Financial reports and a budget proposal for 2017, grants for disaster relief following Hurricane Matthew, along with discussion of the state of the church and root causes of current tensions were all on the agenda of the fall meeting of the Mission and Ministry Board of the Church of the Brethren.
Meetings were held Oct. 13-17 at the denomination’s General Offices in Elgin, Ill., chaired by Don Fitzkee, assisted by chair-elect Connie Burk Davis. This was the first board meeting for David Steele as general secretary of the Church of the Brethren.
The weekend included a service of consecration for Steele, who began as general secretary on Sept. 1. The board’s Sunday morning worship included a message brought by Fitzkee focused on the leadership and responsibilities of the general secretary, and a laying-on-of-hands for Steele. The service was recorded and may be viewed on the Church of the Brethren Facebook page at www.facebook.com/churchofthebrethren
Discussion dissects root causes of tension
Annual Conference moderator Carol Scheppard led a two-hour session for board and staff considering the question, “Church of the Brethren: Are we who we say we are?” Two additional sessions led by a small committee of board members focused on root causes of tension in the church, including differences over biblical authority and interpretation and sexuality.
The three board members–Donita Keister, Jonathan Prater, and J. Trent Smith–were named to a small committee after the 2016 Annual Conference, to help lead the board in responding to the query “Living Together as Christ Calls.” Stan Dueck from the Congregational Life Ministries staff was asked to join the committee as well.
The Conference had referred the concerns of the query to the board. The query asks, in part, for an effort “to address the roots of our tension and develop strategies that will aid us in treating one another in a truly Christ-like manner.” (Read the full text of the query at www.brethren.org/ac/2016/documents/business/nb4-query_living-together-as-christ-calls.pdf )
Survey results and other preliminary work by the committee aided the board’s discussion, which succeeded in identifying numerous causes of tension in the church as well as some possible strategies for responding. However, the board did not get to the point of making recommendations for action.
“The committee had hoped we would get further in identifying strategies,” said Fitzkee, “but the issues are complex. If there were easy solutions somebody else would have found them by now.”
Board officers and the committee will determine next steps for continuing to address the query.
Budget for 2017 is adopted
The board approved a 2017 balanced budget of $5,192,000 for Core Ministries, and a “grand total” budget for all Church of the Brethren denominational ministries of approximately $8,517,000. The board also received year-to-date financial reports for 2016.
The 2017 budget was recommended by staff, and is $160,000 lower in anticipated Core Ministries expenses than the parameter approved by the board in June. However, it includes more than $700,000 of “bridges” or one-time transfers of redirected funds from reserves including previously unused designated funds, and monies from the New Windsor Buildings and Grounds Land, Building, and Equipment Fund.
A new Ministry Enablement Contribution will take effect with the 2017 budget, representing a 9 percent contribution from donations to the Emergency Disaster Fund and the Global Food Initiative Fund, as well as other restricted donations. This contribution replaces internal fees that previously were charged to these two funds.
A 1.5 percent cost-of-living increase in salaries is built into the 2017 budget, which also takes into account an anticipated increase in health insurance premiums for next year, and continues an employer contribution to employee Health Savings Accounts that accompany the organization’s high-deductible plan.
In addition, the board approved bringing the budget of “Messenger” magazine into the Core Ministries budget beginning in 2017. This will end some years of the denominational magazine being considered a “self-funding ministry.”
Grants are approved for hurricane relief
The executive committee approved two grants of $40,000 each for disaster relief work following Hurricane Matthew, to come out of the Emergency Disaster Fund (EDF).
One grant will “kick start” the Church of the Brethren response in Haiti, which was hit hard by the storm. The Brethren relief work in Haiti will be a cooperative effort of l’Eglise des Freres d’Haiti (the Church of the Brethren in Haiti), Brethren Disaster Ministries, the Haiti Medical Project, and the Global Food Initiative. The other grant supports the hurricane relief work of Church World Service (CWS) in Haiti.
A smaller grant of $7,500 was announced by Roy Winter of Brethren Disaster Ministries, as an initial allocation to the hurricane relief efforts of CWS on the east coast of the US with a focus on those affected by flooding in the Carolinas. More allocations are expected as needs continue to be assessed.
Draft of new mission philosophy is shared
The board received the first draft of a new mission philosophy paper from Global Mission and Service executive director Jay Wittmeyer and an ad hoc committee. The document focused on creation of a new over-arching fellowship of international Brethren bodies tentatively called the Global Church of the Brethren. It laid out foundational understandings of how different national bodies that identify as Brethren might relate to one another, how global mission might be carried out in light of the existence of Brethren denominations in a variety of countries, and how new Brethren bodies might be welcomed. The document will be distributed to various other groups for discussion and comment before coming back to the board for further consideration.
Board discusses Brethren Service Center
A proposal for use of net proceeds of any eventual sale of property at the Brethren Service Center prompted a lively discussion among board members. The board, however, could not reach consensus on the proposal that had been brought by the executive committee.
The “upper campus” portion of the Brethren Service Center property in New Windsor, Md., has been listed for sale since July 1, 2015. The “lower campus” that consists of a warehouse and office annex is not for sale and–in the event the upper campus is sold–will continue operating as the Brethren Service Center and will continue to house Brethren Disaster Ministries, Children’s Disaster Services, and the Material Resources program. The Zigler Hospitality Center and SERRV facilities are operating on the upper campus while the property is listed for sale.
Discussion of the proposal revealed a variety of ideas about how net sale proceeds might best be used. When it was clear the board could not reach consensus, and two amendments had failed, a decision was made to empower a small committee of board members and staff to consider the matter further and bring a recommendation back to the board at the March 2017 meeting. Named to the committee are chair Don Fitzkee, chair-elect Connie Burk Davis, district executive representative David Shetler, and general secretary David Steele.
In other business
Patrick Starkey was called as the next chair-elect, to begin in that position at the board’s reorganization meeting during the 2017 Annual Conference. He sits on the executive committee and is an ordained minister from Cloverdale, Va. He will serve as chair-elect for two years, assisting Connie Burk Davis who begins her term as chair next summer, and then will chair the board for the following two years.
The resignation of board member John Hoffman was received, for reasons of health. He is awaiting a kidney transplant. The board shared prayer for Hoffman’s healing, and for a suitable organ donor to be found. Hoffman is from McPherson, Kan., and had served only one year of his five-year term on the board.
William C. Felton of Royersford, Pa., was named as a Church of the Brethren representative to the Germantown Trust that holds responsibility for the historic Germantown meetinghouse and property in north Philadelphia. Felton is a member of Providence Church of the Brethren and is a general contractor and president of William C. Felton Builder Inc. His interests include revitalization in the Phoenixville area and he is active in the Phoenixville Green Team and the Phoenix Iron Canal and Trails Association, among other professional organizations.
The board received several reports including reviews of strategic goals for church planting and international mission, held daily devotions and closing worship in addition to the Sunday morning worship, and enjoyed meals together and time for getting acquainted.
Find a link to a photo album of the meeting at www.brethren.org/album