Reflections on General Conference 2010

Unfortunately, my original vision of providing day-to-day coverage of General Conference 2010 went unfulfilled. The rush of conference preparation and work made such a goal untenable. (For recaps on business, quizzing, and evening worship services, check out the blog maintained by the Conference staff.)

Nevertheless, the important history- and heritage-related aspects of conference — the presentations from and recognitions of E. Morris Sider and R. Donald Shafer, the Brethren in Christ Historical Society’s biennial luncheon, and the Celebrating Brethren in Christ Authors event — deserve some attention, if retrospectively. Here’s a brief recap (with pictures!) of those conference proceedings.

1. Presentations from and to E. Morris Sider and R. Donald Shafer

On Saturday morning, two familiar (and revered) faces within the Brethren in Christ Church — E. Morris Sider and R. Donald Shafer — gave presentations on church history and practice. Their reflections served to provide an historical (if somewhat hagiographic) backdrop for church leaders’ unveiling of the denomination’s latest vision plan.

E. Morris Sider, a prolific Brethren in Christ writer-historian, described a 1950 prayer meeting organized by Brethren in Christ leaders during a National Association of Evangelicals conference. As Sider described, the prayer meeting served as a time for the leaders to reflect upon the church’s heritage and think critically about its future. Certainly future historians of the church will continue to mine this significant gathering for insights about the Brethren in Christ Church in the religious milieu of post-WWII.

Following his presentation, Sider was honored with a plaque and a lengthy citation recognizing him as a “distinguished historian and churchman.”

R. Donald Shafer, long-time bishop and general secretary of the Brethren in Christ Church, then delivered a speech on the results of that 1950 prayer meeting: the radical change and unprecedented growth within the denomination during the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. For this historian, Shafer’s message pointed to some of the important (yet unstudied) aspects of Brethren in Christ life and thought during these decades: an increased emphasis on evangelism; the incorporation of methodology from the Church Growth Movement; and continued alignment with the larger American Evangelical movement.

Shafer was also honored with a plaque, a citation, and the honorary title of “general secretary emeritus.”

Some photos from the morning session:

Don McNiven, general secretary of the Brethren in Christ Church, presents a plaque to E. Morris Sider, professor emeritus of history and English literature at Messiah College, in recognition of his many contributions to the Brethren in Christ Church as an historian and a church leader.

General secretaries from today and yesterday -- (L to R) Don McNiven, Darrell Winger, Ken O. Hoke, R. Donald Shafer, and Warren Hoffman -- pose for a snapshot during General Conference 2010.

2. Brethren in Christ Historical Society luncheon

Following typical form, the Brethren in Christ Historical Society invited members of the delegate body to a luncheon on Saturday. The “program,” presided over by Society president Emerson Lesher and Society executive director Glen Pierce, included an update on Society work, an opportunity to share ideas about future Society initiatives, and a chance for attendees to share a few words about E. Morris Sider, who had just received a citation from the denomination. I even had a chance to share about the search for piety and obedience!

A few photos from the gathering:

Historical Society executive director Glen Pierce recognizes E. Morris Sider for the citation he received earlier that morning.

Earl Herr (at microphone) pays tribute to E. Morris Sider.

Greg Starr offers a tribute to E. Morris Sider.

Rod White recalls his first encounter with E. Morris Sider.

In thanking luncheon attendees for their tributes, E. Morris Sider remarked that he continues to do the work of research and writing because of the supportive, encouraging community within the Brethren in Christ Church.

3. “Celebrating Brethren in Christ Authors” book signing and reception

It’s been said that Brethren in Christ authors are an unheralded group. Saturday afternoon’s “Celebrating Brethren in Christ Authors” event was an attempt by conference organizers to highlight these important contributors to the life and thought of the denomination.

Numerous authors participated in the event, which gave writers the opportunity to fellowship with readers and sign copies of their books.

A few photos:

E. Morris Sider (far left) and Luke L. Keefer, Jr., chat with visitors to their table during the Celebrating Brethren in Christ Authors event.

Harriet Bicksler (left) chats with Paul W. Nisly during the Celebrating Brethren in Christ Authors event. Nisly is the author of a recent history of Messiah College, "Shared Faith, Bold Vision, Enduring Promise: The Maturing Years of Messiah College."

I was sure to pick up some must-reads for myself!

(Thanks to Katie Manzullo-Thomas and Nate Bridi for the photos.)

Readers: What were your favorite history-and-heritage aspects of General Conference 2010? Leave a comment!

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About Devin Manzullo-Thomas

Father to Lucas. Husband to Katie. Prof and administrator at Messiah College. PhD student at Temple University. Member of Grantham BIC.
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8 Responses to Reflections on General Conference 2010

  1. Doneen Dourte says:

    I don’t know that I would label this as a “favorite” moment,
    nor a “history/heritage moment” (although looking back fifty years from now, it might be significant), but I would be interested in hearing thoughtful, reasoned discussion on this blog on the vote that was taken to initiate a process that would consider a name change.
    The petition from the Canadian Conference was the first I had heard anything about this issue. I know this sounds like I may not be informed outside my local congregation, but I have pretty deep roots in the BIC and am involved in a number of different ways beyond the congregational level, so I was pretty surprised to learn that this has been a discussion that has been happening for some time at some level.
    Thoughts, anyone? Just as a note, I have been following the thread on the BIC-talk list

    One of my favorite historical moments was the feet-washing (not attended as robustly as I had hoped, but that’s not the point). I was privileged to have my feet washed by one of my oldest (length of friendship) and dearest friends. We are no longer involved in the same congregation, but have maintained our close connection. It was a tender moment of worship for both of us.

  2. David E Byer says:

    Devin, the prayer meeting of which our brother spoke was in 1950. The Brethren in Christ joined the NAE in 1949; the first meeting they attended was in Indianapolis in 1950.

  3. Devin says:

    David: Yes! I should have consulted my notes more thoroughly. I’ll be sure to make that change.

    Doneen: Thanks for bringing up the name-change discussion. I knew of the impending petition from Canadian Conference since I attended their regional meeting, but certainly didn’t hear murmuring about it beyond that event. I’m surprised BIC-Talk didn’t pick up on it before now, but I’m sure I can guess how much of the discussion is oriented.

    Katie and I discussed the potential shift a lot after the debate on conference floor. We are both in favor of a change (in fact, the name is one of the primary reasons Katie has chosen not to join the denomination at this time), but as someone invested in the history and heritage of the church, I am a little less excited about the potential shift than I otherwise might be. I want to be sure that the new name (should it happen) reflects the core values and historic theological posture of the Brethren in Christ, and that it reflects our deep-seated belief in the centrality of the faith community.

    I’ll leave you with what is (in my mind) a humorous anecdote: When Darrell Winger opened debate on the name-change petition at Canadian Conference annual meeting, the first person to speak was a 92-year-old member of one of the Brethren in Christ’s oldest congregations (I do not know his name, though I believe I was later told he is a descendent of celebrated Brethren in Christ bishop Charles Baker). He moved slowly to the microphone and, when he arrived, stated plainly: “I am in favor of a name change. Our sisters have been left out of the church for too long.” Then he looked up at Darrell with a twinkle in his eye and said, “What I wanna know is: Who gets to pick the new name? I have a few ideas.” Then, knitting his brow, added mischeviously, “But I’m not telling them to you!” 🙂

    Any one else care to weigh in on what has the potential to be a watershed moment in denominational history?

  4. David E Byer says:

    Thanks, Devin. 1950 is one of the years in which the Holy Spirit moved so mightily at Roxbury Holiness Camp. During the Monday evening ring meeting, Evangelist Donald Heer was prepared to speak, but “did not have a chance to preach because of the power of God in the testimony meeting when souls came flocking home to God.”-P. 91 Sider, E Morris “Holiness Unto the Lord: The Story of Roxbury Holiness Camp”

  5. Greg Starr says:

    Devin – The way you have worded your caption for the General Secretaries of today and yesterday is a bit fuzzy. It makes it sound as if four general secretaries are posing with the current moderator, when in fact, the picture is of five general secretaries, one of whom is currently serving as moderator.
    Greg Starr

    • Devin says:

      Greg: I went back and re-read. Good catch. Indeed, I had forgotten that our dear, current Brother Moderator is, in fact, a former general secretary. I’ll be sure to clear that up ASAP. Thanks for the catch, and thanks for reading!

  6. Pingback: “A Catalyst for Change” | the search for piety and obedience.

  7. Pingback: “Growing the Church”: The Brethren in Christ in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s « the search for piety and obedience.

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