Bishop Phil Whipple at the UB National Office in Huntington with the camp directors. L-r: Bishop Whipple, Chad and Dana Toelke, Brad North, Scott Stephens, and Angela Monn. Scott Stephens.

Bishop Phil Whipple at the UB National Office in Huntington with the camp directors. L-r: Bishop Whipple, Chad and Dana Toelke, Brad North, Scott Stephens, and Angela Monn. Scott Stephens.

Phil Whipple, Bishop

On September 17, I met in Huntington with the directors of four camps.

  • Scott Stephens, fulltime director of Camp Cotubic (Bellefontaine, Ohio) since the beginning of 2014.
  • Angela Monn, fulltime director of Rhodes Grove Camp (Chambersburg, Pa.) since 2009.
  • Brad North, fulltime director of Camp Living Waters (Luther, Mich.). He’s been a camp director for 18 years, but is new to Living Waters this year.
  • Chad and Dana Toelke, from the Coleta UB church in Illinois, who direct the three summer camps at Camp Adeline (Adeline, Ill.). They raise some of their own support and live on the campground.

Until 2005, these camps were owned and operated by United Brethren regional conferences. However, in 2005 we disbanded those conferences and let the camps reorganize as independent entities, no longer under United Brethren ownership or sponsorship. The camps have continued doing well.

But I had some concerns—that perhaps we, as a denomination, could do more to help minimize some risks they might face.

These thoughts were actually prompted over a year ago when we were interviewing candidates for the presidency of Huntington University. I asked Dr. Sherilyn Emberton how she felt about the university being connected to a denomination. She said she wanted that connection. She felt that in the future, some government pressure might fall on independent schools that lack a definite denominational connection. They might be challenged, “You say you’re faith-based. Show us your connection.” She saw value in being connected to a denomination that’s been around for over 200 years.

That made me wonder, Had we put our camps at the same risk? Would it be helpful if they had some kind of formal connection to the denomination?

So I invited the camp directors to come to the National Office. There were three main areas I wanted us to address, and I was pleased with our discussions.

Connections with the Denomination
We no longer own the camps, and don’t want to be owners. When we disbanded the conferences in 2005, there was no intent to harm the camps. They just needed to reorganize themselves as independent camps, separate from the denomination.

However, this may have also put them at risk. The State of Ohio has told Camp Cotubic that they are not a faith-based organization. Rather, the state views them as a children’s camp. Scott Stephens told me they just settled for $26,000 in back taxes—an amount which originally exceeded $70,000. They struggled to show that they were a faith-based group.

Rhodes Grove Camp in Pennsylvania, on the other hand, entered into a covenant with United Brethren churches when Mid-Atlantic Conference disbanded in 2005. The covenant explains what the camp does, says a majority of the board members will be United Brethren members, and sets forth some agreements concerning what the camp and churches will do to maintain their relationship.

This covenant is signed every so many years. I just signed the covenant. Ron Ramsey signed the previous one.

We gave copies of the covenant to the other camp directors, as an example of a document that will show a clear connection to an ecclesiastical body of churches. They’ll take that document to their boards.

Connections with Huntington University
There has been a fairly big disconnect between the camps and our college. For instance, more could be done to recruit HU students as camp counselors and for other roles. Camp Cotubic sees 3500 students a year come through. If college students from your university interact with your church’s high school students, they’ll have an impact. There’s an openness to see that reconnection happen.

We spent about an hour with Dr. Emberton, talking through what can mutually benefit the camps. Lots of ideas were tossed around. Professor Lance Clark, in the Digital Media Arts department, talked to us about a videographer going to the camp. Some camps already produce a video for the week and give it to campers as a keepsake. We talked about PRIME experiences for ministry students that can happen at camps. There was talk about the soccer team doing a camp, and about a January Term class being hosted at a camp. So a lot of options are being considered.

Early in the second semester, the plan is to have the camp directors come back to share with students summer opportunities at the camps.

Connections with Other Camp Directors
Finally, I wanted these camp directors to get acquainted. None of them already knew each other. They may have heard of the other camps, but hadn’t met. They now plan to meet once a year, probably rotating among the different camps so they can see what the other camps are like and what they are doing.

Although these camps are no longer owned by the United Brethren church, UB churches are still their strongest supporters. That hasn’t changed. We believe in what camps can do in making an impact on a student’s life.

L-r: Maria Espinoza, Sandy and Phil Whipple, Rafael Coss, and Robert Espinoza.

L-r: Maria Espinoza, Sandy and Phil Whipple, Rafael Coss, and Robert Espinoza.

Phil Whipple, Bishop

After our weekend visit to the UB church in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Bishop Denis Casco, my wife Sandy, and I returned to El Paso on Tuesday night, July 1. The previous week, we attended services at two of the four UB churches in El Paso. Now we went to a third church, but only for a meal—no service that night.

This church, called Templo Cristiano Vida Grata, is located in Montana Vista, a suburb of El Paso. The building is unique. It started as a garage, and has been added onto a couple times. It can seat 80-some people, which is about what they run in attendance. The church’s pastor, Rafael Coss, and several of his children were there; the youngest is probably still in high school.

Robert Espinoza

Robert Espinoza

Robert Espinoza and some of his adult children came that night. Robert has been a United Brethren pastor for least 15 years now, and would be considered the leader of the UB churches in El Paso. He and his wife and children all speak English very well. Robert is a humble, sweet-spirited guy. It’s easy to feel a connection with his spirit, and I told him so.

After the meal, we sat around and talked about a variety of things. Robert spoke a little about his deep appreciation for Denis Casco, and his appreciation for us being there. Then Denis and I both spoke.

At a restaurant, I asked Robert to tell me his story. He was initially reluctant, saying that his life before Christ was not a pretty picture. But as we warmed in conversation, he shared his spiritual journey.

Robert was born in Mexico, but his family moved to El Paso when he was a boy. That’s where he grew up. Back in the 1960s, he lived sort of the hippy lifestyle as part of the San Francisco drug scene. One particular time he was close to death. His brother was instrumental in getting him out of that lifestyle.

Robert underwent a powerful conversation. He became involved in a church and even did some preaching in San Francisco. But then he felt the urge to return to El Paso.

Robert has, I think, six children. One son, Robert Jr., also went down a very bad path, one strewn with a lot of easy money. He ended up spending four years in prison for money laundering, and his wife left him.

Robert Jr. told me he is thankful for prison, because it forced him to confront his sin and turn his life around. He has been out of prison for about three years now, and God has really turned his life around. He remains single, and has a relationship with his children.

Robert Jr. now leads one of the two services at El Sembrador, the church his father pastors. They discovered that kids were leaving the church when they got old enough, and that bothered them. When they inquired about it, they learned that the younger people were struggling to understand Spanish. They had come up through American schools, and English was their preferred language. So now the early service is in English, with Robert Jr. preaching. It is attended mostly by younger people.

This, I understand, is a challenge faced by Hispanic churches across the country. As the heart language changes from Spanish to English, they must either adapt or limit their fishing pond to persons who maintain Spanish as their primary language.

Bishop Phil and Sandy Whipple (seated) with Pastor Jesus and Irma Lopez of the Centro Cristiano Shalom church in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Bishop Phil and Sandy Whipple (seated) with Pastor Jesus and Irma Lopez of the Centro Cristiano Shalom church in Santa Fe, New Mexico. (click to enlarge)

Rev. Denis Casco, bishop of Mexico Conference, speaking at Centro Cristiano Shalom. His networking brought the Santa Fe (and El Paso) churches into the United Brethren fold.

Rev. Denis Casco, bishop of Mexico Conference, speaking at Centro Cristiano Shalom. His networking brought the Santa Fe (and El Paso) churches into the United Brethren fold.

The Friday night service at Centro Cristiano Shalom.

The Friday night service at Centro Cristiano Shalom.

The Lopez family. L-r: Berenice, Irma, a couple who serve another Hispanic church in Santa Fe, Jesus, and Jaaziel.

The Lopez family. L-r: Berenice, Irma, an unknown couple, Jesus, and Jaaziel.

A Saturday night gathering at Centro Cristiano Shalom of Hispanic pastors and others from throughout Santa Fe.

A Saturday night gathering at Centro Cristiano Shalom of Hispanic pastors and others from throughout Santa Fe.

Phil Whipple, Bishop

At the end of June, I visited the Hispanic United Brethren churches in El Paso, Texas. Joining me were my wife, Sandy, and Denis Casco, Bishop of Mexico Conference.

On June 27, after a few days in El Paso, we drove to Santa Fe, New Mexico, about five hours straight north. This was my first time in New Mexico. Santa Fe is up about 7000 feet, so it wasn’t as hot as the furnace of El Paso.

We met with Pastor Jesus Lopez and his wife, Irma. Pastor Lopez is very humble in spirit, the type of person you enjoy being around. He and his family originally came form Juarez, Mexico. Jesus has two children—Jaaziel, in his early 20s, and a daughter, Berenice, who is a sophomore in high school.

Centro Cristiano Shalom, their church, a service that night, a Friday night. The congregation was very young. I would guess that Pastor Lopez, who is in his mid to late 40s, is as old as anybody in the church. Both of his children were both part of the worship team, all of whom were probably under age 25. Everything was in Spanish, but a couple songs did use some English, which helped.

My translator was a young woman in her 20s who was attending college locally. She and her husband had just given birth to their first child. She was born in the United States and grew up speaking Spanish, but English is her first language. She did a good job interpreting for me. However, she had some trouble when I asked her to read Scripture from the Spanish Bible. She speaks Spanish well, but is not accustomed to reading Spanish.

They put together a slideshow of Santa Fe to give us a sense of the city. The area has a lot of Indian influences, some satanic worship, and a strong gay movement (a big Gay Pride parade occurred on Sunday).

On Saturday, they took us around the city. One stop was an old Catholic church, now a historical building, which features a spiral staircase with no visible nails. I saw only one joint. An unknown workman built the staircase, and they don’t know how he did it.

On Saturday night, Centro Cristiano Shalom hosted a conference with other pastors and church leaders from the Hispanic community–probably 45-50 people representing about eight different churches. Jesus seemed to be a leader among them. During July, their ministerial group was bringing in a Hispanic speaker for a joint evangelistic effort. They asked me to speak about unity and reconciliation, because there seemed to be some need for that among that group of ministers. It was a very nice night. Both Denis and I spoke, and found the pastors very receptive. Pastor Lopez’s son, who is studying to become a chef, served a nice meal after the service.

The church holds its regular Sunday service at 5 pm. I preached again. Each night’s service was followed by a meal. The people were warm and gracious, and encouraged us to come back. They gave me and Denis very nice long-sleeve shirts on which was printed the UB logo along with the words “Church of the United Brothers in Christ,” a more literal translation of “brethren.” The same wording, along with the UB logo, is used on the outside of the church building.

During the time of Bishop Ray Seilhamer in the late 1990s, a event was organized through Latin American Ministries to training Hispanic UB ministers in the United States. Pastor Lopez took that training. He showed me a certificate of completion hanging on his wall.

Jesus’ command of English is okay, but not great. His wife, Irma, doesn’t understand English at all. The son, in his early 20s, was born in Juarez but entered US schools during his junior high years, whereas the daughter, Bernice, has been in US schools all her life. Her English is very good. Sitting around the table after services, Bernice did the interpreting.

Sunday night, after the service, Pastor Lopez was comfortable enough to sit down and have a conversation with me in English. He could converse fine in English, but he’s uncomfortable doing so, feeling he might miss something. It’s a confidence issue. But the next time I visit, I know I’ll be able to conserve with Jesus without an interpreter.

Next: Back in El Paso with Rev. Robert Espinoza.

Bishop Phil Whipple (with microphone) closing the Wednesday night service at the El Sembrador church in El Paso. On his left is the church's pastor, Rev. Robert Espinoza. (click to enlarge)

Bishop Phil Whipple (with microphone) closing the Wednesday night service at the El Sembrador church in El Paso. On his left is the church’s pastor, Rev. Robert Espinoza. (click to enlarge)

The worship team at El Sembrador.

The worship team at El Sembrador.

L-r: Robert Espinoza, Carlos Chavez (a UB pastor in Juarez, Mexico), a layperson, Bishop Phil Whipple, Bishop Denis Casco.

L-r: Robert Espinoza, Carlos Chavez (a UB pastor in Juarez, Mexico), a layperson, Bishop Phil Whipple, Bishop Denis Casco.

The El Sembrador church in El Paso.

The El Sembrador church in El Paso.

Phil Whipple, Bishop

During June, Sandy and I visited the United Brethren churches in Texas and New Mexico. We traveled with Denis Casco, Bishop of Mexico Conference. It was through Denis that these churches landed in our fellowship.

You may be surprised to know that we have churches in those states, but we do—four churches in El Paso, Texas, and one in Santa Fe, New Mexico. All are Hispanic churches.

These churches became part of us during the 1990s. At the time, Denis served as Director of Latin American Ministries, working to start Hispanic churches in the United States. Denis, who is excellent at networking, came in contact with these churches and they chose to affiliate with us.

El Paso is on the tip of the far western arm of Texas. Across the Rio Grande River is Juarez, Mexico, which ranks among the most violent cities in the world. We have several churches in Juarez, but they are part of Mexico Conference.

We arrived on a Wednesday and attended a service at the El Sembrador church in El Paso. The pastor there is Robert Espinoza. Among the UB churches in El Paso, he would be considered the leader.

El Sembrador has its own building, which probably seats around 100. It was a pretty full house that night. One of Robert’s daughters led the worship band, and she was excellent. They had guitars, drums, and several vocalists, all fairly young.

They had invited all of the other pastors in both El Paso and Juarez—8 or 9 pastors in all. Robert introduced the various pastors, all of whom came forward to give a testimony. It was a long service, but fun and enjoyable.

Robert has two other children involved in the church. A daughter and her husband will probably be the next pastoral couple among the El Paso churches.

Juarez, Mexico

The next day we crossed into Mexico, along with a lay couple, and toured the UB churches in Juarez. The first church we visited had a woman pastor, whom I had met the night before; she joined us. Robert Espinoza and his wife, Maria, were also there. They traveled with us, in their own vehicle, the rest of the day.

We visited five churches and a preaching point, all United Brethren churches spread out in different parts of Juarez. The church with the newest building is probably a quarter mile from the Rio Grande; you can see El Paso on the other side. That church had started in a small building, no larger than a garage. Now that building is used for storage, and they meet in a newer building, probably 2-3 years old. It’s a wood-frame building, similar to a machine shed with wood siding (most buildings in Mexico use cement blocks). They’re still finishing the inside.

This congregation does a lot of ministry in feeding the many homeless people in that area. Helping these folks gives them a certain sense of protection; they won’t let anything happen to this church, because they get food from there. It’s not the safest location, but the UB members feel safe and have been safe.

We kept picking up the pastors as we went. By the time we reached the final church, our numbers had swelled to at least 20 persons. This was intentional on Denis Casco’s part. Knowing that Juarez was a dangerous city, he thought there would be security in numbers. I wasn’t alarmed by anything I saw in Juarez. However, we visited during the daytime and then returned to El Paso before dark.

Back in El Paso

I spoke at a UB church in El Paso that night. This congregation, much smaller than the night before, met in a strip mall storefront; they had relocated since Bishop Casco’s last visit. There were probably 25-30 people; I doubt the building could have handled more than 40.

Everyone there spoke English…except for the couple who had spent the day driving us around Juarez. For their sake, my message was translated by a young woman named Christina. She is married with three kids, though it looked to me like she could be in high school. This was the first time Christina had ever translated a sermon. She struggled to get into the rhythm of it, but whenever she stumbled over a word, the congregation would help her out, since they all understood English.

It was a good experience for Christina, because it kept her engaged with the message. Some deep work happened in a number of people that night, including Christina, who was in tears by the end of the message. I don’t know her story, but God moved in her life that night.

The pastor there is the brother of Robert Espinoza. He is getting up in years and health issues prevent him from doing much. For that reason another man, a sharp fellow in his mid 40s or 50s, is taking on the role. Though that man wouldn’t call himself the pastor, he does most of the preaching. Christina is his daughter.

Reinforcing the UB Bond

The Hispanic church world seems to place more emphasis on churches starting other churches: “We’re excited about what’s happening here, but we want to plant a church somewhere else, too.” They don’t need a lot of resources, as is usually the case with starting churches among suburban Anglo populations. Give them a speaker and a location, and if people start congregating, they’ll have a church. It’s ingrained in their thinking, part of the DNA of Hispanic ministries.

When the El Paso churches first affiliated with us, some financial support came from the national office. But then a shift occurred—that we would support them from a relationship and training standpoint, but not with finances. They bought into that. I got no sense that they were looking for any kind of financial support. Their interest is in the relationship with other United Brethren churches in the United States. However, I think they would love for us to provide some training for their pastors. We can probably do that.

There’s a good relationship between the churches in Juarez and El Paso, but the border does separate them. The churches in Juarez see themselves as part of Mexico Conference, while the churches in El Paso clearly see themselves as United States churches. That distinction matters to them. However, they are fine with Denis Casco working on both sides of the river.

I appreciate the way Bishop Casco has engaged with these churches during his periodic visits, reinforcing the US United Brethren connection even though he is the bishop in a whole different country. Denis waves the United Brethren banner wherever he goes. To him, being part of the United Brethren Church is more important than which national conference you belong to.

I went to El Paso and Santa Fe wanting to connect these churches with the national church in the US. In all the turmoil following our major restructuring in 2005 and the creation of Mexico Conference, these churches somewhat slid off of our radar. But thanks at least in part to the work of Denis Casco, I founded that being connected to the United Brethren Church is very important to these churches. I look forward to nourishing this relationship in the years ahead.

Tomorrow: Visiting the UB church in Santa Fe

Phil Whipple, bishop

I am pleased to announce the addition of a new staffperson at the national office. On February 4, 2013, Todd Fetters (right) will join the staff as Director of National Ministries.

Todd has pastored United Brethren churches since 1989–six years at Lake View UB church in Camden, Mich., and the past 18 years as senior pastor of Devonshire Church in Harrisburg, Pa. He has served in various leadership positions, including cluster leader and, since 2005, member of the denominational Executive Leadership Team.

Todd grew up in a minister’s home as the son of Dr. Paul and Barbara Fetters. Todd’s two brothers, Brooks and Luke, are also ordained UB ministers. He graduated from Huntington University in 1989 with a degree in Bible & Religion, and in 1991 with the Master of Christian Ministry. More recently, in 2005, he received a Master of Arts in Religion from Evangelical Seminary in Myerstown, Pa.

Todd and his wife, Lisa, were married in 1988. They have two sons, Jordan and Quinn, both of whom attend Huntington University.

Todd’s responsibilities will include various administrative duties, such as assisting with the process in stationing ministers, overseeing the national ministries staff, and developing strategic initiatives to move the UB church forward in such areas as leadership development and healthy church ministries. Todd will also oversee the cluster system, assuming responsibilities which Denny Miller has handled on a part-time basis for the past two years.

Todd announced this decision to the Devonshire congregation on January 6. He told them that the position blends his love for the local church, and his love for the denomination which is so much a part of his identity.

I am excited about bringing Todd aboard and working closely with him in the years ahead.

The Air Force Academy Chapel in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Phil Whipple, Bishop, US National Conference

On June 20, I visited Chaplain Major Darren Duncan at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Spring. Darren is in his fourth year serving as a chaplain there. He met me at the gate and took me to the chapel.

Darren started out at Living Word United Brethren church in Columbus, Ohio, serving on staff and then as senior pastor. He did some chaplaincy work in the Reserves for a few years, and then was approached about going fulltime. He went on active duty in the spring of 2003. Since then, he has served in several locations, including at an “undisclosed location” in early 2004.

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] T [/dropcap]he Air Force Academy is a prestigious posting, and looks good on your resume if you’re looking to climb the military ladder. Usually, the Air Force moves you every two or three years, so this is an extra-long posting for Darren. The Wing Commander, who oversees the religious programs at the Air Force Academy, was asked to stay one more year before retiring, and he didn’t want to break in anybody new during his last year. So, Darren was asked to stay an extra year.

In the past, the United Brethren denomination has been the endorsing entity for military chaplains from UB churches. That is changing. The National Association of Evangelicals, of which we are one of many denominations, is now the endorsing organization for UB chaplains, and there are some advantages to that.

As it turns out, Darren is in the process of switching his ministerial credentials to the Anglican Church. They are an evangelical church in doctrine, but more liturgy based. However, I caught up with Darren while he was still under the United Brethren umbrella.

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] T [/dropcap]he Air Force Chapel, completed in 1962, was designed to accommodate all faiths in the same building. The building is impressive from a distance, and even more impressive inside. If you are traveling through Colorado Springs, you should stop to tour the chapel.

On the ground level is the 1200-seat Protestant sanctuary, where two services are held each Sunday—a contemporary service, and a liturgical/traditional service. The platform has a divided chancel, with an elevated pulpit on one side and a lectern on the other. In the back is a massive pipe organ, with over 4300 pipes, and a choir loft. The organist, I was told, has a doctorate in classical organ and has been playing there for about 30 years, rarely missing. This is not an organ that just anyone can sit down and play.

The Protestant sanctuary has held as many as 2000 people. However, about 50 cadets typically attend the liturgical/traditional service and about 150 attend the contemporary service. Visitors can attend, too, so the attendance may include more non-cadets than cadets.

All cadets have the freedom to attend church in town on Sunday, so many of them leave the base. The first-year students, called “doolies,” only get a few passes a year to leave the base, but they can leave every Sunday to attend church, so most take advantage of that opportunity. In addition, each cadet has a sponsoring family in the community, so many cadets go to church with them.

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] D [/dropcap]arren took me down a flight of stairs to the Catholic sanctuary, which is probably half the size of the Protestant sanctuary and seats 500. It has a smaller pipe organ (a mere 1950 pipes). Around the outer walls are pictures of the 14 Stations of the Cross, with a little bit of local Colorado Springs landscape tossed in.

Down one more level is the Jewish synagogue, a round room (to resemble a tent) which seats 100. On the outside walls are paintings depicting Old Testament stories, and those pictures have been valued at $2 million each.

In addition, there is a Muslim prayer room, and a Buddhist room. You must remove your shoes to enter the Buddhist room. It’s a very plain room, with just pillows on the floor for kneeling.

They have one more room called the All Faiths Room, which has no religious symbolism. If you haven’t been covered in the other areas, this room is for you.

Then, outside high on a hill, is a circle of stones called Falcon Circle, designed for followers of Earth-based faiths, such as pagans, Wiccans, druids, witches, and Native Americans. Falcon Circle was dedicated in 2011.

The 2011-2012 cadets included 11 Muslims, 16 Buddhists, 10 Hindus, 3 followers of Earth-based religions, and 43 self-identified atheists.

Each chapel has its own entrance, and services can be held in each chapel simultaneously without interfering with the others.

The Air Force Academy is committed to providing counsel to any of their cadets, whatever their faith may be. There are cadets from numerous other countries. It’s not easy for an American to be admitted to the Air Force Academy, and no less so for foreigners; only the best and the brightest may enroll. Darren showed me a map with probably 100 pins stuck in it, representing where the cadets were from. That’s 100 cadets out of the total student body of 4000, so it’s a small percentage. They bring in about 1000 new cadets each year.

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] D [/dropcap]arren is a very sharp guy who is well respected by his peers. He seemingly fits naturally into military life, and has risen through the ranks. The Wing Commander, a colonel, has two men serving directly under him. Darren is one of those guys, so he’s at a fairly high level. He has 13 chaplains and support persons under his command.

Serving at the Air Force Academy is a prominent posting. To this point, Darren has had just one overseas deployment. He told me he will need to have another one.

I’m impressed with Darren, and enjoyed spending time with him and seeing the Air Force Academy Chapel.

Phil Whipple, Bishop of the US National Conference

In July 2011, I concluded two years as bishop. When I started in this role, I decided I wanted to see things for myself. So I set a goal of visiting every United Brethren church in the United States during my first two years. I wanted to meet our pastors on their turf.

I accomplished that goal. Here are some observations from my travels.

1. I found our pastors to be enjoyable people with a strong love for the Lord and his church. Our pastors are mostly male and of the baby boom generation. They are committed to their families and have a fairly strong commitment to the UB church. We have some strong pastoral leaders among us and many who want to learn how to lead more effectively.

2. It is no surprise that many of our churches exist in rural locations. Most of them have been maintained very well, both inside and outside. Many are developing their facilities to reflect the changes that have emerged in the methodology of doing church today.

3. We are slowly and with some struggles moving into a balanced style of worship in many churches. Some churches are far ahead of others. Some remain very traditional.

4. We have many good cooks among us. I can attest to that from many potlucks.

5. Our people are friendly. I was impressed by the warm hearts of so many of our people.

6. We have some sharp leaders at the local church level. These men and women desire to see the church advance and impact their community.

7. A number of churches are changing their structure to an accountability governance model.

8. I saw churches and people engaged in the Great Commission. This clearly needs to be the rallying cry for UB churches everywhere, so that we reach the people Christ wants us to reach in these days.

9. I have met with a number of our cluster groups. The cluster system is still a work in progress, but it has made some huge strides forward in the last two years.

Denny Miller, in his role as Cluster Coordinator, has helped keep the connection with our cluster leaders. We have many cluster leaders who are doing a great job with their clusters, and who are being the first point of contact when issues arise with pastors and churches.

I have concluded that while we have some significant issues and room for improvement, we have a bright hope for the future.

I believe our commitment to the Great Commission is improving. But we can do more to reach people for Christ and grow strong disciples in our churches.

Our churches must do a better job of outreach to open the front door, and be more effective in assimilation and discipleship to close the back door. We need to move discipleship away from just a learning experience. Discipleship should be a lived-out relationship with Jesus that impacts everything we do.

I want us to remain committed to our confession of faith and our core values. At the same time, I want us to aggressively move into the flow of God’s Spirit to see the church advance. We began as a movement of the Spirit of God, and that is where we must return.

Phil Whipple, bishop

A pastor contacted me, wanting to know what other churches might be doing in the way of an after-school program. Here is the inquiry:

“We are hoping and praying that our vision for an after-school tutoring program in parternship with our local school system will come to fruition shortly. However, I want to make sure I have as much information about such a ministry as I can. Do you know of any UBers or churches that are currently doing or have done such a ministry? I would like to pick their brains as it were.”

If you’re doing something along this line, please send me a note. I’ll put the pastor in contact with you.

Phil Whipple, bishop

When I came into this position as bishop in 2009, I decided I wanted to see things for myself. One of my goals for these past two years was to get into all of our churches and meet our pastors on their turf. I was able to accomplish that goal, visiting all of the United Brethren churches in the United States. It was an enjoyable journey.

Here are some of the things I have learned and observed during my travels.

Pastors

I found our pastors to be enjoyable people with a strong love for the Lord and His church. They are mostly male and of the baby boom generation. They are committed to their families and have a fairly strong commitment to the UB church.

We have some strong leaders among us and many who want to learn how to lead more effectively.

Churches

It is no surprise that many of our churches are in rural locations. Most of them have been maintained very well, both inside and outside. We have many who are working at developing their facilities to reflect the changes that have emerged in the methodology of doing church today.

Congregations

We are slowly and with some struggles moving into a balanced style of worship in many churches. We have some that are far ahead of others and some that are very traditional.

We have many good cooks among us. I have attended many potlucks and have found some wonderful dishes.

Our people are friendly, but we must do a better job of opening the front door through outreach and closing the back door through effective assimilation and discipleship. We must move discipleship away from just a learning experience to a lived-out relationship with Jesus that impacts all that we do.

Lay Leaders

We have some sharp leaders on some of our leadership teams at the local church level. They are made up of men and women who have a desire to see the church move forward and impact their community.

A number of churches are changing their structure to an accountability governance model.

The Cluster System

I have met with a number of our cluster groups. The cluster system is still a work in progress, but it has made some huge strides forward in the last two years.

Denny Miller has helped to keep the connection with our cluster leaders. We have many cluster leaders who are doing a great job with their cluster, and who are being the first point of contact when issues arise.

Overall Assessment

I have concluded that while we have some significant issues, we have a bright hope for the future.

I was impressed by the warm hearts from so many of you. I also saw churches and people engaged in the Great Commission. This is happening in some locations but clearly needs to be the rallying cry for UB churches everywhere, so that we reach the people Christ wants us to reach in these days.

I believe the commitment to the Great Commission is improving. We need to move further into the implementation of reaching people for Christ and growing strong disciples in our churches.

I want us to remain committed to our confession of faith and our core values. At the same time, I want us to be willing to aggressively move into the flow of God’s Spirit to see the church advance. We began as a movement of the Spirit of God, and that is where we must return.

Bishop Phil Whipple with Linton and Michelle Thomas of First UB in the Bronx.

Bishop Phil Whipple with Linton and Michelle Thomas of First UB in the Bronx.

Phil Whipple, Bishop

Yesterday, April 17, Sandy and I attended First UB Church in the Bronx, a Jamaican congregation. It was pastor’s appreciation day. The church had quite a program to honor Pastor Linton Thomas and his family. Many gave a tribute to him. He was also given the Logos Bible software and reservations for a two-day get-away for Linton and Michelle.

The sanctuary was packed, and the children were upstairs because there wasn’t room for them. I had the opportunity to preach, with a meal afterwards. We started at 11:15 and left around 4 pm. It was a great and meaningful day.