The Inter-Agency Forum, a component of the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference, held its annual meeting Feb. 1-2 in Daytona Beach, Fla. Jim Hardenbrook, immediate past moderator of Annual Conference, presided at the meeting that included the Conference officers, a representative of the Council of District Executives, and the executives and board chairs of the five Annual Conference agencies–Association of Brethren Caregivers (ABC), Bethany Theological Seminary, Brethren Benefit Trust, General Board, and On Earth Peace. ABC served as the meeting host. Fred Swartz, Conference secretary, issued the report of the meeting.
Two major concerns occupied much of the forum’s discussion time, Swartz said. “The first originated in the ABC Board containing a proposal for Annual Conference to examine the structure and vision of the denomination toward a greater sense of unity and a more responsible stewardship of resources,” he reported. The forum, through the Annual Conference moderator, has referred this matter to the Review and Evaluation Committee for consideration and recommendations.
“The second issue concerned the declining membership of the Church of the Brethren,” Swartz said. “Jim Hardenbrook raised the concern, but it was rapidly evident that several of the agencies have had discussion within their boards about the matter.” The General Board currently is supporting a survey of factors contributing to the membership and attendance decline. Brethren Benefit Trust and Bethany Seminary both have had discussions relating to the relationship of the decline to the number of constituents available for their programs.
“Several other ideas related to the decline were noted, such as cultural and social factors, family patterns, the Brethren style of evangelism, and confusion about Brethren identity,” Swartz said. “The agencies agreed to keep this matter on their agendas, to give it prayer and to continue to look for answers.”
“What is the Good News,” said Hardenbrook, “is that it is not our church. It is God’s church, and we need to take that position very seriously.”
The meeting also included an evaluation of the 2005 Annual Conference, especially the participation of the five agencies. The separation of agency reports, using different segments of time scattered throughout the business sessions, was met with much appreciation and affirmation, reported Swartz. “ABC noted that the Peoria facilities were not accessible for those with special needs and handicaps,” he added. The group also affirmed the format that recently has been used for the agencies to interface with Standing Committee members in pre-Conference meetings. An initiative of the forum to have the agency reports to the 2005 Conference and the worship bulletins for 2005 be translated into Spanish was much appreciated by Spanish-speaking delegates and congregations, the forum noted.
Looking ahead to the 2006 Annual Conference, to be held July 1-5 in Des Moines, Iowa, the agencies anticipate more room for exhibits, including space for a family recreation and wellness center. The agencies also noted the launching of Together: Conversations on Being the Church, that will take place at the 2006 Conference.
Three of the agencies–ABC, Brethren Benefit Trust, and the General Board–are collaborating in a new program for employees and constituents. The initiative in wellness emphasizes the connection between body, soul, and spirit, Swartz reported. ABC will provide the overall administration for the program, including the hiring of a fulltime wellness director.
Each agency, Annual Conference, and the Council of District Executives gave reports and projections for future ministries. Summaries of the reports are available from the Annual Conference Office. Similar, but more detailed reports will be given at the 2006 Annual Conference.
For more information contact the Annual Conference Office at 800-323-8039.