The 216th Annual Conference (June 29-July 3, 2002) of the Church of the Brethren was held in the Kentucky International Convention Center, 221 Fourth Street, Louisville, KY 40202, just a few blocks from the Ohio River with the State of Indiana on the opposite side. Brethren enjoyed the use of a 1999 renovated facility that covers 300,000 square feet of total space, including 200,000 square foot of exhibit space, 145,000 of which is column-free, plus 52 meeting rooms. Additionally impressive were the terrazzo flooring which depicted many of the important events in Kentucky history. The settlement that later became the city of Louisville was founded in 1778 by George Rogers Clark and named after King Louis XVI of France. Locating the convention center was very easy as three major Interstates I-64, I-65, and I-71, all pass within a few blocks of the facility and surrounding Hotels. Downtown atmosphere was enjoyable, residents were friendly, and many notable figures of Kentucky were easy to engage in Conversation.
Louisville is naturally home to the Louisville Slugger Factory and Museum, easily located by its mammoth 120 foot tall Baseball Bat leaning against the building. Since 1884 they have been literally Turning Out Bats for all major league baseball players, a few of which have been retired to their Baseball Museum following an impressive player career or one-time event. The river walk permitted Conference-goers an opportunity to relax, take a quick river tour on a Paddle-wheel Boat, or adjust their time to the gigantic 40 foot Colgate Clock at the Colgate-Palmolive factory across the river. It has been featured as a backdrop in several motion pictures. For those who like side trips, it's only a few blocks south to Church Hill Downs, famous for the Kentucky Derby, or several miles south to the United States Bullion Depository at Fort Knox.
Moderator Paul Grout opened the Saturday evening worship service by erecting his Cross of Jesus. He implored conference goers to recognize that sincere repentance is an extremely important segment of preparation before conducting and processing denominational business. Following the Old Testament custom for repentance as found in Daniel 9:3, And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes, Grout provided several tables of Ashes & Sackcloth. Following the main worship service but still under inspirational music, Willing Penitents spread ashes over their heads and set patches of sackcloth on their shoulders to outwardly express their inward spiritual need. Candles on the Worship Table were lit before each service to continually emphasize the theme of repentance. The Children Walking in their monitored groups were often observed around the city, and Tuesday evening is the treasured moment to hear the Children Singing before the evening worship service. Volunteers Quilted hundreds of patches sent in from districts and congregations. Finishing touches are given to the main 2002 Logo Quilt, featuring the Conference logo prominently centered and surrounded by patches from congregations, districts, camps, and agencies. A technological innovation permitted delegates to visually see Proposed Admendment Changes on screen, instead listening to them being read by the Conference Secretary. It was a welcome change.
2002 Conference Officers were Moderator Paul Grout, pastor of Genesis COB, Putney, Vermont; Moderator-elect Harriet Finney, Co-District Executive of Indiana South-Central; and Secretary Cathy Huffman.
- Resolution Of Healing with The Brethren Church headquartered in Ashland, Ohio, received strong approval. This Brethren group was the second to split from the original German Baptist Brethren in 1883, when headed by prominent denominational figure and publisher Henry Holsinger.
- Denominational Name Change was sent to a study committee of Jeff Carter, Ben Barlow, Alberto Gonzalez, Shirley McCracken Spire, and Shawn Kirchner, assigned the task of engaging denominational dialogue on the issue and reporting back to AC 2003 in Boise, Idaho.
- Licensing for Ordination of Homosexual Persons was heavily debated with delegates finally accepting by a narrow two-thirds majority the recommendation of Standing Committee that it violated the spirit of the 1983 Human Sexuality paper: ...it is inappropriate to license or ordain to the Christian ministry any persons who are known to be engaging in homosexual practices.
- A Call to Prayer was affirmed with the delegates asking that resources be further developed, plus establishing a time for prayerful reflection at AC 2003.
- Duties and Relationship of Moderators to the Church of the Brethren Organizational Structure received a call for revision. Discipleship and Reconciliation polity will have a Shalom Team model that will respond in the form of assessment and consultation.
- Church of Northern India Relationship, a General Board Recommendation gained prolonged discussion with the matter eventually being tabled without a further timeline. The paper had called for cooperating with two groups, the Church of North India (CNI) and also with other Brethren who have separated to form their own identity. Questions over land issues and foreign protocols left delegates confused on how best to respond.
- New Life Ministries Request for Reportability to Annual Conference was tabled by the Annual Conference Council until their August meeting. Secretary Cathy Huffman stated: The council was not of one mind.
- 300th Anniversary Theme was announced by the Annual Conference 300th Anniversary Committee to be celebrated until AC 2008: Surrendered
to God, Transformed by Christ, Empowered by the Holy Spirit.
- General Board Deficits reviewed by the Board and its Executive Committee prior to Conference. Financial officers raised a yellow light for the next several years. The remainder of 2002 appears to be stable but the ensuing years will present difficult challenges.
- Pastoral Compensation and Benefits Advisory Committee report was accepted that recommended a cost of living adjustment of 1.2%.
- Final registration was a total of 3,802.
- Christopher Bowman, pastor of Memorial COB in Martinsburg, Pennsylvania, elected as Moderator-Elect who will serve at AC 2004 in Charleston, West Virginia.
- Fred Swartz from Manassas, Virgina, was called as Conference secretary. This will end twenty-three years of service as editor of the Conference Journal. Swartz will begin serving at AC 2003 in Boise, Idaho. This year will be the last year of service for Cathy Huffman who began as Conference secretary at AC 1998 in Orlando, Florida.
- AC Executive Director Duane Steiner resigns after ten years of service and is succeeded by Lerry Fogle from Frederick, Maryland. Fogle will also begin his duties at AC 2003 in Boise, Idaho.
- Music coordinator was Andrew Wright, pastor of New Carlisle COB, Ohio, who was a late stand-in for the scheduled coordinator.
- Association for the Arts Church of the Brethren quilt auction raised $18,400 from four twin-bed size quilts, four wall hangings, and one Returned Quilt from AC 2001. One quilt garnered a single-sale record of $6,000.
- Moderator Grout lamented that a US Flag was prominently displayed on the back wall of the convention area and asked to have it removed during the Conference stating: I face another banner, and I'm not sure quite what to do. I find myself in conflict even as we begin. When we focus on the kingdom of God, these become confusing symbols. After convention center officials flatly refused to remove the US Flag, Grout later apologized if his remarks had offended anyone.
- Program & Arrangements Committee announced that CLEVELAND, Ohio, will be the location for AC 2007.
- Saturday Evening, June 29 :
Moderator Paul Grout, NEW SIGHT, Former pastor of Genesis COB, Putney, Vermont
- Sunday Morning, June 30 :
Eugene F. Roop, TWO SONGS TO SING, President of Bethany Theological Seminary
- Monday Evening, July 1 :
Valentina Satvedi, THE HEART OF THE MATTER, Pastor of South Bay Community congregation
- Tuesday Evening, July 2 :
Dr. Tex Sample, THE UPSIDE DOWN KINGDOM, United Methodist author and pastor
- Wednesday Morning, July 3 :
The Worship Team, ( untitled )