Welcome to ModCob Issue 3

by David Wine, 1997 Annual Conference Moderator

That's short for Moderator-Church of the Brethren. This newsletter has been designed for you, the church leader. Each month I will address questions that may have been posed to me during my travels as Moderator. You will be given my phone number, E-Mail, Fax & mailing address. Please feel free to contact me. I welcome your input and suggestions. I hope you will enjoy your future issues of the ModCob.

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Working together as a Community

This month your Annual Conference officers are expanding ModCob into a special issue devoted to our structures and how we do our work together as a community of believers we call the Church of the Brethren. We urge you to save this issue as a reference guide for the next few months in preparation for Annual Conference.


We have all been keeping up with the General board as it moves through a major period of redesign. Major decisions are being made to develop a responsive, proactive board that can respond effectively to the needs of Brethren. In the midst of this process we've noticed that many of us lack understanding as regards the structures and organizational components of our denomination.

For example, in the past few weeks we have heard the following comments just from pastors alone: "The elected General Board has no control or authority over General Board staff." "The Brethren Benefit Trust is a totally independent corporation." "No lay person can initiate a query." "The congregation is the highest level of authority in the Church of the Brethren."

All of these statements are incorrect. Our purpose is to remind us of a few key ways our church is organized and does its work and clarify our understandings of our structure.

Annual Conference

First, let's remember that Annual Conference is the highest and final level of authority in the Church of the Brethren. It is the representative, legislative body with authority to determine polity, procedure and discipline. The authority of Conference has its source in the delegate body. This body consists of two sets of delegates: those representing local congregations, and those from districts who also serve as the Standing Committee. Every delegate and attendee at Annual Conference may speak in the discussions but only the delegates vote.

There are three organizations that report directly to Annual Conference and carry various responsibilities in the life of our denomination: The General Board, Bethany Seminary, and The Brethren Benefit Trust (BBT),who also has the responsibility of managing the Brethren Foundation.

Standing Committee

District representatives compose Standing Committee which has four very important Annual Conference functions:

  1. Nominating - serves as the official Annual Conference nominating committee
  2. Legislative - studies all queries and items of new business and recommends answers to the delegate body
  3. Judicial - decisions on discipline and controversy
  4. Envisioning - sharing new ideas, dreams and visions for God's church

Annual Conference Business

The most unique component of Church of the Brethren structure is the way we are organized to allow for individuals and congregations to have the major influence on the life of our church. Business can come to Annual Conference through District Conferences, the Standing Committee, the General Board, the Brethren Benefit Trust, Bethany Seminary, and other boards and committees constituted by Annual Conference. Let us share more details about how this process works.

Every member of the Church of the Brethren has the privilege to take concerns to Annual Conference. The most common way this occurs is for this to come in the form of a query (or question). A query generally relates to questions and concerns that relate to the Christian life or to the mission work of the church. When such questions arise, counsel should be sought from congregational, district, or national sources to see if the questions have already been addressed. If, after using these channels, no answer can be found, or if the existing answer is inadequate, a query may be written. The query process includes passage by the local congregation and the District Conference after which it is referred to Annual Conference.

Brethren may also share a concern directly with the General board, Brethren Benefit Trust, or Bethany Seminary using them to consider taking an item of business to Annual Conference. If one of the Boards would agree and approve the concerns, it would be referred to Annual Conference as an item of new business.

All items of new business are presented first to Standing Committee. As part of their legislative function, Standing committee formulates for the delegate body a recommendation for how each item of business might be handled. The delegate body can either accept the recommendation from Standing Committee, modify it in some way, or reject it and adopt a different direction.

Members of the Church of the Brethren may also make appeals directly to Standing Committee. Standing Committee normally requires that all other methods have been exhausted before agreeing to "hear" such an appeal. Appeals are presented to the Officers of Annual Conference who guide them through the Standing Committee process. Appeals are rare and are normally used to review questions or ordination, behavior or church polity concerns.

Our National Boards

It wasn't long ago (1946) that the concept of a one-board structure was introduced and the General Brotherhood Board was established (changed to simply the General Board in 1968). Many Brethren still forget that since that time the other two entities (BBT and Bethany) have also been assigned direct reportability functions and responsibilities to Annual Conference and have their own boards. (The forerunner of BBT was the Pension Board which has always been a separate entity although they shared the same board members as General board until 1984.)

It's important to remember, then, that even as the General Board redesigns itself, our other two boards reportable to Annual Conference are currently in a period of stability and even expanding ministries. At other times in the church's life, the General Board has been a stabilizing force as the other boards either redesigned (eg. Seminary's relocation) or established themselves (eg. the Brethren Foundation).

Perhaps the most important thing to remember about the General Board is that we tend to use the same term for both the board that is elected by Annual Conference and the staff which are hired by that board and become the program administrators. The elected board has the authority to direct, hire and terminate its staff.


Another structural component in the life of our denomination are our districts. Districts were formed to enable groups of congregations to do together what they could not do separately. Today, our districts provide wide and varied ministries including employment of professional staff, pastoral placement and calling, discipleship and reconciliation, and program support to name a few.

District professional staff have organized into a network called the Council of District Executives (CODE). This organizational network has begun to carry out quite a number of responsibilities in recent years including giving feedback and counsel to the General Board in its planning, sharing leadership development, and electing its members to serve on various boards and committees in the denomination. Conference has at times assigned to CODE specific recommendations of action even though CODE has no formal relationship with Annual Conference.

Districts have their own boards and conferences in addition to their employed staff. Together, all three components (conference, board, employed staff) make up district life. Ultimately, these structures are accountable to the Annual Conference through Standing Committee. Districts do not report directly to the Annual Conference floor.

In Summary

We hope you begin to see that our structure reflects who we believe we are as a community of God. All of us together, the priesthood of all believers, are the Church of the Brethren. The genius of our denomination has been our attempt to balance decision-making at all levels of our structures where everyone has a voice and the responsibility that accompanies that privilege.

You are important leaders in our denomination. Therefore we urge you to become very familiar with our structure and polity.

We have a responsibility to share correct information with those whom we serve. We recommend the following additional resources:

  •    Church of the Brethren Polity Manual
  •    Power and Polity Among the Brethren by S. Loren Bowman
  •    Annual Conference minutes

All of these resources are available from Brethren Press.

The Information Age

Wow, things have changed, haven't they?!! Instant faxes, email, web sites - our world of communication is changing quickly. This has important ramifications for how we stay in touch with each other as Brethren. Most of us are just getting acquainted with the technology and don't have a good feel yet for how this could effect our live together. But I believe this technology can be a major influence on our ability to be the body of Christ. The more effectively we can communicate, the more sense of togetherness and mutuality we will feel.

The Church of the Brethren already has several ways you can stay in "instant" touch with news around our denomination. One of the best ways is to receive the Newsline. You can choose to receive this by phone, fax, or email and stay updated quickly and effectively. You may also want to join one of the Brethren "networks" established via email or visit some Brethren web sites. For more information, contact Nevin Dulabaum at the General Offices in Elgin. Join the fun and feel the connnectedness!

1997 Annual Conference Moderator David Wine