NEW WINDSOR — More than 100 members of the community, local dignitaries, and more than three-generations of past Brethren Service Center employees and volunteers from all over the world were at the upper campus of the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor on Sunday to pay solemn witness to a prayer service to mark the campus's closing.
Many of those in attendance were pleased to hear that the numerous agencies, which make up the historic world-renown service organization, will continue to operate, many on the lower campus, at 601 Main St. in town, after the upper campus closes.
The late Sunday afternoon ceremony was held outside under blue skies and warm sunshine on lawn chairs. The 40-minute service featured prayers and scripture readings.
"We wanted to keep the closing service in the spirit of our mission: 'Continuing the work of Jesus. Peacefully. Simply. Together,' " explained Brian Bultman, the Church of the Brethren executive director of organizational resources from Elgin, Ill., who was in town to help oversee the work of closing the upper campus.
Don Fitzkee, the chairman of the Mission and Ministry Board, began the service by saying: "It is my bittersweet privilege to welcome you to this service. I suspect that each person here today is here because this place has touched your life, and perhaps enabled you to touch the lives of many others."
Pat Roop Hollinger attended the service because the service center has touched her life and the life of her family. "So much of my family's history took place here. My Mom went to Blue Ridge College here. I lived here.
"There are so many memories here.
"I always felt that by living here, when you listened to the news, this was the center of the world. At any given time, something that was going on here was connected to a big event, a disaster somewhere in the world. … The Heifer project started on my parent's farm. … There was always a connection here," explained Hollinger.
Miller Davis, the former manager of the Brethren Emergency Response and Service Ministries, gave a presentation on the history of the service center. Davis referred to the closing ceremonies and the work of the Brethren Service Center as 'transformational.'
Throughout history the buildings have constantly been transformed to meet the changing needs of the community and the world – just as the service center has transformed the lives it has touched all over the world.
The keynote speaker was Jim Benedict, pastor of Union Bridge Church of the Brethren, who shared a message that reflected upon the meaning of the Brethren Service Center. Benedict observed that, according to the well-known Brethren pastor, Earl Fike Jr., "God is Two-Thirds Go." In order to serve our community, we are always told by God to go here or go there. "Brethren have never been the kind of folks who put much effort into building monuments, museums, or shrines. … Now, we can see that it may no longer be feasible to keep this place — that an era has come to an end. We know, as scripture tells us, 'For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.' "
Many folks attending the service nodded their heads in agreement, as if they understood it when Benedict explained that where and when we have the opportunity to serve again, we must always be ready to get up and go.
Kurt Coffman explained after the service: "It is a bittersweet day. My mom is here. We debated about coming, but I am glad I did. Pastor Benedict made me feel better about the transformation. I used to live in Becker Hall [here on the campus.] My dad was the director of the center for much of the 1960s and '70s. So many changes have occurred here. This is sacred and blessed ground."
Bev and Bob O'Neal explained that they also "have mixed emotions. But it is a time of transitions for us. We have been a host and hostess over at the Zigler Center. After the closing, we are going to volunteer for Brethren Disaster Services — and later for the Brethren Volunteer Service."
Sitting next to the O'Neals was Dixie Elmes, who said that she "came because it is a part of history. It is the end of an era. Here — there is a connection to the world."
That connection to the world will continue. It was just last November when it was announced that the upper portion of the property had been sold to the Shanghai Yulun Education Group, in China. Future plans include developing the Springdale Preparatory Academy, "a new, a co-educational, boarding school, and day school located on 21 acres," according to the school's website.
The final settlement and transfer of the property is expected to take place in May. Meanwhile, according Zigler Center Manager Mary Ann Grossnickle, the Zigler Hospitality Center portion of the property was to close on Sunday. "The SERRV gift shop and customer care office has already closed and are looking for a new locations. The Zigler Center and SERRV were part of the upper campus, which includes eight buildings … and is the part that is being sold."
"The new school will continue a tradition of service and education in the community," observed New Windsor Mayor Neal Roop in a phone interview last Friday. "In the past, the Brethren Center has done a tremendous amount of good work all around the world — which many local people don't know anything about. … The worldwide disaster relief services provided by the center have touched millions of lives in foreign countries.
"Here in New Windsor, we are very excited regarding the town's future — especially about the number of jobs, and the economic boost the new school will provide," explained Roop.
The history of the property as a school has had many plot twists and turns. "Over the years it has been several different colleges," said Grossnickle. The origins of the property as a school began as early as 1843. The New Windsor College was established in 1843 by the Presbyterians.
The first building on the property, Old Main, was built in 1848. It was later owned and operated by the Roman Catholic Church as Calvert College, according to a history timetable of the property. Calvert College was in business from 1850-1866.
Calvert College was "sold to the Presbyterian Church and operated as New Windsor College, 1870-1913. The Church of the Brethren purchased the school in 1913 and operated it until 1937, when it was sold to a private group that subsequently closed its doors in 1942. The Church of the Brethren repurchased the property at auction for $31,300 on September 6, 1944.
During WWII, the Church of the Brethren "started various service agencies to help with the devastation in Europe. … Some of the ideas were pretty forward thinking, if I may say," said Grossnickle. "There is a long history of successful refugee resettlement that has taken place at the Brethren Center in New Windsor.
"One of the programs that the center started was the Brethren Volunteer Service, started during World War II for conscientious objectors. This idea was, in part, one of the influences for what later became The Peace Corps, after President John F. Kennedy's brother-in-law, Carroll County native son Sargent Shriver, introduced the idea to the president," reported Grossnickle.
Among the many programs started at the center, according to the timeline, are the "Seagoing Cowboys – a program … begun in 1943, for volunteers to accompany shipments of livestock to countries experiencing food and meat shortages in the midst of WWII."
The "Heifer Project - [provided] livestock and training to struggling communities. Initiated in 1942 … its headquarters were here on the BSC campus, and up to 3,300 heifers were kept at nearby Roop's Farm."
"We are excited that the Brethren Center will maintain its place on the map and will continue its services on the lower campus." said Grossnickle.