VALLEY FORGE, PA (ABNS 6/9/21)—The American Baptist Churches USA Board of General Ministries met virtually on Thursday, June 3-Friday, June 4. The board meeting occurred prior to the ABCUSA Biennial Mission Summit, which will meet online June 24-26, 2021.
President Karen Podsiadly called the meeting to order with a warm welcome to all attendees and a special welcome to newest Board Directors: Laura H. Austin (Connecticut), Christopher E. Hamilton (Pennsylvania and Delaware), John A. Nichols (Central Pacific Coast), Lillian Ramos (New Jersey), Damaris Santiago-Lebron (Puerto Rico), Douglas V. Scalise (Massachusetts), and Dwayne T. Williams (Dakotas).
As done at each meeting, the Board of General Ministries (BGM) Chaplain Zina Jacque opened up both Thursday and Friday sessions lighting the Christ candle and setting a scriptural foundation for the work of the Board, as well as ending each session with a blessing.
Interim General Secretary C. Jeff Woods submitted a written report highlighting 2021 goals, which include: (1) The empowerment of staff and volunteers, (2) The clarification of identity for the Office of the General Secretary, and (3) the continued strengthening of relationships among national and regional staff. For his verbal report, Woods expounded on the second goal by highlighting activities of the ABCUSA Office of the General Secretary and the BGM over the past six months that exemplify important purposes and functions of a denomination. A denomination…
- not only raises up missionaries but continues to support them and nurtures relationships with related foreign countries and international communities, such as the advocacy provided through the collaborative leadership of the Burma Refugee Commission.
- plans and hosts denomination-wide events in a manner that includes major partners in the planning, makes opportunities available to the breadth of entities and partners, and aims to serve all levels and diversity of the denominational family, such as the 2021 Biennial Mission Summit.
- resources its constituency with timely and critical information gained by being invited to key forums and tables, such as in the dissemination of COVID-19 related information and programs.
- welcomes and orients newcomers to the breadth of the denomination, such as in the collaborative planning and implementation of the 2021 Orientation to American Baptist Life conference.
- seeks ways to continue its legacy and heritage, such as in the formation and continuing development of the Anti-Racism Task Force that is leading efforts to dismantle racism in all levels of the denomination.
- takes the responsibility to improve and maintain accurate record keeping of clergy credentialing, service, and misconduct reports; centralized mission giving accuracy and disbursement to recipients within the denomination; and member congregations’ demographic data and mission involvement, such as in the implementation of an updated American Baptist Churches Information Systems (ABCIS) in 2021.
Woods concluded by stating, “The most important part of our work is certainly done through pastors and local congregations, but there are times that we band together to do something that is beyond the reach of any one congregation, even any one of our national boards. It takes a denomination to do the work of the denomination.” To the individual Board Directors , Woods said, “I am thankful that each of you are serving on the highest policy-making group for the ABCUSA Office of the General Secretary, a denomination that I believe is one of the most important in the U.S. and doing some of the best faith work of anyone.”
In addition to the newest BGM Directors being affirmed, the ABCUSA Nominating Committee also presented the following nominations, which were approved by the Board: Robin Stoops to the Burma Refugee Commission, Karen Yee as American Baptist Home Mission Societies representative to the ABCUSA Finance Committee, Ivan Greuter as International Ministries representative and Joanne Strauss as American Baptist Women’s Ministries representative on the World Relief Committee.
Budget Review Officer Paul Higgins reported that the BGM Finance Committee reviewed and received a clean 2020 audit for ABCUSA and shared highlights of the financial statements with the Board, which were positive due to various factors such as the sale of mission center property and budget savings due to staff vacancies and minimal activities during the pandemic. Higgins also highlighted a strong 2021 first quarter financial report.
President Podsiadly reported that at the forefront of the Board is clarifying and developing our identity, which is connected to both our intentional interim period and our understanding and practices of inclusion as the most diverse denomination, and the importance of mission support. Podsiadly has been involved in Biennial Mission Summit planning, led an inclusion and diversity training with staff, visited Atlanta to present the Cora and John Sparrowk President’s Award to 2021 recipient Rev. Dr. Albert P. Brinson and to sign the Presidential Bible at the American Baptist Historical Society, and is planning for upcoming American Baptist-related assignments. She encouraged all Board Directors to attend the Biennial Mission Summit and visit the Historical Society if given the opportunity.
Past President Josué Gómez-Menéndez, chair of the Credentials and Caucus Committee, gave the report of Changed Relationships, noting a net loss of 33 churches over the last six months, resulting in a total of 4970 American Baptist churches across the United States and Puerto Rico. This information includes churches disbanded, merged, withdrawn, and received and comes from church information in ABCIS.
Jacque, co-coordinator of the Orientation to American Baptist Life (OTABL) event, shared how seminarians, new ministers, and those interested in a “refresher” have been receiving an overview to the various entities that make up the American Baptist experience over six sessions. Anyone can partake of the American Baptist feast by visiting the OTABL webpage here.
On behalf of the World Relief Committee, Jacque also reported that the First Baptist Church of Palo Alto, Calif., provided a gift designated for disaster relief from of sale of their building. A change in the Standing Rules was moved and approved that adds a non-voting staff member from the American Baptist Women’s Ministries to the World Relief Committee.
A detailed process for establishing a new commission of the Board of General Ministries was presented, reviewed, and approved, providing additional clarity to existing language about commissions currently in the Bylaws and Standing Rules. Board Directors contributed to offerings supporting COVID relief in India and Biennial Mission Summit Booster sponsorship.
Throughout the sessions, Board Directors heard updates about the Biennial Mission Summit, including learning about the growing additions to the program through exhibit booths and getting a glimpse into the Virtual Attendee Hub and video clips such as the presentation of the Luke Mowbray Ecumenical Award to the Rev. Ineda P. Adesanya, 2021 recipient.
Written reports and verbal highlights about generative conversations, ministry activities, and mission support and engagement were provided by the following entities:
- executive staff members, associated ministry organizations, and BGM Directors to other Boards;
- the Burma Refugee Commission, Professional Ministries Team, Anti-Racism Task Force, and Executive Committee; and
- BGM Action Groups: Finance, Becoming a Beloved Community, Communicating ABC Identity, and Christian Unity and Interfaith Relations.
Looking forward to future items, the BGM Executive Committee will, at its September 2021 meeting continue to chart progress through its ongoing intentional interim plan. This plan, unanimously voted upon at the Board November 2020 meeting, includes:
- staff and board development
- clarifying the work of its internal committees
- reviewing initial feedback from national and regional partners on the role of the Office of the General Secretary
- launching a survey to gather wider denominational input on these issues
- clarifying the selection process for the two-year General Secretary who will continue the strategic interim plan, and
- developing a proposed process for the selection of a General Secretary to be called at the conclusion of the intentional interim period.
The Board of General Ministries meeting concluded on Friday, June 4. Documents related to the governance of the American Baptist Churches USA are accessible at www.abc-usa.org.
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