Wednesday, May 20, 2009

District issues open letter regarding church that has left the denomination.

Illinois and Wisconsin District has issued an open letter regarding Grace Bible Church of Astoria, Ill. (formerly Astoria Church of the Brethren) and its decision to leave the denomination. The letter was signed by district executive Kevin Kessler along with Wilbur Bowman, chair of the district Leadership Team, and Gil Crosby, district moderator.

"While we are saddened by the process and the outcome we wish to remain brothers and sisters committed to Christ’s message," the letter said, in part.

Astoria Church of the Brethren "unilaterally decided to disaffiliate from the Church of the Brethren in 2006," said Kessler. "Without consulting the district, the congregation formed a new non-profit corporation named Grace Bible Church of Astoria and transferred property deeds from the old to the new corporation."

The district considered the action to be a breach of denominational polity, which states that "all property owned by a congregation...shall be held in trust for the use and benefit and in conformity with practices and beliefs of the Church of the Brethren" (Church of the Brethren Manual of Organization and Polity, Chapter VI, Article I, Section A). Efforts to amicably resolve the issue were unsuccessful, Kessler said, "thus, legal action was entered into to remedy the situation."

However, the legal process became "long, tedious, and expensive," Kessler said. "With outcomes being unpredictable, the district Leadership Team decided not to continue the legal process. Instead, a new direction was taken, which included an open letter to Grace Bible Church of Astoria stating the district’s position, as well as a letter to congregations to increase their awareness of denominational polity related to church property."

The open letter explained the district’s recent decision to cease legal action to regain the church property: "Grace Bible Church and the Illinois-Wisconsin District have wasted far too many of our resources on unproductive legal action." The letter also reported that the district has given Grace Bible Church full use of the property, "as long as they continue to function as a Body of Christ for the betterment of the Kingdom of God and their neighbor’s good."

The district has asked for an annual remittance of $100 for continued use of the property, "payable every Easter Sunday when we celebrate our risen Lord who sacrificed everything for us." If Grace Bible ceases to function, moves, or ceases Christian practice, the property will remain the responsibility of the district.

The letter closed by asking God’s blessing on the Grace Bible Church. "We are yours in Christ as you are our brothers and sisters in Christ."

An additional letter that went to the board chair of each church in the district asked the congregations to acknowledge receipt of the letter, affirm the polity guidelines concerning church property at a congregational business meeting, update congregational documents including deeds and bylaws, and send a copy of the minutes of the congregational business meeting and copies of updated documents to the district office. The district’s goal is to complete this process in the time frame of one year.

"The intent of this process is to ensure that congregations know about church polity, but more importantly that congregations are aware of their partnership in the larger body we affectionately know as the Church of the Brethren," Kessler said. "The Leadership Team felt that district resources would be better used for raising awareness of our mutuality and sense of community than in pursuing legal action that focuses on division."

Source: 5/20/2009 Newsline

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