2012 COB Annual Conference Report

by John Braun, Delegate

St. Louis, MO, July 7-11, 2012

A Way Forward: “Many members of the denomination feel that trust in leadership has been broken” regarding several issues, so the Standing Committee, representing every district, spent significant time listening to members reflect on the state of the church since the 2011 Annual Conference. It was evident, in this year’s conference, that the denomination’s leaders and many others have lamented “the lack of communication, lack of trust, and the unkind expressions of anger for leadership because of decisions made since the Grand Rapids meeting.”   It was evident in this year’s conference that the denomination’s wound needs a better process for doing its business.

Doing Business Face-to-Face: Delegates were seated at round tables during business sessions. I had been asked to serve as a facilitator at one of the tables with six others who were chosen to represent diversity in the denomination. Controversial reports and all business action items were discussed at the tables. If a question or concern emerged, one person from each table was appointed as the table’s microphone representative. It felt like a miracle was happening as table groups took time to listen to one another’s responses to suggested focus questions and stopped to pray with one another when painful experiences were shared.

A New Vision Statement: Every few years, it is important for an organization to review and re-articulate its vision. This year, a new vision statement was passed that simply and profoundly states:

            Through Scripture, Jesus call us to

            Live as courageous disciples by word and action:

            To surrender ourselves to God,

            To embrace one another,

            To express God’s love for all creation.

*A CD of Vision Statement Resources is on hand for our church use.

Annual Conference Guidelines Changed: The rotation schedule for Annual Conference site selection and specific days for sessions was set aside by delegates. Significant cost savings and much greater church and community impact can be attained by returning to specific locations a few times in a cycle of 9 or 12 years. Some past conferences have resulted in smaller attendance and/or very large financial losses to the denomination. Some formulas are being considered to reduce registration costs for attendees who no longer will have Annual Conference come to their more distant areas.

Pray for Our Sister Church in Nigeria: Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria has suffered church burnings and killings of members and prominent leaders over past months. A telephone call from the President of EYN urged additional prayer for more church burnings and killings while we were meeting in conference. In the face of so much distress and suffering, the EYN is actively teaching the gospel of peace and is sponsoring interfaith peace consultations with the result that Christians and Muslims are agreeing to stand watch for one another during worship, to dissuade radical groups from attacking. See our church copy of a DVD: Sowing Seeds of Peace.

A New Church of the Brethren in the Congo: A group of refugees from violence torn eastern Congo spent time in Tanzania. They researched to find out if any churches taught the peace message that Jesus emphasized. They learned about the Church of the Brethren and, upon returning to the Kivu area, on the Congolese shores of Lake Tanganyka,they organized themselves as The Church of the Brethren in the Congo. Now they seek training as peace reconcilers, to intervene between two cultural groups who have been killing one another’s members.

Female Moderator Elect: The Annual Conference delegates elected Nancy Sollenberger Heishman, from southern Ohio, astheir Moderator Elect. She will become Moderator at the end of the 2013 Annual Conference.

Registration of Living Peace Churches: On Earth Peace (OEP), a Church the Brethren agency, is shifting focus from “historical” peace churches toward promoting a “Living Peace Church” movement. Congregations may register and list peace promoting programs thatthey support. A new website will list the churches and also list all of the programs, including contact information for those programs. Sunnyslope Church has some good programs to include in that listing.

Common Commitment to Peace: 59 religious leaders, including General Secretary Stan Nofsinger, and 300 representatives were guests of Pope Benedict XVI and the Vatican last October. Their focus was reflection, dialogue and prayer for peace and justice in the world. The gathering to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the World Day of Prayer for Peace resulted in this Common Commitment to Peace:

Violence never again!

War never again!

Terrorism never again!

In the name of God, may every religion

Bring upon the earth Justice and Peace,

Forgiveness and Life, Love!