VALLEY FORGE, PA (ABNS 6/11/20)—In an abbreviated, virtual gathering Tuesday, the Board of Directors of American Baptist Home Mission Societies (ABHMS) received updates about ministry in light of the ongoing pandemic.
The Rev. Jamie Washam, board president, called the meeting to order noting “these unusual times.”
In her report, she said the result of ABHMS asking, “What it is that people really need in these moments?” was the creation of “You Are Not Alone”—a virtual Space for Grace retreat on June 16, 23 and 30 aimed at helping clergy deal with the grief of these days. “How do we contend with grief in these moments?” she said. “When we do funerals, it’s hard not to hug. It’s hard not to sing. We are figuring this out as we go along.”
Executive Director Dr. Jeffrey Haggray echoed Washam in his report when he said, “These are turbulent times. At the new year, I thought 2020 was going to be the year to see everything clearly. Little did we know that, instead, this year would bring so many painful realities in our nation into such sharp focus as we stand at the convergence of two viruses—COVID-19 and racism.” Nevertheless, he said, “ABHMS’ mission focus remains unchanged: To impact the United States of America and Puerto Rico with the gospel that heals and transforms.”
To share the story of ABHMS ministry as it’s been changed by the coronavirus, Haggray called on the Rev. Lisa Harris-Lee, director of Mission Engagement and National Network Initiatives. “We made the pivot as quickly as possible to our more virtual reality,” Harris-Lee said, “recognizing there were initiatives we were planning pre-COVID, that were as relevant, if not more so, during the pandemic.”
In the wake of the coronavirus, ABHMS has cancelled volunteer rebuilding efforts in Puerto Rico, Florida, New Orleans, Texas and New Jersey, along with four Freedom Schools that had been planned for the coming summer months. Also cancelled was a Passionary Institute, a young adult, community ministry vocational discernment summer experience.
Ministries that have been developed for these days of social distancing and virtual connections include: a partnership with frontline community ministries organizations to get meals to children along with culturally aware, devotional materials for families; the formation of a Virtual Tutoring Network to address learning loss among children; and virtual dance and yoga classes for children and youth. The Summer Passionary Institute will be held virtually in partnership with Union Baptist Church in Hartford, Conn. In addition, cultural competency training, which had been scheduled face-to-face for fall, will be offered virtually instead.
The Rev. Laura Ayala, a board member from Puerto Rico, expressed gratitude to ABHMS for the ministrElife platform. “I want to say thank you for giving us Zoom,” she said. “It makes ABHMS closer to the local church. ABHMS did this for us. For the local church, it means a lot.”
Users of the ministrElife platform have increased 400 percent since mid-March.
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.