Newsline Extra for March 12, 2008

“Celebrating the Church of the Brethren’s 300th Anniversary in 2008”

“…But be transformed…” (Romans 12:2b).

Meeting jointly on March 8, the board of the Association of Brethren Caregivers (ABC), the Church of the Brethren General Board, and the Annual Conference Council heard a presentation from an Implementation Committee for a merger of the General Board and ABC.

No action was taken at the meeting, which was held for the purposes of information sharing, discussion, worship, and fellowship. After the two boards separately approve or affirm the plan, it will come to the 2008 Annual Conference as an item of business.

The Implementation Committee attempted to “create a simplified, Christ-called, and Spirit-led structure incorporating two…agencies and including the functions of the Annual Conference Council,” said committee member David Sollenberger, who presented the plan of merger. “Our intention was not to change polity, our intention was to bring together two boards.”

In brief, the new board structure would allow all the ministries of both ABC and the General Board to continue to serve the church, and would assign the functions of the Annual Conference Council to various components of the organization. The Implementation Committee will recommend that the new entity be called “Church of the Brethren Mission and Ministry Board.” Other agencies, committees, and structures of the denomination remain unchanged. Annual Conference continues as the annual meeting of the church and as the highest and final legislative authority in the Church of the Brethren.

Because of the size of the group around the board table at the joint meeting–40 in all–in addition to agency staff, district executives, and other guests seated in the gallery, the meeting was held in a ballroom at the Holiday Inn in Elgin, Ill. Chairpersons and executives of the two boards and members of the Implementation Committee shared leadership of the meeting.

The group met in a celebrative atmosphere, with worship, prayer in small groups, and get-acquainted activities preceding business. Opening worship celebrated God’s power for new creation and transformation, with scripture texts from Psalm 19:1-6 and Romans 12:1-2. “You might be expecting that God will present us with a nicely wrapped package today,” said preacher Eddie Edmonds, who serves as chair of the ABC board and pastor of Moler Avenue Church of the Brethren in Martinsburg, W.Va. “God doesn’t deliver us fully developed. He delivers us into the presence of possibilities.”

The Implementation Committee presented the recommendation for a plan of merger. It was elected by the 2007 Annual Conference to create a plan for the merger, after the Conference adopted the recommendation of the Review and Evaluation Committee to unite the agencies into a new incorporated legal entity. “Most members of the Church of the Brethren will not experience significant change in the way this new structure serves the church,” the committee’s report said.

In the recommendation, the General Board and ABC board will be combined into a new 15-member board led by a chair and chair-elect. All current members of the General Board and ABC board are entitled to complete their terms. By a process of attrition, over time, the number recommended by the Implementation Committee will be achieved: 10 board members elected by Annual Conference, five chosen by the board and affirmed by the Conference, and a chair and chair-elect chosen by the board from its members. Ex-officio members will represent Annual Conference, the Brethren Benefit Trust, On Earth Peace, Bethany Theological Seminary, and the Council of District Executives.

Members of the board elected by Annual Conference would no longer represent districts, but would represent an area of the denomination. Each of the five areas would be represented by two elected members of the board. The nomination process for these positions would no longer take place at district conferences, but would be handled by the Standing Committee of district representatives.

A new Leadership Team for the denomination would be created, to include the Annual Conference Officers–moderator, moderator-elect, and secretary–and the General Secretary. The General Secretary will continue to direct the day to day work of the administrative and program staff of the board.

A new office of Conference Planning would be created, as a ministry of the board. It would arrange logistics for all the denominational Church of the Brethren conferences including Annual Conference, National Youth Conference, National Older Adult Conference, and others. Annual Conference officers and committees would continue to hold non-logistical responsibility for Annual Conference, and program staff would continue to plan content of the other denominational conferences.

Although Annual Conference strongly encouraged On Earth Peace to join with the new entity, that agency has declined. “It became clear that the On Earth Peace board and constituency felt the church’s peace witness could be better served by On Earth Peace working outside the new entity, as a sister program agency, but in close collaboration with it,” the Implementation Committee reported.

The Implementation Committee gave credit to the leadership of the church agencies for helpful cooperation and a collaborative management style. “Our church agencies were working together at a level unseen since the 1997 denominational redesign,” Sollenberger said.

Much of the discussion at the joint meeting focused on the corporate language used in the merger documents, and what to call the new board. It was explained that language was used to meet legal requirements in the state of Illinois where the board will be incorporated. The Implementation Committee and the two agencies have been working with attorneys to make sure the legal points are correct. Implementation Committee member Gary Crim is an attorney, and helped craft and check the language of the bylaws. Much of the bylaws document was taken directly from existing agency by-laws and Annual Conference polity, and only those sections necessary to create the new board and its structure have been revised, the committee said.

Following the joint meeting, each board began discussion about the opportunity for members to finish terms of service early. “We will not ask any individual member to resign,” said General Board chair Tim Harvey, who emphasized that everyone on both boards is fully entitled to continue. Some ABC board members, however, already have expressed interest in serving in other capacities such as advisors to ministry areas, said ABC executive director Kathy Reid.

The General Board and the ABC board will approve or affirm the plan of merger before Annual Conference in July, and ABC will seek approval from the Fellowship of Brethren Homes, which represents the organization’s official dues-paying members.

If the plan of merger and bylaws are approved by Annual Conference, the first meeting of the new board will take place in October. At that meeting, a new chair and chair-elect, and a new executive committee will be chosen. The Annual Conference Secretary will serve as secretary of the new board.

The Implementation Committee includes elected members Gary Crim, John Neff, and David Sollenberger, as well as the executives of three agencies and the Annual Conference Office–Stan Noffsinger, general secretary of the General Board; Kathy Reid, executive director of ABC; Bob Gross, executive director of On Earth Peace; and Lerry Fogle, executive director of Annual Conference.

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