Friday, May 18, 2007


Today the Church of the Brethren General Board received the sad news of the death of Lee Eshleman, a member of the Mennonite comedy duo Ted & Lee, who has been a major presenter at National Youth Conferences over the past decade. Following is a pastoral letter from Chris Douglas, director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the General Board, that is being sent by e-mail to the adult advisors who accompanied youth groups to National Youth Conference in 2006:

“Lee Eshleman, a member of the Mennonite comedy duo Ted & Lee, took his own life yesterday, May 17, after succumbing to a long battle with depression.

“Brethren youth and young adults, especially those who attended National Youth Conference (NYC) in the last decade, will remember Lee from his comedic and insightful performances with Ted Swartz, as they acted out biblical stories for the current day. Ted & Lee were major presenters at the last three NYCs, in 1998, 2002, and 2006. They also performed at two National Older Adult Conferences, and were booked to lead worship at the National Junior High Conference this June.

“At the 2006 NYC, Ted & Lee closed a worship service with feetwashing, in the most powerful interpretation of what Jesus did for his disciples that I have seen. I remember thinking at the time, they have made sense of the feetwashing service for a whole new generation of Brethren.

“We at the Youth and Young Adult Ministries Office, and the General Board, join with Lee’s family and loved ones, and with Ted and the Mennonite community, in grieving his death.

“Realizing that many Brethren youth may share this loss, I am encouraging youth advisors to talk about Lee’s death with youth groups, with special care for those who were at NYC last summer. This also is an opportunity for open conversation with youth about related issues of suicide and mental health.

“Consider ways to invite youth to a healthy and faithful response. If your youth group includes a number who were at NYC, you may want to set aside a moment of silence during Sunday school class or at the next youth group meeting, and offer an opportunity for youth to say prayers. Remember to reaffirm Lee’s public ministry, helping youth understand that his personal struggle with depression does not invalidate his faith, and does not negate the important things that he taught about following Jesus.

“In talking with youth about related issues, reassure them that for those who are living with mental illness, treatment does work; in the midst of this one loss, we must remember that many others have sought help and received it successfully. Research shows that the best treatments for mental illness today are highly effective. Our faith, as well as modern medicine, offer us resources of hope. We do not know what caused Lee to take his own life, but talking about the hope that is available to us will be helpful to youth who are concerned.

“If youth have questions about the struggle of those with depression or other mental illness, or for help in speaking about suicide from a faith perspective, resources are offered by the Association of Brethren Caregivers at

— “What Every Church Should Know About Mental Illness” gives an explanation of depression and other mental illnesses.

— “Talking About Suicide Can Change a Life” includes the signs of depression and suicide risk, common misperceptions about suicide, and advice about how to find out if someone is suicidal.

— Internet links for further resources about suicide include two recommended DVDs: The video “The Truth About Suicide: Real Stories of Depression in College” from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, which was shown at workshops for advisors at NYC ( “Fierce Goodbye: Living in the Shadow of Suicide” is from Mennonite Media (

“Another way youth may want to respond is to contribute to an online page of condolence and remembrance offered by Eastern Mennonite University, where Lee Eshleman was an alumni. Go to

“If your youth group includes individuals who seem to have an extreme reaction, you need to invite help from the parents and your pastor, and refer to local mental health professionals for help.

“Please join with me in holding all those who cared for Lee Eshleman in our prayers. May God bring comfort and peace.

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me...” (Psalm 23:4a).


Chris Douglas, Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry
Church of the Brethren General Board
Lee Eshleman (1963-2007)

Harrisonburg, VA — Lee Eshleman, one half of the acting duo, Ted & Lee, died on May 17, 2007. Lee took his own life after succumbing to a long battle with depression. He leaves behind his wife, Reagan, and their children, Nicolas, Sarah and Gabe, along with countless friends and fans around the world.

Lee has been acting with Ted Swartz, since 1987, when they were introduced to do some comedy pieces for a retreat. Since then, the duo formed Ted & Lee TheaterWorks and have written and performed dozens of sketches and plays, including their most well-known plays, Fish-Eyes and Creation Chronicles, as well as a Christmas show (written and performed with Ingrid DeSanctis) called DoveTale, and their most recent show, Live at Jacob's Ladder, a musical written with Ken Medema and performed with Ken (and Jeff Raught).

Ted & Lee performed regularly at retreats and conferences for just about every denomination, and were featured performers at national events including DC/LA (for students) and Youth Specialties' National Youth Workers Conventions.

Lee was an active member of Community Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, Virginia, and is remembered by others as a funny, compassionate, thoughtful man who cared deeply for his family and was passionate about acting and sharing the story of God with others in creative and compelling ways. Along with Ted, he performed all over the country and in Kenya and Japan.

Lee performed a wide range of characters in their shows. But of his favorite, Lee once said, “I think it's Nigel Nevilson; just so darned enthusiastic about everything. He's a good-hearted, optimistic and slightly unhinged soul. Anyone who can find God in Green Eggs and Ham is good company. And when I really cut loose in character, Nigel pulses with all the spontaneity and basic sunny-ness that I sometimes suppress in my real life.”

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. on Monday, May 21 in the Lehman Auditorium on the campus of Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Va. There will be a visitation at the Lindsay Funeral Home, Harrisonburg, from 4-7 p.m. on Sunday evening, May 20.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Eastern Regional Youth Conference

On March 9-11, 154 youth and advisors from the Pennsylvania districts of the Church of the Brethren (Atlantic Northeast, Middle, Southern, and Western Pennsylvania) gathered on the Juniata College campus for Eastern Regional Youth Conference. The college is located in Huntingdon, Pa. The keynote speaker was Roland Martinson, professor of Children, Youth, and Family Ministry at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn. He spoke on the theme of Life Quest, based on Proverbs 3:4. The conference provided an array of workshops including “The Heart of a Champion,” “The Power of Enemy Love,” “Afghanistan and Back,” “Am I Making the Right Choice,” “God and Science,” “Building Bridges: Islam, Judaism, and Christianity in Dialogue.” A number of workshops, together with the keynote message, challenged youth to make the right choices in their faith journey. For more go to

--From the “Link” newsletter of Middle Pennsylvania District

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Taking the Pulse of Health care:
Christian Citizenship Seminar Introduces Youth to Complex Issue

How many Americans lack adequate health insurance? What global benchmarks are set by the Millennium Development Goals? How are epidemic conditions in Africa being addressed?

Seventy-two senior high youth and advisors tackled these questions and others as the state of health care received a check-up at this year’s Church of the Brethren Christian Citizenship Seminar (CCS). The event began March 24 in New York and concluded five days later in Washington, D.C., with an assortment of presentations, small-group discussions, a United Nations tour, worship, and sightseeing in between.

Many speakers focused on the merits of a “single-payer” health care system, which would eliminate the insurance companies as an intermediary in the process. Instead, standard rates would be negotiated by the government in each region, similar to what is done in Canada and in many nations in Europe and elsewhere. While funded publicly, care would still be delivered privately.

“The present system is sick and just doesn’t get the job done,” said Bill Davidson, a Church of the Brethren cardiologist from Lebanon, Pa. “Heath care is the next big social battle that’s going to take place, and you as young people have a front-row seat.”

Davidson, who has become a strong advocate for universal health care despite some opposition from within the medical community, said that the huge profits currently being reaped by insurance and pharmaceutical companies could easily be redirected to provide health care for all Americans. He noted that the World Health Organization currently ranks the US No. 37 in overall health care worldwide.

Marilyn Clement, national coordinator of Healthcare - NOW, focused on House Resolution 676, which proposes a United States National Health Insurance Act, guaranteeing universal access to high-quality and cost-effective health care. Clement’s organization is leading a petition drive for the bill to be passed.

Palmyra (Pa.) Church of the Brethren pastor Wally Landes observed in an opening session that Brethren have often not chosen the easy road in a quest for mutuality. “Issues of health and wholeness are in our bones as Brethren,” Landes told the group. “I think God’s will is for wholeness, and sometimes stuff gets in the way.”

One day of the seminar focused on the more specific health issue of AIDS, which is still running rampant, especially in Africa. Church World Service (CWS) policy analyst Kathleen McNeely outlined the work being done in Africa through the CWS Africa Initiative, tackling issues of water, hunger, and poverty in addition to HIV/AIDS. “Africa has got to be given a chance,” she said. On the Millennium Development Goals, many of which concern Africa, she noted that we are about halfway to the target date of 2015, “and we’re not doing so hot.” Delegates at the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference endorsed those goals last summer.

In the evening after McNeely spoke, Brooklyn (N.Y.) Church of the Brethren pastor Phill Carlos Archbold related his personal story of caring for AIDS patients, using photos to show the devastation the disease brings. “I want you to go back wherever you came from and begin to make a difference,” Archbold said. “You can do those kinds of things for people who are hurt and who are needy.”

Youth later in the week lobbied their representatives in Washington on the Senate and House bills they had learned about, following a session on advocacy by Greg Howe, who grew up in York (Pa.) First Church of the Brethren. Howe, now a senior policy manager on health care reform issues under Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, described his call to advocacy work and offered pointers. He said that while many states are working at the issue, “we need a federal solution.”

While the youth still clearly had some questions at the end of the week, it was also evident that the issue-and the larger concern of advocating for justice as part of one’s Christian witness-had struck a chord with many of them.

“It’s amazing how many different programs we can get involved with,” said Alex Otake of Lombard, Ill. “There’s no excuse for us not to do anything. It’s just a matter of choosing.”

Phil Jones of the Witness/Washington Office rounded out the sessions on Thursday morning with tips and ideas on how the CCS participants could move forward in their advocacy and education around this issue. “You have accomplished a great amount his week”, he stressed, “now go back home and continue to be engaged in this issue of justice.”

- portions of this article from Walt Wiltschek, editor of Messenger. He attended this year’s Christian Citizenship Seminar.

Source: April 2007 Witness to Washington Newsletter
CCS 2007 Reflection
Emily O’Donnell, is a current BVSer and Legislative Associate, in the Brethren Witness Washington Office.

As we arrived at the Vanderbilt YMCA in New York City for the start of the 2007 Christian Citizenship Seminar, the worry remained. How would the youth respond to an entire week dedicated to learning, listening, and advocating on the issue of healthcare? To be honest we feared the appeal of healthcare to youth, more than likely insured under their parents, would not be great. So you might wonder why choose this issue for the theme of a youth conference? But as the week progressed the answer became clear to all involved, especially the youth, that our nation’s healthcare system is a broken one. God has called us to not simply care for ourselves, but to care for our brothers and sisters throughout our nation and the world. Currently, the United States is failing in the area of healthcare, and the concern, questions, and a desire for change expressed by the youth at CCS erased any fears we had. The youth were ready to take on the challenge of healthcare.

The statistics on the U.S. healthcare system are harrowing. 47 million Americans are uninsured, 50% of Americans have inadequate insurance, and 18,000 Americans die each year from diseases that would be treatable or preventable with adequate health coverage. The U.S. is the only industrialized nation without a universal healthcare plan and its healthcare system is ranked 37th in the world. The youth realized very quickly that this not an issue for someone else. This is an issue for them right here, right now. It is a moral issue, an issue of justice.

On Sunday night in NYC, a speaker few will soon forget, Pastor Phil Carlos Archbold, of Brooklyn Church of the Brethren, told his incredible story. He told of his relationship with David, a young man with AIDS who he legally adopted, and his calling to be a caregiver, friend, and father to one who was sick and in desperate need of love. One could only leave that night thinking “What would Jesus do in terms of healthcare and the sick?” The answer: exactly what Phil did and continues to do as he works with AIDS patients in NYC. Jesus would care for them, love them, pray for them, serve them, and heal them. In the case of David, Phil healed David’s heart prior to his passing. In both NYC and DC where the conference took place, a number of speakers spoke on a single payer universal healthcare plan for the U.S. Speakers Marilyn Clement, National Coordinator of Healthcare, Dr. William Davidson, cardiologist and President of the Good Samaritan Medical Staff, and Greg Howe, the senior policy manager in PA Governor Rendell’s Office of Health Care Reform, all spoke in support of a single payer universal health care plan that would provide health insurance for all and remove the inadequate and frustrating use of insurance companies. The youth asked question after question trying to grasp this single payer plan and understanding that this is probably one of the best solutions for a just healthcare system for all. I was amazed at how well the youth understood the plan and their ability to articulate this plan and other issues on healthcare to their Senators and House Representatives when lobbying on the final day of CCS.

I have to admit my first CCS experience was more than I could have imagined. As a leader, I felt encouraged and motivated by the enthusiasm, intelligence, and compassion of our denomination’s youth. I left the conference feeling informed and driven to change the tide of healthcare in our nation. Our system of healthcare is broken, and now is the time to fix it. Healthcare is not for the privileged but for everyone because Jesus has called us to care for one another. Jesus asked Peter so many years ago “Do you love me.” Peter responded “Yes, Lord you know that I love you.” Jesus replied “Then tend to my sheep.” It is time to tend to the sheep, to hear Jesus’ call. I heard the message of CCS 2007 loud and clear and with great confidence I can say the youth of our denomination are ready to take on the broken healthcare system in our nation.

Source: April 2007 Witness to Washington Newsletter