Barbara Jarrett remembers the American Baptist Churches USA (ABCUSA) denominational Mission Center from age 12, when her Dad, Austin Wilson, brought her next door to pick apples in a neighboring orchard. Wilson headed ABCUSA’s mail and addressograph center in those days and worked in the building 28 years.
Marilyn Tyson recalls the Mission Center when it was “surrounded by acres of lawn and farmland,” she says. “People who could see the building more easily from the road in those days would often say they thought the building looked like a spaceship.”
Jarrett, mission fund manager working for the Treasurer’s Office in the Accounting Department for ABCUSA, and Tyson, administrative assistant in the Office of Regional Ministries, both have fondest recollections of their bosses in the several posts each have held over more than 34 years with the denomination. Both agree that appreciation for their bosses was a factor in staying with ABCUSA for so many years.
Catherine Brubaker, executive assistant to the General Secretary of ABCUSA, recalls coming to the headquarters building to look for a job on a snowy day when she was new in the area in January 1984. “I was pretty eager to find something,” the former kindergarten teacher and systems analyst recalls. She had moved from Illinois to Pennsylvania. “But the building was closed because it was a snow day.” Brubaker will have served in the Mission Center nearly 33 years by the time she retires at the end of 2016.
The trio is the longest-tenured ABCUSA Office of the General Secretary staff members.
Compare their long-serving dedication to what a little research reveals about today’s marketplace. Various sources note that the average person today changes jobs or careers every 4.6 years. Millennials say they expect to stay in a job today less than three years, a survey reports. One web-based source called “The Balance” reports that modern workers will change jobs 10-15 times over the course of a career.
Jarrett says she had a brief working stint in the building sorting mail as part of her high school coop program. Her dad had a role in attracting her to her career with the denomination.
Jarrett began working full-time for ABCUSA in 1982, working in the International Missions Mission Library before becoming an accounting clerk in 1983. She later became a Mission Fund Specialist and then Mission Fund Manager.
As Mission Fund Manager, Jarrett has the responsibility to track funds sent by congregations and regions, distributing the funds to the projects the churches have selected. A popular project to receive such distributed funds is “One Great Hour of Sharing” from which funds are designated to be sent for disasters experienced both domestically and globally. But Jarrett notes that over the many years she has worked with ABCUSA some 10,000 projects have benefitted from such distributed funds, including colleges, universities and seminaries. Some of the projects no longer exist.
A favorite part of Jarrett’s job, she says, is relating to ABCUSA congregations and regions, representatives of which converse with her on a first-name basis. She says the relationships she has formed, many of them over the telephone, have been a factor in her working for the denomination for so long.
Jarrett recalls in the early days her department kept long accounting books by hand, then graduated to computer recordkeeping, where she often received disks from congregations and regions, and now to the latest technology via databases. Tyson, who lives in Pottstown, explains she was referred by a friend to look for a job with ABCUSA. In May 1982 she began administrative work with the travel office in the Special Services department. She worked on arranging meeting room schedules and hotel reservations for personnel, among other things. She took another post in personnel a few years later.
“As I got more into my work I found my heart was in tune with what I was doing,” Tyson remembers. “I liked the scope of the work.” In the Fall of 1995 she began her current position in the Office of Regional Ministries, directed by C. Jeff Woods, associate general secretary for Regional Ministries, which relates to the 33 American Baptist regions and one association around the country that are part of ABCUSA.
She works with various boards, groups and churches to arrange meetings and training events. “We’re constantly looking for ways to do the work of the church better and to collaborate more effectively,” Tyson says. She also assists with the search process when one of the 33 regional executive minister posts becomes open. “At this point I’ve been around long enough to see every regional post at the top change at least once,” she says.
Tyson especially appreciates the influence made possible by the Biennial Mission Summit and Mission Table and by the Transformed by the Spirit initiatives the denomination has launched. She recalls that when the Mission Summit Conversations began in 2013 “we were hoping for 500 participants to gather for conversations about what is important in the life of the church today.” But 1,000 people took part. “People enjoyed the participation and the opportunity to learn from each other rather than being told what to do,” Tyson says. Now, the regions are employing the approach on their home turf in order to determine the needs of the church and how best to move ahead in their work.
“Our Task Force on Race and Race-Based Violence and strategy for Women in Ministry are among the great outcomes of those conversations,” Tyson says. Over the years Tyson has become respected for her expertise in knowledge of ABCUSA’s bylaws.
Brubaker began working with ABCUSA’s Department of Church Education in 1984 receiving and tracking manuscripts for curriculum published by Judson Press, with some responsibility also for copy editing children’s curriculum. Two years later she began doing administrative work and correspondence with the denomination’s Department of Christian Higher Education involving denominationally affiliated colleges, universities and theological schools. In 1988, she accepted the position of Administrative Assistant to the Executive Director of the Board of Educational Ministries.
With the dissolution of Educational Ministries in 2003, Brubaker became administrative assistant to the General Secretary, serving with recently retired General Secretary Emeritus A. Roy Medley, and now with Interim General Secretary Susan E. Gillies.
Brubaker is known in her work for encouraging staff prayers and fielding and distributing prayer requests weekly via email, a dimension that affords insight as to why she has immensely enjoyed her work with ABCUSA. “I think it feels a lot like family here,” she says. “I remember many special times with colleagues, times when we have celebrated together and times when we have mourned together. Through our weekly prayers one can see how we care for and support one another.”
“There is no question that some of the previous years of denominational service have been difficult, with issues that have divided the ABC family,” she says. She recalls times in the office during those difficult days when Medley said simply, “Why don’t we pray about that.” Through prayer and hard work, seeds were sown for the new direction in which God was about to lead this denomination, she says. Tyson and Brubaker agree that the denominational workplace continues to feel like “home” even with so many transitional changes currently underway. They credit Transformed by the Spirit as a key.
Transformed by the Spirit is an initiative launched in 2011 to encourage the denomination, its congregations and American Baptists to reconsider the mission and ministry of the church in light of the profound changes going on around it. The program invites disciples in the church to reconnect with each other and their neighborhoods.
Brubaker says Transformed by the Spirit has engaged the church in identifying new ways to better serve Christ. “It emphasizes that every Christian is a minister. What a blessing to serve in a denomination that has championed such an initiative!” Brubaker says.