The 234th Annual Conference (July 1 - July 5, 2020) of the Church of the Brethren was CANCELLED due to the pandemic coronavirus, but would have been held in DeVos Place, located at 303 Monroe Avenue, NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503. This year was the first cancellation of Annual Conference in 233 years of recorded meetings, due to the coronavirus officially labeled COVID-19. What began as a local medical issue in a Huanan seafood market in Wuhan China, gradually became a worldwide pandemic, infecting over 16 million people and killing over 650,000 (Johns Hopkins University, July, 2020). As the world began mobilizing to halt the COVID-19 pandemic, over $18 billion in emergency COVID-19 international funds was approved by the U.S. Congress to facilitate global heath and growing humanitarian needs around the world.
No other issue has prevented the yearly assembling of Brethren to worship and fellowship, not World Wars I and II, or the Great Depression, nor even during the Civil War years. Several online virtual events have provided Brethren with the opportunity to continue seeking God's will during these troubled times. Videoconferencing software developed by Zoom Video Communications became a frequent tool for Brethren to meet and conduct business and worship at all levels. Virtual Conferencing naturally became a new experience in the life of Annual Conference. Distressing situations require imaginative innovations and technical staff at the local, district, and national levels emerged to resolve the urgency.
2020 Conference Officers (would have been) Moderator Paul Mundey, writer, consultant, ordained minister; Moderator-elect David Sollenberger, videographer, and Secretary Jim Beckwith, Pastor of Annville Church of the Brethren in Annville, Pennsylvania. Each was invited to continue their office of leadership at the 2021 Virtual Annual Conference.
- UB 1 COMPELLING VISION
“Together, as the Church of the Brethren, we will passionately live and share the radical transformation and holistic peace of Jesus Christ through relationship-based neighborhood engagement. To move us forward, we will develop a culture of calling and equipping disciples who are innovative, adaptable, and fearless.” (February, 2020)
- Compelling Vision Team: Rhonda Pittman Gingrich, Chair; Paul Mundey, 2020 Annual Conference Moderator; Donita Keister, 2019 Annual Conference Moderator; Samuel Sarpiya, 2018 Annual Conference Moderator; David Steele, General Secretary; Chris Douglas, Annual Conference Director; John Jantzi, District Executive, Shenandoah District; Colleen Michael, District Executive, Pacific Northwest District; Michaela Alphonse from Miami, Florida; Kevin Daggett from Bridgewater, Virginia; Brian Messler from Lititz, Pennsylvania; Alan Stucky from Wichita, Kansas; and, Kay Weaver from Strasburg, Pennsylvania.
COMPELLING VISION HISTORICAL FRAMEWORK:
Over the past three decades, the Church of the Brethren has witnessed an escalating social and theological division, largely concerning the issue of homosexuality. This includes licensing and ordination of homosexuals, and pastors who marry same-sex couples. Many congregations have departed from the Church of the Brethren. Legal action has been taken by some districts against a few congregations. Other districts have established guidelines for reconciliation or departure. Following is a brief history of Annual Conference business leading up to the Compelling Vision.
- Annual Conference 2016 New Business 1: SAME SEX WEDDINGS from the West Marva District petitioned Annual Conference to consider: “How shall districts respond when credentialed ministers and/or congregations conduct or participate in Same Sex Weddings.” By a motion from the floor was referred to the Leadership Team of the Church of the Brethren, and to also be in consultation with the Council of District Executives. The Leadership Team is composed of the Annual Conference officers: Moderator, Moderator-elect, the Conference Secretary, and the General Secretary of the Church of the Brethren. Before the delegates could address the Standing Committee recommendation of this query, they first needed to satisfy the decision of AC2011 stipulating that human sexuality matters should be discussed outside of the query process, and this would have required a two-thirds majority to overturn the former decision. Following hours of discussion and numerous speeches emanating from long lines before microphones, the vote failed to reach a two-thirds majority which immediately places the original query to the delegates as a new item of business. An amendment to remove selected wording ( The districts shall respond with discipline, not with allowances based on personal conscience. ) from the query also failed. Near the end of the business session a motion to return the query was left hanging until the next day, at which time the sponsor retracted his own motion in order to defer to another motion that would refer the query to the Leadership Team. A simple majority vote succeeded and the Leadership Team was asked, to bring clarity and guidance concerning the authority of Annual Conference and districts regarding the accountability of ministers, congregations, and districts, bringing recommendations to the 2017 Annual Conference.
- Annual Conference 2017 Unfinished Business 4: THE AUTHORITY OF ANNUAL CONFERENCE AND DISTRICTS REGARDING THE ACCOUNTABILITY OF MINISTERS, CONGREGATIONS, AND DISTRICTS - A new item of business at AC2016 from the West Marva District petitioned Annual Conference to consider: “How shall districts respond when credentialed ministers and/or congregations conduct or participate in Same Sex Weddings.” Executive Director David Steele presented the committees multi-segmented report with a final recommendation given from the floor (which does not appear in the report itself): “That this statement of clarification about our current polity and standard practice be received as the answer to our assignment and that the church turn its attention to the framing of a Compelling Vision for how we will continue the work of Jesus together.” This is the first time that the phrase, Compelling Vision, was heard by the delegate body.
- Annual Conference 2018 Unfinished Business 4: COMPELLING VISION.The Leadership Team brought this matter to AC2017 under Unfinished Business 4: “The Authority of Annual Conference and Districts Regarding the Accountability of Ministers, Congregations, and Districts.” Executive Director David Steele presented the committees multi-segmented report with a final recommendation given from the floor (which does not appear in the report itself): “That this statement of clarification about our current polity and standard practice be received as the answer to our assignment and that the church turn its attention to the framing of a COMPELLING VISION for how we will continue the work of Jesus together.” Following Annual Conference 2017 the Leadership Team commissioned a “Compelling Vision Working Group” to begin a process that would focus on creating a unique vision for the Church of the Brethren. “It is our hope that this process will result in a distinctive new beginning for our life together as the Church of the Brethren. The process is intended to move us beyond our conversations, debates, and official statements into the experience of vision and purpose as we proclaim and serve Christ together.” Delegates received the Leadership Team's report and adopted their recommendation that all new business for the 2019 Annual Conference be set aside so that more time would be available to the Compelling Vision process. This action required a two-thirds majority vote.
- Annual Conference 2019: All new business items were deferred to initiate the COMPELLING VISION process. The Compelling Vision Process Team chaired by Rhonda Pittman Gingrich, also included Michaela Alphonse, Kevin Daggett, Brian Messler, Alan Stucky, Kay Weaver, 2018 moderator Samuel Sarpiya, 2019 moderator Donita Keister, 2020 moderator Paul Mundey, and Conference director Chris Douglas. Visit the Compelling Vision Website to gain a complete disclosure of articles, reports, statements, or questions.
Extracts from their Frequently Asked Questions list are:
“The BOTTOM LINE IS JESUS, and our conviction that Jesus, through the Holy Spirit will reveal His perfect Will for the Church of the Brethren, for this time. We believe God gives each expression of His family, a unique calling for each season of ministry. We believe a new season is upon us as the Church of the Brethren; as this adventure unfolds, we believe God wants to send us forth with a fresh mission, rooted in His Word, marked by focus, energy, and faithfulness. That agenda is controlling our process.”
“In addition to Annual Conference, conversations will take place at denominational gatherings (including Young Adult Conference and National Youth Conference), within districts, and in other settings such as agency boards and staff. Every voice will be heard as we collect comments from each conversation.”
“This process is not designed to address with specificity ongoing matters of conflict. We anticipate that part of this journey toward a Compelling Vision will take us through conversations about the way forward from the place of conflict where we have long been stagnated. We believe to have a compelling vision together we will need to discover that way forward.”
“The compelling vision process is not designed to impact the autonomy of districts and congregations. We are, however, striving for a vision that individuals, congregations, and districts will embrace and adopt as their own. The Church of the Brethren, Inc, the primary servant organization governed by Annual Conference, will use the compelling vision outcome as a guiding document for establishing mission priorities and parameters.”
They determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain other of them,
should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders (about this question).