224th Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania — July 3, 2010
It may not have been as momentous as the very first phone call, (“Come here, Watson, I need you!”), the stringing of cable for Morse Code from
“Taking Jesus Seriously” is the theme for the worship services, shown here behind the worship center with lit candle, open Bible, bread and cup. Photo by Glenn Riegel
the east to the west coasts (“What hath God wrought?”), or the persistent message from Sputnik that signaled the beginning of the Space Age (“Beep, beep, beep!”).
But in a moment that will have a lasting impact across the denomination, the Saturday evening worship service at the 2010 Annual Conference in Pittsburgh was webcast across the Internet.
Suddenly thousands more Brethren were “Taking Jesus Seriously,” and worshiping together. The place where the Brethren sang, “Here in this place,” now stretched across thousands of miles as the zeros and ones of electronic communication traveled at the speed of light. No sooner did the Tapestry of Praise Dance Troupe of Johnstown, Pa., embody the offertory but it was seen on computer screens across the fellowship.
With moderator-elect Robert Earl Alley as worship leader, the assembled called to mind biblical and Brethren luminaries as all prayed with the ancient mystic Teresa of Avila to become the mind, the eyes, the ears, and the heart of Christ.
Dennis and Ann Sayler of West Green Tree Church of the Brethren kicked off the personal testimonies that will be featured in each worship service of the Conference, to demonstrate different ways of taking Jesus seriously. They looked back as foster parents of 22 years, and the 50 children whose lives they have shared and to whom they have taught the ways of Jesus. Reflecting on the number of the lost and the need to reach out, Dennis recalled how they had shared Jesus with all the children, including the very young. At their parting more than one child asked, “Do we have to say goodbye to Jesus?” Dennis smiled. “No, you take him with you wherever you go.”
Based on the story of the Transfiguration found in Matthew 17:1-9, Annual Conference moderator Shawn Flory Replogle preached on the moments “When Heaven and Earth Touch.” There was laughter as he admitted that some had tried to interpret the colors of the various vests he has worn during his year as moderator as political statements following the widespread wearing of rainbow scarves at the 2009 Annual Conference–but he admitted the truth was he wore vests and collarless shirts because he doesn’t like ties.
The assumptions made about his dress, he suggested, are indicative of the way Brethren have adopted the contentious ways of the world. “Is this the best we can do when Jesus says ‘Love one another as I have loved you?’” he asked. “Then God have mercy on us all.”
Stating that “It is time to move beyond the easy characterizations of each other and do the hard business of being with each other,” he took off his vest, rolled up his sleeves, and invited everyone to do the same, in order to do the difficult business of taking Jesus seriously.
Despite many unsettling cultural trends the Brethren, he said, have never been more relevant than now.
Worship also included a dedication and blessing for those heading to National Youth Conference in two weeks, including a laying on of hands for all leaders, adult advisors, and youth present who would be traveling to Fort Collins, Colo.
Prior to the service, videographer David Sollenberger looked forward to the coming webcast with anticipation, satisfied that it was happening at last. Afterwards Enten Eller, who conducted the webcast, said that there were 120 live feeds during worship, and that some called in to say that by and large the reception was excellent.
Sollenberger and Eller were already talking immediately after the event about ways of coordinating their work in the future.
A recording of the webcast is expected to be available at www.bethanyseminary.edu/webcasts/AC2010 , although the hosting website is currently experiencing difficulties.
–Frank Ramirez is pastor of Everett (Pa.) Church of the Brethren
The News Team for the 2010 Annual Conference includes writers Karen Garrett, Frank Ramirez, Frances Townsend; photographers Kay Guyer, Justin Hollenberg, Keith Hollenberg, Glenn Riegel; website staff Amy Heckert and Jan Fischer Bachman; and news director and editor Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org .
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