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Another way of living
In the New Testament, the word “brethren” describes a community of men and women who chose another way of living: the way of Jesus. The Church of the Brethren, begun three centuries ago in Germany, still draws people who want to continue Jesus’ work of faithfulness and loving service.
Continuing the work of Jesus
Though the Brethren as a group have existed for three hundred years, we subscribe to no formal “creed” or set of rules. We simply try to do what Jesus did.
Jesus brought a message of life, love, and hope. But he offered much more than inspiring words: He understood that people’s spiritual needs also include day-to-day human ones — food, health, rest, comfort, friendship, and unconditional acceptance. “I am the way,” he told his followers. He showed them how to trust, how to care, and how to help.
Steadily, lovingly, even radically, Jesus went about saving the world — by serving its people. Because we believe his message, we seek to do the same.
Whether the conflict involves warring nations, racial discord, theological disputes, personal disagreement, or mere misunderstanding, Brethren listen conscientiously, seek guidance in the scriptures, and work toward reconciliation. We practice peaceful living.
Our longstanding commitment to peace and justice includes a deep regard for human life and dignity. Brethren reach worldwide to help repair the ravages of poverty, ignorance, exploitation, and catastrophic events. Along with our faith, we bring food, books, classes, tools, and medicine.
Living peacefully, to the Brethren, means treating each person with the attentive, compassionate respect that all human beings deserve.
Years ago, all Brethren were immediately recognizable because of their plain dress and reserved ways. Today’s Brethren live very much in the world, work in a broad range of occupations, and make use of the latest technology.
Continually, though, we try to simplify our lives. Practicing a modest nonconformity, we think carefully about our daily choices. The ideal of simplicity guides our decisions: How will we conduct our business, raise our children, spend our leisure time, tend our natural resources? How will we use our money, and why? How can we live comfortably, but without excess or ostentation?
For the Brethren, such considerations are not a requirement, but a privilege. As we seek to live intentionally, responsibly, and simply, we find a deep sense of purpose. And we find joy.
Whether worshiping, serving, learning, or celebrating, Brethren act in community. Together, we study the Bible to discern God’s will; we make decisions as a group, and each person’s voice matters.
During our traditional love feast, we gather at the table of the Lord, and each summer at Annual Conference we convene as a denominational family. Because Jesus urged unity, Brethren work alongside other denominations, at home and abroad, in worldwide mission and outreach.
Our congregations welcome all who wish to share with us in another way of living: the way of Christian discipleship, life in community, fulfillment in service.
We live out our faith in community. That community begins in the congregation, but extends also to the district, and to the church as a whole. In other words, the life and work of the Church of the Brethren begins within hundreds of congregations but reaches around the world.
Taken from the Church of the Brethren Website: www.brethren.org
1900: Ten brethren, living in Harrisonburg, request preaching services. Cooks Creek, Greenmount and Mill Creek congregations jointly sponsor the development of a new congregation in Harrisonburg, Virginia.
1901: The first Sunday School and Worship services are held on June 9, with P.S. Thomas in charge of the service and J.M. Kagey in charge of preaching.
1906: A new sanctuary is constructed at a cost of $15,000. The new sanctuary is first used for worship on December 9.
1909: Cooks Creek, Greenmount and Mill Creek congregations release control of the Harrisonburg congregation. P.S. Thomas, who has served as pastor since 1901, remains pastor of the new congregation.
1918: Additional Sunday School rooms are added to the original building on High Street.
1923: N.D. Cool becomes the first pastor to be hired to a full time position.1927: A second addition is added to the original building, this addition includes more Sunday School classrooms.
1951: The Harrisonburg First Church congregation moves across High Street to a larger building.
1971: Membership reaches an all-time high with 741 members.
1978: A 5.4 acre plot of land is purchased and a new building is constructed on Dogwood Drive. The new building has a sanctuary, twelve Sunday School classrooms and a kitchen.
1995: An addition and renovation to the existing building on Dogwood Drive begins. The renovation creates four new Sunday School classrooms and the addition adds a new fellowship hall, four additional Sunday School Classrooms and a full service kitchen.
2001: Harrisonburg First Church of the Brethren celebrates its 100th anniversary.
2007: First Church becomes influential in “Project Nimule” helping the village of Nimule, Sudan. First Church donates money for school scholarships, kids toys and sports equipment through New Community Project and First Church member Emily Young.
2007: First Church becomes one of three area churches to serve weekly meals at the Harrisonburg area Salvation Army Shelter.
2008: First Church sends a total of three members to Sudan to continue work on “Project Nimule”.
2008: Derek Young, celebrates 20 years of service to First Church of the Brethren as Director of Youth and Adult Ministries.
2009: First Church continues its outreach on a global scale by sending supplies and one member to Nimule, Sudan. First Church also sends two groups of members to Chalmette, Louisiana to help rebuild houses that were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.
2010: First Church of the Brethren wins Third Place in the Salvation Army Bell Ringing Campaign for money raised during the 2010 Kettle Drive.
2010: The First Church of the Brethren Children’s Christmas Parade Float wins First Place for Best Float in the Churches/Religious catagory in the Harrisonburg Christmas Parade.
2011: First Church sends three members as part of a team on a mission trip to Nepal.
2013: First Church of the Brethren hires Beth Jarrett as Full Time Pastor.
2013: Derek Young celebrates 25 Years as Director of Youth and Adult Ministries.
What We Believe
The central emphasis of the Church of the Brethren is not a creed, but a commitment to follow Christ in simple obedience, to be faithful disciples in the modern world. As do most other Christians, the Brethren believe in God as Creator and loving Sustainer. We confess the Lordship of Christ, and we seek to be guided by the Holy Spirit in every aspect of life, thought, and mission.
We hold the New Testament as our guidebook for living, affirming with it the need for lifelong and faithful study of the Scriptures. Brethren believe that God has revealed an unfolding purpose for the human family and the universe through the Hebrew Scriptures (or Old Testament), and fully in the New Testament. We hold the New Testament as the record of the life, ministry, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and of the beginnings of the life and thought of the Christian church.
Faithful following of Jesus Christ and obedience to the will of God as revealed in the Scriptures have led us to emphasize principles that we believe are central in true discipleship. Among these are peace and reconciliation, simple living, integrity of speech, family values, and service to neighbors near and far.
(Drawn from “The Brethren Heritage,” Elizabethtown College)
What it means to be a Christian
The specific words vary from congregation to congregation as members are received into the church, but all affirm their belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. They promise to turn from sin and to live in faithfulness to God and to the church, taking the example and teachings of Jesus as a model. Brethren never stop discussing what that model means for the daily life of the believer.
Seeking to follow Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world” (NRSV), Brethren insist members should not thoughtlessly adopt the patterns of the world around them. At an earlier time, features like dress, homes, and meetinghouses were distinctively plain as we sought to live what was called “the simple life.” Brethren refused military service and practiced nonviolence in the face of violence. We refused to take oaths or go to court to solve problems. These practices set us apart from the world.
Today we seek to interpret biblical teachings in fresh ways for our day. We encourage members to think about what they buy and how they use their money in an affluent society. We are sensitive to the limited resources of our global community. We encourage people to “affirm” rather than “swear” when taking an oath. With earlier Brethren, we believe that “our word should be as good as our bond.”
Above all, Brethren seek to pattern our daily living after the life of Jesus: a life of humble service and unconditional love. As part of a larger body of believers—the church, the body of Christ—we go into all the world today with a mission of witness, service, and reconciliation.
(Drawn from “Who Are These Brethren?” by Joan Deeter; “Reflections on Brethren Heritage and Identity,” Brethren Press; “The Brethren Heritage,” Elizabethtown College)
How we live out our Faith
It is easy to talk about faith and never get around to doing anything. So the continuing call is to “walk the talk.” Alexander Mack, the leader of the earliest Brethren, insisted that they could be recognized “by the manner of their living.”
Being a disciple of Jesus Christ, then, affects everything that we say and do. Obedience—meaning obedience of Jesus—has been a key word among Brethren. What we do in the world is just as important as what we do in the church. Christ’s style of self-giving love is the example we are called to follow in all our relationships.
That belief shows itself in the giving nature of Brethren. We respond quickly to need. We send money and volunteers to disaster sites. We support soup kitchens, day-care centers, and homeless shelters in our communities. Thousands of people have served around the world through Brethren Volunteer Service. People often know the Brethren through our ministries of compassion.
We believe following Christ means following his example of serving others, healing the broken, and bringing new life and hope to the despairing. We take seriously Jesus’ call to love all people, including the “enemy.”
In fact, the Church of the Brethren is known as one of the Historic Peace Churches. Brethren have considered participation in war to be unacceptable for Christians and have based this understanding on the teachings of Jesus and on other New Testament texts.
In our concern for the well-being of neighbors near and far, Brethren have begun creative programs to enable the world’s poor to walk toward a better life. Heifer Project International (providing livestock for poor families) and SERRV International (supporting craft producers in developing countries), for example, were both begun by Brethren before they grew into ecumenical ministries.
“For the glory of God and my neighbors’ good” was a motto of an early Brethren leader, whose own successful printing operation was destroyed due to his opposition to the Revolutionary War. This two-part phrase, turning us both toward God in devotion and toward our neighbors in service, remains an appropriate summary of the church’s understanding of the nature of Christian faith.