2014 Annual Conference Report – Columbus, OH

Nathan Hosler also shared a brief overview from Annual conference. 

 Sally Clark

While I’ve attended Annual Conference as an observer and casual participant before, even as a part of the music team with Don Horn when it was held in Baltimore, this was my first time attending as a delegate, and certainly my first time while nearly 7 months pregnant!

This years conference held in Columbus, OH showcased the best of the Brethren with sermons that were uplifting, music that touched the heart, and informative insight sessions that also served as calls to action. But I think what most people enjoy is running into familiar faces and catching up with each other. My own grandmother who wasn’t able to make it, even sent her friends who could make it in search of me just to say hi. And North Market, a farmers market similar to our own Eastern Market, was definitely a favorite among our Brethren brothers and sisters for lunch or dinner and sometimes even both!

It was nice seeing Pastor Duane Ramsey recognized as part of the memorial to church leaders that passed away this last year. And seeing Nate as part of a presentation dressed up as John Kline dragging his nearly life size cartoon horse behind him brought smiles to everyone’s faces. There was no way I was going to drag myself out of bed for a 6:30am run on a Saturday in the Brethren Benefit Trust 5k, but Nate and Jenn represented Washington City well by clinching 1st place for the men, and 3rd place for the women. Surprisingly, the little city of Columbus did put on a Fourth of July gorgeous fireworks display that nearly rivaled the one here in DC and I was really excited to see that.

I will say that nothing could have prepared me for the exhausting, frustrating, angering, and yet still joyful and rewarding experience that being a part of the business sessions would be.

Sitting around at the roundtables with representatives from all over the country with such diverse backgrounds and opinions felt a bit like a sitting down to dinner with family. You pray together, laugh together, cry together, debate politics, get irritated at each other, feel like you have no clue who they are anymore, but still love them all the same. For 3 out of the 5 days of conference, we are inseparable brothers and sisters in Christ.

One observation that kept coming up from the folks at my roundtable was that because many of the delegates had not served the prior year or years, there was a lack of understanding for why some of the changes were being suggested, what prior informative discussions had covered, or even why a query had been brought forward. This, even with the updated reports in the conference booklet was causing some confusion amongst the delegates who lacked a more comprehensive understanding of the subjects at hand. However, I appreciated learning about many of the topics even if it was for the first time, and was glad I could participate in the delegate process.

There were seven items of business that were voted on this year, many more that were discussed, and several items that were pushed to next year. Given the amount of time we were at the conference, it would have been nice to get through more items, but I appreciated the opportunity to discuss many of the topics thoughtfully with the other delegates. The items that were voted on were:

  1. Elections for a number of Church Boards, which went smoothly
  2. A Church-wide Cost of Living Increase for Pastors, which given that the majority of delegates were Pastors, unsurprisingly passed by a wide margin
  3. Revisions to the Ministerial Polity, which passed with a 2/3rds majority.
  4. Revisions to the Congregational Ethics Polity, which passed with a 2/3rds majority.
  5. Revisions to the Equitable Representation on the Mission & Ministry Board, which passed with a 2/3rds majority.
  6. Guidance for Responding to the Changing of Earth’s Climate, failed to gain a simple majority by 13 votes, and was sent back to the congregation with the statement that the church is not of one mind on this topic at this time.

I mention this one last because for me it was the topic that resonated so close to home, and presented the most frustrating moments during Conference. Knowing that Nate, Bryan and       Jonathan Stauffer worked on this paper gave it an element of home team pride, but also the      discussion and voting process was an eye opening look at where the intersection of scientific        research, politics, personal opinion, and faith clashed in the Church in a staggering way.

The common thread that I kept hearing was, why do we need a response to the question of Climate Change if we all agree that being good stewards of the earth is a given. However, to point out that we all have varying understandings of what being a good steward was within the Church, as one woman at my table said, “Here we are talking about addressing Climate Change and how we as a church all agree it isn’t a good idea to waste energy, while sitting in a cavernous conference room, while the AC blasting so high that many of us have sweaters on even though it is July, with a mountain of papers in front of each of us, many of which we aren’t going to even get to. Last night we waved around hundreds of one-time use glo-sticks at the worship service for 3 minutes, before throwing them directly into the trash. On top of that I haven’t seen a single recycling bin in this conference center where thousands of people are frequenting. You cannot tell me that we as a church are being good stewards of the earth right now.” I nearly high-fived her in agreement. But then this very woman contrary to my assumptions, voted against the response. On the basis that there was some language within the response that she disagreed with, and while she agreed that a stance should be taken, couldn’t in good conscious vote for the entirety of the response. And so with many delegates likely feeling the same way as her, out went the baby with the bathwater.

While the church is clearly split on the topic of Climate Change, I am still grateful that our church can be serve as an example for others with projects such as our community rain barrel. I am also thankful to have leaders such as Nate, Bryan and Jonathan who worked on this paper.

 

  1. Resolution to Fast and Pray for those in Nigeria

A resolution that seemed fairly innocuous and one that everyone could get behind as the last item of business for the 2014 conference, also became a shining example of how challenging ourselves to be courageous disciples can be a beautiful thing. The original resolution asked that we fast and pray for our brothers and sisters in Nigeria, was amended by a delegate through the “friendly amendment” process to include that the Church would also offer a hostage exchange for the kidnapped girls. When it got added you could almost visibly see the air go out of the room with the change. Fasting and praying from the comfort of our cushy homes in the United States is safe, easy, and within our control, showing support by being a part of a hostage exchange was a completely different and potentially dangerous proposition. Together as a body, unlike with any of the items that came up during conference we took a moment of silence, sang prayerful songs, and individually confronted our ideas of what it meant to be more like Jesus. It was one of the most real and thoughtful moments of conference.

Ultimately, the hostage exchange amendment was voted out of the resolution by a close margin, and the original resolution passed, but it was an amazing way to conclude the business of conference.

Thank you to the church for nominating me to serve at this year’s Annual Conference, it was a great experience, and I hope that you consider me as your delegate for the 2019 conference out in sunny San Diego!

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