Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Church of the Brethren redesigns Congregational Life Ministries, closes Washington Office.

The Church of the Brethren is redesigning its Congregational Life Ministries and has eliminated the Congregational Life Team, effective April 6. The denomination also closed its Washington Office, as of March 19. The actions are part of a plan created by executive staff to respond to financial challenges facing the denomination and the decision of the Mission and Ministry Board to reduce the operating budget for core ministries by $505,000 this year.

The decisions eliminate positions of Congregational Life Team members, effective April 6, and the position of director of the Brethren Witness/Washington Office, effective March 19 (see personnel announcements below).

"As I informed staff before the Spring board meeting, the level of financial losses that we are looking at necessitate a cut in staff," said general secretary Stan Noffsinger. "It is a heavy burden to reduce staff at this time. It has been our desire all along to not end any positions, but the scope of this is greater than our ability to merely reduce operational expenses. There is not one ministry area in the church that is going unscathed in this process. It is a situation affecting the whole church"

At the Spring meeting, the expectation for income to support the core ministries of the church this year was revised downward by almost $1 million. The board was informed of a loss of about $7 million in net assets in 2008, caused by the market downturn, as well as a 10 percent decrease in total giving to the denomination compared to 2007.

"The board took its responsibility seriously, and at each decision moment were cognizant of the impact for employees as well as members of the church who have passion for ministry areas that will be affected," Noffsinger said.

All employees were part of a staff meeting and conference call prior to the Spring board meeting, at which the general secretary announced that staff reductions would be made following the decision of the board, if the budget reduction was approved. After the board meeting, at another all-employee meeting and conference call, he reviewed the board’s decisions and announced that staff reductions would come over the next two weeks.

"We are doing what we can to help out employees who lose their positions," Noffsinger said, "including a three-month severance package and an outplacement service that walks with people until they get new employment."

Congregational Life Ministries:

The plan for Congregational Life Ministries outlines a new staff configuration with four director-level positions to be based at the Church of the Brethren General Offices in Elgin, Ill. The four positions are Intercultural Ministries, Transforming Practices, Spiritual Life and Discipleship, and Youth and Young Adult Ministries.

Jonathan Shively, executive director of Congregational Life Ministries, acknowledged how difficult the decision has been to eliminate the Congregational Life Team, a program of the church in place since the beginning of 1998. "This is tough for the church, and we know it," he said.

The redesign is intended to maintain vital ministries while still making staff reductions necessary to meet the reduction in budget, Shively said. "Our relationship and service to congregations is not going to go away," he said. "It’s going to look different, and feel different, but we still have a commitment to congregations."

The Congregational Life Team has worked for more than a decade to provide a bridge between the denomination and congregations across the US and Puerto Rico. The team has supported local church pastors and leaders as well as district staff and leaders; has helped congregations through coaching, consulting, and strategic visioning; and has resourced the church in a variety of areas including evangelism, church organization, Christian education, and intercultural ministry. Team members also have represented the Church of the Brethren through a variety of ecumenical assignments.

The original vision was for a Congregational Life Team of between 15 and 17 staff members, working in five geographic areas across the country. The current redesign of the program has become necessary "not because the CLT model was not working, but with the necessity to do ministry with less staff," Shively said.

The two new director-level positions will emphasize building capacity for leadership in local congregations and districts. Staff will shift from point-of-service ministries in geographic areas to ministries that build up congregational leadership and develop networks to exchange services and resources throughout the denomination.

"The denomination’s role shifts from trying to address the wide range of specific, individualized needs to building intentional resource networks and increasing the capacity of disciples at all layers of the church’s life to lead one another effectively and faithfully," Shively said.

The new director-level position for Transforming Practices will focus on helping leaders influence change, expand mission, cultivate evangelism, and assist the church through the process of transformation. A director of Spiritual Life and Discipleship will promote discipleship, resource spiritual formation, and facilitate understanding of congregational ethics guidelines.

In addition, former Congregational Life Team member Ruben Deoleo will continue on staff as director of Intercultural Ministries responsible for equipping the denomination toward its intercultural vision and commitments. Chris Douglas continues as director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries, which provides leadership in understanding youth and young adult culture, trains the church for ministry with young people, and provides programmatic opportunities for youth and young adults.

For more information about the redesign of Congregational Life Ministries, contact executive director Jonathan Shively at or 800-323-8039.

Washington Office:

Following the closing of the Washington Office, Jay Wittmeyer, executive director of Global Mission Partnerships, will be structuring a listening process to gather broad denominational feedback for reshaping the way the church carries out the work of witness, peacebuilding, and justice.

As the listening process takes shape, executive staff emphasized that the Church of the Brethren will continue its longstanding relationships with partners in peacemaking, continues to have representatives on the boards of ecumenical institutions to speak out and support the denomination’s witness for peace and justice, will continue giving grants to peace partners such as Churches for Middle East Peace, continues the practice of the general secretary signing on to advocacy statements from the National Council of Churches and other ecumenical bodies, continues advocacy for healthcare reform through the Caring Ministries and the Fellowship of Brethren Homes, and will continue providing opportunities and events such as the Christian Citizenship Seminar.

Some of the work responsibilities of the Washington Office will be centered at the General Offices, including resources to be made available through the Global Missions Partnerships office, online resources to support efforts for peace witness, continuing Faith Expeditions, opportunities for political advocacy, and the work of the church to support conscientious objection.

The conscientious objection work is extremely important to the Church of the Brethren, Wittmeyer said, and will be done through the office of Global Mission Partnerships at the church’s General Offices. At that location, individual conscientious objector files may be kept safe in the vault in the Brethren Historical Library and Archives.

Services or functions previously handled by the Washington Office should be channeled through the Global Mission Partnerships office; call 800-323-8039. The upcoming Christian Citizenship Seminar that has been co-sponsored by the Brethren Witness/Washington Office and the Youth and Young Adult Ministry will be led by Chris Douglas, director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry.

Source: 3/25/2009 Newsline

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