Delegates Approve Church Bylaws, Act on Two Queries and Recommendation on Appeals

224th Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania — July 5, 2010


Delegates voted to approve revised bylaws for the Church of the Brethren, and acted on two queries during the Annual Conference business sessions on Monday, July 5 in Pittsburgh, Pa. (above)

Below, delegates had an opportunity to meet others from across the country and spend some time getting to know each other during breaks in the meetings, while seated together in the delegate body. Photos by Glenn Riegel

The Annual Conference adopted revised bylaws for the Church of the Brethren and acted on three queries during business sessions today: a query on the structure of Annual Conference, a query on guidelines for implementation of the Congregational Ethics Paper, and a recommendation from the denomination’s Leadership Team on appeals of Program and Arrangements Committee decisions.

Query: The Structure of Annual Conference

Delegates gave overwhelming support to the Standing Committee recommendation to adopt the query on the structure of Annual Conference, and to refer its concerns to the Annual Conference Revitalization Task Force–a body that recently was put in place by the Annual Conference officers.

The query asks, “What ways are there to structure Annual Conference that might more effectively fulfill the mission of Annual Conference to unite, strengthen, and equip the Church of the Brethren to follow Jesus?”

Standing Committee delegate Vicky Ullery, from Southern Ohio District, told how a group of pastors from Southern Ohio initiated this query. She said it was not designed to do away with the business function of Annual Conference but soeeks to uncover ways of enhancing Annual Conference’s function of strengthening unity and equipping the church to be the church. Words such as passion, energy, joy, and enthusiasm describe the hope for what Annual Conference may become. The Revitalization Task Force was not yet formed when the query was initiated. Ullery stated that when the query writers discovered that others also were working to address the issue, they felt confirmed that this seeming coincidence was a “God thing.”

Many people spoke from the floor in favor of the motion, some making suggestions for the task force to consider. Several hoped for more of the flavor of National Youth Conference. Moderator Shawn Flory Replogle noted that two members of the task force have been NYC staffers.

Query: Guidelines for Implementation of the Congregational Ethics Paper

The delegate also overwhelmingly approved adoption of this query and the Standing Committee recommendation “that it be referred to a committee consisting of the appropriate Congregational Life staff and three persons appointed by the Annual Conference officers and confirmed by Standing Committee.”

The query asks, “Would it not be helpful and contribute toward the unity of the Body if Annual Conference developed a uniform denominational process by which districts might deal with a congregation that engages in questionable ethical activity?”

Standing Committee’s recommendation was presented by delegate Roger Forry from Western Pennsylvania District, which brought the query. During discussion district executive minister Ron Beachley noted that since the Ministerial Ethics paper contains a specific process to follow in the event of allegations of ministerial conduct, there was a desire also to have a similar process applicable to congregations.

Some who spoke from the floor were concerned about the scope of the committee’s mandate, whether the group was only to answer yes or no to the question in the query, or was to also come up with the process. Moderator Shawn Flory Replogle conferred with the officers and said if the committee decides a process is needed, they will move forward to develop it, and bring it back to a future Annual Conference.

Another concern was that a single process applied across all districts may not be appropriate because of differences between districts. One person wondered if a congregation accused of ethical violations might simply decide to leave the denomination, rather than submit to such a process. The presenters pointed out that the intent of the congregational ethics paper is to keep both parties in relationship and to bring healing and transformation, not punishment.

Nominating Committee of Standing Committee requested delegates to give them names of people who may bring particular wisdom and expertise to the committee.

Appeals of Program and Arrangements Committee Decisions

The delegates adopted by more than the two-thirds majority required a recommendation on appeals of decisions made by the Conference’s Program and Arrangements Committee. The recommendation brought by the denomination’s Leadership Team–made up of the three Annual Conference officers and the general secretary–was that Standing Committee be the body to receive appeals of Program and Arrangements Committee decisions.

Added recommendations from Standing Committee also were approved, that this “be adopted as new polity with the understanding that Standing Committee will subsequently develop a policy of how to address appeals of Program and Arrangements decisions that is different from the process Standing Committee follows in making judicatory decisions.”

The presenters explained why the Leadership Team thought a change was desirable. Before the recent reorganization, the Annual Conference Council held responsibility to receive such appeals, but several members of the Council also sat on the Program and Arrangements Committee. Since reorganization, the successor to the Council is the Leadership Team, but three of its four members also are on Program and Arrangements.

Several questions from the floor centered on how this new plan would work and how quickly appeals could be handled. The moderator noted that Standing Committee will need to work on developing a process to be used.

Church of the Brethren Bylaws Revision

The delegate body accepted a Standing Committee recommendation to adopt the revision to the bylaws of the Church of the Brethren by well over the two-thirds margin required. The bylaws under revision were adopted in 2008, when the former General Board and Association of Brethren Caregivers joined together in one organization creating the new structure under which the church is now operating.

In 2009, a shorter, clearer revision of the bylaws was brought to Annual Conference for a first reading. Delegates were invited to send in suggestions and concerns. The process resulted in minor changes to the document, made for additional clarity or better wording.

In discussion before the vote, a few delegates raised concerns or offered comments. One expressed concern about the legal language, suggesting that the document not refer to the organization as a corporation, but as a church. General secretary Stan Noffsinger replied that the bylaws is a legal document, and that such language is necessary in accordance with the laws of Illinois where the church corporation legally resides. He noted that the denomination needs to maintain its status as a corporation so that member congregations can claim non-profit status. Another delegate added that the Latin root of the word “corporation” refers to the “body,” meaning that a corporation is a group that acts as one body.

Composition of the Mission and Ministry Board was another concern. Following these bylaws, the denomination is divided into five areas with two board members coming from each, and Brethren populations that vary widely from area to area. Noffsinger replied that members of the denominational board have been either elected or ratified by the Annual Conference delegate body and always have represented the entire denomination, not just their home districts. He also noted that the Mission and Ministry Board will continue to receive concerns.

The provision that one at-large member of the board can be a person with particular expertise who is not a member of the Church of the Brethren also prompted concern. Noffsinger replied that he could not envision a scenario in which this would be necessary, but that the committee who developed the document wanted to provide for the opportunity if needed.

–Frances Townsend is pastor of Onekama (Mich.) Church of the Brethren

The News Team for the 2010 Annual Conference includes writers Karen Garrett, Frank Ramirez, Frances Townsend; photographers Kay Guyer, Justin Hollenberg, Keith Hollenberg, Glenn Riegel; website staff Amy Heckert and Jan Fischer Bachman; and news director and editor Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford. Contact .

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