When did you first hear of the city of Louisville? Perhaps it was as a young baseball fan or player, repeatedly seeing the iconic name “Louisville Slugger” burned into a bat. Perhaps you first heard of Louisville as the home of the Kentucky Derby, America's greatest horse race. Or perhaps you first heard of Louisville as the hometown of boxing legend Muhammad Ali. Great performances and exciting experiences are at the heart of those Louisville impressions, and RCMA's 35th Anniversary World Conference and Exposition, held January 30-February 2 in Louisville, was a week filled with greatness.

Getting Started

The conference theme, “Reaching Beyond,” provided the framework for the week, as religious meeting planners convened to be inspired, to increase their professional knowledge, and to build relationships with leaders in the industry.

By noon Tuesday of the conference, RCMA's participants in the Behind-the-Scenes experiences already had gained valuable insights into many areas of meeting planning.

RCMA is the only organization that provides attendees with the opportunity to see what goes on behind the scenes to make a meeting happen, and 239 members took advantage of that opportunity at venues around the city.

The Tuesday night reception, held at the Galt House Hotel and Suites, was an opportunity to have fun and to reconnect. The fun was abundant in the hotel ballroom, with Kentucky-themed food and activities available to all.

Across a hallway from the ballroom, the setting was much different and resembled a church picnic: rows of tables and chairs, with barbecue food, complete with lemonade and iced tea, and delicious desserts within easy reach, a perfect setting to visit with colleagues.

A Time for Celebration

A spirit of celebration filled Wednesday morning's RCMA opening general session as attendees celebrated the association's 35th anniversary and the conference theme, “Reaching Beyond.”

“We are 35 years strong, together we are growing,” was part of the opening number performed by a talented eight-person song-and-dance troupe.

Louisville was the site of the first RCMA conference in 1973, and Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson clearly was happy to provide an enthusiastic welcome back. “Louisville is a city that understands the hospitality industry,” Abramson said, adding that the city appreciates the diversity of faiths represented in RCMA.

Charles Little Leaf, playing a Native American wind instrument, then captivated the audience with his moving performance of “Amazing Grace.”

RCMA President Thomas Jackson, United Pentecostal Church International, Hazelwood, Mo., welcomed everyone and singled out two men who were instrumental in RCMA's formation: Leonard Wymore, a founding member of the association, and George Spaulding, Louisville CVB.

RCMA Executive Director DeWayne S. Woodring then offered promotions for all in attendance, and RCMA board members distributed titles for nametags. Included in the titles were: workaholic, expert, princess, tired feet, leader, organizer, shepherd, and king.

Keynote speaker Desi Williamson made the newly promoted RCMA members pay attention with a rousing speech that urged them to listen to life's wakeup calls.

Williamson said his life's biggest wakeup call came in 1997, when his father fell ill. The father grudgingly agreed to visit a doctor, and that afternoon was admitted to the hospital and went into surgery to have tumor removed. Hours passed, and the surgery continued. Finally, the doctor emerged, drenched in sweat. He told Desi they had removed a volleyball-sized tumor.

During the months after the operation, the doctor who cared for Williamson's father gave up hope for the patient on multiple occasions. But each time, the father showed uncommon strength and courage to fight the illness. Ultimately, the doctor learned something from the man with the eighth-grade education: Never give up. “I'm never going to give up on a patient again,” the doctor told Desi. “They're all going to make it, until God tells me otherwise.”

The opening general session closed with a song performed by the musical troupe, who were joined on stage by a children's choir from Whitefield Academy in Louisville. “Reach out and touch somebody's hand, make this world a better place, if you can,” they sang together.

Compelling Speakers

Eric Alexander, the director of Adventures Beyond Limits, was RCMA's Wednesday luncheon speaker, and he offered a compelling, inspirational narrative about how and why men and women feel the need to reach past their comfort zones.

Thursday's breakfast speaker, personal safety expert Debbie Gardner, also spoke about courage, but from a different perspective.

“Heroes are not born, they're cornered,” Gardner said as she outlined the method that she and her husband, Mike, have developed to survive crime. And love is at the core of the method.

Gardner told her audience that all people possess the courage and the strength to defend their families and loved ones. How is that possible? It's made possible by love, she said. “Love is the most powerful force on Earth — love of self, of family.”

Wayne Newton Takes Over

On Wednesday evening, renowned entertainer Wayne Newton revved up the attendees with a high-energy performance. The Wayne Newton Orchestra, consisting of about 10 musicians who tour full time with Newton and eight Louisville musicians, provided stellar accompaniment.

Center of the Action

The expo floor, always a favorite meeting place for attendees, was abuzz with associate-member convention and visitors bureaus, hotels, convention centers, campus and nonprofit facilities, and the full range of religious-meetings service providers.

The sold-out expo offered more than 300 booths. Many attendees had studied the December issue of Religious Conference Manager, which contains the complete exhibitors list, so that they could target the people they wanted to visit. Others strolled the aisles in search of the new venue that could be the right fit for their meeting.

Equally important to attendees were the invaluable tutorials, held Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning. The tutorials offered advice on an array of topics. RCMA members were attentive and involved, taking notes, asking questions, and sharing ideas, and they left the sessions anxious to put the advice to use.

Honors Bestowed

RCMA gathered Thursday evening for the annual gala.

The first highlight came when RCMA President Tom Jackson presented the 2007 President's Award to Marjorie Homer, special events coordinator, Salvation Army, Des Plaines, Ill. The President's Award is given annually to an individual who has rendered distinguished service to RCMA and to the field of religious conference management.

About 15 minutes later, there was a wonderful surprise for all when the State of Indiana gave its highest honor to RCMA Executive Director DeWayne S. Woodring.

For more than 50 years, Indiana governors have used the Sagamore of the Wabash award to recognize those who have rendered distinguished service and made outstanding contributions to society. Among those who have received Sagamores have been U.S. presidents, astronauts, ambassadors, and university chancellors.

In accepting the honor, Woodring was visibly moved. He addressed the audience and compared RCMA's membership to that of his high school class in Gary, Ind. “We were a diverse lot. Perhaps that's why this organization (RCMA) means so much to me, because of its diversity. I feel very privileged to know you all.”

The Sagamore's award proclamation said, in part, that Woodring has been distinguished “by his humanity in living, loyalty in friendship, his wisdom in council, and his inspiration in leadership.” The proclamation was signed by Indiana Gov. Mitchell E. Daniels Jr.

Razzle 'Em, Dazzle 'Em

RCMA came to a close Friday morning with breakfast, the annual business meeting, and general session, sponsored by next year's RCMA host, Orlando, Fla. Orlando officials announced that the 2008 conference will be held at the spectacular Rosen Shingle Creek Resort. It will mark one of the few times RCMA has been held at a self-contained facility.

Speaker Samuel del Brocco spoke on the need to infuse razzle-dazzle into meetings. “Razzle-dazzle is not an option, it's a necessity,” he said. “It adds value to your conference and keep attendees coming back.”

As attendees left Louisville for their journeys home, you couldn't help thinking that coming back to RCMA is both a necessity and a pleasure.

RCMA Board of Directors

Four RCMA members were appointed to three-year terms that begin in 2007. They are: Sally Gardiner, Daytona Area CVB; Marjorie Homer, Salvation Army; Thomas Jackson, United Pentecostal Church International; and George Stewart, Zion Chapel Baptist.

The RCMA board officers are: Tom Jackson, United Pentecostal Church International, president; Harry Schmidt, Christian Life College, vice president; Melvin Worthington, National Association of Free Will Baptists, secretary-treasurer; and DeWayne S. Woodring, executive director.

Continuing on the board are: Ruth Adair, Triedstone Full Baptist Church; Michael Butts, Visit Charlotte; Ronald Kelly, The Wesleyan Church; Jack Stone, Church of the Nazarene; Jackie Walker, Church of God; and Martin Ytreberg, Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Fort Worth in 2010

The RCMA Board of Directors has chosen Fort Worth, Texas, as the site for its 2010 Annual World Conference and Exposition. The board met while in Louisville to make its decision. Before heading to Fort Worth, RCMA will come together in Orlando, Fla., in 2008 and Grand Rapids, Mich., in 2009.