VALLEY FORGE, PA (ABNS 11/15/13)—The Board of General Ministries for American Baptist Churches USA (ABCUSA) began its meetings on Thursday, November 14, 2013, at the Crowne Plaza Valley Forge.
One of the highlights of the opening plenary sessions was a reflection given by General Secretary A. Roy Medley on his service as General Secretary over the past four year term and a forecast of the years to come.
“When I think back over these 12 years, I have seen within this family an exemplary courage. We want to be a fellowship that honors diversity and serves as the body of Christ,” said Medley.
“We have come to a place now where we are focused on Transformed by the Spirit, where God has blessed us, where God is bringing us into a good and growing place,” Medley continued. “We have the great gift of freedom in this, freedom that leads us to creativity, leads us to our very best, freedom that leads us to an opportunity to experiment in our life. Transformed by the Spirit has allowed us to look at how congregations are called to be faithful in their own context.”
Transformed by the Spirit is an initiative that is designed to engage local congregations across the denomination in a journey of identifying the significant challenges that face our churches, regions and national bodies in today’s culture. The question being asked in this initiative is: “What challenges are we facing, for which we do not presently have an answer, but which must be addressed if we are to live into the future God has for us?”
“One of the things we have learned is that you cannot do a cookie cutter approach to every ministry challenge,” said Medley. “It doesn’t work that way….The work of the renewal of the church is the work of the Spirit. Our prosperity on faith does not rely on financial resources, or adopting the latest business techniques, it rests in the presence of the Spirit, where American Baptists, in a humble place, have opened themselves up to the life of the Spirit and allowed the Spirit to lead them.”
“I feel more hopeful as your General Secretary about our life together, the most hopeful that I have been in many years. We are in a good place, better than we have been in many years,” Medley remarked.
Following this message from the General Secretary, the board gathered around Dr. Medley to offer prayers in a time of dedication for his continuing service.
In the opening session, ABCUSA President Ruth Clark reported on the ABC Mission Table. “We were delighted with the level of engagement and enthusiasm of the participants of the Mission Table, which met earlier this week,” said Clark during the President’s Report.
“Those who were present at the Mission Table are dedicated to the ongoing work of creating paths of ministry for years to come,” she said. “The Mission Table built on the conversations held at the 2013 Mission Summit. The original Mission Summit Conversations held in June broke new ground and exceeded all of our hopes and dreams.”
The 32 adaptive challenges discussed at both the Mission Table and at Mission Summit 2013 originated through the Transformed by the Spirit initiative as part of a national survey.
“The conversations that we engaged in around those tables, the impact of those was far more than I had anticipated prior to the Mission Summit. As people were flowing out of that room, one of them had tears streaming down his face,” Medley said. “This man came up to me and said, ‘These are tears of joy. I have not been in a more hopeful conversation about the life in the church as I was today. Thank you, thank you for what you are doing for the life of the church.’”
“Transformed by the Spirit has continued to bring to us that sense that joined us back to our DNA as Baptists, to be experimental, to allow us to ask the question, ‘How do we serve the world as followers of Jesus Christ?’ God is continuing to stir things up and lift us up at the body of Christ as we move forward together,” Medley concluded.
On Friday afternoon, Katie Choy Wong led a workshop on the Beloved Community, a main focus for Medley in his time as General Secretary. The workshop brought energy to the group in the midst of plenary sessions, allowing for humor and new connections between board members. Choy Wong led the board in looking at their differences and similarities. Board members considered personality differences, identity differences, language and dialect differences, and varying backgrounds and cultural differences.
Also on Friday evening, Dr. Wesley Roberts, chair of the Credentials and Caucus Committee, introduced a motion that the Women’s Caucus become a recognized caucus of the Board of General Ministries. A Caucus, within ABCUSA, is any group of persons joined with one another in recognition of a common cause and shared characteristic, which meets criteria (Rule 14.4.2 in Standing Rules), and is recognized by the Board of General Ministries on recommendation of the Credentials and Caucus Committee. The board voted to approve the Women’s Caucus as a recognized ABCUSA Caucus of the denomination.
“What you have voted on is very significant, because you see, American Baptist churches, 40 years ago in the 70’s, believed that we were not yet reflective of what God would like us to be,” remarked Rev. Dr. Don Ng, vice president/president elect of ABCUSA. “We purposefully planted caucuses, funding them and giving them a voice. In the early 70’s there were four caucuses, and with this vote we now have seven caucuses represented. We are trying to be what God has called us to be, knowing always that we are not there yet.”
“We are striving to be partners with men and women, and people of all backgrounds, to be American Baptists. I wanted to mark the historical moment that you acted on. We trust in God’s promise that the will of God will happen in God’s time,” said Ng.
The Board of General Ministries meetings will continue on Saturday, November 16.
American Baptist Churches is one of the most diverse Christian denominations today, with over 5,200 local congregations comprised of 1.3 million members, across the United States and Puerto Rico, all engaged in God’s mission around the world.