By Carol Scheppard, Annual Conference moderator
For a second year in a row the 2017 Annual Conference schedule will include a Jubilee break from business on Friday afternoon. To understand how Jubilee came to be a part of Annual Conference, it is helpful to look at its origins in scripture.
Leviticus 25:10-12: “And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family. That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you: you shall not sow, or reap the aftergrowth, or harvest the unpruned vines. For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you: you shall eat only what the field itself produces.”
The practice of jubilee established in Leviticus 25 dealt specifically with Israelites who had become so poor that they had to give up their land and sell themselves into slavery to survive. The law protected those so disadvantaged by allowing them to return to their land and their families in the jubilee year. Every 50 years Hebrew slaves were freed, the people rested from their farming labor, and all debts were forgiven.
The concept of a Jubilee year resonated powerfully in the Christian tradition. Pope Boniface VIII instituted the first well-documented Jubilee celebration in 1300, understanding it as a year of forgiveness and freedom from punishment for sin. In recent years it has been seen more generally as a reminder of God’s blessing and mercy, and a time for the community to return to right relationship with God and with one another.
It was in that spirit of celebrating God’s blessing and mercy and of returning to right relationship with God and with each other that Annual Conference instituted its first Jubilee afternoon last year in Greensboro. The plan rose in response to concerns voiced by brothers and sisters from across the denomination. They worried that the heavy focus on contentious issues during business sessions would eventually erode the effectiveness of Annual Conference in meeting its own mission statement: “The Church of the Brethren Annual Conference exists to unite, strengthen and equip the Church of the Brethren to follow Jesus.” When brothers and sisters become locked in on-going rancorous debate, Annual Conference struggles to realize its vision to glorify God, to humbly celebrate both our oneness and our diversity in the Body, and to build one another up in worship, service and community. Annual Conference strives to proclaim the Lordship of Christ and in all things to unite, strengthen and equip the Body for doing the Lord’s work.
So, acknowledging that the season had come to rest for a period from the work of Conference business, the Program and Arrangements Committee set aside a time Friday afternoon in Greensboro to celebrate God’s abundance in our midst, to restore our fellowship, and to equip ourselves for the work Christ sets before us. The response from the gathered body, both during and following Annual Conference 2016, was overwhelmingly positive. The music, the fellowship, the equipping workshops, the service projects, the special programming, and the afternoon of rest allowed for a time of essential bonding and being that the busy Annual Conference agendas had threatened to choke out in the past.
So, we celebrate the success of last year’s Jubilee afternoon, and look forward to its return in our schedule in Grand Rapids. Once again we will take a break from business on Friday afternoon to enjoy a special period of being the Body of Christ together.
This year’s Jubilee afternoon will include, among other things, special musical performances by Ken Medema and Jonathan Emmons; opportunities to visit the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, the Frederick Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park (with a special exhibit by the famed artist Ai Weiwei), and the Grand Rapids Art Museum; a new set of equipping workshops; special programming in the exhibit hall; and service projects benefitting greater Grand Rapids.
We hope that this year’s Jubilee will again bring rest from our labors and new opportunities to unite, strengthen and equip the Body of Christ.
-- Carol A. Scheppard is serving as moderator of the 2017 Annual Conference. Find out more about the Conference and register to attend at www.brethren.org/ac .