The 221th Annual Conference (June 30 - July 4, 2007) of the Church of the Brethren was held in the Cleveland Convention Center Public Auditorium, 500 Lakeside Avenue East, Cleveland, OH 44114, located next to Lake Erie, the Cleveland Browns Football Stadium, the Great Lakes Science Center, and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the latter promoted by 9 foot Guitars on most street corners. Lake fronts provide an attractive place for Weddings and more Weddings, and in Cleveland the customary transportation is a Stretch Hummer. The Convention Center has over 278,000 square feet of exhibition space, a 10,000 seat Auditorium, a 3,000 seat Music Hall, a 600 seat Little Theater, and a spacious 21,000 square foot Registration Lobby. Unfortunately, this facility was not as modern as Brethren have enjoyed recently. Construction of this neoclassical edifice began in 1920 and received a few upgrades, the last being in 1964. But as of 2007, this auditorium is an aging facility. Plaster is hanging loose from walls and ceilings. Fixtures are heavily worn. Ramp paving blocks have numerous chips and cracks. Springs are pushing up through the padding of balcony seats. Entrance to the facility is confusing. One entrance is above ground, a second is below ground, and the lobby is Underneath Both. City Planners have been seeking to replace it for several years, yet it is one that is rich in history. Despite its drawbacks, the convention officials were accommodating and rolled out the Welcoming Banner.
The word Cleveland brings to mind one of the all-time great football legends, Jim Brown, who played professional football for the Cleveland Browns from 1957 until 1965. His lifetime statistics are overwhelming, especially considering the league's expansion to 16 games in 1978. In National Football League history, Brown is the only rusher to average more than 100 yards per game for a career. Brown's record of scoring 100 touchdowns in 93 games withstood all challengers until the 2006 season. He was the rusher who could not easily be tackled. Brown's lifetime rushing record was an astonishing 5.2 yards per carry. Sometimes it required three or four opponents to bring him to the turf. One surely must wonder what his lifetime stats would have been if he would have played 16 games per season instead of 12. Jim Brown is rated by the NFL as the #2 Player of all-time (as of the 2009 season).
Another milestone took place in 1957, when two denominations met in this very Auditorium to form a new denomination of about two million members: The Evangelical Reformed Church and the Congregational Christian Churches became the United Church of Christ. History was made again this year when Belita Mitchell, pastor of Harrisburg First COB, became the first African-American women to preside as Annual Conference moderator. (The first African-American man to serve as moderator was William Hayes in 1988, and the first women to serve as moderator was Elaine Sollenberger in 1989.) Mitchell has achieved a milestone which reflects a growing openness among Brethren to diversity and cultural issues. Her Sunday Morning sermon emphasized the need for prayer in every avenue of our life. She encouraged members to be intense about the work of Christ: I don't believe declining membership was a part of Christ's mission!
A pleasant drive south on Interstate 71 from Cleveland is the city of Ashland which is headquarters to our sister denomination The Brethren Church and home to Ashland University, founded in 1878. Administrative control and hence the future mission of this university (then a college) was hotly contended by two major factions in The Brethren Church during the 1930s. Thousands left to form the Grace Brethren denomination and those remaining in The Brethren Church were sometimes referred to as the Ashland Brethren. Continuing south along the Interstate is the city of Mansfield and the Bible Walk museum and Cathedral which portrays biblical stories through numerous scenes of Wax Figures. ( Note: These wax figures are in the lobby where photography is not restricted. ) Just around the corner is the former Ohio State Reformatory whose Castle Like structure has been film location for several movies including the emotionally charged Shawshank Redemption. It is now a museum and open to the public for scheduled events such as meetings, parties, and receptions, as well as regular guided tours.
With a post 2000 Conference shorter time frame for business it has forced Conference Officers and the Delegate Body to work harder in order to process the usual amount of business. The long times of conversation following business sessions of many years ago have been exchanged for Rushing and Running. This year it was necessary to convene a special two hour business session immediately following the Tuesday evening worship service, in order for Delegates to process the load of business. Many other particulars seemed to continue as usual: persons in wheelchairs found special niches provided for them in the main seating area, persons with allergies congregated to the odor free zone, closed-circuit captioning was again provided for the hearing impaired, and Spanish Translation was available for those not understanding English.
Year by year, Whole Families are taking advantage of the unrestricted open area behind the main conference seating. Children love to run and this open area permits a freedom that would otherwise be hindered by regular connected chair seating. Conference-goers were happy to make friends with Fuzzy Dog who gave warm hugs and hand-shakes. Tuesday evening worship is the traditional time for the Children's Choir to sing.
Numerous opportunities abounded for Conference attendees to be enriched by these classroom type sessions, and several agencies offered more than one. Enhancing Worship with Digital Stained Glass or Multimedia Worship explained how technology is enhancing the worship service and also how to stay focused on the essence of worship so that technology does not become a distraction. Awards were given for the best submitted presentations.
Well represented were Agencies, Colleges, Special Interests, Brethren Press, Just For Kids, and the General Board. Ohio Northern District and Ohio Southern District were the host districts which typically provides a Hospitality Center where people can relax, enjoy Puzzle Working, play games, and chat. Bible Visit encouraged Brethren to reexamine their biblical connections with a strong emphasis on reading the Bible and understanding their biblical heritage. Free DVDs were passed out to further explain their purpose, especially the historical contributions of the Christopher Saur family. An original Saur Bible printed in 1763 along with accompanying Framed Pages and interpretative text was on display.
A first for Conference this year was the public use of Wi-Fi (pronounced why-fye) or wireless Internet connection offered by Bethany Theological Seminary. Conference goers having wireless enabled devices could pick up the SSID of Bethany when inside the broadcast perimeter of their Access Point. Bethany also provided Laptop Computers for anyone to stop and check their e-mail. Bethany president Eugene F. Roop announced his retirement at AC 2006 and has been succeeded by Ruthann Knechel Johansen.
2007 Conference Officers were Moderator Belita Mitchell, pastor of First COB, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Moderator-elect James Beckwith, pastor of Annville COB, Annville, Pennsylvania; and Secretary Fred Swartz.
They determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain other of them,
should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders (about this question).