“I am honored to have been in this role.”
This fall, Liz Cutler Gates will retire after 11 years as executive director of the Brethren Missionary Herald Company. She has led the organization through a rebrand, created new platforms for sharing information, and archived large amounts of Grace Brethren history, all while establishing and maintaining relationships with Fellowship members, pastors, and leaders all over North America.
“Her contribution to the Fellowship and the body of Christ is so much greater than all the published materials she created and connections she has made,” said current BMH board president, Ben Russell. “Perhaps her greatest contribution is how she exemplified the attitude and actions of a servant leader.”
Liz reflected on her long career in journalism and communications. “I’ve always enjoyed writing, but never felt I could be a fiction writer,” she admited. “My senior year in college, I was editor of the yearbook. I enjoyed recording the events of the year for my fellow students. I remember walking back to my dorm one night. I still didn’t know what I was going to do after graduation and I thought, ‘If only I could edit yearbooks the rest of my life!’ It was a silly thought, but in essence, that’s what I’ve done. I’ve recorded the events and stories of God’s work through the people of the Charis Fellowship. I view myself as more of a reporter than anything else,” she added.
Liz grew up in northeastern Ohio attending Grace Church, a Charis Fellowship congregation in Wooster (Nick Cleveland, senior pastor). At seven years old Liz walked down the aisle and professed her faith in Jesus Christ, under the ministry of Kenneth Ashman. Since then, her confidence in the Lord has steadily grown. “Faith is a journey,” Liz said, “There are ups and downs, but God’s been beside me all the way.”
Liz received a bachelor’s degree in Speech Communication with a minor in Journalism from Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind., where Terry White was one of her professors. After graduation, she spent more than a year working at a local free “shopper” before moving on to the Times-Union, the daily paper in Warsaw, Ind., during which time she started working towards a Masters in Journalism at Ball State University. She completed the degree in 1985.
After about three years, she was approached by Larry Chamberlain at then-Brethren Home Missions, the church planting organization within the Fellowship, for a role in communications. Feeling she was supposed to work in secular journalism, she turned down the job.
Shortly after that she had an encounter that changed her mind.
“One night I was called to photograph a fatal car accident,” Liz recalled. “When I got there, the fire department was using the jaws of life to cut the driver and passenger out. As I was talking to the sheriff’s deputies, it became obvious that the victims might not know the Lord. God used that experience to nudge me toward ministry.”
She began to realize she could use her gift of writing to share the Gospel in a variety of platforms. She called Larry back and asked if she could reconsider her answer. She worked for the organization for the next eight years, first as a promotional secretary and later as the director of public relations. It was during that time she began traveling throughout the Fellowship to tell the stories surrounding church planting efforts in the Fellowship. One of her responsibilities was to create content for the Home Missions pages in the Brethren Missionary Herald magazine, not realizing that the namesake organization would play a role in her future. Her time at Home Missions also provided a foundation for many of the relationships that would later bode well for her in the Charis Fellowship.
Liz admitted eventually she grew restless in small town Winona Lake and God led her to Columbus, Ohio. She took a job at the Ohio Cooperative Extension Service at The Ohio State University (now Ohio State University Extension) editing curriculum books, primarily for 4-H, but also for the agriculture, home economics, and natural resources programs. As a farm kid in Ohio’s Wayne County, she had participated in 4-H. “It felt a little like giving back,” she remarked.
After eight years, she moved on to work in the communications department at the Grace Brethren Chuch, Columbus, Ohio (now Grace Polaris Church, a Charis Fellowship congregation in Westerville, Ohio, Mike Yoder, lead pastor). That stint ended in a budget cut, but it was during that time that she met her future husband, Doug, in the singles group at the church. The two were married in 1994.
Eventually, Liz went back to work at The Ohio State University, this time as director of communications at the Moritz College of Law, a role she held for ten years.
Through all of her career moves, she stayed in touch with her former journalism professor from Grace, Dr. Terry White.
In 2003, Terry became the executive director of the Brethren Missionary Herald Company and helped revive the dwindling ministry through a focus on book publishing, starting a blog — a new concept at the time — and a producing tabloid-sized newspaper, FGBC World. He recommended she serve on the board for BMH, which she did for one year, after which Terry invited her to join the staff as editorial director.
“It was a full-circle moment – coming back to Winona Lake to work in a Fellowship I loved,” she remembered. While the Brethren Missionary Herald magazine had ceased publication in 1996, she now had responsibility for FGBC World and would occasionally post to the blog.
When Terry began to look for a successor, he knew Liz would be a good fit. “I was very happy to turn the organization over to her,” Terry said, “she’s a very good storyteller, very good journalist.” After interviewing with the board of directors, Liz accepted the lead role. In doing so, she became the first female director of a national organization in the Charis Fellowship. “I’m very proud of that,” Terry said.
“I didn’t set out to break the glass ceiling,” she stressed. “I’ve found that if I follow God’s leading, He opens the doors.” That was certainly the case in this instance. The position didn’t require that the individual hold elder status in a church in the Fellowship, so she felt comfortable accepting it. She credits Larry Chamberlain, along with Dr. Lester Pifer, then executive secretary at Home Missions, who had confidence in her abilities and had invited her to join their executive staff, thus starting her on the path to service in the Fellowship years before.
When asked what it was like to watch a former student’s career blossom and for that student to eventually succeed him, Terry said, “Any teacher’s greatest thrill is to watch a student become better than him.”
One of the biggest projects Liz tackled during her time at BMH was a rebrand of the organization in 2013. Focusing on communication, conversation, and conservation, GraceConnect was established on the communication side, with a variety of platforms, including a new e-newsletter and increased visibility on social media platforms. Conversation was a nod to not only the longer articles in the new GraceConnect magazine, but the books published under the BMH Books label, which would provide Grace Brethren authors a platform for publishing. Conservation focused on preserving the history of the Fellowship, something BMH had been doing “one day at a time throughout its history,” she remembered. She’s worked closely with Grace College history professors Dr. Jared Burkholder and Dr. Mark Norris to ensure that the events, people, and organizations that shaped the Charis Fellowship would not be forgotten.
“It was the most interesting and challenging time to figure out how to best meet the communication needs of the Fellowship,” she added.
The weekly GraceConnect eNews is now sent to more than 1,400 subscribers.
“Liz was always so encouraging to me,” said Sarah McMahon, former eNews coordinator. “She inquired about my family and cared about my life outside of work. She helped me develop my writing style and taught me how to develop articles in a unique yet informative way. I am thankful for all I learned during my time under Liz’s leadership with GraceConnect!”
The magazine, which had been established in 2010 under the FGBC World logo, was redesigned with an eye to tackling current event topics from a biblical perspective and is now sent to nearly 1,800 subscribers at no charge.
BMH Books continues to release titles in the niche of theology and Christian living. Currently there are more than 70 titles in the publishing house’s catalog, with many of them among the 27 ebooks that are available. Liz has worked to make sure many BMH classics remain available either through ebooks or the print-on-demand platform.
A big part of Liz’s role within the Fellowship was establishing and maintaining relationships with others in the Fellowship. “Everyone knows Liz. She’s done a great job of building the communication network of the Fellowship,” Terry said.
Building the communication network of the Fellowship meant hours of phone calls, email messages, and long distance travel for Liz, an admitted introvert. She frequently attended Focus retreats, Momentum Youth Conference, and the National Conference where she met with leaders, pastors, and delegates from all over the country. Often, she’d add a visit to a local church as part of her travel plans. “I will miss interacting with people on a regular basis and seeing them at conferences and retreats,” she said.
Ben, who also serves as campus pastor at Grace Church of Sebring, a Charis Fellowship congregation in central Florida, first met Liz in 2011 while attending Great Commission Bible Institute. While planning the GraceConnect rebrand, Liz visited Ben’s class to get feedback from a group of young people on the layout, feel, and content of the magazine. Ben said, “I remember feeling honored to be made a part of the process. She left an impression on me then, and looking back on it now, I can see she was simply doing what she has always done. She treats others the way she would want to be treated.”
Liz also lead GraceConnect in collaboration with other ministries. She has helped develop brochures and other marketing materials for the Charis Fellowship, overseen production of the Charis Fellowship Handbook, traveled to Bangkok to cover the Charis International Leadership Encounter for Encompass World Partners, and produced the e-newsletter for Inspire Charis Pastors Fellowship, among others. More recently, GraceConnect partnered with Women of Grace USA to present a monthly Writers’ Workshop that offered instruction and guidance to emerging writers.
“Liz has had a passion to connect not only leaders, but people in the churches with each other through the power of story,” Viki Rife, executive director of Women of Grace USA, observes. “I’ve been inspired by her sacrifices of time and energy to keep communication flowing.”
Liz also partnered with others in the broader Brethren family to ensure that publications vital to shared histories were protected while making sure they were available broadly for research. She was part of the Brethren Digital Archives committee that, in 2009, began the work of digitizing old Brethren periodicals. Eventually funding to complete the first phase of the project was secured through donations and from Lyrasis. Twenty organizations and libraries from various groups that trace their spiritual heritage to Alexander Mack, including BMH and Grace College, were represented on the committee that oversaw the scanning of nearly 24 publications beginning in 2011. A number of them dated back to the late 1800s and some were in the German language. Publications from the Grace Brethren movement included the Brethren Missionary Herald (1939-1996), Grace Journal (1960-1973), and Grace Theological Journal (1980-1991). These are now available online at the Internet Archive (archive.org) and have become a vital resource for historians, researchers, and genealogists around the world.
Liz has served not only BMH well over the last decade, but the Charis Fellowship as a whole has benefited from her voice and influence in recording history and reporting news. After she retires, she said the first thing she and her husband are planning is a trip to Hawaii with their Life Group from Winona Lake, Ind., Grace Brethren Church (Kip Cone, lead pastor). – By Randi Walle