On Earth Peace (OEP) held its 2022 Spring Board Meeting virtually on Zoom, April 7-9, 2022. Those attending included interns from as far away as Spain and Gaza. Six current board members are people of color and an equal number are younger than 40, leaving older and white board members as a slight minority for the first time in the board’s history. It was a delight to see co-chair Melisa Leiter Grandison holding her newborn daughter, Mikyla Soul, on her shoulder during the meetings. All current board members are members of the Church of the Brethren (COB) or persons with deep family roots in the Brethren tradition. With young adult interns and fellows providing skilled leadership for portions of the meetings, the benefit of including younger and more diverse leadership was evident, reflecting the OEP value of developing intergenerational leadership.
Business was preceded by times of worship grounding those present in the Jesus centered spirituality that guides the board’s work for justice and peace. Lucas Al-Zoughbi shared a video of a joyful Palestianian wedding in Bethlehem, his home town, demonstrating the gift of joy in the midst of injustice and struggle.
Providing a framework for understanding decisions before the board, OEP staff opened the meetings with a comprehensive report on the current interim staffing arrangement. Responsibilities previously carried by the executive director are now divided among the three staff: Darlene Johnson, Marie Benner-Rhoades, and Matt Guynn. Board co-chairs Melisa Leiter Grandison and Irvin Heishman meet with staff twice a month to provide staff support and collective accountability. Staff have stepped up more robust development work. Interns are assisting in making donor calls and interns in Gaza are preparing a second Palestinian cooking video to be shared in May. This one will demonstrate how to make a Palestinian dessert with strawberries and will include information on how the Israeli occupation of Gaza negatively impacts Palestinian strawberry farmers. The board is assisting with a concert fundraiser at the Manchester (IN) Church of the Brethren (and online) featuring Friends with the Weather on Dec. 3, 2022.
The Resource Management and Development Committee reported that Beverly Eikenberry has been appointed as treasurer. Bev led board members through a tutorial on how to read financial reports and on its fiduciary responsibilities.
With this background information, the board was ready to consider proposals supporting the development of a new staffing structure for the organization. The board is eager to move away from a hierarchical structure which concentrates power in a few hands and toward a model that allows for shared power and broad input from diverse representation. The board received a report from a sub committee formed to prepare a staffing structure recommendation for the board to consider. In two separate proposals, the board approved an adjusted timeline reducing the sense of urgency to rush the process and funding to allow the sub-committee to access resources and expertise to inform its eventual recommendation.
Final matters before the board had to do with its own internal transformation toward becoming “unapologetically multiracial/multicutural” and “driven by an anti-racist/anti-oppressive lens toward the transformation of society” and its work to embolden the Church of the Brethren to become a living justice and peace denomination.
As part of its internal work, a difficult decision was made to review its power and process observation practice. These observations have resulted in significant improvements, making meetings safer places for many participants, but this pause will provide space to investigate a more inclusive process for all marginalized identities.
Time was also taken for a caucus process designed to help board members gain awareness of how internalized racial superiority and oppression show up in the board process. For the caucus, the board forms two groups, one for people of color and one for white board members. Both groups consider the same focus question then prepare a report back to the other group. The question for this meeting was how internalized racial superiority and oppression impact the way we hold each other accountable and how it impacts our sense of authority in the roles we hold. The conversation revealed significant findings and proposals for moving forward with greater board and staff accountability.
The board also held initial conversations about its own “branding” with reports on a survey conducted prior to the meeting. Survey results indicate there is broad support for reviewing the organization’s logo design and color template to more accurately reflect OEP’s mission and vision. In addition, the board considered recommendations that each board member be trained in Kingian Nonviolence, along with staff and interns, and to institutionalize practices that create safe space for staff and volunteers.
In relation to its work to embolden the Church of the Brethren, the board celebrated the progress made by two of its interns working independently but in parallel with that of the Supportive Communities Network in conversation with National Youth Conference (NYC) staff. For the first time at NYC, there will be training for all adult advisors with guidelines in place to protect queer youth from bullying as well as providing identified safe space and advisors.
Conversations with the Standing Committee Task Team about OEP’s decision to join the Supportive Communities Network has given rise to some cautious hope for a breakthrough in understanding with potential for positive recommendations. The Leadership Team will be bringing a polity recommendation to Annual Conference, five years after OEP asked for clarification of polity relating to agencies. The new polity does not provide guidelines for addressing differences as OEP had hoped. Apart from these concerns, the polity being submitted to Annual Conference is an improvement over previous drafts that had been presented to the agencies for consideration.
Tim Button-Harrison presented a report to the board on behalf of the Council of District Executives (CODE). He expressed hope that the relationship between the two entities might be restored following a CODE decision several years ago to discontinue inviting OEP to its meetings. The break in relationship occurred after OEP decided to join the Supportive Communities Network of open and affirming congregations and organizations. Leaders of both groups have been meeting toward the goal of renewed cooperation and interaction.
The Board Governance Committee presented two candidates for approval as board members.
- Tamera Shaw works as Program Coordinator within the Psychology Department at George Mason University (VA). She led racial justice sessions as an OEP intern for the Southern Ohio/Kentucky and Mid-Atlantic Districts. These experiences motivated her to stay involved with OEP and so she applied for the Organizing Fellow position. In this position, she has been working to mobilize the OEP constituency toward addressing both global and local militarism.
- Jesse Houff is the Community Arts Minster at the Washington (DC) City Church of the Brethren, Community Arts Coordinator at Wesley Theological Seminary (WTS), and Adjunct Professor at WTS. She enjoys diving deeply into her spiritual roots as they connect with the arts and living a sustainable, minimalist life.
Both Tamera and Jesse were affirmed as board members and will begin their terms of service in 2023. An additional board member will be affirmed at this year’s COB Annual Conference.
OEP is the COB partner with Community Peacemaker Teams. Marie Benner-Rhoades reported on CPT work in a number of locations where volunteers accompany local people at risk of violence. CPT has issued a bulletin of perspectives on the war in Ukraine including concern about how white supremacy prioritizes media attention for this war above wars in people of color locations. An upcoming Messenger article will introduce CPT’s new name and what led to the change.
In reflections on the meetings, several noted that the board is gaining in skill and trust, enabling the group to be “real” with each other. Board members, interns, and staff engaged in conversation at a deep and honest level, with passion for the possibilities for continuing transformation of On Earth Peace and the church toward the transformation of the world around us, a world liberated from oppression, violence and war.