On Earth Peace Virtual Fall Board Meeting
Oct. 1-3, 2020
Melisa Leiter-Grandison and Irvin Heishman
Beverly Eikenberry, an OEP board member said, “I just want to express appreciation for… space that feels to me like Beloved Community. I had tears in my eyes,” following the powerful experience of closing worship led by board member Lucas Al-Zoughbi. Board members lingered online after the conclusion of two and half days of On Earth Peace (OEP) fall board meetings, reluctant to depart from one another. The level of trust and community that is developing among board members, its anti-racism, anti-oppression team, and staff is allowing for deep, vulnerable, safe sharing, and a growing capacity to explore hard and uncomfortable questions together. The result is an increasingly sacred experience of authentic community. The fall board meeting experience provided a taste of what On Earth Peace envisions: a world in Beloved Community liberated from oppression, violence, and war.
On Earth Peace is gaining clarity about its mission: to develop and walk with leaders and communities who work for justice and peace. A new initiative toward this end will support church youth groups. OEP is welcoming applications for a $500 Community Engagement Grant which includes training and support for youth who want to work for justice and peace. OEP’s internship program has grown to capacity given that it is well suited for online engagement and work. Nineteen OEP interns work from locations across the country and internationally and are gaining experience while serving in meaningful ways. One intern shared that this has been the most meaningful internship she has ever had. A number of interns joined the board meetings for a “meet and greet” and participated in a number of board discussions. Their enthusiasm and creativity contributed significantly to the discussions.
Board co-chair Melisa Leiter-Grandison led an important conversation during this meeting focused on how the board and staff understand the five values that undergird the work of On Earth Peace, especially when those values appear to be in conflict with values of constituents in the larger church or partner organizations. The values are: Jesus-centered spirituality, positive peace, anti-racism; anti-oppression, intergenerational leadership, and beloved community. An experience of conflict this past year was used as a case study to help prompt deep exploration of how these values are understood and embodied.
A second conversation led by staff focused on one of OEP’s four strategic priorities which is “through our agency responsibilities and opportunities, embolden the Church of the Brethren to become a living peace and justice denomination.” Staff led the board in a “mock debate” in which board members, staff, and interns were randomly assigned to defend opposing strategic positions. The exercise utilized a principle of Kingian Nonviolence teaching which seeks a synthesis of truths from both sides which then reveal potential new possibilities which cannot be seen when people are entrenched in opposing “polarized camps.” The conversation following the exercise yielded insights which will be part of ongoing conversation.
In other business, the board made several decisions related to leadership calling and practice. Racial caucusing was utilized to explore how racism limits imagination and distorts expectations when it comes to calling and exercising leadership. A number of important insights were gained which will be incorporated into ongoing planning.. Melisa Leiter-Grandison and Irvin Heishman were then affirmed for another two-year term as co-chairs of the board. A policy regarding communication with co-chairs was established to interrupt the pattern of contacting one (usually the white, male co-chair) and excluding the other (usually the female, bipoc co-chair). A second policy approved extends the practice of having power and process observers at board meetings to all leadership and committee meetings. On Earth Peace board and staff are committed to participating in a two and a half day anti-racism/anti-oppression training once every five years. A committee was appointed to plan for this training delayed by the pandemic.
Budget reports were presented showing stable income and reduced expenses for the current fiscal year. This is positive news in these uncertain times. The board approved a budget of $462,541 for 2021 and affirmed entering into conversation over the coming year about ways of structuring a more sustainable budget, one which relies less heavily on endowment income. The executive committee reported that it had completed a review process with the OEP executive director, Bill Scheurer. David Shetler reported as liaison for the Council of District Executives and led the group in worship.
Meetings each day began with worship which involved sharing of personal life stories and passion for justice and peace. A quote from Bayard Rustin was shared which spoke to the hunger and thirst for righteousness that Jesus spoke of, “let us be enraged about injustice but let us not be destroyed by it.” Worship music at times brought laughter and at times tears as the board worked together to support leaders and communities who work for justice and peace.