Thursday, July 07, 2011

Delegates return Special Response business items, reaffirm 1983 paper on human sexuality.

The 2011 Annual Conference has acted on two business items related to issues of sexuality--"A Statement of Confession and Commitment" and "Query: Language on Same-Sex Covenantal Relationships"--which have been the subject of a two-year Special Response Process across the denomination.

The Conference approved the following recommendation from the Standing Committee of district delegates, and an amendment that added a sentence to that recommendation:

"In light of the Special Response process, as outlined by the 2009 paper 'A Structural Framework For Dealing with Strongly Controversial Issues,' the Standing Committee recommends to the 2011 Annual Conference that 'A Statement of Confession and Commitment' and 'Query: Language on Same-Sex Covenantal Relationships' be returned. It is further recommended that the 2011 Annual Conference reaffirm the entire 1983 'Statement on Human Sexuality from a Christian Perspective' and that we continue deeper conversations concerning human sexuality outside of the query process."

The final decision approved the recommendation to return both items of business to the sending bodies, and included the amendment made by James Myer, a leader in the Brethren Revival Fellowship.

The Standing Committee recommendation to return both items of business was put on the floor the morning of Tuesday, July 5, in Step 4 of the five Special Response steps with which the two business items have been processed. Myer was the first at the microphone with his amendment, the only one that was adopted by the delegate body.

Many more amendments and motions were made as the session extended into the afternoon business time, but all were rejected in a process in which the delegates were asked to vote whether or not to process each motion before discussion was allowed. Numerous points of order were called from the microphones, as well as questions of clarification, and challenges about how the Special Response business was conducted.

Special Response process
The five-step decision-making process for highly controversial business items is part of the Special Response Process set in motion by the decision of the 2009 Annual Conference to treat the two items of business using the "Structural Framework for Dealing with Strongly Controversial Issues." This is the first time that the five-step process has been used at an Annual Conference.

Steps 1 and 2 of the process during the evening business session on July 3 included an introduction by Annual Conference moderator Robert E. Alley, who presided. The Forms Reception Committee then presented its report summarizing findings of the hearings held across the 23 church districts over the past year. Members of Standing Committee presented their report and recommendation. Each report was followed by time for questions of clarification. (Find the Standing Committee report and recommendation and a link to the Forms Reception Committee report at

Step 3 was held in the next day's afternoon business session, in a "sandwich approach" that began with a time for statements of affirmation, then statements of concern or changes needed, and then more statements of appreciation.

Step 4 took place today beginning in the morning business session. The moderator reviewed the process and the temporary suspension of Robert's Rules of Order. Speeches from the floor were limited to one minute. The recommendation of Standing Committee was followed by a time when amendments and motions were made. Although Step 4 does not specify time for discussion of the recommendation as a whole, the moderator gave that opportunity before taking the final vote.

In Step 5, which followed the vote, the moderator gave a statement of closure, expressed appreciation to those who contributed to the process, and led the body in prayer.

Prayer was held throughout the five steps of the process. The moderator also reminded the delegates of the many people in the wider church who share concern about the Special Response business. "As we pray, let us be aware of all the prayers of people here and in distant places that surround us in our Conference," he told the delegate body. "Let those prayers connect you to the eternal One, the Holy One, the Almighty, and the Christ."
Presentation by Forms Reception Committee
The Forms Reception Committee, a subcommittee of Standing Committee, brought its 12-page report summarizing the Speical Response hearings that have been held across the denomination.

The committee made up of chair Jeff Carter, Ken Frantz, and Shirley Wampler, presented what they characterized as a qualitative as well as quantitative analysis of responses received during the process. "We wanted to model transparency" in providing the information, Carter said.

Responses were reported to the committee by means of standardized forms filled out by the note takers and facilitators of the hearings, which were organized by Standing Committee members in each district. Additional people responded via an online response option and the sending of letters, e-mail, and other communications. The committee said it gave greater weight to the responses received through hearings.

The committee handled over 1,200 pages of material, Carter reported, representing 6,638 people who took part in 121 hearings, which included 388 small group meetings.

"These hearings were characterized by respect," Frantz said as he reported the methodology of the committee in analyzing the responses in four areas: structural elements such as the way hearings were held, common themes and statements such as the tenor of conversation, contextual elements such as Brethren heritage and understandings, and statements of wisdom.

"We like numbers," Carter said, "but this is a qualitative study, meaning that it's very difficult to count votes when you're talking conversation."

He and the other committee members presented an analysis that about two-thirds of the Church of the Brethren supports the "Statement of Confession and Commitment," with about one-third rejecting it; and that about two-thirds want to return the "Query: Language on Same-Sex Covenantal Relationships," with about one-third wanting to accept it.

That finding was qualified by a number of others, including that the reasons for people's attitudes toward the two business items varied considerably; that "the majority of the denomination is in the middle," as Carter put it; that over half of the hearing groups were not of one mind; that many hearings focused instead on the 1983 statement on human sexuality; that there is general weariness with the conversation; and that great love for the church was expressed.

"The threat and fear of split is palpable," Frantz said. "Many of you cautioned against a vote that would create that split." Later during the time for questions he added, "There's a really strong steady desire to remain in unity with one another. It was very clear."

The Special Response Process itself was "a life-giving, thought-filled conversation," Carter said.

Following the reports, the Forms Reception Committee and Standing Committee received many affirmations for their work. Some questions of clarification asked particularly about the two-thirds, one-third analysis, and there were requests for additional data such as more information about the ages of people taking part in the hearings.
Decision to 'return'
In response to a question asked about what it means to "return" a business item, Conference secretary Fred Swartz answered that to recommend return is one of seven possible responses for Standing Committee to make to an item of new business.

To return an item may indicate several things, he said, among them that Standing Committee feels the concern has already been answered, or that the concern may not be appropriate, or that the concern has prompted another way of responding other than a simple yes or no. In this case, he told the delegates, Standing Committee feels the concern was answered in another way.

To return an item of business is not synonymous with rejection, he emphasized, adding that the Forms Reception Committee report indicates that both the query and statement served a valuable function.

Bob Kettering and Cathy Huffman were the Standing Committee members who presented the recommendation. Kettering explained that the committee is counseling congregations and districts to continue discussion and to refrain from forwarding queries about sexuality to Annual Conference. "At this moment there may be better and healthier seek the mind of Christ," he said.

Huffman responded to a question about whether the Standing Committee report, which advocates forbearance, means there should be no punitive response to congregations engaging in discussion of sexuality.

The Standing Committee report affirms relationship with one another, she responded. "As congregations we respect our differences," she said, giving examples of congregations that differ on women in pastoral leadership or participation of members in the military. She went on to add that congregations have freedom to follow the Spirit and to invite anyone to be part of them without fear of censure.
At the start of the extra evening business session at 9 p.m. on July 5, which had been made necessary by the length of time taken for Special Response discussion earlier in the day, a serious situation was shared with the Conference.

General secretary Noffsinger was called to the microphone to share the following statement:
"When we come to Annual Conference we're a family and we have a concern related to a member of our family. When one person is affected, the Bible assures us that we all are affected. A gay person here at Annual Conference has received a credible death threat. We have contacted security, and the Grand Rapids police are involved in the investigation. We in the Leadership Team are grieved by this, especially if it is someone within our gathering who is responsible for the violence of this threat. This is not behavior that is acceptable within the Church of the Brethren and we want to be very clear that it will not be tolerated."
The moderator then led the body in prayer.

Bob Krouse is chosen as moderator-elect, and more election results.

Bob Krouse, who was nominated from the floor, has been elected to the position of moderator-elect. He is a resident of Fredericksburg, Pa., and pastor of Little Swatara Church of the Brethren in Atlantic Northeast District. He will serve as moderator of the 2013 Annual Conference.

Additional election results:
Program and Arrangements Committee: Thomas Dowdy of Long Beach, Calif.

Bethany Theological Seminary trustees: representing the colleges - Jonathan Frye of McPherson, Kan.; representing the laity - D. Miller Davis of Westminster, Md.

Committee on Interchurch Relations: Torin Eikler of Morgantown, W.Va.

Pastoral Compensation and Benefits Advisory Committee: Herb High of Lancaster, Pa.

On Earth Peace Board: Patricia Ann Ronk of Roanoke, Va.

Brethren Benefit Trust Board: John Waggoner of Herndon, Va.

Mission and Ministry Board: Area 3 - Becky Rhodes of Roanoke, Va.; Area 4 - Jerry Crouse of Warrensburg, Mo.; Area 5 - W. Keith Goering of Wilson, Idaho.
Appointments confirmed by the Conference:
Mission and Ministry Board: Janet Wayland Elsea of Port Republic, Va.; Don Fitzkee of Manheim, Pa.; and Patrick C. Starkey of Roanoke, Va.

On Earth Peace Board: Madalyn Metzger of Bristol, Ind.; Louise Knight of Harrisburg, Pa.

Bethany Theological Seminary trustees: Gregory W. Geisert of Harrisonburg, Va.; David W. McFadden of N. Manchester, Ind.

Brethren Benefit Trust Board: Deb Romary of Fort Wayne, Ind.; Craig H. Smith of Elizabethtown, Pa.
Resolution on war in Afghanistan calls for withdrawal of combat troops.

The Annual Conference adopted a Resolution the War in Afghanistan. The resolution was received from the Church of the Brethren Mission and Ministry Board, which had approved it during a partial-day meeting on July 2. The board forwarded the resolution on Afghanistan immediately the same morning to the Standing Committee of district delegates for Annual Conference consideration.

The last time the Church of the Brethren spoke on Afghanistan was when the General Board issued a resolution after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The current resolution has been made in part because of encouragement from the National Council of Churches and ecumenical colleagues to provide a peace church response to the war in Afghanistan.

The resolution calls on the President and members of Congress to began an immediate withdrawal of all combat troops, and to instead invest resources into the development of the Afghan people and infrastructure.

A list of six other recommendations urge the Church of the Brethren to become more engaged in areas such as humanitarian aid, alternatives to violence, ministry to those affected by the war, interfaith and intercultural dialogue, and study, prayer, and action related to just peacemaking.

Congregational Life Ministries to facilitate revision of congregational ethics document.

In response to the "Guidelines for Implementation of the Congregational Ethics Paper" query adopted in 2010, a study committee brought recommendations to this year's Annual Conference.

The committee recommended that the 1993 "Ethics in Congregations" paper be reviewed, revised, and updated. The revised document would also include guidelines and suggestions for a denominational process of accountability. The report recommends "that these revisions be facilitated by Congregational Life Ministries staff in collaboration with the Council of District Executives and the Office of Ministry."

Joshua Brockway, director of Spiritual Life and Discipleship, presented the report. He remarked that although other denominations have long had policies regarding ministerial ethics, the Church of the Brethren may have been the first to adopt an ethics document for congregations. He also noted that going as far back in history as the book of Acts, Christians have met together to consider actions of faith and how to live out Christian values and principles.

A question from the floor concerned whether the revised and updated paper would come back to Annual Conference for approval. Brockway stated that it would come back for Conference action. He added that in the meantime, he expected a thorough process of consultation and review, which would take more than a year's time to accomplish.

Conference adopts query on climate change, returns query on proper decorum.

The Conference acted on two queries brought to the delegate body on Tuesday, July 5. The Conference returned the "Query: Proper Decorum" brought by Mountain Grove Church of the Brethren and Shenandoah District, and adopted the "Query: Guidance for Responding to the Changing of Earth's Climate" brought by Circle of Peace Church of the Brethren and Pacific Southwest District.

Proper decorum
Following the custom for the moderator-elect to handle one item of business, Tim Harvey presided over discussion of the query on proper decorum. This query petitioned the Annual Conference to have rules of proper decorum relating to persons' positions on issues before the Annual Conference.

The concern arose as for the past few years many people have been wearing things at Conference to signal their stance on contentious issues. The recommendation from Standing Committee was that the query "be returned with appreciation and that the district be referred to the section in the Annual Conference booklet entitled 'Accountability to One Another.' "

Responses from the floor included much discussion of the rainbow and black and white scarves being worn. Some people deplored them for being divisive, but comment was also given that they were helping stimulate good conversations between persons with different views. One delegate reminded the body of the biblical call to mutual submission and respect for one another.

Standing Committee's recommendation that the query be returned
was adopted on a voice vote.
Climate change
The query asked for Conference's position on climate change and for guidance about how individuals, congregations, and the denomination can take concrete action and offer leadership on this issue. Standing Committee's recommendation was that the query should "be adopted and that it be referred to the Washington Advocacy Office of the Global Mission Partnerships"--a program of the Church of the Brethren.

During debate, a couple of amendments were proposed but none were adopted. One would have provided more detail about how the Washington office would handle this assignment and asked that a progress report be made to a future Annual Conference. Another, which was determined to be a substitute motion, would have returned the query to the district. Several spoke in favor of it, most because they did not believe that human-caused global warming has been established as scientific fact. The substitute motion failed when it was put to a vote.

Work on the query had to be suspended for the dinner break and evening worship. Moderator Robert Alley told the delegates to return after worship at 9 p.m. for an unusual night session. After more discussion, the recommendation from Standing Committee was adopted without amendment.
Standing Committee accepts new vision statement for the decade.

In addition to its work to make recommendations on business coming before the Annual Conference, the Standing Committee of district delegates also accepted a new vision statement for the Church of the Brethren for this decade during its pre-Conference meetings in Grand Rapids, Mich.

The committee has recommended the new vision statement to the 2012 Annual Conference for adoption. In elections, the body named a new group of church representatives to the National Council of Churches (NCC). An appeal was dealt with in closed session.

Vision statement
The denominational vision statement for the decade was brought by a task team that has been working on its formulation, and was presented by several members of the group: Jim Hardenbrook, Bekah Houff, David Sollenberger, and Jonathan Shively, executive director of Congregational Life Ministries.

The statement reads: "Through Scripture, Jesus calls us to live as courageous disciples by word and action: To surrender ourselves to God, to embrace one another, to express God's love for all creation." It was presented in a booklet that included related resources, a study guide suitable for use by congregations, and ideas for how to implement the statement.

Two Standing Committee members, Ron Nicodemus and James R. Sampson, were appointed to the task team to help prepare for presentation of the statement in 2012. The vision statement also will be sent to the church agencies for their planning prior to the 2012 Conference.
Ron Beachley, Audrey deCoursey, and Phil Jones were elected Church of the Brethren representatives to the NCC. Also, new members were named to committees of the Standing Committee: George Bowers, Mark Bowman, Charles Eldredge, and Bob Kettering were named to the Nominating Committee; David Crumrine, Melody Keller, and Victoria Ullery were named to the Appeals Committee.
Board sends Afghanistan resolution to Conference, sets reduced budget parameter for 2012.

In a partial-day meeting on July 2, the Church of the Brethren Mission and Ministry Board approved a resolution on Afghanistan that was sent for adoption to the Conference (see above story), sharply reduced the budget for 2012, heard reports, and participated in presentation of this year's Open Roof Award.

The board approved a parameter for the 2012 budget that requires reductions of $638,000 to achieve a balanced budget in the Core Ministries Fund. Approval of the detailed, line-item budget of $4.9 million will be delayed beyond the usual October timeline in order to accomplish the reductions. A need to reduce the 2012 budget had been anticipated by staff and board doing financial planning over the past year.

Among other business items, the board:
  • heard reports from Ruthann Knechel Johansen, who represented the church at the International Ecumenical Peace Conference in Jamaica; and board member Andy Hamilton, who participated in a delegation to celebrate the completion of 100 homes in Haiti;

  • received an update on development of the Ministerial Leadership paper;

  • participated in honoring Oakton (Va.) Church of the Brethren, which received this year's Open Roof Award for its efforts in the area of disabilities.
Ben Barlow is beginning a two-year term as board chair, with Becky Ball-Miller serving as chair-elect. Other members selected for the Executive Committee were Andy Hamilton and Pam Reist.

Ministry of Reconciliation offers post-Conference version of insight session.

It is not too late to participate in the "What Have We Learned from the Special Response Process" insight session offered by On Earth Peace and the Ministry of Reconciliation.

Because the extra business session called for Tuesday night at 9 p.m. affected attendance for the insight session, MoR program coordinator Leslie Frye is offering a post-Annual Conference version. The purpose will be to give participants an opportunity to share what they would like to carry forward and what they would like to leave behind from the Special Response process church has been engaged in for the past two years.

All are invited to share their reflections on the process (not the outcome, just the process) on a form that is available from Frye, and return it in the next few weeks. Results will be compiled and shared.

Contact Leslie Frye, program coordinator, On Earth Peace Ministry of Reconciliation,, 620-755-3940.

Offering the table.

Offerings taken during worship services are often assumed to be only money, but during the July 2 worship service of Annual Conference, attendees offered much more than that.

As a way of tangibly "extending Jesus table," moderator Robert Alley suggested a special opportunity for Brethren to offer gifts other than their dollars to people around the world. So a special offering of comforters and school supply kits was taken during worship, and many people participated.

After the traditional offering bags passed each row, a quiet parade of worshipers made their way forward. As the bell choir beautifully chimed the tune of "It Is Well with My Soul," grandmothers offered comforters, children offered crayons and notebooks in canvas bags, some families offered boxes of kits, and all types of Brethren offered what they were led to give.

Photos of Church of the Brethren ministries in action skimmed across the mega screens as people lined up to give. The pile quickly grew to a mountain, and just as tangible as the gifts was the joy that filled the room.

These unique offerings will be collected at the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Md., and distributed by Church World Service to families who need them, extending Jesus' table around the world.

Conference by the numbers.
  • 3,200 final registration number for the 2011 Annual Conference. This number includes 861 delegates as well as the nondelegates who attended.

  • 388 peak number of online viewers of Annual Conference webcasts, during the Tuesday afternoon discussion of Special Response business. Other points of highest participation in the webcasts were the Sunday evening business session Step 1 in the Special Response process (348), and the Tuesday morning session Step 4 of the process (346). Peak viewership for worship was on Tuesday, with 294 viewers.

  • 185 people at the new delegate orientation.

  • 150 walkers and runners in the annual 5K Fitness Challenge sponsored by Brethren Benefit Trust, on Sunday morning, July 3. Nathan Hosler was the overall winner for the second year in a row, coming in with a time of 17:24. Chelsea Goss finished at 21:43, claiming the first spot for female runners. Don Shankster was the first-place male finisher of the walking race with a time of 33:08. Paula Mendenhall took the first-place female walker with a time of 36:30.

  • 2 new fellowship and 2 new congregations welcomed by Annual Conference: Renacer Roanoke, Va.; Peace Covenant Church, in the "triangle" area of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill, N.C.; Light of the Gospel Fellowship, Brooklyn, N.Y.; and Mountain Dale Church in West Marva District.

  • $53,352.33 received in the Conference offerings during worship, in a preliminary number yet to be confirmed by the Conference office.

  • 4 mini quilts and quilted wall hangings auctioned for $5,085, to raise funds for hunger and the Global Food Crisis Fund.

  • $3,240 raised in a silent auction of the district comforters that were brought as an offering during the first evening of the Conference. The original idea was to donate the comforters to Church World Service (CWS), but after seeing their beauty and quality Conference-goers suggested that a silent auction could raise the money to buy many more blankets for CWS. The total raised by the silent auction will buy 648 CWS blankets.

  • 314 pounds of food representing 241 and a half meals given in Monday evening's offering of food to the West Michigan Food Bank. The junior and senior high groups helped to collect the offering and load it for transfer to the food bank.

  • about 10 denominational staff, family members, and friends bicycled from Elgin, Ill.--location of the Church of the Brethren General Offices--to Grand Rapids, Mich., to attend Annual Conference. The two-day bike trip took a route via Milwaukee, Wis., and the ferry across Lake Michigan. Bicyclers included Nevin and Maddie Dulabaum, Becky Ullom, LeAnn Wine, Debbie Noffsinger, Anna Emrick, John Carroll, Joe Liu, Jeff Lennard, and Randy Miller, among others.

  • 15th of October is the deadline to submit recipes for a new Brethren Press project. In an announcement titled "What's Cooking?" Conference-goers found out that a new "Inglenook Cookbook" is coming and Brethren Press needs recipes to include in it. Since 1901, the "Inglenook Cookbook" has been a tradition passed from generation to generation. The new cookbook project looks to follow in that same tradition by assembling the best recipes from today's kitchens. Submit recipes by Oct. 15, and help continue the tradition. To find more visit The "Inglenook Cookbook": live simply, eat well.

  • $1,000 donated by generous supporters of Brethren Press to provide gift certificates to Conference-goers this year to stock church or camp libraries. Four $250 gift certificates were won by Ridgely (Md.) Church of the Brethren, Northview Church of the Brethren in Indianapolis, Ind.; Elm Street Church of the Brethren in Lima, Ohio; and Camp Alexander Mack.

Newsline is produced by the news services of the Church of the Brethren. Contact the editor at Coverage of the 2011 Annual Conference is by the News Team of Jan Fischer-Bachman, Mandy Garcia, Karen Garrett, Amy Heckert, Regina Holmes, Frank Ramirez, Glenn Riegel, Frances Townsend, and editor and news director Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford. Wendy McFadden serves as executive director of Brethren Press.