226th Recorded Church of the Brethren Annual Conference
St. Louis, MO
July 7-11, 2012
Continuing the Work of Jesus: Peacefully. Simply. Together.
2,280 + strong, the Church of the Brethren (CoB)gathered at the St. Louis Convention Center for the purpose of conducting business, attending workshops, hearing reports from their organizations, and fellowship. Bethany Theological Seminary, a partner with Earlham School of Religion, is an agency of this gathering and came in force to participate with their sisters and brothers.
The opening Saturday evening worship message was given by Dr. Walter Brueggeman, whose sermon was entitled, “Behind Bars:Freedom Uncaged”, based on Philippians 1:3-6 and Isaiah 56:3-8. Brueggeman spoke of Paul, who although writing from behind bars, is a free man as he refuses to let the empire define him. He then went on to speak of how Paul redefines us in light of the gospel, not denying fear, but encouraging people to allow their love to “overflow anyway.” “Easter,” declared Bruegemman in this message, “defines Paul.”
On Sunday morning, CoB Moderator, Rev. Tim Harvey delivered the message based on Romans 12:9-12 and Genesis 50:15-23. His sermon title was the same as the theme of the conference, Continuing the Work of Jesus: Peacefully. Simply. Together. Many F/friends are either recently coming out of a painful period of conflict or still in the midst. A variety of denominations are in the same place we are, and The Church of the Brethren is clearly wrestling with the same issues. Rev. Harvey's message was clear. “Our conflict will not undo us. What we share is more important. We approach nothing from the opposite side of the spectrum because we are already on the same side in our baptism in Jesus Christ.”
The rest of the conference was interspersed with alumni luncheons, an offering of 10-14 different workshops per day, and reports from a wide variety of ministries addressing issues from everything from North Korea, Germany, and Intercultural Ministries operating on the borders of our country. Throughout the entire conference, the American Red Cross held a blood drive, and there were lines of Brethren daily. During the agency presentations, I had the distinct honor of representing Earlham School of Religion, reading a letter of introduction written by Jay Marshall, Dean of Earlham School of Religion, sending greetings to the conference. Many have heard of the partnership, but had never seen a flesh and blood representation of it.
In one of the conference halls, the displays were established for viewing and information:
Bethany Theological Seminary Booth
A variety of organizations were present: Ministry of Reconciliation Services to Congregations and Districts, Food Resource Bank, Church World Service, Global Women's Project, Brethren Heritage Center, and the New Community Project to name a few.
While walking through the Display Hall I was struck by the fact that in the same room, at the same conference, were two groups with opposing views. The Brethren-Mennonite Council For Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Interests had their booth in the hall with information to distribute as well as the Brethren Revival Fellowship, a group that perceives the issues at hand differently than the Council. I don't know if either group appreciated the presence of the other. I don't know how the majority of the gathering felt about the presence of one or the other, but I do know that both were there, out in the open, in the same space, not hiding. I also know I appreciated the open presence of both. I have been to a wide variety of Quaker gatherings from a wide variety of branches in the Quaker Family Tree, knowing that both groups as those represented by these two Brethren organizations exist in all those Quaker gatherings, just not out in the open for fear of being perceived as being “too liberal” or “too conservative.”
I was also struck by the hard and faithful work done by the Bethany Faculty. Many of them conducted workshops and insight sessions on a wide variety of topics. Many of them attended to the Bethany booth, answering questions, greeting old friends and alumni/a, and being a viable presence and witness to the importance of the seminaries in the continuing work of Jesus. Peacefully. Simply. Together.