Old Conference German Baptist Annual Meeting
Editor’s Note: Rosanna Bauman, age 24, is a member of the Old German Baptist Brethren Church. Each year there is a meeting of brethren who gather together for worship, fellowship, and to set church direction. It’s part church, part carnival and it sounds like a wonderful, wonderful time. Rosanna shares a bit of the conference in her column this week!
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By Rosanna Bauman
Our family went to the Annual Meeting last week. This is our annual church conference which we hold outdoors on about 4 acres of land. The church services are all conducted under giant tents similar to the circus. The Annual Meeting is the highlight of our year. For four days we get the best of the best: lots of inspiring and challenging preaching services combined with unlimited hours of fellowship with members from all across America. There are about 4,000 church members and their families who show up, and about 1000 of them are teenagers. After the church service concludes for the day, the young folks go to another nearby farm for their recreation hours. There we have volleyball, basketball, ping-pong, and Frisbee to expend our energy on. It is here, at what we term “Young Folks” that we form friendships with other people from across the nation that last the rest of our lives.
Since the sermon topics are not of “General Interest” nor the focus of this column, I will attempt to share some of the other aspects of the conference that contribute to the enjoyment of it. Every year Annual Meeting is held in a different location, so every year we enjoy different aspects, but here are some common conference experiences that we can count on:
There are always lots of interesting traveling stories. Where there are that many people on the road, traveling to the same place, some of them are bound to have an “experience.” We did not anticipate having any problems finding the conference grounds this year as it was held on a farm just around the corner from my mother’s birthplace. Unbelievably, my parents ended up making the same mistake as many others and missed the exit, We ended up spending 45 minutes seeing the scenery of southern Michigan We were not very excited tourists; getting off the beaten path after a 12 hour drive just doesn’t generate much passenger enthusiasm. We weren’t lost; we were just trying to get back on the right road . We began to doubt this statement of Mom’s when the road turned from pavement into gravel, and soon became! However, the dirt avenue did connect us to the the highway we needed, so we apparently were not too lost!
TRANSPORT AND LODGING – Caption: a basement converted into comfy quarters for a room full of young ladies.
Once at the conference, transport between your place of lodging, the meeting grounds, and the Young Folks grounds can be a bit tricky. Everyone is going to the same place which actually complicates matters. You think you are riding with so and so but turns out they already left! So you ask the remaining girls “who has an extra seat in their car?” There are not many empty car seats at Annual Meeting so that sometimes means riding on top of a suitcase.
On the first morning of the conference, we thought we were following a friend’s car to the meeting grounds, but they were driving to another house to pick-up friends needing a ride. We ended up driving several miles in the opposite direction of the conference before we realized we were on the pick-up route!
There is no need to get a motel over the conference, as all the local church members have prepared a sufficient amount of beds in their homes and sheds. I stayed at friends house that had room for 60 girls! They accomplished this, in part, by creating giant bunks that held 7 foam full size mattresses above and below! Then there was room for the five showers because, you know, you can’t have girls without showers!
As one can well imagine, having an outdoor service in May can be a very warm occasion. The tent we gather under for preaching services can seat over three thousand people. Unless the weather is very cool, I do not sit in the middle of the tent. I am a “warm-blooded” person, so I usually select a seat near the edge of the tent where I can still catch some of the breeze. Annual Meeting is the only church services where you run the risk of heat stroke, but it is worth it!
The dining tent on the meeting grounds serves two meals meals a day to over 800 people. The other meals are served at young folks gathering and your place of lodging feeds you for the rest of your stay. This can be rather expensive for our hosts, but it all “comes out in the wash”, as everyone at some point takes their turn hosting and feeding the masses. The dining tent serves our traditional church fare of beef, bread soup, peaches, pickles, and apple butter. If you want a menu change, folks pack a picnic lunch and eat it in the parking lot, similar to tailgating. The parking lot contains thousands of cars, and a strong among the vehicles over the lunch hour will reveal many little groups of families eating their sandwiches. Most folks just serve out of their car trunks and sit on the ground, but some people get a bit more sophisticated and bring along shade umbrellas, lawn chairs and card tables. We even spotted one enterprising family who brought along a hand-crank ice cream freezer! There is a concession tent operated by a non-profit organization at the meeting grounds as well who offer more common lunch fare and desserts.I personally don’t like to eat there, partly because I don’t see any sense in standing in line and paying for a meal when there are other options. My friends and I usually plan on one lunch hour with no meal plans. That’s when we stroll the parking lot just seeing who’s out picnicking. We will usually come across some more of our friends or relatives eating lunch and they always offer to share! This year we made sure we dropped by to see my cousins, whom we had heard had fresh-squeezed lemonade and mint tea. They also shared their fresh California oranges with us!
In a crowd this large, you don’t know everybody, but you do know about 50 percent. One of my favorite activities is “trolling”. This is the act of casually walking the grounds and observing all the others and “catching” someone new to talk to every five minutes. I’ll walk past a volleyball court and wave at a friend from Ohio. Sitting on a bench at the sidelines is a girl from Pennsylvania that I always enjoy talking with, so I sit down and chat for fifteen minutes. We we then walk to the water coolers where we meet a mutual friend who teaches in Indiana. After five minutes of conversation they head off on a luggage-moving errand while I talk to a group of girls from Virginia who visited my home last summer. Then my friends from California walk up and ask me to help them find one of their siblings. And thus the weekend goes…
And then, the conference is over. There’s all the old friends, plus the new ones to bid farewell. There’s that long drive back home to the to-do list that awaits us. On one hand we don’t want to leave this shelter of the Brethren, but you do find yourself excited to return home to start applying the things we learned. There’s also the fact that there will hopefully be another year in which we will hold another Annual Meeting, so this parting is only temporary. Thus we return home bodily exhausted from all the walking over the parking lot but our souls refreshed.