The Standing Committee of district delegates to the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference met June 27-30, in advance of the Conference. The meeting was held online with delegates logging in from the denomination’s 24 districts across the US and Puerto Rico. Annual Conference moderator Paul Mundey presided, assisted by moderator-elect David Sollenberger and secretary James Beckwith.
Among innovations in the way Standing Committee carried out business this year, the meeting was held via Zoom, with the chat box used for requests to speak and available for the district delegates to share comments. Standing Committee also for the first time used ranked polling for some decisions. The bulk of the meeting was open to the public, with the Annual Conference office providing the link to those who asked to observe.
A brief closed session for community building and sharing district hopes and laments was held at the start of the meeting. The committee went on to spend much of its time discussing problems associated with nominations from the floor, recommendations to apply the updated appeals process to polity, and a proposal delineating a listening process for Standing Committee.
Garnering the most discussion was a report from a Standing Committee team tasked with posing questions to On Earth Peace, which is one of the Annual Conference agencies. There have been many rounds of interaction between Standing Committee and On Earth Peace over recent years. Standing Committee initiated this latest interaction after On Earth Peace joined the Supportive Communities Network of the Brethren Mennonite Council for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Interests (BMC).
Conversation with On Earth Peace
Standing Committee voted to continue conversation with On Earth Peace after receiving several lengthy documents and a verbal report from the team tasked to ask questions of On Earth Peace, receive answers, and report back.
Approval for continuing conversation was based, in part, on the task team’s description of the positive nature of the conversation. After On Earth Peace was invited to speak to Standing Committee, staff member Matt Guynn also expressed the agency’s positive reaction and a desire to continue.
The continuing conversation will be based on already agreed-upon dialogue questions and will take place at several meetings to be scheduled over the next year. The decision included encouragement for “a collaborative conversation with On Earth Peace that lays the foundation for increased understanding and future conversations regarding the relationships between On Earth Peace and the larger denomination.” The task team will report back to Standing Committee next summer. (Find the full text of the motion below.)
A separate vote allowed the same task team to continue, despite precedent that only current Standing Committee members serve on subcommittees. Two of the task team members will no longer be on Standing Committee. A motion from the Conference officers added a note to the minutes upholding precedent and naming unique circumstances. (Find the full text of the motion below.)
The five members of the task team are Donita Keister (chair) who was serving as immediate past moderator, Susan Chapman Starkey (secretary) from Virlina District, Bob Johansen from Northern Indiana District, Craig Stutzman from Mid-Atlantic District, and John Willoughby from Michigan District.
The conversation process so far has taken place over several months and has included correspondence between the two groups as well as a face-to-face meeting. That meeting on June 8 brought together the task team with a delegation chosen by On Earth Peace including board co-chairs Melisa Leiter-Grandison and Irvin Heishman, staff member Matt Guynn, Carol Wise representing BMC, and Brian Flory representing the Supportive Communities Network. At that meeting, Christian Peacemaker Teams provided two people who served as facilitators and process observers.
The full text of the task team’s motion, which was approved:
“We propose Standing Committee adopt the following statement regarding the future work of the task team: ‘As a result of Standing Committee meetings in June 2021, the Standing Committee of the Church of the Brethren charges the Standing Committee Task Team to continue conversation with On Earth Peace based on the already agreed-upon questions, this happening through several meetings scheduled over the next year. The team is encouraged to have a collaborative conversation with OEP that lays the foundation for increased understanding and future conversations regarding the relationships between OEP and the larger denomination. The team will report back to SC in June 2022.’”
The full text of the officers’ motion, which was approved:
“The Standing Committee minutes will state: ‘The Officers want to affirm the precedent that Standing Committee work is to be done by current Standing Committee members. At the same time, we acknowledge the unique circumstances that the pandemic and other factors have caused regarding meeting dynamics. In light of our circumstances, the Officers are open to a motion that the current task team as currently composed would continue for one year, while specifying that we are not wanting to establish a new precedent.’”
Updates to the appeals process
A subcommittee charged with a review of the judicial roles and appeals process of Standing Committee reported on its work since 2018. In 2019, its proposal for a unified and more comprehensive appeals process, which included a new consideration of fairness alongside adherence to correct process, was approved.
This year, the subcommittee brought recommendations to amend the “Appeal” section of the “Ethics in Ministry Relations” polity document of Annual Conference, as found in section II.D.5.d. of chapter 5 of the Manual of Organization and Polity. The amendments were adopted by Standing Committee and will be brought to Annual Conference for approval. Their intent is to align the document with process changes made in 2019, provide more time for Standing Committee to prepare to hear appeals, and encourage appeals not to be brought until every means of resolution or reconsideration by districts have been exhausted.
The subcommittee also brought a proposal for a new listening process for Standing Committee, as an internal document that does not affect denominational polity. That proposal also was adopted and will become part of the Standing Committee manual. It provides guidance and structure for accepting requests from church members or groups who want to speak with Standing Committee.
Nominations from the floor
After giving their report, the Nominating Committee proposed that Standing Committee consider a procedural change for nominations from the floor of Annual Conference, and offered three options as a starting point for discussion.
The Nominating Committee outlined the lengthy and deliberative process that it engages in to prepare a ballot each year and explained how nominations from the floor circumvent that process and may cause confusion for the delegate body. They also acknowledged the value that nominations from the floor have when there are valid concerns about choices for leadership in the church.
Standing Committee decided to continue working on the concern at its pre-Conference meeting next year.
In other business
Elected to the Appeals Committee were Jennifer Quijano West of Atlantic Northeast District, Karen Shiflet of Shenandoah District, and Tim Sizemore of Southeastern District. Warren E. Eilers of Idaho and Western Montana District was named first alternate and Ken Geisewite of Southern Pennsylvania District was named second alternate.
Elected to the Nominating Committee were Dave Stauffer of Atlantic Northeast District, Debbie Eisenbise of Pacific Northwest District, Nathan Rittenhouse of Shenandoah District, and Vickie Samland of Western Plains District.
A consultation with the Council of District Executives, which takes place annually, was held this year with district executives logging in online from around the country.
Among the numerous reports received was a report on the “state of the church” from moderator Paul Mundey and general secretary David Steele.