From June 29 to July 3 our denomination, the Church of the Brethren, will have its annual national conference. This year it will be held in Greensboro, NC. At Annual Conference there are all sorts of activities, educational seminars, service projects and social gatherings. In addition, this is the time where the denomination does the business of the church. The business sessions involve reports from various church agencies, updates on unfinished business from previous years and new business that has come from members of the church of the Brethren. As this conference approaches, I wanted to take a moment to make you aware of some of the new business items that are coming to Annual Conference.
Before outlining the different business items I want to quickly tell you how the process works. New business can come to the Annual Conference delegate body in a number of ways, but most commonly it comes through the query process. A “query” is a question or a request that Annual Conference is asked to address in some way. Each query starts with a local congregation who then takes it to their area district. After the area district approves the query it is then submitted to the denomination. While each query is publicized, the query itself is not necessarily what will be voted on. The “standing committee” of the denomination takes the queries and makes official motions about them, and it is these motions that are voted on. The standing committee may leave the query intact, it may modify the original query, it may move to return the query to the district without resolving it, it may move for additional study, or do something entirely different. These motions won’t be publicized until the delegates reach Greensboro.
The structure of the actual queries is also worth noting. A query begins with a series of “whereas” statements. These statements describe the context and the reasoning that has led to the raising of a query. The “whereas” statements lead to the “therefore” statement at the end of the query. The “therefore” section is where a question or re-quest is asked of the Annual Conference. To fully under-stand the queries it is helpful to read the “whereas” statements. You can do this for all of this year’s queries by going to http://www.brethren.org/ac/2016/business/ . You can also watch delegate overview videos at that webpage as well. We will also make copies of the queries available in the church library.
This year there are 5 queries that are being brought to Annual Conference, the first of which is titled “Same Sex Weddings.” In light of previous church statements as well as the Supreme Court ruling on same sex marriage this query asks Annual Conference to respond to the question “How shall districts respond when credentialed ministers and/or congregations conduct or participate in same sex weddings?” Interestingly, in 2011 the Annual Conference voted to continue to have the discussion about homosexuality outside of the query process, which means that for the Conference to discuss this query, they first have to vote to open up the process again to this topic. It remains to be seen if or how this question will be presented to the delegate body and then what kind of discussion or action will take place.
Next there are two very similar queries in relation to On Earth Peace. On Earth Peace is an official agency of the denomination and is charged with leading and resourcing the denomination on issues of peace and justice. On Earth Peace is a very active and public witness of the Church of the Brethren and in recent years has spoken out about issues of injustice and exclusion, both outside of and within the denomination. The two queries are titled “On Earth Peace Re-portability/Accountability to Annual Conference” and “Viability of On Earth Peace as an Agency of the Church of the Brethren.” The first query asks “to consider if it is the will of Annual Conference for On Earth Peace to remain an agency of the Church of the Brethren with reportability and accountability to Annual Conference?” The second asks “Would the denomination be better served by dissolving On Earth Peace as an agency of Annual Conference and their responsibilities integrated into the general work of the staff of the Church of the Brethren, Inc.?” Because these queries are so similar I would expect that they will be combined in some way by the standing committee and then presented to the delegate.
The 4th query is titled “Continuing the Study of Our Christian Responsibility to Care for God’s Creation.” Drawing off of 1991 and 2001 resolutions calling on denominational staff to give priority to the issue of the earth’s climate, the query asks what the Church of the Brethren can do to promote and model creation care, as well as how we can extend our knowledge of renewable energy and reduce our contributions to greenhouse gases and dependence on fossil fuels.
The final query is titled “Living Together as Christ Calls.” The query names many of the ways that we, as a denomination, differ in theology, belief and social practice. In light of these differences the query asks that Annual Conference “appoint a committee to address the roots of our tension and develop strategies that will aid us in treating one another in a truly Christ-like manner.”
The reason that I’ve taken the time to outline the query process and name all of these queries is that I do have a certain amount of concern for this Annual Conference. All of these queries represent deeply held beliefs by people who have strongly differing views and opinions. After watching my home denomination, Mennonite Church USA, go through a contentious convention last summer over similar issues, I know all too well that this Annual Conference holds the potential to be a difficult and contentious one.
I also know that even in the face of our most difficult is-sues it is possible for the Holy Spirit to show up and bring about amazing things. There are several issues being raised, but there are many more unknowns of what will actually wind up being discussed or decided on at Annual Conference. There will be many opportunities for the Holy Spirit to show up and guide this process.
As we look towards this year’s Annual Conference, I ask that everyone keep our denomination, the delegate body, and our church’s delegate (Carolyn Chambers) in your prayers. Let us continue to trust and have hope that the Holy Spirit will guide us through this time and through this decision making process.
Each month for our newsletter Pastor Alan writes a short article on a variety of topics. At times he will also create a video version of the article.