Mission and Ministry Board Optimistic, Despite Challenges

Photo by Cat Gong
The Open Roof Award was given during Saturday’s Mission and Ministry Board in advance of the start of Annual Conference in St. Louis, Mo. Three congregations received the award this year: the Hanover, Mountville, and Wabash congregations.

The Church of the Brethren Mission and Ministry Board tackled a handful of business items interspersed with reports from staff and others during its Saturday meeting prior to the start of Annual Conference.

Also on the agenda were adoption of a budget parameter for 2013, recognitions of board members concluding their terms, New Windsor (Md.) Conference Center employees finishing their employment due to the center’s closing, and Glenn and Linda Timmons upon their retirement as coordinators of the Sustaining Pastoral Excellence Program funded with help from Lilly Endowment Inc.

General secretary Stan Noffsinger gave a brief update on the Strategic Plan implementation, in which directional goals for the church are being shaped by staff committees for execution in programs. Several staff gave progress reports on each of the six areas of emphasis. “I appreciate all the work that’s being done by the staff,” said Andy Hamilton, echoing the sentiment expressed by several board members.

Treasurer LeAnn Wine presented a financial report which included a 2012 year-to-date review, along with an update on the Interfund Borrowing Proposal that was discussed at some length at the March meeting and for which the board had requested further information.

“We did receive a clean audit for our 2011 financials,” Wine said. She added, “Congregational giving is up through May. We’re encouraged by this. Overall, we are showing an increase in all giving of about nine percent over 2011.”

Wine then provided an overview of giving patterns in the church, noting that there tends to be a gradual increase in expenses–brought on by such factors as cost of living–resulting in the need for cuts. She noted that, despite some of the positive signs in 2011, congregational giving has been on a downward trend in general over the past two decades, and that individual giving has been flat. She said that steps taken to address these matters have included cutting program expenses and laying off staff.  Staff are exploring ways to reverse the downward trend, including ways to clarify the vision and mission of the church among congregations, and elucidate the direct connection between donations and church ministries. It was suggested that volunteer congregational ambassadors be appointed to help implement these goals.

Vice-chair Becky Ball-Miller said, “I’m excited that staff is interested in bringing about this change. We are fully engaged as a board,” she added, noting the need to use “we” language, instead of “us” and “them” when referring to different sectors of the church such as staff, board, and congregations.

The board approved the recommended 2013 Budget Parameter for Core Ministries of income/expense of $5,043,000. The board also unanimously approved Wine’s recommendation for a suspension of the interfund borrowing policy until a recommendation can be made that encompasses all financial policies relating to the Church of the Brethren’s self-funded ministries.

Associate general secretary Mary Jo Flory-Steury and Global Mission and Service executive director Jay Wittmeyer presented highlights of their May trip to Haiti, during which they interviewed 19 candidates for licensing in the Church of the Brethren.

“I’m always struck in international travel by the incredible heart and spirit of a people who could, by any of our standards, be discouraged, despondent, and in despair, and this trip was no different,” Flory-Steury said. “But their depth of spirit and faith, and the message of what Jesus has done for them, are incredible. Several had striking stories about what happened to them in the quake. Of the 19 we interviewed, four were women. This is a model of a fledgling church that is tapping faithful individuals, male and female.”

Noffsinger cited the contributions of board members Frances Townsend and Terry Lewis, who are concluding their terms this year. He also paid tribute to former employees of the New Windsor Conference Center, whose jobs were terminated with the closing of the center June 4.

Photo by Randy Miller
Linda and Glenn Timmons receive a special recognition at the Mission and Ministry Board meeting, upon the announcement of their retirement. They have been serving with the Sustaining Pastoral Excellence program at the Brethren Academy. From left: Academy executive Julie Hostetter, Ministry executive and associate general secretary Mary Jo Flory-Steury, Linda Timmons, and Glenn Timmons.

A special recognition was given to Glenn and Linda Timmons for their years of service to the Church of the Brethren, with particular thanks for their leadership with the Brethren Academy’s ministry leadership partnership of the Church of the Brethren and Bethany Seminary. “We offer our thanks to Linda and Glenn for their nurturing and challenging of Church of the Brethren pastors and for their willingness to encourage pastors in lifelong learning,” said academy executive Julie Hostetter.

Noffsinger also called attention to the long-term service of Fred Swartz who, on Wednesday, will conclude his second term as secretary for Annual Conference. Special recognition of Swartz’s work as secretary, among other areas of service, will be made Wednesday morning.

Other reports were received from advocacy and peace witness director Nate Hosler on the Ecumenical Season of Prayer, with special concern focused on the violence in Syria; Youth and Young Adult Ministries director Becky Ullom on the recent Christian Citizenship Seminar; National Young Adult Conference coordinator Carol Fike, who presented a lively video overview of the June conference; and Congregational Life executive director Jonathan Shively who delivered a report on the May Church Planting Conference. Board member Gilbert Romero, who attended the event, commented, “One of the great things about the conference was coming together as a family, and the feeling of encouragement. We know we’re not alone out there.”

Leaders from Ministry of Reconciliation, who have been asked to increase their presence and participation this year following tensions at last year’s Conference, explained the nature of their role at this Conference. Nearly 20 volunteers on the team have received six hours of training in mediation and peacemaking.

— Randy Miller is editor of “Messenger” magazine.

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