2001 Report of Review

Review and Evaluation Committee

2001 Church of the Brethren Annual Conference Report

INTRODUCTION AND DEFINITION OF TASK

When the 1997 Annual Conference approved the new design for the General Board, it authorized that the first major review by a group other than the General Board would be conducted by a specially scheduled Review and Evaluation Committee to be elected in the year 2000 and to present its final report to Annual Conference one year later, in 2001 (page 611, 1997 Annual Conference minutes). That interim limited report focusing primarily on the new design was then to be followed by a full review and evaluation in the normal 10-year cycle with election of the new Review and Evaluation Committee in 2005 and the report scheduled for 2007.

After hearing reports in 1999 which revealed that the new design for the General Board had created a ripple effect raising questions about long-held understandings about polity, practices, and procedures in our denomination, Standing Committee broadened the assignment by recommending, “the task of the Review and Evaluation Committee therefore becomes one of reviewing the comprehensive effect of redesign of the General Board of tile Church of the Brethren.” Among the issues the committee was asked to consider are:

Who is the official representative of the denomination in ecumenical relationships?
Who is the official voice of the denomination in position statements?
Who should maintain and distribute the denominations polity manual?
Who should provide clarification on questions of denominational polity? What should be the continuing role of the Interagency Forum in the denomination?
How should Annual Conference agencies and the Council of District Executives relate to each other?
What should be the composition of the Interagency Forum?
What should be the term of service for the various elective offices of the denomination?
What role should the Annual Conference Office play in the denomination’s organizational structure? Funding issues surrounding any enhanced or expanded role should be addressed.

In summary, the Annual Conference officers suggested that:

Prior Review and Evaluation Committees focused on the General Board, so it became the responsibility of the General Board to implement any suggestions. This newly elected Review and Evaluation Committee, however, is uniquely different from its predecessors. Its task now looks beyond one church agency to the interplay between five reportable/accountable church agencies and to the organization to which they are accountable: Annual Conference. It also includes the relationship between one group and the professional organization known as the Council of District Executives. Because of the expanded task, the Annual Conference officers believe that this Review and Evaluation Committee may make suggestions to any of the five accountable/reportable agencies, to the Standing Committee, or bring recommendations to the Annual Conference itself.

PROCEDURE

Because of the requested time for reporting, the committee realized that a comprehensive procedure for input from across the denomination would not be possible. Nevertheless, significant input was desired. Questionnaires were submitted to the Annual Conference agencies, to the Council of District Executives, and to the Annual Conference Program and Arrangements Committee. Interviews with these groups also provided additional input.

It was apparent to the committee that the expansion of our assignment by the Standing Committee invited more than a routine review and evaluation. Because of the broad scope of work as defined by the conference officers, this report will consist of (1) a preliminary overview; (2) a section of observations (indicated in shaded print); and (3) responses followed by either suggestions (in italics) which hopefully will be taken seriously by those to whom they are directed, or recommendations (in bold) which will need Conference action.

The committee agreed that it would not be responsible to identify serious concerns without suggesting how they might be remedied. However, in responding to directives, we are not volunteering detail for implementation which should follow this report. The Committee does believe that the same urgency which was indicated in the one-year report request should also be applied to the implementation of material which may be passed by Annual Conference.

A BRIEF HISTORIC OVERVIEW OF ORGANIZATIONAL CHANGES

Until 1947, the mission and ministry of the Church of the Brethren were carried out by separate committees and/or boards with specific responsibilities. In 1947, Annual Conference created the General Brotherhood Board as the single administrative unit answerable to Annual Conference, a move which was intended to unify the work of the church under one organizational and supervisory board with five commissions. Twenty years later, concerns about centralized power and denominational giving led to restructuring which placed major administrative responsibility for the General Board in the hands of a five-member Administrative Council with three commissions, a move intended to provide a team approach to decision-making, to reduce the number of chief administrators to effect budget savings, and to provide new staff dedicated to being more responsive to the, direct needs of the local church. This organizational structure then went through minor changes but essentially remained in place until the passage of our present redesign which again reflected a desire to decentralize power in the Administrative Council, move the General Board into closer relationship to the congregations, and effect budget savings needed in light of declining giving to the work of the General Board.

Our organizational pilgrimage raises an important question. Has our effort to economize and be more available through restructure paid off? True, our present General Board has reduced its budget significantly, but is the total cost less to the church if the expenses of the extra boards and staff of Annual Conference agencies are factored in? As to availability, one respondent pointed out that only a few years ago there were 25 persons on the General Board, which had overall responsibility for Annual Conference actions. Districts and congregations were able to be in touch with those persons for conversations and information. Today, there are over 100 persons serving on the national boards of Annual Conference agencies.

Despite issues which surfaced during this brief review and evaluation of our organizational changes, the Committee does not believe our experience with the current redesign of the General Board calls for seriously considering a new design at this time. Comments and recommendations are focused on evaluations, encouragements, and changes within the present organizational structures which will clarify polity and relational issues which were either not clear in the redesign or have emerged as a result of it.

OBSERVATIONS AND RESPONSES

Observation 1: Proliferation of Funding Requests

There is a broad concern across the denomination about the number of requests for financial support coming from so many different sources. Historically, through unified giving, the General Board apportioned the giving on the basis of approved program priorities. When giving to the General Board declined, letters of protest suggested that one of the reasons was refusal to support the complete program because persons did not want their resources to go for certain specific programs. “There is money out there,” the General Board heard, “if we allow individuals to designate their funds.” For over a decade we have gradually moved in that direction, and our denomination has changed substantially from unified giving to designated giving to those programs which individuals and congregations wish to support. The recent redesign and dismantling of many of the General Board’s responsibilities, and Annual Conference’s recognition of separate agencies, are a direct result of that direction.

Response to Number 1:

It may be that the level of competition for funds has increased, or it may be that the agency separation simply makes more visible the kind of dialogue which was previously internal within the General Board structure. The Committee suggests and strongly encourages that, in the interpretation of programs and in the solicitation of funds agencies exhibit mutual respect and support for one another. We are one body with differing parts, and it important that those parts exhibit mutuality and collaboration in their service to the church. As the apostle Paul says (1 Cor. 12: 25-26), “there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice it.” As we move forward, it is the Committee’s opinion that this is a direction the denomination needs to live with until we decide to implement a change.

Suggestion for Number 1

The Committee suggests that as a denomination we need to recognize that this new direction allows for and expects separate programs to enlist our support. It now becomes important for local churches and individuals to become aware of the programs offered, to receive a variety of requests, and to give due attention to equitable support to the entire denominational program. It becomes important for the various agencies to be cognizant of the solicitation load to which constituents are asked to respond and, if possible, find ways to collaborate on funding.

Observation 2: Position of the General Board

Prior to 1997, the General Board was charged with the responsibility to “plan, administer, and evaluate all phases of denominational program.” The redesign of the General Board which replaced polity (under Chapter 11, General Board) with new material, and the subsequent recognition of separate agencies and boards, has established new territory for us. The action seems to have created a pervasive air of confusion among agencies, districts, and congregations about the normal policies and procedures under which we should now operate. Many questions have emerged, such as: “Who is in charge?” “Who speaks for the church?” “‘Who interprets the polity?” and “Who represents us ecumenically?” There is clearly confusion about the parity among various agencies. No longer is the General Board the clear leader with a general mandate. The Committee has reason to question whether the General Board really anticipated this result when the redesign was proposed. There are multiple references remaining in the Polity Manual to the General Board and its various responsibilities. While the General Board’s jurisdiction was changed in the redesign process, denominational polity has not been revised to reflect the role of other agencies and resolve inconsistencies.

Response to Number 2:

At one time, the General Board carried almost the entire responsibility for denominational programming. Most of the agencies now reporting to the Annual Conference were either once a part of the board, or had direct connection with the board through dual board membership or through budgetary support.

While the denomination has moved to decentralizing authority by separating several agencies from the Board to give them independent status, it is clear that the General Board still carries broad responsibility for the Annual Conference programs. There are several reasons why the General Board has a special position in the denomination.

Its responsibilities are much broader than any other agency reporting to the Annual Conference. (The 1997 Manual of Polity (MOP) suggestion that the General Board will facilitate denominational ministries seems to support this position.)

Polity still refers to the General Board as “the administrative arm of the church” (Manual of Polity Chapter I, III., D). While there are several references in, polity to the General Board (e.g., the requirement that Program and Arrangements Committee of Annual Conference should work with the General Board on planning Conference) which may need editing to recognize the role of new agencies, some of the references still apply to the General Board’s special role.

The General Board provides administrative and financial assistance to the Annual Conference without charge.

The General Board carries special duties for ecumenical and interfaith relationships.

All of the General Board members are still elected by Annual Conference.

Recommendation to Number 2:

The Committee recommends that the General Board’s administrative authority for denominational programming be reaffirmed, except those specifically within the designated purview of other agencies.

Observation 3: The Title, Executive Director

The current title, “Executive Director,” is inadequate to convey the leadership position of the General Board Executive.

Response to Number 3:

The Committee is recommending a change in the title because it believes, (1) that the General Board should be confirmed in a leadership role, (2) because there is a need for one of our executives to speak in public and ecumenical circles as the highest executive in the denomination, and (3) because the tide is more consistent with the tides of the heads of other communions and better represents the General Board’s executive as a leader of significant responsibility.

Recommendation to Number 3:

The Committee recommends that in keeping with this overall administrative responsibility on behalf of Annual Conference, the tide “Executive Director” be changed to “General Secretary.”

Observation 4: Procedures For Resolving Differences

There is currently no neutral entity in the denomination to resolve differences among agencies, interpret polity, and oversee envisioning for the denomination in an efficient and economical manner.

Response to Number 4:

In searching for resources to deal with the concerns it identified, the Committee first considered existing structures. The Committee evaluated the possibility that the General Board might handle the concerns. For the reasons suggested above, that did not appear to be a viable option. While the Committee recommends that the General Board’s broad general authority be reconfirmed, the Board is no longer in a position to decide matters of interagency relations. The Standing Committee was considered. It is too large; it would be terribly costly to convene the Standing Committee several times a year. The Annual Conference Program and Arrangements Committee was also considered. However its responsibilities are limited to planning and arranging for Annual Conference. It is not equipped to mediate interagency issues or to interpret polity. The Committee then turned to the possibility of some new entity that might serve like an executive committee of Annual Conference, but with a much more limited role than that of the Conference itself

The Committee looked at several possibilities as to name and makeup of such an entity, eventually choosing the name the Annual Conference Council. Because the proposed Council carries responsibilities that might otherwise be handled by the Standing Committee, the Committee first considered the possibility that the Council would be made up of Standing Committee members, elected directly from that body. It was decided, however, that the terms of Standing Committee members might make their tenure too short to give an experienced and consistent voice to the Council. Therefore, the recommendation for membership includes the current officers of Annual Conference, two former moderators, and a district representative.

In the choice of membership for the Council, the Committee affirms: (a) the importance of relating to the Annual Conference administration, (b) the value of past moderators who, having broad denominational perspective and valuable experience relating to Annual Conference polity and procedure, would likely have the confidence of the denomination and the agencies related to Annual Conference, and (c) the importance of an official district representative to signify the special role the districts play in the life of the denomination.

Recommendations to Number 4:

4a.

The Committee recommends that the Annual Conference approve the creation of a six-member Annual Conference Council (the Council). The Council would consist of the current Annual Conference moderator, the moderator-elect, the past moderator, the Annual Conference secretary, plus one former moderator (excluding any who have served in the previous three years) and a current district executive, both elected by the Annual Conference for one four year term. The Council will establish its own rules of organization and procedure.

4b.

The Committee recommends that the Council report directly to the Standing Committee and make an annual report of its activities. It would meet twice each year or as often as needed to handle its agenda.

4c.

The Annual Conference executive, who would be employed by the Council and would be reportable to the Council, should serve as staff. The Annual Conference executive would continue to manage the programs and arrangements requirements for Annual Conference, but would also be the staff executive for the other functions of the Council. (The Program and Arrangements Committee will report to the Council.)

4d.

The Committee recommends that the Council should handle the following matters:

  4d-1.

Interpretation, revision, and publication of polity.

This recommendation of the Committee responds directly to the question about polity added to this Committee’s assignment by the Standing Committee. Historically, the General Board has overseen the editing and publication of the Polity Manual every few years. Much of the denominational polity, however, does not relate to the General Board. It seems appropriate to place the responsibility with the Council.

Other than informal advice given by the Annual Conference officers or staff, or opinions rendered by the Standing Committee, there has been no person or office designated to interpret polity. Under the Committee’s recommendations, the Council is authorized to provide such interpretations.

  4d-2.

Oversight of Annual Conference directives to assure that they are lodged with the appropriate agency and that Annual Conference directives are met.

To a great extent, the General Board and the Annual Conference officers and staff have carried responsibility to provide a follow up to Annual Conference actions to make sure they were appropriately handled. Unless Conference action always makes clear which agency (or agencies) reporting to it should handle an assignment, there is likely to be confusion and maybe even a lack of coverage. Because the Annual Conference officers, under current polity, have no specific authority in this area and the General Board now shares Annual Conference duties with agencies over which it has no responsibility, this recommendation provides a viable means of handling Annual Conference actions.

After each Annual Conference, the Council, which includes the Annual Conference officers, should review Conference’s actions, assign them to the appropriate agency (or agencies) and establish a means of seeing that the assignment is completed. If appropriate, a report of the assignment will then be made to Conference.

  4d-3.

Resolve differences between agencies as to jurisdiction, fundraising or other matters.

As indicated elsewhere in this paper, a weakness of the current denominational structure is the lack of clarity about jurisdictional boundaries. While On Earth Peace Assembly carries a clear peace program and witness, so does the General Board. The Association of Brethren Caregivers has a strong family-nurture component; so does the program of the General Board. All of the agencies have skilled staff working in the areas of money management and planned giving. All except Brethren Benefit Trust (BBT) participate in fund raising, while BBT sells its services with the exception of those services performed directly at the bidding of Annual Conference. And there may need to be resolution of such issues as use of the property historically controlled by the General Board which now houses other independent agencies.

In cases of actual or potential conflict or overlap, who has authority to resolve the issues for the good of the denomination? At one time, the General Board clearly managed such issues; with the redesign and altered polity authority, that is no longer the case. The Committee does not believe it is feasible to reestablish the former position of the General Board, but it believes strongly that there should be a mediating authority. The Council should be empowered to handle such issues and should have the privilege of calling for the help of persons skilled in mediation and conflict resolution if it so desires. The Council should also mediate conflicts in fundraising and initiate steps to minimize multiple fundraising, duplication and competitive efforts.

  4d-4.

Serve as an executive committee for the Annual Conference.

While the most apparent duties of the Council have been spelled out in these recommendations, there will be other issues that also call for authority to resolve disputes or answer questions when neither the Annual Conference nor the Standing Committee is in session. In such cases, the Council should be authorized to act.

  4d-5.

Assume supervisory responsibility for the planning and arrangements for Annual Conference.

The Program and Arrangements Committee and the Annual Conference staff, both reporting to the Council, will continue to work as they do now. If policy decisions need to be made in planning the Conference, the Council would have authority to make the policy decisions.

  4d-6.

Have no responsibility or authority for initiating programs.

While the Council will carry important and significant authority responsibilities, it is intended that the Council should have only the judicial responsibilities as to interagency boundaries, interpreting existing polity, and serving as the executive committee for Annual Conference. Clearly, the Council should not be authorized to initiate programs or interfere with the administration or the authority of the church agency boards (except to the extent of suggestions, encouragement, or request for consideration as set out in these recommendations.) Under no circumstances can it alter or act inconsistently with polity and Annual Conference.

  4d-7.

The Council will share with the Standing Committee the responsibility to see that envisioning is an ongoing part of denominational planning.

Observation 5: Closed Meetings of Agencies

Policy provides “The meetings of the Board are open to the public, except for executive sessions which deal with personnel items (MOP Chapter I, III., D). Similar polity is provided for the Standing Committee (MOP Chapter I, III., A, (1), (f)). In the past several years, a trend toward closed meetings in both the General Board and Standing Committee seems to have reduced the important input our employed staff or district personnel might make to our administrative and programmatic decisions. The exclusion of those most knowledgeable about present program, and most capable of both helping in decisions and interpreting actions, seems not only undesirable, but inconsistent with who we are as a people. If desired, boards could prescribe how contributions from non-board members might be made to the meetings. Open invitations between agencies and to those interested in Standing Committee discussion would not only eliminate the necessity of having to clarify a plethora of official ex-officio members between all boards and agencies, it also would greatly reduce the number of meetings persons would be expected to cover.

Response to Number 5:

Some boards routinely schedule one closed session at each board meeting when personnel or other confidential issues are discussed and when board relationships and evaluation of board performance are considered. This practice prevents the presence of a closed meeting signaling punitive action or any action that might be a threat to the staff or particular program priorities.

Suggestion for Number 5:

The Committee strongly suggests that a policy of more openness to regular General Board, Agency, and Standing Committee business be implemented, with appropriate guidelines for defining acceptable procedure for non-board participation.

Observation 6: Role of Interagency Forum (IAF)

Standing Committee’s initial envisioning of the need for the Interagency Forum (IAF) seemed to have merit as a way to promote congeniality and mutuality among participating Annual Conference agencies. It appears that the IAF has provided some helpful conversations between the agencies, but with few exceptions, it has not been effective in generating cross-agency agreements that have been beneficial. Nor has it found a way to collaborate on mutual staffing or funding agreements.

Response to Number 6:

The Committee strongly believes that interagency conversations have merit. The MOP (Chapter I, III., B, 1, (b), (5), p.22) lists among the duties of the moderator to “convene a biennial Consultation of Denominational Agencies and Institutions, with the executive director of the General Board as secretary of the Consultation, to promote greater cooperation among major Brethren agencies and institutions and to serve as a clearing house for scheduling, programming, and major fundraising.” Apart from meetings of the IAF, these conversations have been held only once since the polity was established. Such conversations may help in establishing cooperation. They may generate ways in which some services provided by agencies might be combined. They certainly have the potential for creating relationships that can develop trust and mutual respect. Our denomination can surely use a cadre of executive leadership which holds the best interest of the denomination at heart.

Recommendations to Number 6:

The Committee recommends IAF continue under the auspices of the Annual Conference Council. It should meet at least annually under the direction of the Council, or more often at the initiation of its own members. A representative of the Council of District Executives should be a member of the IAF.

Observation 7: The CLT Program

There are mixed reviews on the effectiveness of the Congregational Life Team (CLT) program. There have been very helpful contributions made in certain areas and frustration about arrangements and availability in others. The objections have not focused on personnel, but rather on the system and its delivery of redesign expectations. A concern noted is that decentralizing the staff sounds good in theory, but poses some problems in actual practice. While there has been some reduction in staff costs and some experience of value in geographic proximity, those values have been offset by other concerns, namely: (1) collegiality among staff suffers; (2) regular staff meetings are more problematic; (3) additional expenses for decentralized offices and support must be compared with the economics present in maintaining central office space and services; (4) the reduction of budget that required the General Board to reduce the number of available CLT persons intended in the original design and the large areas some must cover have not necessarily increased availability to district and local situations; (5) there is also concern among some districts and congregations as to whether decentralized generalists benefit the church more than the availability of centralized specialists. Some districts have staff and more local resources available to aid in their regular programs but occasionally need resource persons with special training skills for district or local needs.

Response to Number 7:

While there have been some problems in the CLT program, there have been some real successes and contributions. The Committee feels it is too soon to officially end the CLT program. Modifications may be in order.

Suggestion to Number 7:

The Committee observes that the General Board already has the authority to fine tune the program by adapting it, discontinuing some Parts of the plan, and/or offering other options for district and congregational support. The Committee believes this suggestion fits with the initial concern of the redesign: that the General Board find ways to be more available to congregations and districts in mutual ministry and mission.

Observation 8: Role of MMPC

There is broad consensus that the Mission and Ministries Planning Council (MMPC) program has been essentially ineffective. At best, it has been p