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Preparation and Processing of Queries

Introduction

The work of the Lord that transpires at Annual Conference is vital to our denomination and, always in some way, has some bearing on Kingdom work. The work we do at Annual Conference that we call ‘business’ explores our faith in God, provides meaningful information for Christian living and sets forth shared understanding for following Jesus. Our work together at Conference, positioned between and amid a spirit of worship, is central to who we are as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Over the years, queries have become the primary vehicle for bringing a business item to Annual Conference. A process for generating a query was developed and has been refined over the years to improve the quality of the work we do for and with the Lord. The methodology that we have today for query creation is one that aims for thoughtful, spiritual inquiry and thorough preparation.

Many queries have been carefully researched, developed, presented and moved to action on the delegate floor of Annual Conferences as a result of following the proven query process of our denomination. Some, however, lack thorough research before submission, may not be well written and, very importantly, may not ask a question to be considered; rather, they offer solutions and suggestions. Some queries are sent to the Annual Conference Office without appropriate and required authorization and trackage, required to consider them official business items for Standing Committee and Annual Conference.

Many undesired results are achieved by not carefully following the methodology developed for query creation. Some queries are very confusing to Standing Committee and Annual Conference delegates. Some queries have already been answered and should not be submitted. Some are not queries at all and would be better served as resolutions, processed through an agency of the church.

Annual Conference officers realize that queries can take quite a long time getting to the Conference floor and have been hesitant to return those that do not properly follow procedure. With a growing increase in incomplete and invalid queries, however, it is getting increasingly difficult to accept items that have not been thoroughly reviewed and handled. Though it may mean that a query intended to reach Conference the following summer fails to do so, future queries that are not complete will likely be returned for further processing.

Preparation and Processing of Queries

The Right to Raise Questions and Seek Answers

Any member of the church, or any congregation, has a right to raise questions and concerns that relate to the Christian life or to the mission and work of the church. Counsel and help may be sought from the pastor or the local church board, the district executive or the district board or commissions, the Mission and Ministry Board (formerly General Board), or the Church of the Brethren staff (formerly General Board staff). When an adequate and satisfactory answer to an important question cannot be found in any of the above channels, a query may be formulated to go to Annual Conference. (Minutes 1965-1969, p. 317)

Types of Questions That May Go to Conference for Consideration

Distinction should be made between different types of questions and concerns. Legislative action by the highest deliberative assembly of the church is not necessarily the most helpful answer to many concerns that we may have.

  1. Changes in church polity will always need to be made through legislative action. Even so, extensive study and consultation should occur locally, and in the district and General Offices, before taking time in the business session of Conference to get an answer.
  2. Statements on the Christian life and witness, moral problems and positions are usually intended to influence personal and group habits of thought and action. Education and motivation are much more effective than legislation. The Mission and Ministry Board and Church of the Brethren staff (formerly General Board and the staff) are already working in these areas and have available literature and program resources. All available resources on any such question should be carefully studied before formulating a query to Conference. Legislative action on such issues should be used only occasionally.
  3. Matters of church program and administration do not normally require legislative action. The church employs a staff to assist the local congregations in program and administration. Books, literature, and program materials are constantly made available to the churches for their use. Such church periodicals as the Messenger and Brethren Life and Thought provide opportunities to communicate and debate new ideas concerning the church program and administration. An appeal for new legislative action should be made only when an adequate hearing or action has not been achieve in these other areas.

On any matter when legislation by the Conference is felt to be necessary, a query is the means to follow. A query may originate in the local church, in the district, in the Mission and Ministry Board, or in the Standing Committee. (Minutes 1965-1969, p. 317)

Query Procedures

The following procedures should be followed in the preparation and the processing of a query.

  1. In the local church:  When a member presents to the local church’s board or council meeting a question or concern that merits consideration, the local church should, when it seems appropriate, appoint a working committee to do the following things:
    1. Define and state clearly the question or concern.
    2. Evaluate and try to answer the concern through research and inquiry.
    3. Confer with the district secretary and Church of the Brethren staff (formerly General Board staff) to get information as to what has been done or is being planned in regard to this matter.
    4. If it is a new concern, the district and Church of the Brethren staff person (formerly General Board staff person) should be consulted regarding what immediate action might be taken, or whether Conference legislation would be helpful or necessary.
  2. In the district:  Whenever possible the district should answer the question or concern presented in the query.
    1. The query should be reviewed by the district board, or the district can appoint a committee to investigate the merits of a query, hold hearings to evaluate different sides or the question, and seek to find a satisfactory answer.
    2. If a satisfactory answer is not found, and the district conference feels that the query merits legislative action by Annual Conference, or if the concern or question of the query relates to denominational or general church matters directly, the district may send the query on to Annual Conference.
    3. When a district board or district conference initiates a query, steps should be taken to assure that the concerns expressed in the preceding procedures are observed.
    4. The district secretary should send copies of the query to the Annual Conference Secretary and to the Annual Conference Executive Director, accompanied by a letter of explanation of the origin of the query, and actions taken on the query up to that point. Note that a query checklist, similar to the example that follows, should be utilized to document actions taken on the query. (The printing deadline for the Conference booklet is February 1 each year).
  3. In the denomination:  Queries which have been processed according to the above procedures shall be listed by the Conference officers for consideration by Annual Conference. (Minutes 1965-1969, pp. 426-427) It is implied that queries that have not been processed according to the above procedures will be returned to the originator and may miss the deadlines for consideration by the next Annual Conference.

Note:  In 1991 Annual Conference adopted a Standing Committee recommendation . . . that current polity be interpreted so that any query arising from a congregation or from a district board must be approved by a district conference in order to be accepted by Standing Committee as an item of business; . . . (Minutes 1991).

Recommendation for Preparation of Queries

The query should always state clearly the issue, remain open-ended for the widest possible base of judgment and response, and include some of the factual details by which to identify it. The following specific suggestions may prove to be helpful. The query should:

  1. Give the full name of the congregation or official body in the district initiating the query.
  2. State as precisely as possible the issue concerning which the query is being presented.
  3. Give briefly the principle reasons or conditions which prompted the query.
  4. Avoid giving answers or proposing a solution to the problem raised by the query, leaving these rather to the outcome of the Annual Conference action. A proposal may be offered, but in the awareness that study may lead to another outcome.
  5. Give the date on which the query was initiated by the congregation or the official body in the district.
  6. Indicate the district conference (and the date and location of its meeting) through which it hopes to have the query passed to Annual Conference.
  7. Have appended the names and positions of the officials of the congregation or official body which is the source of the query.
  8. Have attached the action and the date of the district conference and the name of the district moderator and conference secretary, if the action is to pass the query to Annual Conference.

Queries coming from the Standing Committee will follow as many of the above specific suggestions as apply. (Minutes 1965-1969, p. 60).

Conclusions

The officers of Annual Conference shall list queries for consideration by Conference which in their judgment have fulfilled the preliminary steps. (Minutes 1965-1969, pp. 318-319)

The Standing Committee of Annual Conference, fulfilling its legislative functions, studies all queries and items of new business and recommends answers to the delegate body. (Minutes 1965-1969, p. 318)

Over the years, a variety of ways of recommending actions regarding queries has evolved. The following is a summary of some of the options to be followed by Standing Committee:

  1. Recommend that the query be adopted.
    This presupposes that the concern of the query and the method of implementation is approved by Standing Committee.
  2. Recommend that the concern of the query be approved and that the query be . . . (some alternative referral of the query for implementation than that stated in the query). Standing Committee may agree with the concern of the query but recommend a different way of working with it.
  3. Recommend that the query be returned.

If for any reason Standing Committee does not feel it appropriate for Annual Conference to consider the query, it can recommend that the query be returned with a letter of explanation from Standing Committee stating the reasons for the return.

  1. Recommend that a part of the query be handled in some way.
    This is the course to take if Standing Committee agrees with a portion of the query but not with the entire concern.
  2. Recommend that a new item of business be initiated to cover a concern recognized by Standing Committee as represented in a returned query and which should be considered.
  3. Recommend that the query be adopted as a “Special Response Query.”
    This response presupposes that “the query will generate adversarial stances because of deep feelings and strong differences of opinion.”
  4. There will be a periodic review of the query response process by Standing Committee.

The delegate body of Annual Conference can:

  1. Adopt the recommendation of Standing Committee.
  2. Modify the answer of Standing Committee by amendment.
  3. Reject the recommendation of Standing Committee and formulate its own answer.

(If the final answer presented in response to a query is totally rejected by the Conference, the query shall be regarded as unanswered and shall be immediately disposed of as though it were an item of new business.) (Minutes 1965-1969, p. 260)

The final decision regarding a query made by the delegate body of Annual Conference is the directive which is followed.

Sample Query (PDF)
Sample Checklist (PDF)

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