Monday, March 16, 2009

Newsline Special: Report from Mission and Ministry Board meeting


Financial concerns topped the agenda at the March 14-16 meeting of the Church of the Brethren's Mission and Ministry Board. The denominational board met at the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Md., using Romans 12:2 as a scripture theme. The board is chaired by Eddie Edmonds, pastor of Moler Avenue Church of the Brethren in Martinsburg, W.Va.

In its major item of business, the board adopted a staff recommendation to revise the budget parameter for Church of the Brethren core ministries in 2009.

Revision of 2009 budget parameter

The board revised this year’s expectations for income to the Core Ministries Fund downward by close to $1 million. The revision was made in light 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 new budget parameter represents an expected $5,174,000 in income, reduced from $6,036,000. Total expenses for core ministries in the revised budget come to $5,671,000. With these revisions, the board approved a reduction of $505,000 in the operating budget for core ministries, use of $497,000 in net assets, and use of $166,000 in designated funds to cover the deficit that is expected this year.

The budget decision affects the core ministries of the denomination, but does not affect the self-funded ministries. A detailed plan for making the 2009 budget reduction of $505,000 was presented in sessions that included only board and executive staff.

Treasurer Judy Keyser told the board that finance staff anticipates the need for an additional budget reduction of close to $300,000 in 2010, and that there is an assumption of no salary and wage increases next year as well.

The board spent time reviewing the cash flow situation of the church, and how long day-to-day operations can be maintained without having to dip into investments or endowments. LeAnn Wine, executive director of Systems and Services, presented analysis indicating the church holds unrestricted cash assets sufficient to cover average monthly cash flow for several years.

"We have sufficient cash reserves. Our net assets are still strong," Keyser told the Executive Committee. The Church of the Brethren currently has a net asset value of around $23 million, down from the net asset value of some $30 million at the close of 2007.

Keyser emphasized as another piece of "better news" that the Church of the Brethren does not have outside debt obligations. The year 2008 "could have been worse," she said. "There were net assets available. Secondly, designated funds were available. Thirdly, there was a policy change that buffered against substantial losses," she added, referring to a policy on how the church records market fluctuations.

In comments outside of the meetings, general secretary Stan Noffsinger said that the comprehensive plan to make the budget reduction of $505,000 for 2009 will be carried out and announced over the next several weeks. The plan will eliminate a number of employee positions, and also make substantial changes in how certain departments will do their work, he said.

The financial situation "has forced the church to re-envision its ministries," explained Noffsinger, emphasizing that leadership is attempting to use this difficult period to position the denomination to emerge from the economic downturn in good shape and with ministries appropriate to the current climate.

Board reorganization

The board made a decision to immediately reorganize itself to comply with the decision of Annual Conference when the merger of the Association of Brethren Caregivers with the General Board was initially approved: 15 members plus a chair and chair-elect.

Before the economic downturn, the board had planned to gradually reduce its number of members by attrition, with each member of the prior boards invited to fill out their full terms. The immediacy of the decision was intended to help reduce the expenses of the board before Annual Conference this year. Details of the board’s reorganization are to be made public in a later announcement.

Other business

In other actions, the board accepted the 2009 Annual Conference budget, approved the 2008 Annual Report of Church of the Brethren Ministries, and approved spending up to $378,000 from a Land, Buildings, and Equipment Fund to pay for necessary upgrades to safety features and equipment in the kitchen at the New Windsor Conference Center.

The board also affirmed work by staff with regard to the Domestic Hunger Matching Grants program. Staff were empowered to find funding to match grants for the remaining 136 congregations that applied for the program after the money allocated from the Global Food Crisis Fund and the Emergency Disaster Fund was fully expended.

In addition, the board recognized the work of Wil Nolen, who recently retired as president of Brethren Benefit Trust; held a first read-through of revised by-laws for the denomination; did brainstorming for new core values and vision statements; reviewed a timeline for an update of the Ministerial Leadership Paper; and heard a preliminary proposal for a new Children’s Ministry within the Caring Ministries.

Leaders of two organizations headquartered at the Brethren Service Center--IMA World Health and SERRV--addressed the board and gave an update about their organizations. Paul Derstine spoke as president and CEO of IMA World Health; Bob Chase spoke as president and CEO of SERRV.

Reports were received about a master plan for the Brethren Service Center and the General Offices, a new denomination-wide fundraising campaign that is in the planning stages, the church’s Global Mission Partnerships, the work of Children’s Disaster Services, the Brethren Disaster Ministries work in Haiti with the Brethren mission there, the Brethren Academy for Ministerial Leadership, new church development in the US, and several recent conferences.

During some of the reports, board members were invited to engage in "table talk," giving an opportunity for in-depth small group discussion of specific questions related to the ministries of the church.

The Executive Committee approved an expenditure of $47,000 from the Bequest Quasi Endowment Fund for a test study of the new fundraising campaign, with consultants RSI of Dallas, Texas. The appointment of Denise D. Kettering to the Brethren Historical Committee was affirmed by the Executive Committee.

The board meeting also included meals and times of fellowship, a tour of the Brethren Service Center campus, daily devotions, and a Sunday morning worship service.

Comments throughout the meetings returned to the fact that the difficulties facing the Church of the Brethren--in terms of finances and the accompanying necessity for reductions in staffing and program changes--have been forced by outside events.

"We don’t always find the olive branch," said board chair Eddie Edmonds during his opening comments to the Executive Committee. He likened the board to Noah’s dove sent out to find the green branch as a signal that flood waters were receding, but without avail at first. However, the dove each time was able to return to loving shelter in the ark, he said.

Edmonds called on the group to remember the presence of God and the love of the church, even when business is heavy and decisions are not clear. "We don’t always find the prize," he said. But he added, "We will continue to always welcome each other in the church."

The meetings closed with prayer, led by board member Chris Whitacre. The board prayed for those affected by the results of decisions made at the meeting, and for decision-makers to feel confident. "God... you have been with us in the deliberations of this process," Whitacre prayed, "every step of the way."

A photo album from the board meeting will be available later this week at

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