The Learning Community (aka Sunday school class) I attend at the Grantham Church has been engaging with a series called “For the Love of God and Country: Exploring a Brethren in Christ Response to Christian Nationalism.” The teacher has been using a variety of experts on the topic of Christian nationalism, including Drew Strait, a professor at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana. Strait was the keynote speaker for the 2022 conference of the Sider Institute for Anabaptist, Pietist, and Wesleyan Studies at Messiah University on “Confronting Christian Nationalism in Our Churches.” Both the Learning Community and the Sider Institute conference are responding to a phenomenon that has become a major challenge for Christians who both claim their primary citizenship in the Kingdom of God and want to be responsible citizens of the nation in which they live and to hold that nation to its highest ideals.
As has been the custom for many years, the journal publishes the papers from the Sider Institute conference in the April edition each year, and this year is no exception. Strait presented two papers, and a panel representing three perspectives on the topic also participated. Those presentations are sandwiched between two other features in this edition—one biographical and the other a story that has been forty years in the making..
The biographical piece tells the story of Isaac and Maybelle Kanode who were the pastoral couple in several congregations over the course of their decades of ministry. The story is told by their oldest daughter, Pauline Peifer, who has also served the Brethren in Christ Church for many years, first as a pastor’s wife and in later years as a pastor and the first woman to serve as a bishop. She would say that her parents taught her the meaning of service and sacrifice that served her well in her own ministry.
The third feature celebrates the fortieth anniversary of New Hope Ministries, a central Pennsylvania social service agency that began as the brainchild of three Brethren in Christ congregations. Back in 1982, when the idea was born, I was serving on the Grantham Church’s Peace and Social Justice Committee. I remember early conversations in the committee when we were alerted to a letter from the president of the Dillsburg ministerium pleading with churches to find a way to fill the gap in social services caused by the imminent closure of the only agency in the community. From a germ of an idea in one small committee in one congregation to address this need and through the hard work of many interested volunteers, New Hope Ministries has developed into one of the premier social service agencies in the area. In 2022, New Hope was voted the “best place to volunteer” and the “best nonprofit” in Harrisburg Magazine’s annual competition.
Marian Musser, also a member of that Peace and Social Justice Committee in 1982, was one of the founders of New Hope. She has used her substantial institutional memory and ongoing relationships with current and former staff members to craft a history of the agency over its first forty years.
Book reviews close out this edition. The books being reviewed offer an analysis of the types of nonviolence espoused by various Christian traditions, a sort of guidebook to reading great literary fiction as a spiritual exercise, and encouragement to preach hope in a world where it sometimes feels like hope is in short supply.