Thursday, July 12, 2012

Newsline: July 12, 2012


Delegate seating at round tables facilitates face-to-face conversation, prayer

Delegates join hands in prayer
Photo by Glenn Riegel
Delegates pray at round tables
Photo by Glenn Riegel
“Watching you all hold hands around the tables and pray is one of the most beautiful things I have seen in my life,” said Annual Conference moderator Tim Harvey to the delegate body after one morning’s devotions during the 2012 Conference, held July 7-11 in St. Louis, Mo.

The delegates, who were seated at round tables, had been asked to pray together with their table groups. This is the first year in recent memory that the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference has used table groups for face-to-face discussion, giving feedback on items of business, and prayer in small groups.

The decision to meet at round tables received many expressions of appreciation. “This year I really felt I was a part of everything. I love the round tables. It was the best idea,” said one delegate, speaking at the microphone during a time for conversation with the moderator. Meeting at round tables “is absolutely fantastic,” said another delegate, recommending that it be considered for future Annual Conferences.

Each table seated eight or more delegates, with one identified in advance as table facilitator to help facilitate the group discussion of questions. For at least the first day of business, delegates were seated at tables where they would meet new people from outside their own districts.

“Table talk” was used in particular following reports from the Conference-related agencies: Bethany Theological Seminary, Brethren Benefit Trust, Church of the Brethren Inc., and On Earth Peace. After each report, tables had several minutes to discuss questions posed by the agency, and then several minutes for table representatives to come to the microphones to report out of the groups and ask further questions. During “table talk,” the delegates agreed to a rule limiting speeches at the microphones to 45 seconds in an attempt to allow more people to speak.

Haitian church leaders join in prayer for Nigerian Brethren
Photo by Glenn Riegel
Haitian church leaders who attended the 2012 Conference were on stage during a time of prayer for the Nigerian Brethren. The Church of the Brethren in Nigeria is experiencing increased violence, killings, and terrorist attacks.
Table talk also facilitated discussion of the statement issued by Standing Committee titled “A Way Forward,” intended to address the continuing controversy following last year’s Annual Conference decision to reaffirm the 1983 statement on sexuality and continue deeper conversation outside of the query process (“A Way Forward” is at ). Out of the times of table talk, probing questions and concerns from across the theological spectrum were posed to all of the groups that have made decisions that some consider controversial, including the Mission and Ministry Board, the Program and Arrangements Committee, and On Earth Peace.

Opportunity for deeper discussion seemed to encourage deeper sharing by church leaders. For example, after concerns were voiced about decisions that open the possibility for a Brethren Volunteer Service project at the Brethren and Mennonite Council for LGBT Interests, general secretary Stan Noffsinger gave an emotional statement from the floor. “My apologies to the church because it was never my intention to hurt the body,” he said. “It was my intention to expand the boundaries of the body. I pray that nothing I have done has hurt anyone’s relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Despite a sense of underlying controversy at times, camaraderie quickly developed among table groups. After the first day of business, the moderator invited each table to decide for itself whether to stay together the next day, or indicate that the table was open to new members. The vast majority decided to stay together.

Table 92 sports a candy collection
Photo by Regina Holmes
Table 92 sports hard candy, one of the table groups where delegates experienced camaraderie and sharing of snacks and goodies during this year's business sessions.
Tables began to acquire nicknames, or became known for the snacks and goodies they shared with each other, which became a running joke at the microphones. One group was nicknamed “The Wild, Woolly, and Wonderful Table,” another the “Table of Shared Mints and Gum.” One table was known to have donuts, and the Table 3 spokesperson announced, “We have chocolate, the best kept secret here.” At one table a cake was spotted by envious bystanders, and another shared fresh strawberries.

During times for table talk, the gallery of nondelegates was invited to share together in small groups. When the delegates joined in prayer, some groups of nondelegates stood together holding hands in prayer as well.

Following a report on the situation of the Brethren in Nigeria, who are suffering increased violence, terrorist attacks, and killings, the moderator asked table groups to hold hands and pray with him: “For our brothers and sisters in Nigeria...for whom the cost of discipleship may mean their very lives, I offer our prayers.” After the moderator’s prayer, a murmuring of prayer rose up from the table groups and lasted for several minutes.

At the end of business Tuesday--the last time the table groups would be together--many exchanged contact information so that they could stay in touch. Others were seen taking group photos, or giving hugs or handshakes around their circles.

-- Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford is director of News Services for the Church of the Brethren.

Source:7/12/2012 Newsline

Church of the Brethren Vision Statement is adopted for 2012-2020

A skit during presentation of the Vision Statement
Photo by Glenn Riegel
A skit during presentation of the Vision Statement was a lighthearted look at what the apostles Paul and Peter might have said about having a vision statement. Playing Paul: Larry Glick (aka A. Mack), playing Peter: committee member David Sollenberger.
On Monday morning, July 9, the following vision statement was adopted by the delegate body for denomination-wide use:

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.

This vision statement is expected to be useful to focus the mission of the church and spur activity on the denominational level and also in congregations and districts, much like the Goals for the ‘80s and Goals for the ‘90s did in the past. The statement is meant to be short and memorable, yet containing depth and possibilities that different congregations can work at in a variety of ways.

During discussion by the delegates, some concerns were raised that the statement does not explicitly address evangelism, but the committee believed it is strongly implied within the line about living as disciples by word and action.

This vision statement came from a committee appointed in 2009, after the Annual Conference Council
brought a proposal suggesting it to Standing Committee that year.  Members of the group were appointed from Standing Committee and each of the agencies reportable to Annual Conference.

In 2011, Standing Committee affirmed the vision statement and interpretive material accompanying it, but they saw the need for an implementation committee to design additional materials and study guides so the vision statement would really be used and not simply shelved after adoption.

The Vision Interpretation and Implementation Committee of David Sollenberger, Rebekah Houff, James Sampson, and Ron Nicodemus, have spent the past year gathering more resources for congregational use. During deliberation on this business item, the delegates experienced use of some of the resources. They sang a hymn text for the vision statement written by Roseanna Eller McFadden, saw a music video using Joseph Helfrich’s “Jesus Calls,” enjoyed a skit, and spent table talk time discussing some of the study guide questions designed for congregational use.

The resources available to congregations will include starters for children’s stories in worship, sermon notes and video clips for use in worship services, instructions for banner making related to the theme, and other material.

-- Frances Townsend is pastor of Onekama (Mich.) Church of the Brethren

Source:7/12/2012 Newsline

Recommendations for revitalization of Annual Conference are accepted.

The Annual Conference officers join in singing a hymn
Photo by Glenn Riegel
The Annual Conference officers join in singing a hymn during the business sessions. The singing of hymns and prayer marked the discussions of Conference business.
If Annual Conference is to survive and thrive, planners will need to make some changes according to a Revitalization Task Force report. One of the most significant is that economic realities will limit the number of future Conferences held west of the Mississippi.

“There is as strong belief among us,” said task force facilitator Shawn Flory Replogle, “that Annual Conference in its totality is not all that it could be.” He concluded, “The point of the report is to lay a flexible foundation for Conference to be renewed.”

By a nearly unanimous vote, delegates affirmed a recommendation from Standing Committee to “receive the report from the Revitalization Task Force with appreciation and that the four recommendations proposed by the Task Force be approved.”

The first two recommendations affirm the current length (four nights) and timing (June/July) of Annual Conference. The third releases Conference planners from polity approved in 2007 that required a strict geographical rotation covering the entire US. Instead, under the new recommendation, Conference may be rotated among a handful of locations that “maximize sound fiscal stewardship for Annual Conference and attendees”--presumably ruling out most western sites.

As part of the recommendations that were accepted, the Program and Arrangements Committee is charged with offering travel scholarships for all delegates west of the Mississippi River. Replogle acknowledged that western congregations have the most to lose from the proposal, and that the scholarship provision was made in sensitivity to that fact. Currently, he said, 74 delegates would be eligible for scholarships, which would be funded from Conference registration fees.

Fourth, the report charges Conference officers and the Program and Arrangements Committee by 2015 to implement the many recommendations pertaining to management of business sessions found in the 2007 “Doing Church Business” statement. That statement sought to move “from issue-focused Conferences to relationship-centered Conferences,” according to the Task Force.

Past moderator Shawn Flory Replogle presents from the Revitalization Task Force
Photo by Regina Holmes
Past moderator Shawn Flory Replogle, who helped lead a Revitalization Task Force doing envisioning for improvements to Annual Conference, presents the four recommendations that were approved by the delegates.
The Revitalization Task Force was appointed by the denomination’s Leadership Team in 2010 to conduct and analyze research, assess the long-term viability of Annual Conference, and make recommendations about the Conference mission statement and core values and possible alternatives for the format. The concern of a 2010 query from Southern Ohio District, asking how Annual Conference might more successfully fulfill its mission, also was referred to the task force. Replogle summarized the group’s job as doing research, studying trends, and thinking outside the box.

The 15-page paper affirms the current mission statement--“Annual Conference exists to unite, strengthen, and equip the Church of the Brethren to follow Jesus”--and then addresses challenges to achieving that mission and ways those challenges might be overcome. The recommendations grew out of a review of existing statistical data and additional information gathered through an online survey completed by 300 respondents.

Key findings of the survey included:
  • Worship, fellowship, and business (in that order) are the most highly valued components of Annual Conference, but the church needs to find a less polarizing way of doing business.
  • High costs limit attendance.
  • People are largely satisfied with the Conference length and June/July timing.
  • Brethren believe many myths about the costs of Conference (which the task force sought to debunk).
In addition to recommendations, the document includes a section called “A New Vision” offering a variety of ideas for future Conference planners to consider. Among suggestions are rotating Conference among three or four recurring locations, naming a spiritual director charged with enhancing spiritual growth through Conference, reinstituting a Wednesday through Sunday schedule, beginning Conference with a shared meal for all, coordinating Conference themes with the denomination’s vision statement, several ideas related to conducting business including increased use of delegate seating at round tables to invite conversation, increased opportunities for training for participants and service and outreach to host communities, more long-range planning for worship to obtain nationally known speakers, utilizing offerings entirely for support of denominational ministries and outreach, rather than using a portion to support costs of Conference, and more.

Delegates spent several minutes discussing the paper in table groups before sharing affirmations and concerns with the whole body. Much of the discussion was on ways to reduce or share costs of Conference. An amendment that sought to expand the offer of Conference scholarships to small churches, regardless of location, was defeated.

Members of the Revitalization Task Force were Becky Ball-Miller, Chris Douglas (staff), Kevin Kessler, Rhonda Pittman Gingrich, and Shawn Flory Replogle.

-- Don Fitzkee is a volunteer writer on the news team for Annual Conference and a member of the Church of the Brethren Mission and Ministry Board

Source:7/12/2012 Newsline

Elections query is returned, Call to Accountability reaffirmed

Delegates discuss business items
Photo by Regina Holmes
Delegates discuss business items at round tables this year, which many agree has helped facilitate conversation and face-to-face dialogue about issues.
The delegate body of the 2012 Annual Conference has acted on a query about elections. The body adopted a recommendation from the Standing Committee of district delegates that “the query respectfully be returned and that the 1979 statement, ‘Call to Accountability,’ be reaffirmed.”

The query concerned the issue of whether the ballot process should be changed beyond what the 1979 statement says to further ensure representation of women, ethnic and other minorities in denominational leadership. It was prompted particularly by the nomination from the floor in 2011 that resulted in a male moderator-elect being chosen over the two female candidates who had been presented through the usual nominating process.

Leah Hileman presented the recommendation on behalf of Standing Committee and the rationales that led to it, including the concern that the Holy Spirit have freedom to move not only during the established nominating process but also on the Conference floor.

Among other concerns shared by the Standing Committee representative was that many women have declined invitations to serve, that in general more nominations are needed, and that gifts discernment and calling out of leaders and leadership development must be deliberately worked on at all levels of the church, from the local congregation on up. This would develop a larger pool of qualified candidates for denominational service. Also, individuals should monitor themselves concerning gender bias. Hileman concluded her presentation with an emphatic shout, “Nominate more people!”

Although the Standing Committee’s recommendation to return the query was adopted with strong support, concerns and suggestions for improving the leadership selection process were raised at the microphones. A leader from Pacific Southwest District--which sent the query--expressed dismay, saying that it had been affirmed unanimously at the district conference last year. Other speakers were concerned that the competitive Annual Conference elections process creates winners and losers and discourages qualified, willing people, and suggested working toward bringing a slate to Annual Conference for affirmation.

-- Frances Townsend is a volunteer writer on the Annual Conference news team, and pastor of Onekama (Mich.) Church of the Brethren

Source:7/12/2012 Newsline

Delegates affirm need for more equity on Mission and Ministry Board

General secretary Stan Noffsinger
Photo by Glenn Riegel
General secretary Stan Noffsinger was one of those responding to the delegate body, affirming the need for a revision of the membership structure for the denomination's Mission and Ministry Board.
Addressing a business item requesting more equitable representation for districts on the Church of the Brethren Mission and Ministry Board, the 2012 Annual Conference adopted the query and referred its concerns to the denominational board.

The query, brought by Southern Pennsylvania District, concerns the current method of selection of members of the Mission and Ministry Board which uses geographical areas originally designed for Congregational Life Team staffing. A wide disparity between these areas in membership numbers has created a sense of unfairness in representation. Use of the geographical areas in selecting board members also means that some districts may not have anyone on the board for extended periods of time.

During the time for comment from the floor, the point was stressed that although people are named to the board from various areas, each board member represents the entire denomination.

Mission and Ministry Board chair Ben Barlow spoke, saying the board welcomes the query and will bring its recommendations back to Annual Conference.

One of the questions from the floor was about the timeline for receiving a recommendations for changes. General secretary Stan Noffsinger said the item would be on the board’s agenda for this October’s meeting.

-- Frances Townsend is a volunteer writer on the Annual Conference news team and pastor of Onekama (Mich.) Church of the Brethren

Source:7/12/2012 Newsline

Revision to Ministerial Leadership polity document receives a first reading

Delegates engage in table talk
Photo by Glenn Riegel
Delegates engage in table talk during discussion of revisions to the Ministerial Leadership polity document. The ministerial leadership polity will be a study document for a year before coming back to the 2013 Conference for consideration.
Delegates engaged in a first reading of a proposed revision of the denomination’s ministerial leadership polity, paving the way for a year of study and potential approval at the 2013 Annual Conference. If approved, the new polity would replace previous ministry polity documents and be implemented beginning January 1, 2014.

Ministry Office director Mary Jo Flory-Steury, who also serves as associate general secretary, has shepherded the paper throughout its development. She explained that the seed for the polity revisions was planted at a 2007 Ministerial Leadership Conference and initial drafting began in 2009. Various stakeholders in the church received multiple opportunities to shape the paper along the way.

For the past century, said Flory-Steury, the church has made significant changes in ministerial leadership polity about once per decade. The last such revision came 13 years ago, in 1999, and changing times again necessitate re-examining polity to ensure standard calling and credentialing processes across the denomination that serve ministerial leaders and the church well.

Flory-Steury, with assistance from other members of the team that drafted the paper, walked delegates through key concepts and goals of the document. It begins with a preamble that explains why changes are needed; moves to an introduction that affirms the Brethren commitment to the priesthood of all believers and how the calling of set-apart leaders takes place within the context of a church that believes every member is called to ministry; and then includes a significant section on the history and theology of ordination in the Church of the Brethren.

Perhaps the most noticeable polity change is that the familiar language of “licensed minister” and “ordained minister” would be altered. In the new polity, a person discerning a call to ministry is assisted by an accountability and support group termed a “Calling Cohort” to flesh out the call and develop a “Covenant of Accountability” to guide a process of preparation. Once approved by congregation and district, the applicant becomes an “Inquiring Minister” and moves toward becoming either a “Commissioned Minister” with a specific role in one congregation or an “Ordained Minister,” a role virtually identical to ordained ministry in current polity. Absent from the new polity is the former role of “licensed lay speaker.”

Instead of a hierarchy of ministry, the document speaks of three ministry circles (licensed, commissioned, ordained) designed to “effectively form, equip, and support ministers for a particular sort of ministry within the denomination.”

Guided by two questions provided by the committee, delegates engaged in 10 minutes of “table talk.” Out of the table discussions, about a dozen people posed questions or shared concerns. Representatives from two tables expressed preference for the existing term “licensed minister” over the proposed “inquiring minister,” arguing that the new term would not be understood in circles of ministry beyond congregations (such as hospitals) or that it devalues the role. Other questions were raised about the role of the “calling cohort” and the complexity of the paper.

Flory-Steury noted that while some of the terminology is unfamiliar, many of the concepts are not new and resources have been provided to facilitate deeper understanding of the document. She encouraged congregations to study the paper in the coming year.

In addition to the feedback shared by delegates on the Conference floor, insights recorded by table facilitators during table talk will be forwarded to the Ministry Office. Crafters of the document are Flory-Steury; Dana Cassell; Ministry Advisory Council members Tara Hornbacker and Steve Schweitzer; district executives David Steele, Kevin Kessler, and David Shumate; and Julie Hostetter, representing the Brethren Academy. The paper and additional resources, including a study guide, timeline, and frequently asked questions, can be found at .

-- Don Fitzkee is a volunteer writer on the Annual Conference news team and a member of the denomination’s Mission and Ministry Board

Source:7/12/2012 Newsline

Conference approves variety of polity changes, discontinues the CIR

The Annual Conference officers join in singing a hymn
Photo by Glenn Riegel
The Annual Conference officers join in singing a hymn during the business sessions. The singing of hymns and prayer marked the discussions of Conference business.
In other business, the Annual Conference approved a variety of polity changes for districts and the Program and Arrangements Committee, approved a recommendation to discontinue the Committee on Interchurch Relations (CIR) in anticipation of a new vision for ecumenical witness, gave two groups additional time to work on revisions to the Ethics for Congregations document and response to climate change, and recommended a cost of living increase for pastor salaries.

A new vision for ecumenical witness

An item of business on the church’s ecumenical witness came from a study committee that has reviewed the Brethren history of ecumenism and the work of CIR in particular. The Conference approved a recommendation to discontinue the CIR, which has been in place since 1968 to carry forward conversations and activities with other church communions and encourage cooperation with other religious traditions, and a recommendation that the Mission and Ministry Board and denominational Leadership Team appoint a committee to write a “Vision of Ecumenism for the 21st Century.”

General secretary Stan Noffsinger explained that approval of an additional recommendation “that the church’s ecumenical witness be expressed by the staff and the church at large,” makes it clear that denominational staff carry responsibility for the ecumenical witness in the interim, until a new vision is put in place. It also encourages congregations and individual Brethren to take initiative for ecumenical involvements on a local level. “We are well aware that many of our churches are engaging in ecumenism,” he told the delegates, adding that he considers that a success for the entire denomination.

The need for a new ecumenical vision comes out of a changing ecumenical and interfaith environment worldwide that poses challenges for the church, and a sense of opportunities for the Brethren voice to reach beyond traditional venues, at a time when the actual work being done by CIR has dwindled.

The recommendations came with the involvement of the CIR, and after the decision to discontinue the committee chair Paul Roth gave a final CIR report. To the church he said, “We entrust this legacy of witness, that it continue faithfully.” He added, “We firmly believe that God’s Spirit is actively at work in this transition.”

Polity revisions are approved

Revisions to polity on districts, proposed by the Council of District Executives, were approved. Existing polity dated back to 1965 and the revisions in essence update that polity to make it congruent with current practice. On a few points, the polity revisions call for new action on the part of districts, for example encouraging them to put in place vision and mission statements and to provide visionary leadership. Other changes give districts more flexibility in structure and staffing to reflect their wide variations of size and population. The polity changes are relevant to Section I, District Organization and Function of Chapter 3 of the denomination’s “Manual of Organization and Polity.”

A brief item recommending that polity be amended to remove a requirement for the Church of the Brethren Treasurer to be on the Annual Conference Program and Arrangements Committee was approved.

Additional time granted to two groups

Congregational Life Ministries staff charged with revising the Ethics for Congregations document have received two years of additional time to do their work. A hearing was held at this year’s Annual Conference, and the timeline for future action includes hearings on a first draft of revisions in 2013, with a revised document to be presented to the 2014 Conference.

A working group led by the Advocacy and Peace Witness Office received approval for another year to respond to the 2011 query “Guidance for Responding to the Changing of Earth’s Climate.” A hearing this year produced ideas for the working group, and a special exhibit on climate change was provided for Conference-goers to get information and bring questions, concerns, and feedback. The working group does not anticipate a need for revision of existing Annual Conference statements that already provide guidance for the care of Creation, but will consider ways individuals, congregations, and the denomination can take further action.

Cost of living increase recommended for pastor salaries

A 1.7 percent cost of living increase to the Minimum Cash Salary Table for pastors for 2013 was approved. The increase came as a recommendation from the Pastoral Compensation and Benefits Advisory Committee.

Source:7/12/2012 Newsline

Election results are announced for 2012

Moderator Tim Harvey holds up a ballot
Photo by Glenn Riegel
Moderator Tim Harvey holds up a ballot sheet as he gives instructions to the delegates before elections were held. The election results were announced today, July 9.
Election results were announced today during the Annual Conference business session. The ballot and nominees were presented to the delegate body yesterday, July 8, and the election was held this morning.

The Nominating Committee of the Standing Committee of district delegates developed a slate of candidates, and the Standing Committee then voted to create the ballot that was presented to the Conference.

Those elected are listed by position:
Annual Conference Moderator-Elect: Nancy Sollenberger Heishman of Tipp City, Ohio.

Annual Conference Secretary: James Beckwith of Lebanon, Pa.

Annual Conference Program and Arrangements Committee: Christy Waltersdorff of Lombard, Ill.

Pastoral Compensation and Benefits Advisory Committee: Bernie Fuska of Timberville, Va.

Mission and Ministry Board: Area 1 -- Rhonda Ritenour of York, Pa. Area 2 -- J. Trent Smith of New Lebanon, Ohio.

Bethany Theological Seminary Trustee: Representing the clergy -- Paul Brubaker of Ephrata, Pa.

Representing the colleges -- Celia Cook-Huffman of Huntingdon, Pa.

Brethren Benefit Trust Board: Eric Kabler of Johnstown, Pa.

On Earth Peace Board: Cindy Weber-Han of West Chicago, Ill.
Agency appointees also were confirmed by the Conference, as follows:
On Earth Peace Board: Melisa Grandison of Quinter, Kan., and Don Mitchell of Mechanicsburg, Pa.

Bethany Theological Seminary Trustees: Christina Bucher of Elizabethtown, Pa., and Martha Farahat of Oceano, Calif.

Brethren Benefit Trust Board: Ann Quay Davis of Covina, Calif., and Thomas McCraken of York, Pa.
Source:7/12/2012 Newsline

Standing Committee makes recommendations on new business, appoints committee to update Special Response process

Conference officers consult during Standing Committee
Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
The Annual Conference officers consult during Standing Committee: from left, Conference secretary Fred Swartz; moderator Tim Harvey; moderator-elect Robert Krouse.
The Standing Committee of district delegates ended pre-Annual Conference meetings today in St. Louis, Mo. Meetings began the afternoon of July 4, led by Annual Conference moderator Tim Harvey. He was assisted by moderator-elect Robert Krouse and Conference secretary Fred Swartz.

Recommendations on new business

Delegates from the Church of the Brethren’s 23 districts made recommendations to Annual Conference on new business items--one of Standing Committee’s main responsibilities. No recommendation was made on the revision to the Ministerial Leadership polity document, which is only coming for a first reading at this Annual Conference.

Query: Annual Conference Elections. Brought by La Verne (Calif.) Church of the Brethren and Pacific Southwest District, the query cites previous Annual Conference statements upholding gender equality but a voting record showing men more likely to be elected to denominational office than women. It asks, “How will Annual Conference ensure that our ballot preparation and election process support and honor gender equality in all elections?”

Standing Committee’s recommendation to the Annual Conference is to respectfully return the query and reaffirm the call for accountability in the “Goals for Annual Conference Elections and Appointments” adopted in 1979.

Query: More Equitable Representation on the Mission and Ministry Board. Formulated by the Southern Pennsylvania District Board, the query points to inequitable representation in relationship to percentage of membership in the five areas of the denomination. It asks, “Should the bylaws of the Church of the Brethren be amended to more equitably apportion Mission and Ministry Board representation with the membership of the church?”

Standing Committee has recommended adoption of the query and that it be referred to the Mission and Ministry Board.

Church of the Brethren Vision Statement 2012-2020. Last year’s Standing Committee adopted a Vision Statement for the Church of the Brethren for this decade, and recommended that it come to the 2012 Annual Conference for adoption. Accompanying the statement are an introduction, expanded description of each phrase, related biblical texts, and a section of explanation about “Living into the Vision.” In addition, the Vision Implementation Committee prepared a packet of resources including a study guide to help congregations use the statement.

The Standing Committee recommendation in full: “Standing Committee recommends to the Annual Conference the adoption of a denominational Vision Statement for the rest of the decade as follows: ‘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.’ Standing Committee further recommends this Vision Statement for study and direction.”

Conference secretary Fred Swartz
Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
Conference secretary Fred Swartz is marking his final Annual Conference in the position. He has served for a decade as secretary for the church's annual meeting.
Revitalization of Annual Conference. A task force charged with reviewing the mission and core values of Annual Conference and analyzing whether the meeting should remain in its present form or recommend alternatives, is bringing four recommendations: in brief, to maintain the present timing and length of the Conference, release Program and Arrangements Committee from the requirement of holding the event from Saturday evening to Wednesday morning, release polity requirements for geographical rotation to allow focus instead on locations that maximize stewardship and minimize costs, and incorporate by 2015 the recommendations of the 2007 “Doing Church Business” paper regarding management of business sessions and use of discernment groups. A “New Vision” section explains and elaborates on the recommendations and hopes for increasing the meaningfulness and inspiration of the annual meeting.

Standing Committee recommended “that Annual Conference receive the report from the Revitalization Task Force with appreciation and that the four recommendations proposed by the committee be approved.”

Revisions to Polity on Districts. The proposal for revisions to district polity comes from the Council of District Executives, which for several years has been working on revisions that will reflect updates in district structure, organization, staffing, and more. Revisions relate to a polity document that dates back to 1965, and are relevant to Section I, District Organization and Function of Chapter 3 of the denomination’s “Manual of Organization and Polity.”

Standing Committee recommended that the Conference delegates adopt the revisions to district polity.

Updating Structure for Program and Arrangements Committee. This brief item recommends that polity be amended to remove a requirement for the Church of the Brethren Treasurer to be on the Program and Arrangements Committee for Annual Conference.

Standing Committee recommended approval of the polity change.

Church of the Brethren Ecumenical Witness. A proposal to discontinue the Committee on Interchurch Relations (CIR) and “that the church’s ecumenical witness be expressed by the staff and the church at large” comes from a study committee that has been reviewing CIR’s work and the history of ecumenism in the Church of the Brethren. The proposal cites “the changing nature of ecumenism,” and makes an additional proposal that the Mission and Ministry Board and denominational Leadership Team appoint a committee to write a “Vision of Ecumenism for the 21st Century.” CIR has been in place since 1968 to carry forward conversations and activities with other church communions and encourage cooperation with other religious traditions.

The Standing Committee recommended adoption of the item, with an additional recommendation that “upon completion this vision will be brought for adoption by Annual Conference.”

Updating of Special Response procedure

Agency leaders meet with Standing Committee
Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
An annual event allows time for agency leaders and a representative of the district executives to meet with Standing Committee: from left, Atlantic Northeast District executive Craig Smith, general secretary Stan Noffsinger, Bethany Seminary president Ruthann Knechel Johansen, On Earth Peace executive Bill Scheurer, Brethren Benefit Trust board chair Karen Orpurt Crim and president Nevin Dulabaum.
Standing Committee has chosen to update the Special Response procedure for highly controversial issues, following a proposal from the denomination’s Leadership Team. A significant amount of critique of the Special Response process has been received by the Leadership Team, which includes the Annual Conference officers and general secretary Stan Noffsinger.

The Special Response procedure was used for the first time a few years ago, to consider business items related to sexuality. It included a two-year denomination-wide discussion, culminating at last year’s Annual Conference in Grand Rapids.

A three-member committee has been appointed to bring suggestions for revision of the Special Response procedure to the 2013 Annual Conference: Fred Swartz, who is closing out his service as Conference secretary, and Standing Committee member Ken Frantz, both named by Standing Committee; and Dana Cassell, named by the Conference officers.

Safe space at Annual Conference

A Ministry of Reconciliation (MoR) team reported to the Standing Committee on plans to ensure safe space for all participants in Annual Conference. The moderator explained that the officers requested expansion of MoR’s usual role at Annual Conference after several incidents of harassment and threats at last year’s annual meeting.

Leslie Frye of the On Earth Peace staff reported that the 13-member MoR team includes people with skills and training in conflict mediation, chosen from a variety of backgrounds and theological points of view. The group is receiving additional training in advance of the start of Conference. They will be available throughout the venue in order to provide assistance or intervention. Conference-goers are being given a phone number to call if they require immediate assistance from the team.

Controversy surfaces during discussions

District delegates spent some hours each day in closed session, in conversation centered on the controversy over sexuality that has marked the denomination recently.

An undercurrent of controversy surfaced during open sessions as well, even in discussion of unrelated business. Issues that seemed to add tension included the granting of exhibit space for the Brethren Mennonite Council for LGBT Interests (BMC), following reaffirmation of the church’s 1983 paper on sexuality, and a series of decisions opening the possibility for BMC to be a project site for Brethren Volunteer Service.

When Standing Committee was asked to  recommend the Vision Statement to the Conference, for example, some expressed unwillingness because of concern about one sentence in the accompanying study guide and resource packet--a sentence with a phrase expressing openness to all people.

In another example Bill Scheurer, introduced as the new executive director of On Earth Peace, fielded several very critical questions about the Statement of Inclusion that his agency’s board issued last fall.

District delegates represent the church's 23 districts
Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
Standing Committee delegates represent the church's 23 districts, which range from Atlantic Northeast to Atlantic Southeast and Puerto Rico, from Oregon and Washington to Pacific Southwest, and all areas in between.
In a traditional time for Standing Committee to counsel with the moderator, Harvey asked for help to think through managing conversation about sexuality if it emerges on the Conference floor. He identified places in the business agenda where unhappiness with actions of agencies and Program and Arrangements Committee might arise. Advice from Standing Committee included making space for people to share their feelings frankly, making good use of time already planned for delegates to talk in table groups, and strategies for as many people as possible to join in conversation.

In other business
  • Reports were received on the two items of unfinished business--guidelines for implementation of the Congregational Ethics Paper and guidance for responding to the changing of earth’s climate. Also received were reports from the denomination’s Leadership Team, the Nominating Committee, a report on the international church, and sharing from districts.
  • New members named to Nominating Committee are Kathryn Bausman of Idaho District, Jeff Carter of Mid-Atlantic District, Kathy Mack of Northern Plains District, and J. Roger Schrock of Missouri and Arkansas District.
  • New members named to the Appeals Committee are Terry Porter of Northern Ohio District, Roger Stultz of Virlina District, and Linda Sanders of West Marva District, with R. Edward Weaver of Southern Pennsylvania District chosen as first alternate, and Margaret Pletcher of Northern Indiana District as second alternate.
Source:7/12/2012 Newsline

Mission and Ministry Board optimistic, despite challenges.

Open Roof Award is given during Mission and Ministry Board
Photo by Cat Gong
The Open Roof Award was given during Saturday's Mission and Ministry Board in advance of the start of Annual Conference in St. Louis, Mo. Three congregations received the award this year: the Hanover, Mountville, and Wabash congregations.
The Church of the Brethren Mission and Ministry Board tackled a handful of business items interspersed with reports from staff and others during its Saturday meeting prior to the start of Annual Conference.

Also on the agenda were adoption of a budget parameter for 2013, recognitions of board members concluding their terms, New Windsor (Md.) Conference Center employees finishing their employment due to the center’s closing, and Glenn and Linda Timmons upon their retirement as coordinators of the Sustaining Pastoral Excellence Program funded with help from Lilly Endowment Inc.

General secretary Stan Noffsinger gave a brief update on the Strategic Plan implementation, in which directional goals for the church are being shaped by staff committees for execution in programs. Several staff gave progress reports on each of the six areas of emphasis. “I appreciate all the work that’s being done by the staff,” said Andy Hamilton, echoing the sentiment expressed by several board members.

Treasurer LeAnn Wine presented a financial report which included a 2012 year-to-date review, along with an update on the Interfund Borrowing Proposal that was discussed at some length at the March meeting and for which the board had requested further information.

“We did receive a clean audit for our 2011 financials,” Wine said. She added, “Congregational giving is up through May. We’re encouraged by this. Overall, we are showing an increase in all giving of about nine percent over 2011.”

Wine then provided an overview of giving patterns in the church, noting that there tends to be a gradual increase in expenses--brought on by such factors as cost of living--resulting in the need for cuts. She noted that, despite some of the positive signs in 2011, congregational giving has been on a downward trend in general over the past two decades, and that individual giving has been flat. She said that steps taken to address these matters have included cutting program expenses and laying off staff.  Staff are exploring ways to reverse the downward trend, including ways to clarify the vision and mission of the church among congregations, and elucidate the direct connection between donations and church ministries. It was suggested that volunteer congregational ambassadors be appointed to help implement these goals.

Vice-chair Becky Ball-Miller said, “I’m excited that staff is interested in bringing about this change. We are fully engaged as a board,” she added, noting the need to use “we” language, instead of “us” and “them” when referring to different sectors of the church such as staff, board, and congregations.

The board approved the recommended 2013 Budget Parameter for Core Ministries of income/expense of $5,043,000. The board also unanimously approved Wine’s recommendation for a suspension of the interfund borrowing policy until a recommendation can be made that encompasses all financial policies relating to the Church of the Brethren’s self-funded ministries.

Associate general secretary Mary Jo Flory-Steury and Global Mission and Service executive director Jay Wittmeyer presented highlights of their May trip to Haiti, during which they interviewed 19 candidates for licensing in the Church of the Brethren.

“I’m always struck in international travel by the incredible heart and spirit of a people who could, by any of our standards, be discouraged, despondent, and in despair, and this trip was no different,” Flory-Steury said. “But their depth of spirit and faith, and the message of what Jesus has done for them, are incredible. Several had striking stories about what happened to them in the quake. Of the 19 we interviewed, four were women. This is a model of a fledgling church that is tapping faithful individuals, male and female.”

Noffsinger cited the contributions of board members Frances Townsend and Terry Lewis, who are concluding their terms this year. He also paid tribute to former employees of the New Windsor Conference Center, whose jobs were terminated with the closing of the center June 4.

Linda and Glenn Timmons receive recognition
Photo by Randy Miller
Linda and Glenn Timmons receive a special recognition at the Mission and Ministry Board meeting, upon the announcement of their retirement. They have been serving with the Sustaining Pastoral Excellence program at the Brethren Academy. From left: Academy executive Julie Hostetter, Ministry executive and associate general secretary Mary Jo Flory-Steury, Linda Timmons, and Glenn Timmons.
A special recognition was given to Glenn and Linda Timmons for their years of service to the Church of the Brethren, with particular thanks for their leadership with the Brethren Academy’s ministry leadership partnership of the Church of the Brethren and Bethany Seminary. “We offer our thanks to Linda and Glenn for their nurturing and challenging of Church of the Brethren pastors and for their willingness to encourage pastors in lifelong learning,” said academy executive Julie Hostetter.
Noffsinger also called attention to the long-term service of Fred Swartz who, on Wednesday, will conclude his second term as secretary for Annual Conference. Special recognition of Swartz’s work as secretary, among other areas of service, will be made Wednesday morning.

Other reports were received from advocacy and peace witness director Nate Hosler on the Ecumenical Season of Prayer, with special concern focused on the violence in Syria; Youth and Young Adult Ministries director Becky Ullom on the recent Christian Citizenship Seminar; National Young Adult Conference coordinator Carol Fike, who presented a lively video overview of the June conference; and Congregational Life executive director Jonathan Shively who delivered a report on the May Church Planting Conference. Board member Gilbert Romero, who attended the event, commented, “One of the great things about the conference was coming together as a family, and the feeling of encouragement. We know we’re not alone out there.”

Leaders from Ministry of Reconciliation, who have been asked to increase their presence and participation this year following tensions at last year’s Conference, explained the nature of their role at this Conference. Nearly 20 volunteers on the team have received six hours of training in mediation and peacemaking.

Looking ahead, Stan Noffsinger noted that plans are underway for members of the Mission and Ministry Board to visit Israel and Palestine in December. The trip, which will be held in conjunction with representatives from the American Baptist Church, will include visits with members of Christian Peacemaker Teams, as well as a former Israeli defense security officer who has changed his perspective on conflict since leaving the military.

-- Randy Miller is editor of “Messenger” magazine.

Source:7/12/2012 Newsline

Annual Conference 2012 - bits and pieces

The new Annual Conference officers are consecrated
Photo by Glenn Riegel
This morning the new Annual Conference officers were consecrated for their service to the church with prayer and laying on of hands: from left, kneeling, moderator-elect Nancy Sollenberger Heishman, moderator Robert Krouse, and secretary James Beckwith.
  • Registration figures for the 2012 Conference included 731 delegates and 1,610 non-delegates, for a total of 2,341 people attending.
  • Five new fellowships and congregations have been welcomed to the denomination: Nuevo Amanacer Church of the Brethren in Bethlehem, Pa.; Renacer Iglesia Cristiana in Leola, Pa.; Rockford (Ill.) Community Church of the Brethren; Sanford (Maine) Fellowship; and Sierra Bayamon Iglesia de los Hermanos in Puerto Rico.
  • Fred Swartz finished his term of service as Conference secretary with this annual meeting. The “Conference Journal” news sheet noted that the numbers 10, 28, and 42 describe his career in church leadership, representing the number of years that he served as Annual Conference secretary, as previous editor of the “Conference Journal,” and in pastoral ministry, respectively.
  • A total of $38,595.82 was received in Annual Conference offerings: $6,332.35 received in Saturday evening’s offering during worship, $8,526.96 received on Sunday, $7,790.61 received on Monday, $9,550.75 received on Tuesday, and $6,395.15 received on Wednesday.
  • The all-Conference service project this year collected 417 backpacks full of school supplies, and 40 additional boxes of supplies, during a Sunday morning offering and additional day’s collections. Also monetary donations of $543 were given to the project. The offering for the St. Louis schools was both a service project and an outreach and witness to the host community. The additional boxes are estimated to be enough to fill another 600 backpacks, making a total of more than 1,000 backpacks’ worth of supplies donated by Brethren to the children of St. Louis.
  • Three churches--Hanover (Pa.) Church of the Brethren, Mountville (Pa.) Church of the Brethren, and Wabash (Ind.) Church of the Brethren--received the annual Open Roof Award, presented Saturday during the Mission and Ministry Board meeting. The award recognizes Brethren congregations or districts that have made great strides in becoming more accessible to people with disabilities. Said Congregational Life Ministries executive director Jonathan Shively. “With such excellent nominations this year, we decided that it’s more important to recognize the work being done in our congregations rather than single out one winner.” Created in 2004, the Open Roof Award was inspired by scripture from Mark 2:3-4: “Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when whey could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him.”
  • CODE, the Council of District Executives, held its first ever Annual Conference dinner, July 9. Craig Smith, chair of the executive committee and executive minister for Atlantic Northeast District, opened the meeting stating that the dinner was to be a “Celebration of Leadership.” A highlight of the dinner was a new award for pastoral excellence. Southern Pennsylvania District executive Georgia Markey presented the Award for Excellence in Pastoral Ministry to Janice Custer, pastor of Huntsdale Church of the Brethren in Carlisle, Pa.
  • Attendees at this year’s Brethren Press and Messenger Dinner received a coupon for a special “after-dinner gift” through a generous donation from an anonymous benefactor. Each was eligible to pick up a free copy of the new book “A Dunker Guide to Brethren Beliefs” when they made a purchase at the Brethren Press bookstore.
A group of 16 moderators
Photo by Regina Holmes
A group of 16 moderators--15 past Annual Conference moderators and the current moderator--were at a moderator's luncheon on Monday July 9. The group is pictured in chronological order of their service (left to right, front to back) with at front left Earle W. Fike Jr. having the most seniority, and 2012 moderator Tim Harvey at back right.
  • A group of 15 past Annual Conference moderators joined moderator Tim Harvey at a luncheon in St. Louis--the first moderator’s lunch in well over 12 years according to one of those who attended. Photographer Regina Holmes took the opportunity for a historic group photo.
  • The Brethren Revival Fellowship (BRF) continued its long-standing practice of giving free meal tickets to all those interested in attending its events. The BRF offered a lunch on Monday on the topic “Brethren Mission Fund Workcamp/Mission Trip to Haiti,” led by Doug Miller; and a dinner program on Tuesday at which Bob Kettering spoke on the topic, “Going Out on a Limb.” Also, the BRF offered a prayer and fasting session on Sunday over the lunch hour. Craig Myers, moderator for the dinner meeting, announced upcoming BRF events including Brethren Alive and the Brethren Bible Institute. He stated that a Fall BRF meeting will not be held this year, with Brethren Alive serving that purpose.
  • Voices for an Open Spirit (VOS) also held its annual dinner in St. Louis. The group celebrated 10 years of existence, with guest speaker Jim Lehman who helped found VOS at Annual Conference a decade ago, and announced that it is considering passing on its legacy to the newly formed “Open Table Cooperative.”
  • The Blood Drive came close to meeting its goal of 200 units, collecting 191 useable units of blood out of 196 attempted donations. The blood drive was one way for Brethren to give back to their host community, held during what the American Red Cross (ARC) is deeming a time of “national emergency crisis” in terms of blood being available across the US. The bench mark is 150,000 units by this time of year, an ARC representative told reporter Mandy Garcia. However, the ARC has only 60,000--and St. Louis is on the low end, nationally. Blood drive promoter “The Count” reports that since the year 2000, Conference blood drives have collected about 2,200 units of blood over 12 years. “With the splitting of platelets and red blood cells,” he says, “we could up the 2,200 to 6,600 units. Most hospitals use about 6,000 units a year. So the donations at Annual Conference have filled the need of one of those hospitals for a whole year.”
  • The Brethren Mennonite Council for LGBT Interests (BMC) held a service project during Conference to collect donations of personal hygiene supplies for homeless and at-risk people in St. Louis. The project was in cooperation with The Bridge, a ministry of Centenary United Methodist Church, which serves over 3,000 meals weekly and provides a safe place for people to relax, make phone calls, use the Internet, and find support.
  • The Quilt Auction raised $6,000 for hunger relief, sponsored by the Association for the Arts in the Church of the Brethren (AACB). The seven pieces auctioned included two mini quilts and five quilted wall hangings. Eddie Edmonds was auctioneer this year, with Fred Bernhard and Dan Poole as spotters. Tara Hornbacker of the Bethany Seminary faculty was one of those organizing the event, with many volunteers helping to do the quilting during Conference.
  • After the SERRV store in the exhibit hall suffered a robbery, losing several hundred dollars worth of jewelry merchandise, $750-plus was donated back to SERRV by concerned Conference-goers. Conference director Chris Douglas shared the gratitude of the SERRV staff for the care they received from many people who stopped by the store.
  • The St. Louis pavement was steamy Sunday morning as runners and walkers gathered at Forest Park for the Brethren Benefit Trust Fitness Challenge. Despite the heat and humidity, 81 Brethren turned out at 7 a.m. to participate in this popular Annual Conference event. The top finishers were: Chelsea Goss, first place female runner; Nate Hosler, first place male runner; Don Shankster, first place male walker; and Susan Fox, first place female walker.
  • “Move in Our Midst” has been announced as next year’s Annual Conference theme. Bob Krouse, who will serve as moderator for the Annual Conference in Charlotte, N.C., on June 29-July 3, 2013, made the announcement. Krouse said that next year is, coincidentally, the 100th anniversary of the birth of hymn writer Ken Morse.
Source:7/12/2012 Newsline


Newsline is produced by the news services of the Church of the Brethren. Contact the editor at The 2012 Annual Conference news team includes: writers Don Fitzkee, Mandy Garcia, Karen Garrett, Randy Miller, Frank Ramirez, Frances Townsend; photographers Glenn Riegel, Regina Holmes, Debbie Surin, Alysson Wittmeyer; "Conference Journal" editor Eddie Edmonds; web staff Amy Heckert and Don Knieriem; and News Services director Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford.