The BishopBlog is your one-stop United Brethren browser bookmark. The UB Grand Central Station of information. Come here, and we’ll point you to what’s happening in the UB world.

The United Brethren church has a large web presence.

  • The site–the official website of the UB church in the United States.
  •–the work of Global Ministries and our international conferences.
  •–the Huntington University site.
  • The BishopBlog–which is where you’re at right now.
  •–a UB service which provides websites for churches.
  • The UB News page–where we regularly post UB-related news.
  • The staff openings and church websites pages frequently contain new info.
  • The UB church and missionary directories are tied into our master database.
  • Blogs by UB people–a growing list.

So how do you keep track of what’s happening?

  • Bookmark all of these sites in your browser.
  • Check each one individually to see if something has changed?

No. Just come here. As a shortcut, will get you here, too.

Here in the national office, we’re excited about the upcoming arrival of Jeff Bleijerveld as the new Director of Global Ministries. He’s a quality guy who will fit right in. I’ll enjoy watching him take our missions program to the next level…whatever that is. Jeff starts on March 3.

Tomorrow, the office staff will hold a farewell luncheon for Gary Dilley, who served as Global Ministries director from August 2001 until January of this year. Because of a prior commitment, I’ll miss that luncheon. Pat Jones has offered to eat my pizza for me, and he’s welcome to it. But since I’ll be gone, I thought I’d use this space to say some words about Gary, who has been a beloved friend, in addition to a coworker.

The 1990s were a time of unprecedented expansion in our worldwide ministry. In 1993, Ray Seilhamer was elected bishop and Kyle McQuillen was elected as Director of Missions, and they both served until 2001. At that time, we had churches in eight countries, and had opened only one new field per decade–Nicaragua in the 1960s, India in the 1970s, and Macau in 1987.
But from 1993-2001, the number of fields nearly doubled:

  • 1993: Thailand
  • 1995: Costa Rica
  • 1997: Mexico
  • 1998: Myanmar
  • 1999: El Salvador
  • 2000: Haiti
  • 2000: Guatemala

In addition, the church planting work in India grew by leaps and bounds, and a number of Hispanic churches in the United States arose through the work of Denis Casco. Disclaimer: we in North America can’t take credit for this expansion. Much of it came from the initiative of our churches in Hong Kong and Central America. But in each case, we were involved, often heavily involved. So a great deal of new territory needed to be assimilated into worldwide United Brethrenism, and numerous new demands were placed on Global Ministries funds.

Registrations for the US National Conference now stand at 715, which is pretty incredible. Unfortunately, this means we outgrew the accommodations available at Sawmill Creek. However, a number of hotels are located within just a few miles, and we have secured rooms from several different hotels (two of which have their own waterparks!).

If you still need to register, contact Administrative Assistant Marsha Biard about lodging. The rates vary, depending on the motel.

Thus far, people from 123 of our 210 United States churches have registered (plus two churches in Canada).

Registrations for the 2007 US National Conference have been streaming in continuously. Over 100 were added in the past week, bringing us up to 380 registrations as of Friday, March 23. Persons from 88 different UB churches (including one UB church in Canada) are now registered for the May 31 – June 3 conference in Huron, Ohio.

Of the registrants, 100 are ministers, and 70 are the spouses of ministers (there will be special workshops designed just for pastors’ wives). We also have 52 children registered.

March 15 was the deadline Bishop Ron Ramsey set for churches to return the National Church Covenant. As of March 23, 144 of the 209 possible churches had returned the covenant, so we’ve got a ways to go there. The Discipline calls for cluster leaders to organize congregational meetings in churches that have not returned the covenant by April 1, to determine if their intention is to not sign the covenant and withdraw from the denomination. If some other reason has prevented you from returning the covenant, please let the bishop know, so that time and effort isn’t wasted in organizing congregational meetings.

As of March 22, we were still waiting on election results from about 60 of our churches (the deadline for reporting was March 15). In addition, 44 pastors had not submitted their annual reports for 2006 (for this, the deadline was March 1).

We’re anticipating a superb experience at the US National Conference. It will be unlike any previous UB gathering, and certainly far different from any previous national conference or general conference. The early registration period lasts until April 1, after which registration rates go up $10.

We lifetime churchgoers have our own lingo, with inside-the-Bible-Beltway terminology seldom used beyond the church walls. And some words, though they get used in the secular world, adopt a slightly different connotation when used in a church context. We all know that, but ingrained speech habits are hard to break.

Last Friday I attended a Communications workshop at Granger Community Church. Since they focus laser-like on unchurched people, they force themselves to use language which the world understands. Now, I don’t think it’s worthwhile to get too uptight about this stuff, but it is worthwhile to be sensitive to it. So, here are some terms they avoid at Granger, and how they replace them.

Churchy Word Replace With…
Fellowship Community
Intimacy Connection
Ministry Group
Target Guest or visitor
Go deeper Next step
Need Opportunity
Program Experience
Maturity Growth
Recruit Invite
Pulpit Platform
Sanctuary Auditorium
Foyer or vestibule Lobby

I was reminded of this a few months ago when I attended a funeral at a Lutheran church. They used terms like “chancel” that weren’t part of my church experience, and I felt like an outsider. Yes, I was an outsider. But a church shouldn’t remind someone of that. We need to help people feel comfortable, find ways to put them in their comfort zone. As Kem Meyer said in the workshop, a person’s comfort zone may be behind a cup of coffee or sitting in front of multimedia. But much of what we do in churches does not make an outsider feel comfortable. We don’t inflict this discomfort intentionally; we’re not thoughtless or cruel. We just keep stumbling into our familiar ruts, and kinda forget where other people are.

Thinking about the words we use is a nice start in helping visitors feel comfortable in our midst.

We’re in the midst of another national election. From what I’ve observed, United Brethren churches keep a good balance when it comes to political activity, and most prefer to avoid partisan politics. Which is proper, according to the IRS publication, Tax Guide for Churches and Religious Organizations. Consider this excerpt from the section “Political Campaign Activity”:

“Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made by or on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity. Violation of this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status….When it participates in political campaign activity, a church or religious organization jeopardizes both its tax-exempt status under IRC section 501(c)(3) and its eligibility to receive tax-deductible contributions.”

Most UB churches owe their tax-exempt status to the denomination, which provides an umbrella 501(c)(3) exemption. One politically vocal UB church could, conceivably, jeopardize the charitable status of all UB churches, and cause tithes and offerings to no longer qualify as charitable contributions. So it’s a serious thing.

People expect certain basic amenities in a church. Indoor plumbing. A roof. Chairs to sit on. Telephone service. And now–a website. The younger generations, at least, expect a website. If you don’t have one, then to many people, you don’t exist. Like it or not. That’s just a new reality.

When young adults look for a church, the first place they go is Google, which is pretty much the new Yellow Pages. People will type in the name of a city and state, and perhaps a zip code–“church Huntington IN 46750”–and see what turns up. They can then anonymously research churches at their leisure, 24/7, and decide which one they’d like to visit. By the time they physically attend a church, they’ll feel like they’ve already “visited” five (or more) churches by checking out their websites and reading about them.

We have a superb track record when nearby UB churches merge. I wish the Elgin UB church had gone that route.
My mom grew up at Elgin, a small rural congregation outside of Van Wert, Ohio. I was related to a good share of the congregation, nearly all of them farmers. I say “was” because the church closed some years ago after doing what way too many small churches do–numbers decline, young families don’t seem interested, the long-time faithful grow increasingly frustrated that nothing seems to work, they go through years of just trying to hang on…and eventually they close. A family bought the Elgin building and turned it into a house.

It always made sense, to me, for Elgin to join forces with the nearby Monticello UB church. They were on a circuit for many years, no more than ten minutes away. The preacher would do his thing at Monticello while Elgin held Sunday school. Then he’d rush over to Elgin, arriving during the singing and just in time for the message. Some wonderful Christian people attended Elgin, and Monticello would have benefited from their wisdom and commitment.

But too many of the Elgin stalwarts–and I can say this, because so many were my relatives–were smitten with no small amount of pride, and I always sensed a touch of rivalry with the larger Monticello. They feared being swallowed up, feared losing power. So instead, Elgin died a slow death. Some wonderful people squandered years of ministry aboard a clearly sinking ship, until finally they just gave up and closed.

On the other hand, consider these churches:

  • In 1985, three congregations merged to form the Lake View UB church in Camden, Mich., which today is a thriving congregation.
  • In the 1990s, the Calvary and Otterbein UB churches of Rockford, Ohio, merged. Today this growing congregation, called New Horizons, has a superb building on new property.
  • In 2000, the Immanuel UB church in Carlisle, Pa., merged with a non-UB church to form today’s Bethany Evangelical Church, a UB congregation.
  • Last year, two churches in or near Willshire, Ohio, merged to form PraisePoint. The Willshire and Zion churches, once both small and struggling, now have an amazing new building on a busy corner in Willshire, and their future is bright.

Merging congregations like this just plain works. As far as I can tell, our track record is 100 percent. I’m sure it’s the answer for some of today’s struggling UB churches. I hate seeing fine Christian people wither in frustration when they could become part of something alive and growing–something that would bring them great joy. But there is a price to pay in “giving up” power, control, and heritage, even though it’s for a greater cause. Too many congregations aren’t sufficiently courageous and selfless to make it happen. But others are. Perhaps your church has what it takes. Yeah, I’ll bet you do. See that UB church 10 or 20 minutes away? Talk to them.