On a chilly Sunday in November 1983, I was baptized at Bethel Church of the Brethren in Broadway, VA. This congregation has been my family’s home for several generations; the original church building (which no longer stands) was built on land donated by my great-great-great grandfather.
Since that day, I’ve realized something about the nature of the church. On that November Sunday, I got all of you— and all of you got me. I like to joke about who got the better end of that bargain—I’m fairly certain it’s me.
All joking aside, however, being called as Moderator of the 2012 Annual Conference has made me realize the depth of the body of Christ. During this past year (and especially during the week at Grand Rapids) I’ve learned how deeply you love the church. That love for the church means that you also love me. I am humbled by that love and will do what I can to hold that with integrity.
I’ve also learned that although we love the church, we have a lot of work to do—more than we expected—to learn what it means to love one another.
During our Annual Conference in Grand Rapids, we talked at great length about our disunity and our brokenness. I have heard the discussions and the pain, and I believe what we’ve said about our brokenness. From that and the decisions that were made, I pledge to you that as I travel around the denomination over the coming months, I am willing to have any conversation with any person about any aspect of life and ministry. I will do what is in my power and ability to make those conversations safe. Already, some of you have reached out to me to continue these conversations, and I do hope that they will continue all the way to St. Louis. I want all of us to be there.
In the midst of this, I’ve tried to pay attention to what we’ve been saying in the "in-between times." What I find there is something else: unity! For over 300 years, Brethren have gathered in Spirit-filled community around the Bible, choosing to be the church described in the pages of the New Testament. Brethren chose this radical obedience to the Great Commission in the waters of the Eder River in Schwarzenau, being rebaptized as adult believers. They did this in radical disobedience to the laws of the land. Since then Brethren are continuing the work of Jesus by evangelizing neighborhoods around their meetinghouses; by being peacemakers in their communities, and occasionally by inserting themselves into places of conflict; by responding to a massive earthquake in Haiti with disaster response teams, global mission, workcamps, ministry education. There are also many more ways that are too numerous to mention here.
Along the way, Brethren have discovered that our calling is not to make the institutions of this world more holy and righteous; our calling is to be the Kingdom of God in the midst of the kingdoms of this world. This is where we begin to find our unity.
As your moderator for the 2012 Annual Conference in St. Louis, I invite you to start making preparations now for next year’s conference. Come prepared to rejoice in the ways we continue the work of Jesus. Share about disciple making, church planting, confronting injustice, sending missionaries, commissioning BVS workers and workcampers. I would be glad to hear those stories when I visit in your district, or through email, Facebook, and other on-line sources. One historical piece that I hope to bring to St. Louis are stories of Brethren martyrs—those persons who sacrificed their lives while continuing the work of Jesus.
Between then and now, you can keep up with me in the following places:
By email: firstname.lastname@example.org
On facebook: "Tim Harvey"
May the peace of Christ rule in your heart, and in the hearts of all the Brethren.