Proposal on More Equitable Representation Is Returned to Mission and Ministry Board

Photo by Glenn Riegel
Moderator Bob Krouse chats with one of the tables of delegates. There were 100 tables of delegates on the Conference floor for the 2013 business sessions. Many business items included time for table talk, which allowed for small group discussion in addition to time at the microphones for concerns and questions to be brought.

A proposal prepared by the Mission and Ministry Board to respond to a query on equitable representation on the board has been returned to the Mission and Ministry board for further work.

The Mission and Ministry Board was directed by the 2012 Annual Conference to respond to the query. However the board’s proposed amendments to the bylaws of the Church of the Brethren did not receive enough votes. Because the proposal would have changed polity, a two-thirds majority was required for passage.

After the motion failed, the Annual Conference officers ruled that the decision of the 2012 Conference to refer the concerns of the query to the Mission and Ministry Board still stands and that the board should do further work and bring a different answer to the concerns of the query to the 2014 Annual Conference. The officers provided an opportunity for delegates to submit recommendations to the board for its further work.

The proposal brought by the board, which did not receive enough support from the delegate body, would have changed how board members are chosen so as to reflect the large variation in membership numbers among the five geographical areas of the denomination. Proposed bylaw changes were to increase from 10 to 11 the number of board members elected by Annual Conference; decrease from 5 to 4 the at-large members elected by the board and affirmed by the Conference; change from 2 to 3 the number of members elected by Conference from each of the three most populous areas of the denomination (Areas 1, 2, 3); decrease from 2 to 1 the number of members elected by Conference from each of the two least populous areas (Areas 4 and 5); charge the nominating committee of Standing Committee with ensuring fair and equitable rotation of board members from among districts.

During discussion, delegates asked for and received time for table groups to discuss the issue together. At the microphones, comments focused on the question of whether equitable representation was needed, or if the diversity of experience might need more consideration. Several people spoke from or on behalf of less populous western districts who may feel disenfranchised, while others raised concerns about some of the most populous eastern districts not having representation for long periods of time, and having to compete for scarce slots on the board.

General secretary Stanley Noffsinger shared helpful information, saying that the Nominating Committee of Standing Committee is already directed to pay attention to which districts in each area are represented on the board, and to look for nominees from the other districts in those areas to spread out the opportunity to serve to all districts over time.

One speaker suggested that the number of board members be increased instead of taking board member slots away from Areas 4 and 5. Board chair Ben Barlow explained the financial reasons behind limiting the total board membership, citing a yearly cost of holding board meetings that is already around $60,000.

The vote on the proposal was 369 to 345, only a slim majority. This means the Mission and Ministry Board must return to the 2014 Annual Conference with another proposal in response to the query.

In another decision related to the Mission and Ministry Board, the Conference approved a proposal to increase the membership on the Executive Committee of the Mission and Ministry Board. Since the transition to the new structure of the Church of the Brethren Inc. in 2008, the board has been operating with an executive committee of four elected members as called for in the bylaws. However, the board has sensed a need to enlarge this number to five, primarily for better communication between the executive committee and the full board. A change to the bylaws was needed to make this happen, and it was passed by more than the two-thirds majority required.

— Frances Townsend is pastor of Onekama (Mich.) Church of the Brethren and a member of the Annual Conference News Team.

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