The Annual Conference adopted revised bylaws for the Church of the Brethren and acted on a query on the structure of Annual Conference, a query on guidelines for implementation of the Congregational Ethics Paper, and a recommendation from the denomination’s Leadership Team on appeals of Program and Arrangements Committee decisions.
Query: The Structure of Annual Conference:
Delegates gave overwhelming support to the Standing Committee recommendation to adopt the query on the structure of Annual Conference, and to refer its concerns to the Annual Conference Revitalization Task Force--a body recently put in place by the Conference officers.Query: Guidelines for Implementation of the Congregational Ethics Paper:
The query asks, "What ways are there to structure Annual Conference that might more effectively fulfill the mission of Annual Conference to unite, strengthen, and equip the Church of the Brethren to follow Jesus?"
Standing Committee delegate Vicky Ullery, from Southern Ohio District, told how a group of pastors from Southern Ohio initiated this query. She said it was not designed to do away with the business function of Annual Conference but seeks to uncover ways of enhancing the Conference function of strengthening unity and equipping the church to be the church. Words such as passion, energy, joy, and enthusiasm describe the hope for what Annual Conference may become.
Many people spoke from the floor in favor of the motion, some making suggestions for the task force to consider. Several hoped for more of the flavor of National Youth Conference. Moderator Shawn Flory Replogle noted that two members of the task force have been NYC staffers.
The delegates also overwhelmingly approved adoption of this query and the Standing Committee recommendation "that it be referred to a committee consisting of the appropriate Congregational Life staff and three persons appointed by the Annual Conference officers and confirmed by Standing Committee."Appeals of Program and Arrangements Committee Decisions:
Named to the committee were Joshua Brockway, Church of the Brethren’s director of Spiritual Life and Discipleship and a member of the staff of Congregational Life Ministries; Joan L. Daggett, associate district executive in Shenandoah District; Lisa L. Hazen, pastor of First Church of the Brethren in Wichita, Kan.; and Clyde C. Fry, a retired pastor from Mansfield, Ohio.
The query asks, "Would it not be helpful and contribute toward the unity of the Body if Annual Conference developed a uniform denominational process by which districts might deal with a congregation that engages in questionable ethical activity?"
Standing Committee’s recommendation was presented by delegate Roger Forry from Western Pennsylvania District, which brought the query. During discussion district executive minister Ron Beachley noted that since the Ministerial Ethics paper contains a specific process to follow in the event of allegations of ministerial conduct, there was a desire also to have a similar process applicable to congregations.
Some who spoke from the floor were concerned about the scope of the committee’s mandate. Moderator Shawn Flory Replogle conferred with the officers and said if the committee decides a process is needed, they will move forward to develop it, and bring it back to a future Annual Conference.
Another concern was that a single process applied across all districts may not be appropriate because of differences between districts. One person wondered if a congregation accused of ethical violations might simply decide to leave the denomination, rather than submit to such a process. The presenters pointed out that the intent of the congregational ethics paper is to keep both parties in relationship and to bring healing and transformation, not punishment.
The delegates adopted by more than the two-thirds majority required a recommendation on appeals of decisions made by the Conference’s Program and Arrangements Committee. The recommendation brought by the denomination’s Leadership Team--made up of the three Annual Conference officers and the general secretary--was that Standing Committee be the body to receive such appeals.Church of the Brethren Bylaws Revision:
Added recommendations from Standing Committee also were approved, that this "be adopted as new polity with the understanding that Standing Committee will subsequently develop a policy of how to address appeals of Program and Arrangements decisions that is different from the process Standing Committee follows in making judicatory decisions."
The presenters explained why the Leadership Team thought a change was desirable. Before the recent reorganization, the Annual Conference Council held responsibility to receive such appeals, but several members of the Council also sat on the Program and Arrangements Committee. Since reorganization, the successor to the Council is the Leadership Team, but three of its four members also are on Program and Arrangements.
Several questions from the floor centered on how this new plan would work and how quickly appeals could be handled. The moderator noted that Standing Committee will need to work on developing a process to be used.
The delegate body adopted the revision to the bylaws of the Church of the Brethren by well over the two-thirds margin required. The bylaws under revision were initially adopted in 2008, when the former General Board and Association of Brethren Caregivers joined together in one organization creating the new structure under which the church is now operating.Source: 7/7/2010 Newsline
In 2009, a shorter, clearer revision of the bylaws was brought for a first reading. Delegates were invited to send in suggestions and concerns. The process resulted in minor changes to the document, made for additional clarity or better wording.
In discussion before the vote, a few delegates raised concerns or offered comments. One expressed concern about the legal language, suggesting that the document not refer to the organization as a corporation, but as a church. General secretary Stan Noffsinger replied that the bylaws is a legal document, and that such language is necessary in accordance with the laws of Illinois where the church corporation legally resides.
Composition of the Mission and Ministry Board was another concern. Following these bylaws, the denomination is divided into five areas with two board members coming from each, with Brethren populations varying widely from area to area. Noffsinger replied that members of the denominational board have been either elected or ratified by Annual Conference and always have represented the entire denomination, not just their home districts. He also noted that the Mission and Ministry Board will continue to receive concerns.
The provision that one at-large member of the board can be a person with particular expertise who is not a member of the Church of the Brethren also prompted a question. Noffsinger replied that he could not envision a scenario in which this would be necessary, but that the committee who developed the document wanted to provide for the opportunity if needed.