The Church of the Brethren Mission and Ministry Board held its pre-Annual Conference meeting on June 26-27. A handful of board members attended via Zoom while the rest gathered at the Church of the Brethren General Offices in Elgin, Ill.
This was the last meeting of Patrick Starkey’s term as chair. Assisting him was chair-elect Carl Fike, who takes leadership as chair following Annual Conference 2021, and general secretary David Steele.
Among other business, the board spent a significant amount of time continuing its work to align denominational ministries with its new Strategic Plan.
Other top agenda items included a 2022 budget parameter for Core Ministries, recommendations from a team “re-imagining” Brethren Press, and the calling of a new Executive Committee.
As always, the board meeting included worship, devotions, the reading of scripture, and prayer.
Preamble prayer for the Strategic Plan
The following preamble prayer was adopted, to appear with the Strategic Plan’s four “background vision” statements (see www.brethren.org/strategicplan):
“As we envision beyond the horizon for the Mission and Ministry Board of the Church of the Brethren, we pray that…
God’s Holy Spirit will inspire us as we gather around the Word together,
We will faithfully follow God’s direction as we minister in Jesus’ name,
Christ will be at the center of all we do…
…to make fearless disciples who willingly articulate their faith in him,
…to courageously seek out and love our neighbors in word and deed,
…to become a community of nations and languages living together in God’s presence,
…to give of our lives and resources to eradicate needs, transforming our global community.
May we build on our Brethren values of peace, simplicity, and community as we live and work alongside Jesus in the Neighborhood.
May the Holy Spirit empower us as we respond to God’s dream for all creation.”
Priorities for denominational ministries
The board’s work to align denominational ministries with its new Strategic Plan continued with the adoption of recommendations from three “foreground vision initiative” proposals, numbered 4, 5, and 6. The recommendations were made by the Executive Committee and task teams made up of board members and staff.
The “foreground vision initiative” proposal 4 came from the Executive Committee, which with the help of the general secretary, carried out an assessment of how current program and resources align or do not align with the Strategic Plan. A report outlined a variety of findings from that assessment. The board adopted the following six-part declaration of priorities:
“Develop a prominent, comprehensive, sustained framework for equipping evangelism.”
“Develop a program about healing and reconciling relationships within the church and transforming conflict, including the intentional construction of a network of members who understand the dynamics of conflict and who are called to serve in a ministry bringing healing to our brokenness.”
“Develop, in consultation with the Council of District Executives, a pilot program to help provide additional resources needed for effective ministry placement.”
“Develop IT staff both to help other staff navigate the changing landscape of technology and to consult with and resource the wider church.”
“Realign stewardship emphasis to go with the next version of Mission Advancement.”
“Realign care of pastors programs to go with the next version of the Office of Ministry.”
The board approved an additional recommendation from the Executive Committee, to appoint a new Stewardship of Properties task team to consider questions about property management at both the General Offices and Brethren Service Center, including further assessment of Material Resources and to bring recommendations to the board. The Executive Committee will appoint the group.
The board approved “foreground vision initiative” proposal 5 delineating a “game plan” or set of steps to help congregations define their neighborhoods, with the goal of meeting and sharing “Jesus in the neighborhood.” Promotion of existing resources to help congregations, from within the denomination and beyond, will be done by Discipleship Ministries and the Office of Ministry, or their successor departments, with help from communications staff and districts. Also in the plan is the creation of cohorts of congregations located in similarly defined neighborhoods.
The task team for “foreground vision initiative” 6 was to create a “road map to seek God’s racial justice” perhaps including development of a new curriculum. However, the team responded that “we believe it is important for the board to begin this work within its own house, that is, among the members of the board and staff.” The board adopted the recommendation of a four-step process within the board and staff to: 1. identify “whiteness and racialized hierarchy” in order to allow leadership “to see barriers that previously were invisible”; 2. critique the information gathered; 3. confess and repent, using a formal, spiritual process; and 4. dismantle “the barriers and structures that inhibit and harm.” The board re-appointed the task team to implement the first step by the time of the March 2022 board meeting.
Reimagining Brethren Press
The board affirmed the intent of recommendations from the Brethren Press Reimagining Team and will explore their financial implications prior to taking final action in October. The team was created to address financial concerns about the Church of the Brethren publishing house, which worsened during the pandemic, and to recommend a proposal for sustainable operation.
The team recommended that Brethren Press no longer be self-funded and be moved into the Core Ministries, which would remove certain financial burdens. With that shift, Brethren Press would be considered the “in-house publishing partner” working collaboratively with other departments, enabling their reach into the life of the denomination to be expanded, and the mission focus would be “facilitating and fostering the mission of the Mission and Ministry Board and its strategic plan.”
The book publishing of the press would be redefined in consultation with the general secretary, or their designee, who would approve all significant book projects. All publishing projects would be “held to a litmus test of ‘does this publication capture a unique aspect of our faith or strongly forward our ideas?,’” which the team said may mean some traditional projects or “marginal” projects may not be carried forward.
The recommendations encouraged Brethren Press staff to “consider and present other creative ideas as they work to facilitate this new mission.”
The recommendations also included two expectations, that Brethren Press grow its customer base in Church of the Brethren congregations by 25 percent, and that it generate 7 percent positive revenue over expense. Some board members questioned whether the 25 percent expectation was reasonable when the church is losing members and congregations. The 7 percent expectation for revenue over expense was described as an attainable alternative to the current practice that transfers 9 percent of gross sales into the Core Ministries Fund.
The Brethren Press Reimagining Team was convened by board chair Patrick Starkey, with general secretary David Steele, and included church members with denominational leadership experience, previous experience with Brethren Press, or connections to publishing and marketing: Don Fitzkee, Jess Hoffert, Todd Marcum, Russ Matteson, Belita Mitchell, and Carol Scheppard.
A balanced, break-even budget parameter of $4,983,000 for the Church of the Brethren Core Ministries in 2022 was approved. Treasurer Ed Woolf reviewed the rationale for that figure, including, among other factors:
— Giving projections based on 10-year trends. A projection of $1,611,000 in congregational giving was based on a downward trend of approximately 4 percent per year. A projection of $582,000 in individual giving was based on an upward trend of close to 1.5 percent per year.
— No draw percentage changes in the annual transfers from the denomination’s savings fund, endowment fund, bequest quasi-endowment fund, and Brethren Service Center quasi-endowment fund. The annual draws are based on five‐year averages of the investment balance specific to each fund and the percentages are reviewed each year.
— A distribution of $148,000 from the Zella Gahagen Trust for expenses related to youth and young adult activities.
— Use of up to $233,000 from designated funds, as needed.
— A 2 percent cost-of-living increase in employee salary and benefit cost increases, estimated to be about $54,000.
— A projected 8 percent increase in the cost of medical insurance benefits for employees, estimated to be about $44,000.
‐‐ If there are any changes to the approved budget parameter as a result of the Brethren Press Reimagining Team recommendations, a revised parameter will be brought to the board’s October meeting.
New Executive Committee
Board members Dava Hensley, Roger Schrock, and Lauren Seganos Cohen were called to serve on the Executive Committee for a term of one year, through the 2022 Annual Conference. As incoming board chair, Carl Fike will chair the Executive Committee. Also on the committee is Colin Scott as the incoming chair-elect.
In other business
A new communications policy was adopted, replacing one put in place by the former General Board more than 30 years ago. The new policy was created by the Executive Committee with the intention to clarify authority and responsibility for denominational communications, to improve standards and marketing and branding efforts to increase the visibility of ministries, and to decrease miscommunication and “mixed messages.” A major portion addresses the authority to make statements. Board discussion focused on a sentence that no department or staff other than the general secretary “is authorized to release or issue statements.” That sentence was amended to read: “Statements by departments and staff need the approval of the general secretary.” Also adopted was a request for a definition of the word “statement.”
A financial update for year-to-date income and expenses was received from treasurer Ed Woolf, indicating that many areas of denominational ministries are slowly returning to pre-pandemic financial patterns. A report of an “unmodified, clean audit” for 2020 was received from the Audit and Investment Committee of the board. The report quoted a comment from the auditors that the Church of the Brethren’s financial situation last year that was similar to many other organizations in the nonprofit sector.
Updates were made to the financial policies, most for clarity or consistency to bring the policies up to date with current practice. No substantial changes were made.
New positions descriptions for the chair and chair-elect and the board committees were approved.
A capital expenditure of up to $270,000 was approved to upgrade the air conditioning system and purchase and install a new “chiller” at the General Offices.
Tim Binkley was appointed to the Brethren Historical Committee to serve a four-year term beginning July 1. Currently archivist at Berea College, he is an ordained minister in the Church of the Brethren.
Members completing their terms on the board were recognized and thanked for their service including chair Patrick Starkey, Marty Barlow, Thomas Dowdy, Lois Grove, and Diane Mason.
In his closing remarks, Starkey recalled his 10 years on the board, during which time he has served alongside more than 70 board members. “Work hard and have fun,” he told the continuing board members, quoting his sister’s words. “The joy of the Lord gives us strength…. And there is joy to be discovered in each task.”
Find the full agenda and background documents for this meeting of the Mission and Ministry Board at www.brethren.org/mmb/meeting-info.
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