Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Plan of merger for agencies is approved, forbearance paper adopted.

Annual Conference moderator James Beckwith led the business sessions. The delegate body dealt with several major items.

Resolutions approving plan of merger of church agencies:

Annual Conference unanimously adopted resolutions approving the plan and agreement of merger of the Association of Brethren Caregivers (ABC) and the General Board into a single corporation. The new organization will include the functions of the Annual Conference Council. The action changes the name of the new organization to Church of the Brethren, Inc.

The resolutions were presented by the Implementation Committee elected in 2007 to create a plan for the merger, after Conference adopted the recommendation of the Review and Evaluation Committee to unite the agencies into a new incorporated legal entity. The resolutions also have been approved by the ABC board, the Fellowship of Brethren Homes (the legal members of ABC), and by the General Board.

In adopting the resolutions, the Conference also approved articles of incorporation and amended and restated bylaws. In a separate action the body approved the report of the Implementation Committee. Delegates were invited to take concerns and suggestions for improvements of the bylaws to the Annual Conference officers or to the general secretary, as bylaws will be reviewed again as the plan is put into place.

Moderator James Beckwith explained that the action that was called for was "a legal process to complete what we started last year when we said we wanted these bodies to merge." The action combines the two boards into one new board called the Mission and Ministry Board. It creates a new Leadership Team for the denomination, which will include the Annual Conference Officers and the general secretary. All ministries of the two boards will continue in the new organization.

The action does not affect the organization of Annual Conference or Standing Committee. Annual Conference continues to be the highest and final legislative authority of the denomination.

Resolution Urging Forbearance:

The Resolution Urging Forbearance brought by ABC, the General Board, and On Earth Peace, was adopted with one amendment. It reviews Brethren tradition and related scripture, and resolves to commit to practices of forbearance amid differences.

The text of the short resolution begins, "We find ourselves in a world where people are driven apart by deep differences. These divisions seep into the church, pitting us against one another in action and language. Yet God has entrusted us with a ministry of reconciliation."

Citing 2 Corinthians 5:17-19 and Matthew 5:17, and giving a brief review of scriptural references to forbearance--Ephesians 4:2 and 6:9, Colossians 3:13, and 2 Corinthians 12:6--the paper also quotes from Annual Conference statements.

The resolution received a lot of discussion in the business sessions. Concerns came particularly from districts recently involved in conflict, with questions about whether the paper changes polity and would bypass district decisions. Others said it could be abused, and might keep Brethren from holding one another accountable.

ABC executive director Kathy Reid responded, "It does not change polity. This is a call to remember our heritage as brothers and sisters in Christ and hold each other in love."

The amendment that passed was brought by a delegate from her congregation's peace education committee. First it added the words, "We respect those who do not agree and continue in fellowship with them." Then it added another clause to an existing sentence: "We preach and teach peace without separating ourselves from those who choose military service or otherwise question the official position of the denomination."

The resolution was adopted on a show of hands, although with significant opposition.

Update to Ethics in Ministerial Relations:

An update to the Ethics in Ministerial Relations paper was adopted with several amendments. Mary Jo Flory-Steury, executive director of Ministry, explained that the update comes out of 12 years of experience of using the 1996 paper in the denomination.

Main amendments concerned pastors ministering to former congregations, and required congregations to study the denomination's paper on congregational ethics while working on the hiring of pastoral leadership and during extended pastorates. Other amendments strengthened the paper's call for ministerial leaders to live by high standards, and added a reference to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Several speakers pointed out places where they thought the wording did not go far enough in naming specific types of misbehavior and abuse. Those concerns did not result in any amendments to the paper.

An amendment was proposed because of concern that pastors could be abused by malicious anonymous complaints. The paper allows persons to anonymously complain and initiate a grievance process. However, Flory-Steury pointed out that if the complaint is taken through the full process outlined in the paper, the name of the accuser would become known to investigators, although kept confidential. The amendment was voted down.

Another proposed amendment that did not pass concerned use of pornography. Flory-Steury suggested that the issue was covered under general statements regarding integrity of the ministerial life, exercising a lifestyle consistent with the teachings of Jesus. The amendment was voted down, but the moderator quickly stated that this was not to imply approval of pornography.

Resolution on Slavery in 21st Century:

A Resolution on Slavery in the 21st Century was adopted, including an amendment made by Standing Committee that added a phrase "to change our personal lifestyle habits that support it (slavery)." A Study and Action Guide on Modern-Day Slavery that provides resources to accompany the resolution is available at

Resolution on Ministers' Medical Insurance Crisis:

A Resolution on Ministers' Medical Insurance Crisis was adopted. It reaffirms the value of congregations providing health insurance for pastors and their families, calls on the General Board to work at the issue in several ways, and encourages Brethren Benefit Trust to extend aid through assistance funds. It follows up on action of the 2007 Annual Conference to end the Brethren Medical Plan for pastors. Director of Ministry Mary Jo Flory-Steury spoke of hearing of churches that erroneously interpreted last year's decision to mean that they no longer had responsibility for providing medical insurance for their pastors.

In other business, the concern of the Query: Conference Witness to Host City was adopted and referred to the Program and Arrangements Committee to coordinate with the host district; a revision to the Annual Conference paper on Unfunded Mandates also passed; a 4.2 percent annual adjustment to the cash salary table for pastors for 2009 was approved; ABC gave an interim report on its response to the 2007 query on child abuse prevention; and numerous reports were received.

In the report from the Program and Arrangements Committee, Annual Conference executive director Lerry Fogle reported that the financial situation of Annual Conference is much better than a year ago, and that the sum of $40,000 is being returned to the Conference by the 300th Anniversary Committee, which did not need the full funding it had received. "We expect to end the year 2008 well into a surplus," Fogle said.

Five new fellowships and two new congregations were welcomed: Church in Drive Fellowship in Saginaw, Mich.; Faith in Action Fellowship in Delta, Ohio; Lakeside Fellowship in Smith Mountain Lake, Va.; Una Nueva Vida en Cristo Fellowship in Virlina District; Flowing Faith Fellowship in Stokesdale, N.C.; Puerta Del Cielo Church of the Brethren in Atlantic Northeast District; and His Way Church of the Brethren/Iglesia de los Hermanos El Cristo Camino in Southeastern District.

Because of time constraints, the moderator announced that the report from the delegates to the National Council of Churches will be distributed in another way, and that the Living Peace Church stories may be made available via the website.

Source: 7/16/2008

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