Taking Action

Amanda Bennett

When Amanda Bennett, MDiv ‘22, was a Bethany student, she had the novel experience of taking a course for which the final project could be anything she wanted. 

“To be honest, that kinda freaked me out,” she admits. “I was asking, ‘you mean there are no specific parameters?’ But eventually I realized that the key was for me to figure out what really interested me and work on that. I definitely see similar themes in the work I do now.”

Bennett believes that service projects are a perfect opportunity for church members to embody the example of Christ in the world, but to do so in a way that connects with their personal interests and experiences. 

As a pastor at LaVerne Church of the Brethren in LaVerne, California, Bennett facilitates service projects, particularly for youth, allowing young people to choose where they wish to place their energies, and then devise projects that draw on their own passions and put faith into action. The congregation has an endowed fund, created by the generosity of a couple who were longtime members, and designed to help fund youth projects, with few restrictions. The projects need to connect with justice, but the parameters are very broad.

A recent project at LaVerne CoB focused on the Trevor Project, an organization that seeks to reduce suicide rates among LGBTQ+ youth. Young people in the congregation learned more about the Trevor Project, promoted awareness of the organization’s crisis hotline, and raised money for the organization. An initiative called, “Sundaes on Sundays” sold ice cream sundaes after church, raising funds that were matched by the endowment. 

“The project worked well because it really came out of the passions of the young people,” notes Bennett. “Many of them already knew a lot about the challenges facing LGBTQ+ youth, so the adult leaders were actually learning from them. But the project also stretched them in terms of leadership capacity. They were challenged to share from the pulpit on Sunday mornings and to take charge of planning activities. We empowered them to advocate for a passion.”

Next up, LaVerne Church of the Brethren is partnering with Manchester (Indiana) Church of the Brethren on a Civil Rights Tour that will allow youth and adults from both congregations to visit, key locations in the southern United States including Atlanta, Georgia and the Alabama cities of   Montgomery and Selma. In order to learn more about the history of the civil rights movement in the United States, and to reflect on the past, present, and future of advocacy for racial justice.

“We are an open and affirming congregation for LGBTQ+ individuals, and we are actively trying to be an antiracist congregation, so these projects are good matches for us,” says Bennett. “We hope that the educational aspects of these programs will lead us to take action locally on justice issues. We are also continuing the important work of our service commission, which focused on feeding the hungry and gathering supplies for local service organizations. I think the work I am doing with youth is part of a longstanding commitment to service in this congregation.”

Bennett felt a call to ministry and service as a young person, but she grew disillusioned with the very conservative evangelical church in which she grew up. After the birth of her first child, she was yearning to be a part of a church community and eventually felt at home at LaVerne CoB.

She began her theological education at Fuller Seminary, then transferred to Bethany to complete her MDiv and pursue a career in ministry and service. The Church of Brethren provided her a safe community in which to raise her children, and she is happy to extend a sense of safety and welcome to others, in part through justice work, and to encourage others to follow their own passions.

“Bethany really helped me put some things in perspective,” she recalls. “When I first transferred, I was surprised by the credit/no-credit approach to grading, because that meant I would never again get an A-plus-plus. But I eventually found that the more important thing was me wanting to learn for myself, and not participating in a class in order to receive a good grade. I think there is something similar that happens with service — when people get the support they need to do work they really care about.”