2007 Church Business

Unfinished Business

2007 Church of the Brethren Statement

1. Query: Doing Church Business

Whereas: it has been very important in our heritage to seek the mind of Christ together in order to do it;

Whereas: Robert’s Rules of Order work well in dealing with many issues, yet there are limits to their usefulness in dealing with some issues—particularly in the light of God’s New Order (often referred to in Scriptures as the Kingdom of God);

Whereas: the secular Robert’s Rules of Order tend to make issues adversarial, possibly even accentuating the extremes on a spectrum rather than drawing out voices more from the middle of a spectrum or encouraging both ends of a spectrum to do more affirming of each other;

Whereas: some have concerns that in a culture of democratic politics we may too often reflect worldly assumptions where majorities, money, and might make right, rather than reflecting Acts 15 and faithfully following Jesus in ways of mercy, justice, and peace;

Whereas: the 1988 Annual Conference adopted A Structural Framework For Dealing With Strongly Controversial Issues, which gives Standing Committee the responsibility to decide if a controversial query will be called a Special Response Query needing at least a two-year procedure, yet it seems not to have flex ibility and practical helpfulness for some controversial issues;

Whereas: some issues are not resolved by legislative votes;

Whereas: the process of dealing with an issue is often as crucial as the issue itself;

Whereas: when we are not of one mind, we sometimes have difficulties respecting loyal persons and groups who hold minority positions;

Whereas: there are tensions at times between the consciences of individuals and some of the processes and actions of the wider church; and

Whereas: when persons or groups feel sinned against by processes and actions of Annual Conference it is unclear what steps might be taken by them and the people who stand with them;

Therefore, we the members of the Turkey Creek Church of the Brethren, gathered in coun cil meeting on November 10, 2002, petition the Annual Conference through Northern Indiana District Conference to have a committee appointed to study how Annual Conference can enhance and model doing church business in the spirit of Christ as we discern the mind of Christ in order to continue the work of Jesus.

Hurbert L. Krull, Church Board Chair
Sue Brock, Church Board Secretary
Beth Krull, Treasurer
Timothy Sollenberger Morphew, Moderator

The Northern Indiana District conference, meeting at the Elkhart County Fairgrounds, Goshen, Indiana, on September 19-20, 2003, approved the query for consideration by Annual Conference in Charleston, West Virginia, in 2004.

Carol Spicher Waggy, Northern Indiana District Moderator, 2003
Shirley Braner, Northern Indiana District Clerk, 2003

Action of the 2004 Annual Conference

The delegates approved the recommendation from Standing Committee that the query be adopted and that Annual Conference elect a committee of five to answer the query and report back to the 2005 Annual Conference. Elected to the committee were: Joe Detrick, Matt Guynn, Verdena Lee, Dale Posthumus, and David Shetler.

Study Committee: Doing Church Business

Progress Report 2005

The query from the 2004 Annual Conference requests “a committee appointed to study how Annual Conference can enhance and model doing church business in the spirit of Christ as we discern the mind of Christ in order to continue the work of Jesus.” The delegates approved the recommendation from Standing Committee that the query be adopt ed and that Annual Conference elect a committee of five to answer the query and report back to the 2005 Annual Conference. Elected to the committee were: Joe Detrick, Matt Guynn, Verdena Lee, Dale Posthumus, and David Shetler.

The committee gathered for their first meeting September 30 – October 2, 2004 at the Church of the Brethren General Offices in Elgin, Illinois. Dave Shetler was called as chair and Matt Guynn as scribe. Through times of worship, review, discussion and study, the committee came to recognize that to adequately study the query, to gain the counsel and input of the denomination and to prepare a report with recommendations, that an addi tional year of work will be needed. At the time of the writing of this progress report, the committee does have several additional meetings scheduled and has prepared an outline to complete the task, including a hearing scheduled for this Annual Conference. The com mittee anticipates presenting a full report to the delegates at the 2006 Annual Conference and thereby requests the delegates of the 2005 Annual Conference receive this progress report.

Joe Detrick
Matt Guynn
Verdena Lee
Dale Posthumus
David Shetler

Action of the 2005 Annual Conference

Annual Conference received the 2005 report of the Doing Church Business study committee and granted the committee an additional year of study.

Report to the 2006 Annual Conference

Response

Introduction

The query from the 2004 Annual Conference requested that a committee be “appointed to study how Annual Conference can enhance and model doing church business in the spirit of Christ as we discern the mind of Christ in order to continue the work of Jesus.” The delegates approved the recommendation from Standing Committee that the query be adopted and that Annual Conference elect a committee of five to answer the query. Elected to the committee were Joe Detrick, Matt Guynn, Verdena Lee, Dale Posthumus, and David Shetler.

The committee called Dave Shetler as chair and Matt Guynn as scribe through a discern ment process. The committee’s work took place in face-to-face meetings and conference calls, including times of worship, review, discussion and study.

The committee came to recognize that to adequately study the query, to gain the counsel and input of the denomination and to prepare a report with recommendations, an additional year of work would be needed. The 2005 Annual Conference granted the additional year to complete the task.

The committee recognized the awesomeness of this assignment and approached the work in an attitude of prayer, seeking together the guidance and wisdom of the Spirit in respond ing to the query. The study of Scripture and consideration of our heritage were included in our preparation of this paper. The committee also sought to discern the mind of Christ in hearing from the denomination through listening sessions, surveys, and interviews. The paper is organized in several sections: Scriptural Reflection; History of Decision-Making and Brethren Heritage; What We Heard (in surveys and interviews); Conclusions and Observations (our summary of findings); Response & Recommendations; Final Remarks; and Recommended Reading. The committee offers this paper for consideration by the 2006 Annual Conference.

Scriptural Reflection

Throughout the history of the Church of the Brethren, scripture has been a guiding and grounding element in faith and practice. In the process of discernment, Scripture contin ues to be a guiding and grounding element for us today. The Spirit of Jesus has much to teach us about community, discernment, and guidance through Scripture.

Mentioned in the query itself, Acts 15 has many implications for doing church business. Faced with a difficult issue, the early church came together for prayer, dialogue, debate, dis cernment and decision-making. Believers spent significant time listening to one another on the issue, not in order to win an argument, but to listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit for guidance in building up the church. There were elements of worship in the discern ment time: moments of prayer and moments of silence, celebrations of joy, telling the sto ries of God at work in and through them. As they sought the mind of Christ, they listened to those deemed wise and respected in their midst. When all had been taken into account, they reached a decision “which seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (v. 28) and shared their discernment in written form with the rest of the church. Acts 15 provides a framework and a pattern for our doing church business, for discernment, which has been incorporated into this paper and the recommendations of this committee.

In our continuing study of scripture on the issue of discernment and decision-making, the committee was also led to scriptures that not only describe how the church of Acts made decisions, but the spirit in which those decisions were made. Philippians 2:1-11 speaks of our having the same mind and attitude of Jesus in our relationships with one another. Being transformed and living up to ethical standards in our relationships is the message of Romans 12. 1 Corinthians 2:6-16 admonishes us to be mature in our faith, seeking God’s wisdom in order that we might know the mind of Christ, thus being empowered to be a community able to make decisions in a spiritual rather than human fashion. Passing judg ment on one another is not to be the way of the Christian community, according to Romans 14:10-13, 19. We leave the judging to God so that we might “pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (v. 19). Jesus also addresses judging and self-right eousness in Matthew 7:1-5. We are called to use good judgment without being judgmen tal. 1 Corinthians 12-14 speaks of our being gifted for service to one another and the church, working together for the strengthening of the body while being led by the “more excellent way” of love. Growing in grace, love, and faith is the substance of Ephesians 4:1

16. As we exhibit growth in grace, practice love in our relationships, and experience faith in the One “who is above all and through all and in all,” the work and ministry of Jesus continues, growing and thriving in the Body. The church is built up and God is glorified as we love and respect each other and recognize that we all have been gifted by the God of grace.

Ultimately, we turn to the words of Jesus as we seek to be faithful in our relationships, dis cernment, and decision-making. Jesus clearly instructs us to go to each other for conver sation and dialogue in the pattern of Matthew 18. But above all, Jesus tells us that love for God and love for each other are the greatest and guiding commandments for everything else: all relationships, all discernment and all decision-making (Matthew 22:34-40).

We believe that through the power, wisdom and presence of the Holy Spirit, God still speaks to us through the Scriptures. God offers guidance and direction through the Word as we seek a discernment process that provides a way of entering into and honoring respect ful, loving relationships and at the same time allows us to discover the mind of Christ for the issues we face. Adhering to the greatest commandments as defined by Jesus, this paper and the recommendations encourage us to listen to one another and to speak to one anoth er in love as we discern through prayer, Bible study, preaching, and visions that which Jesus would have us be and do.

History of Decision-Making and Brethren Heritage

The teaching of Christ which encourages us to love God and neighbor, including even our enemies, has been the basis of a sense of community among Christians. The early church made an effort to consider the thoughts of the community, as exhibited in Acts 15, as it worked through a controversial issue of the day, being at all times led by the Holy Spirit.

The first Brethren understood Scripture leading them to promote a community of mutu ality and accountability as an expression of the heart of Christ’s love. Esteeming others higher than self, and placing an emphasis on the body of believers, the first Brethren drew lots to specify who would baptize Alexander Mack in order to avoid status or position as they entered the Eder River in 1708. Love Feast became a way to cultivate unity among the Brethren through visits by deacons and community discernment regarding conflict and conciliation. At a point early in the development of Annual Conference, Love Feast was observed as a part of opening worship and attendees were encouraged to cultivate a heart for discernment of the mind of Christ. Other practices of the Brethren set us apart from a secular form of accountability in relating to one another. Practices such as the deacon visit and mutual aid still leave their imprint on our communities today.

In early Brethren congregations, local elders and bishops were trusted to determine what was best for a community. They discerned the moving of the Holy Spirit within the con text of a rapidly growing country. The unity of faith was maintained by face-to-face dia logue and care for one another as the family of God.

As the church grew, large annual meetings were encouraged when church leaders sensed a need for centralized fellowship to maintain unity. During the annual gathering, there were opportunities to address weighty concerns in the company of like-minded Christians. At times this involved deep division, disagreement, and rancor, but the context remained a common search for the mind of Christ.

Brethren thought and discernment have prevailed against the tide of simple majority rule in society for almost three centuries. Eventually, the common use of parliamentary proce dures of the eighteenth century influenced the Brethren to elect a clerk for the annual meetings. The role of the clerk was similar to the moderator of today. Yet discernment continued to be guided by a desire to reflect the sense of the entire gathered body.

Henry Kurtz, the translator and editor of the first collection of Annual Meeting Minutes, became the clerk of the Annual Meeting in the mid-1800s. He was instrumental in creat ing the Annual Conference as we know it today. After studying the Yearly Meeting con ducted by Quakers in London, which had been practiced since 1666, Elder Kurtz sug gested seven principles to guide the formation of Brethren annual meetings:

  1. Simplicity
  2. Liberty
  3. Order
  4. Subordination of our reason to the word of God
  5. Due regard to previous decisions
  6. Love of the Brethren
  7. A constant aim for union in the body of Christ

These principles guided the Brethren of the nineteenth century as they met each year to discern the mind of Christ in matters of daily living in a rapidly changing world that was at times hostile to the Christian journey.

As the world around the Brethren continued to change, democratic procedures became a primary model for secular governance. Annual Conference adopted 2/3 majority voting in 1847. However, after a brief trial, the conference returned to a consensus model the next year.

In the year 1856, district organizations were proposed. However, in 1866 the Brethren held an annual meeting that unified the districts. Despite these smaller geographic divi sions, the Brethren sought and prized a sense of the larger, gathered whole, and laid the foundation for Annual Conference as a cohesive community of Christians.

In the early 1880s, permission was granted to use majority vote. Consensus as a process for discerning the mind of Christ did not survive the painful division of the Brethren body in 1881-1883. Hence, majority rule was used until an adapted form of Robert’s Rules of Order was formally adopted by the Annual Conference around 1915 (records are unclear).

Annual Conference minutes that followed this vote would seem familiar to those who attend conference today. Though initially there was more attention to an attitude of wor ship, respect for opposing opinions expressed and time for prayer and the reading of scrip tures, the model of parliamentary procedure is the same as we have today. The Church of the Brethren had successfully emulated secular forms of governing.

As time passed and the encroaching American culture increasingly polarized on faith issues, a change came to the Annual Conference floor that was not anticipated by our predeces sors. Dissension and arguments over varying opinions have crept into discussion that was once reserved for discerning the movement of the Holy Spirit in our midst. If one sim ply reads the titles of Annual Conference statements and resolutions throughout the twen tieth century, it becomes clear that the body of the Church of the Brethren, like many other Christian fellowships, began to struggle with the questions of leadership, identity and the way we conduct business. Language indicating disagreement and the need for further discernment is found throughout queries and statements over the last several decades, including those dealing with biblical authority, patriotism and the flag, and sexuality, among other issues.

During and since the 1990s, a number of congregations, districts, and denominational agencies have experimented with other models for decision-making, including Worshipful Work, Formal Consensus, sense of the meeting (Quaker) process, and others.

This query on “Doing Church Business” was accepted by the Annual Conference delegate body in 2004. It is a plea reflecting the frustration of Brethren across the theological and social spectra who sense the changing tide of relationship among those who follow Christ. Earnest time has been spent by the Committee to listen to the concerns of our brothers and sisters as we all struggle to be heard clearly, received lovingly, and treated respectfully.

What We Heard

As a part of its study, the Committee gathered information by listening to the body through interviews with individuals and groups including the following: Annual Conference participants and delegates, past and current moderators, the Cross-Cultural Ministries Consultation, the Council of District Executives, scholars, lay leaders, conflict experts, agency staff, and respondents surveyed at the 2005 Annual Conference. What fol lows are themes that continuously arose in our conversations.

  • We heard that Brethren are a people of the Book, trying to be faithful disci ples, from many different theological perspectives, with a strong desire for all to be more patient and forbearing with each other.
  • We heard comments regarding confusion about the power and authority of Annual Conference and why Annual Conference exists. What is the prime function and role of Annual Conference regarding faith and polity state ments?
  • We heard affirmations that matters of faith and practice are individual pref erences as well as corporate understandings. Spiritual growth comes when we gather to discern the mind of Christ, and agree to act as one.
  • We heard deep concern and pain about the adversarial style of conversation and discussion at Annual Conference. At the same time, we heard exhorta tion to continue conversation even in difficult times.
  • We heard that quiet voices and minority or marginalized positions are often left out of conversation. There is a desire on the part of some to find ways to hear from these individuals.
  • We heard that the process we use to make decisions is as important if not more important than the decision being made. We heard calls for creativity in format and physical setup, while not abandoning what works in current practice.
  • We heard that an overwhelming majority desire more faith-based tools for discernment (e.g., formal or informal consensus processes, small groups, silence, Worshipful Work) which could complement and enhance current practice, but that, lacking clear and efficient alternatives, there is not suffi cient support to move away from Robert’s Rules of Order.
  • We heard persons stating that different kinds of discernment and decision-making may require different processes.
  • We heard that there is sometimes a lack of education about what discernment means for Brethren, and that there is a desire for leadership training related to discernment for delegates, moderators, secretaries, and others in leadership roles.
  • We heard that many congregations are already using a modified version of Robert’s Rules of Order. Although they do take recorded votes, often there is also open space for conversation and discussion.
  • We heard that some congregations and at least three districts and/or district boards (Illinois/Wisconsin, Oregon/Washington, and Mid-Atlantic), and one agency (On Earth Peace) are already practicing alternative forms of dis cernment.
  • We heard expressions of concern that Brethren seem to have been seduced by the dominant culture and have lost sight of the power of prayer and the value of community discernment.
  • We consistently heard that the shortened length of Annual Conference may have done a disservice to the quality of conversation and discernment.
  • We heard a number of requests for small-group discernment opportunities.
  • We heard questioning whether Annual Conference is an appropriate place or a safe place to share deeply held beliefs, personal understandings, and experi ences.
  • We heard a strong affirmation that tinkering with the machinery of confer ence is useless, that it will take a real and significant shift of perspective and belief to refresh the body’s ability to discern together.
  • We heard that quality delegate preparation before conference and strategies for reporting and follow-up after conference are often lacking.
  • We heard strong encouragement to learn from and utilize the wisdom of the senior members of the church.

Survey Results from 2005 Annual Conference

Our committee prepared a survey for delegates and non-delegates, distributed at the 2005 Annual Conference in Peoria. There were 709 responses. What follows is a summary of results.

More than 80% of respondents shared that they read the AC business items in the booklet; 29% attend district-level briefings; 31% talk with their congregations about business items before coming to conference.

83% shared that some, but not many, or none of Annual Conference decisions made a difference in the life of their congregations. It is the perception of respon dents that the decisions of Annual Conference have little impact on congrega tional life.

92% shared that, as a result of AC discussion, they rethink their positions at least sometimes (36% responded, yes, it usually does; 56% responded, yes, but not very often).

65% agreed that, lacking sufficient time to process an item of business, they would prefer to continue the discernment until the body reaches a greater sense of unity.

73% agreed that Annual Conference should continue to make decisions about belief and faith practices AND should also address organizational matters of the denomination.

Comments and Observations

Based on our listening and research, the current usage of an adapted Roberts Rules of Order does not appear to adequately allow us to lovingly and respectfully hear one another or to truly discern the mind of Christ in the most efficient and spiritual way. There is a loss of a sense of community or trust in the process of discernment when it comes to the business sessions at Annual Conference. The Committee wrestled with the question of why this is so. It seems that we have not done well at fostering a sense of Christian community or preparing to truly discern together as we gather for business.

We have observed and heard stories of pain and loss, of persons feeling disenfranchised and left out of the process. We also heard of “winners” gloating over a victory after a vote, and “losers” feeling marginalized, rejected and put down. A process that produces these kinds of experiences would seem to undermine the guidance of the Spirit, the love of God, and the mind of Christ.

The Committee also recognizes that simply changing the model of how we do business will not address or solve any underlying problems or issues. Appropriate tools are needed so that we can do business and discern the mind of Christ, but we also must come to Annual Conference prepared through Bible and other study, prayer, prior discussion and dialogue, and with openness to the leading of the Spirit through the community of faith.

Although the Committee greatly respects and appreciates the past leadership of Annual Conference, we also recognize that as a church we have not sufficiently educated, trained and coached those called to leadership to facilitate discernment among the gathered church – especially relevant here are Standing Committee, moderators and conference officers. The system and the process have at times failed us through insufficient preparation and training.

Delegates and Conference attendees have also expressed a sense of loss in the amount of time to meet together for discernment, according to the current time frame of Annual Conference. The former schedule of Tuesday evening through Sunday morning allowed more time for discussion and discernment on matters of faith and practice. More time was also available for informal dialogue and conversation.

The committee recognizes that the 1988 paper, “A Structural Framework for Dealing with Strongly Controversial Issues,” is intended to address divisive situations in the life of Annual Conference, and that it has not been applied in recent situations that might have called for it. As it is currently under review by a committee of Annual Conference Council, we have restricted our recommendations to overall business practices of Annual Conference, trusting that the committee reviewing that framework will bring clarifications and recommendations about its use.

Concerns Requiring Further Study

We have not incorporated all concerns into the recommendations and response of our committee. Two concerns have arisen repeatedly in interviews that we feel are outside the scope of our work. We include them for the edification of the body. The first is the fre quency and focus of Annual Conference. Should Annual Conference meet every other year, out of concern for stewardship of finances and human labor? Should some years be focused more on teaching, fellowship and worship, and less on business? The second is the process of calling and election used by the delegate body. Would it more truly serve God and our heritage to use a process other than popular election? We leave these for further examination by the body.

As we prayed, as we studied Scripture, as we considered our history, and as we listened to sisters and brothers, we have come to the conclusion that for the spiritual health and well being of the body, and to enhance and model discerning the mind of Christ, changes need to be made in our manner of meeting.

Response and Recommendations

“Annual Conference is not a place for predetermined points of view representing specific constituencies to be debated, as in the secular political legislative assembly. It is a setting where people come together to consider questions before the church and seek the will of God through prayerful debate and Bible study” (from “Accountability to One Another” in recent Annual Conference booklets).

“Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace and things where with one may edify another” (Rom 14:19).

“Discerning the mind of Christ means that you start out not knowing it” (Interviewee).

There is a clear need for significant change, from the level of delegate preparation, to train ing of moderators, to the format of Annual Conference itself, in order to enhance and model a discerning Christian community and the reign of God. In pursuing together the mind of Christ, we must set aside the contentiousness of mainstream culture in order seek “the glory of God and our neighbor’s good.”

The Purpose of Annual Conference

“Annual Conference is the highest and final legislative authority of the Church of the Brethren in all matters of procedure, program, polity, and discipline. The authority of Conference has its source in the delegates elected by local churches and districts who come together as a deliberative body under the guidance of the Holy Spirit….It provides an opportunity for face-to-face-confrontation and discussion of major issues that are of vital concern to the church. It serves as a means of building unity, fellowship, and understand ing among Brethren, as laity and clergy, people of all ages, and urban and rural people seek to discover the mission of the church in today’s world” (Church of the Brethren Polity Manual, Chapter One).

“Annual Conference exists to unite, strengthen, and equip the Church of the Brethren to follow Jesus” (AC Mission Statement, 2004).

In order to accomplish these ends, Annual Conference needs to be a spiritual training ground for the skills of spiritual discernment and joyful Christian community. How can Annual Conference exemplify these traits in the way it processes discernment and decision-making?

Annual Conference has used various models of discernment and decision-making through out its history. Any process must be proven by its ability to help the body discern the mind of Christ. We recognize that any human model we use will fall short of full discernment of God’s will. The challenge for the body of Christ is to balance the need for some meas ure of efficiency and structure, with yearnings for patient discernment.

It is our perception that the delegate body at this time is not prepared to move into a for mally structured discernment model, and wishes to continue to use and adapt Robert’s Rules of Order primarily out of concerns for efficiency in large group process.

Therefore we exhort the body to freely adapt its use of Robert’s Rules as recommended below to adequately serve the purposes of discernment.

Delegate Preparation (Congregational)

To enhance our search for the mind of Christ, we recommend the following practices on the district, congregational, and individual levels.

District.

The Council of District Executives will consult together about best prac tices for orienting delegates within their respective districts. The district leader ship will offer significant briefing opportunities for delegates that will include Bible study, background and discussion about current items of business, orienta tion on how we discern together at Annual Conference, and spiritual and practi cal preparation for speaking and listening in controversial conversations.

Congregational.

Congregations will provide time in advance of Annual Conference for discernment about upcoming items of business. Delegates need to be adequately informed of their congregations’ perspectives on upcoming busi ness items. Delegates must walk a careful line between representing their con stituencies’ expressed positions and participating in the movement of the Spirit during the business of the gathered body. Congregations will provide time for returning delegates to report on the spirit and content of Annua