The 212th Annual Conference (June 30-July 5, 1998) of the Church of the Brethren was held in the Orange County Convention Center,
9800 International Drive, Orlando, Florida 32819, the second largest convention/exhibition facility in the nation (just behind McCormick Place in Chicago). Spanning over a half-mile in length, this three story building comprises six huge convention halls and seventy-four meeting rooms, individual reception rooms, plus Gigantic Hallways that converge into spacious atrium's with large amounts of glass for natural lighting. Although not open to outside traffic, the central hallway is wide enough to accommodate four coach buses, side by side. The entire complex would provide 1.2 million square feet of exhibition space within a building totaling 4 million square feet. If you like to walk, you've found the right place. In fact, many physically challenged Brethren without the benefit of scooters did express disappointment at the long walking distances which also included another three to four hundred yards from the convention complex to the two closest hotels. The convention center was completed in four phases between 1983 and 1996, two short years before the Brethren arrived. The newness of the facility was noticeable and appreciated. Seven quick miles southwest on Interstate 4 toward Tampa is Disney World, the world's largest and most-visited recreational resort having four major theme parks, twenty-three on site hotels, camp grounds, fitness centers, and spas. The park opened in 1971 with the Magic Kingdom and its towering castle. Epcot Center was added in 1982, Hollywood Studios in 1989, and Animal Kingdom in April 22, 1998, just two short months before the Brethren arrived. Twelve miles northwest is the host Atlantic Southeast district's outdoor ministry Camp Ithiel and its motto: A Quite Space ... near a Busy Place.
Conference-goers participated in two major historical celebrations that were observed this year: 75th Anniversary of Nigerian Church of the Brethren and 50th Anniversary of Brethren Volunteer Service. On Friday morning, July 3, delegates were treated to a re-enactment of that 1948 historical moment when 22 year-old, 4' 10" Ted Chambers mounted a strategically placed orange crate in front of a microphone, to introduce a new business item that was not on the regular agenda. In his place, Matt Stauffer, assistant director of BVS orientation stood on a similar crate as did Chambers in 1948, but this time proposing another 50 years of volunteer service projects. Moderator Sollenberger asked for all BVSers and future prospective inductees to stand in recognition. The motion to continue BVS for another fifty years was adopted with a concert of applause.
Moderator Elaine Sollenberger is the first woman to serve as Annual Conference moderator in 1989 and again in 1998, thus completing two historical firsts. She was appointed by AC 1997 delegates to fill the position of Moderator vacated by Moderator-elect Jimmy Ross who resigned for health
reasons. The new General Board web site Brethren.Org is now online and conference business, news, tid-bits, and sermons will go immediately from the News Service to this new web presence, instead of through COB-NET.
1998 Conference Officers were Moderator Elaine Sollenberger from Everett, Pennsylvania; Moderator-elect Lowell Flory, chairman for business and economics at McPherson College; and Secretary Cathy Huffman.
- New Testament as our Rule of Faith and Practice was adopted per Standing Committee recommendation with little discussion, since there were very few changes to its content when presented to AC 1997 as a draft statement.
- World Mission Philosophy and Global Church Mission Structure was adopted with near unanimous approval. The Virlina District requested that Annual Conference more clearly define district responsibilities for their congregations outside of the United States, because complications and uncertainty have arisen especially in the training of persons to those areas of ministry.
- On Earth Peace Assembly Request for Reportability to Annual Conference was adopted without serious objection.
- Association of Brethren Caregivers Request for Reportability to Annual Conference was adopted with near unanimous approval.
- Congregational Structure was adopted that included appointing a three-person study committee to present a report at AC 1999 on the most efficient ways for congregations to reorganize according to their own membership size and uniqueness.
- Caring for the Poor was overwhelmingly adopted per Standing Committee recommendation which included appointing a three-person study committee to explore ways that congregations may become more involved in alleviating poverty.
- Fetal Tissue Use was returned per recommendation of Standing Committee following discussion and some confusion regarding the original and larger request for a study committee to examine this issue when updating the 1987 Genetic Engineering Statement.
- Process Regarding Unfunded Annual Conference Mandates was adopted per Standing Committee recommendation.
- Plural Non-Salaried Ministry report by the Polity for Free Ministry task force was adopted per Standing Committee recommendation. This paper seeks to clarify the status of the free ministry in the professional pastor dominated arena of ministry, and requests that possibilities if the free ministry model not be overlooked by congregations.
- Relationship with the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) report was given to Standing Committee by the Committee on Interchurch Relations who were charged by AC 1997 to explore the financial costs and implications of a relationship with the NAE, including a lesser role as observer status. The CIR report to Standing Committee was accepted with a recommendation to appoint a visitor to the next NAE convention. In a following session, Standing Committee rescinded the visitor recommendation, but encouraged the CIR to seek Brethren who participate with NAE and gather information for a future report.
- Inter-Agency Forum was founded at AC 1997 to work with the Annual Conference agencies so that the mission of each one might be more effective and in greater harmony with the others. IAF asked to continue working on the organizational issues related to the ongoing restructuring of the General Board.
- Proposed Changes to the Brethren Benefit Trust Articles of Organization was adopted that would broaden the scope of the Retired Church Workers Fund (to include active pastors) and change its name to: the Church Workers Assistance Plan.
- 300th Anniversary of the Church of the Brethren was anticipated by Standing Committee and requested that the Inter-Agency Forum create an anniversary committee to coordinate efforts among the different agencies and explore networking with other Brethren groups, to jointly celebrate the 300th Anniversary at during the entire year of 2008 and especially at AC 2008.
- Role of Standing Committee Subcommittee suggested that, due to increased responsibilities of Standing Committee, it might be advisable to lengthen the term of service of members from three to five years. Opponents voiced concern that a longer term may deny fresh perspective from new members. Since this would also be a change in Polity, Standing Committee accepted the report as a tool for continued guidance.
- Total registered attendance was 3,509 comprised of 893 Delegates and 2,616 Non-Delegates.
- Emily Mumma of Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, was elected as Moderator-elect to serve in 2000 at Kansas City.
- Judy Mills Reimer is elected as the new executive director of the General Board to fill the vacancy of outgoing board chair Chris Bowman.
- Celebrated 75 years of Brethren presence in Nigeria.
- Blood Drive participants were successful in donating 221 units of blood for the Central Florida Blood Bank.
- AACOB quilt auction totaled near $14,000 from its regular and silent auctions to benefit people in Nicaragua, Korea, and the Washington, D.C. Soup Kitchen.
- Program & Arrangements Committee announced that BOISE, Idaho, will be the location for AC 2003.
- Tuesday Evening, June 30 :
William Willimon, FAITHFULNESS: KEEPING ON SEEING, Professor of Christian Ministry, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina
- Wednesday Evening, July 1 :
Elaine Sollenberger, LIVING THE CONNECTION, 1998 Annual Conference Moderator, Everett, Pennsylvania
- Thursday Evening, July 2 :
Fred Swartz, MAKING THE REAL SACRIFICE, Pastor of Manassas COB, Manassas, Virginia
- Friday Evening, July 3 :
William S. Coffin, TO SET AT LIBERTY THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED, Retired Pastor of Riverside Church, New York City
- Saturday Evening, July 4 :
Donna Forbes Steiner, FAITHFUL PEOPLE WITH A HEART FOR WORSHIP, Associate District Executive, Atlantic-Northeast District
- Sunday Morning, July 5 :
Robert Alley, GOING WITH A PROMISE, Pastor, Bridgewater COB, Bridgewater, Virginia