VALLEY FORGE, PA (ABNS 6/26/12)—At its first meeting since reorganization, the Board of Directors of American Baptist Home Mission Societies (ABHMS) focused on “Stretching Toward a Bright Future,” based on Philippians 3:13-14, here last week.

Board member Dr. Wallace C. Smith, in opening devotions, set the tone when he reminded the group that it’s OK to leave things behind: “If you have energy for the future,” he said, “you have all that you need.” But Smith also cautioned: “When you face the future, you need to be enthusiastic about the course that God puts before you because there is nothing about being a Christian that is intrinsically easy.”

In his report, Executive Director Dr. Aidsand F. Wright-Riggins III acknowledged ABHMS’ challenge as it faces the future, asking, “How do we engage in doing new things in new ways?”

“We remain committed to our historic charter purposes of proclaiming the Gospel, establishing churches and ministering to persons of special need,” Wright-Riggins continued. “But, while we envision a nation of Jesus-followers extending the grace of God in places and spaces where it is not now manifest, we are not sure just how to get there from here. How do we address old aims in this new space? How do we create new wine in old wineskins?”

The Rev. Marilyn P. Turner, ABHMS associate executive director for Missional Life and Leadership, announced that more than 50 scholarships have been awarded to youth to enable their participation in Immerse, the national gathering of American Baptist youth in July. Registrants for the gathering have exceeded the target number of 800, and young people will represent 19 regions and 100 churches and Neighborhood Action Programs from Alaska to Puerto Rico at the Washington, D.C., gathering. Turner asked board members to keep the event in prayer, promising “it will be a life-changing, life-transforming event.”

ABHMS ministry to citizens re-entering church and society following incarceration was lifted up by the Rev. Fela Barrueto, national coordinator, Prisoner Re-entry and Aftercare Ministry. Citing the number 708,677—which represents the number of returning citizens in 2011—Barrueto described a virtual network of prisoner re-entry practitioners that she established and leads bimonthly to share best practices toward creating a sense of welcome and inclusion across the country for these former inmates.

The Rev. Aundreia Alexander, Esq., national coordinator, Refugee Resettlement and Immigration Services, introduced the board to her work around immigration issues by lauding the U.S. administration’s new policy that protects children, brought into the United States illegally, from deportation proceedings for two years if they meet established criteria. Alexander said the new policy, announced June 15, is expected to benefit 800,000 to 1 million children.

Following introduction of the Judson Press spring booklist by Marketing Director Kim Shimer, Wright-Riggins emphasized Judson books as an extension of ABHMS ministry, adding that the authors’ impact equals the mission impact of ABHMS staff.

Brazilian Thurman, chair of the Finance Committee, highlighted ABHMS’ commitment to socially responsible investing in a report to the board. Continuing to work toward being “really good stewards of what we have,” Thurman said, ABHMS has expanded Common Investment Fund screens from alcohol, weapons and tobacco to sexual trafficking, child labor and environmental issues.

Throughout the meeting, devotions were offered by the Rev. Alexander G. Houston, guest preacher and pastor of Cohansey Baptist Church, Bridgeton, N.J., and board members the Rev. Miriam Mendez and the Rev. Scotty Robertson. Closing words were from board member the Rev. Kenneth Board, who reminded the group that “whatever you are looking at is where your feet are going; you have to hold on to your history, but you have to stop looking back.”

American Baptist Home Mission Societies—the domestic mission arm of American Baptist Churches USA (ABCUSA) —ministers as the caring heart and serving hands of Jesus Christ across the United States and Puerto Rico through a multitude of initiatives that focus on discipleship, community and justice.

American Baptist Churches USA is one of the most diverse Christian denominations today, with 5,500 local congregations comprised of 1.3 million members, across the United States and Puerto Rico, all engaged in God’s mission around the world.