Conference Approves Variety of Polity Changes, Discontinues the CIR

Photo by Glenn Riegel
The Annual Conference officers join in singing a hymn during the business sessions. The singing of hymns and prayer marked the discussions of Conference business.

In other business, the Annual Conference approved a variety of polity changes for districts and the Program and Arrangements Committee, approved a recommendation to discontinue the Committee on Interchurch Relations (CIR) in anticipation of a new vision for ecumenical witness, gave two groups additional time to work on revisions to the Ethics for Congregations document and response to climate change, and recommended a cost of living increase for pastor salaries.

A new vision for ecumenical witness

An item of business on the church’s ecumenical witness came from a study committee that has reviewed the Brethren history of ecumenism and the work of CIR in particular. The Conference approved a recommendation to discontinue the CIR, which has been in place since 1968 to carry forward conversations and activities with other church communions and encourage cooperation with other religious traditions, and a recommendation that the Mission and Ministry Board and denominational Leadership Team appoint a committee to write a “Vision of Ecumenism for the 21st Century.”

General secretary Stan Noffsinger explained that approval of an additional recommendation “that the church’s ecumenical witness be expressed by the staff and the church at large,” makes it clear that denominational staff carry responsibility for the ecumenical witness in the interim, until a new vision is put in place. It also encourages congregations and individual Brethren to take initiative for ecumenical involvements on a local level. “We are well aware that many of our churches are engaging in ecumenism,” he told the delegates, adding that he considers that a success for the entire denomination.

The need for a new ecumenical vision comes out of a changing ecumenical and interfaith environment worldwide that poses challenges for the church, and a sense of opportunities for the Brethren voice to reach beyond traditional venues, at a time when the actual work being done by CIR has dwindled.

The recommendations came with the involvement of the CIR, and after the decision to discontinue the committee chair Paul Roth gave a final CIR report. To the church he said, “We entrust this legacy of witness, that it continue faithfully.” He added, “We firmly believe that God’s Spirit is actively at work in this transition.”

Polity revisions are approved

Revisions to polity on districts, proposed by the Council of District Executives, were approved. Existing polity dated back to 1965 and the revisions in essence update that polity to make it congruent with current practice. On a few points, the polity revisions call for new action on the part of districts, for example encouraging them to put in place vision and mission statements and to provide visionary leadership. Other changes give districts more flexibility in structure and staffing to reflect their wide variations of size and population. The polity changes are relevant to Section I, District Organization and Function of Chapter 3 of the denomination’s “Manual of Organization and Polity.”

A brief item recommending that polity be amended to remove a requirement for the Church of the Brethren Treasurer to be on the Annual Conference Program and Arrangements Committee was approved.

Additional time granted to two groups

Congregational Life Ministries staff charged with revising the Ethics for Congregations document have received two years of additional time to do their work. A hearing was held at this year’s Annual Conference, and the timeline for future action includes hearings on a first draft of revisions in 2013, with a revised document to be presented to the 2014 Conference.

A working group led by the Advocacy and Peace Witness Office received approval for another year to respond to the 2011 query “Guidance for Responding to the Changing of Earth’s Climate.” A hearing this year produced ideas for the working group, and a special exhibit on climate change was provided for Conference-goers to get information and bring questions, concerns, and feedback. The working group does not anticipate a need for revision of existing Annual Conference statements that already provide guidance for the care of Creation, but will consider ways individuals, congregations, and the denomination can take further action.

Cost of living increase recommended for pastor salaries

A 1.7 percent cost of living increase to the Minimum Cash Salary Table for pastors for 2013 was approved. The increase came as a recommendation from the Pastoral Compensation and Benefits Advisory Committee.

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