(Indianapolis, Ind. – DNS – April 24, 2009) – The 2009 General Board gave its stamp of approval to a number of changes that signal new ways of handling many church-wide matters.
During a nearly four-day period in Indianapolis from April 18-21, the board discussed new means of ordering ministry, better partnering with congregations for mission, and restructuring the General Board to increase effectiveness. Ten resolutions also were forwarded by the board to this summer’s General Assembly, including the ordering of ministry document and a resolution that provides new approaches for Disciples to express their concerns on moral, ethical or justice issues.
"I feel very good about the work that was accomplished," said General Minister and President Sharon Watkins. "While it was an intense few days, I believe we made decisions that will affect how the church functions for the next generation."
In her opening address, Watkins told those in attendance that Disciples live in a place that can best be described as "Already….not yet." It’s "Already" because in Jesus Christ, God has already done all God needs to do to make our lives complete and whole, she said. "It’s not yet… because we are not yet the people or the individuals or the church God created us to be. But God has already given us a vision and called us to be a movement for wholeness."
Watkins reminded General Board members of their responsibility to faithfully review reports and business items and to prepare Assembly resolutions that help us live into the church’s vision of true community, deep Christian spirituality and a passion for justice. She challenged the board to consider proposals that "help us navigate these challenging times."
One issue that addresses changes in church-wide ministry was presented to the board in General Assembly Resolution 0922: Theological Foundations and Policies and Criteria for the Ordering of the Ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The General Commission on Ministry (GCOM) forwarded the resolution and its accompanying report to the board, saying the material presented a more inclusive way to call clergy to church leadership.
The document is the first update of policies and procedures for ministerial credentialing in the United States and Canada since 2003. The document has been six years in the writing and has been informed by hundreds of comments and suggestions from across the church. It "orders" ministry into commissioned and ordained, with commissioned ministry replacing what is now known as licensed ministry. There would be two categories of Commissioned Ministers – those seeking ordination, and those not seeking ordination. Commissioned ministry will continue to provide for ministry in a specific place or time, just as licensed ministry does now.
The proposal also delineates that there are two educational tracks for those seeking ordination: an apprentice track and a seminary track. Both tracks expect candidates to demonstrate competency in 16 areas of ministerial practice. Those in the apprentice track would work with Regions who are urged to develop an educational program either alone or in collaboration with other Regions. A special task force will be appointed by GCOM to assist this educational process enabling both apprentice track and seminary track candidates in achieving the 16 ministerial competencies.
If adopted by the General Assembly, the new ordering of ministry approach would not be fully implemented until August 2011, to allow time for implementation from regions and congregations.
"We recognize that certainly there is a lot to think through about these issues," said Carolyn Higginbotham, Vice-President and Academic Dean at Christian Theological Seminary, who was part of a team of GCOM members presenting the report. "There are a number of questions that include how pastors of affiliating churches and pastors in the apprentice track receive recognition within the Disciples, about leadership and about not diminishing the value of a theological (seminary) education."
Read the Frequently Asked Questions About The General Assembly Resolution On Theological Foundation and Policies and Criteria for the Ordering of Ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
Mission Alignment Coordinating Council
The General Board spent several hours reviewing the report and nine recommendations submitted by the Mission Alignment Coordinating Council (MACC). The MACC was created at the request of the 2008 General Board and charged with looking at ways the church might better align its life around the church’s mission priorities.
A 12-member council was named last May and held four meetings over the past year. The council built on information from three years of conversations GMP Watkins had with congregations, regions, and general ministries, as well as upon the vision, mission and mission priorities articulated in the 2020 vision. www.newchurchministry.org/ministry/2020-vision.cfm
As part of its work, MACC also held conversations with regional ministers and moderators, general ministry presidents, staff and boards, and Racial/Ethnic ministry leaders.
On Sunday, April 19, several members of the MACC spoke to General Board about their work and recommendations. They reminded the board that the MACC’s work was focused around three desired outcomes: clarity about the General Board’s responsibility for the mission of the church; congregations resourced for mission, and one church embracing diversity.
"The initiative and hard work of so very many, many people in such varied settings across our church is amazing and humbling to contemplate," said Cherilyn Williams, a member of MACC from University Place, Washington. "And trying to fit all this into our current context of numerical and cultural realities makes a case for transformative change."
After discussion in small groups and plenary conversations, MACC members voted on Tuesday, April 21 to adopt the MACC report and its nine recommendations, although in some cases with amendments. The proposals do not need General Assembly action. A few of the highlighted recommendations ask that the church:
Adopt and implement new standing rules for the General Board regarding mission review and dialogue. This recommendation ties in with a separate action from the Standing Committee on Renewal and Structural Reform that reorganizes the work of the General Board into seven committees that include: Governance, Mission Finance and General Assembly.
The final proposal says a General Ministry Covenantal Dialogue Committee, assigned from General Board membership, will create a process for conducting mission review and dialogue. That process will start in 2010. The committee will select a ministry for the initial review, and will look at other ministries on a rotating basis. Other ministries will follow on a rotating basis. The results of the initial review and suggested changes to the process will be reported to the 2011 General Board.
- Starting in 2009, the General Minister and President will convene a table with covenantal partners, beginning with Racial/Ethnic ministry executives, for an ongoing conversation about church-wide pastoral matters. The pastora
l table will provide the church with a formal forum to witness, share wisdom and address concerns. Details of the table’s implementation will be determined by the partners, with the GMP making a report on the table’s implementation at the 2010 General Board.
- North American Pacific/Asian Disciples will be move from its place within Disciples Home Missions into a more equitable position with the Central Pastoral Office for Hispanic Ministries and National Convocation. Its ministry as a whole will have a covenantal relationship to the General Board. Anticipated implementation is January 1, 2010.
- The Council of General Ministries (CGM) is being called upon to bring a proposal to the October 2009 Administrative Committee to permanently reallocate the CGM escrow. The escrow funds were released from the National Benevolent Association by General Board action in 2005.
- Extend the term of the MACC for one year to allow it to broaden its conversations with key ministry partners around the adaptive changes required for domestic ministry also was approved.
A Call For Action
Disciples will have new ways of addressing moral, ethical or justice issues, as outlined in Resolution 0925 – A Call for Action. If adopted by the General Assembly, the resolution would serve as an invitation of the General Assembly to the whole church to address issues that require urgent presence and witness by the church in all its expressions. That action may include prayer, study, discernment, reflection and response. Up to four calls could be put forward in any Assembly year.
"We are forwarding the Call for Action to the General Assembly because the General Board acknowledges that true witness goes far beyond merely passing resolutions," said GMP Watkins, after the unanimous vote on the resolution. "I hope that this approach will help us as a church learn from each other and grow in our understanding of what it means to live as faithful followers of Christ."
The resolution was developed by the Standing Committee on Renewal and Structural Reform in response to a request from the 2008 General Board to look at new ways for the Church to address issues of pressing social concern. The "call" will combine three categories of General Assembly business: Sense of the Assembly Resolutions, Study Documents and Items for Reflection and Research.
General Board review of the call proposal resulted in a final resolution that increases the number of calls per Assembly from three up to four. Provision also was added to the resolution to allow for emergency resolutions to be treated as a call.
All calls submitted will be listed in the General Assembly docket even if a particular call is not selected for widespread conversation and action within the church. Changes in the Standing Rules for the General Assembly spell out that even non-selected calls may be referred to other expressions of the church for prayer, study, reflection, discernment and response. The vote for calls that do go before the Assembly will be to affirm or not to affirm and the numeric and percentage results of a ballot vote will be posted and shared with the Church.
"I think we are moving in a good direction," said James Powell, President of Church Extension. "The new call proposal will give us the opportunity to deal with issues theologically and educationally and will allow for action, reflection and discernment."
The General Board also heard reports from general and regional ministries. Gary Kidwell, president of the Christian Church Foundation, spoke on behalf of the church’s financial ministries, noting that although assets held by church entities declined significantly in 2008, faithful giving by individuals and congregations helped offset some of the impact of the economic downturn. Gifts made through the Foundation totaled $11.7 million in 2008, one of the strongest years in history, Kidwell said. A Disciples Mission Fund update showed that giving to the church’s common fund fell only 3.08 percent between Dec. 2007 and Dec. 2008 from approximately $14.3 million to about $13.9 million.
Members of a regional ministers’ panel shared their concerns about having the resources, time and staff to provide the most faithful assistance to congregations. However, one panelist noted that his greatest joy includes building bridges between churches in his region historically separated by race.