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General Board Redesign Steering Committee

Survey 2

by Christopher Bowman
(General Board Chairperson during Redesign)

Table of Contents


Survey 2 - Summary of Responses

Here is a summary of responses from survey #2 in which we asked people to
share the positive things about the Church of the Brethren which they would
like the General Board to build on.

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There is a risk in asking a question that is open-ended like, "What are the
positive things about the Church of the Brethren you would like the General
Board to build on?" The risk is that the responses will be so diverse that
it is impossible to extract meaningful information.

We were impressed that the responses we received were relatively easy to
categorize, and that the majority of respondents were so much in agreement,
especially on the first three or four categories. What follows is a listing
of the categories and a brief summary for each one.

Service
The Brethren heritage of service is deeply felt at all levels of the
church. All three groups (laity and pastors, staff, and board) cited service 
more often than anything else as a positive strength to build on. More than 
half of those who responded cited service. Specific programs mentioned 
included Brethren Volunteer Service, disaster relief, and work camps, among 
others. However, we note a significant difference in the responses from 
laity and pastors compared to those of the board and staff. Laity and 
pastors are more likely to point out that service should be directly linked 
to witnessing for Jesus Christ. The perception among these people is that 
this link is now tenuous or, in some cases, may not exist.

We believe the church does make a strong witness for Jesus in its programs,
and that the staff has made intentional moves to strengthen this area.
However, perception often lags reality, and it may take some time for this
shift to be felt among the majority of members.

Peace
The traditional peace witness of the Church of the Brethren is also seen as
a positive strength. It places second among all three groups.

The support shown in this area goes beyond the idea of "all war is sin."
Key words that appear frequently are "peacemaking" and "reconciliation." We 
are aware of many facets of the historic Brethren peace witness including
emphasis on non-resistance, international concerns, non-participation in the
military in peacetime or war, and ending violence. An emerging area of 
emphasis seems to be active peacemaking. Respondents frequently refer to 
the church's unique role in a U.S. society that seems more and more torn by 
violence. This is cited in a number of settings including spousal and child 
abuse, urban gangs, and crime in general.

Oneness within diversity
This is a broad heading covering several related areas. It ranked third on
the list of things cited by pastors and laity, tied for second in responses
from the board, and tied for third in responses from the staff. It is
interesting to note this seemed to be the most emotional issue of any cited,
and often elicited personal experiences as examples. Members of the Church 
of the Brethren clearly wish to be a family of faith.

One of the ideas included under this heading is multiculturalism. There is
support for viewing the church as a culturally diverse institution that
incorporates the richness of experience that each culture brings to the
Brethren experience. In some eyes, this is already happening; for others,
it is something we need to work at harder.

Another key phrase mentioned frequently is "inclusiveness." This not only
refers to culture but to ideas. The group process of discernment is viewed
as a primary strength of the Brethren tradition. This Summary becomes
particularly important when your own personal beliefs do not match those
that have been discerned by the larger body. Even in this circumstance, 
there is the feeling that you will still be  accepted and loved by the body.
There is some mourning over the sense that some of this feeling of 
acceptance has eroded in recent years with a small but growing sentiment of 
intolerance.

The overarching idea is that within all our diversity, there is a sense of
family that enfolds each individual and holds him or her close in a
community of God's love.

Discipleship
This is a word that ranks fourth among the laity and pastors. It is also
mentioned by board and staff, but not as often. What is being described is
"walking the talk." Appreciation is expressed for a church that takes the
New Testament seriously as a way of shaping how we behave in the world. The
idea of constantly searching the scriptures for new understanding based on 
group discernment is central to this process. A few people specifically 
expressed appreciation for their perception that Brethren have historically 
not been literalists in their biblical interpretation.

National gatherings
We have lumped together several specific programs under this broad heading
since most of the comments refer to the same experience. Programs mentioned
include National Youth Conference, National Older Adult Conference,
National Young Adult Conference, and the forerunner of them all, Annual 
Conference. Attendance at these events is often viewed as a high point in 
the spiritual life of an individual, both due to the content and to the 
experience of gathering with other members of "the family." There is 
affirmation for the continuation and even extension of such programs.

It is interesting to note that many people wrote specifically about their
positive feelings about young adults and youth, and the programs that have
been developed to support them. There is great hope and joy in what is
perceived as a rising tide in the church.

Denominational expansion
We have intentionally chosen this broad term to cover the expansion of the
Church of the Brethren both globally and locally. Some respondents used the
term "mission" to cover global church expansion, and some used the term
"evangelism" to cover domestic church expansion. In our view, they are
essentially the same sentiment expressed in different arenas. The idea is
that mission and evangelism are complementary, not competitive.

In any case, there is a hunger for the growth of the Gospel specifically as
interpreted by the Church of the Brethren. There is a strong sense that the
world not only needs to accept Jesus, but to understand the Gospel with the
unique interpretation discerned by the Church of the Brethren.

This area was mentioned by approximately 25 percent of the respondents from
the board and from pastors and laity.

Local connections
There is affirmation for denominational programs that have been meaningful
in local congregations. The Jubilee curriculum is most often mentioned in 
this context, but others mentioned include pastoral training programs such 
as TRIM and EFSM; congregationally-based mission programs to Nicaragua; and 
The Andrew Center.

Heritage and identity
There is appreciation (almost pride) among all three groups of respondents
for the heritage that is part of the Church of the Brethren. It is clearly
recognized that our influence has been felt well beyond our small
denomination's size.

In this context, a number of people mentioned the Communicorp process as a
positive experience. There is a sense that we have been losing our shared
identity. The tag line "Seeking the Mind of Christ: Simply, Peacefully,
Together," resonates strongly among many people as a way to quickly sum up
who and what we are as a body. There is hope that this will be a first step
toward a better sense of shared heritage and identity.

Talented people
There is a sense that the church is filled with gifted, dedicated people.
Staff responses tend to indicate those who are already in leadership
positions, while laity and pastors indicate "undiscovered" local talent
that could be used in wider service. The board is somewhere in the middle. 
What it indicates, is an interesting potential for shared leadership 
development in all areas of the church.

Ecumenical work
There is recognition that the denomination's ecumenical contacts have had
positive benefits for the Church of the Brethren and for the ecumenical
community at large. This was mentioned by approximately 10 percent of the
respondents, divided equally among the laity and pastors and among the
staff. It affirms the denomination's previous work in this area over the 
years, even during a time when downsizing is necessary.

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