A decision to close Material Resources–a Church of the Brethren program that collects, processes, warehouses, and ships material relief aid–and a statement on “Seeking Peace in Israel and Palestine,” as well as a budget for 2024 topped the agenda of the Mission and Ministry Board’s Fall 2023 meetings on Oct. 20-22 at the General Offices in Elgin, Ill.
The Mission and Ministry Board is the denominational board of the Church of the Brethren. This was the first meeting presided over by Colin Scott, who began his term as chair in July. He was assisted by chair-elect Kathy Mack and general secretary David Steele.
Material Resources: The decision to close Material Resources will wind down the program over a period of up to 30 months. Not affected are Brethren Disaster Ministries and Children’s Disaster Services, which continue to work out of the Brethren Service Center. Employees in Material Resources were informed of the decision on Monday morning, Oct. 23. Those who stay through the end of the program will receive standard severance packages. See the full report at www.brethren.org/news/2023/board-decides-to-close-material-resources.
Israel and Palestine: The board adopted a statement titled “Seeking Peace in Israel and Palestine.” See the full text in English at www.brethren.org/news/2023/seeking-peace-in-israel-and-palestine and in Spanish at www.brethren.org/news/2023/buscando-la-paz-en-israel-y-palestina.
2024 budget: The board approved a total budget for all denominational ministries of $8,720,960 of income and $8,789,640 of expense, representing an anticipated net expense of $68,680. The decision included approval of a Core Ministries budget of $5,507,000 of income and $5,546,120 of expense, representing an anticipated net expense of $39,120, which will be covered by the Core Ministries net asset balance. Budgets for the self-funding ministries (Brethren Disaster Ministries, Conference Office, Global Food Initiative, and Material Resources) also were approved.
As reported by treasurer Ed Woolf, factors that went into the budget proposal included estimated giving from congregations and individuals, draws from the Bequest Quasi-Endowment and other investment funds, ministry enablement contributions to Core Ministries from restricted donations, and other transfers to Core Ministries from designated funds. He highlighted an additional transfer of $31,000 from designated funds and an additional 1 percent draw of $34,000 from the Brethren Service Center Quasi-Endowment to cover a portion of increased expenses over the Core Ministries parameter of $5,442,000 approved at the board’s July meeting. The additional 1 percent draw will fund Kingian Nonviolence training for the board and staff. The budget proposal also included a 2 percent cost-of-living increase in employee pay and continued employer contributions to health savings accounts.
The board heard that a financial “pinch point” is coming soon, and Woolf noted that this year’s was a difficult budgeting process as staff needed to make additional reductions. The Executive Committee of the board will work to address the “pinch point” by processing how to prioritize denominational ministries.
During the budget discussion, some board members asked for specific information about line items for intercultural ministries. Others asked about the relationship of this budgeting process to the once-a-decade Review and Evaluation process of Annual Conference, due to begin in 2025.
Pastoral Housing Fund: The board approved changes as recommended by the Pastoral Compensation and Benefits Advisory Committee of Annual Conference, in consultation with the Office of Ministry and Eder Financial. The fund is a vehicle to help pastors who are provided with parsonages to purchase their own homes once they leave the parsonage, with financial contributions from the congregation that provides their parsonage. Changes will create a pathway for contributions to the fund to be held in the Eder Retirement Plan instead of mutual funds, to alleviate the associated tax burden for the 30-some pastors who have accounts in the fund and to allow those pastors to use the money for purposes other than housing after age 59-and-a-half. The changes will be proposed to the 2024 Annual Conference for final approval.
Global Church of the Brethren Communion Bylaws: Bylaws for the Global Church of the Brethren Communion were affirmed. The communion is an organization of the national Church of the Brethren denominations around the world and includes the Church of the Brethren in the US. The bylaws were written by members of the communion, which adopted them last November, and were presented to the board by Global Mission executive director Eric Miller. Discussion by the board focused on the “de-centering” of the US church and support was expressed for bylaws and structure that will further that process and empower other Church of the Brethren denominations around the world. The board’s affirmation included the understanding that Miller will carry back to the communion the concerns and questions raised during the discussion.
In other business
Intercultural listening: A listening session was held via Zoom at the request of a small group of ministers from the intercultural community in the Church of the Brethren. The group of nine included people from the Hispanic community in the US and Puerto Rico, the Latin American community, the Haitian-American community, and the African-American community. Also participating was Bob Kettering, a retired minister in Atlantic Northeast District, who is white, to whom some in the group attributed an advocate role.
The group took turns speaking to the board. Several told about painful personal experiences of racism and racist incidents that have occurred in Church of the Brethren settings. They also presented and spoke to a list of questions and topics that brought up frustrations about inadequate print resources and training for ethnic pastors in Spanish and Haitian Kreyol, inaccuracy of Spanish interpretation at Annual Conference, turnover of intercultural ministries staff and the long delay in hiring new staff, lack of intentional engagement with the intercultural community by denominational leadership, and fears that the Church of the Brethren is becoming “open and affirming”–which was characterized as antithetical to Hispanic and Haitian cultures.
“We consider gender ideology to be unbiblical,” said one person, who asked, “Is it possible to be both a multicultural and progressive denomination?” Support was expressed for a restructuring of the denomination and specifically for a query in Atlantic Southeast District–that was said to have been initiated by Kettering–to shift away from geographic districts to districts based on ethnic and theological affinities.
Later, the board chair reported out of closed sessions that the concerns were heard and that follow up has been assigned to the Executive Committee.
Kingian Nonviolence: A Kingian Nonviolence training session was led by Matt Guynn of On Earth Peace and Sherrilynn J. Bevel of the Addie Wyatt Center for Nonviolence Training in Chicago. It was the first in a series of sessions that will be held by Zoom in upcoming months and will culminate with another in-person session at the board’s meeting in March 2024.
The agenda also included: Numerous reports were received including a year-to-date report on 2023 finances. Small group conversations included a board envisioning session and ministry sharing by staff. The board had a chance to greet the Young Adult Steering Committee, which also held meetings at the General Offices over the weekend. The board meetings were marked by moments for prayer and devotions, as well as time for fellowship. Board member Rosanna Eller McFadden preached for the board’s Sunday morning worship service.
Find a photo album at https://churchofthebrethren.smugmug.com/Mission-and-Ministry-Board-Fall-2023.
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