Standing Committee Makes Recommendations on New Business, Appoints Committee to Update Special Response Process

Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
The Annual Conference officers consult during Standing Committee: from left, Conference secretary Fred Swartz; moderator Tim Harvey; moderator-elect Robert Krouse.

The Standing Committee of district delegates ended pre-Annual Conference meetings today in St. Louis, Mo. Meetings began the afternoon of July 4, led by Annual Conference moderator Tim Harvey. He was assisted by moderator-elect Robert Krouse and Conference secretary Fred Swartz.

Recommendations on new business

Delegates from the Church of the Brethren’s 23 districts made recommendations to Annual Conference on new business items–one of Standing Committee’s main responsibilities. No recommendation was made on the revision to the Ministerial Leadership polity document, which is only coming for a first reading at this Annual Conference.

Query: Annual Conference Elections. Brought by La Verne (Calif.) Church of the Brethren and Pacific Southwest District, the query cites previous Annual Conference statements upholding gender equality but a voting record showing men more likely to be elected to denominational office than women. It asks, “How will Annual Conference ensure that our ballot preparation and election process support and honor gender equality in all elections?”

Standing Committee’s recommendation to the Annual Conference is to respectfully return the query and reaffirm the call for accountability in the “Goals for Annual Conference Elections and Appointments” adopted in 1979.

Query: More Equitable Representation on the Mission and Ministry Board. Formulated by the Southern Pennsylvania District Board, the query points to inequitable representation in relationship to percentage of membership in the five areas of the denomination. It asks, “Should the bylaws of the Church of the Brethren be amended to more equitably apportion Mission and Ministry Board representation with the membership of the church?”

Standing Committee has recommended adoption of the query and that it be referred to the Mission and Ministry Board.

Church of the Brethren Vision Statement 2012-2020. Last year’s Standing Committee adopted a Vision Statement for the Church of the Brethren for this decade, and recommended that it come to the 2012 Annual Conference for adoption. Accompanying the statement are an introduction, expanded description of each phrase, related biblical texts, and a section of explanation about “Living into the Vision.” In addition, the Vision Implementation Committee prepared a packet of resources including a study guide to help congregations use the statement.

The Standing Committee recommendation in full: “Standing Committee recommends to the Annual Conference the adoption of a denominational Vision Statement for the rest of the decade as follows: ‘Through Scripture, Jesus calls us to live as courageous disciples by word and action: To surrender ourselves to God, To embrace one another, To express God’s love for all creation.’ Standing Committee further recommends this Vision Statement for study and direction.”

Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
Conference secretary Fred Swartz is marking his final Annual Conference in the position. He has served for a decade as secretary for the church’s annual meeting.

Revitalization of Annual Conference. A task force charged with reviewing the mission and core values of Annual Conference and analyzing whether the meeting should remain in its present form or recommend alternatives, is bringing four recommendations: in brief, to maintain the present timing and length of the Conference, release Program and Arrangements Committee from the requirement of holding the event from Saturday evening to Wednesday morning, release polity requirements for geographical rotation to allow focus instead on locations that maximize stewardship and minimize costs, and incorporate by 2015 the recommendations of the 2007 “Doing Church Business” paper regarding management of business sessions and use of discernment groups. A “New Vision” section explains and elaborates on the recommendations and hopes for increasing the meaningfulness and inspiration of the annual meeting.

Standing Committee recommended “that Annual Conference receive the report from the Revitalization Task Force with appreciation and that the four recommendations proposed by the committee be approved.”

Revisions to Polity on Districts. The proposal for revisions to district polity comes from the Council of District Executives, which for several years has been working on revisions that will reflect updates in district structure, organization, staffing, and more. Revisions relate to a polity document that dates back to 1965, and are relevant to Section I, District Organization and Function of Chapter 3 of the denomination’s “Manual of Organization and Polity.”

Standing Committee recommended that the Conference delegates adopt the revisions to district polity.

Updating Structure for Program and Arrangements Committee. This brief item recommends that polity be amended to remove a requirement for the Church of the Brethren Treasurer to be on the Program and Arrangements Committee for Annual Conference.

Standing Committee recommended approval of the polity change.

Church of the Brethren Ecumenical Witness. A proposal to discontinue the Committee on Interchurch Relations (CIR) and “that the church’s ecumenical witness be expressed by the staff and the church at large” comes from a study committee that has been reviewing CIR’s work and the history of ecumenism in the Church of the Brethren. The proposal cites “the changing nature of ecumenism,” and makes an additional proposal that the Mission and Ministry Board and denominational Leadership Team appoint a committee to write a “Vision of Ecumenism for the 21st Century.” CIR has been in place since 1968 to carry forward conversations and activities with other church communions and encourage cooperation with other religious traditions.

The Standing Committee recommended adoption of the item, with an additional recommendation that “upon completion this vision will be brought for adoption by Annual Conference.”

Updating of Special Response procedure

Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
An annual event allows time for agency leaders and a representative of the district executives to meet with Standing Committee: from left, Atlantic Northeast District executive Craig Smith, general secretary Stan Noffsinger, Bethany Seminary president Ruthann Knechel Johansen, On Earth Peace executive Bill Scheurer, Brethren Benefit Trust board chair Karen Orpurt Crim and president Nevin Dulabaum.

Standing Committee has chosen to update the Special Response procedure for highly controversial issues, following a proposal from the denomination’s Leadership Team. A significant amount of critique of the Special Response process has been received by the Leadership Team, which includes the Annual Conference officers and general secretary Stan Noffsinger.

The Special Response procedure was used for the first time a few years ago, to consider business items related to sexuality. It included a two-year denomination-wide discussion, culminating at last year’s Annual Conference in Grand Rapids.

A three-member committee has been appointed to bring suggestions for revision of the Special Response procedure to the 2013 Annual Conference: Fred Swartz, who is closing out his service as Conference secretary, and Standing Committee member Ken Frantz, both named by Standing Committee; and Dana Cassell, named by the Conference officers.

Safe space at Annual Conference

A Ministry of Reconciliation (MoR) team reported to the Standing Committee on plans to ensure safe space for all participants in Annual Conference. The moderator explained that the officers requested expansion of MoR’s usual role at Annual Conference after several incidents of harassment and threats at last year’s annual meeting.

Leslie Frye of the On Earth Peace staff reported that the 13-member MoR team includes people with skills and training in conflict mediation, chosen from a variety of backgrounds and theological points of view. The group is receiving additional training in advance of the start of Conference. They will be available throughout the venue in order to provide assistance or intervention. Conference-goers are being given a phone number to call if they require immediate assistance from the team.

Controversy surfaces during discussions

District delegates spent some hours each day in closed session, in conversation centered on the controversy over sexuality that has marked the denomination recently.

An undercurrent of controversy surfaced during open sessions as well, even in discussion of unrelated business. Issues that seemed to add tension included the granting of exhibit space for the Brethren Mennonite Council for LGBT Interests (BMC), following reaffirmation of the church’s 1983 paper on sexuality, and a series of decisions opening the possibility for BMC to be a project site for Brethren Volunteer Service.

When Standing Committee was asked to  recommend the Vision Statement to the Conference, for example, some expressed unwillingness because of concern about one sentence in the accompanying study guide and resource packet–a sentence with a phrase expressing openness to all people.

In another example Bill Scheurer, introduced as the new executive director of On Earth Peace, fielded several very critical questions about the Statement of Inclusion that his agency’s board issued last fall.

Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
Standing Committee delegates represent the church’s 23 districts, which range from Atlantic Northeast to Atlantic Southeast and Puerto Rico, from Oregon and Washington to Pacific Southwest, and all areas in between.

In a traditional time for Standing Committee to counsel with the moderator, Harvey asked for help to think through managing conversation about sexuality if it emerges on the Conference floor. He identified places in the business agenda where unhappiness with actions of agencies and Program and Arrangements Committee might arise. Advice from Standing Committee included making space for people to share their feelings frankly, making good use of time already planned for delegates to talk in table groups, and strategies for as many people as possible to join in conversation.

In other business

— Reports were received on the two items of unfinished business–guidelines for implementation of the Congregational Ethics Paper and guidance for responding to the changing of earth’s climate. Also received were reports from the denomination’s Leadership Team, the Nominating Committee, a report on the international church, and sharing from districts.

— New members named to Nominating Committee are Kathryn Bausman of Idaho District, Jeff Carter of Mid-Atlantic District, Kathy Mack of Northern Plains District, and J. Roger Schrock of Missouri and Arkansas District.

— New members named to the Appeals Committee are Terry Porter of Northern Ohio District, Roger Stultz of Virlina District, and Linda Sanders of West Marva District, with R. Edward Weaver of Southern Pennsylvania District chosen as first alternate, and Margaret Pletcher of Northern Indiana District as second alternate.

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