2012 St. Louis, Missouri 226th
2012 Logo

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 Colleges, Brethren Benefit Trust, Brethren Ministry, Brethren Press, On Earth Peace, Brethren Publications, and Council of District Executives. Also seen were Outdoor Ministries, Heifer International, 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.





Attendance Chart


“They determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain other of them,
should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders (about this question).”
Acts 15:2