The Mission and Ministry Board of the Church of the Brethren met via Zoom on July 1 for a summer meeting usually held onsite at Annual Conference. The meeting of the denominational board was chaired by Patrick Starkey assisted by chair-elect Carl Fike and general secretary David Steele. Starkey noted that the Zoom meeting was a very streamlined version of the usual summer meeting, attending only to the most critical board functions.
Main items of business included setting a budget parameter for core ministries in 2021, approving a revised budget for 2020, other financial matters, and consideration of a new strategic plan for the ministries overseen by the Mission and Ministry Board.
Budget and finances
The board set a budget parameter of $4,934,000 for core ministries in 2021, and approved revised 2020 budgets that reflected work by staff to review expenses as well as to reassess income projections for the remainder of this year in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic has resulted in changes to the denomination’s financial situation, which has meant “staff needed a more dependable and realistic budget to work from,” said Starkey. Core ministries expenses were revised downward by almost $340,000 to a total of $4,629,150, and the income projection for core ministries was revised downward by almost $447,000 to $4,522,040, resulting in an anticipated core ministries deficit of ($107,110) for 2020.
In reporting on the denomination’s finances as of May, the board learned that 2020 has seen a significant shortfall in congregational giving (down $96,500 compared to last year). Individual giving has increased (up $4,800 from last year), but total giving to every fund of the denomination--including core ministries, the Emergency Disaster Fund that supports Brethren Disaster Ministries, and the Global Food Initiative--is down $283,000 compared to 2019. The “self-funded” ministries also have been negatively affected by the pandemic as Brethren Press, Annual Conference, and Material Resources all are showing deficit balances as of May.
The core ministries are considered crucial to the denomination’s program and include the General Secretary’s office, Global Mission and Service, Office of Ministry, Office of Peacebuilding and Policy, Brethren Volunteer Service, Workcamp Ministry, Discipleship Ministries, Youth and Young Adult Ministry, Older Adult Ministry, Intercultural Ministries, Brethren Historical Library and Archives, and departments that sustain and serve the program work including Mission Advancement, finance, IT, human resources, buildings and properties, “Messenger” magazine, and communications.
Board actions on other financial matters included approval of a recommendation to keep the annual “draw” from the Brethren Service Center Quasi-Endowment Fund to a range of 5 to 7 percent, effective with the 2022 budget-building process. The fund was created from proceeds of the sale of the upper campus of the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Md. For the 2021 budget, the draw is set at 8 percent. The recommendation was made in order “to insure long-term support for board-approved ministry programs” but the decision also allows the board to consider use of the fund to augment other income sources for start-up costs “if a bold new ministry emerges from the compelling vision statement or the strategic planning process.”
A recommendation to write off the negative net asset balance Brethren Press has accumulated as of the end of 2019 was tabled. The recommendation included using funds from the denomination’s Bequest Quasi-Fund Endowment Fund to cover the write-off along with a stipulation that Brethren Press work from a break-even budget in 2020 and going forward. This recommendation is expected to come before the board again in October after review of a new business plan for Brethren Press. The Brethren Press negative net asset balance has grown to $546,718 over the past 20 years, an accumulation from years in which expenses outweighed income. The press receives income from the sale of books, Sunday school curriculum, Bible studies, and other materials. Its expenses include salaries and other personnel expenses, expenses related to the production and marketing of products, and payments to the core ministries budget for use of facilities and support services at the Church of the Brethren General Offices.
The board approved a new strategic plan for the ministries it oversees, based in large part on the compelling vision statement that will be presented to the 2021 Annual Conference. Titled “Jesus in the Neighborhood,” the strategic plan includes sections of short-term or “foreground” goals and actions for the next three months, a “mid-ground” section extending into next year, a “background” section extending one to three years, and a “beyond the horizon” section looking five to ten years ahead.
In the short term, the plan calls board and staff to articulate how ministries are serving the “Jesus in the Neighborhood” vision in alignment with the strategic plan. Four “foreground vision initiatives” are to be in place by the October board meeting:
-- creation of task teams of board members and staff;
-- a communications plan and interpretive resources to share the strategic plan with the denomination;
-- a timeline to review denominational policies and procedures “with the aim of identifying potential impediments to full implementation of the strategic plan and recommending appropriate changes to those policies and procedures”; and
-- assessment by the general secretary and executive committee of skills, resources, and programs in relation to the strategic plan “to identify how our current capabilities may (or may not) align with anticipated needs.”
The plan includes four areas of longer term or “background” vision:
-- “Pursue Christ’s call to discipleship” to help church members articulate and embody their faith;
-- “Embody the biblical command to love our neighbors” to help congregations and church members cultivate relationships with neighbors near and far;
-- “Seek God’s racial justice” including identification, critique, confession, and repentance “of the whiteness and racialized hierarchy that have been integrated into Brethren identity,” among other actions; and
-- “Reclaim New Testament models of giving” to transform giving practices and church culture “to reflect the just and equitable distribution of God’s resources to eradicate needs as embodied by the early church.”
The Strategic Plan Formation Team was convened by chair-elect Carl Fike and included board members Lauren Seganos Cohen, Paul Schrock, and Colin Scott; Discipleship Ministries co-coordinator Joshua Brockway as staff; Pacific Southwest District executive Russ Matteson representing the Council of District Executives; Rhonda Pittman Gingrich representing the Compelling Vision Team; Jamie Claire Chau as Subject Matter Contributor; with the involvement of Jim Randall from Auxano, a consulting firm that provided assistance to the Compelling Vision Team and the compelling vision sessions at the 2019 Annual Conference.
In other business
The board confirmed the general secretary’s appointment of Ed Woolf as treasurer of the Church of the Brethren.
A new executive committee was called to serve from now through the 2021 Annual Conference: the chair, chair-elect, and board members Thomas Dowdy, Lois Grove, and Colin Scott.
For more information about the Mission and Ministry Board go to www.brethren.org/mmb .