The 211th Annual Conference (July 1-6, 1997) of the Church of the Brethren was held in the Long Beach Convention Center, 300 East Ocean Blvd., Long Beach, California; consisting of a convention center, a performing arts center, and an arena nicknamed the Fish Tank because the exterior wall is covered with the worlds largest mural of any type. The city gets its name from a land deal involving the Long Beach Land and Water Company when it was incorporated as a city in 1888. Originally the six mile long ocean front was planned to be a resort community but its proximity to the ocean eventually gave way to shipping interests. Long Beach is the nations second busiest container port and one of the world's largest shipping ports. It is the fifth largest city in California and the nations largest municipally owned marina comprised of 3,400 boat slips. The waterfront marina and especially Terminal Island has been host to literally a boatload of movie sets.
Annual Conference was held only once before at Long Beach (1961) in the former 8,000 seat Municipal Auditorium, a classical 1932 building which hosted some the greatest entertainers in show business. In 1961, the Fish Tank arena was still under construction. The rear of the old Municipal Auditorium can be seen at the far right. It was demolished in 1975 to make room for the new convention facility. That former auditorium is not the only thing that has been descending. In March of 1995, the General Board was given the news that significant budget shortfalls were expected for the foreseeable future. In wrestling with the implications of this news, the board discerned that the problem involved something deeper than finances. While the financial realities had brought our situation to our attention most forcefully, this deeper problem had more to do with vision and identity.
This year also commemorates the 50th anniversary of the General Board. To begin the process the board appointed a Vision Discernment Team and after receiving their report, established a Redesign Steering Committee to gather information from all corners of the denomination, and to develop the initial elements of the new design of the General Board. From July 1995 through October 1996 the committee worked hard to sort out what can be done to restore momentum to the program and mission of the Church of the Brethren General Board. A sometimes overlooked aspect of this redesign is the changes of staff persons who are employed by the various departments of the board. The committee has been listening to hundreds of people describe what is going on, what has happened in the past, and what their aspirations are for the church tomorrow. The process continued as a Transition Team worked to bring the new organizations into existence. Here's what they found (submitted by then board chairman Christopher Bowman).
1997 Conference Officers were Moderator David Wine, then president of Mutual Aid Association; Moderator-elect Elaine Sollenberger from Everett, Pennsylvania; and Secretary Anne Myers.
FIRST ANNUAL CONFERENCE MODERATOR ON THE WEB:
Moderator David Wine also has the distinction of being the first Moderator on the WEB.
Moderator Wine and the Program & Arrangements Committee worked in cooperation with Church of the Brethren Network to issue eight special web publications directed toward denominational and congregational leadership. It was called the MODCOB (Moderator + Church of the Brethren). Moderator Wine is the president of Mutual Aid Association
, a Church of the Brethren oriented insurance company located in Abilene, Kansas. He is the first Moderator to significantly participate in the electronic age by using e-mail, list servers, and COB-NET to augment his desire to reach as many Brethren as possible, with news and information about this years Annual Conference in Long Beach. Get to know him and his vision by reading the following issues of his newsletter, The MODCOB
. Included in these several issues are business items of the Conference, the redesign of the General Board, and basic information about how questions from districts and congregations are sent to the denominations highest ruling body. The theme of this years Conference is taken from Luke 28:14 where Jesus admonishes His disciples to Count the Cost
of following in His footsteps. The price of salvation has been paid by Christ's substitutionary death on the cross, but the cost of sacrificing personal desires and behavioral patterns is enormous.
Moderator Wine, a graduate of McPherson College, Bethany Theological Seminary, and General Board chairperson from 1991 to 1995, has issued a call for all Brethren to become more deeply grounded in faith by renewing our investment in prayer and the things of the Spirit ... Let us count well the cost of spiritual discipline
(Agenda Newsletter, January/February, 1997). Brother Wine has raised the bar for all Brethren by taking meditative strolls and praying an hour each day.
- World Mission Philosophy and Global Church Mission Structure progress report was presented to delegates. This item looks at structural problems faced by congregations who administrate congregations outside the United States. It will return to AC 1998 for acceptance.
- New Testament as Our Rule of Faith and Practice was presented to Standing Committee and copies will be made available to Conference attendees. This item will return as unfinished business at AC 1998.
- Denominational Polity Statement on Property and Stewardship Issues was adopted. This regards the authority of each district to preserve congregational property and other assets in the case that a congregation may neglect such or default on loans.
- Fetal Tissue Use was a firebrand issue that put delegates into lengthy and forceful debate. Some voices feared that approval of this business would promote the abortion industry which is the only source of fetal tissue. Other voices attempted to champion the benefits of fetal research related to alleviation those experiencing pain and suffering. After a moment of prayer and thoughtful consideration, Moderator Wine suggested: God has not spoken to us in uniformity on this issue, but has spoken to us as a body The item was returned to Standing Committee who were charged to formulate a recommendation to be presented at AC 1998.
- Human Genetic Engineering was adopted with little discussion.
- Proposed New Design of General Board was delayed by questions, concerns, unsuccessful attempts to table, repeated calls for clarification, and more notably that the entire process of adjusting the structure of the Board is taking place too quickly for many members who do not yet fully understand the lasting implication of such a process. Delegates also saw need for a Review and Evaluation Committee to study the new design and how it would be implemented. This committee would be elected at AC 2000 and present their conclusions to AC 2001. Polity will requires the new committee to be reorganized every ten years, so the next review of the General Board would take place in AC 2007. The final wording also clarifies the role of the General Board's accountability to Annual Conference. During the General Board's annual reorganization, Chris Bowman of Martinsburg, PA, was elected as Chairperson. It will be his task to guide the Board through the uncertain waters of redesign.
General Board Redesign Process:
- Deacon Ministry in the Church of Brethren was adopted to update the 1983 Office of Deacon Statement. The issue of calling divorced people to serve as deacons received lengthy discussion. Some felt that those who failed in the marriage relationship would not be effective in ministering as deacons, while others felt equally strong that God accepts people who have made mistakes and that they may be even better equipped to foresee pitfalls of the marriage relationship. Moderator Wine reminded delegates that; the denomination position on divorce and positions of leadership can be found in the 1977 Annual Conference statement on Marriage and Divorce.
- Defining Ministry Limits of Licensed Ministers was adopted and given to the General Board and the Council of District Executives. The query as sent by the Oregon/Washington District, ...asks for a study to widen our designation for standing to include additional categories for ministry such as those commissioned for service in specific situations. Standing Committee and the delegate body requested that the Board and the Council follow the recommendations that were included in the AC 1996 Statement Calling and Forming Quality Ministerial Leadership within the Church of the Brethren.
- Relationship with the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) was adopted and referred to the Committee on Inter-church Relations, for them to study the financial costs, and gather information concerning the potential relationship. A report will be brought to AC 1998.
- Domestic Violence was adopted with an amendment. Standing Committee preferred that General Board staff gather resources for the denominational, but delegates voted that the matter be given to Association of Brethren Caregivers because they already have resources on this issue. Delegates also requested for additional resources that might include the prevention of domestic abuse.
- Statement on Child Exploitation was adopted to educate Brethren on the plight of children around the world and call for them to take actions. An ammendment states: We call on the United States government to ratify and support international treaties that protect children from exploitation as this is understood by this paper, and discerned by
- The Review and Evaluation Committee presented its final report and was adopted. The committee had also decided at the 1995 Annual Conference to study and review the work of the General Board over the past decade.
- The delegate body was reminded during business sessions that the Congregational Structure issue, though still an item of business, has been deferred until AC 1998 when it will be received as a new item of business.
- Report of Pastoral Compensation and Benefits Advisory Committee was accepted that recommended a cost of living adjustment of 3.2%.
- Due to health reasons, Moderator-elect Jimmy Ross is vacating his position. Delegates accepted per Standing Committee recommendation that Elaine
Sollenberger be appointed to serve as Moderator in 1998 at Orlando, Florida.
- Total registered attendance was 3,325 comprised of 826 Delegates and 2,499 Non-Delegates.
- Lowell Flory of McPherson, Kansas, was elected as Moderator-elect to serve in 1999 at Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Flory is a professor and chairman for business and economics at McPherson College.
- Retiring Annual Conference secretary Anne Myers of North Manchester, IN, received a standing ovation from the delegate body for her ten years of service to the Conference. Association for the Arts presented her with a quilt that included the ten Annual Conference logos of each year of her service.
- Cathy Simmons Huffman of Rocky Mount, Virginia, was elected Annual Conference Secretary and will serve for five years.
- Jonathan Shively served as Music Coordinator.
- Brethren were joined on July 4th in downtown Long Beach by a crowd of more than 20,000. The city of Long Beach has a reputation of offering the great fireworks, second only to Disneyland.
- Program & Arrangements Committee announced that LOUISVILLE, Kentucky, will be the location for AC 2002.
- Tuesday Evening, July 1 :
David Wine, COUNT WELL THE COST, President of Mutual Aid Association, Abilene, Kansas
- Wednesday Evening, July 2 :
Judith Kipp, NOT TO BE TRIFLED WITH, Pastor of Ridgeway Community COB, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
- Thursday Evening, July 3 :
Dawn Wilhelm, THE SIMPLE LIFE, Pastor of Stone COB, Huntingdon, Pennsylvania
- Friday Evening, July 4 :
Millard Fuller, HAMMERING HOME SERVICE, President of Habitat for Humanity, Americus, Georgia
- Saturday Evening, July 5 :
Glenn Mitchell, WHAT THE STONES KNOW, Pastor of University Baptist & Brethren Church, State College, Pennsylvania
- Sunday Morning, July 6 :
Rich Hanley, LAUNCH OUT, INTO THE DEEP, District Executive of Western Plains District