The 2011 Annual Conference taking place in Grand Rapids, Mich., on July 2-6 will have on its business agenda items related to human sexuality, along with a report from a committee studying the need for new guidelines on congregational ethics, and two new queries on climate change and proper decorum for discussions of church business.
Annual Conference moderator Robert Alley displays to the Standing Committee of district delegates a stole he received during a visit to the Church of North India, one of his many duties as moderator of the Church of the Brethren over the past year. Photos by Cheryl Brumbaugh-CayfordBelow: The Standing Committee began its meetings on Wednesday afternoon, June 29. The committee’s consideration of Special Response business items (see story at left) is being held in closed session — no reports from those discussions will be available until after the close of Standing Committee business on Saturday morning, July 2.
The two items of unfinished business related to issues of sexuality are “A Statement of Confession and Commitment” from the Standing Committee of district delegates ( www.cobannualconference.org/pittsburgh/
_Statement_of_Confession_and_Commitment.pdf ), and a query on “Language on Same-Sex Covenantal Relationships” ( www.cobannualconference.org/pittsburgh/
Beginning the evening of June 29, Standing Committee is spending time in advance of the Conference deciding on recommendations on these two business items. The two documents have been the subject of a two-year discussion across the Church of the Brethren, called the “Special Response Process.” The process has included facilitated hearings in each district, an online response option, and a Bible study and reading resources to engage the issues (go to www.cobannualconference.org/special_response_resource.html ).
In the other unfinished business item, the Congregational Ethics Study Committee brings a report, responding to a 2010 query from Western Pennsylvania District asking if it would be helpful to develop a uniform process for districts to deal with ethical misconduct by congregations.
The Congregational Ethics Study Committee report will recommend that the 1993 “Ethics in Congregations” paper be updated and that the revisions be facilitated by Congregational Life Ministries staff in collaboration with the Council of District Executives and Office of Ministry. In addition, the committee suggests updating the 1966 “Theological Basis of Personal Ethics” paper and compiling it into one booklet with the “Ethics in Ministerial Relationships” paper and a study guide. In a final set of recommendations, the committee calls the church to follow guidelines for preventing and assessing misconduct in three categories: awareness of a congregation’s own expectations and those of its wider community, legal and fiduciary responsibilities in the life and organization of a congregation, and attention to relationships and practices of accountability in congregations. The committee includes Clyde Fry, Joan Daggett, Joshua Brockway, and Lisa Hazen.
“Query: Guidance for Response to the Changing of the Earth’s Climate” is brought by Circle of Peace Church of the Brethren in Peoria, Ariz., and Pacific Southwest District. Based on the biblical injunction to be stewards of God’s creation, the query asks, “What is the position of Annual Conference on climate change, and how can we as individuals, congregations, and as a denomination take concrete action to live more responsibly and offer leadership in our communities and our nation?” The query goes beyond the US and asks about the effects of the earth’s warming on the people of the world, pointing out that Americans are among the world’s leaders in fossil fuel consumption and yet are not responding with sufficient urgency.
“Query: Proper Decorum” is brought by Mountain Grove Church of the Brethren in Fulks Run, Va., and Shenandoah District. It asks the Conference to consider rules of proper decorum related to people’s positions on issues before the Conference. The query cites a sense of community and accountability in the church, but points out that “often our actions toward one another neither honor one another nor Jesus.”
The new and unfinished business documents coming to the 2011 Conference are available in Spanish. Translations have been provided by Nancy and Irvin Heishman, former mission staff in the Dominican Republic. Find links to the Spanish-language business documents at the index page for Conference coverage: www.brethren.org/news/conferences/ac2011 .