“As an experienced pastor with a demonstrated history of working in religious institutions, nonprofit organizations, retreat and workshop settings,” Van Brakle says, “I am passionate about creating spaces that provide pastoral leaders a place to learn, share, grow and find support.”
A computer-based, data-storage-and-retrieval system, ABPS is just such a place. It produces personnel profiles to assist professionally trained ministry leaders who seek new opportunities to serve local congregations and denominational entities. ABPS works in partnership with American Baptist Churches USA regions to assist local church search committees by retrieving profiles of ministry professionals who possess the skills and experiences the church requires.
ABPS is now part of ministrElife, a cutting-edge online networking platform custom-built at the direction of ABHMS to enhance the ministries of American Baptist ministry professionals and lay leaders. (All ministerial leaders—both clergy and lay—are encouraged to enroll in ministrElife and complete an ABPS profile.)
Van Brakle was senior pastor of First Baptist Church of LaGrange, Ill., since February 2015, during which time she executed a $90,000 capital improvement project, created a branding strategy and had been developing a new communication and outreach strategy for the congregation. In addition, she was regional outdoor ministries coordinator for American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago since February 2018. As such, she led the Outdoor Ministry Task Force; designed and distributed publications for camping seasons; and collaborated with leaders of American Baptist Churches of Wisconsin to implement joint creative camping and outdoor ministry options funded through a grant from the Virginia and Gordon Palmer Jr. Trust. Van Brakle further brings a well-rounded skill set, having served as a youth minister, chaplain and associate pastor with a background in television news production and a passion for administrative and project management.
She earned a Master of Divinity degree from Central Baptist Theological Seminary, Shawnee, Kan., and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Columbia College, Chicago. She is expected to earn a certificate in nonprofit management from Kellogg Executive Education in 2021 and a Doctorate of Leadership from Central Baptist in 2022.
Graves served as executive pastor of Sunrise Community Church and Sunrise Homeless Navigation Center, Austin, Texas, 2018-2019. In addition to leading worship and communion on Sunday mornings, she wrote grants for both nonprofit organizations; managed the schedule for more than 35 Navigation Center volunteers; took church groups and college students to homeless campsites to become educated on poverty; led staff meetings for the three nonprofit organizations sharing the space; and led the young adult group. Before that, she was a caseworker and office manager for Sunrise Homeless Navigation Center, working on the frontlines, doing expansive work to meet the needs of the surrounding homeless community.
“I have always leaned into working among marginalized groups and diverse cultures, believing we all have experiences and life stories worth sharing,” says Graves. “I am excited most to give life to unseen and untold truths, bring awareness to injustices and advocate on behalf of those who need it most.”
Graves has served as a guest preacher at a number of churches and guest speaker at a number of events, including the “Nevertheless She Preached” conference in 2018 and 2019. Her many volunteer experiences have included Habitat for Humanity, Heavenly Voice Gospel Choir and a 2019 trip to understand what is happening at the border in El Paso, Texas.
She earned a Master of Divinity with a concentration in World Christianity and Witness at George W. Truett Theological Seminary, Baylor University, Waco, Texas. She earned a Bachelor of Business Administration at Baylor.
Says ABHMS Executive Director Dr. Jeffrey Haggray: “ABHMS is blessed to welcome a new generation of talented and faith-filled leaders such as Erica—who will be an inspiring support for clergy and religious professionals—and Brittany, who will work closely with me to amplify the values of the Christian faith in the public square.”
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.