For over 250 years, Annual Conference has served a valuable role in the life of the Christian movement known as the Church of the Brethren. We have gathered to seek the mind of Christ on matters of common concern, mission, and service. Much of this history has been recorded in decisions that formed how Brethren lived out God’s presence in their families, congregations, districts, and the world. However, that history extends beyond the minutes of business to the more prayerful manner in which Brethren entered into the gathering of Conference. In 2011, how will we enter prayerfully into our gathering in Grand Rapids?
I offer to you as members, leaders, congregations, and districts of our denomination the following guide to plan for your soul preparation in these six months leading to Annual Conference. May these help us all to listen to the Holy One and to each other as we seek to discern the mind and spirit of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.
Reflect: Take time to reflect on the purpose and theme of Annual Conference and how Annual Conference contributes to your life, your congregation, and your district. Use silence to invite your reflection and to offer opportunity to listen to what God is saying. Purpose of Annual Conference: “To unite, strengthen, and equip the Church of the Brethren to follow Jesus.” Theme for 2011 Annual Conference: “Gifted with Promise: Extending Jesus’ Table.”
Pray: Schedule opportunities for individual and corporate prayer. Join Annual Conference officers in their weekly prayer time at 8 a.m. on Wednesday mornings or schedule another time for your Annual Conference prayers. Include Annual Conference in the prayers in congregational worship. Highlights for prayer: Conference officers, Standing Committee, delegates, business items including the two Special Response items, Conference director and office personnel, many volunteers, Church of the Brethren national staff and district leadership.
Study: Bible passages of the Conference theme: Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:30-44, Luke 9:10-17, and John 6:1-14, plus Mark 8:1-10 and Matthew 15:32-39. Bible passages for the worship services: John 2:1-12, Luke 7:36-8:3, Luke 14:12-14, John 21:9-14. Bible passages for the daily Bible study sessions: Jeremiah 30-33, especially 31:31-34; Hebrews 6, 11, and 9:15; Acts 2:33 and 39. Business items, including the studies provided in the Special Response Process. Acts 15–the chapter often read for the beginning of Annual Conference.
Serve: Assemble and bring a School Kit to Annual Conference to be presented as part of the offering in opening worship on Saturday evening and then given to Church World Service. You may bring these kits as individuals or families. Information on the contents of School Kits may be found at www.churchworldservice.org/site/PageServer?pagename=kits_school . Volunteer for one task that allows Annual Conference to be held. Watch Annual Conference publicity or check the Annual Conference website ( www.brethren.org/ac ) for volunteer opportunities.
Witness: Share the story of Annual Conference with someone else as a way to “extend Jesus’ table,” even inviting those persons into the fellowship of the Church of the Brethren in your congregation.
I challenge us all to be creative in how we incorporate the above opportunities into our personal and congregational life. You may want to plan special gatherings for study, reflection, and prayer. I would particularly challenge pastors and church leaders to plan a focus on Annual Conference for Pentecost Sunday June 12. Pentecost served as the pivotal Sunday of Annual Conference in much of our history. Use the Conference theme and scriptures, develop your own liturgy of prayers and hymns, include a personal witness to Annual Conference by someone in your congregation, and highlight the movement of the Holy Spirit as God’s people gather for fellowship, worship, and discernment.
— Robert E. Alley is moderator of the 2011 Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren.