A major action at the Spring meeting of the Mission and Ministry Board of the Church of the Brethren allocated another $1 million of donated funds to continue the Nigeria Crisis Response. The board also engaged in significant conversation about financial shortfalls for ongoing denominational ministries, and how to develop more support and foster relationship-building across the wider church.
The board met March 11-14 at the Church of the Brethren General Offices in Elgin, Ill., led by chair Donald Fitzkee and chair-elect Connie Burk Davis. Also at the head table was interim general secretary Dale Minnich.
Sunday morning worship was led by the ex-officio members of the board, with a message given by Bethany Seminary president Jeff Carter. Other moments of devotions and prayer were held each day, including a time of prayer for the family of Mary Jo Flory-Steury, who had served as associate general secretary and executive director of Ministry. The meetings closed with worship led by board members Donita Keister and Mark Bausman.
General secretary search
In a brief report from the search committee, Connie Burk Davis reported that the committee has been unable to come together on one candidate, and is in the process of “regrouping.” She added that this may mean Dale Minnich will continue as interim general secretary for several months. In addition, one of the committee members, David Steele, has resigned from the group. The search committee meets again in April to continue the discernment process.
Nigeria Crisis Response funding
The board approved an allocation of $1 million for the Nigeria Crisis Response from dollars donated to the Emergency Disaster Fund designated for Nigeria. The $1 million will continue funding the crisis response program in Nigeria for 2016.
The Nigeria Crisis Response is a joint effort of the Church of the Brethren and Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria), co-directed by Carl and Roxane Hill as staff of Global Mission and Service and Brethren Disaster Ministries.
Key ministries of the 2015 response will continue, while refocusing resources on displaced families who have begun returning to their homes in the northeast of Nigeria. The budget and program priorities for 2016 include:
— transition from relocation housing to a focus on repairing homes damaged by fire and vandalism;
— the continuation of peacebuilding and trauma recovery in partnership with Mennonite Central Committee;
— a new program developed by Children’s Disaster Services focused on trauma healing for children;
— agriculture development and support;
— training and support for livelihoods;
— education for children and support for orphans;
— the continuing provision of food, medicine, and home supplies; and
— the strengthening of EYN and church recovery.
The allocation of $1 million leaves an amount of almost $400,000 in donations remaining in the Nigeria Crisis Fund at this time. As of Feb. 29, $4,460,133 had been raised for the Nigeria Crisis Response, and $3,082,750 had been spent.
Group to plan for financial stability
A group of executive staff and board members was commissioned to develop financial planning, as an effort to stabilize the denominational budget for 2016-17 and develop more financial support for ongoing core ministries in future years. The group will bring a proposal to the board in June that may include reductions in spending for 2016, a fiscally responsible budget for 2017, and ideas and planning for new fundraising efforts to support core ministries of the Church of the Brethren.
The board heard extensive financial reporting and learned that, although the wider church gave generously and sacrificially to support the Nigeria Crisis Response, the overall budget for denominational ministries in 2015 experienced a deficit of more than $500,000. A Stewardship Task Team report noted, among other concerns, lagging giving from congregations to the core ministries of the church.
Financial reports celebrated and expressed gratitude for the outstanding giving from congregations and individuals to the relief effort in Nigeria, which continues to meet urgent needs of EYN members and other Nigerians in 2016. A shift of giving from core ministries to the EDF is normal at times when there is a major disaster like the extremist Islamist insurgency in northeast Nigeria.
Core ministries are ongoing programs undergirded by a common fund that receives giving for the general work of the church, utilizing gifts that are not otherwise designated. Some of these ministry areas are well-known in the wider church, such as the Youth and Young Adult Ministry, Vital Ministry Journey, new church development, Brethren Volunteer Service, Workcamp Ministry, and global mission in countries like Nigeria, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Brazil, South Sudan, and more. Others represent administrative work of the church such as the Ministry Office, Brethren Historical Library and Archives, communications, finance and IT, and building and property maintenance, among others.
The action of the board was to: “Commission interim general secretary Dale Minnich, executive forum members Brian Bultman, Jonathan Shively, and Jay Wittmeyer, and board members Don Fitzkee, Carl Fike, John Hoffman, Donita Keister, and David Stauffer to develop a plan for appropriate reductions in 2016 spending and a fiscally responsible framework for the 2017 program and budget for consideration at the Annual Conference meeting of the board. It is understood that the plan proposed will incorporate the work of the Stewardship Task Team and outline how additional stewardship initiatives should be undertaken.”
In other business
A training on racism and the church was led by Intercultural Ministries director Gimbiya Kettering.
The board received an update on efforts to sell part of the property at the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Md., and ongoing expenses of maintaining that property.
The board received a series of reports focused on two of its directional goals: Brethren voice, and service. Other reports reviewed the Haiti Service Ministries Consultation, the Syrian refugee crisis and the response of Brethren Disaster Ministries, Brethren participation on the board of Heifer International, and the annual meeting of Christian Churches Together, among others.
Brethren Press held a reception launching its new illustrated children’s book “The Seagoing Cowboy,” written by Peggy Reiff Miller. Also at the event were two former seagoing cowboys who had participated in the Heifer Project program to bring livestock to Europe following World War II, and their spouses: Merle Brown and his wife Lottie, and Matt Meyer and his wife Virginia.
The board met with the Review and Evaluation Committee of Annual Conference. The committee also held personal interviews with several staff.
Find a photo album of the Mission and Ministry Board’s spring meeting at www.brethren.org/album