ATLANTA, GA (ABNS 10/27/17)—At Mercer University’s Atlanta campus on Tuesday, American Baptist Home Mission Societies (ABHMS) convened its third aligned action network gathering in the nation. It was the first aligned action network meeting among leaders in the Southeast, comprised of ABHMS’ new and historic partners from churches, campus and community ministries in the Georgia, Virginia, Tennessee, Texas, South Carolina and North Carolina areas.
A new ABHMS strategy for accomplishing mission, aligned action networks are comprised of passionate American Baptist disciples in geographic clusters throughout the United States and Puerto Rico who convene to share resources, funding opportunities, communication practices and actionable ideas to ultimately create ministries that make a difference in people’s lives.
“In February 2017, ABHMS launched a strategy that is serving as the framework for doing 21st century mission in the United States and Puerto Rico,” says the Rev. Lisa Harris Lee, ABHMS director of Mission Engagement and National Network Initiative. “The strategy is not revolutionary—there is historic evidence of American Baptists working in this way. However, it is a significant evolution of the role ABHMS will assume as an agency of God called to cultivate the mission field of the United States and Puerto Rico.”
The meeting introduced partners to each other, to the concept of trust-based relationships and networks for maximizing social impact, and to methods for engaging in such networks. The event was led by Dr. Jane Wei-Skillern, an adjunct professor at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, and a researcher in trust-based relationships and networks. It was facilitated by the Rev. Dr. Marilyn P. Turner-Triplett, ABHMS director of Rizpah’s Children.
“I want to give you a set of tools to help you engage in collaboration,” said Wei-Skillern. “Collaboration is the most powerful tool to help us achieve powerful social transformation in our world.”
After engaging in small-group conversation around their tables, participants began to identify ways in which they could support each other in mission.
“Just from having conversation here, we saw how peers could become partners. For example, Chad with his food ministry—what if we just gave him an acre of land so he could plant?” asked the Rev. Dr. Douglas Stowers, pastor of Mount Calvary Baptist Church, Atlanta, referring to the Rev. Chad Hale, founder of Urban Recipe, Atlanta, a food cooperative outgrowth of Georgia Avenue Church. “I’ve been hearing Chad’s name for years but never would have met him.”
Further exercises and table conversations showed participants how they could quickly get to know potential partners beyond a superficial level to seeing them as more than merely the “other” and to trust their competence in joint efforts. Attendees were encouraged to apply the group exercises with future potential partners to accelerate the relationship-building process, level the playing field, let go of biases, and trust collective wisdom.
“Authentic relationships enable collaboration,” Wei-Skillern said. “You just learned that you have more in common with people than you would have thought. You’re more likely to assume positive intent when you know someone—it helps you through challenges during collaboration. You work through challenges when you have the basis of relationship.”
Dr. James Harrison, executive minister of American Baptist Churches of the South (ABCOTS), confirmed the positive outcome of the conversation at his table: “This exercise showed that Doug [Stowers] is really no different than I am. I don’t have to be perfectly competent. I can just be me.”
During a discussion of common ministry experiences, the Rev. Kimberlee Payton Jones, associate minister of Lindsay Street Baptist Church, Atlanta, asked: “How do we shift from being a service-based church in the community to including the community in the church?”
Dr. Betty Long, second vice president of ABCOTS, answered: “It’s a shift in mindset. It’s a shift in doing ministry. We must move from a mindset of ‘We’ve served 500 lunches [but we never got to know the neighbors served].’”
In closing, Turner-Triplett affirmed ABHMS’ commitment to the aligned action network and encouraged those assembled to do likewise. The partners agreed to engage in ongoing conversation, learning and prayer with each other.
“This concept of an aligned action network is our [ABHMS’] way of doing what she [Wei-Skillern] talked about—stepping aside and becoming one of many partners, stepping aside and inviting the collective wisdom in the room to promote our Christian faith. It’s the one thing on which we can all agree—our Christian faith.”
Because meeting host Mercer University is home to the American Baptist Historical Society (ABHS), a luncheon prayer and ABHS background was provided by ABHS Executive Director the Rev. Dr. Priscilla Eppinger.
An aligned action network meeting for the Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois and Missouri areas will take place on Nov. 9. The following gatherings are being planned for 2018: February, California and Arizona; March, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut; April, Kansas and Nebraska; May, Ohio, West Virginia and Michigan; and June, Florida.
American Baptist Home Mission Societies partners with American Baptists to promote Christian faith, cultivate Christ-centered leaders and disciples, and bring healing and transformation to communities across the United States and Puerto Rico.
American Baptist Churches USA is one of the most diverse Christian denominations today, with approximately 5,000 congregations comprised of 1.3 million members, across the United States and Puerto Rico, all engaged in God’s mission around the world.