The work of the Lord that we call “business” at Annual Conference is vital to our denomination. It explores our faith in God, provides meaningful guidance for Christian living, and can help to unite, strengthen, and equip us to follow Jesus together in the Church of the Brethren.
The query is the primary vehicle for bringing business concerns to Annual Conference. Over the years a process for generating a query has been developed and refined to improve the quality of the work we do together as a body of Christ. The methodology we have today for query creation aims for thoughtful, spiritual inquiry and thorough preparation.
A query needs to be carefully researched, developed, presented, and properly moved to action on the delegate floor of Annual Conference. It should ask a question for discussion and discernment by the church, rather than presuming to answer itself. Sometimes the process of preparing a query will help the query’s writers discover that their question is already being addressed by district or denominational staff, and the query does not need to go to Conference. Sometimes the concern can be best brought as a resolution processed through an agency of the church. At other times the process of preparing a query helps to clarify more precisely the concern the query writers want to invite the church to consider, providing a better discernment process for the query, if it is recommended by the district conference for Annual Conference discussion. All queries must be processed with specific authorization and trackage in order to be considered as official business items for Standing Committee and Annual Conference.
It can take considerable time for a query to be processed. As you will see in the procedures outlined below, the process includes conversation with the congregation and with district and denominational staff. Currently, the General Secretary is the best clearing house for the denominational research required of a congregation and district that are preparing a query. The Conference officers want to obtain the highest quality and clarity of business items to address issues central to the life of the church. They determine when a query is or is not ready to be considered by Annual Conference.
The following procedures have been established for the preparation and processing of queries. The first two sections of this document (“Preparation and Processing of Queries” and “Guidelines for Preparation of Queries”) are polity established by official decisions of Annual Conference. They are quoted from Minutes of the Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren 1965-1969, pages 60, 317-319, and 426-427, and Minutes of the Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren 1990-1994, page 336, with updated board name and staff titles. Subsequent sections of this document include a few quotes from Annual Conference Minutes that are polity in the midst of listing procedures and guidelines that have become our standard practice.
Preparation and Processing of Queries
The Right to Raise Questions and Seek Answers
(Minutes 1965-1969, p. 317)
Any member of the church, or any congregation, has a right to raise questions and concerns that relate to the Christian life or to the mission and work of the church. Counsel and help should be sought from the pastor or the local church board, the district executive or the district board or commissions, the Mission and Ministry Board, or the Church of the Brethren staff. When an adequate and satisfactory answer to an important question cannot be found in any of the above channels, a query may be formulated to go to Conference.
Types of Questions That May Go to Conference for Consideration
(Minutes 1965-1969, p. 317)
Distinction should be made between different types of questions and concerns. Legislative action by the highest deliberative assembly of the church is necessary in answering some questions, but many of them can be dealt with more effectively in other ways.
- Changes in church polity will always need to be made through legislative action. Questions of this nature and suggestions for change should receive extensive study by the local congregation, the district, and the General Offices before being brought before the Annual Conference.
- Statements on the Christian life and witness, moral problems and positions are usually intended to influence personal and group habits of thought and action. We believe education and motivation are more effective than legislation in dealing with this type of issue. The Mission and Ministry Board and the Church of the Brethren staff are constantly working in these areas and have available literature and program resources. All available information on any such questions should be carefully studied before formulating a query to Conference. Legislative action on such issues should be used with restraint.
- Matters of church program and administration do not normally require legislative action. The church employs a staff to assist the local congregations in program and administration. Books, literature, and program materials are constantly made available to the churches for their use. Such church periodicals as Messenger and Brethren Life and Thought provide opportunities to communicate and debate ideas concerning the church program and administration. An appeal for new legislative action should be made only when an adequate hearing or action has not been achieved in these other areas.
On any matter when legislation by the Conference is felt to be necessary, a query is the means to follow. A query may originate in the local church, in the district, in the Mission and Ministry Board, or in the Standing Committee. The following procedures should be followed in the preparation and the processing of a query.
(Minutes 1965-1969, pp. 317-318 and 426-427)
- In the local church: When a member presents to the local church board or council meeting a question or concern that merits consideration, the local church should, when it seems appropriate, appoint a working committee to do the following things:
- Define and state clearly the question or concern.
- Evaluate and try to answer the concern through research and inquiry.
- Confer with the district executive and the Church of the Brethren staff to get information as to what has been done or is being planned in regard to this particular matter.
- If it is a new concern, the district and Church of the Brethren staff persons should be consulted regarding what immediate action might be taken or whether Conference legislation would be helpful or necessary.
- If the matter does seem to need legislative action, the local church council should prepare a query to send to the district conference.
- In the district: Whenever possible the district should answer the question or concern presented in the query.
- The query should be reviewed by the district board, or the district can appoint a committee to investigate the merits of a query, hold hearings to evaluate different sides of the question, and seek to find a satisfactory answer.
- If a satisfactory answer is not found, and the district conference feels that the query merits legislative action by Annual Conference, or if the concern or question of the query relates to denominational or general church matters directly, the district may send the query on to the Annual Conference.
- When a district board or district conference initiates a query, steps should be taken to assure that the concerns expressed in the preceding procedures are observed.
- The district executive should send copies of the query to the Annual Conference Secretary and to the Director of Annual Conference, accompanied by a letter of explanation of the origin of the query and actions taken on the query up to that point.[Note: A new query submission questionnaire is now being utilized to provide an explanation of the origin of the query and to document actions taken on the query. This questionnaire, along with the query, must be submitted by December 1 in order for a query to be considered for the following Annual Conference.]
- In the denomination: Queries which have been processed according to the above procedures shall be listed by the Conference officers for consideration by the Conference.
[Note: It is implied that queries that have not been processed according to the above procedures will be returned to the originator and may miss the deadlines for consideration by the next Annual Conference.]
[Note: The 1991 Annual Conference adopted a further requirement for a query: Any query arising from a congregation or from a district board must be approved by a district conference in order to be accepted by Standing Committee as an item of business. (Minutes 1990-1994, p. 336)]
Guidelines for Preparation of Queries
(Minutes 1965-1969, p. 60)
The query should always state clearly the issue, remain open-ended for the widest possible base of judgment and response, and include some of the factual details by which to identify it. The following specific suggestions may prove to be helpful. The query should:
- Give the full name of the congregation or official body in the district initiating the query.
- State as precisely as possible the issue concerning which the query is being presented.
- Give briefly the principle reasons or conditions which prompted the query.
- Avoid giving answers or proposing a solution to the problem raised by the query, leaving these rather to the outcome of the Annual Conference action. A proposal may be offered, but in the awareness that study may lead to another outcome.
- Give the date on which the query was initiated by the congregation or the official body in the district.
- Indicate the district conference (and the date and location of its meeting) through which it hopes to have the query passed to Annual Conference.
- Have appended the names and positions of the officials of the congregation or official body which is the source of the query.
- Have attached the action and the date of the district conference and the name of the district moderator and conference secretary, if the action is to pass the query to Annual Conference.
…Queries coming from the Standing Committee will follow as many of the above specific suggestions as apply.
In addition to the above polity quotations from the Annual Conference Minutes, the following procedures and guidelines have become our standard practice for preparing queries:
Further Questions to Process in Preparing Queries
In 2014 the Leadership Team recommended that congregations and districts work through the following process questions in order to prepare a more thorough and complete query:
- What is the problem or issue you are trying to address?
- How did you discover this issue or problem?
- With whom did you engage in discovery about the issue or problem?
- What methods did you use to engage in discovery and refinement of your problem statement and your proposed solution to the problem?
- How did the understanding of the problem change over time?
- What possible solutions were considered?
- What is the proposal you are presenting and why are you supporting this proposal?(from the Foster Docherty Group LLC Process Observation Report on the 2012 Annual Conference)
In addition, the Leadership Team recommended that congregations and districts consider two further questions as they prepare a query:
- Is the issue of the query central to the life of the church?
- What is the Biblical basis from an Anabaptist-Pietist perspective?
Processing of Queries by the Officers, Standing Committee, and Annual Conference
Polity from official Annual Conference Minutes:
The officers of Annual Conference shall list queries for consideration by Conference which in their judgment have fulfilled the preliminary steps. (Minutes 1965-1969, pp. 318-319)
The Standing Committee … studies all queries and items of new business and recommends answers to the delegate body. (Minutes 1965-1969, p. 318)
Over the years, Standing Committee has used a variety of recommendation actions to move queries on to the delegate body of Annual Conference. Some of the options are:
- Recommend that the query be adopted.
This means that the question the query raises is clear and can be readily answered, either in the Standing Committee’s recommendation or by a referral to a study committee, agency, or other designated denominational entity.
- Recommend that the concern of the query be accepted as a legitimate question and recommend an alternate way of answering the concern than that proposed by the query.
This means that the question the query raises is valid, but that Standing Committee believes there is a better way to answer it than the one (or more) requested in the query.
- Recommend that the query be returned.
This means that Standing Committee feels that the question has been answered by previous Annual Conference actions, or that the “query” does not ask a question that can be answered, or that the question asked is not appropriate for Annual Conference to consider. The recommendation to Annual Conference would also include the reasons Standing Committee recommends the query be returned. The query would be returned with a letter of explanation from Standing Committee stating the reasons for the return.
- Recommend that a particular part of the query be answered but not the entire query.
This means that the query asks multiple questions or asks one question with several facets, and that Standing Committee agrees with part of the query but not the entire inquiry. Standing Committee can then recommend to Conference that it approve and answer only that part of the query and respectfully return the remaining portion of the query with a letter of explanation.
- Recommend that the query be returned but that a new item of business be created to answer another question that the returned query raised for Standing Committee.
This means that the question raised by the query is not appropriate for the reasons stated in Item 3 above, but in the process of Standing Committee’s discussion, there was prompted a related question that Standing Committee feels is appropriate for Annual Conference to answer.
- Recommend that the query be adopted as a “special response query.”
This means that the question asked by the query is a legitimate one but one that will provoke emotional reactions and ignite adversarial stances. Standing Committee may thus recommend that the query be submitted to the Conference-approved process for dealing with strongly controversial issues, including a year for the denomination to study and talk about the concern using specially-designed materials and a process of listening and discerning.
- Recommend that the query be postponed until a future Conference.
This means that if, for some strong reason, Standing Committee feels that it would be best to delay action on the question until a later time. Among reasons might be that the denomination has a program or study underway that could have bearing on what answer is given to the query. Or Standing Committee may feel that the query calls for a new, unfunded program by an Annual Conference agency, and recommends that the matter be referred to the Program Feasibility Study Committee before Conference gives final consideration to the query. Or Standing Committee may simply feel that another year and another venue would be more conducive to answering the query.
(from a document prepared by the Annual Conference Secretary in 2009)
The delegate body of Annual Conference can then:
- Adopt the recommendation of Standing Committee.
- Modify the answer of Standing Committee by amendment.
- Reject the recommendation of Standing Committee and formulate its own answer.Our polity states: If the final answer presented in response to a query is totally rejected by the Conference, the query shall be regarded as unanswered and shall be immediately disposed of as though it were an item of new business. (Minutes 1965-1969, p. 260)
The final decision regarding a query made by the delegate body of Annual Conference is the directive which is followed.