A call for a new study of vitality in congregations, districts, and the denomination, came from the Standing Committee of district delegates, and received support from the Annual Conference when it voted to adopt the proposal. The decision with potential for far-reaching consequences for the whole church, was a response to a query on future district structure.
The district delegates also held conversations in closed session about concerns related to same sex marriage, among other business.
The Standing Committee meets annually in advance of Annual Conference in order to make recommendations on business coming to the full delegate body, among other tasks. The committee’s meetings on July 8-11 in Tampa, Fla., were presided over by Annual Conference moderator David Steele, assisted by moderator-elect Andy Murray and secretary James Beckwith.
This year in addition to its usual range of work, the district delegates received training in the ethics process for ministerial misconduct led by Mary Jo Flory-Steury, associate general secretary and executive director of Ministry, and had an opportunity to ask questions of Intercultural Ministries director Gimbiya Kettering in light of the national conversation sparked by Ferguson and the shootings at Emanuel AME Church. In previous weeks, the Standing Committee had an opportunity to view a webinar on becoming an intercultural church.
On a related note, in the midst of Friday morning’s meeting, on July 10, with tears in his eyes moderator-elect Murray asked for a moment of personal privilege to inform the group that the Confederate Battle Flag was being taken down from the statehouse in South Carolina.
The Standing Committee spent two evenings in closed sessions. Moderator David Steele issued the following public statement out of those sessions:
“The Standing Committee met last evening in a closed session to enter into a deeper conversation about concerns related to same gender marriage. We met in a closed setting to provide a safe place for the members to share openly and to focus on hearing one another. There were no actions or straw votes taken. The intent and hope was to share with the Standing Committee delegates a way of engaging in the deeper conversations that are needed to strengthen the fabric of our church.”
Query: Future District Structure
Several hours of discussion were spent on the single query coming to the 2015 Annual Conference: “Query: Future District Structure” from Mid-Atlantic District. Discussion of the query followed small group “table talk” with the district executives, and a presentation about the query by Mid-Atlantic District executive Gene Hagenberger.
The discussion revealed widely varying points of view about the sustainability of current district structure, and whether there is any need to evaluate that structure. References were made to continuing loss of membership across the denomination and the effect of that on districts, and the inequity between larger and smaller districts in terms of resources to do ministry.
There also were many expressions of interest in making this an opportunity to address a related, and perhaps more foundational issue of vitality across all levels of the church including congregations, districts, and denomination. Although some raised a question about whether a study on vitality would just duplicate the work of the new Review and Evaluation Committee, others noted that the Review and Evaluation Committee’s mandate will be to address structural issues, not a wide-ranging look at the church’s current state of vitality.
The final decision of the Standing Committee was to recommend “that a study committee be chosen to address concerns raised by the query regarding vitality and viability within congregations, districts, and the denomination as a whole, including but not limited to district structure. The study committee would consist of two persons elected by the delegate body, two persons appointed by Standing Committee, and one denominational staff member appointed by the general secretary. The committee is requested to report back to the 2017 Annual Conference.”
This outcome of Standing Committee’s discussion was presented to the Annual Conference, which adopted the recommendation.
The following five-member Study Committee on Vitality and Viability has been chosen: Larry Dentler of Southern Pennsylvania District and Shayne T. Petty of Southern Ohio District, elected by Annual Conference; Sonya Griffith of Western Plains District and Craig Smith of Atlantic Northeast District, appointed by Standing Committee; and associate general secretary Mary Jo Flory-Steury, appointed by general secretary Stan Noffsinger.
Updated appeal process
The district delegates also approved an update of the denomination’s appeals process, with changes ranging from minor reformatting and grammatical corrections to incorporation of previously made changes into the body of the document.
One of the latter was incorporation into the body of the appeal process document an editorial change made in 2002 to align the document with the 1996 Ethics in Ministry timeline for appeals. The action confirms a shortened deadline to submit an appeal of 45 days prior to Annual Conference, from a lengthier deadline of 60 days in former years.
Additional changes instruct that rather than sending an appeal to both the Annual Conference officers and the Appeals Committee, an appeal is sent directly to the Annual Conference officers who will determine whether it should be shared with the current year’s Appeals Committee or with the following year’s Appeals Committee. Also, Standing Committee members with a conflict of interest are now informed that they “should” recuse themselves, in a change from previous instruction that they “may” recuse themselves.
In other business
— The following new members were elected to the Nominating Committee of Standing Committee: Kathryn Bausman of Idaho District, J. Roger Schrock of Missouri and Arkansas District, Kathy Mack of Northern Plains District, and Jaime Diaz of Puerto Rico District.
— The following new members were elected to the Appeals Committee of Standing Committee: Kathy Ballinger of Northern Ohio District, Beth Middleton of Virlina District, and Grover Duling of West Marva District; with Eli Mast of Southern Pennsylvania District as first alternate, and Nick Beam of Southern Ohio District as second alternate.
— Belita Mitchell of Atlantic Northeast District was appointed to the denomination’s Program Feasibility Committee.