The ten business items to come to the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference in St. Louis, Mo., on July 7-11 are now available online. Also online is a delegate briefing featuring Annual Conference moderator Tim Harvey and secretary Fred Swartz. The series of short videos reviews information that delegates should know before arrival at the Conference. Find videos and links to business items at www.brethren.org/ac/2012-conference-business.html .
The two items of unfinished business are “Query: Guidelines for Implementation of the Congregational Ethics Paper” and “Query: Guidance for Responding to the Changing of Earth’s Climate.”
Eight items of new business will be brought: “Query: Annual Conference Elections,” “Query: More Equitable Representation on the Mission and Ministry Board,” “Church of the Brethren Vision Statement 2012-2020,” a plan for “Revitalization of Annual Conference,” a revision to the denomination’s Ministerial Leadership paper, revisions to denominational polity on districts, updating of the structure for the Program and Arrangements Committee of Annual Conference, and an item related to Church of the Brethren ecumenical witness.
Query: Guidelines for Implementation of the Congregational Ethics Paper
The Congregational Life Ministries staff charged with revising the Ethics for Congregations document requests more time to complete the revision, and offers a timeline. The timeline includes a hearing at this year’s Annual Conference. In 2013 an accountability process will be outlined with the Council of District Executives, a first draft of a revised document will be completed, hearings will be held at Annual Conference, and revision of the document will continue based on that feedback and discussion. In 2014 a revised document will be presented to the Conference for final approval.
Query: Guidance for Responding to the Changing of Earth’s Climate
Peace Witness Ministries and a working group brought together to respond to this query are requesting an additional year to prepare an answer. Since the query was brought in 2011, the working group’s response has included examining the spiritual, ethical, and scientific implications of climate change; initiating a collaboration among Peace Witness Ministries, New Community Project, and the Outdoor Ministry Association to sponsor an exhibit at this year’s Annual Conference; examining ways that individuals, congregations, and the denomination can respond to climate change, and noting actions already being taken. The working group includes Jordan Blevins, Chelsea Goss, Kay Guyer, Greg Davidson Laszakovits, Carol Lena Miller, David Radcliff, and Jonathan Stauffer.
Query: Annual Conference Elections
The query is brought by La Verne (Calif.) Church of the Brethren and Pacific Southwest District. Citing 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?”
Query: More Equitable Representation on the Mission and Ministry Board
This query was formulated by the Southern Pennsylvania District Board. Citing 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?”
Church of the Brethren Vision Statement 2012-2020
The following Vision Statement is proposed for the Church of the Brethren this decade: “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.” The full document includes an introduction the statement, an expanded description of each phrase in the statement plus related biblical texts, and a section on “Living into the Vision.” The full Vision Committee has included Jim Hardenbrook, Bekah Houff, David Sollenberger, and Frances Beam, all named by the Standing Committee of district delegates; Steven Schweitzer representing Bethany Theological Seminary; Donna Forbes Steiner representing Brethren Benefit Trust; Jordan Blevins and Joel Gibbel representing On Earth Peace; and Jonathan Shively representing the Church of the Brethren denominational staff.
Revitalization of Annual Conference
A task force creating in 2010 has been charged with making a recommendation about the mission and core values of Annual Conference and analyzing whether the meeting should remain in its present form or recommend alternatives. Based on findings from studies and surveys, four recommendations are made (given here 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 a strict 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 the group’s hopes for increasing the meaningfulness and inspiration of the annual meeting. The task force has included Becky Ball-Miller, Chris Douglas (Conference director), Rhonda Pittman Gingrich, Kevin Kessler, and Shawn Flory Replogle.
Revision to Ministerial Leadership polity
The proposal is to approve this document as a study paper, to come back for final adoption by the delegates in a future year. The paper contains the polity and procedures for calling and credentialing of ministerial leadership for the Church of the Brethren. The proposed revision would replace the 1999 Ministerial Leadership Paper and all previous polity documents. Included is some revision to the categories of ministerial leaders, outlining of several “circles of ministry” emerging from the larger circle of the priesthood of all baptized believers, a new section of “Scriptural Theological Perspective,” new expectations for the continuing support for and accountability of ministers, and a glossary of terms, among others.
Revisions to polity on districts
For several years the Council of District Executives has been working on revisions that will reflect the updating of districts. 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.”
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 Annual Conference Program and Arrangements Committee.
Church of the Brethren ecumenical witness
This report comes from a study committee that has been reviewing the history of ecumenism in the Church of the Brethren and reviewing the work of the Committee on Interchurch Relations (CIR), in place since 1968 to carry forward conversations and activities with other church communions and encourage cooperation with other religious traditions. The recommendation, “given the changing nature of ecumenism,” is to discontinue the CIR and “that the church’s ecumenical witness be expressed by the staff and the church at large.” An additional recommendation is that the Mission and Ministry Board and denominational Leadership Team appoint a committee to write a “Vision of Ecumenism for the 21st Century.” The study committee includes general secretary Stanley J. Noffsinger as chair, Nelda Rhoades Clarke, Pamela A. Reist, and Paul W. Roth.
Go to www.brethren.org/ac/2012-conference-business.html for links to the full text of business items.