October 20, 2007
General Board commits to Brethren Service Center
The Church of the Brethren General Board has acted to “strongly affirm” ministries based at the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Md., and committed to continue to develop and enhance the center. In a report from the Brethren Service Center Ministry Options Exploration Committee, the board approved a new mission statement for the center, commended seven items to staff for action, and approved a five-year review for the center. The action came this afternoon, during the board’s fall meeting.
The recommendations resulted from an in-depth, year-long study of General Board programs based at the Brethren Service Center–Brethren Disaster Ministries, Material Resources, and the New Windsor Conference Center–and partnerships with agencies that lease office or warehouse facilities there: the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference, On Earth Peace, Mid-Atlantic District, A Greater Gift/SERRV, and Interchurch Medical Assistance.
The central recommendation approved today states, “That the General Board strongly affirm its ministries based at the Brethren Service Center–Brethren Disaster Ministries, Lease Partnerships with Other Agencies, Material Resources, and the New Windsor Conference Center–and plan to support their continued development.”
The new mission statement adopted for the center reads: “The Brethren Service Center is a community that fosters ministry to human need around the world and nurtures commitment to service, peace, and justice in the name of Christ.”
Today’s action also includes seven recommendations that were commended to staff for action: encouragement to nourish and continue the relationship with A Greater Gift/SERRV; response to needs of youth, young adults, and others for low-budget housing facilities at the center; development of new programming at the Conference Center to support the mission of the Brethren Service Center; development of a welcome center and interpretive exhibits; creation of a campus master plan; the calling of an ad hoc advisory committee to support staff leaders at the center; and the seeking of new relationships with potential partner organizations to join the community at the Brethren Service Center.
Today’s action follows up on a meeting of the board in March last year, when it decided not to adopt a recommendation from its Stewardship of Property Committee that the New Windsor property be sold or leased. Instead, at that time the board called for a new committee to be named to explore ministry options for the Brethren Service Center.
The Brethren Service Center Ministry Options Exploration Committee was chaired by General Board member Dale Minnich of Moundridge, Kan., and also included David R. Miller of Dayton, Va.; Fran Nyce of Westminster, Md.; Dale Roth of State College, Pa.; Jim Stokes-Buckles of New York, N.Y.; Kim Stuckey Hissong of Westminster; and Jack Tevis of Westminster. Several General Board staff worked closely with the committee, and two staff committees at the Brethren Service Center also assisted the group.
Over the past year, the committee held hearings at the Brethren Service Center, met with staff of the General Board and other agencies based at the center, and gave preliminary reports to the board. The group also talked with six consultants in the hotel and hospitality industry in the New Windsor area to consider management challenges facing the Conference Center. The committee’s report to the board today reviewed the challenges and possibilities of the four ministry areas of the Brethren Service Center, with specific challenges noted for the Conference Center and the Material Resources program.
“The focus on human need is at the center of the mission,” said Minnich as he presented the recommendations. The center also functions to “turn on” people to that mission, he said, as for example volunteers experience the work of disaster relief or SERRV. Responding to a question about the shift of direction from this report to the one received from the Stewardship of Property Committee, Minnich said that it had been helpful “to look carefully at what’s going on (at the Brethren Service Center) and to discover the layers of mission that are undergirding what’s there.”
“How do we fund this? We conclude that the General Board has appropriate channels to fund all of this,” Minnich said. He pointed out that the report did not attach dollar figures to the recommendations to develop the Brethren Service Center. “In fact, none of the recommendations before us are authorizing money,” he added. Instead, the report sets a general direction for the work of staff, who are anticipated to bring proposals for capital developments projects over the next few months and years.
Addressing financial concerns about the Conference Center and Material Resources, Minnich presented both in a positive light. “We believe the Conference Center can be financially viable,” he said, reviewing feedback received from consultants who were unanimous that the Conference Center can expand its clientele through marketing. He addressed the Material Resources budget as cyclical, noting from study of the program’s history that there is very positive cash flow in years with large needs for material aid for disaster response, and that in other years the program may break even or function at a loss. But over the long term, the Material Resources program can “make it” financially, he said.
“Whatever action we take today isn’t the end of it,” Minnich said, pointing out that it will take several years for most of the recommendations to be enacted, and for the development envisioned for the center to take place.
As the board considered and adopted the new mission statement for the Brethren Service Center, board member Michael Benner told a personal story of a recent visit he made there. Thoughts of all the lives that have been touched by the work of the center crossed his mind, he said, along with a new awareness of “all the prayers God has answered through that little oasis.”
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