Several unusual attempts to open the Standing Committee agenda to new business led to lengthy discussions of a situation in Michigan District and led to action to begin to address “gaps” in the Standing Committee appeals processes.
The Standing Committee of district delegates met July 1-4 in Cincinnati, Ohio, prior to the 2018 Annual Conference. Meetings were presided over by Conference moderator Samuel Sarpiya with moderator-elect Donita Keister and secretary James Beckwith.
Among attempts to open the agenda to new business was a motion to recognize a proposed new district made up of seven churches that are seeking to leave the Michigan District. The moderator ruled the motion out of order.
However, a motion was adopted to open the agenda for discussion of the denominational Leadership Team’s decision not to recognize the seven churches as a new district. The Leadership Team includes the Annual Conference officers, the general secretary, a representative of the Council of District Executives, with the Conference director serving as staff.
Last year, Michigan District conference gave seven churches permission to leave the district and form a new district of the Church of the Brethren in the state (see www.brethren.org/news/2017/michigan-district-approves-motion-from-separating-churches.html ). Sarpiya explained to Standing Committee that the Leadership Team communicated to the seven congregations the problems with their proposal.
“Our polity, made especially binding by our bylaws, requires that districts be geographic districts,” he said. “We have no provision for forming a new district on the basis of specific statements of faith that must be agreed to by member congregations.... Our polity does not allow two districts to claim the same geographic area, nor does our polity allow for a district to form on the basis of congregational agreement to a specific statement of faith.”
The Leadership Team suggested avenues for action to the seven churches, in correspondence that took place over many months last fall and winter, but the group took up none of those options. The options included remaining in the district and finding ways to work things out despite theological differences, making an appeal to Standing Committee, and sending a query to Annual Conference to consider a change in denominational polity.
Standing Committee held an evening session on July 2 to discuss the Leadership Team’s decision. In advance, copies of the Leadership Team’s correspondence to the seven churches were distributed. Questions soon focused on how the seven churches responded to the Leadership Team and why they did not take up the invitation to make an appeal. Although two representatives from the seven churches were present in the gallery, the officers did not allow them to answer questions, citing Standing Committee rules limiting who may speak. The officers and other Standing Committee members knowledgeable of the situation also declined to speak on their behalf.
Eventually, a small delegation of Standing Committee members was authorized to speak with the two representatives in order to seek answers. The next day, the delegation reported its learnings, including that the group has a different interpretation of denominational polity, believes it meets the requirements to become a new district, and doubts that an appeal would bear fruit because appeals to Standing Committee only consider whether decision-making processes are followed correctly.
The matter was tabled to the morning of July 4, when Standing Committee adopted the following statement:
“Current Church of the Brethren polity and bylaws do not allow for districts to be formed on the basis of theological positions, nor do they allow for two districts to occupy the same geographic area. Therefore, the 2018 Standing Committee recommends that if the ‘Great Lakes District’ Steering Committee wishes to advance their stated goal of forming a new district, they should work with the Michigan District through the Michigan District Conference to bring a query to the Annual Conference to consider whether denominational polity should be changed.”
A motion was voted down that would have opened the agenda again to consider whether Standing Committee should create its own query.
The officers took advantage of some extra time in the meetings to initiate conversation about a “gap” in the Standing Committee appeals processes. Moderator-elect Keister identified this as “a matter on the radar for some years.”
Standing Committee has processes for appeals of decisions made by the Program and Arrangements Committee of Annual Conference and appeals of decisions made by districts, but not for appeals of decisions by other bodies.
Motions were approved to open the agenda again, and to form a committee to develop a process for appeals beyond those covered by current processes. A three-member committee was named to serve together with the officers to review the judicial role and appeals processes of Standing Committee beyond those currently covered. The three members named to this new “Review of Judicial Roles and Appeals Process Committee” are Jeff Rill of Atlantic Northeast District, Susan Chapman Starkey of Virlina District, and John Willoughby of Michigan District.
Standing Committee also engaged in its usual business agenda, including recommending action on new business items to Annual Conference. As in its deliberations last year, the committee decided to require of itself a two-thirds vote for each recommendation it made to the Conference.
Recommendations from last year’s Standing Committee were retained for the new business items held over from 2017, recommending adoption of “Brethren Values Investing” (see www.brethren.org/ac/2018/business/NB/
NB-1-Brethren-Values-Investing.pdf ) and “Polity for Electing BBT Board Directors” (www.brethren.org/ac/2018/business/NB/
Standing Committee also recommended adoption of two additional items of new business, “Polity for Electing the District Executive Representative to the Pastoral Compensation and Benefits Advisory Committee” (www.brethren.org/ac/2018/business/NB/
NB-4-Polity-for-Electing-the-DE-Repr-to-the-PCBAC.pdf ) and “Vision for a Global Church of the Brethren” (www.brethren.org/ac/2018/business/NB/
In other business
-- Southern Ohio District was recognized under its new name: Southern Ohio/Kentucky District.
-- The following were named to the Appeals Committee: Nick Beam of Southern Ohio/Kentucky District, Loren Rhodes of Middle Pennsylvania District, and Susan Chapman Starkey of Virlina District, with Steve Spire of Shenandoah District as first alternate and Grover Duling of West Marva District as second alternate.
-- Changes were made to a document of guidance on the role of members of Standing Committee. The officers proposed revisions to clarify and strengthen the understanding that Standing Committee members are responsible to the whole of the denomination, even though they are named to represent their districts. Revisions specifically addressed times of conflict, giving the advice for Standing Committee members to consult with district leaders and to be in contact with Annual Conference officers in conflict situations, and to respect all sides in reporting to their districts. Most of the revisions were adopted except one point that advised Standing Committee members against taking leadership in conflict situations or in movements within the church.
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