VALLEY FORGE, PA (ABNS 11/10/22)—The American Baptist Churches USA Board of General Ministries met November 4-6, 2022, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in King of Prussia, Pa.
Dr. C. Jeff Woods gave the report of the General Secretary, challenging the board and all American Baptists to live out the Gospel mandate to love one another. He noted that a recent USA Today Poll indicated that 81% of people agree that disagreeing is harming us in our news media, social media, between politicians, and among ordinary Americans.
“My hope for ordinary American Baptists is that we would first be Christians; that we would commit to what Jesus said, did, cried about, and preached about; and my hope for American Baptists is that the world would know that we are American Baptist by our care and respect for one another and for the world. Too often the world has known that we are Baptist by our chaos and conflicts rather than our care and compassion.”
“Our belief in soul freedom and our commitment to autonomy and interdependence uniquely position us to demonstrate Christ’s love, not only to one another, but also to the world. Given our composition and our commitments, I believe that American Baptists have a responsibility to love one another and to act on that love for a world in need,” said Woods.
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, by your love for one another” (John 13:35).
Rev. Dr. James O. Wolfe gave the report of the President, sharing about his service in his term as President and reflecting on prayer. “Prayer is meant to change the attitude of our heart. When our attitude is changed, we change the relationships in which we engage. Prayer is meant to be transformational and transactional….When one is transformed in attitude toward God, one cannot help but be transformed in human relationships as well. All of theology is transactional. God initiated the transaction by reaching out to fallen humanity through the incarnation. Our role in the transaction is to accept the gift of life proffered in Jesus and live as disciples,” he said.
President Wolfe, in his role as chair of the General Secretary Search Committee, later gave a report of the Search Committee. He noted that the committee has continued to meet and hopes to have a position description for the General Secretary role available early in 2023, when the nomination and application process will open for the next General Secretary of American Baptist Churches USA.
Throughout the meeting, the Board’s Beloved Committee Action Group brought the Board together in times of reflection, learning and prayer. During its Saturday session, the Board gathered in small groups to spend time in prayer for the General Secretary Search Committee members, as well as ABC Officers and staff members.
Karen Podsiadly, past president of American Baptist Churches USA, gave a report of the Anti-Racism Convening Table. Podsiadly said, “We are forever grateful for every American Baptist who has contributed to the work of anti-racism in the denomination and greater society, past, present and future.”
The Anti-Racism Convening Table was first brought together with the intention of hearing from the larger American Baptist family and partners. Members of the convening table reviewed and endorsed the Anti-Racism Task Force report and further encouraged the Board of General Ministries to engage in work that would enable leaders to support the entire ABCUSA family as we live into our reality as the most racially diverse denomination in Protestantism. The Board of General Ministries Executive Committee and larger Board will continue to engage in board development activities in support of ABCUSA investigating, exploring, and realizing our truths and paths towards healing.
Tina Kiernan, Biennial Mission Summit Program Coordinator, gave an update on the 2023 Biennial Mission Summit, coming June 23-25, 2023 at the Puerto Rico Convention Center in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Kiernan invited all American Baptists to the event, and noted that registration for the event will open later this month, and will offer American Baptists an opportunity to register in the 2022 budget year and also a chance to save money through registering early ahead of two early registration dates. Learn more about the Biennial Mission Summit at www.AmericanBaptists2023.com.
The Board heard a presentation from Benjamin Jacuk, the Unguwat Program Manager and Indigenous Researcher at the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage, Alaska. Jacuk recently became the first Alaska native from the Dena’ina Athabascan and Sugpiaq Indigenous people’s groups to speak at a World Council of Churches Assembly – he spoke at the recent 2022 Assembly in Karlsruhle, Germany. Jacuk’s main focus in his current work is research into boarding schools in Alaska.
Jacuk shared with the Board a presentation about the history of the boarding schools in Alaska and the lower 48 states, including sharing a map with denominational involvement of protestant churches with schools and regions of Alaska. In meeting with American Baptist Churches USA, Jacuk shared that he believed this “is the first step in bring healing to not only my people, me, and those who come after me, but to my very own family who went and came back, or never came back at all [from the boarding schools].” He shared hopes for future work and learning together with American Baptist Churches USA.
A presentation was given by Church Mutual Insurance, brought by Brandon Smith (Church Mutual) and Jeff Dromeshauser (Sovereign). Smith took time to thank American Baptist churches for working with Church Mutual and Sovereign Insurance Group as an insurance provider, and shared about Church Mutual and Sovereign’s commitment to houses of worship and to American Baptist churches.
In usual business, the Board elected Bruce Van Der Beek as BGM Special Director to the International Ministries Board, affirmed the appointment of Susan Rice by International Ministries to the World Relief Committee, and confirmed the presidential appointment by Wolfe of Michele Nickens as Chair of the Credentials and Caucus Committee.
The board voted to adopt the 2022 budget presented by Budget Review Officer Paul Higgins, and Michele Nickens, Chair of the Credentials and Caucus Committee and Vice President of ABCUSA, gave the report of Changed Relationships of American Baptist churches across the United States and Puerto Rico.
Rev. Dr. Robin Stoops, interim associate general secretary for Mission Resource Development who joined the ABCUSA Office of the General Secretary staff in October, shared with the board his excitement for the work he will be doing in the coming months. Rev. Soozi Whitten Ford, interim associate general secretary for Regional Ministries gave a report of Regional Ministries transitions across the 33 regions of American Baptist Churches USA.
The board also heard from Rev. Dr. Harry Riggs, regional executive minister of the American Baptist Churches of Connecticut and Regional Executive Ministers Council (REMC) representative, who brought greetings on behalf of the REMC and Rev. Dr. Cheryl Dudley, REMC President.
On the final morning of the meetings, action group committee members from the board’s sub-groups (Beloved Community, Communicating ABC Identity, BGM Finance Committee, and the Committee on Christian Unity and Interfaith Relations) reported on their work completed over two session times held amidst the larger meeting.
BGM Director and Chair of the Committee on Christian Unity and Interfaith Relations, Raimundo Barreto, shared in his Committee’s report that he has been elected by the Assembly of the World Council of Churches delegates to the 150-member WCC Central Committee, and will serve until the next assembly in 2024.
During its final session on Sunday morning, November 6, a communion service was held and the board recognized retiring representatives Stephanie Commandest (Evergreen Baptist Association) and Marijane Kiley (West Virginia Baptist Convention), during its final session on Sunday morning, November 6.
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.