It was a simple, yet accurate, symbol of RCMA's 30th Anniversary Conference and Exposition: a red carpet at the main entrance to the bright, wonderful Tampa Convention Center, RCMA's home for the week. That red carpet — and a gathering of enthusiastic, cheering Tampa civic leaders — welcomed RCMA members at the start of the conference Wednesday morning.

The carpet, as well as the fabulous welcoming spirit that Tampa extended to all RCMA attendees, were on display throughout the conference, from January 29 to February 1. This was a conference that attendees will remember fondly, a model religious conference that symbolized how far RCMA has come from its humble beginnings as a get-together of professional colleagues 30 years ago in Louisville, Ky.

Theme Brought to Life

The 2002 RCMA 30th Anniversary Conference more than lived up to its theme “Currents of Change.” RCMA is the only conference developed specifically to meet the unique needs of religious meeting planners, and the general session speakers, tutorial leaders, attendees, and exhibitors all showed how they are willing and ready to face change with enthusiasm, optimism, and resolve.

The networking and knowledge-gathering began before Wednesday's kickoff breakfast with Tuesday's Behind-the-Scenes experiences. RCMA is the only organization that provides attendees the opportunity to see what goes on behind the scenes to make a meeting happen. The Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel, the Tampa Convention Center, and Tampa media organizations all graciously offered valuable experiences for attendees to learn about housekeeping, meeting room setup, flower arrangement, food and beverage preparation, and newspaper and television production.

In learning about food preparation, attendees worked up an appetite building elaborate desserts, pounding out beef tenderloins, mixing Caesar salads, and rolling delicate, delicious sushi. Members of the Aramark food staff at the Tampa Convention Center coached and encouraged the participants and then brought the food to a luncheon, where the attendees consumed the results of their kitchen labors. As a parting gift, the participants received recipes to take home and try on their own.

Many of the attendees also had the opportunity to see some of Tampa's sights on Tuesday afternoon's city tours. Four tours were offered, each exploring a different perspective of the bay city. The “toughest ticket in town” on Tuesday was for Dolphin Qwest, which gave participants the opportunity get out on the water and encounter Florida's spectacular wildlife in its natural setting. The tour took place aboard a 64-foot, 49-passenger catamaran, which sailed into Tampa Bay, home to more than 400 bottlenose dolphins. The group also viewed numerous species of birds and learned about Tampa's incredibly rich and diverse habitat and wildlife.

The second tour visited the Lowry Park Zoo & Manatee Hospital, where the group found out about the inner workings of the critical-care facility that provides rehabilitation to sick, injured, and orphaned manatees.

The Tampa city tour discovered Tampa's past and present by visiting historic Ybor City and the Henry B. Plant Museum on the campus of the University of Tampa. The group also viewed the upscale homes along Bayshore Boulevard and the waterfront area, the Ice Palace Arena, Garrison Seaport Cruise Terminal, and the recently restored Union Train Station.

Walking shoes were the most important piece of equipment for the Ybor City Walking Tour, as RCMA attendees strolled the historic district, enjoying the charm of century-old buildings, red-brick streets, and Spanish wrought-iron balconies. The tour route followed the legendary path of cigar factories, landmark mutual-aid club buildings, and moved on to Seventh Avenue, where shopping and dining draw thousands, just as they did at the turn of the century.

A Grand Beginning

All of RCMA came together for the first time Tuesday night at the Grand Reception, “A Watery Wonderland,” at the spectacular Florida Aquarium. The event, sponsored by the aquarium and Ala Carte Pavilion, gave attendees the chance to mingle and become reacquainted with fellow religious meeting professionals. The aquarium provided the backdrop, with remarkable living galleries: 10,000 animals and plants from Tampa's wetlands, bays, beaches, and coral reefs.

Attendees then moved outside for a stirring evening finale — Polynesian music and dance provided by a talented Tampa ensemble.

Inspired to Change

Wednesday morning, RCMA came face to face with change. Keynote speaker Willie Jolley stressed the importance of not wasting time when confronting change. “I have only a minute. I have a tiny little minute, but eternity is in it.”

Jolley told the Wednesday general session audience that, just as there is a recipe for every cake or pie, there is a recipe for success. “Most people want to be successful, but they don't have the recipe.”

Tying into the “Currents of Change” theme, Jolley said the challenge is to always expect change and not resist it.

“We are creatures of habit,” he said. Most people go to the same restaurant and order the same thing they ordered the last time. Or they go to church and sit in the same place they did last week.

“Sometimes you change things,” Jolley said. “Sometimes things change you. Sometimes, stuff happens. Life happens.”

Setbacks are a part of life, Jolley explained. Change is uncomfortable, it's true, but you must struggle through the process and not give in. “Life and flight are in the struggle. You must find struggle if you're going to grow you. Some of us have fallen down, been knocked down, and stayed down. I tell you, it's time to get up!”

Jolley said you must be the master of your own destiny. “You must say, ‘I have complete control over what happens to me. I'm not going to let anybody take away my joy.’ A setback is nothing but a setup for a comeback.”

Following Jolley's lead, Janet Lapp, PhD, Wednesday's luncheon speaker, didn't waste any time either. “How many of you hate it when these ditsy outside speakers come in and make you do these stupid exercises?” she asked.

The audience laughed and clapped. Then Lapp put them through a few of those exercises, telling them to congratulate themselves and each other on doing a good job every day.

Lapp is author of three books, including Plant Your Feet Firmly in Mid-Air; Kissimmee-St. Cloud (Fla.) Convention & Visitors Bureau sponsored her presentation at the luncheon. Her performance took RCMA members on a ride from pathos to penetrating insight to knee-slapping humor.

The point of Lapp's program was to get people to take observations and suggestions from people who are successful and apply them to those want to be successful.

A cornerstone of her approach is convincing people to stop making judgments about people they hardly know. She began by teasing planners in the audience who may have judged her based upon her gold lame jacket.

“We preach, we talk, we're lovely, we go to church on Sunday,” Lapp said. “But some of us still judge other people. Do you look different than I do? Let me get to know you before I judge you.”

Lapp told the story of a little girl who used to hide in a closet. The girl drew pictures and gave them to her father, praying that a miracle would happen in her family. Then they'd take her father away for months at a time. When he returned, he was scary, and the little girl returned to the closet. As she got older and entered high school, the girl failed most of her courses and was unable to form relationships. One day, she came home and found that her father had committed suicide.

Some years later, after the girl had been hospitalized for a long time, a nurse with warm green eyes sat down beside her. “This nurse was different from the others,” Lapp said, “because all they gave me were drugs and restraints. But she gave me her soul. She gave me a note that said, ‘Don't ever stop trying, Janet, because sometimes miracles take a little longer.’

“My only regret,” Lapp added, “is that I don't think she knew the good that she did.”

The point of the story, Lapp said, is that sometimes you don't have to do anything to positively influence people. “You just have to show up. It's the simple power of joy. You don't know the good you can do.”

Do you know the “Secrets of the Ten Scrolls”?

James F. Hennig, who was the guest speaker at Thursday's luncheon, sponsored by the Daytona Beach (Fla.) Convention & Visitors Bureau, thinks that you should. The scrolls could change your life, he said.

The Ten Scrolls are derived from the work of the late Og Mandino, the best-selling author of The Greatest Salesman in the World and a renowned sales trainer.

More than half of Hennig's audience raised their hands when asked if they had read Mandino's popular book. Hennig told the crowd that what it most needed to succeed are people skills. “Once people have people skills, they figure out how to get the business skills. People skills are the multiplier of all other skills.”

And a little difference between people makes all the difference in the world, Hennig said, explaining the Mandino principle of the “Slight Edge.”

“What's the difference between a .275 and a .300 hitter in major league baseball?” he asked. “Just one more hit in every 40 times at bat. That doesn't sound like much. But the difference in salary is very different.” The Secrets of the Ten Scrolls are:

  1. Today I begin a new life.
  2. I will greet this day with love in my heart.
  3. I will persist until I succeed.
  4. I am nature's greatest miracle.
  5. I will live this day as if it is my last.
  6. Today I will be master of my emotions.
  7. I will laugh at the world.
  8. I will multiply my value a hundredfold.
  9. I will act now.
  10. I will seek guidance.

In summing up his message, Hennig said, “Four words will change your life: This too shall pass.”

Order in the Court!

It was the Doomsday Hotel against the Self-Righteous Church Federation, squaring off in the courtroom of the Hon. Dudley Dread during Thursday morning's hilarious yet educational “You Be the Judge” program.

The judge (Jonathan T. Howe, Howe & Hutton Ltd., Chicago) presided over proceedings comprised of bluster-filled attorneys, weepy witnesses, and melodramatic testimony. The contract-cancellation case centered on whether or not a force majeure had taken place, thereby allowing the church to cancel its meeting without penalty.

Taking up the case for the hotel team were Nick Topitzes, CMP, pc/nametag, Madison, Wis., as the attorney; James Wood, Greater Providence/Warwick (R.I.) Convention & Visitors Bureau, as Simon Charge, the hotel general manager; Ken Lupp, The Founders Inn, Virginia Beach, Va., as the terrorism expert; and Debra Kerr, Irving (Texas) Convention & Visitors Bureau, as the hotel sales rep.

Presenting the church's cause were Jack Williams, CMP, National Association of Free Will Baptists, Antioch, Tenn., as the attorney; Alice Stewart, Tenth Episcopal District African Methodist Episcopal Church, Dallas, as the meeting planner; Jacqueline Walker, Church of God Theological Seminary, Cleveland, Tenn., as the church's general secretary; and Jim Cullumber, Christian Church Foundation, as the church's board chair. The Lexington (Ky.) CVB sponsored Thursday morning's breakfast.

Learning and Networking

The Expo floor, always a favorite meeting place for RCMA attendees, was a bustling scene full of associate-member convention and visitors bureaus, hotels, convention centers, campus and nonprofit facilities, and the full range of religious meeting service providers. The sold-out Expo offered more than 300 booths, and hugs and greetings abounded as people met new friends and reconnected with those they had met at previous RCMA conferences. Others strolled the aisles in search of the new venue that could be the right fit for their meeting.

Equally important to the attendees were the invaluable tutorials held Wednesday and Thursday. By Thursday evening, attendees were raving about this year's lineup.

“The tutorials at this RCMA are the best I've experienced, and I've been attending RCMA for 17 years,” said Winifred G. Grizzle, United Methodist Publishing House, Nashville, Tenn.

Wednesday's tutorials offered advice on an array of topics, including site selection, surviving the Internet jungle, increasing your brain capacity, making meeting planning easy, teambuilding, and maximizing promotional dollars. Thursday's lineup was equally compelling, with tutorials on forms to make meeting administration easier, maintaining a healthy lifestyle while traveling, the latest in hotel contracts, planning meetings via the Internet, and unique venues.

Attendees were attentive and involved, taking notes, asking questions, and sharing ideas, and they left the sessions anxious to put the advice to use.

Fast Rides, Proud Moments

Late in the afternoon on Wednesday, a transformation was taking place: RCMA attendees were preparing themselves for a fun-filled evening at world-famous Busch Gardens. But nobody was prepared for what happened on the bus ride from downtown Tampa to Busch Gardens: The RCMA buses received a police escort!

The evening's trip to Busch Gardens left attendees breathless, in more ways than one. The more daring took to the Scorpion roller coaster, while the more sedate played games and took a whirl on the colorful carousel. And then there was Rhino Rally, an amazingly realistic off-road SUV ride that felt like a safari.

A spectacular ice show in an ornate, intimate theater capped the evening. World Rhythms on Ice featured at least a dozen elaborate stages and costumes, ranging from a courtyard in 19th-century Vienna to the vibrant, primary colors of “mod” 1960s London.

When attendees left the theater to board the buses, a spectacular, nearly full tropical moon was shining brightly — as if on cue. What an evening it was.

Wednesday night's events were followed by the memorable sights and sounds of Thursday evening's banquet and gala, held at the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel. The Marriott and the Tampa CVB sponsored the event. The attendees enjoyed hors d'oeuvres, then filed into the ballroom for dinner and the night's program.

The audience stood and applauded as RCMA president Jack Stone gave this year's President's Award to a surprised and humble Nick Topitzes, CMP, president of pc/nametag, Madison, Wis. The honor is presented each year to an individual who has rendered distinguished service to RCMA and to the religious conference management profession.

“This is a wonderful, wonderful honor, and I will cherish it for the rest of my life,” Topitzes said. “I enjoy the people I work with, and I enjoy what I do. Our job is to make other people's lives better, and I look forward to working in continued support of RCMA.”

The audience then settled in for a dazzling combination of music, imagination, and acrobatics titled “Kaleidoscope: A Journey and Adventure,” presented by Evention Show Productions.

Saying Goodbye

The historic 30th Anniversary RCMA came to a close Friday morning, with breakfast, the annual business meeting, and the general session sponsored by next year's RCMA host, the Charlotte (N.C.) Convention & Visitors Bureau. Charlotte filled the morning with energy, song, confetti, and even kazoos, which attendees played during a rousing rendition of “Nothing Could Be Finer Than To Be in Carolina.”

In a speech titled “Finding Strength in the Broken Places,” Barry Banther told attendees their greatest challenge in leaving the conference is to sustain the enthusiasm that they were feeling. “Don't just leave the conference when you leave the conference,” he said. “When you pack your bags, pack the enthusiasm and the great ideas that you've heard.”

He had an answer for how people can be “strong in the broken places.”

“Believe in God, believe in yourself, and believe in others,” Banther said. “You can't make a difference without others. If you believe in others, you will create your own future.”

He also offered advice on how to approach the year: “This could be the year for which you were born.” He encouraged the audience to be able to look back on 2002 and say, “that was our best year ever.”

With history being such a prominent part of RCMA's 30th Anniversary Conference and Exposition, it was natural to leave Friday's breakfast thinking that, indeed, Tampa in 2002 would long be remembered as one of RCMA's “best ever.”

RCMA Board of Directors

Four RCMA members were appointed to new three-year terms that begin in 2002. They are: Linda M. de Leon, CMP, assistant treasurer and meeting planner, Seventh-day Adventist Church, Silver Spring, Md.; Sally Gardiner, director of convention sales, Daytona Beach Area CVB; Jack Stone, general secretary and chief operating officer, Church of the Nazarene, Kansas City, Mo.; and Dennis E. Williams, PhD, executive director, North American Professors of Christian Education, Louisville, Ky.

The RCMA Board of Directors has reconfirmed Stone as president. De Leon will serve as vice president, and Melvin L. Worthington, CMP, National Association of Free Will Baptists Inc., will continue as secretary-treasurer.

Also continuing on the board are: Emily J. Gould, The United Methodist Church; Lee Harris, Florida State Primitive Baptist Convention; Karl W. Hartfield, Greater Houston CVB;Marjorie Homer, The Salvation Army; Thomas M. Jackson, CMP, United Pentecostal Church International; Edgar N. Sutton, American Baptist Association; and Carol Werchan, International Laymen's League.

New CMPs

RCMA honored the following members and associate members who earned their Certified Meeting Professional designation in 2001:

  • Reg A. Forder, CMP, director, American Christian Writers, Nashville, Tenn.
  • Sarah Franey, CMP, associate director of sales, Hyatt Regency San Francisco Airport, Burlingame, Calif.
  • John Hawkins, CMP, sales manager, Baltimore (Md.) Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.
  • Charlene Johnson Ugwu, CMP, director, Event Management, General Board of Discipleship, The United Methodist Church, Nashville, Tenn.
  • Kit McClung, CMP, sales manager, Callaway Gardens, Pine Mountain, Ga.
  • W. Bill Williams Jr., CMP, assistant vice president of Cultural Diversity, Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau, Chicago.
  • Kathy E. Young, CMP, associate director, Conference & Travel Planning, American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., Valley Forge, Pa.

Good News

After 30 years, the good news continues for RCMA. In his remarks Friday morning at RCMA 2002, Executive Director DeWayne S. Woodring, CMP, reported:

  • RCMA 2002 set an all-time attendance record, with 1,378 people coming to Tampa. Attendance increased 7 percent from RCMA 2001 in Milwaukee.
  • A total of 231 people attended this year's Behind-the-Scenes Experiences.
  • RCMA membership stands at an all-time high, with 3,164 members. The organization has enjoyed growth of 1,808 percent since it incorporated and reorganized in 1982.
  • Membership dues remain the same as they were 20 years ago and are 70 percent to 80 percent lower than other associations recognized by the Convention Industry Council.

Salute to Sponsors

RCMA thanks the following sponsors, who enabled us to bring such outstanding programs to planners and suppliers for the annual conference.

  • A La Carte Pavilion
  • American Airlines
  • Avis Rent A Car Sytems Inc.
  • Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
  • Charlotte Convention & Visitors Bureau
  • City of Tampa
  • Daytona Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau
  • Five Star Audiovisual
  • The Florida Aquarium
  • GES Exposition Services
  • Greater St. Charles (Mo.) CVB
  • Hyatt Regency Tampa
  • Kissimmee-St. Cloud Convention & Visitors Bureau
  • Lexington Convention & Visitors Bureau
  • New River Production Group
  • Oklahoma City Convention & Visitors Bureau
  • pc/nametag
  • Richmond Metropolitan CVB
  • Tampa Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau
  • Tampa Convention Center
  • Tampa Marriott Waterside
  • Valley Forge Convention & Visitors Bureau

AUDIOTAPES Still Available

Tapes of general sessions and tutorials from the 30th Anniversary RCMA Conference and Exposition are available by contacting Piper Media Services at (800) 752-5346.

IN ST. LOUIS in 2005

The RCMA Board of Directors has chosen St. Louis as the site of its 2005 Annual Conference and Exposition. The board met while in Tampa to make its final decision. Before heading to St. Louis, RCMA will come together in Charlotte, N.C., in 2003, and Pittsburgh in 2004.