Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Church of the Brethren Mission and Ministry Board holds first meeting.

The Mission and Ministry Board of the Church of the Brethren held its first meeting on Oct. 18-21 at the denomination's General Offices in Elgin, Ill. The Mission and Ministry Board is the board of the new Church of the Brethren, Inc., and is chaired by Edwin H. Edmonds, pastor of Moler Avenue Church of the Brethren in Martinsburg, W.Va.

Board members come from the former General Board, the former Association of Brethren Caregivers board, and the former Annual Conference Council. Ex-officio members represent Annual Conference, Bethany Theological Seminary, Brethren Benefit Trust, On Earth Peace, and the Council of District Executives.

On the agenda were financial reports and a budget for the new organization, a resolution on the "Responsibility to Protect," reports from several church programs including the Sudan Initiative, and consideration of the need for new strategic planning documents for the new organization, among other business.

The board approved the use of consensus decision making for the meetings, and sat in small groups at round tables instead of at one large board table. At times during the discussions, members engaged in "table talk" in the small groups and reported results to the whole group before moving to decision making.

The meeting began with a day of professional development for board members. The group reviewed the vision, mission, and core values statements of the prior organizations, as well as the roles of board and staff, the ministries that the board oversees including ministries of the former General Board and Association of Brethren Caregivers, stewardship responsibilities of board members, and the consensus process.

Worship began and ended the business meetings. Using a theme from Romans 12:2, "Be transformed by the renewing of your minds," board members and staff leaders expressed hopes for the new organization of the Church of the Brethren, and anticipated exciting and challenging work ahead.

In his opening sermon, chair Eddie Edmonds called for truthfulness and gentleness as the board worked together in a new structure and with a new consensus process. "Christians have to commit to a search for the truth in a spirit of gentleness. We may not all come out in the same place, but we can all be in the same mind in the Lord," he said.

Budget and finances
The board approved by consensus a 2009 total operating budget for all Church of the Brethren ministries of $10,236,210 income, $10,391,760 expense, and an expected $155,550 deficit for next year.

The board's actions included a revision of the 2009 budget parameter for the Core Ministries Fund, adding the sum of $289,000 for the Caring Ministries budget to the General Board's previous budget planning. For the Church of the Brethren's core ministries, a budget parameter of $6,036,000 income and $6,176,000 expense was approved, representing an expected deficit of $140,000.

The action on the budget also represented approval of budgets for the Church of the Brethren's self-funded ministries including Brethren Disaster Ministries, Brethren Press, Global Food Crisis, Material Resources, "Messenger" magazine, and the New Windsor Conference Center.

In financial reports, the board reviewed the 2008 budgets of the General Board and the Association of Brethren Caregivers for the period through August 31. Current income and expense statements for Annual Conference were not yet available. Final year-end reports for 2008 will come to the board at its next meeting in March 2009.

After reviewing a chart showing the 10-year history of net assets for each of the funds, the board expressed concern about an increasing negative net asset for Brethren Press over the past few years and asked the general secretary to bring an action plan to its March meeting. Brethren Press is one of the board's self-funding units.

Funding director Ken Neher reported that giving to the Church of the Brethren remains strong despite the global economic crisis. Treasurer Judy Keyser reviewed concerns regarding the economy, including a volatile investment environment and spiraling increases in costs of energy, travel, food, and other expenses. Finance staff reported that they expect a drop in earnings from investments, but that the board has in place a practice of averaging income from investments over a five-year period to help protect against disastrous losses.

Keyser identified an overarching longterm financial issue for the board, that the Church of the Brethren's income is not matching its current ministry needs.

An offering was received for a capital campaign to upgrade facilities at the General Offices and the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Md. The contributions for the capital campaign totaled $2,083.
Resolution: Responsibility to Protect
There was strong affirmation by the Mission and Ministry Board for a resolution on "The Responsibility to Protect," presented by Phil Jones, director of the Brethren Witness/Washington Office, and Larry Ulrich, a member of York Center Church of the Brethren in Lombard, Ill., who has been involved with an "R2P" coalition connected with the Council of Religious Leaders in Chicago.

The United Nations adopted "The Responsibility to Protect" in 2005, to address the problem of a country where the government persecutes or eliminates its own people, such as in the case of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity. Using all of its diplomatic, economic, and political resources, the UN can under this doctrine use military force as a last resort to halt atrocities.

"We do differ with the UN document on the Responsibility to Protect," said Jones. "We support it fully, except for the use of military force." The resolution was brought as a Church of the Brethren response to the action of the UN and to the global increase of catastrophic atrocities. The resolution also responds to a call from the National Council of Churches Governing Board in 2007, when that body adopted a resolution on the Responsibility to Protect and called for support from member communions.

In discussion of the resolution, board members affirmed it but also identified some concerns about the document. A small task team was asked to bring a revision that more clearly identified alternatives that the Church of the Brethren may suggest for nonviolent prevention of and response to atrocities.

The modified resolution was adopted by consensus. Go to to find the resolution online.
Sudan Initiative
A report on the Sudan Initiative was given by director Brad Bohrer, who had just returned from a visit to southern Sudan. He presented plans to place Church of the Brethren staff with RECONCILE, an organization that does community building and peacemaking work in southern Sudan and was begun under the auspices of the New Sudan Council of Churches. Referring to placements of Brethren mission staff with the New Sudan Council of Churches in years past, Bohrer said, "There is a strong sense that we are coming back to walk alongside" the council again.

Board members responded with numerous concerns about the Sudan Initiative, and some shared critical responses to the initiative from members of their districts. Concerns focused on the perception that the initiative has lost the elements of evangelism and church planting, as well as concerns about funding and donations to the initiative. The board acted by consensus to direct the general secretary to create a communication piece to bring clarity about the Sudan Initiative for the denomination.
Strategic planning
The group discussed strategic planning for the new organization of the Church of the Brethren, including vision, mission, and core values statements. Questions posed for the discussion included whether there is validity in the strategic planning and vision, mission, and core values documents of the prior organizations of the General Board and the Association of Brethren Caregivers, and whether staff should continue to use these documents as guiding principles for their work. After a time of "table talk" in small groups, ideas about how to move forward on strategic planning documents for the new organization were reported. The board will continue the discussion at later meetings.
Other business
The board affirmed the appointments of Stan Noffsinger as general secretary and Judy Keyser as treasurer of the Church of the Brethren.

Another item addressed property considerations in Elgin, Ill. The Stewardship of Property report accepted by the General Board in March 2006 was reviewed, with attention to a recommendation to develop surplus acreage at the General Offices. Noffsinger asked the board to discuss and give guidance on the general question of selling or leasing 13 acres of land located behind the office buildings. He and the treasurer presented information about an opportunity to develop the land presented by Mercy Housing Lakefront, a nonprofit that develops and operates affordable, program-enriched housing for families, seniors, and people with special needs who lack the economic resources to access quality, safe housing opportunities. No action was taken, and the board asked for more information to be brought to its next meeting.

The board received a variety of reports, including a report on the summer's workcamp program; hurricane response by Brethren Disaster Ministries and Children's Disaster Services; the 300th Anniversary gathering in Schwarzenau, Germany; the general secretary's involvement in a meeting with the President of Iran; and work by staff on the issue of human trafficking.

The board also had an opportunity to sign a letter of support to the Synod of the Church of North India (CNI) and the Bishop of Gujarat State. The Church of North India and its members have been seriously affected by violence directed at Christians. The violence began in late August in the State of Orissa, where three of CNI's dioceses are located, but has begun to spread to some other areas. The board heard that it has not yet affected the area where most India Brethren live.
Source: 10/23/2008 Newsline Extra

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