by Brian Gumm
Late this past spring I opened my campus mailbox at Eastern Mennonite Seminary and found three VHS tapes (!!) therein contained. No note was attached with these tapes and I still have no idea who gave me these (I'm guessing a seminary professor trying to reduce office clutter). They were labeled "Brethren in Transition," the name of a conference or symposium held at Bridgewater College. The date provided was October 3-5, 1991. My audiovisual gear situation was such that I couldn't even watch these tapes, so I took them to the Learning Resources Center folks at EMU and paid them $11 to get them all converted to DVD. I was then able to weave these video resources into the syllabus for a directed study on Brethren Beliefs and Practices which I'm working through this summer.
So today, I popped in the DVD with my first assigned lecture, which was given by Donald Durnbaugh and entitled "Closing the Loop: Germantown and Philadelphia." Durnbaugh's historical look at Brethren in transition was focused through the lens of these two congregations and their lives through the late 19th and 20th centuries.
From the conclusions which Durnbaugh drew from this historical analysis, he moves to a number of implications for the Church of the Brethren at that point in history, nearly two decades ago. One such implication he describes as, essentially: "The Brethren will persist, but they will need to change." One potential area for change was ethnic diversity. He cites a Brethren pastor, Olin Mitchell (sp?), as having then-recently predicted that ethnic minorities in the Church of the Brethren, then (ca. 1991) comprising less than 1% of membership will increase to a full 50% by 2010." Mitchell's reasoning for this was based on his observation that the spiritual vitality he was seeing was happening in that less than 1% group, ethnic minorities. Durnbaugh immediately comments that he's not so sure of that prediction, but found it interesting enough to share.
Well it's 2010, so how are we doing in that department? I ask this question out of genuine curiosity. My experience in the Church of the Brethren has been limited to a rural Midwestern, vastly white backwater of the denomination (I don't say this disrespectfully). I didn't go to a Brethren college (not that there are a whole lot of Brethren at those to begin with) and I'm not attending a Brethren seminary. So I'm not trying to be flip or sarcastic by asking that question, which I'll ask again in closing, somewhat differently (and much more verbosely):
How well is the Church of the Brethren doing in terms of being a group of believers in and followers of Jesus Christ, who called into existence a kingdom not of this world, invited our participation in/hastening the coming of that kingdom, which transcends (doesn't necessarily erase) all manner of categories including ethnicity? Are we a group grasping the spiritual vitality to make such a staggering new reality more apparent in our world?