The Mission and Ministry Board adopted a budget for Church of the Brethren ministries in 2019, received news of a large grant from Lilly Endowment Inc.’s Thriving in Ministry, and participated in a Compelling Vision Process session, among other agenda at the fall meeting Oct. 19-22. The meeting was held at the Church of the Brethren General Offices in Elgin, Ill., led by board chair Connie Burk Davis assisted by chair-elect Patrick Starkey and general secretary David Steele.
The board spent a short time hearing a presentation by a delegation from the Supportive Communities Network (SCN) of the Brethren Mennonite Council on LGBT Interests (BMC). Board members worshiped on Sunday morning with Church of the Brethren congregations in the area including the Highland Avenue congregation in Elgin, the Naperville congregation, the Neighborhood congregation in Montgomery, and York Center in Lombard.
As at every meeting, time was spent in worship, singing, and prayer. Thomas Dowdy from Long Beach, Calif., brought opening devotions. Christina Singh from Freeport, Ill., led the closing worship. Find a link to a photo album at www.brethren.org/album
Thriving in Ministry
News that the Church of the Brethren has received a grant of $994,683 to help establish a “Part-Time Pastor; Full-Time Church” program was shared by Nancy Sollenberger Heishman, director of the Ministry Office. It is part of Lilly Endowment Inc.’s Thriving in Ministry, an initiative that supports a variety of religious organizations across the nation as they create or strengthen programs that help pastors build relationships with experienced clergy who can serve as mentors and guide them through key leadership challenges in congregational ministry.
Find a full report at www.brethren.org/news/2018/thriving-in-ministry.html.
A Core Ministries budget of $5,167,000 in anticipated income and $5,148,690 in anticipated expense, with a proposed net income of $18,310, was approved for 2019. The board approved a total budget for all Church of the Brethren denominational ministries of $9,129,220 in anticipated income and $9,101,260 in anticipated expense, with a proposed net income of $27,960. The total budget includes Core Ministries, Brethren Disaster Ministries, Brethren Press, Global Food Initiative, Material Resources, and the Conference Office.
Treasurer Brian Bultman and assistant treasurer Ed Woolf shared background information including anticipated Ministry Enablement Contributions and Brethren Press contributions totaling $296,000 to support the Core Ministries, as well as several transfers from various funds including the Bequest Quasi-Endowment, the Brethren Service Center Quasi-Endowment, and designated funds, among others. The transfer of $339,000 from the Brethren Service Center Quasi-Endowment represents a portion of the proceeds of the sale of the upper campus property in New Windsor, Md. The board held an in-depth discussion of the use of reserve funds as part of the budgeting process.
The 2019 budget also includes a 1 percent cost-of-living adjustment for employees, continuing employer contributions to employee Health Savings Accounts as part of the medical insurance benefit, and lower than expected cost for medical insurance premiums.
In other business
- The board called Carl Fike as its next chair-elect, beginning at the 2019 Annual Conference when chair Connie Burk Davis concludes her term and current chair-elect Patrick Starkey begins as chair. Fike will serve two years as chair-elect, and then two years as chair beginning in mid-2021. He is an at-large member of the board from Oakland, Md.
- Nominations to the Germantown Trust were approved, with the board naming incumbents William C. Felton and Thomas R. Lauer to second terms. The nominations were received from the Brethren Historical Committee. The trust oversees the historic Brethren property at Germantown, Pa., where the first congregation of Brethren was established in North America.
- The board continued work on the "Living Together as Christ Calls" task assigned by Annual Conference, approving two recommendations from a small working group. The board approved the following as suggestions to be made to the appropriate bodies: use of "dialogue sermons" between people of various cultures, theological views, genders, and districts at each denominational gathering; that Messenger magazine continue to publish stories of two or more churches working together across differences.
- Action was postponed on proposed changes to the by-laws that potentially would increase the number of delegates to Annual Conference and Standing Committee. The matter will be taken up again at the board’s spring meeting in March 2019.
- A financial report on the 2018 year-to-date budget was received, along with a report on the denomination’s investments, reports from general secretary David Steele and Annual Conference moderator Donita Keister, a report on this summer’s National Youth Conference and appreciation for the work of coordinator Kelsey Murray, and a report on exploration of the possibility of installing solar panels at the General Offices, among others.
The board heard a presentation by a delegation from SCN and BMC. A year ago, the board heard a presentation by a delegation from the “Moorefield gathering” including leaders of the Brethren Revival Fellowship (BRF).
The SCN delegation included BMC executive director Carol Wise; Susan Stern Boyer, pastor of La Verne (Calif.) Church of the Brethren; Brian Flory, pastor of Beacon Heights Church of the Brethren in Fort Wayne, Ind.; and Naomi Gross, coordinator of BMC’s Kaleidoscope program.
During the presentation, the board did not make a verbal response although individual board members spoke with delegation members at the dinner that followed. Later in the weekend, the board discussed the presentation in closed session. After the meeting, the board worked by email to prepare a written response. The full text of the response appears below.
In welcoming the delegation, board chair Davis clarified that the purpose was for the board to listen, as she had done when the board heard from the Moorefield group. She repeated the same invitation extended last fall, welcoming any group from within the denomination that seeks a similar opportunity.
Each member of the SCN delegation spoke, led by Wise. She reviewed the history of BMC and the development of its focus over the decades. BMC has moved from a focus on educating church leaders about the experience of LGBT church members, to providing safe spaces and sanctuary for the community to heal, to a time of “dancing at the wall” and celebration of identity, to the current understanding that structures of injustice within the church do harm to the whole body and ought to be removed.
"What can we create together that is just and humane for all people?" she invited the board to consider. "Who is still missing? What voices do we still need to hear? ... Where are those places of great suffering and need where the Spirit is moving?"
Wise also reviewed the process by which congregations join SCN and shared findings from a survey of SCN congregations. Church of the Brethren and Mennonite congregations are in the network. Among the 51 Church of the Brethren congregations, the survey found very high levels of support for denominational programming, good use of denominational resources, very high levels of support for their districts, among other findings. When SCN congregations were asked "How supported do you feel by denominational leadership?" the survey found 10 percent feel very supported, 35 percent feel somewhat supported, 15 percent are neutral, 15 percent feel somewhat unsupported, and 25 percent feel very unsupported.
"They are intensely Brethren...deeply committed to their Brethren values and traditions and witness," Wise concluded her description of SCN congregations.
Boyer and Flory spoke as pastors of SCN congregations. "Please, please consider us, the members of BMC and SCN, as part of this beloved denomination that you serve," Boyer asked the board. Flory shared how his congregation’s participation in SCN has allowed them to "embrace a vision that is at the heart of Jesus' gospel" and how the emphasis on inclusion unexpectedly extended Beacon Heights' welcome to people with disabilities. "We now have a broader representation in our congregation of each and every one of the categories in our vision statement...because our commitment became fabric of who we are," he said.
Gross told about her work with youth and some of the latest statistics revealing difficulties faced by LGBT and "trans" young people. One concern is their high rate of suicide attempts, at over 40 percent a much greater rate than the general population's 14 percent. She shared that family rejection, which is more prevalent among religious families, is a contributing factor.
The Mission and Ministry Board response to the SCN delegation:
October 24, 2018
Brian Flory, Chair
Supportive Communities Network
Carol Wise, Executive Director
Brethren Mennonite Council
Dear Brian and Carol,
On behalf of the Mission and Ministry Board of the Church of the Brethren, I would like to thank the two of you plus Naomi Gross and Susan Stern Boyer for coming to our October 2018 meeting in Elgin to share personally with us about the life and health of our denomination from your perspectives.
We found your presentations informative and heartfelt. You had our full attention as you shared the history of your organizations and statistics on denominational involvement by the 51 Church of the Brethren congregations who are members of SCN. We appreciated the time you took to educate us on the personal toll that non-support takes on persons who feel rejected by their families and church communities. You did not disparage other groups or seek their exclusion, but rather spoke about your own lives and experience.
Thank you for the pamphlets and book of worship resources you gave to each board member. You also gave to us the gift of naming several issues and challenging us to look closer at how we, personally and denominationally, respond to persons feeling unsupported and measure our faithfulness. We heard your concerns. Our hope is that you will pursue ways of sharing your stories and statistics with the denomination.
While we did not initiate an invitation for you to join our meeting, we appreciate that you responded to our October 2017 statement that, as the board of the entire denomination, we are open to hearing from any group within the Church of the Brethren that may not feel heard or understood. You honored the stated limitations that the sharing be about the state of the church, not be anonymous and, when in person, subject to enough notice and scheduling issues.
The Church of the Brethren is a diverse body with a shared commitment to following Jesus. Our Compelling Vision process hopefully will help define what makes us unique as a denomination, even with our differing views and ways of being. Those of us currently in leadership in the Church of the Brethren love the church and want all to experience it as spiritually grounded and vibrant. We believe this also is the desire of those whom you represent. Our prayers are with you, and we ask for your prayers for us as we seek to be faithful to the entire denomination.
With sincere hope and appreciation,
Connie Burk Davis, Chair,
on behalf of the Mission and Ministry Board,
after discussion and with their blessing