Wednesday, January 01, 2020

The Reflector -- January 2020

DE Ponderings

by Kevin Kessler

Acts 27:1-28:2

Here at the end of the New Testament book of Acts, the Apostle Paul, now a prisoner, is moved from one location to another by ship. It is winter and a poor time for this mode of transportation. Thus, the journey is very difficult. After fourteen days on treacherous seas, the ship nears land, runs aground on a reef, and is broken up by the force of the waves. Paul and the other 275 persons on board miraculously jump ship and make it safely to shore on the island of Malta. The natives of the island built a fire and welcomed the shivering, weary passengers around it.

The narrative suggests that this simple act of sharing a warm fire is an unusual kindness (Acts 28:2 NRSV/NIV). Other versions of the Bible name it as an extraordinary (NASB), no little (KJV), no common (ASB), and uncommon (J.B. Phillips) kindness. The Message is more expressive and says they “went out of their way to be friendly.” Easily arguable is that this simple act of kindness is quite common, even commonsense. When persons are cold and weary, the common-sense action is to help them warm up. On the other hand, the natives could have taken a more apathetic approach to do nothing for the shipwrecked survivors because of their foolishness to sail in such dangerous weather. Or, the common occurrence of shipwrecked passengers may have caused the natives to become immune to any kind of assistance. Why be kind to those who are foolish and whose numbers are nearly beyond comprehension? What’s the point? Let them suffer alone.

The Malta natives instead react with an innate compassion. Their DNA, in a manner of speaking, compels them to act kindly. A non-response would be nearly impossible. Their response is unusual, uncommon, huge, extraordinary because they do what others may leave undone. Their actions do not go unnoticed. These people extend kindness to strangers, to some probably very scruffy, and maybe questionable, looking sea-goers. Perchance these marooned characters were pirates, thinkingly imaginatively. Unwaveringly, unquestionably, the Malta natives extend mercy, and grace, and compassion, and friendship without reservation. No wonder Paul describes it as unusual, extraordinary, uncommon kindness.

Receiving unusual kindness is an experience about which to share. Paul’s experience was significant enough that he wrote about it. Chances are good that others in Paul’s company disclosed details about this encounter as well. Little imagination is needed to realize that news about such uncommon kindness was scattered as seed in other places, taking root and producing more extraordinary acts of kindness.

Allow the merits of this story in Acts to transcend time. Consider the shipwrecks, metaphorically speaking, we encounter nowadays and the people who are adversely affected and displaced. How do we respond when strangers who have experienced extreme difficulties land in our midst suffering from lack of shelter, warmth, family, the familiar, sustaining food, clean water, clothing, a healthy relationship, or any other amenity that provides for their comfort? Imagine if kindness, unusual and extraordinary, would be extended?

Malcolm Gladwell in his book, "The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference", suggests that significant changes can occur from small, relatively free of cost, actions and/or messages. Although he doesn’t specifically mention acts of kindness in the book as a means of bringing about noteworthy transformation, he certainly could have. His principles of reaching a tipping point whereby noticeable change is achieved could easily be applied to acts of kindness. Not just any acts of kindness, but unusual, extraordinary, going out of our way, innately compassionate acts of kindness. To listen without judgment may avoid schisms in the Church. To authentically interact relationally with the person who is isolated may reduce the incidences of mass killings. To engage with one another face-to-face rather than by technology may increase our ability to see the other respectfully and with dignity. To honor the earth by caring for it responsibly may increase the long-term sustainability of the planet we call home.

Imagine the outcomes if the actions aforementioned, and others not mentioned that would have similar positive results, would replace our present apathy and divisiveness. Perhaps it is time to stop imagining and initiate kind acts, if we aren’t already. Or if we are, then in what ways might we exercise more fully our kindness muscles?

Ample opportunities await us to share unusual acts of kindness. What are we waiting for?

The Moderator's Column

Hey there District Family!

One of my favorite Contemporary Christian Music groups is “Building 429”. For those of you who don’t listen to Contemporary Christian/Christian Rock, the group gets its name straight from scripture. Ephesians 4:29 tells us this: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth’s, but only what is helpful for “Building Others up” according to their needs, that it might benefit those who listen.”

This sounds simple enough, but way too often we treat one another within our District and Church families like that crazy uncle we hope doesn’t show up and ruin our Christmas celebration! It’s alright to call him names because he’s not “like us”, and therefore he is fair game for our crude and condescending remarks. I am looking at this passage to see where Jesus gives us that “out” so that we can be free to bad mouth weird Uncle Fred, but I’m just not finding it! Instead, it calls upon us to “build one another up”, no matter how much Aunt Millie gets under our skin!

For those of you who follow me on Facebook, some 5 or 6 years ago, I almost tossed Facebook into the trash can because of the many hurtful things I read. However, God intervened and challenged me to write something of a positive nature each day, something that might build others up and to put into practice Ephesians 4:29. As the New Year is upon us, may you consider how you might practice this passage in your life, how you might treat those in your own families, your church family, and your District family! Along the way I’ll bet you will begin to encounter your own life being built up by others.

Love ya’ll,
Moderator Rick Koch

LaDonna Nkosi to Serve as Director of Intercultural Ministries

LaDonna Sanders Nkosi has been hired by the Church of the Brethren as the Director of Intercultural Ministries. She joins the Discipleship Ministries Team when she begins on January 16, 2020, working remotely and from the Church of the Brethren General Offices in Elgin, Ill.

LaDonna is the planting pastor of The Gathering Chicago (Illinois and Wisconsin District), a community of prayer and global/local service based in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood. She serves in the district’s Emerging Ministries and is a former pastor of Chicago First Church of the Brethren. Other experience includes serving in diversity and multicultural program administration for DePaul University, Loyola University Chicago, and Syracuse University. She also has nonprofit program management experience with nonprofits and volunteer organizations in Chicago.

LaDonna studied Journalism and Public Relations at the University of Missouri and attended graduate school at DePaul University. Ordained by the Church of the Brethren, LaDonna is a graduate of McCormick Theological Seminary, specializing in cross-cultural community development and international relations. She is completing her Doctor of Ministry thesis as a Wright Scholar at McCormick Theological Seminary.

Cards for Leslie Lake

For sending cards and notes to Leslie Lake, please use the following address:
Leslie Lake
302 W. Webster St.
Polo, IL 61064


The District Leadership Team met Saturday, November 9, at Pleasant Hill Village in Girard, IL. The Team was reorganized with Carol Kussart (Cerro Gordo) and Mary Dulabaum (Highland Avenue) being called as co-chairs and Jan Dietrick (Mt. Morris) as secretary. Phyllis Batterton (Woodland) and Ed Watkins (Peoria) were welcomed as the newly called members to the team. Agenda items to which the team gave attention are as follows:
  • Approval of previous minutes
  • Review of financial reports (financial secretary, treasurer, Brethren Foundations Funds)
  • Reserves held as of Oct. 31, 2019: $499,378.49 of which $262,394.04 is in the Endowment Fund
  • Total reserves and cash: $522,371.87
  • Received DE Report (of interest: 5 congregations in or completing the pastoral search process)
  • Discussed at length ways to enhance ministry with the youth, young adults, and families in the district
  • Approved a 4% draw from the Endowment as per the endowment charter and recommendation of the Property and Asset Management Team
  • Agreed to do a fundraising emphasis prior to year end
  • Reviewed appointments to leadership positions the Leadership Team is responsible for

District Leadership Team Meeting Places 2020

Feb. 8, 9 a.m., Zoom Conference
Apr. 18, 10 a.m., York Center COB (tentative)
Jun. 6, 10 a.m., First COB, Springfield
Aug. 8, 9 a.m., Zoom Conference
Oct. 10, 10 a.m., First COB, Peoria (tentative)
Nov. 14, 10 a.m., Pinecrest Community (tentative)

District Website

When is the last time you visited the IL/WI District Website? There you’ll find helpful information about your district including but not limited to:
Don’t delay! Check it out! See what you can learn about your district!

Clergy Tax Seminar

Join us for this informational and instructive seminar! Clergy Tax Seminar 

January 25, 2020

Students, pastors, and other church leaders are invited to participate in this online seminar.
  • Learn how to file clergy taxes correctly and legally.
  • Comply with regulations while maximizing tax deductions.
  •  Earn 0.3 CEUs - requires attendance in the first session.
The annual Clergy Tax Seminar will consist of two sessions:
  • Session 1, from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. EST, will focus on the rules surrounding Clergy Tax Returns, including who is subject to these rules, what income is subject to tax, and how to reduce total tax liability using various methods, including housing allowance, business expenses, and medical reimbursement plans. The court case around the housing allowance will also be discussed. Credit for 0.3 CEUs will be available for attending Session 1 only.
  • In Session 2, from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. EST, participants will complete a clergy tax return using H&R Block's highest tier (Premium and Business) downloadable software. 
This seminar is highly recommended for all pastors and other church leaders who wish to understand clergy taxes, including treasurers, steward commission chairs, and church board chairs.

The Brethren Academy for Ministerial Leadership, the Church of the Brethren Office of Ministry, and Bethany Theological Seminary

Seminar Schedule
  • 10:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m. EST: Morning session
  • 1:00-1:30 p.m. EST: Lunch on your own
  • 1:30-3:30 p.m. EST: Afternoon session
Registration and Cost
Registration is $40 per person (generally nonrefundable to keep fees and overhead low). Current Bethany, TRIM/EFSM/SeBAH, and Earlham School of Religion students may attend the seminar at no cost, although registration is still required to reserve space and will allow us to provide you with web access to the seminar; instructions and handouts will be sent a few days prior to the event. Registrations are not complete until payment is received.
Prompt registration is advised - registration deadline is January 15, 2020. 
Deb Oskin has been doing clergy tax returns since 1989, when her husband left seminary to pastor a small rural Church of the Brethren congregation. As a pastor's wife and later as a tax professional, she learned the tax problems and pitfalls associated with the IRS’s identification of clergy as “hybrid employees." In 2011, after twelve years with H&R Block, Deb left to start her own tax practice, specializing in clergy taxes. Clergy clients now make up 75 percent of her client base.
Deb was ordained in 2004 when she was called by the Living Peace Church of the Brethren in Columbus, Ohio, to be their peace minister to the wider community. She served as Southern Ohio District’s board chair from 2007-11 and is currently serving as Southern Ohio-Kentucky 2018 District Moderator. She was elected to the Pastoral Compensation & Benefits Advisory Committee at Annual Conference 2018 and is super excited about it!
She's been teaching and presenting nationally on clergy taxation to clergy, treasurers and administrators, and tax pros since 2004. Other than the fact that she really likes to talk, Deb does this because of her deep belief that clergy can devote more of their energy to ministry if they aren't stressed by tax debt.

Deb is an experienced presenter, and despite the complexity of the material, you'll find yourself laughing. Learn and enjoy!
Register online now!

Faculty Position Opening at Bethany Seminbary

Bethany Theological Seminary invites applications for a full-time, tenure-track faculty position in theological studies, beginning July 1, 2020. Rank: open. PhD preferred; ABD considered. The appointee will be expected to develop and teach an average of five graduate courses per year, including the introductory course in theological reflection and advanced courses in an area of expertise. The seminary will consider a variety of areas, with the following of particular interest: theology and the arts, theopoetics, ecological theology, theology and science, peace studies, and intersectional theology. Other duties will include student advising, supervision of MA theses in theological studies as needed, participating in student recruitment, and regular participation in institutional meetings and events. Commitment to the mission and values of the seminary is essential. A detailed posting is available on Bethany Seminary's website. Applications are encouraged from women, Latinx, African-Americans, and other ethnic groups traditionally underrepresented in the seminary professorate. Application deadline is Nov. 1. Interviews will begin in December. Send a letter of application, CV, and names and contact information for three references to Theological Studies Search, Attn: Dean's Office, Bethany Theological Seminary, 615 National Road West, Richmond, IN 47374; Bethany Theological Seminary's policy prohibits discrimination in employment opportunities or practices with regard to race, gender, age, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, national or ethnic origin, or religion.

Clergy Tax Seminar

The annual Clergy Tax Seminar is scheduled for Jan. 25, 2020, for seminary and academy students, pastors, and other church leaders. Participants will learn how to file clergy taxes correctly and legally, how to comply with regulations while maximizing tax deductions, and may earn 0.3 continuing education units. There will be two sessions: Session 1, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. (Eastern time), will focus on the rules surrounding clergy tax returns; Session 2, from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. will teach participants how to complete a clergy tax return using H&R Block's highest tier (Premium and Business) downloadable software. Leadership for the seminar is provided by Deb Oskin, a tax professional and an ordained minister in the Church of the Brethren, who is currently serving on the Pastoral Compensation & Benefits Advisory Committee. She has been teaching and presenting nationally on clergy taxation to clergy, treasurers, administrators, and tax professionals since 2004. Sponsors of the seminar are the Brethren Academy for Ministerial Leadership, the Church of the Brethren Office of Ministry, and Bethany Theological Seminary. Registration is $40 per person. Current Bethany, TRIM/EFSM/SeBAH, and Earlham School of Religion students may attend the seminar at no cost, although registration is still required. The registration deadline isJan. 15, 2020.

Nurturing Vital Spirituality in a Changing World

“Nurturing Vital Spirituality in a Changing World,” an eight-week online course Jan. 22-March 17, 2020, is taught by Rhonda Pittman Gingrich. The course is open to academy students in the TRIM/EFSM programs, continuing education students, and laypeople for their own enrichment. Said a description of the course: “To support and nurture the spiritual life of its members, the congregation must embody a sense of vital spirituality: inviting people--individually and corporately--into the presence of God, increasing their awareness of God’s presence and activity, and empowering them to bear witness to God’s presence and activity in the world.” The registration deadline is Dec. 18. Register online at

National Young Adult Conference

“Mark your calendars! National Young Adult Conference will be here before you know it!” says a Facebook post from the Church of the Brethren Youth and Young Adult Ministries. The conference known as NYAC is planned for May 22-25, 2020, on the theme “Love in Action” (Romans 12:9-18). Find out more at

2020 Workcamp Ministry Brochure

The Workcamp Ministry has published and mailed its 2020 brochure with detailed information about workcamps planned for next summer. The large, poster-sized brochure lists the dates and locations for the 20 workcamps including events for junior and senior high youth, young adults, intergenerational and adult groups. There is one correction to the information in the brochure. “We apologize for any confusion!” said a follow up announcement made via Facebook. “The correct dates for the We Are Able workcamp in Bethel, Pa., are June 22-25.”

Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Programs

The Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Programs at Christian Theological Seminary provide funds to congregations to support renewal leaves for their pastors. Congregations may apply for grants of up to $50,000 to underwrite a renewal program for their pastor and for the pastor’s family, with up to $15,000 of those funds available to the congregation to help cover costs for ministerial supply while the pastor is away. “There is no cost to the congregations or the pastors to apply; the grants represent the Endowment’s continued investment in renewing the health and vitality of American Christian congregations,” said an announcement. For information about the 2020 programs, application materials, and other content related to clergy renewal go to

Do you love Brethren workcamps?

“Do you love Brethren workcamps?” said an announcement for the position of 2021 assistant workcamp coordinator. The position is open to those who will serve through Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS) to help plan and lead the 2021 summer workcamp ministry of the Church of the Brethren. Application deadline is Jan. 27, 2020. A link to the application form and a position description are online at

Brethren Volunteer Service

Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS) is inviting Church of the Brethren congregations to send Christmas cards and holiday greetings to the current BVS volunteers. “Our volunteers love receiving cards and greetings from Brethren congregations!” said an announcement. To request a list of the current BVS volunteers contact

Church of the Brethren Service Sunday

The Church of the Brethren Service Sunday will be recognized the first Sunday in February 2020. Congregations and leaders are asked to use the day to celebrate the church’s history of service and recognize all who serve. The 2020 theme is “Voices for Peace” based on Romans 15:1-6. “This scripture tells us that our lives sing in harmony to God when we lend a helping hand and serve one another,” said an announcement. Worship resources on the 2020 theme are available at

2020 Christian Citizenship Seminar

Registration opened Dec. 2 for the 2020 Christian Citizenship Seminar. This event for high school-age youth and their adult advisors takes place in New York City and Washington, D.C. It is designed to give youth the chance to explore the relationship between faith and a particular political issue and then act from a faith perspective regarding that issue. This year’s seminar focuses on pursuing economic justice. Dates are April 25-30, 2020. Go to

Clergy Tax Seminar

Jan. 15, 2020, is the last day to register for the Clergy Tax Seminar taking place Jan. 25 online and onsite at Bethany Theological Seminary in Richmond, Ind. It is recommended for pastors, church treasurers and board chairs, and others who wish to understand clergy taxes and how to comply with regulations while maximizing tax deductions. For more information go to

Canton Church of the Brethren

Canton (Ill.) Church of the Brethren is featured in an exhibit that opened at the Canton Area Heritage Center on Nov. 22. The “Canton Daily Ledger” noted, “Throughout the world, including Fulton County, churches have been focal points of communities for centuries. With that in mind, a new exhibit called ‘Historic Churches’ is coming to the Canton Area Heritage Center. The exhibit will feature history, pictures, documents, momentos, and more from six area churches including Canton Church of the Brethren, First Presbyterian Church of Canton, First Presbyterian Church of Lewistown, Salvation Army of Canton, Trinity Lutheran Church of Canton, and Wesley United Methodist Church of Canton.” The display featuring the first six churches will continue through May 2020, with other area churches scheduled to be featured through December 2020. See

The Womaen’s Caucus

The Womaen’s Caucus, a Church of the Brethren-related group, has published an issue of its “Femailing” newsletter featuring “Feminist Advent Resources.” An announcement directed interested readers to the November “Femailing” at

2020 National Young Adult Conference

Jan. 20 is the opening date to register for the 2020 National Young Adult Conference, to be held May 22-25 at Montreat (N.C.) Conference Center. The theme is “Love in Action” (Romans 12:9-18). Speakers will include Drew Hart, Paul Shaffer, and Richard Zapata, among others. Worship coordinators are Jessie Houff and Tim Heishman. Music coordinator is Jacob Crouse. The planning team is the Young Adult Steering Committee: Emmett Witkovsky-Eldred, Briel Slocum, Jenna Walmer, Karly Eichenauer, Krystal Bellis, and Mario Cabrera. Registration cost varies depending on the participant’s travel distance. Some scholarship assistance may be available. “Early bird” registration discount is available during January only. The conference is for participants ages 18 to 35. Infants up to 12 months old are welcome with a parent participant; childcare is not provided, contact the Youth and Young Adult Ministries office at Registration and more information will be posted at

Fall Issue of “Bridges”

The fall issue of “Bridges,” the Church of the Brethren youth and young adult online newsletter, is now available at

Growing Project

“The Prairie Farmer” publication has featured a story on two Church of the Brethren men in Polo, Ill., and the 15-year-old Growing Project that is supported by several northern Illinois congregations. The article titled “How One Illinois Farm Community Feeds Another in Nicaragua” highlights the work of Jim Schmidt and Bill Hare. Find it at

Extra Tidbits

District Newsletters

Supporting Your District

The IL/WI District is active in a variety of ministry and mission efforts, both directly and indirectly. For these efforts to continue, resources are needed. Assets available to keep ministry and mission moving along include you (people serving people), tools (tool trailer w/ tools for disaster response work), knowledge and wisdom (years of experience and access to institutions of learning), and, of course, money (endowment, reserves, congregational and individual giving, bequests).

Assets are abundant but unless these gifts are cared for there is potential for depleting them. Therefore, district teams and the combined efforts of many work diligently to ensure asset sustainability.

Still, it is important to know where gaps exist, or a little extra boost would be helpful. For instance, our district has deep interest in and long-standing support of disaster relief efforts. A separate fund is established to assist folks who give of their time and travel great distances to assist. The district’s Disaster Relief Fund is hovering around $1,000.00. Sending a team to serve on a disaster response site can cost nearly $500 or more. To ensure the sustainability of this important ministry, designated gifts to this fund are welcomed and deeply appreciated. Having funds available to assist with travel may be the difference of someone sharing their gifts or staying home. Consider making acontribution!

Other options are available for contributing, as well, including the following:

  • Endowment Fund
  • Mission and Mortar Fund
  • General Fund
  • Emerging Ministries
  • Ministry Training

Every gift regardless of size is a significant boost to the abundance of assets in our midst. All contributions ensure that our district goes beyond the plateau of survival to the pinnacles of thriving, providing ample opportunities to serve faithfully.

Gifts Discernment and Call Committee

The Gifts Discernment and Call Committee (GDCC) is commissioned to discern the gifts of persons for the purpose of inviting and calling them in to positions of leadership and team/committee participation. The GDCC delves into this work based on the names and information available to them. The likelihood is that gifted persons are not invited and called to serve because the GDCC lacks names and information. If you feel compelled to serve in the district and have not been asked, you can connect to the district webpage and learn how to share your name and information with theGDCC. Simply complete the online profile form after clicking on the “online profile form” link in the website article. Or call the district office (649-6008) and a profile form will be emailed to you.

Do you know someone you believe has gifts to serve at the district level? Invite them to visit the district webpage or share their name with the GDCC or district office.

Serving is rewarding!

District Mission and Mortar Grant/Loan Program

Is your congregation beginning a new mission outreach program but a little short on cash? Is your congregation faced with a major repair or capital improvement project that exceeds your congregation’s capacity to pay for it? Did you know that the district has a program to assist with your needs? It’s called the Mission and Mortar Grant/Loan Program and is available to help meet the needs mentioned above.

Grants are available up to $2,500.00 and non-interest bearing loans up to $5000.00. A congregation that applies must provide financial data and be a regular contributor to the district. Applications are considered on a first-come first-served basis and are reviewed/approved by the district Leadership Team.

If you would like more information or wish to apply, visit the district website. Send completed applications to the IL/WI District Office, 269 E. Chestnut St., Canton, IL 61520.

Upcoming Events

Jan. 11 9 a.m. Ministerial Leadership Development Team meeting, via Zoom

Jan. 18-25 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Jan. 20 Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Jan. 24-29 Council of District Executives Winter Meeting, Melbourne, FL

Feb. 8 9 a.m. District Leadership Team meeting, via Zoom
(This is an open meeting. Please contact the District Office if you would like online access to the meeting.) 
Feb. 15 10 a.m. Gifts Discernment and Call Committee meeting at Highland Ave. COB

Feb. 26 Ash Wednesday

Feb. 29 10 a.m. Program and Arrangements Committee meeting at Highland Ave. COB

Mar. 1 First Sunday in Lent

Mar. 8 Second Sunday in Lent

Mar. 13-16 Mission and Ministry Board, General Office, Elgin

Mar. 15 Third Sunday in Lent

Mar. 15 One Great of Hour Sharing offering

Mar. 22 Fourth Sunday in Lent

Mar. 29 Fifth Sunday in Lent

Apr. 5 Palm Sunday

Apr. 9 Maundy Thursday

Apr. 10 Good Friday

Apr. 12 Easter

Apr. 18 10 a.m. Leadership Team meeting