Annual Conference Council Holds Envisioning Retreat

Church of the Brethren Newsline
December 6, 2007

Denominational envisioning, the frequency of Annual Conference, polity questions, financial concerns, and business items for the 2008 Annual Conference were all on the agenda of the Annual Conference Council on Nov. 27-30, in New Windsor, Md.

The meeting, chaired by immediate past Annual Conference moderator Belita Mitchell, also included 2008 moderator Jim Beckwith and moderator-elect David Shumate, Joan Daggett, Jim Myer, Fred Swartz, and Lerry Fogle. Don Kraybill of the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethown (Pa.) College, led a day and a half retreat devoted to discussions of denominational envisioning and the future of Annual Conference.

Denominational envisioning has been on the council’s agenda for a number of years. When it received its charter from the 2001 Annual Conference, one function was to “share with the Standing Committee the responsibility to see that envisioning is an ongoing part of denominational planning.” Longterm envisioning for the church was no longer lodged in the denominational structure, as it once was with the Goals and Budget Committee of the General Board. Since the board’s restructure at the end of the 1990s, each of the Annual Conference agencies has adopted strategic plans for carrying out its individual programs. The Standing Committee of district delegates understands its envisioning function to be primarily a listening role, collating concerns to pass on to agencies.

The Annual Conference Council has sent a request to consider options for including the envisioning function to the Implementation Committee that is studying a restructure of the General Board, the Association of Brethren Caregivers, and the council. The council suggested examples of long-range envisioning for the denomination, and cited areas that could be explored: mission, including overseas mission, congregational renewal, and new church development; leadership, examining how vital, excited, and loyal leadership can be called for denominational positions; making disciples, calling and growing disciples to do the work of Jesus; and worship, nurturing vital worship in our congregations and conferences.

The other portion of the retreat addressed whether the denominational Conference should continue to be held yearly. The council examined 10 different scenarios ranging from alternating a delegate’s Conference and a full Conference, to holding Conference every three years. The council recognized that economic concerns and diminishing attendance are the predominant factors driving the question. It also recognized that there are many benefits to holding a biennial Conference. The council looked at other factors as well, including the historical, sociological, and spiritual values to the denomination of an annual meeting. The discussion pointed out the effect of increased pulls in our culture away from opportunities for the church to gather face-to-face.

The council will pass on to the Program and Arrangements Committee its sense that an annual Conference is preferred, with a biennial Conference as a second choice. There was unanimous agreement that the Conference needs to be “reenergized and revitalized,” and the council included in its communication several of its own ideas for making that happen.

In its regular meeting prior to the retreat, the council expedited a full agenda. Beckwith asked the council to give an opinion on whether the Program and Arrangements Committee can send a query to Standing Committee. The committee has prepared a query to send to Standing Committee asking, “Is it possible for the Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren to review the section of the 1983 Statement on Human Sexuality that deals with ‘homosexual persons and sexuality’ and engage the denomination in a study and dialogue in order to clarify the church’s response to homosexual persons?” (For a full report see the Newsline of Nov. 21.)

The council indicated that polity only allows for queries to come through the normal district process, from an Annual Conference agency, or from Standing Committee itself. Therefore, the committee’s query is regarded as a request for help and interpretation from Standing Committee. In order for the committee’s concern to become a query for Annual Conference, Standing Committee will need to adopt it as its own question to Conference. This means that the committee’s query will not be included in the 2008 Annual Conference booklet.

In other business, the council completed a revision to the paper, “A Structural Framework for Dealing with Strongly Controversial Issues,” which it was asked by Conference to do following the adoption of a recommendation from the Denominational Name Study Committee in 2004. The paper will be sent to Standing Committee for its approval and recommendation to Conference.

The council also received a positive report from treasurer Judy Keyser regarding offerings and registrations at the 2007 Conference, enabling the Annual Conference Fund to make progress toward reducing its deficit; adopted a 2008 Annual Conference budget of nearly $550,000 with anticipated income of $585,000, with hope that the deficit will be erased in the next year; prepared several questions of concern to the Implementation Committee as it prepares a design for the new agency structure; previewed and evaluated a new promotional video for Annual Conference; celebrated completion of the update to the denominational polity manual, which will be posted on the Conference website with hard copies available at cost from the Annual Conference office; and conducted a five-year performance review for Annual Conference executive director Lerry Fogle. The next meeting of the council will be March 8-11, 2008, in Elgin, Ill.

–Fred W. Swartz is the Annual Conference secretary.

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The Church of the Brethren Newsline is produced by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of news services for the Church of the Brethren General Board. Newsline stories may be reprinted if Newsline is cited as the source. To receive Newsline by e-mail go to Submit news to the editor at For more Church of the Brethren news and features, subscribe to “Messenger” magazine; call 800-323-8039 ext. 247.

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