Identifying marks

What marks reveal you as who you are? Your stature or hair color, your work or activities, your voice or your passions or your way of relating to people? Our congregation identifies as Church of the Brethren, but emphasis on the qualities that define the Church of the Brethren is varied!

A search committee has begun working here at University Park to find pastoral leadership after Kim retires. Part of their task is to describe the congregation. It’s both for candidates who may want a picture of the church and for the benefit of our own congregation as we reflect on identity and future mission. Over the coming months there will be chances for many to help in responding to questions they’re exploring. What are the marks that reveal who we are?

The wider church is also thinking about this, both nationally and beyond. There are eleven denominations across the world who have identified themselves as Church of the Brethren groups. Though each official structure is independent of the others, they are all part of the Global Church of the Brethren Communion, an association meant to offer chances for dialogue and collaboration.

As these groups reflect together, they’ve been invited to respond to a list of marks that may be associated with the Church of the Brethren. (This list is not a formal description but a grouping that reflects historical emphases.) They’re being asked to consider whether each of the characteristics is essential, important, or irrelevant. Responses will aid in future conversations among the groups.

Below is the list. How many reflect understandings you have about the wider COB? About University Park? About yourself?

–identifying with the Radical Reformation
— being a non-creedal New Testament church
— practicing the universal priesthood of all believers
— practicing community interpretation of the Bible
— teaching and exercising freedom of thought
— practicing voluntary association as an exercise of individual freedom
— teaching and living the separation of church and state
— being a pacifist church
— teaching and exercising conscientious objection
— being an agape church that observes the love feast
— practicing baptism by trine immersion
— anointing for healing
— being non-sacramental
— promoting a simple lifestyle
— practicing loving service to neighbors and the needy
— being a church in which fellowship supersedes the institution
— being an inclusive church and “welcoming the different”
— being an ecumenical church
— working for the preservation of Creation

Holy Week: Again and again

Palm Sunday (on Zoom) included traditional music, daffodils in several households, and branches cut from yards of members as we joined in heartfelt welcome of Jesus and his way.

Maundy Thursday Love Feast (on Zoom) will begin at 7:00 p.m. We’ll share in reflecting on the fellowship, service, and communion that draw us together as we remember the last time Jesus spent with his disciples at table.

Easter Sunday worship (hybrid– some in person outdoors, some on Zoom) begins at 11 a.m. (with gathering from 10:30-11 in the backyard of the church house and on Zoom.) All are welcome. Celebrate God’s persistent new life as we gather to hear the story of resurrection! Those who come in person are asked to wear a mask and sit in household groupings –thanks!

Please contact us if you’d like to join us via Zoom. 301-864-4328 or

Lenten prayer wall: God’s “AND”

(We are continuing to worship via Zoom on Sunday mornings, and welcome those who might like to participate. If you’d like to join in that time, please contact the church at

During Lent, we’ve created a community wall of prayer in the front yard of the church. It’s in the form of an “AND” (ampersand) sign.

The ampersand expresses hope for more, for what is yet to come.  After a year of pandemic and of division, and in the face of our need, Lent invites us toward new life. For each, that will mean different things — healing, forgiveness, justice, peace, freedom from suffering, or other things. Our hopes and prayers are addressed to the One who opens new paths again and again, who always has an “AND” to offer!

All are welcome to add prayers during this season by using the marker and plastic strips at the sign (directions are there) and weaving strips into the dark mesh of the ampersand. The texture of the wall will grow and change over the weeks ahead as we anticipate the central “AND” of Easter!

(The prayer wall project comes from resources provided by A Sanctified Art)


As we begin the Lenten season, we recognize that again and again, the limits of our lives sober us. Again and again, the innocent suffer at the hands of the powerful. And again and again, God opens a path of new life in and through our lives.

During the weeks ahead, we’ll spend time in reflecting and responding to both the anguish and the promise of “again.” Let these words from Sarah Are invite you on the Lenten way:

I like to imagine that each year,
God invites me to a party.
God drops me a note that says,
“No gifts, casual dress. Come just as you are.”
I like to imagine that I am brave enough to go.
I like to imagine that I decide that I am worth it.
This was no pity invite,
There is no obligatory postage.
God wants me there.
So I get myself together,
Smudged glasses, sensitive ego, wrinkled shirt, and all.
I ring the doorbell a few minutes late on account of
the fact that
I lost my keys twice trying to get out the door,
And I almost turn back to hide in my car,
Afraid that I might embarrass myself over
appetizers or small talk.
But then God answers the door,
And God says, “You’re here!”
And I smile, because I am.

And with every step past that threshold,
I know that God is cheering me on.
It’s the pride of a parent watching their child take
their first step.
If I freeze, God is not disappointed.
If I fall, God is not mad.
But if I trust the invitation,
If I move closer,
I know, God celebrates.
Friends, you’ve got mail.
It’s an invitation to dust off your shoes,
To go deeper,
To trust that you’re worth it,
To lose your keys and your faith,
And then to find them both, along with your worth.
You are invited.
We are invited.
Again and again and again.
This invitation is for you.

(Sarah Are: A Sanctified Art)

taking the name in vain

Yesterday sobered us. A mob breaking into the Capitol. People fleeing. Shots fired. In the midst of the crowd, a banner proclaiming Jesus appeared. It was held high by one of the rampaging protesters. Boldly proclaiming the Prince of Peace as an ally to lies, hatred, and violence, its offense — and that of the broader assumptions it represents– compound the grimness of what happened there.

We’re shaken, and rightly so. This chaos came closer than some which we’ve only observed (or silently consented to when promulgated by U.S. actors) far afield.

An assault on safety, civility, and property is deeply disturbing. The distortions of truth from which it grew are utterly unacceptable. And the immunity with which many have collaborated in falsehood is worthy of prophetic condemnation.

Yet someone lifted up a banner bearing only the word “Jesus.” As if he approved.

That flag takes the name of Jesus in vain. It reflects the unholy linking of faith to ambition and ideology. To commandeer Jesus as a tool of political supremacy warps his truth. Appropriating his name for personal or national power must be challenged. Among the things we may have learned yesterday is that being silent to keep a false peace or because we are tired of conflict is not acceptable.

(image from American Friends Service Committee)

One of the commentators on the events said that they’re reminders that we are all responsible for the work of protecting democracy. The same is true of peace: we are all responsible for the work of building it, even as we seek the strength of God in that work.

The One whose birth we have just celebrated over Christmas recognized common humanity, not lines of division. He didn’t shy from confrontation but called for accountability. He built peace and also insisted boldly on justice.

May we who follow him make our way through this time by doing the same!

Advent calendar: Week four

Assemble a hygiene kit to be sent to those in crisis (disaster sites, refugee camps, etc) Put the following items in a gallon plastic bag:

Sunday: a hand towel and washcloth

Monday: wide-toothed comb

Tuesday: fingernail or toenail clippers

Wednesday bath-sized bar of soap

Thursday: toothbrush, 10  bandaids

Deliver to UPCOB (4413 Tuckerman St.) any time after Christmas. We will pack and ship the kits to the distribution center.

Advent Calendar — Week Three (underway!)

Even if you haven’t kept up with daily calendar activity suggestions, you can still jump in and join in at least one of the weekly projects. This week: Assemble a food box for those in need this season.

Sunday: Put 2 cans of vegetables in a cardboard box

Monday: Add rice, pasta, or beans

Tuesday: Add canned soup or stock

Wednesday: Add 2 cans of meat or fish

Thursday: Add a box of dried fruit (raisins, dates, etc)

Friday: Add a package of cookies, cake or other dessert

Saturday: Add bottled juice or other drinks

Deliver your food to a pantry near you, unload it at the Free Community Cupboard on the corner of Tuckerman and Route 1, or leave it at the church. (Just leave the box under the bench outside, and we’ll bring it in and distribute it!)

NEXT: The Week Four project ahead is a Church World Service health kit. These kits go to places where people are in crisis: natural disaster sites, refugee camps, etc. Daily items will be posted here next week or you can find the items needed at:

Advent Calendar — Week Two

We’re walking toward Christmas through daily actions that point us toward light.

The calendar theme for the second week of Advent (beginning on Sunday, December 6,) is creating a gift box of small items for a child. You should be able to find these things at a local drugstore or dept. store. Each day you’ll add something to the box. Feel free to make substitutions if you wish!

Child’s Toy Box : Give a child a gift for Christmas

*Fill and wrap a shoebox

*Choose the age of a child (2 to 12) you would like to receive this box. (Adapt items below to make them age- appropriate.) Feel free to wrap each item and then wrap the outer box too. Please add a label with age noted on the box. Try to keep things gender neutral. Deliver to UPCOB by December 16 for distribution or donate to a place of your choosing.

*Add an item each day Sunday – a small box of crayons or colored pencils and a coloring book

Monday – a small stuffed animal 

Tuesday – a pair of mittens

Wednesday – a book or two

Thursday – a game, puzzle or playing cards (like Uno) that will fit in the box

Friday – 2 tubs of playdough or blocks of Sculpey

Saturday – a small lego set that will fit in the box; wrap the box and deliver to UPCOB

Living Advent Calendar: Celebrate Light!

Please join us in a daily activity as we seek joy, reach out, “cross the days off” the calendar, and approach Christmas. We’re posting suggestions outside the church building on our sign and are inviting neighbors to take part in this journey together.

Photo by Nubia Navarro (nubikini) on

Each of the coming weeks has a theme, with daily action suggestions: 1) household activities 2) creating a child’s toy box 3) building a food box and 4) assembling a hygiene kit.  Those who participate may drop boxes they assemble off at the church or can choose how/where to donate them.

WEEK ONE: Sharing hope

Sunday:  Make a simple Advent wreath. (Four candles in a circle, with a central candle; greens surrounding the circle) Light the first candle today.

Monday:  Cut/color stars for your doors. Use tin foil or construction paper — or make a  paper tree chain, naming something that creates joy for you on each link.

Tuesday:  Send a card or write a note to someone living alone or far from home            

Wednesday:  Make a pinecone bird feeder (Spread peanut butter on pinecone, roll in birdseed & hang with a wire or ribbon in a tree)

Thursday : Listen to a piece of music or watch a show from a Christmas concert or play

Friday: Choose an alternative gift that gives twice – check out one of the organizations below or see one of the alternative giving fair sites in our region

Saturday:         Make Christmas cookies and take a plate/to a neighbor or friend

Alternative gifts:

SERRV International: Fair (use SESNOWMAN20 promo code) New Community Project:  https://www.newcommunity Heifer International