Church of the Brethren Newsline
October 25, 2017
“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)
Quote of the week:
“We are known as a church that serves with its hands. We are known as a church that is burdened with compassion…. We are known as a church that lives simply…. Why don’t we simply follow Micah’s call?”
— Samuel Kefas Sarpiya, moderator of the Church of the Brethren, leading the closing worship service of the Mission and Ministry Board meeting.
The Mission and Ministry Board adopted a “Vision for a Global Church of the Brethren,” and recommended this new mission philosophy to Annual Conference, at its meeting on Oct. 20-23 at the Church of the Brethren General Offices in Elgin, Ill. The board also adopted a budget for 2018, approved two large allocations from the Emergency Disaster Fund, and acted on Review and Evaluation Committee recommendations that were directed to the board by Annual Conference, among other business.
The board spent a short time hearing a presentation by a delegation from the “Moorefield gathering,” a meeting of “concerned Brethren” that was hosted at Moorefield Church of the Brethren in West Marva District.
The board’s fall meeting was led by chair Connie Burk Davis, assisted by chair-elect Patrick Starkey and general secretary David Steele. As at every meeting of the Mission and Ministry Board, time was spent in worship, singing, and prayer. Bethany Seminary professor Dan Ulrich was invited to lead a board development session, offering an in-depth Bible study of Romans 12-13 titled “A Pauline Appeal for Peace in Christ.” (Find a link to the photo album from the board meeting at www.brethren.org/album .)
Vision for a global Church of the Brethren
The new mission philosophy paper was presented by Jay Wittmeyer, executive director of Global Mission and Service. The document has been in process for some time. The Mission Advisory Committee has been involved in its development, among other groups, and leaders of Church of the Brethren denominations in several countries–including Brazil and Nigeria–have been consulted.
Impetus for a new mission philosophy has come from a disconnect between polity and practice, Wittmeyer told the board. He cited an Annual Conference mandate for a global Church of the Brethren in previous Conference statements on mission made in 1981, 1989, and 1998. However, the denominational polity currently in force calls for international districts. In practice, independent Church of the Brethren denominations have grown up in various countries.
“The church may celebrate that it has, in fact, become a global presence,” the paper states, in part. “The Church of the Brethren has been established in Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, India, Nigeria, Spain, and the United States, and is emerging in other areas around the globe. People are choosing to be Brethren and are choosing to plant the church where they are. Each week, more than half a million people around the world worship in a Church of the Brethren congregation.”
The heart of the vision for a global Church of the Brethren is outlined in the section “Becoming a global church.” The section represents a significant shift in understanding of the nature of mission relationships:
“The Church of the Brethren in the United States envisions a Global Church of the Brethren as a union of autonomous bodies, a spiritual community bound together by a common passion to be followers of Christ, a common New Testament theology of peace and service, and a common commitment to be in relationship with one another. Consistent with the emphasis on the priesthood of all believers, no one regional or national church will be regarded as the authority over other bodies. No one Brethren body in the Global Church of the Brethren, including the ‘mother’ church in the United States, will presume to have the mind of Christ for its sister churches…. Decisions regarding the role and responsibilities of the Global Church of the Brethren, including the acceptance of new Brethren bodies into this fellowship, will be made in mutual consultation with existing national Church of the Brethren bodies.”
The document also includes sections on “Embracing the indigenous church,” “Affirming autonomy,” “Honoring relationships,” “Mutually sharing resources,” “Articulating a global Brethren identity,” “Committing to service,” “Bridging barriers,” and “Overcoming limitations.”
The full text of the document will be shared in advance of Annual Conference.
Brethren Disaster Ministries recommendations for two large allocations from the Emergency Disaster Fund (EDF) were approved.
A second grant of $75,000 for disaster relief in the Caribbean following this fall’s devastating hurricanes was approved. This is in addition to a previous grant of $25,000. Much of the money will be used for relief efforts in Puerto Rico, with some of it to fund relief work in Haiti. The work in Puerto Rico will be a collaboration of Brethren Disaster Ministries with the Puerto Rico District of the Church of the Brethren.
An allocation of $400,000 continues support of the Nigeria Crisis Response, a collaboration of the Church of the Brethren’s Global Mission and Service and Brethren Disaster Ministries with Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria). The allocation represents donations designated for the Nigeria Crisis Response. The allocation will cover the program’s expenses through the end of the year.
The board approved a detailed budget proposal for 2018 that was recommended by staff and presented by treasurer and CFO Brian Bultman and assistant treasurer Ed Woolf. The board approved a balanced budget of $5,192,000 for the Core Ministries of the denomination.
The board also approved a grand total budget for all denominational ministries of $8,809,160 anticipated income, $8,824,280 anticipated expense, for an anticipated net loss of $15,120. The grand total budget includes the Core Ministries as well as Brethren Disaster Ministries, Brethren Press, the Global Food Initiative, Material Resources, and the Conference Office.
Bultman explained that staff worked to create as close to a “break even” budget as possible. He and Woolf shared background information, including the transfer of $510,000 from the Brethren Service Center Quasi-Endowment to the Core Ministries budget. This represents a portion of the proceeds of the sale of the upper campus property in New Windsor, Md., and continues a 2016 Mission and Ministry Board-approved budgetary “bridge” in anticipation of a fundraising campaign being considered for the near future.
The 2018 budget includes a 1.5 percent cost-of-living increase in salaries, continuing employer contributions to Health Savings Accounts for employees who participate in the medical insurance benefit, and a lower than expected increase in medical insurance premiums for 2018 as cited by Brethren Benefit Trust.
In other business
The board acted on several recommendations referred to it by Annual Conference, when the Conference adopted recommendations from the Review and Evaluation Committee this past summer. Most were referred to the board because they require changes to the bylaws of the Church of the Brethren. The board’s proposed changes to the bylaws will come to Annual Conference for approval in 2018, along with some additional bylaws changes to bring board terminology up to date.
The board did not act on a recommendation regarding stewardship of the General Offices property at this meeting. Davis announced that a Stewardship of Property Working Group has been formed to create a process for the study. The working group is chaired by executive committee member Carl Fike and includes board members Colin Scott and David Stauffer and general secretary David Steele.
Davis led a brainstorming session seeking concrete strategies for “Living Together as Christ Calls,” continuing a task assigned to the board by Annual Conference. A working group was named to process the brainstorming suggestions and bring a proposal to the board in March. The working group includes executive committee member Jonathan Prater, board members Lois Grove and Diane Mason, and a staff member yet to be named.
Steele led a listening session similar to those he has been holding in districts across the denomination. The session included small group “table talk” about what the denominational program is getting right, and where it misses the mark.
Numerous reports received during the meeting included a financial report on the year-to-date budget and giving, a report on the denomination’s investments, recent disaster relief work, planning for upcoming events including National Youth Conference 2018, and updates from various ministry areas, among others.
The board heard a presentation by five men who had been at the gathering at Moorefield: Grover Duling, chair of the West Marva District board and a district representative to Standing Committee; Scott Kinnick, district executive for Southeastern District; Jim Myer and Craig Alan Myers of the Brethren Revival Fellowship (BRF) leadership; and Musa Mambula, who is pastoring Good Shepherd Church of the Brethren in Tipp City, Ohio.
During their presentation, the board did not make a verbal response to the group, although individual board members did speak with them after the afternoon meeting adjourned and during the dinner that followed. Later in the weekend, the board discussed the presentation in closed sessions.
The board agreed on a response to the delegation that the board chair has sent as an e-mail to Duling. The board’s letter of response appears below, at the bottom of this Newsline Special.
In welcoming the delegation, Davis announced that the board’s purpose was to listen. “This is a hearing,” she said, emphasizing it was not a time for decision-making or debate. She added that, with enough notice, the board would welcome any other group from within the denomination that seeks a similar opportunity.
Each member of the delegation spoke, led by Duling. He organized the Moorefield gathering after hearing concerns about the introduction at Annual Conference of a pastor who is in a same-sex marriage. He told the board that church members had come to him to say that they were so concerned, they were ready to leave the denomination.
Duling characterized the state of the sector of the denomination represented at Moorefield as “fragile.” The 58 people who were at the by-invitation-only gathering came from 14 of the 24 districts of the Church of the Brethren, and included some district executives and at least one member of the Mission and Ministry Board. The Annual Conference moderator and moderator-elect were present as observers.
The gathering addressed the questions, “Where are we as a denomination?” “Where do we want to be as a denomination?” and “How do we get there?” The following understandings were among outcomes of the discussion, Duling said: Annual Conference must “act congruently” with its established positions; the concern about sexuality is a doctrinal issue; acceptance of “other lifestyles” creates “an apostate church.”
The denomination does not have two years to wait for the compelling vision called for by the 2017 Annual Conference, Duling said. People who were at the Moorefield gathering are wondering if that vision will be acceptable, he said. “Our districts need reassurance that denominational leadership understands the present reality,” he said, repeating the claim that many congregations are ready to leave the denomination, and “once it starts, it is going to be a domino effect.”
Another member of the delegation, Jim Myer, characterized the Brethren Mennonite Council for LGBT Interests (BMC) as detrimental to the denomination’s ability to adhere to Annual Conference statements. He said that one way to understand what people at Moorefield were feeling about the BMC is to imagine the feeling if a white supremacist group sprang up within the Church of the Brethren.
The Moorefield gathering is “only one of many groundswells” in the denomination, he told the board, as he outlined three options he sees for the denomination: to “pull back” from conflict and “stand on” existing Annual Conference statements; to continue the conflict over sexuality; or to decide that the denomination’s “celebration of diversity” is not bringing unity and instead to choose a friendly division of the church.
Although Duling had said the Moorefield gathering did not seek division, Myer said the option of division “might be a better end for a peace church…. I love the Church of the Brethren,” he said, “but we are at the end of the journey we are on, I’m afraid.”
The full text of the Mission and Ministry Board letter responding to the Moorefield delegation:
On behalf of the Mission and Ministry Board of the Church of the Brethren, I again would like to thank you, Jim Myer, Craig Alan Myers, Scott Kinnick, and Musa Mambula for coming to our meeting in Elgin last Saturday to share personally with us and deliver signed statements from others to us. We found your presentations as you indicated they would be: heartfelt, non-confrontational, and focused on keeping the body together. You had our full attention, and we heard your concerns.
The introduction of new fellowships at Annual Conference this summer should not have happened as it did. The intention of the Mission and Ministry Board always is to follow and uphold Annual Conference statements, and we recognize that was not done in one case. This was a mistake. Steps have been taken by the General Secretary and the Church of the Brethren staff to see that this does not happen again. After Annual Conference, the General Secretary sent a letter to District Executives explaining the situation, steps taken, and an apology from the staff member who made the introduction. Some District Executives shared that information more widely within their districts than others. In addition, the Leadership Team issued a response to the denomination. The Leadership Team response is attached and can also be found on the Annual Conference website at: http://www.brethren.org/ac/leadership-team-statement-to.html. The General Secretary’s email to district executives also is attached.
Beyond these actions, it is less clear what we can do. It does not seem that the Church of the Brethren has a statement for when a district disagrees with Annual Conference actions, like the 2004 paper which addresses when a congregation disagrees with Annual Conference actions. Possibly the 2004 paper can be adapted to assist in this instance. We are aware that the Leadership Team’s efforts to interpret our polity and Annual Conference Statements is ongoing related to this matter. In the meantime, the Annual Conference officers have made plans to go to the Pacific Northwest District as noted in the Leadership Team response.
2017 Annual Conference assigned the Mission and Ministry Board to “implement more consistently and fully the 2008 Annual Conference resolution ‘Urging Forbearance’ into the life of the church.” As we have begun work on this, we are reminded that the Church of the Brethren is a diverse body with a shared commitment to following Jesus and with differing views and ways of being (and about to become more so as we envision a global church). The Brethren way of allowing great discretion on the part of congregations and districts, while serving and doing ministry alongside each other, has served us well. Probably none of us would like our governing board, for example, to place pastors in congregations, as some Christian denominations do. We must work to find the right balance, remembering that decision-making taken from some will be taken from all.
What is clear is that those of us currently in leadership in the Church of the Brethren love the church and want to see it unified. You stated that this also is the desire of you and those with whom you are working. Our prayers are with you and all of those you represent, and we ask for your prayers for us as we seek to be faithful to the entire denomination.
With sincere hope and appreciation,
Connie Burk Davis, Chair,
on behalf of the Mission and Ministry Board,
after discussion and with their blessing.
Newsline is produced and edited by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of News Services for the Church of the Brethren. Newsline stories may be reprinted if Newsline is cited as the source. Please send news tips and submissions to the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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