Bishop Todd Fetters and Samantha Essig

Sam Essig (right) with her predecessor as administrative assistant to the bishop, Cathy Reich, at the farewell luncheon.

In August 2021, Samantha “Sam” Essig came to the United Brethren National Office as administrative assistant to Bishop Todd Fetters (that’s the two of them in the first photo above). She took the place of Cathy Reich, who had held that position since 2007 and was moving into semi-retirement with a new role as Events Coordinator.

Sam has been a perfect fit for this office–talented, personable, fun, energetic, a self-starter, and brimming with ideas to make us more effective. She’s a Huntington University graduate with deep roots in the United Brethren church. So we’re really, really sad to see her go.

Sam has accepted a job as Care Coordinator with Pathway Community Church in Fort Wayne, Ind., a very large Missionary Church congregation. She starts Monday. Sam and her husband, Jake, live in Fort Wayne and attend Pathway, so it’s a good fit. It’ll certainly be a much shorter commute. We know it’s a good opportunity for Sam, and we’re glad for her. But good help can be hard to find, and Sam has been far better than good. She’s been great.

Last week, the UB National Office staff held a farewell luncheon for Sam, with gifts. It was a good time. Her predecessor, Cathy Reich, came to help say goodbye. Friday, November 4, is Sam’s last day at the UBNO.

We are grateful to Sam for her time with us, and for the many ways she has sharpened us and contributed to the ministry of the United Brethren Church. We wish Sam the best, and know God has good things in store for her.

Samantha Essig

Two staff changes are occurring at the United Brethren National Office. Cathy Reich, who has been administrative assistant to the bishop since 2007, is transitioning to a new role: Events Coordinator. Taking her place as administrative assistant, as of August 16, is Samantha “Sam” Essig.


Samantha was born and raised
in Huntington, Ind. Her paternal grandfather, George Brown, is a brother of UB missionary June Brown.

She graduated from Huntington University in 2013 with a degree in Psychology, and two years later married Jake, a 2014 HU grad. They moved away for a while, but returned to the area in 2020 after Jake was named soccer coach at the University of St. Francis in Fort Wayne, Ind.

Samantha has spent two stints as an admissions counselor for Huntington University, about two years total. That’s what she was doing since the beginning of 2021, before the position at the UB National Office opened up.

We welcome Samantha to the UB team. As administrative assistant, she will interact regularly with United Brethren ministers and other leaders.

Cathy Reich (left) and Samantha Essig

Cathy Reich has spent nearly 25 years working at the denominational office. In 1975, as a student at Huntington University, she began working in the UB printshop, and continued doing so until the 1981 General Conference voted to close the printshop. She then became administrative assistant to Paul Hirschy, who had just been elected Director of Church Services. She left that job in January 1984 upon the birth of the first of her three children.

In November 2007, Cathy returned to the UB National Office as administrative assistant to Bishop Ron Ramsey. She continued in that role with Bishop Phil Whipple and then with Bishop Todd Fetters.

Organizing events became a major aspect of Cathy’s job. The flagship event is the US national conference, which occurs every two years. But there are many other events, including the UB women’s conference, the pastor & spouse summits, the annual youthworkers summit, ministry team meetings, and other gatherings. Cathy scouts locations, negotiates with hotels and convention centers, oversees event planning and registration, and handles many other responsibilities related to UB events. Over the years, Cathy has acquired considerable expertise, knowledge, and savvy when it comes to the various types of UB gatherings.

As Events Coordinator, Cathy will focus solely on these meetings. It’s a part-time position which she will do remotely, without an office at the UB headquarters. But she’ll still be around, close at hand, continuing to advance the work of the United Brethren church.

Judy Dyer (left) and Jennifer Furnish

Judy Dyer retired April 30 after seven years at the United Brethren National Office. As accounting assistant, she worked closely with Finance Director Marci Hammel to handle the various financial needs of the US National Conference and of UB Global.

Judy grew up in Huntington, graduated from Huntington University, and attends the local College Park UB church. She and her husband Phil, who retired from the Norfolk & Southern Railroad in 2019, have two daughters—one living in Warren, Ind., with three children, and another living in Columbus, Ohio, with a wedding scheduled for September. In retirement, Judy says she plans to spend a lot of time with family, including those three grandchildren. She and Phil also hope to do some traveling, and already have planned two trips to Florida.

“Seven years—wow!” says Judy. “It will be interesting to see where God takes Phil and me on our next journey.”

Taking Judy’s place is Jennifer Furnish, who joined the staff in mid-April. Jennifer is a 2008 graduate of Indiana Tech. She most recently worked at Innovative Pension Consulting in Roanoke, Ind.

Jennifer was born in Huntington and grew up here. In 2014 she married Derek, who is from nearby Warren. He works out of Bluffton with the Indiana Department of Transportation.

Jennifer and Derek have three young children—Eden, born in 2016; Rhett, 2017; and Wyatt, 2019. They attend Bethel United Methodist Church in Huntington.

The UB National Office gives best wishes for a well-deserved retirement to Judy, and a hearty welcome to Jennifer.

The United Brethren National Office in Huntington, Ind., has a job opening for Finance Assistant. This is a fulltime position with benefits (including health insurance, vacation, and retirement plan).

We are looking for someone with bookkeeping and Excel knowledge. This person assists the Director of Finance in many areas including but not limited to data entry in the accounting software, UB Global donations, and retirement plan contributions. This person also cooperates with other office staff to administrate telephone, reception, and mail activities.

If you are interested in this position, or if you know somebody who might be interested, please contact Finance Director Marci Hammel at marci@ub.org, or call 260-356-2312, ext. 308. The full job description is available upon request.

In July 2021, delegates from United Brethren churches in the United States will gather for the biennial US National Conference. This year, we are meeting in Fort Wayne, Ind., where we previously met in 2013.

The 2021 US National Conference will hold its business meeting on Thursday, July 15, 2021. The delegates will hear reports, and will elect a bishop and four members of the Executive Leadership Team. The intent is to keep other business to a minimum this year, and save any significant business for 2023 when, hopefully, the pandemic will be behind us.

The United Brethren constituency is invited to submit proposals for consideration at the 2021 business meeting. A proposal needs to come from a group or official entity — not from an individual. Examples: a local church board, cluster group, a denominational leadership team or study committee, etc.

The Bishop’s Office and the Executive Leadership Team are responsible for processing and approving proposals for presentation to the conference.

The deadline for submitting proposals is March 1, 2021. If you would like to submit a proposal for revising the Discipline, or a proposal of some other kind, please send it to: bishop@ub.org.

“It’s Not Supposed to Be Like This!”

by Bishop Todd Fetters

It’s Christmas Eve in an unprecedented year where nothing seems certain or predictable, except uncertainty and unpredictability.

But, that’s where I think 6-4 BC and Advent 2020 intersect rather extraordinarily. Something unprecedented happened then that is still impacting the world to this very day. Remember? Luke 2:6-7 will remind you.

“While [Mary and Joseph] were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.”

I imagine Joseph struggled with the uncertain and unpredictable events that met him in Bethlehem. Perhaps he prayed, “Heavenly Father, seriously?! It’s not supposed to be this way. No comfortable place for my pregnant wife? No soft, sanitary place for the birth of your infant Son? A stable for shelter. A straw-filled trough for a bed. Noisy, filthy animals for nursery companions. This cannot be what you were thinking as fitting for the birth of a King.”

Yep. It was supposed to be that way. The result? The Savior of the world was born.

Undoubtedly, your Christmas Eve looks, sounds, and feels different this year. Perhaps you’re struggling with how uncertainty and unpredictability have messed with your Christmas — “It’s not supposed to be this way.” But, what if it is? What if God, through the Spirit of Jesus, is about to do something unprecedented in your life that will bring glory to Him now and familiarity to you in years to come?

Don’t waste this moment. Please! Seek the Lord afresh this Christmas and find Him anew! After all, our stability is in the stable — Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Merry Christmas and the Happiest of New Years.

L-r: Tim Sherman (chair), Christine Augustat, Kristi McConnell, Dalton Jenkins, Jeremiah Greenland, Steve Fish.

The Nominating Committee prepares the ballot for bishop and for members of the Executive Leadership Team. The following persons were appointed in July 2020 by the Executive Leadership Team. They will serve 4-year or 6-year terms starting in 2020.

  • Tim Sherman (chairperson) is senior pastor of Bethel UB church (Elmore, Ohio). Term ends: 2026.
  • Christine Augustat is Family Ministry Pastor at Fowlerville UB church (Fowlerville, Mich.). Term ends: 2026.
  • Kristi McConnell, an architect, is a layperson from Banner of Christ UB church (Byron Center, Mich.).
  • Dalton Jenkins is senior pastor of Bethel Temple of Praise (Yonkers, New York). Term ends: 2024.
  • Jeremiah Greenland, vice president of Operations at Susquehanna Civil, Inc., is a layperson from Prince Street UB church (Shippensburg, Pa.). Term ends: 2026.
  • Steve Fish is Teaching Pastor and Director of Missions at Emmanuel Community Church (Fort Wayne, Ind.). Term ends: 2024.

The Nominating Committee is currently at work preparing ballots for the 2021 US National Conference, which will elect a bishop and four members of the Executive Leadership Team.

United Brethren pastors were invited to share their church’s plans regarding reopening their church building. They were asked about changes they’ve made in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, and what restrictions they are putting in place upon reopening the building. There were no questions on specific topics—masks, social distancing, nursery, offering, etc.

About 90 pastors responded. The responses were compiled and categorized by Communications director Steve Dennie. This should give you snapshots of what other UB churches are doing, and perhaps give you some ideas as your church shapes its own course.

Bishop Todd Fetters has instructed churches, “Given the fluidity of the information and conditions regarding Covid-19, our local church leadership teams are encouraged to develop flexible plans that also give people the freedom to choose attending or not attending without stigma or shame.”


Seating

Seating, obviously, requires adjustments in the interests of social distancing. How to do that depends on whether you have pews, or moveable chairs.

Ten churches said they will space chairs apart, possibly with various sizes of groupings to accommodate family units (4 chairs, 2 chairs, etc.). One church is moving its service to the gymnasium, where they have room to space chairs six feet apart.

Twelve pastors said they will block off every other pew. One church is designating every other row for the 9:00 service, and the other rows for the 10:30 service.

Five churches are asking families to sit together.

Three churches are dismissing people by row, so that folks don’t bunch up as they leave the sanctuary.

One church took out its pews—which they’d been wanting to do anyway—and replaced them with round tables spaced six feet apart.

Two say they will use ushers to help seat people.


Capacity

Many churches are limiting attendance in some way, either on their own or to meet a state mandate on capacity (50%, 25%, etc.).

Because of the reduced capacity in a service to meet social distancing guidelines, a couple churches are adding more services and/or venues. One church, with only 10 people allowed in the building per service, is doing four consecutive services.

One church is limiting attendance to 40 people, plus 10 volunteers.

One church is asking people to come only once during June.

A couple churches are asking people to register to attend.

One church is offering two services, but the first one will be restricted to vulnerable people, with no kids allowed.

A half-dozen or more churches are doing drive-in services.

Four churches are making services shorter, to allow more time between services or between Sunday school and the service.

An idea from one church: “Started a new service that is the safest we can make it (limited attendance through sign-ups, first service of the weekend, required masks, social distancing, asking people not to sing along with worship). An on-ramp for people to start attending gatherings.”

One church is doing what they call a phased restarting: begin with a shortened service, and add elements as they go.


Sunday School

At least 15 churches said they will eliminate Sunday school for now. One church is moving Sunday school to the sanctuary so they have room for social distancing, as opposed to meeting in smaller classrooms.


Children’s Programming

At least 25 churches have suspended all children’s programming for now. That would include nursery, children’s church, and Sunday school.

One church said they will make the nursery available, but without staff.

One is continuing children’s ministry, but without self-checkin.

Two churches have closed access to the playground.


Distancing/Contact

Over 20 churches said they will encourage social distancing.

Fifteen will forbid shaking hands or hugging.

Only one church said they will check people’s temperature.


Socializing

No surprise: many churches are suspending the greeting or fellowship time as part of the service. One said they are replacing “meet and greet” with “stand and wave.”

One said they will have a “Walmart style” greeter.

One church said the pastor will not greet people after the service.

One will close the lobby and other gathering places, another will forbid gathering after the service, and a third church will forbid socializing in the sanctuary, foyer, and outside steps.


Refreshments

At least a dozen churches are eliminating any food and drinks (coffee, cookies, etc.).

Two churches are making the water fountains off-limits, but one of them will provide bottled water as an alternative.


Printed Materials

A larger number will not distribute the bulletin, but will make it available on a “self-serve” table for those who want a bulletin. Likewise for sermon inserts. Some churches are eliminating the bulletin altogether.

Several mentioned the goal of a “touchless experience” on Sunday morning: nothing to distribute, no Bibles or hymnals to hold, nothing to pass down the rows, no doors to open.

Two churches will forgo passing attendance pads.

Three are removing Bibles and hymnals from the pew racks.


Entrances/Exits

Entrances and exits are chokepoints where social distancing and touch can be easily compromised. Churches are implementing various measures.

Seven churches mentioned propping doors open, so nobody touches door handles or surfaces. Two churches will have a person posted at entry doors to open and close them for people.

Several are designating one entrance and one exit, so traffic flow goes in the same direction. Others are restricting the number of entrance and exit points in some way.

One church is assigning elders to observe people entering for signs of contagion.


Music

Not much was mentioned about music. Two churches said they will limit singing, one will have no singing, and another will use humming instead of singing.

One church is keeping the worship team small and 16 feet from the first row. Another church is using videos instead of a worship team.


Offering

A total of 41 churches said they won’t be passing offering places. Most will use a dropbox or basket somewhere, usually in the back of the church, where people can place their offering.

One church is using offering places, but not passing them. Only ushers will touch the plates.


Communion

As with the offering, many churches will not be passing communion trays—or, in one case, not doing communion at all.

Six churches plan to use prepackaged communion elements.

One church will keep people six feet apart as they come forward to get the elements.


Masks

Six churches are requiring masks. One church will require masks only for age 2 and above.

Thirteen said they will encourage masks, and 11 said they will make masks option.

Nine will provide masks. One will provide several masks in baggies for people who forget to bring one or don’t have one.

One church is encouraging masks “especially for singing.”

Some rules about masks apply to moving around. One church expects people to wear masks to and from their seats. Another encourages masks in hallways and entryways. Two encourage or require masks when moving around the facility.

One church suggests that people remove masks at intervals if they have difficulty breathing.

One church may designate the balcony and narthex as “mask only” locations.

Another church says the pastor and worship leader won’t be required to wear masks while serving in the service.


Building

Some churches are closing off access to parts of the building, to prevent possible contamination and eliminate the need for sanitizing those areas.

Two churches will use only the sanctuary, lobby, and restrooms. Another will close off its upper and lower floors.

One church is closing off the stairways.

One church will turn off the fan and air circulation, while another will open the windows at the door for cross-ventilation.


Bathrooms

Bathrooms can get crowded. One church will limit one person at a time in restrooms (unless it’s a parent and child). Persons using the restroom will need to use disinfectant on whatever they touched while in the restroom.

One church will assign persons to sanitize bathrooms and water fountains after being used. Another has bathroom attendants to guard against crowding and to ensure sanitizing.


Sanitizing

At least a dozen churches mentioned that they will provide sanitizer stations. In reality, most churches will no doubt do this.

One church will require attendees to use hand sanitizer before entering the building.

Two churches will require everyone to use hand sanitizer—in one case, before people even enter the building.

Four churches indicated that they will wipe down surfaces, pews, seats, etc., between services.

Churches are also organizing to do deep cleaning during the week.


Vulnerable People

In many different ways, churches have encouraged various people to stay home for now—if you’re over 65, if you have physical vulnerabilities, if you’re not feeling well, or if you just don’t feel comfortable returning yet.

Said one church: “Anyone who doesn’t feel comfortable returning to corporate worship has the blessing of the board to stay home without any fear of being judged or looked down upon.”


Reopening Date

Churches also indicated when they reopened or plan to reopen. Here are the number of churches which have opened or plan to open on various dates.

1 — March 22
1 — April 5
2 — May 3
8 — May 10
13 — May 17
7 — May 24
12 — May 31
1 — June 1
1 — June 3
13 — June 7
1 — June 13
8 — June 14
1 — June 20
4 — June 21
1 — July 5
1 — July 11
2 — July 12
1 — August 2

Todd Fetters (right), Bishop
Church of the United Brethren in Christ, USA

The fires of racial tension in our country have been stoked once again. After an initial sigh, which could be translated, “Oh no. Lord help us,” the scriptural words that rose within my soul were, “Mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15).

My heart truly breaks for our African American brothers and sisters in the United Brethren in Christ. I mourn with you that race relations in the United States is not where any of us had hoped and would have thought it would be 50 years after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his powerful “I Have A Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial.

Earlier this week, I spoke with a personal friend and several United Brethren ministers who are African American. They graciously afforded me the privilege of listening to their thoughts and feelings. Despite a spike in frustration and a resurgence of fear and anxiety due to historic and systemic racism, each of them expressed an enduring and persevering love for the Lord and their fellow man. These men and women know that the real power to heal our pronounced relational divides lies in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Yes, we grieved together, but not as men and women without hope. Our hope is placed in God who created us without favoritism or preference, and who loves us unconditionally. Our shared hope for America and the nations firmly resides in the Holy Spirit who can free our minds from the chains of ignorance, bigotry, and hatred, compelling us to act with understanding, grace, and brotherly love. Certainly, I must say that it seems to me that God has our attention. I know He has mine.

With 250 years of history under our belt, I’m grateful that the United Brethren church has typically landed on the correct side of issues of race and the vulnerable. When most American denominations were compromising to allow room for slavery, we remained abolitionist. As the Civil War ended and other denominations were trying to figure out how to make room for former slaves, we pushed ahead to advocate for full citizenship. As we saw Native Americans and Chinese immigrants suffering abuse, we spoke out against it.

We emphasized this in 2001 when the United Brethren in Christ adopted eight Core Values. One of them, “We Demonstrate Social Concern,” says:

”We must not only seek the salvation of our fellow human beings, but show genuine concern for their total well-being. We recognize our responsibility to victims of poverty, prejudice, injustice, and other forms of human suffering.

“The poor will always be among us, and we cannot ignore their plight; the Bible clearly states our obligation to those living in poverty. But there are many others, whether they are poor or not, whose situation requires our aid. They include persons in prison, immigrants, widows, orphans, the unborn, the handicapped, the homeless, the elderly, and victims of abuse. We also respond corporately to large-scale tragedies, giving sacrificially to help victims of natural disasters or social strife.

“Demonstrating social concern also involves raising our voice against injustice and prejudice. We stand against discrimination, slavery, and injustice, insisting that equal rights be granted to everyone. We advocate fairness in the workplace, in the courts, and in all other settings, and seek the end of any discrimination based upon racial, national, economic, or social differences.”

This Core Value states some actions to take: raise our voice, stand against, advocate, recognize our responsibility, seek the end, insist, don’t ignore, help, respond corporately. As United Brethren, inviting anyone to “come with us…we will treat you well” (Numbers 10:29), we can apply these in various ways to society’s ongoing struggle with racial injustice.

Some of us thought 20/20 would be a nice metaphor for vision in 2020. Perhaps there is more for us to see. Perhaps 20/20 is a Divine prescription to see racism more clearly and do something to eradicate it.

While United Brethren can be thankful for our history, we do not take this moment to pat each other or ourselves on the back. Instead, we mark this moment by taking up the same mantle of our spiritual fore-brothers and fore-sisters, which is to follow the example of Christ and love our neighbor, regardless of color, as ourselves.

Amidst this tragic chaos, I have wondered and I’ve prayed, “What does the Lord ask of me? What does the Lord ask of the United Brethren church?” Micah 6:8 provides an answer from God himself:

“He [the Lord] has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Let’s act justly. As individuals and as churches, we need to find our voice to stand and speak against discrimination and injustice. Our history shows that UBs know how to do this.

Let’s love mercy. Our Lord is patient with all of us, not always giving us what we rightly deserve. Just as we love receiving mercy, we need to love showing mercy.

Let’s walk humbly with our God. He created every man and woman of every nation, tribe, and tongue. None better than the other. All very precious to Him who sent His Son to die so that anyone might have eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

I realize that when it comes to issues of race, UB people are at different points. Some have spent decades working on racial awareness and understanding. Others have just recently been jolted awake to the problems. Wherever you are on that road, continue down it. And as you journey, remember to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.

My prayer is, “Lord, you have our attention. Show us where to go from here.”