The 228th Annual Conference (July 2-6, 2014) of the Church of the Brethren was held in the SMG managed Greater Columbus Convention Center, located at 400 North High Street Columbus, Ohio 43215. Originally opened in 1989, an $81 Million Dollar Renovation finished in 2001 now offers a total of 1.7 million square feet of space, including 426,000 square feet of exhibit space, two ballrooms, and 61 meeting rooms. Interior Design was spacious and complemented by Natural Lighting when possible. Welcome Signage was prominent throughout the Multilevel Facility and Floor Plans enabled quick access to specific areas of interest. Delegates convened in Hall C which provided 98,000 square feet of meeting space. The entire center covers more than four city blocks. Towering above the Convention Center was the Hyatt Regency which served as the official anchor hotel and site for many of the Insight Sessions and small group meetings.
Ohio is a word that originated from the Iroquois word ohi-yo´ meaning Great River. It stretches over 980 miles from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to the Mississippi River. At this confluence just south of Cairo, Illinois, it is actually wider than the Mississippi River. Columbus is both the capital and largest city of Ohio, the 15th largest city in the United States with a population slightly over 820,000. During the 1700's this region frequently suffered the pain of war and massacre between Native Americans, the encroaching French, and the determination of the British resulting in the French and Indian War on our homeland and the Seven Years war on the European continent. Ohio achieved statehood in 1803 and Columbus was designated as the capital in 1812. This river city soon became home to several major manufacturing businesses. Labor unions predictably evolved in this climate. The American Federation of Labor (1886) and the United Mine Workers of America (1890) were birthed in Columbus. Industry played a large role in the steady development of the city. More than two dozen buggy factories contributed to the city being called the Buggy Capital of the World.
The city of Columbus was planned from the beginning as the capital city in honor of Christopher Columbus. In 1992, to commemorate the 500th Anniversary of Columbus' Epic Voyage in 1492, the city commissioned a replica of his flag ship, the Santa Maria. Unfortunately during the summer of 2014, the Commemoration Replica was distant from visitors by a downtown revitalization project. Nationwide Insurance decided to headquarter here in 1926, and their label is seen on Building Entrances, Street Signs, Walkways, and their own downtown Nationwide Arena. Entertaining the city during this early part of July was a Street Fair that occupied many of the downtown streets, where vendors sold the usual goods anticipated at these short-term markets. Captivating the interest of many were the Balloon People advertising an event at the Columbus College of Art & Design. Students walked in colors of Green, Yellow, Orange, and mixtures. Two men utilized this opportunity to boldly proclaim the human penalty of Unforgiven Sin. A special initiative by the city to keep its downtown area safe and clean resulted in Capital Crossroads Special Improvement District which employs safety ambassadors, special-duty Safety Officers, a homeless outreach specialist, and a safety coordinator, all of which focus on a holistic approach to crime prevention.
At major pedestrian hubs especially involving auditoriums and hotels, Overhead Skywalks are quickly becoming the normal fixture in many cities, and growing in popularity are out-of-the-weather Ground-level Skywalks. It was a blessing to escape the Hurried Walk of smaller avenues and the hazards of vehicular mishaps and criminal misdeeds. Peace minded Brethren offered humours observations of benign ill will in the conference center. In the very next hall was the USA Fencing National Championships where contestants of all ages engaged in sword fighting. Next to the convention center Food Court was Mischief that specialized in leather goods, jewelry, luggage, and travel accessories. Thursday night the city displayed its annual 4th of July Fireworks.
A new technological first this year delighted Conference-goers having Smart Phones who could install a free, specially developed APP that would place an impressive amount of Conference Booklet information on their phones. Just by touching and scrolling, instead of laboriously thumbing pages, this innovation provided users with a Table of Contents, from which they could: retrieve an Area City Map, retrieve a map of the Facility, discover what exhibits are in the Exhibit Hall accompanied with clickable profiles about the exhibit presenters, research Insight Sessions, also, with clickable profiles about the presenters, and quickly refer to much of the Annual Conference schedule.
Nigerian families were shocked by the wanton abduction of the Chibok Schoolgirls Kidnapping. Brethren sent many Cards & Letters of prayerful support to the families and relatives of the girls. Dr. Rebecca Dali, wife of Samuel Dante the president of Ekklesiyar Yan'uwa a Nigeria (EYN) was among the Ecumenical Guests, and gave an emotional testimony of the horrific and violent events in her homeland. See New Business.
The year 2014 marks 150 years since the tragic murder of John Kline, a very well known Brethren elder, pastor, four time Annual Conference moderator, and Horse Riding Preacher/Missionary. During the Friday morning business session, the Church of the Brethren, Inc. report chronicled many events in Kline's life. Throughout the Civil War he regularly crossed Battle Lines with the message of salvation and peace. While returning from Annual Conference in 1864 and almost within sight of his home, He Was Shot and killed from atop his horse by sharpshooters. Brethren authors continue to Write His Legacy of Giving Light to those in spiritual darkness. Brethren historians have suggested that he was one of the most beloved of all Brethren. It was also the 50th anniversary of the publication of Middle Man, the illustrated children’s book about John Kline by Dorothy Brandt Davis and her children.
The Registration Booths and the Message Board were situated in the main concourse adjacent to Hall C, the meeting place for worship and business sessions. During the opening Thursday evening worship service, Conference goers presented their Witness to Host City (AC2008) gifts of more than 20,000 diapers, over 1,700 hygiene kits, and Additional Goods for the new homeless shelter sponsored by the Columbus YMCA/YWCA. These hygiene kits should have included 1 hand towel, 1 wash cloth, 1 bath-size bar of soap, 1 bottle of shampoo, 1 container of deodorant, 1 container of dental floss, 6 band-aids, 1 comb, and 1 nail clipper.
The Brownsville COB of Knoxville, Maryland, donated 2,500 Prayer Shawls to Conference attendees, blessing each bearer with an Inspirational Reading. The usual food buffet in exhibit halls of most previous years was absent due to the huge Food Court that provided an enormous array of culinary delights, such as:
Steak and Sides,
National Chains, and the more familiar
Chicken & Eggs.
In addition to this wide selection of eatery possibilities, Annual Conference also provides the opportunity for Special Groups to reacquaint themselves.
Light-hearted moments with Peter & Paul offered a refreshing break. National Youth Conference which convenes this year was also highlighted.
This year, 51 Insight Sessions
were offered to better educate, enlighten, and equip individuals and congregations for more effective ministry. Topics ranged over a wide category of faith, witness, discipleship, worship, Brethren specific topics, heritage, clergy specifics, family life, youth specifics, inter-culture, health issues, and legal advice. These photos display a small but representative glimpse of the wider selection of presentations that were available to Conference attendees.
There were 32 booths in this year's Exhibit Hall that provided an opportunity for Brethren to learn more about established agencies within the denomination and the programs or services they offer, or special interest groups promoting their cause, or Brethren related commercial ventures, or to enjoy a glimpse of heritage and history.
2014 Conference Officers were Moderator Nancy Heishman, Tipp City, Ohio; Moderator-elect David Steele, District Executive Minister for Pennsylvania Middle District; and Secretary Jim Beckwith, Pastor of Annville COB, Annville, Pennsylvania.
Moderator Heishman pleasingly endeavored to process a full schedule of business, yet for constraints of time, it was necessary to defer a couple items until the following year. Moderator Heishman had previously challenged the denomination at large to read Apostle Paul's Letter to the Philippians. Throughout the many business sessions, as well as worship, numerous verses from Philippians served as a Continuous Resource for on stage devotional moments. The same configuration of Delegates Sitting at tables, first introduced at AC2012 (St. Louis) is becoming the Conference standard. This year the tables extended all the way from the stage to the rear wall, leaving no room for rearward seating by rows. Grouping delegates around tables contributes to a unique discussion format that has come to be known as Table Talk In the interest of enhancing how the church does business, a new procedural framework was introduced this year labeled The Four D's: Discovery, Discussion, Deliberation, and Decision-Making, but as usual in the past Microphone Speakers could still voice their individual opinions.
- Revision to Ministerial Leadership Polity was adopted per the recommendation of Standing Committee with a two-thirds majority vote. These polity changes have been in development for several years and were first presented at AC2013. Following the initial reading of the paper, that delegate body then returned it to the Mission and Ministry Board for revision. The length of the paper (32 page PDF version) presented challenges to many delegates. Changes of this revision include a new category of a Commissioned Minister to set-apart ministry, so that smaller congregations would benefit from these ministers who would not be required to complete the more advanced training of the Ordained Minister, a 10 year limit on licensed ministers, greater uniformity in credentialing among the districts, the category of lay speaker has been removed at the denominational level, integrate the AC1998 paper on Plural Non-Salaried Ministry, seek intentional conversation with leadership from ethnic congregations, and provide greater ministerial harmony and uniformity throughout the denomination.
- Guidelines for Implementation of the Congregational Ethics Paper was adopted per the recommendation of Standing Committee with a two-thirds majority vote. Pending acceptance of the Ethics Paper, delegates also adopted Recommendations for Implementation of the Congregational Ethics Polity by a simple majority vote. A code of ethics was also included. Discussion was moderately emotional as delegates questioned how a congregation would be dealt with if the congregation refused to follow the necessary outlined steps toward resolution of an issue. Others expressed concern about unforeseen legal implications. Still others pondered the ramifications that the ethical process may have on other congregations.
- More Equitable Representation on the Mission & Ministry Board was returned. The original member formation of the Mission & Ministry Board (MMB) was perceived to have over-representation from areas with low population of Brethren, and under-representation from areas with a higher concentration of Brethren. AC2013 returned this item of business to MMB with the expectation of another resolution. This year MMB presented a series of charts and financial data to propose leaving everything the same, but several delegates continued to raise the same concerns over the disproportional membership.
One particular that contributes to this inequality is that when the former General Board of 25 members was restructured into the 17 member Mission & Ministry Board, persons responsible used Congregational Life Teams (CLT) areas to set the boundaries for member representation. But these CLT areas reflect geography - not Brethren population. The concept was flawed from the beginning as stated in the AC2012 query: 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. After considerable discussion with no clear alternatives, the delegate body returned this item of business having no way to amicably resolve the matter.
- A Vision of Ecumenism for the 21st Century study committee was appointed at AC2013 to draft a vision statement. In order to accomplish this directive, the committee is doing two things: utilize Insight Sessions to foster discussion, and conduct an on-line survey of numerous groups including delegates, youth, Mission & Ministry Board members, district ministries to formulate an evaluation of how the denomination at large views the subject of Ecumenism. The 2014 report stated: The study committee examined the assignment with two objectives: to look at the history of the Church of the Brethren and celebrate the strides made possible in relationship with others of shared values and concern; and to examine the various ways members, congregations, and the denomination might engage with the larger community of communions in cooperative efforts toward God’s kingdom come, God’s will be done.
- Guidance for Responding to the Changing of Earth’s Climate was returned to the district and congregation where it originated. AC2011 adopted this item and referred it to the Advocacy Office of the Public Witness Office. AC2012 received a first report and granted additional time for a more thorough response. A Congregational Study Resource was developed and presented to AC2013, and granted yet another year to fully revise a complete statement for 2014. Debate on this item of business and the accompanying discussion of global warming was strong but civil. Scientific assumptions and conclusions were argued from both sides of this environmental issue, but there was a gradual realization that progress in either direction was becoming more and more elusive. One delegate finally declared that the Church of the Brethren is not of one mind at this time, and proposed a motion to return the query with gratitude to the questioning congregation and district.
- A Resolute Fast and Fervent Prayer: A Resolution Responding to Violence in Nigeria was approved by delegates that all Brethren commit themselves for a week of prayer and fasting during the week of August 17-24. The nation of Nigeria has experienced an inordinate amount of violence in the past few years from Islamic militant groups intent on deWesternizing the country, and their scale of violence has intensified in 2014. Hundreds of Christians have been killed or kidnapped. Their buildings have been burned. In April of 2014 over 200 female students were kidnapped in an over-night raid of a government school in Chibok, a city with a population slightly over 60,000.
During the Saturday afternoon business session, part of a letter from Samuel Dante, president of Ekklesiyar Yan'uwa a Nigeria (EYN) was read by his wife Rebecca Dali: On behalf of EYN, I wish to express our appreciation for your concern over our situation here ... We have been struck down by the enemy, but not destroyed. We are hard pressed and persecuted, yet we still have Christ and are doing our Father’s business. Your prayers of support have been a source of encouragement for us, and show us that we are not alone in our suffering. Brethren sent many Cards & Letters of prayerful support to the families and relatives of the kidnapped girls.
- Revision to the Special Response Process of A Structural Framework for Dealing with Strongly Controversial Issues was adopted as recommended with guidelines proposed by Standing Committee. Revisions and amendments to the Special Response process were generally along the line of fine tuning a process that was implemented in the recent human sexuality issue. A number of such adjustments were the requirement of training for the district facilitators, time limits for open dialogue, scientific materials to be provided as needed, and mandatory observance of Roberts Rules of Order.
- Amendments to Church of the Brethren Benefit Trust Articles of Organization (deferred until 2015 for constraints of time)
- Amendments to the Bylaws of the Church of the Brethren (deferred until 2015 for constraints of time)
- Standing Committee met in special session with On Earth Peace concerning their Statement of Inclusion (September, 2011) that calls for full participation in ministry of everyone regardless of sexual orientation. Standing Committee asked On Earth Peace to re-examine its position in regard to the 1983 Annual Conference statement on Human Sexuality from a Christian Perspective, but OEP remained unwavering in its decision to retain the original language. Standing Committee responded at AC2012 with their own A Way Forward statement. Discussion this year proved to be emotionally restrained but futile. The 2014 response states: Standing Committee does not support the 2011 Statement of Inclusion of On Earth Peace as an agency of the church, but we will continue to commit ourselves to walk in love together in the face of differing interpretations of scripture and Annual Conference statements and decisions.
- Report of Pastoral Compensation and Benefits Advisory Committee was accepted that recommended a cost of living adjustment of 1.8%.
- Total registered attendance was 2,524, comprised of 719 Delegates, and 1,805 Non-Delegates. Throughout the Conference, Attendance figures and registration totals were regularly displayed.
- Total offerings received (undisclosed).
- Election resulted in Andy Murray of Stone COB, Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, being chosen as Moderator-elect to serve as Moderator in 2016 at Greensboro, North Carolina.
- Church of the Brethren Association for the Arts Quilt Auction raised $5,100 for world hunger relief.
- Three New Fellowships are welcomed into the denomination: Common Spirit COB, Michigan District; Hanging Rock COB, West Marva District; and Iglesia De Los Hermanos Remanente de Salvación, Atlantic-Southeast District.
- Blood Drive collected 115 units with the help of 26 volunteers.
- Tampa Convention Center will host AC2015 and Brochures were available at their exhibit hall booth.
- Program & Arrangements Committee announced that SAN DIEGO, California, will be the location for AC 2019.
Evening Worship Drama was complemented by morning Bible Studies. Inspiration was enhanced by music coordinator Andrew Wright, orchestra director Victoria Ullery, Adult Choir director Joy Brubaker, and Children's Choir director Donita Keister. Of notable mention was the
Candle-Light Moment following the Friday evening service when hundreds of glow sticks safely illuminated the worship area. During the Sunday morning worship service, the traditional Moderator Consecration installed David Steele as Moderator for 2015 (Tampa) and Andy Murray as Moderator-elect for 2016 (Greensboro).
- Wednesday Evening, July 2 : Dr. Thomas G. Long - WHAT DOES IT MATTER
Professor of preaching at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, GA, ordained in the Presbyterian Church (USA), and is the author of 14 books.
- Thursday Evening, July 3 : Moderator Nancy Heishman - I WANT THE SAME, PLEASE
Co-Interim pastor of the West Charleston and Cristo, Nuestra Paz congregations in the Southern Ohio District, and served with husband Irv as mission coordinators in the Dominican Republic.
- Friday Evening, July 4 : Robert Kettering - OUR STAR-SPANGLED FAITH
Pastor of the Lititz COB in the Atlantic Northeast District, and chair of the Brethren World Mission board and member of the Mission Advisory Committee.
- Saturday Morning, July 5 : Erin Matteson - THE SONG OF LIFE
Co-pastor of the Modesto COB in the Pacific Southwest District, currently that district's moderator, and officer of the Brethren Minister’s Association.
- Saturday Evening, July 5 : A TRIPLE CONCERT
- Blue Bird Revival is an intense gospel band featuring: Traditional Hymns, Country, Gospel, and Bluegrass.
- Community of Song is a Brethren, male singing group from the Southern Ohio and South-Central Districts. They offer a variety of religious selections: Gospel, Contemporary, Spirituals, and Early American.
- Mutual Kumquat is a Brethren youth band formed at Manchester College in 2000. They have performed at: Annual Conference, National Youth Conference, National Older Adult Conference, District Conferences, and Brethren colleges.
- Sunday Morning, July 6 : Stafford Frederick - HOW TO BE A JOYFUL, COURAGEOUS FOLLOWER OF CHRIST
A native of the island of Trinidad, accepted Jesus Christ as Savior at the age of 17, Church of the Brethren pastor for the past 27 years, currently serving the Olathe (Kansas) and Summerdean (Virginia) congregations.