Category Archives: The Denomination

A Final Good-Bye to Stan Peters

stan-petersThis morning I attended the funeral of Stan Peters, who served nearly 25 years at the United Brethren national office overseeing the various publications. In 1978, Stan hired me as his assistant editor. I was just completing my junior year at Huntington College. Stan was very good to me.

But even before that, Stan had a big impact on my life. I was in early elementary school, and Dad worked at Huntington College. We attended College Park UB church, which has always been loaded with leadership-caliber people. Dad yearned to be used, to be put to work in the local church ministry, but nothing he wasn’t needed. He was deeply frustrated.

Dad said the next Sunday he planned to begin attending a small Baptist church in town. But during the week, Stan Peters, as part of the church’s nominating committee, invited Dad to teach a Sunday school class. And so, we remained United Brethren (and not Baptist!).

About 15 years later, Stan hired me to work in this office. And I’ve been here for 36 years.

Stan was always very gracious to me, and though I was impossibly immature coming right out of college, he treated me very well. The first time I was ever reprimanded for something job-related, it was Stan who did the honors, calling me into his office and correcting me (I totally deserved it). He was firm, made his point, but was very kind about it. That, folks, is the way to do it.

Stan was just a good, good man. He was one of those guys whose faith was unshakeable, for whom core beliefs are not up for negotiation (as is so common today). As a person who questions everything, I value these guys who know, with certainty, what they believe. They have walked with Jesus so long, and seen Him work in their lives so many times, that there can be no thought of living apart from Christ. These guys are anchors for me.

So thanks, Stan, for your influence on me in so many ways.

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Clarence Kopp: I’m Delighted to Have Known You

Clarence Kopp’s funeral was yesterday. He served as a bishop in our denomination 1981-1993, and I worked with him that entire time. Let me make these observations about him from my own experience:

  • He would not criticize or speak ill of people. Even people who dearly deserved it. He not only believed the best in people, but I don’t think he saw anything but the best. This was a huge, huge demonstration of character.
  • He always gave me a totally free hand in editing his material. Some folks have too much ego for that; they take it personally. Bishop Kopp never did. He trusted me to do my thing.
  • He brought enthusiasm and positive energy to everything. Always positive, always encouraging.
  • He was under-appreciated, to an extent. But not by me.
  • Bishop Kopp was truly pure of heart. Him and Russ Birdsall. Such people are rare. No guile, no hidden agenda, no two-facedness, no mixed motives. Folks like that are beloved by people and by God.

kopp_clarence.jpgDad, who served under Clarence Kopp (as bishop of the West District), says Bishop Kopp always brought him something worthwhile–an idea, an insight, something he had read or come across. I’ve heard Dad say that for many years. He said it again last week.

For a few years, while pastoring the church I now attend in Fort Wayne, Ind., Dad had then-former Bishop Kopp as a parishioner. Initially, he wasn’t too crazy about having a bishop sitting in his pews. But no problem. I’ve heard Dad say on various occasions, “Clarence Kopp is the best layperson I ever had.”

I saw that for about three years, when I was Bishop Kopp’s fellow parishioner at Anchor. He drove 40 minutes to get to church each Sunday. He was a mighty presence, yet never one to put himself forward. Always encouraging to others. Pastor Tim said that each Sunday, upon leaving, Bishop Kopp would give Tim a Bible verse. When declining health forced him to give up Anchor in favor of a different church closer to home, it was a sad day for our church. We lost a giant of the faith.

This past week, the United Brethren denomination lost a giant of the faith. I wish more people had gotten to know him up close, the way I was privileged to. He was a man of great humility, of great wisdom, of great love. A man with a pure heart.

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Beyond Cool

Kem Meyer was my favorite speaker at the MinistryCOM conference. She is on staff at Granger Community Church, just a couple hours west of me near South Bend, Ind. That’s a fascinating, innovative church of 5500, and Kem is a remarkably engaging, competent person. I took gobs of notes from her keynote session and from a seminar.

In the keynote, she said that whenever someone comes to you wanting to do a brochure or website, you need to ask three questions.

1. Is it a tool, or is it just cool?
2. What problem is this solving?
3. What will happen, or won’t happen, if we don’t do it?

All of this addresses the matter of purpose. Over the years, as we’ve created new ministry groups at the denominational level, they (very predictably) tend to want to create whatever communication tool is in vogue at that time. In earlier years, they always wanted a brochure and a newsletter. They didn’t necessarily know what they wanted to do with them, but just thought they should have them. So I would design a brochure and a newsletter.

Now, they’re more likely to want a website and an email list. A few years ago, the Youth Task Force asked me to develop a website for them, so I did. But they never gave me anything–I mean, not one thing–to put on it. They thought they should have a website, but more because it seemed “cutting edge” than because it accomplished a purpose for them.

Currently, to be really cutting edge, you need a blog. It’s the cool thing. A blog is a huge, huge commitment which people don’t realize until they start one. I’ve created three blogs for the denomination. One I never implemented, because I didn’t feel the group would be committed to making it succeed. One I discontinued because it wasn’t living up to its original purpose, and I combined it into the third blog, which was struggling, but is doing fine now that we’ve expanded it. A fourth blog request I simply said no to.

We really need more intentionality about our communications pieces, making sure they accomplish our purposes. Since I’m the communications guy, I guess I shouldn’t throw stones.

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Dave the Methodist Guy

Last night at the table tennis club, I talked for a while with a United Methodist minister named Dave, a tall, gregarious fellow you have to like. I’ve known for months that he was a minister, but I hadn’t yet outed myself as another fulltime ministry guy. So after I gave him a 3-1 whooping, we sat down and launched into an interesting discussion. I explained our common roots, how we split off in 1889 with a group that later merged with the Methodists to become today’s United Methodist Church.

Dave admitted that the UMCs have been losing members regularly for a long time. He said the same was true of many other denominations, and he assumed we were probably experiencing the same thing.

“Actually, we haven’t been losing members,” I told him. “We’ve just been staying at the same basic level for way too long.”

Dave asked how many members we have in the United States. “Probably less than you have just in Indiana,” I told him.

“Well, how many?”

“About 23,000 members,” I said.

“Oh, wow, you are small,” he said. He actually grimaced. “We have 200,000 members just in Indiana.”

For the record, at that point I felt like I was part of something that was excruciatingly small. A carnal, pride-driven feeling, I know.

Dave mentioned something about a large Missionary Church near him. I told him that we had recently considered merging with the Missionary Church denomination, but our group voted against it.

“What was the issue that stopped it?” he asked. “Ordination of women? Homosexuality?”

I chuckled. “No, there was no big issue,” I said. “On just about everything, we line up almost perfectly.”

“Then what stopped it?” he persisted.

And I had to think. What did stop it? It seems like the distant past at this point. I honestly drew a complete blank. I couldn’t articulate anything, and even now, I can’t identify any Overarching Prevailing Objection why the thing failed. I guess I’ve moved on. Don’t want to think about it.

Instead, I began telling Dave about the whole “joining” thing–that we proposed to the Missionary Church that our group disband and become part of the Missionary Church. “Rather than have both groups dissolve and form something completely new to both groups, with study committees and strict attention to proportional representation and all that stuff, we wanted to just give ourselves up and become part of them. We would merge into what they already have in place, so there would be as little disruption as possible.”

Dave thought that was really cool. Imagine that–a United Methodist admiring us for something. But you would expect that from a United Methodist. You know how they are, all ecumenical and stuff. “So why did your members vote against that?” It seemed to him like such a great idea, and he wouldn’t quit until I provided an answer.

Fortunately, someone came along and challenged him to a match, and our conversation ended.

For the record, Dave and I have played many times, and he has beaten me only once. So I can hold my nose high.

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Capture the Flag Blues

Ron CookRon Cook is pastor of the Salem United Brethren Church outside of Chambersburg, Pa. That’s where we held the Day of Missions last Saturday. Ron has pastored UB churches in Pennsylvania since the 1960s. My first memory of him comes from Rhodes Grove church camp. We spent many weeks there one summer when Dad directed the food service. Ron Cook was a new minister. I remember Dad saying to my Mom, “That Ron Cook is a really good young guy.” Or something like that. Hey, it was 40 years ago. But the gist was that Dad liked Ron, for whatever reason. And, therefore, I liked him. And always have. Imagine if Dad had given me a different first impression by saying, “That Ron Cook–I can’t believe the screwball thing he did today.” My young mind would have formed a different lasting impression. But thankfully, my view of Ron molded around the “good guy” label.

Even after what he did to me.

At Intermediate Camp (that’s what they called it back then‚Äîthe next camp after Junior Camp), we played Capture the Flag. Ron Cook was a counselor, I was an impending 7th grader. They divided the camp in half, with a chalk strip going between a row of cabins and bisecting the tabernacle. All of us hung a colored strip from our pants, a different color for each team. The goal, of course, was to grab the other team’s flag and get it across the chalk line into your own territory.

Most guys formed raiding parties of three or four and played chicken with the other team, trading feints. I went solo, wandering inconspicuously into enemy territory, starting from the hilltop where the guys’ cabins were and meandering along the fence to where two guys guarded the enemy flag. The guards didn’t pay me much attention, instead watching the action elsewhere.

I got fairly close, and then made a running lunge for the flag. I grabbed it and sprinted toward the chalk line, probably 50 yards away. Those incompetent guards screeched and pointed frantically at me. And scores of kids began chasing after me.

I aimed for the middle area between the guys’ cabins and the middle row of cabins. Teammates stood on the other side of the chalk line, cheering me on. I was no more than a couple yards from the line when, from my left, Ron Cook zoomed from between two cabins, plucked my flag, and skidded to a stop about ten yards further down.

I was so close to being a hero. I’ve always kicked myself for not throwing the flag over the boundary line. I could have done that. But instead, they recaptured the flag and took me prisoner.

I’ve often resented Ron Cook for denying me my moment of earthly glory. But my resentment always fades because, after all, as Dad told me, Ron Cook is a good guy.

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Richard Prabhakar – One of Our Giants

The May 6 Day of Missions concluded with a memorial service for Dr. Richard Prabhakar, who died last fall after a lengthy battle with heart problems. Richard was an extraordinary man, though it’s difficult to mention him alone. You really need to say “Richard and Miriam,” because they were so much of a team. I wondered what the memorial recognition would be like. Turns out it basically consisted of two videos–Stephen Prabhakar telling about his father’s life, and then a video from the funeral in India. The latter lasted probably 10 minutes, and it was captivating.

I’m well aware of the high respect Richard receives in the States. But this video showed the respect he commands in his homeland. During the memorial service, we hear Josh Prabhakar talk about his father, and it’s very moving. Then we see the crowd walking, presumably, from the memorial service to the cemetery. This is what got me. The camera basically stayed in one place and filmed the people as they walked by. They just kept coming…and coming…and coming. The common, ordinary people of Narsapur and beyond, honoring the faithfulest of servants.

My eyes watered up at this point. I didn’t think the stream of people would ever end. It was amazing. Pam and I went out to eat afterwards, and she mentioned the same scene.

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Burt Lange – the Day He Drove the Combine

Burt Lange.jpg

Burt Lange (right) with new UB missionaries Jamie Fiedler (left) and Anna Geivett (center).

This past weekend, the Day of Missions that Pam and I attended was held in Chambersburg, Pa., which is the most densely UB-populated place on earth. Six UB churches have Chambersburg addresses, nearby Greencastle has four churches, Shippensburg has three, and I’m sure gobs of surrounding towns yield additional UB churches. People talk about Huntington, Ind., as being the UB “Mecca.” Well, my vote goes to Chambersburg.

The event was held at the Salem UB church, which I’d never before visited. It’s a stately brick building; “stately brick” seems to be a common architectural motif of UB churches in that area.

I spent a lot of time in Chambersburg when I was a kid. We lived in Harrisburg for 3.5 years ,which corresponds to my grades 4-7. The conference campground, Rhodes Grove, is located just outside of Chambersburg. Dad directed junior camp for two summers, and he ran the food service for one entire summer (which means we stayed on the grounds most of the time).

On Saturday, Burt Lange and former missionary Aldean Saufley played an outstanding prelude–Burt on the piano, Aldean on the organ. Burt is an incredible, incredible pianist. He hooked up with Tony Fontaine during the 1960s when Tony did annual revival services at my church (Devonshire UB in Harrisburg), and Tony began using Burt in other meetings. They even performed together in the White House. Every summer at camp, Burt entertained the crowd with his piano-comedy bit. He’d have us all in stitches. Burt still possesses that amazing sense of humor.

But I remember Burt Lange for another reason, as well. He was the evangelist for junior camp in 1967. Under his preaching, I went forward and dedicated my life to Christ. I walked to the altar with my head bowed and knelt at the altar across from a counselor whose face I didn’t see. After a few seconds, I heard the counselor weeping, which seemed strange. I looked up…and it was my Dad, a last-minute counselor that year. Dad’s first words were, “Steve, do you know what you’re doing?” I said I did, or at least thought so. Dad talked to me, and I responded, though I can’t remember a bit of that. But in the end, he led me in a prayer of salvation. So that was pretty special.

A couple years ago, I ran into Burt Lange at an event in Chambersburg and mentioned this to him. He said, “I can’t take much credit for that. With your background, somebody would have got you.” And he’s right. I grew up in a strong Christian home, and it was only a matter of time. Burt just happened to be working the harvest fields that particular day. It could have been somebody else, but it was him. But that doesn’t diminish the place Burt has in my heart.

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Where are the Younger Generations?

The Day of Missions went great today. I thoroughly enjoyed everyone who spoke, and the chance to meet some of our newest missionaries–Mike and Jenny Burtnett (wonderful couple!), Anna Geivett, and Jami Fiedler. I’ll write more about the event later. But right now it’s midnight on Saturday, the Suns just won their series against the Lakers, Tom Hanks is hosting Saturday Night Live for his 8th time, and I’m tired. How all of those things relate–you figure it out.

Alan MacDonald - Gary Dilley.jpgI do want to comment on something Alan MacDonald said. (That’s Alan on the right, talking to Global Ministries director Gary Dilley.) Alan MacDonald works with Wycliffe, serving as a laison to government and United Nations officials. It’s a pretty important job, one which fascinates me. Alan is highly respected within Wycliffe. I’ve enjoyed hearing him speak over the years and reading his writings, because he has a wonderfully insightful view of world missions, and a strategic vantage point.

Today he mentioned some changes in missions. One, he said, was that the post-WW2 generation which really accelerated the cause of world missions is aging. Those people, he said, provided a great deal of prayer support for missionaries. But as they die out, and younger generations don’t carry the same burden for praying for missionaries, something extremely important will be lost. That’s not exacely what he said, but it’s the gist with some Stevely amplications.

This was evident in the people who attended. It was very much a graying group of people–my parents’ generation. My own generation, the Baby Boomers, was largely absent, to say nothing of the Baby Busters and Gen-Xers–a few representatives, but very few. While the retirees were out in force. The people who came out to learn more about missions and interact with missionaries were NOT the people who will need to carry the ball in the future. So where were they?

The people in today’s audience, I realized, were the people who not only faithfully pray for missionaries, but who send them cards, raise money through bake sales and other events, and otherwise keep alive their church’s interest in missions. This generation will be greatly missed if they are not replaced. And it doesn’t look like they will be.

On the other hand, many of those grey-haired people have probably never ventured overseas. The younger generations go on mission trips and do other types of foreign travel, even as part of their youth group. My generation, and the younger generations, have experienced much more of life in other countries. We’ve gotten our hands dirty. And yet, we won’t come to an event like we held today. And I greatly doubt that we’ll be prayer warriors like those people sitting in today’s audience, people who have silently undergirded the missionary force of today and yesterday with their faithful remembrances. We want to experience things for ourselves. We’re not so good at supporting and cheering from the sidelines. What are we to make of that? Is there a positive spin I’m missing?

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Roger and Marilyn Reeck

ReecksRoger and Marilyn Reeck were in town today. They are Wycliffe missionaries in La Ceiba, the third largest city in Honduras, situated on the north coast. I wrote a book about the life of Marilyn’s father, Archie Cameron, who basically started and built the United Brethren ministry in Honduras, which now has over 80 churches. An amazing man. That was the best, and most rewarding, piece of writing I’ve ever done.

Both Roger and Marilyn are graduates of what is now Taylor University-Fort Wayne. Back then, it was called Fort Wayne Bible College. Marilyn attended Anchor, my church (then called Third Street United Brethren Church), while she was in college. An interesting connection.

In writing the book, I made three trips to Honduras, during which I spent many hours interviewing Archie, but also traipsing across northern Honduras with Roger interviewing other people, missionaries and nationals, who could tell me something about Archie’s life. The interviews were usually bilingual, which made it interesting. And having Roger translate made it especially interesting, because he’s such a fun guy. Roger knows over a dozen languages, and has been integrally involved in translating the Bible into the Zapotec and Garifuna languages. Now he’s working in the West African country of Guinnea Bissau (though still living in Honduras), working on translating the Bible into a language there. What could be more rewarding than that?

Pam and I had breakfast with the Reecks this morning (Pam accompanied me on one of those trips to Honduras). Roger told about being in a remote village in Guinea Bissau. All they had translated was the story of the Good Samaritan. The villagers gathered, and the story was read to them in their own language. “Read it again!” they said. So they read the story again. “Read it again!” This happened over and over, and they kept re-reading the story. Roger told me that the people are starved for God’s Word, and by hearing this single story over and over, they would be able to remember it well enough to repeat it to others.

Tio ArchieArchie Cameron died last fall. He had lived in Honduras since 1952. He was a pioneer, and part of the dying breed of missionaries who are “lifers”–who make missionary service in a foreign land their career. It was a great honor to do the book. Roger and Marilyn have told me that the book has been a blessing to other missionaries in Honduras, who value not only Archie’s testimony, but the background information I give about the country’s history. They mentioned one man who leads work teams to Honduras, and he always gives a copy to team members (and he’s not even United Brethren!). The book is used in teaching at the UB high school in La Ceiba.

Tio Archie has been translated into Spanish, and the Spanish people of Honduras are eager to read the book, but they don’t have the money to print it. Seems like, out of our American abundance, we should be able to come up with the money to make that happen. Because the book is really the Hondurans’ story, not an American story. (Archie, I should also mention, was Canadian.)

Roger and Marilyn are on their way to Florida, where their youngest daughter (of four) will graduate in May from Pensacola Bible College. I trust they have a joyous time.

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Generational Transitions

A retired minister was in my office this morning, and during the conversation, he injected some subtle hints about what he thinks should happen in the church. This same fellow (a minister I respect, by the way) was highly involved in fighting the initiative to combine our denomination into the Missionary Church. He is of my parents’ generation. And he, like many of them (and probably like I will be) has difficulty entrusting his church’s future to the next generation. These good folks (some of them) still use their connections and knowledge of “how things work” to influence the church’s direction, even though they no longer hold leadership positions or are necessarily active in ministry. They are unable to “let things go.”

The cold fact is, today our denomination is firmly in the control of baby boomers. I understand that this is the case with nearly all denominations. Just as the Lord of the Rings ended with the dawn of the “Age of Men,” and the departure of the elves, we are now in the Age of the Baby Boomers. The boomers have been influential for some time now. But today, they pull the strings. They call the shots. They are in charge.

But a question we’re asking is, “Who will be the next generation of leaders?” As we look across the denomination, there are some bright young leaders…but not many. Certainly not as many as there were among the baby boomers at that age. We can look at the young crop of ministers and wonder, “Who will be the bishop in 20 years?” And it’s difficult to guess.

Regardless, we need to be grooming some of these young ministers for eventual (or current) leadership. Because they are our future. So we baby boomers are being pulled from two directions. On the one hand, we have the older generation which doesn’t fully approve of the direction the boomers are taking and still wants to try to control things. Then we have the younger generations who are most certainly out of tune with the older generation–the baby busters and GenXers–but whom we boomers realize need to be developed for–and even pushed into–leadership roles. It’s an interesting dilemma.

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