On Earth Peace Spring Board Meeting Report

April 2-4, 2020
Irvin Heishman and Melisa Leiter-Grandison, Co-Chairs

During the OEP Board Meetings held April 2-4, 2020 (via Zoom), On Earth Peace board, staff, and Anti-Racism Transformation Team met to receive committee updates, hear staff plans for implementing the organization’s strategic directions, continue to deepen our commitment to anti-racism and anti-oppression through caucusing, and announcing our decision to join the Supportive Communities Network.

2019 board meeting

2019 board meeting photo

On March 4, two weeks before California issued the first state stay-home order due to COVID-19, On Earth Peace decided the most responsible way to hold its spring board meeting would be by Zoom. Plans to meet in Baltimore were canceled. OEP staff assisted the board in carefully planning for the meetings and provided training in utilizing a variety of interactive online tools for conversation and decision-making. Meeting times were shortened and adjusted to accommodate board members living in three different time zones. By all accounts the meeting format was a success.

Each day began with a tech check to make sure all participants could participate fully. Process and power observers watched to make sure the limitations of technology were not leaving any voices unheard. The meetings began and closed with worship led in turn by Lucas Al-Zoughbi, Bill Scheurer, Cindy Weber, and David Shetler.

On Thursday, the executive committee reported that it had completed a review process with Bill Scheurer, OEP’s executive director. A number of new goals and priorities were identified and agreed upon following the evaluation. A closed board session with Bill was held on Saturday to review the findings and affirm commitments.

The board governance committee initiated conversation about skills and perspectives needed as a search begins for three additional board members. The board resource and development committee provided a financial report which included information about cost savings and awareness of the negative impact of the pandemic on OEP’s endowment funds. At the time of the report, staff were in the process of applying for CARES ACT funds (which were later granted). The organization’s financial situation will be reassessed in the fall.

The second day of the meeting, Friday, was dedicated to in-depth conversation led by staff on On Earth Peace’s four new strategic priorities. A question running through the conversations had to do with what historic OEP programming could be adapted and continued under these priorities and what work, perhaps, should be discontinued in order to focus the resources and energy of the organization around its new priorities. The four strategic priorities approved in the fall of 2019 are as follows:

  • Develop individuals as leaders with spirituality and skills in Kingian Nonviolence, using groups such as cohorts and communities of practice.
  • Walk with leaders and their communities as they take action for justice and peace using the Kingian Nonviolence approach, including accountability, consultation, and organizing in solidarity with current movements.
  • Through our agency responsibilities and opportunities, embolden the Church of the Brethren to become a living peace & justice denomination.
  • Institutionalize Anti-Racism (AR) /Anti-Oppression (AO) in OEP practices and structures, including staff and board composition, programs, budgets, policies, and accountability to AR/AO partners like Crossroads and the Supportive Communities Network.

The Kingian nonviolence approach, which is the heart of the first two strategic priorities, is built on the teaching and experiences of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the leadership of the black-led Civil Rights and Freedom Movement. Dr. King was a Baptist preacher and theologian, and his preaching and teaching was grounded in interpreting Jesus’ call for the times. Church of the Brethren member David C. Jehnsen and his colleague Bernard LaFayette, Jr., worked to codify lessons they learned working with Dr. King. David, who is a member of Living Peace Church of the Brethren (Columbus, OH), is actively involved in Kingian leadership programs through On Earth Peace. On Earth Peace is the fiscal sponsor for the Kingian Nonviolence Coordinating Committee.

Board conversation around the first two strategic priorities clarified the framework for new and ongoing work of the organization. Staff explained how training cohorts in Kingian Nonviolence progress through increasingly advanced understandings of Kingian organizing and practice. However, the training provided is flexible, allowing interested persons multiple entry points. An example was how OEP was able to resource the LaVerne COB with Kingian Nonviolence skills to do racial justice work in its community. Plans for revising and perhaps renaming the Agape-Satyagraha nonviolence training for youth with a clearer focus on Kingian Nonviolence principles was shared as an example of how ongoing work will service the new priorities.

Discussion on the third priority to “embolden the Church of the Brethren to become a living peace and justice denomination” focused on the challenges of moving the denomination from maintenance of the “status quo” to becoming a vibrant witness for justice and peace. Achieving this vision will mean letting go of some historic and nostalgic, but ineffective, programming for relational and capacity building work more likely to have a positive impact. Included in the discussion were beginning conversations about clarifying and strengthening accountability relationships with marginalized groups in the denomination as well as with leadership structures. Above all, the board affirmed OEP's vital calling, as a denominational agency, to bring an anti-racism, anti-oppression focus to help guide the denomination toward becoming a more just community of faith able to serve all its members.

Reflection on the fourth strategic priority gave the board and staff opportunity to assess progress toward OEP’s own institutional transformation into an anti-racist, anti-oppressive organization. Using the Crossroad’s model of six stages of organizational change, OEP after years of work, is seeing itself moving more solidly from stage three “symbolic change” into stage four “identity change” and even beginning to implement stage five level “structural changes.” The goal still ahead is to become a fully inclusive, transformed institution.

On the final day of the board meetings, the board took up the question of when to announce the decision made at its previous board meeting - to become a member of the Supportive Communities Network (SCN). In consultation with SCN, the board agreed to delay the announcement until the Covenant Brethren had made their intentions clear, and then at the request of denominational leadership, the board delayed a second time until the Compelling Vision had been released and processed. The board divided into racial caucus groups to process how Internalized Racial Superiority (IRS) and Internalized Racial Oppression (IRO) might be playing into the decision of timing. The caucus groups helped raise awareness of the internalized fear we all carry in one way or another. This fear works in powerful ways to sustain structures of privilege and oppression and leaves us thinking falsely that we must choose between privileged relationships and doing what we believe is right and just.

Meeting by zoom because of the COVID-19 pandemic was a vivid reminder of how this crisis is reminding us, along with everyone in the world, of how very important and precious we all are to one another. Our lives and well-being depend on us all working together for the common good. Therefore, the board felt the time was right to express its solidarity with LBGTQ Brethren and with those congregations offering them full pastoral ministry and welcome. The board is grateful to have this opportunity to be a member of SCN which will assist OEP in learning how to be a multicultural, inclusive agency, which fosters justice, peace, and joy.

The meetings concluded with a meaningful time of worship provided by David Shetler, serving as liaison to On Earth Peace from the Council of District Executives.