The Mission and Ministry Board of the Church of the Brethren held fall meetings via Zoom on Friday through Sunday, Oct. 16-18. Sessions on Saturday morning and afternoon and Sunday afternoon were open to the public via a published link.
The main item of business was the 2021 budget for the ministries of the denomination. The board also spent time on the new strategic plan that is taking shape through the work of several task teams, and experienced a training session on healing racism. Numerous reports were received, many of them as pre-recorded videos.
Board chair Patrick Starkey led the meetings from the General Offices in Elgin, Ill., where he was joined by general secretary David Steele and a few staff. The rest of the board, including chair-elect Carl Fike, joined via Zoom from across the country. Over the course of the weekend 37 people attended via the public link, including denominational staff who were not onsite.
“We meet because the gospel goes on, the pandemic cannot prevent resurrection, the grace of God is sufficient at all times, and the work of the church goes on at this time,” said Starkey as he opened the first public session.
Budget and finances
The board approved a total budget for all denominational ministries of $8,112,100 in income and $8,068,750 in expense, representing an anticipated net income of $43,350 for 2021. The decision included budgets for the Church of the Brethren’s Core Ministries as well as “self-funding” budgets for Brethren Disaster Ministries, Brethren Press, Conference Office, Global Food Initiative (GFI), and Material Resources.
The Core Ministries budget of $4,934,000 (income and expense) is close to the amount of the 2020 budget of $4,969,000 approved by the board last October, but some $300,000 more than the budget revision of $4,629,150 made by the board in July in response to the pandemic. The Core Ministries include the General Secretary’s office, Global Mission, Brethren Volunteer Service, Discipleship Ministries, the Ministry Office, the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy, the Brethren Historical Library and Archives, finance, communications, and other areas of work.
As reported by treasurer Ed Woolf, factors that went into the 2021 budget included estimated giving from congregations and individuals; draws from the Bequest Quasi-Endowment as well as other funds; ministry enablement contributions to Core Ministries from the Emergency Disaster Fund (EDF), GFI, and other restricted funds; Brethren Press gross sales contributions to Core Ministries; a transfer of $140,000 to Core Ministries from designated funds; and $74,000 in expense reductions representing a 2 percent reduction in most departmental budgets. The budget includes no cost-of-living increase in employee pay but does include continued employer contributions to health savings accounts and a smaller-than-expected increase in the cost of medical insurance premiums for employees.
In year-to-date financial results, as of September, Woolf noted that giving to Core Ministries is ahead of the revised budget and staff have done a good job of managing expenses. While donations have helped sustain Core Ministries, it is in restricted giving to funds like the EDF where a serious drop in giving is seen. The pandemic also has caused cancellation of events, loss of registration income, decreased sales, and reduced service fees, which contribute to major losses for the self-funding ministries, especially Brethren Press and Material Resources. The EDF also is losing thousands of dollars in donations that in a usual year would be received from district disaster auctions.
Woolf reported that investment balances are in a good position at this point in the year and net assets are up from this time last year. “The Church of the Brethren’s net asset position continues to be very healthy despite the volatility and uncertainty surrounding 2020.”
An update on Brethren Press was given by general secretary David Steele. The financial situation of the denomination’s publishing house was the subject of discussion at the board’s July meeting. Since then, sales figures have worsened. Steele reported some interventions for 2020 that will give time to work on a systematic plan for the publishing house. He also celebrated a large gift of $50,000 from an individual donor who designated $25,000 to Core Ministries and $25,000 to Brethren Press.
Healing racism training
A training session led by Intercultural Ministries director LaDonna Nkosi and Miami (Fla.) First Church of the Brethren pastor Michaela Alphonse focused on the topic “Healing Racism and the Ministry of Jesus in This Time.” Luke 4:18-21, which Nkosi described as “the job description of Jesus,” was the scriptural theme.
The training included review of the denominational paper “Separate No More” that was adopted by Annual Conference in 2007, a video from the United Methodist Church, and time for reflection and conversation. In reviewing “Separate No More” Alphonse said, “Wherever this plan got lost we have to pick it up again.” If the paper’s recommendations had been taken seriously, the church would have been prepared for the events of 2020, she said. “We would have been powerful, Spirit-filled, colorful witnesses in this season.” See www.brethren.org/ac/statements/2007-separate-no-more.
In other business
–The board called David Steele to a second five-year contract as General Secretary of the Church of the Brethren.
–Board member Colin Scott was chosen as chair-elect to fill a term of two years starting at the conclusion of the 2021 Annual Conference. After serving two years as chair elect, he will serve two years as board chair.
–Work to shape the new strategic plan was reported by task teams of board members and staff. The plan is designed to align with the compelling vision that will come to the 2021 Annual Conference for approval. The board adopted recommendations for how to process ideas under the plan and how the plan will be communicated. Task teams will continue their work and more recommendations are expected to come to the March 2021 board meeting, with the possibility of specially called board meetings in the intervening time.
–As the board worked on a new strategic plan, it celebrated highlights and successes of the previous strategic plan over the past decade. Find the presentation at www.brethren.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Strategic-Plan-2020-Recognition.pdf .
–The board approved its spring meeting 2025 to take place in a location other than the General Offices in Elgin, Ill. An “offsite” meeting occurs every five years for board and staff to interact with congregations in various areas of the country.
Find documents and video reports for this meeting of the Mission and Ministry Board at www.brethren.org/mmb/meeting-info .
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