In 1974, on the eve of the then-annual gathering of the Brethren in Christ Church, Evangelical Visitor editor John Zercher penned an editorial titled “We Are a General Conference.” Extolling the virtues of meeting as a whole church, Zercher opined:
To meet as a general conference means more than meeting as a church-wide convention. We meet as a General Conference because we . . . are bound to one another in a relationship that is mutually binding and mutually supportive. . . .
As congregations become deeply involved in the local ministry and are able to provide a self-contained program, they may develop a sense of self-sufficiency. But congregations need to be identified with a larger meaningful entity — a fellowship with which they feel a common bond in the understanding of the Christian life, doctrine, and practice.
The following photo essay, culled from the many General Conference photographs housed in the Brethren in Christ Historical Library and Archives, attempts to document visually what Zercher has described above. Spanning more than a decade in the life of the church, this essay shows the Brethren in Christ Church at various stages of its development: as it formally adopted Wesleyan Holiness doctrine; as it realized greater familiarity with the American Evangelical movement; as it nurtured its institutions of higher education (Upland and Messiah Colleges); as it launched new programs and established a more professional administrative hierarchy; as it welcomed new generations of leaders.
Hopefully these photos reveal a community processing change and practicing persistence despite internal conflicts and external pressures.
Readers: Share your favorite General Conference memories in the Comments section!