The 226th Annual Conference (July 7-11, 2012) of the Church of the Brethren was held in the America's Center Convention Complex, located at 701 Convention Plaza Street, Louis, MO 63101. The Conference Center features 502,000 square-feet of exhibit space, 80 meeting rooms, a 28,000 square-foot ballroom, and a 1,400 seat theater. The Main Concourse was lined with easy to read Signage, large artwork, and comfortable seating, comfortable enough on which To Sleep (Note: the man's face has been blurred to respect his privacy). Worship Services convened in the same hall as business. Just across Washington Avenue, the anchor hotel this year was the Renaissance Grand. St. Louis is an up-to-date city where pedestrian signs Count Seconds for your added safety. It is also an attractive town where Street Musicians quietly entertain. The Missouri River is the Longest River in North America, flowing 2,341 miles to join the Mississippi about fifteen miles north of St. Louis. Although both rivers first touch at Confluence State Park, aerial photographs demonstrate that they do not thoroughly mix until the outer limits of the city of St. Louis.
Missouri is nationally known as the Show Me state, with a population that stems from early German immigrants who highly valued tobacco and alcohol. In fact, Missouri is one of the nations largest producers of tobacco and alcoholic products. Still on the books is a law, Section 290.145, that restricts an employer from refusing to hire or discharge employees who legally use tobacco and alcohol during non-working hours. Prohibition became the law of the land with the passing of the Eighteenth Amendment in 1920, but the issue was locally rejected by voters in 1910, 1912, and 1918. The Anheuser-Busch Brewing Co. is headquartered in St. Louis, famous for Budweiser, its flag-ship product.
The city is also the historic gathering point for westward migration during the 1800s. Along the shore of the Mississippi River is the Thomas Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, better known as the Gateway Arch, a 630 foot Stainless Steel memorial that offers a spectacular East View of Illinois, and a West View of the city from its Observation Deck. The courageous and non-claustrophobic ride to the top in a Tram of small Five Seat Pods which operates something as a cross between an Elevator, a Ferris Wheel, and a Cable Car - but entertains with heat, noise, and vibration. The basic structure of the Arch was completed on October 28, 1965, but the dedication was not realized until May 25, 1968, following years of constructing the north and south Trams. President Thomas Jefferson commissioned the Corp of Discovery in 1803 with U.S. Army Captain Meriwether Lewis as its leader, who then selected William Clark as his assistant and partner. Jefferson wanted them to explore the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase for the purpose of gaining sovereign control over the territory itself and a Northwest Route to the Pacific Ocean and its Asian markets. Although westward migration trails and the Lewis-Clark Expedition started from nearby cities, St. Louis commemorates all these endeavors at the Thomas Jefferson National Expansion Memorial National Park and Museum of Westward Expansion with the Gateway Arch as its symbol.
Momentous legal decisions for civil rights were argued in the Old Courthouse where Dred Scott sued to gain freedom from slavery in 1847, and Virginia Minor was the plaintiff in Minor v. Happersett, when she argued in 1874, that the Fourteenth Amendment gave women the right to vote. Both litigants were unsuccessful. Scott was a slave who put a face on the issue of slavery. He had traveled with his master Dr. John Emerson, a surgeon in the US Army, to free states - Illinois and Minnesota (then Wisconsin Territory). Scott argued that since he had lived in free states, he should be regarded as a free man. The Missouri court agreed but appeals from higher state and federal courts extended the case through eleven long years of litigation. Eventually, the United States Supreme Court ruled in March of 1857, with a landmark decision, that slaves were non-citizens and therefore could not sue in a federal court. The Scott decision brought the nation one step closer to the Civil War, and Minor's defeat precipitated the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution. The infant nation, not yet a century old, was gradually forced to reassess its views regarding civil liberties. The realities of time and practice sometimes teach hard lessons.
The civil landscape of Annual Conference was altered this year with the controversial approval of exhibit space for BMC, a sexual orientation interest group. The homosexual issue has been dividing Brethren for many years, and each side has only become more entrenched in their desire, to prevail. Many conservatives assumed that the AC 2011 decisions would arrest further discussion of this issue at the Annual Conference level, thus approval of a booth in the exhibit hall for BMC by the Program & Arrangements Committee was met with tension and dismay. Districts and congregations registered their concerns to leadership previous to the Conference. One congregation has officially left the Church of the Brethren while others ponder various methods of dissent. On the other hand, progressives viewed this decision as a minor victory toward full acceptance of alternate lifestyles within the scope of ordination. Since the AC 2011 amendment called for discussions to continue outside of the query process, an exhibit booth was determined to be outside of Conference business. Repeated pleas for unity from both sides seemed largely ignored, as unity is too often presumed by at least some to infer defeat. For an historic peace church, the battle lines have been drawn and the trenches have been dug.
Registration took place in the modest size lobby where Attendees may also complete their Registration Online. Presented along side the main concourse were the Bulletin Boards and the Prayer Board. A new innovation this year was the Call Wall, an opportunity to suggest individuals deemed worthy of a higher calling. In keeping with AC 2008 Conference Witness to Host City, during the Sunday morning worship service, worshippers brought forward 417 Backpacks filled with school materials for the St. Louis school districts. Another 40 boxes of supplies was estimated to fill an additional 600 backpacks, for a total of more than 1,000. Tuesday evening continues to be the traditional moment for the Children's Choir, and presenting the evening worshippers with a nice selection of music was the Adult Choir. Brethren continue their pursuit of technology as numerous Laptops were a common sight throughout the conference center. Especially noted were the growing number of hand-held devices, in one case this man was using Two at Once. Spanish Language Translation was available for those not yet bilingual. St. Louis offers many dining experiences. The PA Southern District Group celebrated another Conference together at The Spaghetti Factory, a former hotel that saved Head Boards from discarded beds to fashion booths. A new innovation this year was Delegate Seating around assigned tables, instead of lined chairs. This arrangement encouraged delegates to be More Interactive with each other, and hopefully achieve greater participation in discussion and learning from each other. It may not have succeeded at some tables but some others were All Smiles. Only time will judge if it was a wise and successful endeavor.
Many and diverse were the Insight offerings this year. Conference goers had a wide and pleasant range of topics to chose from, and often confronted with how to decide which one of several to attend at the same time. Some were new, others continued previous interests. One of the new ones was Bullying in the Church, skillfully presented by Eric Bishop who gently illustrated how factions within a congregation utilize behaviours and tactics that both damages fellow members in Christ and further creates mistrust. Laughter was heard a few times when he forcefully made a point, only to be lovingly told by Attendees to Stop Bullying. Deb Olskin presented Demystifying Clergy Taxes with an impressive knowledge of tax structures and how to remove the veil of mystery. The Dunker Church of Antietam Battlefield was impressively presented by Terry Barkley, who now serves in place of the late Ken Shaffer at the Brethren Historical Library and Archives.
With dismay the Conference Director announced that the SERRV Exhibit Booth experienced the disappointing theft of an undisclosed amount of their products resulting in the loss of hundreds of dollars. It was unclear when the articles were taken, or who the suspects might have been. Concerned individuals donated a total of $750 to reimburse them. The regular exhibits displayed their customary literature, brochures, and gifts to those interested, such as the
Brethren Benefit Trust,
On Earth Peace,
Brethren Publications, and
Council of District Executives.
Also seen were
Midwives for Haiti, and
A Changing Climate.
2012 Conference Officers were Moderator Tim Harvey, pastor of Central COB, Roanoke, Virginia; Moderator-elect Robert Krouse, pastor of Little Swatara COB, Bethel, Pennsylvania; and Secretary Fred Swartz (his tenth and last year). Swartz began serving at AC 2003 in Boise, Idaho, after Cathy Huffman completed her service at AC 2002 in Louisville, Kentucky.
- Guidelines for Implementation of the Congregational Ethics Paper study committee of AC 2010 gave their report and was granted an additional two years to sufficiently and attentively complete the needed revisions and additions to the paper. The 2010 query was adopted per Standing Committee recommendations: The 1993 Ethics in Congregations paper be reviewed, revised, and updated; ... the revised document would also include guidelines and suggestions for a denominational process of accountability ... that these revisions be facilitated by Congregational Life Ministries staff in collaboration with the Council of District Executives and the Office of Ministry.
- Guidance for Responding to the Changing Earth's Climate working group, appointed in AC 2010 by the Washington Advocacy Office of the Global Mission Partnerships, gave an updated report and were granted an additional year to more thoroughly respond to the original query which asked: ...what is the position of Annual Conference on climate change, and how can we as individuals, congregations and as a denomination take concrete action to live more responsibly and offer leadership in our communities and nation?
- Annual Conference Elections accepted the recommendation of Standing Committee that the query be returned, and that the 1979 Call to Accountability statement be reaffirmed.
- More Equitable Representation on the Mission and Ministry Board adopted the recommendation of Standing Committee that the query be referred to the Mission and Ministry Board to resolve the inequity of representation. At its creation, Mission and Ministry Board members were chosen from the five geographical areas originally designed for Congregational Life Teams. The problem arises because those areas represent geography - not the number of Brethren actually living in those areas. For example: Area 1 has 41% of COB membership but 12% representation; From the former structure this constitutes a 50% loss of representation; ... Area 5 has less than 4% of COB membership but 12% representation; From the former structure this constitutes a 325% increase in representation; (Thus) Areas 1, 2, and 3 represent 91% of COB membership, but under the new structure have 36% representation; and Areas 4 and 5 represent less than 10% of COB membership, but under the new structure have 24% representation.
- Church of the Brethren Vision Statement 2012-2020 accepted the recommendation of Standing Committee that for the rest of this decade, the vision Statement of the Church of the Brethren would be: Through Scripture, Jesus calls us to live as courageous disciples by word and action: To surrender ourselves to God, To embrace one another, To express God's love for all creation.
- Revitalization of Annual Conference accepted (2/3rds) the recommendation of Standing Committee to receive the report from the Revitalization Task Force and approve their four recommendations. This report addresses the complex issues that have been affecting the financial stability and the spiritual vitality of Annual Conference. In recent years, the Program and Arrangements Committee has witnessed a number of factors that call for solutions: declining Annual Conference attendance (see Additional Notes below), increasing costs of Annual Conference, the shifting landscape of generational attitudes (decreased loyalty to large organizations), contentious debates during Annual Conference business sessions, feelings of anger and bitterness within the denomination body, mistrust of leadership, and a wake of alienation.
Another difficulty facing the Program and Arrangements Committee is the sheer urgency of planning each meeting, coupled with frequent membership turnover due to elections. This does not often yield stability for making prudent decisions. In view of this situation, when the Program and Arrangements Committee met in November of 2009, it resolved to petition the denominational Leadership Team to organize a Revitalization Task Force to address this issue. In January, 2010, the Leadership Team assembled a task force and charged them to: 1) Review compiled information on revitalizing Annual Conference plus statistical research that has already been performed; 2) Assess the long-term viability of Annual Conference; 2) Research future trends that might contribute to the vitality of Annual Conference; 4) Utilize open, creative, outside-the-box thinking; 5) Affirm or make a recommendation about the mission statement and core values of Annual Conference; 6) Analyze whether Annual Conference should remain in its present format, or recommend viable alternatives.
Recommendations of the Revitalization Task Force:
- That the timing of Annual Conference remain in a broad time range of mid-June to mid-July, with Program and Arrangements Committee being given the freedom to exercise sound fiscal stewardship in making commitments with convention facilities.
- That the length of Annual Conference currently four nights be maintained, and that the Program and Arrangements Committee be released from the requirement of setting Annual Conference from Saturday evening to Wednesday morning, in order to creatively address issues of spiritual renewal, fellowship, outreach, and business.
- That Program and Arrangements Committee be released from the requirements of the Polity updates approved by the 2007 Annual Conference in regards to a strict geographical rotation, allowing them to focus on a handful of locations that maximize sound fiscal stewardship for Annual Conference and attendees by addressing overall costs including, but not limited to, hotel rates, airline costs, and meeting facility costs. If this recommendation is approved, a travel scholarship should be offered by Annual Conference set by the Program and Arrangements Committee to every delegate from a congregation west of the Mississippi River.
- That by Annual Conference 2015, Annual Conference officers, with the assistance of Program and Arrangements Committee, will have incorporated the recommendations of the 2007 Doing Church Business paper related to the management of business sessions at Annual Conference, and discernment groups in particular. This will require the Nominating Committee of Standing Committee to include in the list of qualifications for moderator-elect the ability to facilitate discernment groups, or a willingness to learn and seek assistance from those who do.
- Revisions to Ministerial Leadership Polity was received as a First Reading and took no action this year. A final draft will be presented for approval at AC2013. Most noticeable under the new polity would be the changing of titles and roles. A Licensed Minister would be an Inquiring Minister who seeks either to become a Commissioned Minister with duties in one congregation, or an Ordained Minister who would continue with the same duties and roles as in the current polity.
- Revisions to District Polity accepted (2/3rds) the recommendation of Standing Committee that the district polity revisions be adopted. Many small changes will have large results, such as permitting districts to be more flexible in staffing according to their respective size and membership.
- Updating Structure for Program and Arrangements Committee accepted (2/3rds) the recommendation of Standing Committee to remove the treasurer position from the Program & Arrangements Committee.
- Church of the Brethren Ecumenical Witness accepted that the recommendation of Standing Committee that the Committee on Interchurch Relations (CIR) be discontinued while encouraging Brethren to be their own ecumenical witness. Delegates further approved a recommendation of Standing Committee that calls upon the Mission and Ministry Board to appoint a committee that will draft a Vision of Ecumenism for the 21st Century.
- Standing Committee updated the Special Response process for dealing with controversial issues in closed meetings, and issues A Way Forward Statement to anticipate how Brethren may: express strong convictions while exhibiting compassion ... eliminate ridicule, bullying, hatefulness, and bigotry ... come together in intentional Bible study and focused prayer.
- Report of Pastoral Compensation and Benefits Advisory Committee was accepted that recommended a cost of living adjustment of 1.7%.
- Total registered attendance was 2,341, comprised of 731 Delegates, and 1,610 Non-Delegates, a loss of 859 total registrants from last year, or a reduction of about 26%. This is the lowest in the last ten years except for 2009 in San Diego. Attendance has naturally peaked in east coast locations: 6,184 Richmond 2008; 4,038 Charleston 2004; and 5,029 Baltimore 2001 - but dropped in west coast locations; 2,844 Boise 2003; and 2,077 San Diego 2009.
- Total offerings received amounted to $38,595.82. In their report for this year, the Revitalization Task Force noted the huge differences in east coast offerings and west coast offerings. For example, compare 2012 with 2008 (Richmond) which had a total of $58,333.72, or 2003 (Boise) which had a deficit of $89,000, or 2009 (San Diego) which had a deficit of $259,000.
- Nancy Heishman of Tipp City, Ohio, was elected as Moderator-elect to serve as Moderator in 2014 at Columbus, Ohio.
- James Beckwith, pastor of Annville COB in Lebanon, PA, was elected as Conference Secretary to begin serving in 2013 at Charlotte, North Carolina.
- Music Coordinator, Dean Sensenig; Choir Director, Raechel Sittig-Esser, assisted by the Ephrata Praise Band.
- Five new Fellowships & Congregations were welcomed on Sunday afternoon by Jonathan Shively, executive director of Congregational Life Ministries.
- Church of the Brethren Association for the Arts Quilt Auction, conducted by Tara Hornbacker, raised $6,000 for world hunger relief. Auctioneer and humorist Eddie Edmonds auctioned Seven Quilts, comprised of five wall hangings and two mini-quilts for a total of $6,000. Unfortunately, quilt auctions are steadily decreasing in the number of people bidding, the total money received, and crowds gathered. Compare 2006 Des Moines $13,240; 2005 Peoria $21,450; 2008 Richmond $19,200; 2004 Charleston, $20,400; 2003 Boise $25,550; 2002 Louisville $18,400. Previous crowds numbered in the hundreds (Richmond, 2008) but 2012 numbered about fifty.
- The Blood Drive succeeded in collecting 191 units for the American Red Cross.
- The New Windsor Conference Center was officially closed on June 4, 2012 - not the entire Brethren Service Center complex. Other ministries such as Brethren Disaster Ministries will continue to operate. Primarily due to financial losses over the past several years, the Conference Center showed a negative balance of assets amounting to over $600,000 by August 31, 2011, which was deemed unsustainable.
- Program & Arrangements Committee did not announce a location for AC 2016, due to financial and scheduling uncertainties.
- Saturday Evening, July 7 :
Walter Brueggemann, BEHIND BARS: FREEDOM UNCAGED, William Marcellus McPheeters Professor Emeritus of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary
- Sunday Morning, July 8 :
Tim Harvey, CONTINUING THE WORK OF JESUS. PEACEFULLY. SIMPLY. TOGETHER, 2012 Moderator and pastor of Central Church of the Brethren in Roanoke, VA
- Monday Evening, July 9 :
Becky Ball-Miller, FROM THE INSIDE OUT, CEO of Troyer Foods in Goshen, ID
- Tuesday Evening, July 10 :
Jennifer Leath, LOVE IN ACTION, Ordained minister in the First Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church
- Wednesday Morning, July 11 :
Daniel D'Oleo, PLANTING FOR THE KINGDOM, Developer of Renacer Ministry, a church planting strategy Hispanic congregations