224th Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania — July 3, 2010
A “Resolution on Ending Gun Violence” and a budget parameter for 2011 topped the agenda at today’s meeting of the Church of the Brethren’s Mission and Ministry Board. The group held its pre-Annual Conference meeting in Pittsburgh, Pa., led by chair Dale Minnich.
Other business included financial reports, and approval of financial policies that have been revised to bring church nomenclature up to date and allow for technological developments like donations via electronic transfer. The board also nominated trustees to a trust in India and approved a large grant to continue disaster response in Haiti.
Reports were received on the board’s strategic planning process, the work of the denominational Vision Committee, progress toward a major revision of the Ministerial Leadership Paper, and from general secretary Stan Noffsinger on his visit to the White House earlier this week.
Resolution on Ending Gun Violence
The board adopted a Resolution on Ending Gun Violence that endorses a similar resolution by the National Council of Churches (NCC). The board’s resolution echoes the NCC document in encouraging church members to engage in action on the issue.
A recent Supreme Court decision on gun rights “really should not discourage us from this resolution,” said Noffsinger as he presented the document. “If we do anything we ought to approach this with more vigor and determination to add our voice against handgun violence.”
Invited to speak was Mimi Copp, a Church of the Brethren member living in Philadelphia, who has been part of the Heeding God’s Call movement for responsible gun sales and against the “straw sales” that provide guns to criminals.
Reviewing shocking statistics on deaths by gun violence in the United States–such as that since 9/11, 25 times the number of Americans have been killed by gun violence in the US than have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan–she outlined the urgency for church action. “I am inspired by your willingness to look at this very touchy issue and pray for you in your deliberations,” she told the board.
After some questions from board members, Noffsinger clarified that the resolution is not addressing guns used for hunting, and that the NCC resolution (which is attached to the board resolution) makes a clear distinction about the type of gun that is the focus. He also noted that the Church of the Brethren does not yet have an Annual Conference statement solely addressing gun violence, and commented that he views this resolution as “an intermediate step” until such a document may be created.
Budget parameter for 2011
The board approved a 2011 budget parameter of $5,426,000 for the Church of the Brethren’s core ministries. The decision includes permission for up to $437,000 to be drawn from a bequest quasi endowment to cover an expected shortfall in income from other sources.
The shortfall reflects the continuing effect of the recession on the church’s investment income, as well as an expected 20 percent increase in the bill for employee health insurance, and a decrease in giving from individuals to core ministries. Wages will be frozen for a second year in a row.
However, report forms from congregations show that the churches who expect to contribute to the work of the denomination are committed to increase their giving by 4.5 percent for next year. “We are indeed blessed,” commented Ken Neher, director of Stewardship and Donor Development.
“Our goal is to get to the point where our income matches our expense,” said treasurer Judy Keyser, who characterized the funds from the bequest quasi endowment as a “short-term plug” and emphasized that it is not a solution to longterm issues affecting the church’s finances.
General secretary Stan Noffsinger explained that with the board having just started a strategic planning–or “appreciative inquiry”–process, executive staff did not want to make decisions such as reconfiguring staff or programs before the board has an opportunity to consider long term goals.
“Everything I hear is directed at systemic organizational change,” vice chair Ben Barlow responded, adding that he hopes the denomination understands the seriousness of the situation.
Chair Dale Minnich countered with an emphasis on the positive. “We’re not furloughing (employees), we’re not doing a round of employee cuts… but that’s with considerable struggle.”
EDF grant to Haiti disaster response
An additional grant of $250,000 from the Church of the Brethren’s Emergency Disaster Fund (EDF) was approved by the board following a video report on the work of Brethren Disaster Ministries and Global Mission Partnerships in Haiti. Prior EDF grants to the earthquake relief work in Haiti have totaled $300,000.
The direct relief phase of earthquake response, such as feeding programs and the building of temporary shelters, ends this summer, reported Brethren Disaster Ministries executive director Roy Winter. After that the focus of the work will turn to construction of permanent homes, trauma recovery, a medical effort, and agricultural development.
Nominations to the GBB Trust in India
The board nominated four trustees to the General Brotherhood Board (GBB) Trust in India, which is located in the Second District of the India Brethren. The 95th annual assembly of the India Brethren had provided the names of Kantilal Somchand Tandel, Nityanand Manilal Thakore, Darryl Raphael Sankey, and Ramesh William Makwan, which were approved for nomination.
The board also instructed Noffsinger and Global Mission Partnerships executive director Jay Wittmeyer to seek out additional nominees to represent the Second district of the India Brethren and the Church of North India, after conversation revealed that all four nominees are from the First District.
Noffsinger explained that this is a second trust–along with the Church of the Brethren General Board (CBGB) Trust–to which the Church of the Brethren in the US has the responsibility to nominate trustees. The nominations will be given to the Charity Commissioner.
The nominations need to be made to ensure that the trust does not revert the state, Noffsinger said, as the single remaining trustee is over 90 years old and will continue to serve out his lifetime.
General secretary’s report
General secretary Noffsinger reported about the experience of being one of 15 US church leaders who were invited to the White House on Wednesday to discuss Israel and Palestine with Denis McDonough, National Security Council Chief of Staff to President Obama. All three of the historic peace churches were represented, along with other Christian traditions who are members of Churches for Middle East Peace.
Noffsinger said that the reception the group received at the White House was excellent. “We were there to voice our concern over a sustainable peace,” he told the board, adding that “it was a lively conversation.”
The church leaders transmitted several messages to the US administration, including that the US has an important role to broker a peace for all peoples of the conflict. The group urged moving the peace negotiations into direct talks between the parties, the free flow of non-lethal goods between Gaza and Israel, and the immediate resumption of full humanitarian aid shipments.
The group also touched on the status of the city of Jerusalem. “Any peace that is brokered will need to allow free access to Jerusalem by peoples of all three faiths–Christian, Jewish, and Muslim,” Noffsinger said.
The board also thanked retiring members for their service, including Vernne Greiner, Bruce Holderreed, John Katonah, Dan McRoberts, and Chris Whitacre.
–Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford is director of News Services for the Church of the Brethren
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