|Photo by Regina Holmes|
|One of the MoR observers on duty at the 2011 Annual Conference. For some years, the Ministry of Reconciliation (MoR) has provided observers as a resource for participants in the Conference business sessions. This year, the ministry also is helping to provide teams of trained volunteers who will be available to be called on as needed throughout the Annual Conference venue.|
The Ministry of Reconciliation of On Earth Peace has been asked by the Annual Conference leadership to help the denomination create a culture of respect and a climate of safety at this year’s annual meeting. The following communication from the MoR staff of On Earth Peace shares some expectations for those attending the 2012 Annual Conference:
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“The Church of the Brethren Annual Conference exists to unite, strengthen, and equip the Church of the Brethren to follow Jesus.” We find great joy in gathering together as the church. Ironically, however, the power of our unity can magnify our feelings of animosity, vulnerability, and frustration.
These feelings are not conflicts that can be resolved; they also don’t justify reacting to others with threats or accusations. They are a call to respond respectfully when we are feeling most uncomfortable. Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5: 44). This isn’t easy and we don’t have to do this work alone. The Annual Conference officers have asked the Ministry of Reconciliation of On Earth Peace to help us work collaboratively to create a culture of respect.
We need everyone’s help to create a climate of safety “…so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine” (Romans 1:12). This means:
-- Speak for yourself without putting others down.
-- Use “I” statements.
-- Give each person equal time to talk.
-- Speak respectfully so that others can listen.
-- Listen thoughtfully to build trust.
-- If you are considering what to say or are uncomfortable with what another is saying ask, is it safe? Is it respectful? Does it encourage faithfulness? These answers will vary from one person and conversation to another, yet just talking about them can create a culture of respect and faithfulness.
There are several important steps to take if you feel vulnerable:
-- Use a “buddy system.” Check in at regular times to let your buddy know you are safe.
-- Minimize your risks by walking in groups as much as possible and as little as possible after dark.
-- Be aware of your surroundings. If something feels “off,” take another route or get help.
-- If you feel unsafe or harassed get help from the nearest source such as MoR, Program and Arrangements Committee, hotel staff, or security.
Jesus said the second great commandment is to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12: 30). Keeping yourself safe creates a safe environment for all.
Harassment is not acceptable at Annual Conference. If you feel you are being harassed, contact MoR. They will be with you to consider behavior, motivations, and appropriate actions. If you feel like you’re ready to harass someone, contact MoR. They will listen and talk with you about the message you want to communicate and appropriate ways to magnify your voice without putting others down. If MoR notices aggressive conversations they may check to see that participants feel safe.
“How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!” (Psalms 133:1, NRSV). Annual Conference is not a place to hurt, ridicule, or threaten anyone for any reason. In extreme cases MoR will enlist the help of security or the police.
Our prayer is that everyone who comes to Annual Conference will feel safe, respected, and encouraged to be faithful. We can’t do it alone. We can do it together because we are called to love one another as Christ has loved us (John 13:34).
For more about Annual Conference 2012, go to www.brethren.org/ac .