The General Board opened its 2010 session in Indianapolis on Saturday, April 17 by joining with members of Geist Christian Church, a growing congregation with 3500 participants, at its north campus in Fishers, Ind. for worship and prayer.
Over the next three days, the board continued its worshipful work, including reviewing reports from general and regional ministries, updates on several church-wide initiatives and receiving a statement from General Minister and President Sharon Watkins about her intention to seek a second six-year term.
The GB meeting was led by Moderator Larry Brown, with First Vice-Moderator Juan Rodriguez coordinating worship and Second Vice-Moderator Marilyn Williams facilitating business.
In her State of the Church message delivered on opening night, GMP Watkins reminded the board that Disciples are called to embrace not just technical change, but adaptive challenge.
"Adaptive challenge is when you’re trying to do something so different than what’s gone on before, that there’s not a known answer to it," she said. "We are going to have to engage in some quietly reflective dialogue and some courageous conversations …..until we figure out how to be church today."
She later asked board members to discuss the places in general and regional ministry reports where they saw God at work for wholeness and healing.
Continuing their meeting at a downtown hotel, the General Board met for the first time in its new committee structure as adopted in the standing rules last year. As part of those changes, the General Board carried out its work in six new committees: General Assembly, Governance, Mission Finance, Counsel and Mediation, Covenantal Dialogue and the General Minister and President’s Vision Advisors Committee.
The Mission Alignment Coordinating Council (MACC), an initiative that grew out of work at the 2008 General Board, presented its final report on Monday, April 19 and challenged the board to continue its important task of mission alignment for the church.
"What we have found throughout this process is that there is no discrete thing that can be addressed without looking at the larger picture," said Newell Williams, the 2007-2009 Moderator who also chaired the MACC. The MACC process was created following a General Board request to the GMP and Moderator to look at the next steps Disciples should take in living into the 2020 vision. The process resulted in the creation a General Board mission review and dialogue process with ministries of the church, moving North American/Pacific Asian Disciples in closer alignment with the structure of the church’s other racial/ethnic ministries, and establishing a General Minister and President’s Pastoral Table, where pastoral and theology issues can be discussed, among other things. The MACC also identified areas where more work is needed, such as the strengthening of the new church movement, the empowerment of women’s ministries on behalf of the church, and better coordination on issues of justice.
"The general board is now the appropriate body to be charged with oversight and alignment of ministries to achieve mission," summarized MACC chair Williams.
The General Board also received the re-election statement from the GMP. The Administrative Committee, which met prior to the General Board, named a review/search committee which will coordinate the re-election process. That process will include distributing a questionnaire about the ministry of the General Minister and President to a wide range of Disciples organizations and ministries, including colleges and universities, congregations, and members of the General Board who served during the GMP’s first term, starting in 2005. The committee is comprised of the three-person Moderator Team, and eight persons from the Administrative Committee and General Board, plus an alternate. Regina Morton, a lay leader from Memphis, Tenn. is chair. If needed, the committee can function as a search and call group.
Todd Adams, Associate General Minister and Vice-President, provided the Disciples Mission Fund update for the board. DMF, the church’s common fund which supports 72 ministries, declined by 10.04 percent in 2009. Adams called on General Board members to take responsibility to become advocates of and donors to the fund, both individually and as leaders in their congregations.
The board heard panels from the general and regional ministries. As part of the general ministry report, the church’s four financial ministries: Christian Board of Publication, Christian Church Foundation, Church Extension and the Pension Fund shared information. James Hamlett, president of the Pension Fund, who gave the report on behalf of these ministries, stressed that while global financial pressures on their ministries have been felt, the ministries have weathered the crisis.
The Christian Board of Publication actually had an increase in its book sales, Hamlett said. In its written report to the board, CBP described 2009 as the most challenging year it has faced in decades, but that it expects to return an operating surplus in 2010.
Disciples contributed $7.4 million in permanent fund gifts to the Christian Church Foundation in 2009, the largest amount given in a single year since 1989. The foundation also saw 23 to 30 percent returns on investments and distributed $5.8 million to ministries from permanent funds. Nearly $1 million of that amount went directly to Disciples Mission Fund to support the church’s witness.
Church Extension also had positive earnings last year, growth in both their giving and investments and ended the year financially sound. The 657 new congregations started by Church Extension since 2001 was mentioned as well, noting that Church Extension is more than to the half-way point of starting 1000 new congregations by the year 2020.
Hamlett said that although the Pension Fund dealt with market downturns, it remains one of the most financially solid pension plans in force today. At the depth of the market downturn, the fund dropped to about 90 percent of fully-funded defined pension benefits. Today, the plan is at about 110 percent. "I am proud to say that no pensioner had a reduction in pension credits or pension payment," he said.
Ron Degges, president of Disciples Home Missions, presented the report for the church’s six program ministries: Disciples Benevolent Services (DBS), Council on Christian Unity, Disciples of Christ Historical Society, Division of Overseas Ministry/Global Ministries, Higher Education and Leadership Ministries, and Disciples Home Missions. Highlights included the fact that the Division of Overseas Ministries/Global Ministries has worked with 16 regions, which have officially voted to be ‘Global Mission’ Regions. Disciples Home Missions continues to equip congregations and leaders to be the church of the 21st century by providing such things as new models for training and empowering clergy, holding youth service, and working in partnership with other church ministries to increase educational efforts for congregational health and vitality. It was noted that Disciples Benevolent Services established three additional chaplaincy care ministries last year and renewed its partnership with the Southern Christian Services for Children and Youth in Mississippi.
Larry Love, pastor of the Christian Church of Woodland in Woodland, Calif., had earlier raised concerns about the DBS report, asking about the amount of resources devoted to fundraising and gifts, and DBS’ communication strategies to inform Disciples about its work.
Dennis Hagemann, president of DBS, noted that 100 percent of Disciples Mission Fund dollars goes into current ministry, such as Serra Center, Woodhaven and chaplaincy care, and that much of its funding is restricted for various care ministries.
In the racial/ethnic ministry report provided by Timothy James, Associate General Minister and Administrative Secretary of the National Convocation, the minist
ries of the Central Pastoral Office of Hispanic Ministries (CPOHM), North American/Pacific Asian Disciples (NAPAD), and the National Convocation, which relates to African-Americans in the church, were discussed. Each of the ministries expressed numerous joys in carrying out their work. However, both NAPAD and CPOHM noted language concerns remain a problem for their constituencies. James said the National Convocation has nearly 500 established congregations and 57 new church starts. "For this we are grateful, he said. "But we are seeking to make (these churches) strong and healthy congregations strengthening the denomination."
A regional panel gave a report to the General Board on Tuesday, April 20. Don Dewey, co-regional minister/president in the Pacific Southwest, noted that just as the Earth shifts beneath us, life continues to change. "We have new languages to learn and new partners to embrace that more fully gives witness to the beloved community that God requires," he said. "These shifts are not just taking place in the Pacific Southwest but in all of our churches in one way or another."
"Most of us don’t know where things are going," added Jon Lacey, regional minister of Michigan, a state where high unemployment and out-migration has impacted church growth. "We look with hope to the future and struggle to remain faithful."
A prayer of installation was offered for Bruce Barkhauer, Minister of Faith and Giving, during opening night activities at Geist Christian Church. The church acknowledged with gratitude the ministry of DisciplesWorld, thanking Verity Jones, former publisher and editor of the magazine, and her staff for their work over the past eight years. General Board members attending their last meeting were recognized as well. This list included Beth Dobyns, who is finishing a term as interim regional minister in Illinois and Wisconsin; Jon Lacey, regional minister of Michigan, who is retiring; and Cathy Hubbard, regional minister of Canada, who will now serve as the West Area Minister in Kentucky starting May 1.
An issue of Communiqué, which summarizes more details of the General Board’s work will be posted online at www.disciples.org within the next week. A printed copy of Communiqué will later be mailed to congregations.