March 2, 2010
“If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15, NIV).
ANNUAL CONFERENCE PREVIEW
1) Annual Conference agenda includes five major items of business.
The Church of the Brethren Annual Conference will address five major items of business in Pittsburgh, Pa., on July 3-7: “Query: The Mission of Annual Conference” from Southern Ohio District; “Query: Guidelines for Implementation of the Congregational Ethics Paper,” from Western Pennsylvania District; a “Resolution Against Torture”; revised bylaws for the Church of the Brethren Inc., which has come in previous years as information only; and a change in polity for appeals of decisions of the Annual Conference Program and Arrangements Committee.
An interim report from Standing Committee on the special response process will be brought, but not as a decision item, following up on an action of the 2009 Conference (see story below).
Business sessions will be led by moderator Shawn Flory Replogle, pastor of McPherson (Kan.) Church of the Brethren. Also on the agenda will be elections for denominational offices (see ballot below), reports from agencies of the church and committees of the Conference, as well as other items of information.
“Query: The Mission of Annual Conference” originated with a group of pastors in Southern Ohio District. Referring to earlier models of Annual Conference that used to meet over Pentecost “to heighten the symbolism and reminder of being led by the Spirit” and the model found in Acts 15:1-35, the query states that “Annual Conference has the potential of being a visionary and motivational gathering of the spiritual community.” It asks, “What ways are there to structure Annual Conference that might more effectively fulfill the mission…to unite, strengthen, and equip the Church of the Brethren to follow Jesus?”
“Query: Guidelines for Implementation of the Congregational Ethics Paper” originated in Western Pennsylvania’s Pastor and Parish Ministry Team. Referring to the process for dealing with complaints of ministerial misconduct in the denomination’s “Ethics in Ministry Relations” paper, it notes the lack of such a process in the “Ethics for Congregations” paper. The query asks if it would be helpful to develop “a uniform denominational process by which districts might deal with a congregational that engages in questionable ethical activity.”
The “Resolution Against Torture” was adopted by the Church of the Brethren’s Mission and Ministry Board in October last year. The brief document includes four sections: an introduction from the Church of the Brethren’s experience of persecution and violence at times in its 300-year history, a biblical basis represented as “foundational for our conviction regarding the sanctity of life,” a section headed “Torture Is a Violation of Word and Life” stating the church’s awareness of growing occurrences of torture throughout the world and attempts to legitimize it, and a section calling the church to confession and action in response. An additional page of references accompanies the resolution. (Go to www.brethren.org/site/DocServer/statement_against_torture_approved.pdf?docID=5321 for the resolution as passed by the board.)
The question of appeals of Program and Arrangements Committee decisions originates with the Church of the Brethren’s Leadership Team, which will bring a proposal to change church polity to direct all such appeals to the Standing Committee of district delegates. The Leadership Team has inherited some functions of the former Annual Conference Council, one of which is to receive such appeals. However, three of the Leadership Team also serve on the Program and Arrangements Committee. The Leadership Team only includes four members: the Annual Conference moderator, moderator-elect, and secretary, along with the general secretary of the Church of the Brethren.
Online registration for the Conference and an Annual Conference Packet with more details about schedule, cost, age group activities, meal events, and other information are available at www.brethren.org/ac .
2) Ballot is announced, Harvey and Reid nominated to lead in 2012.
The ballot has been announced for the 2010 Annual Conference. The Nominating Committee of the Standing Committee of district delegates developed a slate of candidates, and Standing Committee then voted to create the ballot that will be presented. Nominees are listed by position:
Annual Conference Moderator-Elect: Tim Harvey of Roanoke, Va.; Kathy Goering Reid of Waco, Texas.
Annual Conference Program and Arrangements Committee: Eric Bishop of Pomona, Calif.; Nancy Knepper of Winter Garden, Fla.
Pastoral Compensation and Benefits Advisory Committee: Mark Doramus of Middleton, Idaho; Beth Middleton of Boones Mill, Va.
Committee on Interchurch Relations: Jim Stokes-Buckles of New York, N.Y.; Christina Singh of Panora, Iowa.
Mission and Ministry Board: Area 1 — Pamela Reist of Mount Joy, Pa., Jerriann Heiser Wenger of Petersburg, Pa.; Area 4 — Tim Peter of Prairie City, Iowa, Roger Schrock of Mountain Grove, Mo.; Area 5 — Gilbert Romero of Los Angeles, Calif., Mary Ann Sedlacek of Nampa, Idaho.
Bethany Theological Seminary Trustee: Representing the laity — Betty Ann Ellis Cherry of Huntingdon, Pa., Lynn Myers of Rocky Mount, Va.; representing the clergy — John David Bowman of Lititz, Pa., Christy Waltersdorff of Lombard, Ill.
Brethren Benefit Trust Board: Wayne T. Scott of Harrisburg, Pa.; John Waggoner of Herndon, Va.
On Earth Peace Board: Rhonda McEntire of Tryon, N.C.; Gail Erisman Valeta of Denver, Colo.
In addition, Standing Committee has elected four people to its new Vision Committee: Frances Beam, Jim Hardenbrook, Bekah Houff, and Dave Sollenberger. Also appointed to the Vision Committee by the church agencies are Jonathan Shively representing the Mission and Ministry Board; Jordan Blevins representing On Earth Peace; Donna Forbes Steiner representing Brethren Benefit Trust; and Steven Schweitzer representing Bethany Theological Seminary.
3) Two-year special response process continues at 2010 Conference.
The Annual Conference officers have issued a timeline document to help explain the two-year special response process that follows a decision on two 2009 business items referring to human sexuality.
The two documents, “A Statement of Confession and Commitment” and “Query: Language on Same Sex Covenantal Relationships,” triggered the use of a new special response process put in place during last year’s Conference. The new process is laid out in the paper, “Structural Framework for Dealing with Strongly Controversial Issues.”
Replogle notes that objectives of the process include to have open and honest discussion, to provide alternative procedures for responding to controversial issues, to use the New Testament as a basis for conversation calling the church to continue in a life of study and conversation leading to spiritual insight, and to offer a way to both address a concern and build community.
The special response process will take two years. The moderator’s timeline notes that the extra effort and expense will be justified if the process helps the church commit to reconciliation, encourages mutual understanding, and helps people feel a part of the body and therefore willing to continue to support the life and work of the church.
At the 2010 Annual Conference, the process will continue with two hearings led by Standing Committee members, and an interim report from Standing Committee during a business session. Prior to the Conference, the Special Response Resource Committee named last year will issue its list of resources, study materials, and discussion guide that will be recommended for use throughout the denomination during the special response process. These resources will be available on the Annual Conference website after April 1.
Following this year’s Conference, Standing Committee members will conduct hearings in their own districts. Standing Committee delegates will have a training session on facilitating the hearings, led by the Ministry of Reconciliation, as a part of their pre-Conference meetings this summer.
The special response items of business are scheduled to come back to the Annual Conference in 2011. The document “Structural Framework for Dealing with Strongly Controversial Issues” includes a description of how this business should be handled by that year’s officers and delegate body.
“There is a strong sense of commitment to seeing that the process begins well,” Replogle said. “Denominational leaders have taken this responsibility very seriously…. While it is not a discernment process per se, the process provides more space for us to hear God and one another, and to witness to the power of Christ’s community to engage in a prayerful dialogue that does not emulate the partisan debates of the world.”
A link to the complete timline document will be available soon at www.brethren.org/ac/special_response_resource.html . Questions or requests for more information may be directed to the Annual Conference officers via the Annual Conference Office at 800-323-8039 or firstname.lastname@example.org .
4) Ministers to focus on ‘Faith Forming Outside the Box.’
The Ministers’ Association pre-Conference event on July 2-3 in Pittsburgh, Pa., will focus on the theme, “Faith Forming Outside The Box.” Nancy Ferguson, a Presbyterian minister and certified Christian educator, is the featured speaker.
Ferguson’s ministry experiences range from seminary instructor to curriculum developer to camp director to outdoor ministries consultant. She is the author of six books and a frequent workshop leader, and an advocate for experiential faith formation and experiences beyond the walls of the church.
Ferguson will lead the group in three sessions on the topics, “Getting Where You Want to Go” taking a look at the concept of faith formation and proposing some ways to think outside the box about ways to form faith within a congregation; “Stepping Outside the Walls of the Church,” with stories of those who have taken such steps in the settings of retreats, camps, conferences, and mission trips in which lives have been changed and transformed; and “Rediscovering the Creator God” on the biblical witness and ways a focus on the Creator can renew spirituality in a congregation.
The event also includes worship, a family picnic at additional cost, and three sessions with continuing education credit. Students and first-time attendees receive a discount rate. More information is available in the Annual Conference Packet or the online flier at www.brethren.org/site/DocServer/2010_flyer_for_09_conf_PDF.pdf?docID=4781 . Or contact Nancy Fitzgerald, chair of the Ministers’ Association, at email@example.com .