|Photo by Glenn Riegel|
|The Annual Conference officers join in singing a hymn during the business sessions. The singing of hymns and prayer marked the discussions of Conference business.|
“There is as strong belief among us,” said task force facilitator Shawn Flory Replogle, “that Annual Conference in its totality is not all that it could be.” He concluded, “The point of the report is to lay a flexible foundation for Conference to be renewed.”
By a nearly unanimous vote, delegates affirmed a recommendation from Standing Committee to “receive the report from the Revitalization Task Force with appreciation and that the four recommendations proposed by the Task Force be approved.”
The first two recommendations affirm the current length (four nights) and timing (June/July) of Annual Conference. The third releases Conference planners from polity approved in 2007 that required a strict geographical rotation covering the entire US. Instead, under the new recommendation, Conference may be rotated among a handful of locations that “maximize sound fiscal stewardship for Annual Conference and attendees”--presumably ruling out most western sites.
As part of the recommendations that were accepted, the Program and Arrangements Committee is charged with offering travel scholarships for all delegates west of the Mississippi River. Replogle acknowledged that western congregations have the most to lose from the proposal, and that the scholarship provision was made in sensitivity to that fact. Currently, he said, 74 delegates would be eligible for scholarships, which would be funded from Conference registration fees.
Fourth, the report charges Conference officers and the Program and Arrangements Committee by 2015 to implement the many recommendations pertaining to management of business sessions found in the 2007 “Doing Church Business” statement. That statement sought to move “from issue-focused Conferences to relationship-centered Conferences,” according to the Task Force.
|Photo by Regina Holmes|
|Past moderator Shawn Flory Replogle, who helped lead a Revitalization Task Force doing envisioning for improvements to Annual Conference, presents the four recommendations that were approved by the delegates.|
The 15-page paper affirms the current mission statement--“Annual Conference exists to unite, strengthen, and equip the Church of the Brethren to follow Jesus”--and then addresses challenges to achieving that mission and ways those challenges might be overcome. The recommendations grew out of a review of existing statistical data and additional information gathered through an online survey completed by 300 respondents.
Key findings of the survey included:
- Worship, fellowship, and business (in that order) are the most highly valued components of Annual Conference, but the church needs to find a less polarizing way of doing business.
- High costs limit attendance.
- People are largely satisfied with the Conference length and June/July timing.
- Brethren believe many myths about the costs of Conference (which the task force sought to debunk).
Delegates spent several minutes discussing the paper in table groups before sharing affirmations and concerns with the whole body. Much of the discussion was on ways to reduce or share costs of Conference. An amendment that sought to expand the offer of Conference scholarships to small churches, regardless of location, was defeated.
Members of the Revitalization Task Force were Becky Ball-Miller, Chris Douglas (staff), Kevin Kessler, Rhonda Pittman Gingrich, and Shawn Flory Replogle.
-- Don Fitzkee is a volunteer writer on the news team for Annual Conference and a member of the Church of the Brethren Mission and Ministry Board