Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Newsline Extra:
Report from the Fall General Board meeting


The fall meetings of the Church of the Brethren General Board were held Oct. 19-22 in Elgin, Ill., on the theme, "Come Walk with Us." Worship services and devotions addressed a scripture theme from Micah 4:1-5. Chair Tim Harvey opened the meeting in worship with an invitation to join the procession of people streaming to "the mountain of the Lord" in Micah 4.

The board made a major decision to strongly affirm ministries at the Brethren Service Center (see the Newsline Special Report of Oct. 20). In other leading items, the board provisionally accepted a revision of the denomination’s "Ethics in Ministry Relations" paper, adopted a "Resolution on Modern-Day Slavery" and a "Resolution on Ministers’ Medical Insurance Crisis," received a "Resolution Urging Forebearance" from the Association of Brethren Caregivers (ABC), adopted a 2008 budget, and discussed strategic planning for mission.

Ethics in Ministry Relations:

The revised "Ethics in Ministry Relations" document was provisionally accepted with the understanding that the board will receive it again in March for final approval and send it to the 2008 Annual Conference. The document is a revision of a 1996 paper, and outlines biblical foundations for ministerial leadership, a theology of ministerial ethics, an ethical code of conduct for ministers, and a process for dealing with ethical misconduct.

Mary Jo Flory-Steury, the board’s executive director of Ministry, and Nancy Knepper, coordinator of district ministry, presented the revised document. Revisions center on greater clarity and consistency in the code of ethics and process for dealing with complaints of misconduct, and require training for committees that are responsible for dealing with complaints of misconduct. Discussion touched on a wide variety of issues and several amendments were made to the document, which is expected to receive further revision at an upcoming meeting of the Council of District Executives before it returns to the General Board.

Resolution on Ministers' Medical Insurance Crisis:

The board affirmed and sent to the 2008 Annual Conference a "Resolution on Ministers’ Medical Insurance Crisis" jointly sponsored by the Council of District Executives, the Pastoral Compensation and Benefits Advisory Committee, and the officers of the Ministers’ Association. Flory-Steury presented the resolution, saying it is the result of conversations between these groups since the decision of the 2007 Annual Conference to phase out the Brethren Medical Plan’s medical insurance component for active ministers.

"A few of our congregations are interpreting the action that congregations are no longer expected to provide medical insurance coverage for their pastors," she said.

The resolution "reaffirms the value of congregations providing health insurance coverage for pastors and families," acknowledges feelings of "abandonment, betrayal, and distrust" by pastors, directs the establishment of standards for pastors’ medical insurance benefits, encourages expansion of two funds to assist pastors in crisis--the General Board’s Ministry Assistance Fund and the Brethren Benefit Trust’s Church Workers Assistance Plan, and sets the issue in the context of the national health care crisis and sets direction for advocacy work by the Brethren Witness/Washington Office.

As a temporary measure, the General Board’s Executive Committee raised the limit for grants from the Ministry Assistance Fund to $5,000 from $2,000, as funds are available.

Resolution on Modern-Day Slavery:

A resolution against modern-day slavery was adopted and presented to the 2008 Annual Conference, after the board heard a presentation on "Slavery in the 21st Century" by Brethren Witness/Washington Office director Phil Jones and Gather ’Round editor Anna Speicher.

In its resolution, the board noted that slavery is illegal in every nation but that many forms of slavery continue, such as child labor, sexual slavery, and debt bondage. The resolution references Luke 4:18-19 as a gospel mandate and reaffirms the historic opposition of Brethren to slavery.

The church "has spoken out strongly and repeatedly in opposition to slavery and the slave trade, passing antislavery resolutions in 1797, 1812, 1813, 1837, 1845, 1853, 1854, and 1857," the resolution says. It confesses "our complicity in the global network of slavery through consumption of goods and services...produced by slave labor," makes a commitment to education and action, and invites Brethren organizations and members to join in the work along with ecumenical and interfaith partners.

Resolution Urging Forebearance:

A "Resolution Urging Forebearance" from the board of ABC was presented by ABC executive director Kathy Reid. ABC is asking for support for the resolution from the General Board and On Earth Peace. Reid said the ABC board is sharing the paper as "a great concern" and hopes to "take a strong statement to the body of Annual Conference." She described the resolution as pointing to the importance of forebearance in the church, and calling for recognition of the time it takes for the church to work through difficult issues.

The resolution, however, was met with a mixed reaction from members of the General Board--some welcomed it and others expressed strong opposition. One said he feared it would be used to teach unbiblical doctrines, and as an excuse to violate Annual Conference polity. Another said he does not feel heard as a conservative Christian.

"There is no agenda," Reid responded, expressing a willingness from ABC to work on refinement of the wording. She defended the resolution as a call for civility and love as brothers and sisters in Christ. "It is a genuine attempt...to address the really ugly kinds of behavior that we all have seen, sometimes in our agencies, or on the floor of Annual Conference," she said. The resolution "is our attempt to say, we have got to stop hurting each other," she said.

The General Board voted to receive the resolution for the purpose of collaboration among the three agencies, stating that, "Our intent in this collaboration is that all three boards can reach consensus on a refinement of the resolution."

Mission Strategic Planning:

A session on mission was led by Global Mission Partnerships executive director Merv Keeney. In table groups, board members, staff, and guests brainstormed ideas in response to a series of questions, for example, about what effective strategies the church has used to foster engagement in international ministry, and what practices connected with international mission are becoming visible across the church. The session was the first step of a process to create a strategic plan for mission work by the Church of the Brethren.

In other business, the board adopted a 2008 budget of $9,928,630 income, $10,050,500 expense, with a net expense of $121,870; supported Church of the Brethren involvement in a peace conference being planned by the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and authorized a $50,000 grant for the event; nominated Benjamin Stover Barlow, an attorney and member of Montezuma Church of the Brethren in Dayton, Va., for an at-large position on the board; and received several reports including information about possible leasing of property in Lybrook, N.M., to a nonprofit group from Western Plains District.

The board also received an offering of more than $14,000 for its Core Ministries Fund. The meetings were followed by a professional growth event on the topic of decision-making by consensus, led by On Earth Peace.

A photo journal of the fall meetings of the General Board is available at www.brethren.org, click on "Photo Journal."

Source: 10/30/2007 Newsline Extra

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