VALLEY FORGE, PA (4/12/16)—In the soaring sanctuary of Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., on Friday night, Dr. Clifford Johnson, president of the Board of Directors of American Baptist Home Mission Societies (ABHMS), commissioned a new executive director to lead the historic American Baptist ministry: “The organization was in need of a strong leader,” Johnson said. “In response to our prayers, God sent us Dr. Jeffrey Haggray.”
Addressing Haggray, Johnson continued, “Since 1824, ABHMS has advanced The Great Commission and The Great Commandment. In answering the call, your leadership represents the dawn of a new day for many.”
Haggray, in his remarks, paid tribute to Shiloh Baptist Church for its active participation in American Baptist life, noting that significance in choosing the storied church as host of the historic service. Shiloh’s pastor, the Rev. Dr. Wallace Charles Smith, formerly served as an ABHMS board member; his wife, Mrs. G. Elaine Smith, is a former president of American Baptist Churches USA (ABCUSA) and ABHMS. Shiloh’s noted combined choirs stirred the congregation throughout the service with exceptional music.
The Rev. Lauren Ng —a member of ABHMS’ Board of Directors and former associate pastor of San Francisco’s First Chinese Baptist Church—was the featured preacher at the worship service that celebrated the Home Mission Societies and its ministries. In her message, Ng reminded those gathered that Christians “are called to participate in the saving of this world. It is in Jesus’ name,” she said, “that we speak up for transformation.”
Ng called up the story of Easter and Christ’s resurrection: “Jesus risked his own skin and so should we,” she said. “For 192 years and counting, ABHMS has had its skin in the game. It’s no wonder that at such a time as this, ABHMS has called Dr. Jeffrey Haggray to lead this historic ministry with a Gospel that is embodied and social.”
The worship service culminated a two-day gathering of ABHMS’ Board of Directors focused on a 2016 visioning conversation that seeks to establish a missional strategy framework for moving forward. Haggray asked members to consider how best the organization can cast and frame its work for the future.
Renewing ABHMS’ historic vision for connecting partners, developing leaders, equipping disciples and healing communities was the starting point of the conversation.
Haggray said ABHMS seeks to encourage partnerships among American Baptist-related ministry organizations to develop common initiatives. This will require a collaborative model for working together. “How are we going to work together in ABCUSA?” he asked. “There has been brokenness in our denomination. How do we redevelop mutuality, reciprocity, generosity? How can we re-dedicate ourselves to mutual working relationships?”
“This conversation is an urgent one,” Haggray said, because of the ever-changing and evolving religious landscape in America. As society has become more secular, the institutional influence of churches on society has been declining, he noted, wondering if the church will have relevance in his children’s lives. “We have to think openly about how we reach emerging generations for Christ. There should be a strong concern about the future; therefore, conversations with millennials are urgent discussions.”
To that end, the Rev. Brianna Parker, pastor of Assimilation at Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas, joined the meeting to share results of her research into black millennials and faith, conducted as part of her doctor of ministry program at Virginia Union University.
A millennial herself, Parker said churches are often made up of “Stepford Christians”: Christians who “look alike and sound alike.” Rather than giving millennials what the church thinks they need, Parker said congregations need to ask millennials what they want from the church.
Parker’s research has shown that millennials like to affiliate with churches that are active in the community; millennials believe churches should address justice, outreach and family dynamics. “We have to stop saying young people and youth are the church of tomorrow,” she said. “They are the church of today. That’s the way we have to look at it.”
Board members unanimously affirmed the visioning conversation, which will continue throughout 2016. “I think we are moving in the right direction, and we are accomplishing a lot of work,” said Dr. Laura Sinclair. “I am looking forward to the work we are about to embark upon.” Dr. Robert Scott agreed: “I am excited about the work; I am excited about where we are headed.”
American Baptist Home Mission Societies—the domestic mission arm of American Baptist Churches USA—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 developing leaders, equipping disciples and healing communities.
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.