by Frances Townsend and Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
The Annual Conference on Saturday, July 1, did not adopt a Recommendation #6 from the Review and Evaluation Committee “that On Earth Peace no longer remain an agency of the Church of the Brethren.”
The vote came as the delegate body addressed 10 recommendations in the Review and Evaluation Committee report.
As has happened every 10 years in recent decades, in 2015 a committee to review and evaluate the organization and structure of the Church of the Brethren was charged with carrying out a study and bringing recommendations to this year’s Conference (find the Review and Evaluation Committee report at www.brethren.org/ac/2017/business/UB-2-Review-and-Evaluation.pdf ).
In 2016, Annual Conference also referred two queries about On Earth Peace to the Review and Evaluation Committee--despite its public objection to taking on the task of answering those queries. The two queries, received from West Marva District and Southeastern District, had to do with whether On Earth Peace should remain an agency of the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference.
“The vote means that On Earth Peace remains an agency of the Church of the Brethren,” announced Annual Conference moderator Carol A. Scheppard.
Recommendation #6 did not attain the two-thirds majority vote required, with 56.9 percent (370 votes were made for the recommendation, 280 votes were made against it). The number of registered delegates was 672.
Recommendations to the Mission and Ministry Board
The first five recommendations from the Review and Evaluation Committee were directed to the Mission and Ministry Board, with Recommendations #1 through #4 involving changes to the bylaws of the Church of the Brethren, Inc. By adopting the recommendations, Annual Conference directs the Mission and Ministry Board to consider the changes and report back to Annual Conference. Final passage of any bylaws changes will be done by a future Conference.
Recommendation #1 would change the bylaws to add to the duties of the denomination’s Leadership Team (the Annual Conference officers, the general secretary, and a representative of the Council of District Executives) to include coordinating a gathering of denominational leaders every three-to-five years for coordination of efforts in program planning and shared vision. The delegates adopted the recommendation of the Standing Committee of district delegates for a feasibility study to determine costs. The Program Feasibility Study Committee will bring a report to next year’s Annual Conference. The Program Feasibility Study Committee includes Nevin Dulabaum, president of Brethren Benefit Trust; Jeff Carter, president of Bethany Theological Seminary; Brian Bultman, CFO and treasurer of the Church of the Brethren; Bill Scheurer, executive director of On Earth Peace; and Standing Committee members Belita Mitchell and Larry Dentler.
Recommendations #2 through #5 were voted on together, and were adopted by the delegate body for referral to the Mission and Ministry Board.
Recommendation #2 would amend the bylaws of the Church of the Brethren, Inc., to give the Leadership Team further responsibility for implementation of denominational vision, with consideration of emphasizing a unified vision among denomination, districts, and congregations. Review and Evaluation Committee chair Tim Harvey noted that the vision statement developed in 2012 failed to take hold, and a more concerted effort to implement such statements is needed.
Recommendation #3 would amend the bylaws regarding who employs and supervises the Conference director and who has authority over the Annual Conference budget. Currently, the staff of the Conference Office are hired by the general secretary, and the Annual Conference budget is approved by the Mission and Ministry Board. The recommendation is for a bylaws change giving the Leadership Team the function of general oversight of Annual Conference, its staff, and its budget, in consultation with relevant persons including the corporation’s treasurer.
Recommendation #4 would amend the bylaws to add a district executive as a full, voting member on the Leadership Team, serving alongside the Annual Conference officers and the general secretary. The committee’s suggestion is that this be the same district executive who serves ex-officio on the Mission and Ministry Board.
Recommendation #5 directs the Mission and Ministry Board to appoint a study committee to assess prudent stewardship of the building and land at the Church of the Brethren General Offices in Elgin, Ill.
Recommendations responding to queries concerning On Earth Peace
Recommendations #6 through #10 had to do with the two queries concerning On Earth Peace. Each of these recommendations was handled individually; they were not voted on together.
Recommendation #6, “that On Earth Peace no longer remain an agency of the Church of the Brethren,” failed to gain the two-thirds majority vote required.
Recommendation #7 also failed, by a simple majority vote. It would have recommended “that all congregations, districts, denominational, and agency staff find ways to involve the work of On Earth peace in the ongoing mission and ministry of the Church of the Brethren.”
Recommendation #8 was ruled to have been answered when Recommendation #6 failed. Recommendation #6 was characterized as an answer to the query from West Marva District, and Recommendation #8 was an answer to the query from Southeastern District. The Review and Evaluation Committee recommendation was to return the query to Southeastern District.
Recommendation #9 was adopted by the delegate body. It recommends that all congregations “examine their financial contributions to both district and denominational ministries, and bring their giving into compliance with the Congregational Ethics Polity.” It instructs congregations that feel they cannot comply to be in conversation with their districts, in accordance with a 2004 statement on “Congregational Disagreements with Annual Conference Decisions.”
Recommendation #10, that Standing Committee rescind a statement it made in 2014 rejecting On Earth Peace’s Statement of Inclusion, failed by a slim margin in a simple majority vote. Discussion of the recommendation included many requests for clarification of the meaning of the recommendation from delegates. Questions also were asked about the relationship of the recommendation to a response made by the 2017 Standing Committee, which was presented to the delegate body before the vote.
The response from the 2017 Standing Committee read: “Standing Committee humbly receives the chastisement of the Review and Evaluation Committee in Recommendation #10 of their report. We apologize for the misunderstanding and hurt caused by our 2014 response to On Earth Peace’s ‘Statement of Inclusion.’ The church welcomes all persons to participate in its life. Standing Committee’s comments were meant to be more narrowly focused on the implications of the On Earth Peace statement that were inconsistent with Annual Conference decisions.” The officers explained that a vote against Recommendation #10 would mean this Standing Committee response would suffice as an answer to the Review and Evaluation Committee's concern, and a vote for Recommendation #10 would mean that next year's Standing Committee would work on the matter further.
Recommendation #10 did not get the simple majority vote required, with 305 votes for it and 311 votes against it. The recommendation failed despite a Review and Evaluation Committee finding that the Standing Committee statement of 2014 "is out of compliance with Annual Conference polity.” The Review and Evaluation Committee's report cited the following relevant portions of the Statement of Inclusion and the Standing Committee's 2014 statement:
-- From the On Earth Peace Statement of Inclusion: “We are troubled by attitudes and actions in the church which exclude persons on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or any other aspect of human identity. We believe God calls the church to welcome all persons into full participation in the life of the faith community.”
-- From the 2014 Standing Committee statement: “Standing Committee does not support the 2011 statement of inclusion of OEP as an agency of the church, but we will continue to commit ourselves to walk in love together in the face of differing interpretations of scripture and AC statements and decisions.”
“...In rejecting the Statement of Inclusion, Standing Committee would seem to be approving the exclusion of persons based on ‘gender, sexual orientation, or ethnicity,’” the report from the Review and Evaluation Committee said. “Yet Annual Conference has long granted women and persons of differing ethnicities full participation in the life of the church, has called for welcoming all inquirers who confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior into the fellowship of the church and for engaging in open, forthright conversations with homosexuals, while stating that covenantal relationships between homosexual persons is an alternative that is not acceptable, and only places restrictions around the licensing and ordination of homosexual persons.”
Find the full text of the Review and Evaluation Committee report at www.brethren.org/ac/2017/business/UB-2-Review-and-Evaluation.pdf .
Other business items are postponed
Consideration of the Review and Evaluation Committee report was completed at about 4:30 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, at the end of the time scheduled for business--yet three items still remained on the 2017 docket.
The moderator called for a vote referring those items to the 2018 Annual Conference: “Vision of Ecumenism for the 21st Century,” an item of unfinished business, and two items of new business from Brethren Benefit Trust titled “Brethren Values Investing” and “Polity for Electing Brethren Benefit Trust Board Directors.”
Two committees requested another year to complete their work: the Creation Care Study Committee, and the Vitality and Viability Study Committee.
For more onsite coverage of Annual Conference go to www.brethren.org/ac/2017/coverage .
The news coverage of Annual Conference 2017 is made possible through the work of the volunteer news team: Frank Ramirez, Conference Journal editor; photographers Glenn Riegel, Regina Holmes, Keith Hollenberg, Donna Parcell, Laura Brown, Allie Dulabaum; writers Frances Townsend, Karen Garrett; with web staff Jan Fischer Bachman and Russ Otto, and Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of News Services. Wendy McFadden, publisher. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.