Newsline Special for November 3, 2006

“Were not our hearts burning within us, while he was talking to us on the road…?” — Luke 24:32a

Report from Fall meetings of the General Board

1) General Board sets 2007 budget, discusses immigration and stem cell research, recommends joining Christian Churches Together.
2) Pastoral letter encourages church to love neighbors equally.
3) Mission visit to southern Sudan receives a warm welcome.

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1) General Board sets 2007 budget, discusses immigration and stem cell research, recommends joining Christian Churches Together.

The Church of the Brethren General Board held its fall meetings Oct. 20-23 at the Church of the Brethren General Offices in Elgin, Ill. The board set a 2007 budget, issued a pastoral letter responding to immigration issues (see story below), considered a study paper on stem cell research, and recommended that the Church of the Brethren join Christian Churches Together in the USA.

The board also received a report about the Sudan mission initiative (see story below), and an interim report from a committee exploring options for the Brethren Service Center, among other business. Daily worship services and frequent prayer and hymn-singing marked the meetings. A prayer by board chair Jeff Neuman-Lee gave a sense of the overall tone of the gathering: “O God, you put a lot on our plate, and we rejoice in it.”

A 2007 budget of expenses of $9,741,900 was approved, representing all ministries of the General Board including self-funded ministries. Matched against budgeted income for 2007, the figure anticipates a net expense of $12,800 for the year.

Christian Churches Together
The board approved a recommendation for Church of the Brethren participation in Christian Churches Together in the USA, agreeing to join with the Committee on Interchurch Relations (CIR) in recommending to Annual Conference that the denomination become a full participant. CIR chair Michael Hostetter explained that Christian Churches Together would not replace the church’s membership in the National Council of Churches. The new organization is an attempt to foster ecumenical interaction that also includes those not involved in the NCC, he explained, such as the Roman Catholic Church, evangelical and pentecostal communions, and groups such as the National Association of Evangelicals. Earlier this year, 34 churches and national Christian organizations officially formed the new organization. Cost for Church of the Brethren participation will be $1,000 annually, and church leaders including the general secretary of the General Board and the Annual Conference moderator will be invited to attend the annual meeting (for more go to

Stem Cell Research Study
A document on stem cell research was received by the board as a work in process. The document was called for by an action of the board last year, and is a joint document with the Association of Brethren Caregivers (ABC). The board recommended to ABC that the two agencies disseminate the document to the denomination as a study guide.

The study paper was prepared by a small committee of Church of the Brethren members including board staff Del Keeney, executive director of Congregational Life Ministries; former ABC staff member Scott Douglas; Joel Eikenberry, a physician; Charles Hite, an ethicist; John Katonah, a chaplain; and Marla Ullom Minnich, a physician.

Keeney presented the paper to the board, and outlined the changes requested by the ABC board, including further editing and formatting. The ABC board has approved the document pending those changes.

The study paper provides scientific background, a discussion of the ethics surrounding the issue, scriptural and theological information, case studies, and study questions. General Board members expressed affirmation for the work done so far, but also asked for more attention to balance.

Brethren Service Center Committee
In an interim report from the Brethren Service Center Ministry Options Exploration Committee, chair Dale Minnich told the board that “we have a good committee.” Members are Jim Stokes-Buckles of New York, N.Y.; Kim Stuckey Hissong of Westminster, Md.; David R. Miller of Dayton, Va.; Fran Nyce of Westminster, Md.; Dale Roth of State College, Pa.; Jack Tevis of Westminster, Md.; and Minnich as General Board representative. Janet Ober of Upland, Calif., is not able to continue on the committee, Minnich announced.

His report to the board reviewed the group’s first meeting at the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Md., and the board action from March that initiated the committee.

(In March, the General Board turned away from a recommendation by the Stewardship of Property Committee to lease or sell the Brethren Service Center, and called instead for an exploration of options for ministry there. For the full report from the March 2006 meeting go to

“It’s too early to give a preview of recommendations,” Minnich said. He did, however, review the general thinking of the committee in some detail. He said the group is seeking to be transparent especially with the New Windsor community and staff in order to avoid a “pressure cooker” situation when it presents recommendations next October.

“It’s clear that the big issues that we need to deal with relate to the (New Windsor) Conference Center,” Minnich said. He outlined many options for the Conference Center, and also some possible ways to improve the financial bottom line for other General Board ministries located at the Brethren Service Center. The committee will meet again in New Windsor in November.

Other business
Several documents related to the internal organization of the board and its programs were adopted, including a new set of vision and mission statements and core values, a conflict of interest policy for board members and staff, a job description for board members, and a committee organization for the General Board member development committee. In executive session, the board also worked on envisioning for future emphases, in a process being called, “new wineskins.”

The board heard reports on the Sudan mission initiative (see story below), 2006 financial reports, planning for an update of the 1996 paper “Ethics in Ministry Relations,” National Youth Conference, the Gather ’Round Sunday school curriculum, and Brethren Volunteer Service visits with pastors. A report on a National Council of Churches trip to Lebanon was brought by Thomas Swain, clerk of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).

An offering of $1,680.24 received during the meetings will be divided between the Emerging Global Mission Fund and the Sudan mission initiative.

Employee recognitions and staff citations, and sessions offering the opportunity for more informal conversations about ministry areas, rounded out the agenda.

After the General Board meetings, board members and staff had the option of staying for a professional growth event led by Tim McElwee, Jim Chinworth, Jack Gochenaur, and Jo Young Switzer of Manchester College.


2) Pastoral letter encourages church to love neighbors equally.
By Todd Flory

In the waning light of a congressional session that featured immigration as its top domestic issue, and a strict border enforcement bill authorizing funding for a 700-mile fence between the US and Mexico, the General Board has issued a pastoral letter on welcoming the stranger.

“In the midst of debating economic and political issues, we who follow Jesus are called to speak out on behalf of those who live, work, worship, and reside among us without legal protections. More than that, we are to love them,” the letter said.

“My intent for bringing up the paper was not to resolve the political issues…but to ask as we think about these issues, What does the Bible say about this issue and how does that affect our decision making?” said Duane Grady. He and Carol Yeazell, both on the Congregational Life Teams staff, presented the paper as a result of receiving letters from church members about the issue and hearing requests for the General Board to issue a statement regarding immigration for pastoral and congregational use.

The letter will be sent to congregations to help guide understanding and dialogue among church members and congregations. It also will be used by the Brethren Witness/Washington Office and shared with the National Council of Churches and Church World Service.

While the general focus of the letter’s first draft was well received by the board, some members thought additional work was needed. “I’m glad you brought it up but it needs to be clearer,” said board member Frank Ramirez, acknowledging the vast political complexities of the issue.

After a small ad hoc group rewrote the letter, it was revisited by the board and adopted.

The letter encourages Church of the Brethren members to be in conversation about immigration issues and to love neighbors as all people are loved equally in the eyes of God, even if they are labeled as “aliens,” “illegal,” or “undocumented.” Among scriptural passages, Leviticus 19 was referenced highlighting God’s call to make sure that strangers in our midst have food to feed their families. The passage reminds the people of Israel that they had been aliens in Egypt, and to deal justly with foreigners. The 1982 Annual Conference statement on undocumented persons and refugees also was lifted up as a helpful resource for addressing the immigration issue.

“I think it’s an issue that’s really relevant today,” said general secretary Stan Noffsinger. “If it causes some unrest, then praise God for its success, because this is an issue for every one of us.”

The pastoral letter is available online in both English and Spanish (go to

–Todd Flory is a Brethren Volunteer Service worker in the BVS office in Elgin, Ill. Previously he served as a legislative associate at the Brethren Witness/Washington Office.

3) Mission visit to southern Sudan receives a warm welcome.

A visit to southern Sudan to explore opportunities for Brethren mission work there has received a warm welcome from church leaders and others, reported Bradley Bohrer, who began in September as director of the Sudan mission.

The delegation that returned Oct. 4 from the four-day trip included Bohrer; Louise Baldwin Rieman, a former mission worker in Sudan; and Merv Keeney, the board’s executive director for Global Mission Partnerships. The group spent time in Nairobi, Kenya, and Rumbek, southern Sudan, visiting with officials of the New Sudan Council of Churches, various churches, local government offices, and assistance organizations. The Brethren met with possible partners for the mission–an initiative approved by the General Board one year ago–and identified locations that may be options for placing mission workers.

Bohrer described the mission in southern Sudan as two-fold–seeking to help rebuild and heal the community after years of war, and also to form churches. He highlighted the great amount of work needed just to rebuild the infrastructure of southern Sudan, an area he described as almost as large as the area of the southern states in the US. It has been virtually destroyed by the country’s civil war, he said. There are few schools, few wells, few paved roads, and no real health care for most people. The delegation saw signs of war everywhere, including shot-up churches, destroyed buildings, bomb shelters–now being used for other purposes since last year’s peace accord–and areas that cannot be farmed because of land mines.

On the other hand, Bohrer said, the south of Sudan is a land of potential, with resources in abundance and the people desiring to live in peace as they rebuild. “The people spoke of hope and of future, even in the midst of disrupted lives.”

The southern Sudanese and their church leaders are welcoming the Church of the Brethren mission, Bohrer said. “It’s important to remember that we’ve been in Sudan since 1980,” he said. At least 16 Brethren mission workers have served in Sudan since 1980, and the board has also supported three staff of the New Sudan Council of Churches.

“We need to enter this work to walk alongside, not to lord over, because we will find the answers alongside the Sudanese,” Bohrer said. “We are not starting the work of Jesus Christ in Sudan,” he added. “The gospel work is happening there. We are going to go into the setting to find our place there.”

This trip enabled the Brethren to reconnect with church partners, Bohrer said, and will help staff decide where to place mission workers. A rough timeline outlined to the board includes the hiring and placement of the first mission workers by next spring. An initial team of two couples or families will continue to be in conversation with Sudanese partners to help develop the mission. An Advisory Council also will be created to help with communication and development of the mission.

Bohrer noted that timing is an important consideration related to the peace process in Sudan. The Comprehensive Peace Accord includes a provision that in 2011 the South hold a referendum to determine if it will become an independent country, or stay as part of one country with the North. This may affect the Brethren mission effort.

Mission workers to Sudan will help raise their own financial support. Bohrer called it a “new/old” model, offering congregations and others the opportunity to directly support a mission worker and family, while continuing to include the mission and its staff in the structure and organization of the General Board. Congregations and church members will be called on to support mission workers both financially and in less tangible ways by means of prayer and regular communication such as letters, care packages, and notes. Prayer cards will be sent to congregations and members as reminders to keep mission workers in prayer.

Bohrer acknowledged that the Brethren will be able to tackle only a small portion of the work needed in southern Sudan. “The work in Sudan is enormous,” and is more than any one denomination can do, but recalling Jesus’ parable of the effects of yeast on bread, he added, “we’re potentially going to have a strong impact on part of it.”

The church in the US also needs to be prepared to be changed through this mission, Bohrer said. He called on the church to make itself ready for the journey with Sudan, “no matter how long and how hard this journey becomes, because it has the potential to be more difficult…. We’re going to learn what it means to be faithful in a place of violence and uncertainty.”

For an online report of the trip go to


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