At center in New Windsor, volunteering is a way of life Visitors help the poor, the needy, refugees

June 07, 1996|By Ernest F. Imhoff | Ernest F. Imhoff,SUN STAFF

Even before John and Mary Hopkins sold their Seattle home and began crisscrossing America with their trailer, they figured it would be a selfish retirement unless they did something more.

So they became gypsy volunteers for the Church for the #F Brethren.

They helped build two homes in Largo, Fla., after a hurricane. They assisted flood victims in Center, Ala. John analyzed problems in Piedmont, Ala., after a church roof collapse killed 20. They began coming to New Windsor three years ago to work at the Brethren Service Center for months at a time.

They are among 3,543 volunteers who came last year from near and far to the center in Carroll County, which was once Blue Ridge College, Calvert College and New Windsor College and now is just "the campus."

The working visitors sell gifts made by Third World artisans, help refugees settle in the United States, ship clothes and drugs to help the world's poor, coordinate disaster relief in the United States and promote peace through the On Earth Peace Assembly.

Mary Hopkins, 71, whose father was a Brethren minister, said, "We're part of a family here." The "paycheck," she said, is "the thanks we get."

John Hopkins, 73, said, "We all pull together to do something needed."

The 3,543 volunteers worked 51,860 hours at New Windsor last year assisting the 100 full-time employees.

The volunteers come from out of state to stay in dormitory rooms for days, weeks, months and even years.

Others serve elsewhere in the country or overseas.

Many volunteers are members of the Church of the Brethren, a small Protestant denomination born in Germany in 1708. Its founders were frustrated that, in their view, existing churches had become more important than Jesus' teachings.

The church, whose main offices are in Elgin, Ill., has about 147,000 members now. An additional 50,000 belong to Brethren offshoots.

A peace church

The faithful consider themselves a peace church like the Mennonites and Quakers. They worship in simple services, usually eschew publicity, distrust emotional evangelism and back up their beliefs with deeds helping older people, the poor, the unemployed, the sick and single-parent families. Some dislike the name Brethren as outdated, but it is taken to mean brothers and sisters.

Day-tripping volunteers a- bound. Glenn Kinsel, a retired Brethren minister, and his wife, Helen, drive about 25 miles from Hanover, Pa., twice a week to spend full days helping recruit other volunteers or coordinating disaster relief.

They have worked in Nigeria and in a refugee-resettlement program that has brought 10,000 immigrants to the United States in the past decade.

"We are followers of Jesus," Glenn Kinsel said. "We do His work peacefully, simply, together. We give what comfort, hope and practical help we can.

More people should volunteer, but some are concerned that doing so would interfere with their personal schedules, he said.

"Real volunteers give up something. Otherwise, they are giving their leftovers," Kinsel said.

The visitors to New Windsor tend to be well traveled.

Hopkins, who spent 14 years in the Navy that included World War II action and Antarctic duty, recalls his 73 years in quick anecdotes. He noted a famous admiral's reported penchant for publicity: "The most dangerous spot I was ever in was when I got between [Richard E.] Byrd and a camera."

'I love it here'

New Windsor workers like the quiet, friendly atmosphere of a church that reaches out to work with other churches.

"I love it here," said Hazel Hill, a member of United Church of Christ. "I learned about the Brethren when I came here to a women's conference. I retired two years ago and investigated volunteering here. Now I live here, and I'm glad the Brethren decided I'm all right."

She is a hostess at the Old Main Building of the New Windsor Conference Center. Last year, 9,000 people attended 400 company and government sessions, family reunions, anniversary parties, award banquets and spiritual retreats at the center.

Retirees Elizabeth Bauer and her husband, Robert, are in their second stay at the center. Among their earlier experiences was a year of service at the Japanese Peace Center in Hiroshima, supporting survivors of the 1945 atomic bomb explosion.

"We're Brethren," she said. "I've heard of New Windsor all my life, and we wanted to work here. We just locked up our house in La Porte, Ind. -- I hope it's OK -- and came back here for a whole year."

She welcomes visitors and volunteers at the hospitality office. Her husband paints whatever needs a coat on the campus.

They stay in Old Main, which houses the gift shop, but most volunteers stay at Becker Hall.

Pub Date: 6/07/96

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