Four underway members of Servant Branch made the covenant of the People of Praise at the community meeting on September 9. Matt Brickweg and Mary Reinhardt grew up in the community, and Mark Olson and Beth Fondell first learned about the People of Praise from the persons they later married.
Below are brief biographies of these newly covenanted members, along with excerpts from the sharings they gave at the meeting.
Beth (54) works at the University of Minnesota in a research center focused on improving policies and services for those with disabilities. She and her husband, Chuck Shreffler, a longtime covenanted member of the community, are members of Hope Presbyterian Church in Richfield, MN.
Beth says, “My husband Chuck is the primary reason I am standing up here today.
“About 13 years ago, I had just returned from a trip with a friend who had joined a Christian community living among the poor in Los Angeles. I was telling Chuck about my hunger to live my life in an ecumenical Christian community. I noticed tears in his eyes as I shared my heart’s desire. My friendship with Chuck was still quite new and it became apparent that day that he knew something about living in Christian community!
Initially, though, I resisted developing a connection with the People of Praise. Sustaining that resistance became an exercise in futility, however. I was captivated by Chuck’s account of all the loving overtures that brothers in the community had made to him during some tough times in his life. When Chuck and I became engaged, these same brothers and their spouses surrounded us with so much celebration! I was humbled by their ability to welcome me.
Over the past 12 years, I have acquired my own accounts of sisters lovingly coming alongside me with prayer and wisdom as I strove to live the Lord’s calling in marriage, stepparenting, ecumenism and now in the People of Praise. Over time, God has shown me how he has been beautifully aligning the circumstances of my life and the desires of my heart to bring me to the place of confidently and very joyfully making this commitment to all of you today. Thank you all for loving me into this covenant life.”
Matt (25) sells heating and air-conditioning systems for Honeywell. He attended Trinity School at River Ridge, participated in Servant Branch’s Action division and spent five years in its campus division. He currently lives in St. Paul.
One night, as a member of the Company, a leadership development program for young men in the community, Matt spent an evening discussing the covenant, studying it line by line. He says, “I remember going to sleep that night completely stirred up with a new love for community and for the Lord. I realized how incredible, radical and revolutionary the idea of the covenant is. We can make a commitment to one another and to the Father that says we'll take care of one another in all needs, at every stage of life.
"When I got invited to make the covenant this summer, I thought, What is the world going to look like, even 50 years from now? As I was praying, I heard the Father say, It doesn't matter. Covenant love will see us through, the same way it has since the first 29 folks made the covenant all those years ago."
Mark (45) works in sales for an appliance parts distributor. In 2006, he married Servant Branch member Julie Kadera, becoming a stepfather to Julie's son, Chris.
He says, “I was born into a Christian home, with two parents and a twin sister, Melissa. When my sister and I were 10, we lost our mother, who had a congenital heart defect. On the day she died, I woke to my father screaming. I went into my parents’ room and saw my Dad trying to give my Mom CPR. By the time the ambulance got there, it was too late.
“My Dad said that after that I turned inward . At 11 years old I took my first drink, and from then until nine years ago alcohol consumed me. On May 10, 2002, I hit rock bottom. One of the worst memories I have is the thought of my father and sister out looking for me and not knowing where I was, or even if I was alive. That day, I reached out to God and asked him for a better way. I didn’t want to cause my father any more pain.
“Fast-forwarding a few years, on April 27, 2003, I had my first date with a great lady, Julie Kadera. From the beginning of our relationship, Julie shared about all of you and about her growing up in the People of Praise. Because of Julie and Chris living out Christ’s example I was curious to see what community might mean for me. After Julie made the covenant, I asked her if she would come with me on a Community Weekend.
"Rubbing elbows with all of you keeps me accountable to God's call on my life and allows me to stay committed to being a light in his world. I want to tell all of you how very blessed I am to have you, and how much I appreciate your commitment to me."
Mary (23) is a pediatric nurse at the University of Minnesota Amplatz Children's Hospital. She grew up in the Minneapolis suburb of Burnsville, surrounded by nine siblings and the children of about 30 community families. She currently lives in household with John and Jen Theis.
“When I joined Action and began to learn more about our work in the Mississippi River Valley, I became more and more interested in giving my whole life to the Lord. I began to see my life as a huge opportunity to love and serve the Lord in everything that I did. Being a part of our campus division gave me the opportunity to live with and learn from so many Spirit-filled and holy people! When I was asked to consider making the covenant this year, my heart was so moved to say “Yes!” I feel called to spend the rest of my life with the people I've encountered in the People of Praise, who are all so genuine and persistent in their pursuit of the Father and his will. The love that we share in our life together, made possible through the covenant, is truly the type of love the world needs in order to bring God's kingdom here on earth, and I want to be a part of it!”