Everyone’s publishing “decade in review” lists–best movies, best sports plays, most significant news stories, ground-breaking new products, top scandals, etc.

How would we recap the decade for the United Brethren church? Here are ten UB highlights of the decade, in roughly chronological order.

2001 General Conference. This was a historic conference. We adopted a true international structure, with 7 autonomous national conferences joined together by the Confession of Faith and an international constitution. Huntington, Ind., stopped being the United Brethren “world” headquarters, and became just the US headquarters. No longer does United Brethrenism revolve around the United States. Colonialism: RIP.

Open Theism. A whole lot of turbulence arose around Dr. John Sanders, a professor at Huntington University who was a leading proponent of what is called Open Theism. United Brethren theology clashed, hard, with academic freedom. Both church and college came under criticism from the broader evangelical community. In the end, an exit strategy was worked out for Dr. Sanders, and both church and college began mending the wounds.

Joining the Missionary Church. In early 2003, the UB Executive Leadership Team voted to pursue merging our denomination into the Missionary Church, a like-minded, larger denomination based in Fort Wayne, Ind. As leadership pushed this initiative, a group called UB Hope arose to rally people against it. Ultimately, UB members voted it down in a referendum, 56%-44%. This set the stage for lots of soul-searching about why we exist and the adoption of a whole new structure.

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A Cup of Christmas Tea 2009

The Healthy Ministry Resources staff started the day with a tradition that goes back a number of years–a Cup of Christmas Tea. Donna Hollopeter started this back in the 1990s.

The lights were dimmed as we entered the conference room, with candles burning and instrumental Christmas music playing quietly. A nice, tranquil atmosphere.

After we were all seated, Donna read the Christmas story and prayed. Then she introduced the food at the front of the room–bread, cheeseballs, coffee cake, and much more. And then there were the teapots, five of them, all filled with a different kind of tea.

We filled out plates. Then, as we ate, Donna introduced “A Cup of Christmas Tea,” a poem written and read by Tom Hegg. We continued eating, often trekking to the front for more food or to try a different flavor of tea. Then we just sat around talking for a while. It was a great way to begin the day, and a reminder of why Christmas is special. Thanks, Donna!

Rick Warren got into the Twitter game a couple months ago, and I’ve been following him. His tweets are some of the more interesting and redeeming ones. Lots of fluff and nonsense out there, but Warren sends out very useful and sometimes provocative tidbits.

Last week, Warren sent out this tweet:

Finding time to read the great spiritual classics is no mystery. Turn off the TV. Nothing on TV today will matter in 10 years.

Then, to drive home the point, he sent this tweet:

“A wise person is hungry for truth, while the fool feeds on trash.” Proverbs 15:14 (NLT)

All I can say is: touche.

At Anchor Community Church, we’re always on the prowl for new worship songs. Most new songs we learn from Christian radio.  When we attend Christian events, we’re not particularly interested in hearing songs we already know. We want to hear new stuff. It’s disappointing to leave an event having heard the same ol’ songs.

We brought back two songs from last summer’s US National Conference, which we’ve incorporated into our repertoire: “Revelation Song” and “Let Me Sing.” Thanks, Mainstreet worship team!

A Willow Creek conference taught us “Lord I Will.” A Promise Keepers convention provided “I Am Free,” “Strong Tower,” and “How Great is Our God.” MinistryCOM introduced me to “Yes You Have” and Michael Neale’s “More and More.” All of these are now regular songs at Anchor, songs our people enjoy. The latest batch of “possibles” includes two songs I heard at this year’s MinistryCOM.

I’m no music expert. I’ve been playing on worship teams for 20 years, but I’m still basically a keyboard hacker with a rock-and-roll bent. But I see a lot of wonderful music being written today, music that connects with me and with our congregation.

And it’s not necessarily fluff or repetitive (as too many people stereotype contemporary Christian music). We’re talking songs with multiple verses, plus a bridge (which you don’t find in hymns). Songs that, if written in another era, would have been included in a hymnal and revered today.

Too many churches still fight music wars, with parishioners who have sung the exact same hymns for 60 years resisting the introduction of any new music. That always makes me sad…and very grateful for the wide-open attitude at Anchor.

Here are some precautions churches can take regarding the H1N1 (swine flu) virus. These ideas have been gathered from here and there.

  • Encourage people to get a flu shot, and make people aware of where they can get one. Offer church funds to pay for flu shots. 
  • Make sure church staffmembers get vaccinated.
  • Encourage people to stay home if they are sick, if they feel like they might be getting sick, and for a couple days after they’ve had the flu. Encourage children with ill household members to stay home.
  • Take extra precautions with at risk populations: anyone under age 24, and especially children under 5.
  • Be very strict with nursery workers, since infants are at greatest risk. If an adult has had the flu recently or been exposed to persons with the flu, find someone else to serve in the nursery. You might require that nursery workers be vaccinated.
  • Churches might want to take extra care in cleaning areas where people congregate–sanctuary, lobby, children’s area.
  • Place hand sanitizer in high-traffic areas for public use.
  • Announce a temporary alternative to handshaking, like just saying hello, giving a little hand-wave, nod, or bow. Don’t feel obligated to shake hands or give a hug. If you have a greeting time during the service, don’t force people into this by saying, “Shake hands with three people you don’t know.” Provide a substitute greeting.
  • If you do shake hands with people at church, be sure to wash your hands afterwards (good advice even when it’s not flu season).
  • Have ushers, children’s workers, and persons serving communion use hand sanitizer.
  • Encourage people to cover a cough or sneeze. Use your elbow or shoulder instead of your hands when a tissue or handkerchief isn’t available.
  • Some frequently-touched areas to clean with an alcohol-based cleaner: doorknobs, desks, counters, keyboards, lightswitches, crash bars, drinking fountains, bathroom levers and knobs, toys, potluck utensils, refrigerator handles, remote controls.
  • Some churches have announced that pastors will, for the time being, no longer shake hands with parishioners after the service, and have done away with holding hands while singing, reciting the Lord’s Prayer, etc.

kimberlyyoung100.jpgKimberly Young (right), a 22-year-old from Mt. Zion UB (Wayne, Ohio), died yesterday of complications from the H1N1 (swine flu) virus. She began showing flu symptoms last week, and was treated for the flu at a hospital. But her fever returned this past Tuesday, and she died the next day. Her asthma likely contributed to her death. The funeral will be held this Saturday, Sept. 26, at Mt. Zion UB.

Wherever people gather, the risk of spreading the flu rises. Businesses, schools, and colleges are gearing up for what could be a major flu outbreak this winter. It would be wise for churches, also, to take precautions.

Some things to know about H1N1:

  • The best form of prevention is the vaccine. The seasonal flu vaccine, distributed every year, is available now. The specific H1N1 vaccine will be available later this fall. Get both. Each protects against a different virus, and they are intended to work alongside each other.
  • Person-to-person contact is the easiest way to transmit the flu virus.
  • A person diagnosed with H1N1 is considered contagious up to 72 hours before symptoms start and a day or two after symptoms end. If your fever breaks on Friday, don’t come to church on Sunday. And be aware that others in your household, who may not have developed symptoms yet, could still be contagious if you send them to church.
  • Children under 5 years of age are at increased risk. The risk is greater for children under 2. And infants less than 6 months old are the most vulnerable, because they are too young to receive the vaccinations.

Much information is available at Flu.gov

Two United Brethren ministers in two countries passed away within a day of each other, both from cancer. And there was a strong bond between them. They had been partners in ministry 40 years before.

wust_haroldYesterday, September 21, Rev. Harold Wust was laid to rest. He passed away last Thursday, September 17. Each of the five Wust children spoke about their father. Then Josh Kesler, pastor of Good Shepherd  UB church, which Harold attended, gave a message.

Harold’s father immigrated from Germany to Alberta, Canada, around 1930, and Harold was born there. However, the family returned to Leipzig, Germany, in 1939. In 1940, at age 10, Harold became part of the Hitler Youth, though at that age the Nazi ideology meant little to him.

After the war Harold, a Canadian citizen, returned to Canada on his own. He ended up in Fort Erie, Ontario, where he met Ray Zimmerman, pastor of the Garrison Road United Brethren church. Under the preaching of evangelist Paul Graham, Harold gave his heart to Christ.

Harold went on to become an ordained United Brethren pastor. Then, in 1966, he and wife Dee went to Honduras as UB missionaries. They served one term, 1966-1970. Then Harold accepted a position as Associate Director of Missions, which he held for about 20 years.

The Wusts served in Honduras when the Soccer War broke out between Honduras and El Salvador in July 1969. All Salvadoranians living in Honduras were rounded up and imprisoned. That included several United Brethren pastors in the La Ceiba area.

martinez_guillermoGuillermo Martinez was one of them. Harold and Guillermo often traveled together to villages and churches throughout northern Honduras. Guillermo pastored the large Ebenezer UB church in La Ceiba, but always loved traveling with Harold to visit the country churches.

After the war broke out, Harold walked with Guillermo to the city’s soccer stadium, where Salvadoranians were being kept in very poor conditions. Guillermo became a leader among the prisoners, and began holding services. During two months of captivity, over 125 men became Christians.

Meanwhile, Harold and Hondurans at the Bethel church (located across the street from the soccer stadium) brought food and other aid to the prisoners.

After the war, the Salvadoranians couldn’t stay in the country. Most returned to El Salvador. But Guillermo Martinez, with his Honduran wife, couldn’t go there. Instead, God opened a door for them to move to Nicaragua, where the UBs had begun work.

Guillermo and Linda Martinez moved to Masaya, Nicaragua, in March 1970 to start a church. During the first ten months, 60 people found Christ. He later became superintendent of Nicaragua Conference, leading them through the turbulent years of the Sandinista revolution and toward the thriving national conference they are today.

Guillermo Martinez passed away September 18 from stomach cancer. Just 36 hours earlier, Harold Wust had died.

Harold had been diagnosed with cancer in January 1999. A surgery removed parts of seven organs. But doctors said his liver was filled with inoperable cancer, and he had 6-12 months to live. But three months later at a cancer center in Texas he was told that there was no sign of cancer in his liver. He had been miraculously healed and given another ten years on this earth.

Now, both Harold and Guillermo have been reunited in heaven.

Steve Dennie, Communications Director
Last Thursday I attended a Communications Roundtable in Indianapolis. It’s a bi-monthly group of people who do communications for large churches. The sponsor is Fishhook, a really wonderful Christian communications/branding firm in Indy.

The topic for this meeting was “Media Relations.” We had several speakers, including a religion reporter for the Indianapolis Star newspaper. Here are some of their comments and suggestions:

  • Newspapers are in a time of change. They are trying to do more (like adding websites) with fewer people.
  • If you want them to cover an event, give two weeks of lead time.
  • Be understanding if they can’t cover your church event. Newspaper people aren’t able to get out as much as in the past.
  • Newspapers are reducing the size of their printed papers, and writing shorter, more tightly-written stories.
  • Understand that editors and reporters get scores of phone calls, emails, and voice messages while working on strict deadlines. It’s easy for things to slip through the cracks.
  • Leave short voice messages, and identify yourself and your church clearly.
  • They like photo features.
  • They are always looking for digital material, such as video and photos, that they can use on the web.
  • They appreciate when you suggest stories and story angles.
  • They prefer stories about people, rather than about institutions.
  • Understand that their main responsibility is to their readers. They are looking for the angle that will make the story most interesting to the bulk of their readers.
  • Develop a relationship with reporters and editors. Don’t just pitch them information to get free publicity. Relationships will serve you much better in the long run.
  • Don’t bombard them with information about every little church event. We get excited about what’s happening in our church and want to throw it all out to the public. But before long, they’ll just begin ignoring your submissions. Be strategic in suggesting stories. Once a quarter is good.
  • A good story angle: how something your church does ties into trends, topics, and issues of interest to the entire community.
  • Help the reporter by providing people who can talk about the issue or event, and suggest visuals (like photos).
  • What reporters see as fair and objective may not seem that way to you. Trust their judgment. They’re not out to get you. They’re just ordinary people who probably attend a church near you.

Greg Atkinson wrote a good blog item called “Digital Real Estate.” He admonishes churches and pastors to be proactive in reserving names for themselves on key social media sites, like Facebook and Twitter.

I’ve written about the need for churches to reserve a domain name for themselves, even if they don’t intend to use it right away. Domain names are very cheap real estate. If you find a name you like, I suggest reserving it for 10 years or longer. At NetworkSolutions.com, you can do that for $180, a 48% discount from the one-year rate. Network Solutions is good about bugging you when it’s time to renew. Unfortunately, every year one or two UB churches forget to renew their domain name, and must start over with web and email addresses.

But some real estate is free. We’ve reserved several Twitter accounts which we don’t currently plan to use (ubyouth, ubwomen). I just wanted to get possession of the names. Likewise for Facebook (as Greg Atkinson points out). If blogging interests you, get a Blogger.com account in your name.

Just focus on the most popular sites. You might want to get a Gmail account in your church’s or your personal name, or Flickr. Keep on the lookout, and make sure you write down the login name and password, especially if you don’t plan to use it right away.

lessclutter_160.jpg

You’ve read multiple books on church growth, discipleship, evangelism, and leadership. I’ll bet you haven’t read one about local church communications…because there aren’t too many. Since this is a communication-intensive world, let me recommend “Less Clutter, Less Noise,” by Kem Meyer.

Kem is Communications Director at Granger Community Church near South Bend, Ind. That’s a fast-growing, highly innovative church focused tightly on reaching lost people. I attended a seminar there, attended a service another time, and I read blogs by Kem and a few other Granger staff. It’s valuable being exposed regularly to people who aren’t merely doing church, but are passionate about reaching the lost.

That emphasis comes through in “Less Clutter, Less Noise.” As Kem deals with communication strategy and technique (and she loves the cutting edge), it all comes from an outreach-oriented heart. That’s the context in which Kem operates. I’ve heard her speak in three different conferences now, and she has consistently conveyed the same attitude–an attitude toward everything we do in communications, and an attitude toward the people we’re trying to reach.

Her main premise is something like this: people are looking for something that’ll make a difference in their lives, but they’re so bombarded with information and choices that they can easily miss the church’s message. We need to break through the clutter–not add to it. She deals with a number of issues, always with short (1-3 page) pieces. “Less Clutter, Less Noise” reads more like a blog than a book (which I’m guessing was intentional).

You’ll find parts that don’t apply to you (as I did). But you’ll discover some important perspectives on  “church growth” that you won’t find elsewhere.
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