At its fall meeting the Church of the Brethren Mission and Ministry Board took a number of significant actions, including approval of up to $1.5 million in funding for a greatly expanded response to the crisis affecting Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria); authorizing marketing of the Brethren Service Center property in New Windsor, Md.; and approval of a budget for denominational ministries in 2015.
The board also continued board development and training in good governance, led by consultant Rick Stiffney; continued review of the organization’s strategic plan and related budgeting considerations; discussed congregational giving; received a recommendation from the Mission Advisory Committee and began a wider conversation on mission philosophy that is to continue at the next meeting; named a new chair elect; received reports; wrapped up a scheduled performance review for general secretary Stan Noffsinger; celebrated a 15-year service award for Noffsinger’s work for the denomination; and participated in the dedication of the donation of the personal papers of Warren Groff and Dale Brown to the Brethren Historical Library and Archives.
Chair Becky Ball-Miller led the meeting, which took place Oct. 17-20 at the Church of the Brethren General Offices in Elgin, Ill. Guests included a class from Bethany Seminary, who led the board’s Sunday morning worship service.
Brethren Service Center property
The Mission and Ministry Board authorized officers to market the Brethren Service Center property in New Windsor, Md. A real estate marketing effort and sale of property are expected to take time, perhaps years to accomplish.
The decision does not reflect on the future of Brethren Disaster Ministries, which currently is based in New Windsor. Board leaders and officers have stated that the decision is solely about property, and not about program.
The decision at this meeting came after the board read through and discussed feedback from “table talk” at Annual Conference about the Brethren Service Center. The table talk was intended both to help church members better understand the difficult financial situation at the center, where some facilities remain unfilled after the New Windsor Conference Center closed, and maintenance costs are mounting, and to solicit feedback about what Brethren understand as the center’s core purposes and how those may be continued through other means at other locations.
In June 2013 the board made a decision authorizing officers to pursue all options for the property, up to and including receiving letters of intent from potential buyers. In 2011 the board had decided to cease operation of the New Windsor Conference Center, after it was badly affected by the economic downturn of 2008 and had accumulated a negative asset balance exceeding $660,000. Previous consideration of the center’s viability dates to 2007 and prior years.
A communication about the decision was sent by the General Secretary to staff and partner organizations at the Brethren Service Center after the close of the meeting on Monday afternoon. Noffsinger will be traveling to New Windsor next week to be with staff there and to meet in person with the executive leadership of partner organizations on campus: IMA World Health, SERRV, Mid-Atlantic District. Also, On Earth Peace maintains an office at the center.
Expanded crisis response in Nigeria
In response to a staff presentation of planning for expanded crisis response in Nigeria, the board committed up to $1.5 million to begin funding the effort. An allocation of $500,000 from the Emergency Disaster Fund (EDF) was approved. The board also decided to commit $500,000 from reserves, and to commit another amount of up to $500,000 from reserves as a matching challenge to donors.
The staff presentation by Global Mission and Service executive director Jay Wittmeyer and associate executive Roy Winter, who heads up Brethren Disaster Ministries, gave background and an update on the Nigeria crisis of insurgent violence by the extremist group Boko Haram, and the fact that EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria, is the Christian denomination most affected in the northeast of Nigeria. EYN has been devastated by the violence, and has very few other international or ecumenical partners to extend aid.
The presentation gave current figures provided by EYN president Samuel Dali, that the Nigerian denomination has lost 18 of its 50 districts, because they are in areas either totally under control of the insurgents or under attack or suffering extreme violence, and a total of 37 districts are heavily impacted. The leadership of the church has been greatly disrupted, with the evacuation of the EYN headquarters, the closing of Kulp Bible College, and the loss of so many districts leaving some 280 pastors and evangelists displaced.
This level of damage will have a significant impact on the future of EYN as a denomination, the staff reported. Wittmeyer, showing a picture of the 2014 Majalisa or Annual Conference of EYN which he and Noffsinger attended, said bluntly, “There will not be a Majalisa like this again anytime soon.”
The board also heard reporting of expenditures for the Nigeria crisis to date from the EYN Compassion Fund and the EDF, which since 2013 have provided grants totaling more than $140,000 and $120,000 respectively. There remains about $100,000 in the EYN Compassion Fund at this time, the board learned.
The denomination will continue to honor the intentions of the gifts received to the EYN Compassion Fund, but donors are encouraged to support the next phase of the relief effort by directing their gifts to a new Nigeria Crisis Fund within the Emergency Disaster Fund.
The plan for the expanded response in Nigeria is expected to encompass, over its first year:
-- the building of 300 family shelters, at a total cost of $1,200,000
-- providing emergency food rations for 10,000 families, $900,000
-- funding the salaries of 15 Nigerian staff, $63,000
-- supporting the EYN Peace Building program, $120,000
-- hiring of additional staff in the United States, $75,000
-- sending 3 American Brethren volunteers to work in Nigeria, $14,400
-- transportation expenses, $37,500
-- other miscellaneous expenses, $150,000
The total cost for the expanded program over its first year is expected to come to $2,559,900.
A video in which the Global Mission and Brethren Disaster Ministries executives explain the new program along with their PowerPoint presentation is online at http://youtu.be/VdnWx6-fsqg?list=UU5_HKLUHa1UDQo4nnETlRPA
Budget for 2015
A 2015 budget with a grant total of $8,622,730 income, $8,639,520 expense, was approved for all Church of the Brethren ministries, representing an expected net expense of $16,790. This budget includes the denomination’s Core Ministries budget along with budgets for the self funded ministries Brethren Press, Messenger, Brethren Disaster Ministries, Global Food Crisis, Material Resources, and the Conference Office.
A balanced budget of $4,893,000 was approved for Core Ministries, which include foundational ministries of the Church of the Brethren such as the General Secretary’s Office, Congregational Life and age-related programs like National Youth Conference and NOAC, Global Mission and Service, Brethren Volunteer Service, the Ministry Office, the Brethren Historical Library and Archives, the Finance Office, communications, and more.
The task of meeting the budget parameter for 2015 was “not a walk in the park,” said treasurer LeAnn Harnist, who reported it required cutting planned expenditures from some ministry areas in light of an expected budget shortfall for 2014.
The financial concerns she shared with the board included a continuing decrease in congregational giving, lower levels of individual giving to the denomination as compared to last year at this time, and a looming net loss for Core Ministries if giving trends do not improve by year’s end. However, giving is up to endowments such as the Brethren Medical Endowment and the Global Food Crisis Fund.
The 2015 budget also includes a 1.5 percent cost of living increase for employees, an estimated 12 percent increase in the expense of medical insurance premiums, and continuation of employer contributions to Health Savings Accounts that are part of the high deductible health insurance plan offered to employees. Some premium reserves left over from a previous health insurance plan are being used to help offset these additional costs.
The board discussed congregational giving and the self allocation process currently in use in the denomination, as well as the quarterly offerings, and other fundraising work. That conversation is slated to continue at a future meeting.
In other business
-- The Mission Advisory Committee proposal, presented by board member Becky Rhodes who serves as liaison to the committee, is that “a conversation be initiated by the office of Global Mission and Service with the endorsement of the Mission and Ministry Board and Annual Conference with recognized Church of the Brethren bodies from around the world i.e. Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, India, Nigeria, Spain, and the United States.” That proposal dove-tailed with changes the board approved in the organization’s strategic plan, calling for recognition of the Church of the Brethren as a world communion, and calling for staff to work to establish a global Church of the Brethren council with representation from all the national Church of the Brethren bodies.
-- As part of continued review of the strategic plan, a proposal for special budgeting consideration was brought and approval was given to request staff to bring creative proposals for use of up to $250,000 per year for five years to expand ministry in the areas of congregational vitality and church planting. The proposals are to come to the board’s March 2015 meeting. The extra-budgetary funding will not be allocated until a proposal is approved by the board.
-- Connie Burk Davis was named chair elect, starting after the meeting of the board in advance of the 2015 Annual Conference. At that time the term of chair Becky Ball-Miller will end and chair elect Don Fitzkee will become chair. In addition, the board extended the term of Patrick Starkey by one year, in order to balance numbers of board members to facilitate a process in which three new board members are named each year.
-- As part of its work on good governance, the board charged the Executive Committee with planning a process to determine leadership needs in the office of General Secretary for the next season in the life of the denomination. The current contract is in place through July 2016, and General Secretary and board are in a mutual process of discernment.
-- The board participated in a dedication of the personal papers that Warren F. Groff and Dale Brown are donating to the Brethren Historical Library and Archives. Groff, accompanied by his son David Groff, was present for the event. He served on the faculties of Bridgewater (Va.) College and Bethany Theological Seminary, where he was dean from 1962-75 and president from 1975-89, and also is a former Annual Conference moderator serving in 1979. Brown was represented by his daughter Deanna Brown. He served on the faculties of McPherson (Kan.) College and Bethany Seminary, and was Annual Conference moderator in 1972, as well as a denominational leader in the areas of peacemaking and social concern. Both men are important authors in the area of Brethren beliefs and theology.
The Mission and Ministry Board’s next meeting will be hosted by Lancaster (Pa.) Church of the Brethren on March 14-16, 2015.