She, along with the amazing Edwina Patton, continually encouraged me and nudged me toward a career in writing.

After I graduated and began working in the United Brethren denominational office as editor, I worked with Roxie on a professional basis for ten years. She continually supplied me with quality articles to use in our publications, and with whatever else I needed to tell the story of the college. And the encouragement never let up. When I landed articles in other Christian publications, I would want to tell Roxie, because I knew she would be both interested and proud.

Roxie, as I think about it, was somewhat of a mentor to me, though I never thought of her that way until just now.

A memorial service will be held April 13 at 2pm at Grandstaff-Hentgen Funeral home in Wabash, Ind.

Steve Holtrop as Santa and Lori Garde, program assistant for the graduate counseling program, as Mrs. Claus.

Dr. G. Blair Dowden, president of Huntington University, makes a stop at the treats table in Shelly Francka’s office.

Kristi Welker, online admissions counselor, and Tanya Horvath, admissions counselor for professional programs, are among the elves.

Kristi Welker, online admissions counselor, and Tanya Horvath, admissions counselor for professional programs, are among the elves.

The Healthy Ministry Resources staff takes it turn at the sweets table. L-r: Bishop Phil Whipple, administrative assistant Cathy Reich, Finance Director Marci Hammel, and Global Ministries administrative assistant Peggy Sell.

The Healthy Ministry Resources staff takes it turn at the sweets table. L-r: Bishop Phil Whipple, administrative assistant Cathy Reich, Finance Director Marci Hammel, and Global Ministries administrative assistant Peggy Sell.

Steve Dennie, Communications Director

The Healthy Ministry Resources national office in Huntington, Ind., shares its building with the Huntington University Division of Graduate and Adult Studies. The graduate school moved to our building back in 2001, and a local nonprofit organization rented out offices in the back of the building. The HU EXCEL Adult Degree Programs moved into the latter offices about five years ago. With just a dozen employees on the United Brethren side, we have plenty of room to spare.

On one side of the building are the main offices for the Masters programs (Counseling, Education, and Youth Ministry), including the office of the guy in charge, Steve Holtrop (left), Dean of Graduate and Professional Programs. Then in the back of the building are the offices for the EXCEL Adult Degree Programs. They have four offices, into which they cram a lot more than four people. Shelly Francka (right), whose office is just around the corner from mine, is Director of Professional Programs (meaning, I guess, in charge of EXCEL).

It’s been a great relationship. The HU folks are fun and friendly, they laugh a lot, and they tolerate us when we UBs get far too noisy. And, most important of all, whenever they bring food, they invite us to partake.

During this Christmas season, the university ran a little office-decorating contest. Eight entities–the Registrar’s office, the library, the business office, the food service, the department of nursing, the Learning Center, the President’s Office, and the graduate/adult programs–participated.

Our friends in the UB Building really went to town. They decorated all of the doors, put up a bunch of Christmas trees (three of them just down the hall from me), adorned walls, and generally made the place very festive. To get in the spirit, we in Healthy Ministry Resources decorated our doors, too.

Then, today, people went around to the various offices. For the Division of Graduate and Adult Studies, the alotted time was 1-3 pm. Shelly Francka had way too much sweet stuff on a table in her office, with a punch bowl in the hall. On the other side of the building, people got their pictures taken with Santa Claus, aka Steve Holtrop. Most of the staffpersons were dressed as elves. I tell you, they went all out.

During our regular afternoon break, the Healthy Ministry Resources staff was invited to Shelly’s office, where a massive sugar rush awaited.

We don’t know how the voting will turn out yet. We certainly hope our friends in the building will win. They deserve it.

Steve with the Wright Brothers’ photos at the Air and Space Museum (but not quite in tune with the serious expressions required in photography back then).

(Sorry for the glare)

Steve Dennie, Communications Director

In October, Pam and I enjoyed a few days of vacation in Washington, DC. One of those days was spent mostly at the Air and Space Museum.

In the Wright Brothers exhibit, I was surprised, but delighted, to find the name “Church of the United Brethren in Christ” printed at least three times in connection with Wilbur and Orville and their father, Milton, who was a United Brethren bishop. I snapped some photos as proof. There was also a photo of the 1900 General Conference, with Bishop Wright standing front and center.

So, church and state–or at least our church–are not entirely separated at the Smithsonian.

Frank with little Levi.

Peggy Sell (holding Levi) and Ginny.

Frank Y, associate director of Global Ministries, celebrated a birthday on Thursday, March 29. But he received a special surprise that afternoon, when his wife, Ginny, showed up with infant son Levi, who was born in October.

It was also a surprise for the rest of the office staff. We knew Ginny was coming, but none of us had yet seen Levi.

Plus, Ginny brought bagels from Panera Bread.

Terrell Sanders is president of MainStreetOpen, a web development company that played a major role in creating and Last week he sent out a “Website Audit Checklist.” He recommends taking a good look at your church website a couple times a year, and there’s no better time than at the beginning of the year.

  • Verify that your contact information is still accurate. We’re talking church name, address, phone numbers, email addresses, etc.
  • Verify that the content is current. Go through all of your pages. Is there info that needs to be deleted or updated?
  • Verify that your staff information is current. Check names, phone extensions, emails, family descriptions, etc. Is it time for new staff photos?
  • Verify that all links work. This means links to pages in your own site (including all navigation links), and links to other sites.
  • Verify that all programming works. Test functions like contact forms, database lookups, and other bells and whistles.
  • Make a site backup. Store it on a CD or a different server than the one which hosts your website.
  • Check for security updates. If you use a content management system, the software may need some security updates.
  • Most important: Verify that your site still makes a good first impression. Many potential visitors will check out your website before coming for a visit.

Steve Dennie, Communications Director

One simple joy of vacations is attending other churches. Pam and I have visited some good ones over the years. Last year, in Texas, we visited Chuck Swindoll’s church, upon discovering that his church stood just a mile from our hotel.

When you pop in for a Sunday service, all you get is a snapshot. There is so much you never see–small group ministries, needy ministries, youth outreach, pastoral care, missions, evangelism and discipleship, etc. In no way can you judge a church (if that’s what you’re inclined to do) on the basis of a one-time, or two-time, visit. Though I’ve heard many people try.

However, I do take close note of how churches treat guests. And whether it’s a large church or small church, we usually get the same treatment: we are ignored. You’ve experienced the same thing, haven’t you? I say this not with some kind of indignation, but with high amusement, because it’s so common. It’s as if church people are afraid of visitors. As people walk by, avoiding eye contact, it tickles me. I want to reach out my hand and say, “Hey, I won’t bite.”

Steve Dennie, Communications Director

Churches frequently contact me for advice on technology needs, particularly in regard to the internet. Just yesterday, a church contacted me about their website. They need a new website, but also want some kind of online contact management system which several people could access (they are currently just keeping records in a Word document). Did I have any advice?

Those are basic needs for churches of any size–a website, and tracking people.

Our churches are using a lot of different things in both areas, from do-it-yourself tools to purchasing full-blown systems.

I told that church I would find out what some other UB churches are doing, especially in contact management, and get back with them. That’s what I’m doing now.

How is your website done? And what do you use to track people? Whether or not you’re happy with what you use, I’d like to know.

I created a form so you can respond.

I’ll compile results and post them on I’m sure it’ll be helpful to lots of churches that are asking the same questions this church asked of me.

Steve Dennie, Communications Director

Today, everyone’s focused on the death of Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple. He’s a religious figure in that he started the Apple Cult. It started with Mac users, who (like me) could be extremely obnoxious in their evangelistic zeal. It has since spread to include iPod, iPhone, and iPad users. I am all of the above (though the iPad is actually my wife’s).

The Healthy Ministry Resources office has been entirely Macintosh since 1988. Prior to that, I produced the monthly United Brethren magazine on an AT&T PC with two 5.25″ floppy drives (no hard drive). I composed the articles in Wordstar, then sent the disc to a printshop, which printed out the typeset articles in long strips of heavy paper. I then spent up to two weeks doing layout, bent over a light table laboriously pasting everything down, with regular trips to the chiropractor.

When Denny Miller came to the office in 1987 as Associate Director of Church Services, he was already an Apple user. In mid-1988, he dragged me along to a computer store. I believe we went to look at Apple II computers. But instead, we were blown away by the insanely great Mac. I soon had a Mac II on my desk (2MB RAM, 40MB hard drive, monochrome monitor) and a LaserWriter Plus nearby. Within a month, with no training whatsoever, I learned this new computer, along with Pagemaker, and cranked out the October 1988 United Brethren magazine entirely on-screen.

The Mac, truly, changed my life. Or Denny did.

Today, every employee in the office uses a Mac. Gary Gates works here one day a week, and I believe he brings a PC laptop, for which he’s been given a special dispensation. We have a PC in shipping, because UPS requires PC software, and Finance Director Marci Hammel, in addition to her iMac, keeps a PC laptop open for banking purposes. But everyone else uses Macs entirely.

We basically do no training. And since problems are few, I provide support out of my back pocket. So, as a small office, the Mac serves us well. Bishop Whipple came to the office in 2009 as a veteran Mac user. Jeff Bleijerveld came from a PC office, but is now a devoted (but not yet obnoxious) convert. And now we’re working on newcomer Frank Y. It’s just a matter of time.

One more thing: we’ve not had a computer virus since 1991.

Todd Agnew began Fandana

Around 3000 people attended Fandana on Friday.

Superchick was a big hit.

The crowd included people of all ages in a family-friendly atmosphere.

There was face-painting for children.

Attaboy’s roots are with Huntington University

Steve Dennie, Communications Director

The Fandana Festival proved to be a huge success for Huntington University. The three-day festival, August 11-13, began on Thursday afternoon (August 11), led up to a big concert on Friday night, and concluded with a small worship service (for anyone still there) on Saturday morning.

The university estimates that up to 1500 people attended on Thursday, and over 3000 attended on Friday. Over 30 bands participated. The weather, both days, was gorgeous.

Where’d the name “Fandana” come from? It’s just a made-up, catchy word. But unofficially, I’m told, it means “good times, good fun, and good music at Huntington University.” That’s the image they want in people’s minds when they hear the word Fandana.

I previously wrote about my experience attending on Thursday. I returned on Friday for the evening concert at the outdoor “Red Stage,” set up on the soccer practice field, right along Route 24.

I enjoyed the music, but I was most taken by the family-friendly atmosphere. It wasn’t just teens and young adults. There were people of all ages–lots of older baby boomers, lots of young children (including a number of strollers), and everywhere in between. Remember: today’s 60-year-olds came of age during the 1960s; they grew up on rock music.

People brought their own chairs, or lay on blankets on the grass. The young-adult set thronged around the stage, standing up throughout the concert (that’s what young people do–that, and a lot of jumping). Children scampered around being children. People on the fringes threw frisbee rings. I didn’t see anyone smoking.

A bunch of rented inflatables were set up for kids. Just behind the sound booth, women in clown suits were face-painting children and drawing caricatures. Norm the Forester (the HU mascot) and the Star 88.3 mascot (a star, of course) wandered through the crowd. A few older folks sat their chairs clear back in the pine trees along the highway, far from the stage. But the sound level, in my opinion, was pretty tame compared to most rock concerts.

When I arrived around 6 pm, Todd Agnew was performing. He mostly did worship music (his forte), and then gave a 20-minute talk before concluding with a few more songs, including his “Grace Like Rain” take on “Amazing Grace.”

Then the evening kicked into Christian rock mode, with Huntington University’s own Attaboy sandwiched between headliners Superchick and Switchfoot. All were good, and similar. As the sun set, hundreds of colorful glow rings were distributed. People wore them around necks and wrists and ankles, and as darkness descended, it made for quite a colorful sight as you looked over the crowd.

Switchfoot, as planned, took the stage around 9:30. An After Party was held in the Merillat Centre for the Arts at 11 pm, but I was long gone by then.

I appreciated Fandana’s emphasis on two causes: human trafficking, and child soldiers. Two Christian organizations which focus on these causes, and Project AK-47, were promoted throughout the event. The organization names were prominently displayed above the stage, the whole stage backdrop illustrated these causes, and an offering was taken on Friday night.

This was the inaugural Fandana Festival. For a first-time thing, it seemed (to me) to go amazingly well. HU plans to make it an annual event, and will announce next year’s dates soon. This is a great event to bring not just your youth group, but other adults who enjoy contemporary Christian music. The atmosphere is wholesome and fun, making Fandana a nice place to just hang out.