Delegate: Jerry O’Donnell
I was deeply honored when asked if I would consider serving as our church’s delegate at this year’s Annual Conference in Cincinnati. I knew my biggest obstacle would be Congress’ schedule of votes. Once that wasn’t a problem, I requested time off from work, which was granted by my boss. I then informed Ad Council I would graciously accept the invitation.
The excitement of going back to Annual Conference immediately began building within me. I told my family that I was going to be delegate, and they were thrilled for me. My mom instantly said she was going, too! She might have been a little over-excited. After the long time away from home in South Texas this past year, my mom eventually opted to stay home. My dad who had said all along he had hoped to get back to Conference this year, spoke of the possibility of us sharing a room with my uncle, his brother. That would ultimately add to my Conference experience and make it all the more special.
It truly felt like my Brethren life was coming full circle, returning to the site of my second Annual Conference. I don’t remember my first—Norfolk in 1986—nor do I recall Cincinnati in 1987 when I was about to turn 3. Those Conferences set me on course for many to come. This year was my first as a delegate but my tenth overall. Some of my most memorable family trips as a kid were centered around the location of conference. My parents took my sister and me to numerous national parks and other historical sites, including 1991 when Conference was in Portland, Oregon, during which trip we visited the Badlands, Yellowstone, Mount St. Helens, Yosemite, the Painted Desert, the Petrified Forest, the Grand Canyon, and Carlsbad Caverns. This and other trips instilled in me a lasting love of travel, geography, history, being outdoors, and being Brethren. Vivid images of long hours in our car/minivan are etched in my mind, and I can still hear many of the Vacation Bible School songs on cassette tape we sang along with to pass the time. That reminds me, I need to jot those down and look up music for Baby/Toddler church!
Since Orlando in 1998, the last Annual Conference I attended in my youth, I haven’t been a stranger to large denominational gatherings by any means. During each year in high school, I attended ERYC (Eastern Regional Youth Conference), which alternated between Elizabethtown College and Juniata College. I went to NYC (National Youth Conference) in 2002 as a youth participant and then again in 2006, volunteering as a youth worker. I attended NYAC (National Young Adult Conference) in 2004 and 2008. Without a doubt, my formative youth and early young adult years were highlighted by some great Church of the Brethren opportunities.
This year lived up to its billing. Even though I was in all of the business sessions each day, attended three insight sessions, covering shifts at New Community Project’s booth, and going to four meal discussions—3 of those in one day—I found ample time to catch up with familiar faces from my childhood, my time living in Elgin during BVS, the summer of 2008 when I co-led the denominational workcamps, the year I worked for the church in the Dominican Republic, and even most recently when speaking to youth at CCS (Christian Citizenship Seminar) here in DC. As most seasoned Conference-goers will attest, the greatest part of Annual Conference is the people.
When I reflect on this year’s Conference in Cincinnati, will I remember every item of business the Delegate Body passed? Well, maybe. I have pretty solid memory, but more than likely, no. I can tell you I will remember the people at my delegate table, the congregations where they worship, and a few things about them and their families. I will remember joining Tori, Nate, and others standing outside the Convention Center at a candlelight vigil in solidarity with immigrant children and families impacted by the policy of family separation. I’ll remember dropping by the On Earth Peace booth to join Emmett and Jacob for a few minutes on the Dunker Punks Podcast. I’ll undoubtedly remember attending every worship service with my dad and uncle, singing along to the wonderful music performed by Jacob and others. I’ll remember reminiscing with pastors from my youth who helped me with my walk with Jesus, catching up with Brethren friends from college, BVS, and beyond, and cultivating new relationships, growing my Brethren circle. I think this closeness as a community is what creates lasting bonds despite disagreements. It allows us to see past our differences, to understand who we truly are and that we are all children of God.
I look forward to future Annual Conferences, and I thank you for placing your trust in me to serve as delegate this year.
MAJOR ITEMS OF BUSINESS
Last year’s Annual Conference began the process of framing a “compelling vision” for how our denomination will continue the work of Jesus together. The visioning process started at this year’s Annual Conference, involving both the delegates and the non-delegates who were present during two sections of the business sessions. The process allows for every congregation to participate. Those opportunities will be shared with all of you when known. Lord-willing, the process will continue at next year’s Annual Conference in Greensboro.
Vison of Ecumenism for the 21stCentury– coauthored by our very own Jenn!
The 2018 Conference approved “Vision of Ecumenism for the 21st Century,” which reaffirmed the historical identity of the Church of the Brethren as a denomination active in ecumenical work and in relationship with other Christian bodies. The paper also calls the church to build and nurture positive interfaith relationships.
Creation Care: Faith into Action
In 2016, a Creation Care study committee was authorized in response to a query on continuing the study of our Christian responsibility to care for God’s creation. Their report, titled “Creation Care: Faith into Action,” includes a list of recommendations that have been adopted by the 2018 Annual Conference. Committee chair Sharon Yohn of Stone Church of the Brethren—Chloe’s home congregation and my former church when I attended Juniata College—shared the process the committee used and the rationale for the recommendations, stating that care for our brothers and sisters is part of our calling in Christ.
Vision for a Global Church of the Brethren
The Annual Conference body of delegates also adopted the paper, “Vision for a Global Church of the Brethren.” This was brought by the Mission and Ministry Board, formerly called the General Board, at the initiative of staff of Global Mission and Service, formerly called Global Mission Partnerships, and has been in process for some time. The new vision is for a global Church of the Brethren that brings together these denominations “as a union of autonomous bodies, a spiritual community bound together by a common passion to be followers of Christ, a common New Testament theology of peace and service, and a common commitment to be in relationship with one another.”
Vitality and Viability
The report titled “Vitality and Viability” and its recommendations were adopted. The study committee that brought this report was formed to address concerns raised at the 2015 Annual Conference, which returned a query about district structure but assigned to this committee the broader topic of viability within congregations, districts, and the denomination. I know this is widely viewed as shirking its responsibility, or as we might say in the political world, kicking the can down the road or staffing it out. The fact is district structure is a pressing issue facing the CoB. It must be dealt with in a prayerful, deliberate manner.