The Standing Committee of delegates from the 24 Church of the Brethren districts began meeting in Omaha, Neb., on the evening of July 7, through this morning. It was presided over by Conference moderator David Sollenberger, moderator-elect Tim McElwee, and secretary James M. Beckwith.
One of its primary functions is to make recommendations on the new business items and queries coming to Annual Conference.
In addition, Standing Committee approved two recommendations from the Nominating Committee regarding nominations from the floor of Annual Conference and the calling of denominational leadership.
Four recommendations from a task team that has been holding conversations with On Earth Peace also were approved. The wide-ranging recommendations call for various actions to address expectations and processes regarding Annual Conference agencies, how Conference decisions and statements should be received and implemented, a review of the organizational structure of the Church of the Brethren to address “deep dysfunction,” and creating a time for intentional confession and repentance of how “theological differences around human sexuality have too often been manifested in bullying, violence, and a general sense of dismissal toward one another and specifically toward our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters,” citing James 5:16, “Therefore confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.”
Standing Committee discussed and offered feedback on the one item of unfinished business on the Conference agenda, an update to polity regarding Annual Conference agencies, brought by the denomination’s Leadership Team. It received information about an additional report coming to the Conference, also via the Leadership Team, titled “Doing Annual Conference Differently.”
Other business included naming new members to subcommittees, conversations with district executives and leaders of the denomination’s board and Conference agencies, and additional reports.
Update to Polity Regarding Annual Conference Agencies (unfinished business 1)
The committee discussed this item with members of the denomination’s Leadership Team, which includes the Conference officers, the general secretary, a representative of the Council of District Executives, and the Conference director as ex-officio staff.
Standing Committee may discuss unfinished business items but may not amend them. The committee decided that a two-thirds majority vote is required for this item of business.
The discussion focused mainly on roles and responsibilities assigned to Standing Committee in the document, with some committee members expressing frustration that they had no opportunity to give input on those proposals.
The proposals for Standing Committee roles and responsibilities include
— creating and maintaining a covenant of agreement with each of the three existing Conference agencies (Bethany Theological Seminary, Eder Financial–formerly Brethren Benefit Trust, and On Earth Peace),
— handling any requests from organizations wishing to become Conference agencies,
— receiving annual reports from all the agencies,
— developing a process for maintaining good relationships with the agencies and to address concerns in an agency relationship, and
— carrying responsibility for recommending to the Annual Conference when agency status should be discontinued.
This business item originated in 2017 when the Annual Conference referred a recommendation from On Earth Peace to the Leadership Team.
Amendments to the Appeal Section of the Ethics in Ministry Relations Polity (new business 1)
Standing Committee recommended adoption of this item, which it had initiated. Adoption will require a two-thirds vote.
The amendments would be made to a section of the Ethics in Ministry Relations polity for appeals that involve the termination of a ministerial license or ordination by a district body. Amendments would recognize Standing Committee’s need for more time to prepare to receive appeals; provide leeway when two or more appeals are received within a stated time period, that instead of “will” be heard an appeal “could” or “may” be heard; and clarify in polity the current Standing Committee Appeal Process requiring that “the dissatisfied party shall have exhausted every means of resolution or reconsideration” at the district level before making an appeal.
Query: Standing with People of Color (new business 2)
Standing Committee recommended that Annual Conference accept the concerns of the query and adopt a response that would become a Conference statement, along with implementation through a two-year study/action process.
The query from Southern Ohio and Kentucky District asks, “How can the Church of the Brethren stand with People of Color to offer sanctuary from violence and dismantle systems of oppression and racial inequity in our congregations, neighborhoods, and throughout the nation?”
The Standing Committee recommendation in full:
“Standing Committee recommends that the concerns of this query be accepted with thanks to the church and district for this important reminder. Standing Committee recommends that the concerns be answered with this response: We recognize the struggles faced by many of our sisters and brothers of color and believe the church should be agents of change We encourage congregations, districts, agencies, and other denominational entities to continue to follow the teachings of Jesus by living out the great commandment of loving our neighbor as ourselves. We understand the great diversity that the word neighbor implies. So we encourage congregations to study the teachings of Jesus and how they apply to our relationships with people of color, to stand with people of color, offer sanctuary from violence and identify and work against institutional racism, and then begin to live out those findings by being Jesus in the community
“This response becomes an official statement of Annual Conference.
“We recommend that this response to the query on ‘Standing with People of Color’ be implemented through a two-year study/action process. This would include Southern Ohio-Kentucky District and On Earth Peace collaborating to develop various materials for congregation, district, and denominational use. Standing Committee members would support and encourage the use of these materials and participation in the process and report back to Annual Conference in 2023 and 2024.”
Query: Breaking Down Barriers–Increasing Access to Denominational Events (new business 3)
Standing Committee recommended adoption of this item and the creation of an Annual Conference study committee.
From Living Stream Church of the Brethren, the denomination’s only fully online congregation, and Pacific Northwest District, the query asks, “Should the Brethren explore the possibilities of how we can faithfully, in good order and with proper representation, use technology to remove barriers and facilitate the full participation of delegates and those desiring to be present for Annual Conference and other events, who might be better served–and could better serve the body–from a distance?”
The full Standing Committee recommendation:
“Standing Committee recommends to the 2022 Annual Conference that the Query: Breaking Down Barriers–Increasing Access to Denominational Events be adopted and that Annual Conference create a study committee to examine the theological, philosophical, and practical implications of the query along with a feasibility study. The committee would bring recommendations to the 2024 Annual Conference.
“The committee would consist of three persons elected by Annual Conference who are familiar with denominational events; issues related to broad accessibility; virtual/hybrid meetings and/or webcasting. The committee will consult with the director of Annual Conference, the Annual Conference webcast coordinator, and others as determined by the committee.”
Revisions to the Bylaws of the Church of the Brethren Inc. (new business 4)
Standing Committee recommended adoption, which will require a two-thirds vote.
Brought by the Mission and Ministry Board, the revisions include a variety of nonsubstantial changes to the denomination’s bylaws. The changes would correct inconsistencies and grammatical errors, ensure greater clarity, and align polity with current practice.
Integrated Annual Ministry Agreement and revised Guidelines for Pastors’ Salaries and Benefits (new business 5), Revised Minimum Cash Salary Table for Pastors (new business 6), and Recommended Cost of Living Adjustment to the Ministry Cash Salary Table for Pastors (new business 7)
Standing Committee recommended adoption of all three items.
The three items come from the Pastoral Compensation and Benefits Advisory Committee (PCBAC).
The proposed Integrated Annual Ministry Agreement would replace the present Start-Up and Renewal Agreements for pastors and congregations to complete each year. It includes several fillable or worksheet-like forms for use by pastors and congregations: the Annual Compensation Agreement, an Annual Compensation Table, and an Annual Shared Ministry Priorities Agreement. The Revised Guidelines for Pastors’ Salaries and Benefits provides detailed explanations regarding recommended benefits for pastors. Also included are a glossary and explanations of terms such as pastoral housing and designated housing exclusion, along with information about pastoral taxation and how a congregation should fill out the IRS Form W-2 for a pastor.
PCBAC, working with Eder Financial staff, is preparing an online compensation calculator as another new tool for congregations and pastors, and is planning a series of trainings on the new compensation and benefits guidelines to be offered across the denomination in upcoming months.
The PCBAC reported in the proposal their rationale for this major make-over of pastoral compensation and benefits guidelines, and what they described as a “re-imagining” of the relationship between pastors and congregations: “77% of our pastors are serving in less than full time or less than fully compensated roles; that our churches are growing smaller, not larger; and that our overall membership is shrinking, not growing. Other considerations included the frustrations we have heard from pastors and congregations alike about trying to meet the dollar amounts in the Minimum Cash Salary Table published by our committee every year; the pressure to perform full-time ministry on part-time pay; and the lack of a framework that would assist our congregations to participate in ministry with our pastors. Knowing all this, the committee decided to re-imagine the compensation and working relationships between pastors and congregations.”
The committee is recommending an 8.2 percent cost-of-living increase to the approved Minimum Cash Salary Table for Pastors, because of the current high rate of inflation.
Nominating Committee proposals
The Nominating Committee brought two proposals for action by Standing Committee. Both were adopted.
A recommendation for a new process for making nominations from the floor of Annual Conference will become an item of new business for the 2023 Annual Conference.
Also coming to next year’s Conference is a request for an Annual Conference study committee on calling denominational leadership.
Task team proposals
The task team that has been holding conversations with On Earth Peace brought a detailed report and presented four recommendations. Standing Committee adopted the four recommendations, with several amendments and editing changes, and named a small group of Standing Committee members to follow up on each in preparation for the next year’s business sessions.
Following are the full texts of the recommendations:
Recommendation 1: “Standing Committee will provide full clarity of expectations for agencies in the proposed new covenants with agencies. Standing Committee will also create a process with clear and specific provisions that explain steps to deal with concerns when they arise.”
Recommendation 2: “Standing Committee should act within three years to bring clarification for how Annual Conference decisions and policy statements should be received and implemented, so that all individuals and entities within the church are more likely to have commonly understood and agree upon expectations. Additionally, clear guidelines should be provided for how judgment with regard to compliance should be impartially examined, appealed, or reviewed.”
Recommendation 3: “Standing Committee asks Annual Conference to review the organizational structure of the Church of the Brethren, which includes the denomination, agencies, districts, and local congregations, to address the deep dysfunction that exists in the communication processes, in organizational structure, in our ability to resolve/transform conflict and division, and in the overall effectiveness of the mission of the church.”
Recommendation 4: “Theological differences around human sexuality have too often been manifested in bullying, violence, and a general sense of dismissal toward one another and specifically toward our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters. We must redouble our efforts to live out these differences, as individuals and through our systems of governance, in ways that preserve the humanity, dignity, and deeply held spiritual convictions of all. Harsh, dismissive, unloving, and unforgiving behaviors toward one another cannot have a home among us. We recommend that a first step toward healing be taken through Standing Committee leading a significant intentional time of confession and repentance as part of Annual Conference 2023 around this specific point of failure in our relationships with one another. As is so well stated in James 5:16: ‘Therefore confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.’”
In other business
Standing Committee engaged in conversation about the state of the church with general secretary David Steele and district executive representative Torin Eikler, after receiving a report from the denomination’s Leadership Team. Questions focused on the scope of the loss of congregations and the effect on the denomination, both emotionally and practically. Steele commented on the “loss and pain” he has seen in visits with congregations and districts, the problem of misinformation being spread around the denomination, and the unprecedented problem of having another denomination actively coming in and meeting with Church of the Brethren congregations. Standing Committee members asked if the denomination could provide helps in terms of processing the loss emotionally, ways to approach congregations before they finalize decisions to leave, ways to re-engage congregations that simply drift away from district and denomination, and options for district interventions, among others.
Elected to the Nominating Committee were Richard Davis of Atlantic Southeast District, Becky Maurer of Southern Ohio and Kentucky District, Ben Polzin of Northern Ohio District, and Dennis Webb of Illinois and Wisconsin District.
Elected to the Appeals Committee were Ron Beachley of Western Pennsylvania District, Mary Lorah Hammond of Michigan District, and Don Shankster of Pacific Southwest District. The first alternate is Laura Y Arroyo Marrero of Puerto Rico District. The second alternate is Myron Jackson of Missouri and Arkansas District.
Nominated by the officers and affirmed by the Standing Committee to serve as this year’s Two-Thirds Committee were Becky Maurer of Southern Ohio and Kentucky District, Don Shankster of Pacific Southwest District, and Ed Woodard of Virlina District.
–– Find the full background documents for the business agenda linked at www.brethren.org/ac2022/business. Find a photo album of the Standing Committee meetings at www.brethren.org/photos/nggallery/annual-conference-2022/annual-conference-in-omaha-standing-committee.
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