The report titled “Vitality and Viability” and its recommendations were adopted by the 2018 Annual Conference. The study committee that brought this report was formed to address concerns raised at the 2015 Annual Conference, which returned a query about district structure but assigned to this committee the broader topic of viability within congregations, districts, and the denomination.
Larry Dentler reported on behalf of the committee, beginning by describing the difficulties in keeping the committee itself staffed. The group experienced resignations and job transitions requiring personnel changes, and the unexpected death of Mary Jo Flory Steury, who was the senior staffer named to the committee.
The committee did not address the original query’s concern about the viability of district structure, partly because committee member Sonja Griffith, as the district executive named to the group to bring the concerns of small districts, felt a small membership district may succeed in being vital and viable. The committee also felt that structural issues were the domain of a different group, so they focused on vitality.
In addressing vitality, the report begins with two confessions. One is that the denomination is “in the midst of significant polarities” concerning human sexuality and differing approaches to scripture. The other confession is that some congregations may leave the denomination because of their deeply held beliefs. The report states that vitality in this context means formation of a gracious and amicable process for congregations to leave the denomination. The report also stated an understanding that the scope and authority of Annual Conference will need to be clarified.
The report suggests engagement in an appreciative visioning process to unite the church around commonly held values, which is the direction being taken by the newly approved Compelling Vision Process. The report contains a number of resources to inspire and guide such a process. Several inspiring examples are given of congregations involved in vital and growing ministries, stories from a multicultural congregation in the United States, and several congregations beyond American borders.
The report encourages Bible study and prayer to be part of the process, with a call to renewal of baptismal vows, particularly those having to do with Jesus as the living word and scripture as the written word of God. Scripture texts and Bible studies are included as part of the report.
The Vitality and Viability committee recommended “that congregations and districts make use of the report and its resources for a renewal of relationships with our Lord and Savior and with each other.” They also recommended that the report and its resources be referred to the Compelling Vision Working Group for possible use in the visioning process.
During the delegate body’s discussion of the report, concerns were raised about the committee’s failure to address district structure. Another topic of discussion was the mention of creating an amicable process for churches to leave the denomination. Questions arose about whether this might be a change in polity but Annual Conference secretary James Beckwith replied that the report was not presented as new polity but as guidance for the spiritual life of the church.
Find the report at www.brethren.org/ac/2018/business/UB/UB-2-Vitality-and-Viability.pdf .
-- Frances Townsend contributed this report.
For more coverage of Annual Conference go to www.brethren.org/ac/2018/coverage .
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