Conference Reaffirms 1954 Paper on Secret Oath-Bound Societies, Addresses Other Business

223rd Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren
San Diego, California — June 29, 2009

The Annual Conference has respectfully returned the “Query: Secret Oath-Bound Societies”  and reaffirmed the statement on membership in secret societies that was passed by the 1954 Annual Conference–with an amendment asking the Conference officers to appoint a three-member group to develop resources to educate and inform the church on this topic.

The Standing Committee of district delegates had recommended reaffirmation of the 1954 paper, and the delegate packets included the text of the 1954 statement for reference. When comment from the body was opened, the amendment was proposed as an addition to the Standing Committee motion. Several speakers supported the amendment, saying that more education is needed. The amendment passed easily, as did the motion itself.

A panorama of the Annual Conference business hall, on the morning of Monday, June 28. Photo by Ken Wenger, copyright Church of the Brethren
Click here for more photo albums from the 2009 Annual Conference

Revision of Church of the Brethren By-Laws

In other business today, revised corporate by-laws for the Church of the Brethren were submitted for information, with the expectation that they will be brought for action at next year’s Annual Conference. The corporation, Church of the Brethren, Inc., underwent major reorganization just last year as the former Association of Brethren Caregivers and Annual Conference Council were combined with the then General Board under one corporate umbrella.

The by-laws passed in 2008, which are now in force, included a lot of items from the church’s polity manual and are very lengthy. The corporate attorney advised that a way be found to simplify them, reported general secretary Stan Noffsinger. When those by-laws came to the 2008 Annual Conference, revisions were already planned, he said.

In describing this revision, Noffsinger pointed out examples where clarifications of confusing points have been included, such as in the document’s Article 9 where a sentence states that polity statements are lodged in the Church of the Brethren Manual of Organization and Polity and decisions of the Annual Conference are binding on the church organization. This removes the need to include church polity in the by-laws. Other proposed revisions serve to bring additional clarity to the document.

Noffsinger invited additional comments and suggestions on the by-laws proposal. Suggestions for improvements and clarifications should be sent to the Church of the Brethren’s Leadership Team, which includes the Annual Conference moderator and moderator-elect, Annual Conference secretary, and general secretary.

Report on child protection activity

The Conference received a report on child protection activity from Kim Ebersole, director of Family Life and Older Adult Ministries for the Church of the Brethren. The report affirmed the continuing relevance of the 1986 report of the Conditions of Childhood Task Force, and added three new recommendations for the denomination.

The report was called for by a 2007 query, following which a survey process was conducted with congregations, districts, church programs, and agencies such as church camps, and the Caring Ministries staff also conducted a number of other activities to educate the church and to call for more attention to the protection of children across the denomination.

Ebersole listed the following three recommendations in her report:

— “Every Church of the Brethren congregation, district, agency, ministry area, program, and camp adopt and implement a child protection/child abuse prevention policy appropriate for its ministry setting”;

— “The Church of the Brethren maintain resources to assist congregations, districts, agencies, ministry areas, programs, and camps in developing child protection/child abuse prevention policies”;

— “The Church of the Brethren continue to help strengthen families and ensure that parents and caregivers have the knowledge, skill, support, and resources to care for their children.”

Other Business

The delegate body approved a zero percent cost of living increase for the annual adjustment in the recommended ministerial cash salary table, as recommended by the Pastoral Compensation and Benefits Advisory Committee. The committee explained that usually the cost of living increase is based on the percentage of increase in the Consumer Price Index, however with the economic situation the Index fell this year rather than increased, and the group did not want to recommend a decrease in the salaries of pastors.

Bethany Theological Seminary gave its report today, and received confirmation of appointments to its board of trustees. Confirmed to the seminary board were Jerry Davis of La Verne, Calif., and John D. Miller of York, Pa. Also confirmed to the board as a representative of the alumni association was Rhonda Pittman Gingrich of Minneapolis, Minn.

In other reports, the Conference welcomed ecumenical guests including National Council of Churches general secretary Michael Kinnamon, who also addressed the Ecumenical Luncheon (see story “National Council of Churches leader proclaims the importance of working for peace”). The Committee on Interchurch Relations reported, as did Standing Committe representatives offering reports from district efforts to reverse diminishing membership and to increase intercultural activity. The 300th Anniversary Committee gave its final report.

A time of “open mike” Living Peace Church reports and prayer closed the morning business session.

Showing of the winning video in the Annual Conference Theme Video Contest closed the afternoon session. The winning video, “The Brethren Jump,” was made by Kay Guyer, a recent high school graduate who will attend Manchester College in the fall, and a member of the National Youth Cabinet (some of her “Brethren jumping” photos are featured in the Annual Conference photo album “Lighter Side of Conference” at PhotoAlbumUser?AlbumID=8652&view=UserAlbum). The contest is sponsored by Congregational Life Ministries program.

–Frances Townsend, pastor of Onekama (Mich.) Church of the Brethren and a member of the Mission and Ministry Board of the Church of the Brethren, contributed to this report, along with Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of News Services for the Church of the Brethren.

The News Team for the 2009 Annual Conference includes writers Karen Garrett, Frank Ramirez, Frances Townsend, Melissa Troyer, Rich Troyer; photographers Ken Wenger, Glenn Riegel, Justin Hollenberg, Keith Hollenberg, and Kay Guyer; staff Becky Ullom and Amy Heckert. Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, editor. Contact

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