BROOKFIELD, WI (ABNS 11/14/17)—At Ottawa University’s Brookfield campus on Thursday, American Baptist Home Mission Societies (ABHMS) convened its fourth aligned action network gathering in the nation. It was the first aligned action network meeting among leaders from a portion of the Midwest, comprised of ABHMS’ new and historic partners from churches, campus and community ministries in the Wisconsin, Indiana, Kentucky, Chicago, Illinois and Missouri 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.
“ABHMS will be inviting leaders throughout the United States and Puerto Rico to participate in these network gatherings—most of which will be virtual, with a few face-to-face gatherings like the one in Wisconsin,” says the Rev. Lisa Harris Lee, ABHMS director of Mission Engagement and National Network Initiative. “ABHMS is not striving for uniformity, in which we all look alike and think alike about everything—the autonomy of Baptist life would never allow for that! However, within our Baptist autonomy, we recognize God’s call to work together, reason together and bring our best together, as we fulfill the love commandment and the witness commission together.”
Dr. Jane Wei-Skillern, an adjunct professor at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, led the meeting, introducing participants to the concept of trust-based relationships and networks for maximizing social impact. The meeting was facilitated by Dr. Jeffrey Johnson, ABHMS national coordinator of Evangelism and New Church Planting. The luncheon prayer was led by the Rev. Dr. Marie Onwubuariri, executive minister of American Baptist Churches of Wisconsin.
“As someone who just started a social service organization 11 months ago, this is what I needed,” said participant Justin Thang, executive director at Hope for Tomorrow, Indianapolis, which assists refugees from Burma. “Social media is great, but face-to-face has to come first.”
After small-group discussion about successful collaboration, participant the Rev. Erica Van Brakle, pastor of First Baptist Church of La Grange, Ill., shared with the larger group the real-life example of Ministerium, an interdenominational collaboration that began in her area more than 20 years ago. When the Head Start program in a school district was being discontinued, Ministerium members put their heads together with other partners to place the children in other programs and to cover their tuition and transportation.
“One of the partners is the school district that had to discontinue the program. They had resources they couldn’t use but could share with us,” Van Brakle said. “The collaboration arose from their [Head Start] program going away, but it didn’t keep them from being a partner.”
Wei-Skillern noted that Van Brakle’s scenario is a good example of a collaboration that occurred not merely for the sake of collaborating.
“It [the network] was organic, bottoms-up, problem-focused and kept a broad tent,” Wei-Skillern said. “Even latecomers should be welcomed [to the network]. Success attracts people.”
Following small-group conversation about professional challenges, participant Sophia Par, a Sunday school teacher at Indiana Chin Baptist Church, Indianapolis, said, “The conversation itself is valuable. You may think, ‘Other churches don’t act that way,’ but when you talk to others, you find out ‘I’m not the only one.’”
Wei-Skillern concurred: “The more we can practice and exercise these muscles—these conversations—the more opportunity we have for these collaborations to emerge.”
Quoting Ecclesiastes 4:9 and Ezekiel 37:17, Johnson reminded those in attendance that partnership is a Biblical concept.
“We are not the American Baptist Church singular. We are the American Baptist Churches. There are over 5,000 congregations who willingly come to covenant partnership with each other to accomplish kingdom work,” he said. “No one is meant to be equipped for their own end. They’re meant to be equipped so that their fullness can pour out into the lives of the people around them.”
Among the attendees were the Rev. Dr. Perry Hopper, associate executive director, Ministers and Missionaries Benefit Board, and ABHMS board of directors members the Rev. Kevin “Scotty” Robertson, pastor of Millcreek Baptist Church, La Porte, Ind.; Wendy Hagn, director of Church Relations and Strategic Partnerships, Franklin (Ind.) College; and the Rev. Dr. Kenneth Board, senior pastor, Pilgrim Baptist Church, Rockford, Ill.
“As a member of the ABHMS board, I’d like to say that the visionary leadership of Dr. [Jeffrey] Haggray and our staff in bringing talent such as yourself to us is very helpful,” Robertson said, referring to Wei-Skillern. “I have always seen the Home Mission Societies as a relevant organization, but this brings it to a whole new level.”
The following aligned action network meetings are being planned for 2018: California and Arizona in February; Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut in March; Kansas and Nebraska in April; Ohio, West Virginia and Michigan in May; and Florida in June.
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.