For over 250 years, Brethren have gathered regularly together to worship together, to discuss questions of faith, and to be reacquainted with believers across the country. The first official meeting of this type was in 1742 when Brethren met to reaffirm their unique identity. Thirty years later, the event would become an annual occasion held during the observance of Pentecost, as an invitation for the Holy Spirit to once again come down upon the hearts and minds of these believers.
At Annual Conferences, Brethren have dealt with many practical questions of living out their faith. They’ve worked through many public issues such as war, death penalty, abortion, and environmental issues. And have helped foster and develop the unique perspective of the Church of the Brethren.
Annual Conference Today
Annual Conference is the highest and final legislative authority in the Church of the Brethren, including all matters of procedure, program, polity, and discipline. It is held annually in different geographical locations, chosen to bring the annual meeting into every area where Brethren have congregations. The authority of Conference has its source in the delegates elected by local congregations and districts, who come together as a deliberative body under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The voting body consists of two sets of delegates – those representing local congregations, and those from church districts, who also serve as the Standing Committee.
Annual Conference also hosts many non-delegates, family and friends of delegates, as well as others interested in the future and direction of the denomination. Worship services are central to conference activity. Business is conducted daily. In addition, educational activities are offered in the form of Insight Sessions, forums and exhibits of denominational programming agencies and related groups. Fellowship is enjoyed by all at events like organized breakfasts, lunches and dinners, informal ice cream socials, and at other times between conference activities. A full range of age group programming is available for early childhood development, children’s activities, junior high, senior high, and young adults.
Three agencies are reportable/accountable to the Annual Conference. They are Bethany Theological Seminary, Brethren Benefit Trust, and On Earth Peace Assembly. Part of the membership of the above agencies’ boards is elected through the Annual Conference. In addition, a mandate requires agencies to present audited financial statements to the Annual Conference.