Saturday, July 27, 2013

New Life in Half Full Churches

Throughout my lifetime (FYI: I’m in my late thirties), denominations and religious institutions have been in decline.  Some have even declared the future of small membership churches to be bleak.  As I connect with our regional churches, I hear a lot of concerns lifted up, many ripple effects from this generation of decline and some from the roller coaster our global economy has been on for the past few years.  It’s tempting to think the glass is half empty, isn’t it?
Yet the evidence is to the contrary.  Local churches are finding vitality and new life from mission partnerships and creative ways of addressing local needs, preaching the Word and nurturing the next generation of believers.  Think of the possibilities when we become more at the ready to declare:  “The glass is half full!”
First Baptist Church of Cambridge, NY
Recently, I was close to the New York/Vermont border, spending the morning with the First Baptist Church of Cambridge, NY.  At the mealtime after worship, the pastor asked her congregants to share about the mission of this rural church.  At first, the conversation began slowly, yet it gained momentum as the members shared about the missions they carry out.  For a small membership congregation, these folks are quite remarkable! 
The church supports American Baptist missions and other projects, yet their greatest activity is local and missional.  A summer lunch program is underway with every Friday providing a meal for school age children and food to take home for the weekend and following week.  They take turns as the hosts of a monthly community meal, which draws together an intergenerational gathering of townspeople for a good home-cooked meal (for some attendees, it might be one of the few well-rounded meals they might have during the week) and fellowship (for all attendees, the conversation and community nourishes everybody). 
            I have offered my time and services to the congregation to facilitate a multi-church gathering for conversation, strategic planning and as I like to add, some work imagining together what might be possible. We will be exploring a time this fall to facilitate a conversation with the Cambridge Baptists and other interested parties about what other needs are going unmet and how the stakeholders can gather community-based solutions and skills to meet them.
In his writings, Paul said part of the work of church leaders is “to equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:12).  ABC NYS and the ABC/USA exist to encourage ministry within our local churches. Every congregation has an abundance of gifts to use and share within the church fellowship and around your community.  Small churches can be powerhouses, as evidenced by the number of good stories I hear around the region and elsewhere.  The challenge before us is to share these good words and look for ways that our story might inspire others to join in the good work of loving God and neighbor.
If we think collaboratively, we encourage the whole Body to know its unity and its diversity.  We also help each other live more perceptively and fully as a whole people, as “the Church”.  We live into what God has already made us: one Body, with Christ Jesus leading us on!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Spending time with fellow Baptists

Dr. Byron Williams, Moderator
of the Central Hudson Association,
convenes the Wednesday morning session.

On Wednesday, July 17, I attended the morning session in Albany, NY, of the Central Hudson Association, comprised of 40+ churches from just before NYC to the Capital District area of New York.  I attended part of the 91st Annual Session, a four day event gathering churches together for fellowship, worship and conducting association business.  I appreciate the encouragement of Pastors Everett Newton and Harry Brown, Jr., to attend these sessions.  Rev. Newton and Rev. Brown are two dually aligned clergy with the American Baptists and the National Baptist Convention.  The ABC NYS region has a number of dually aligned clergy and congregations within its own fellowship.

As part of my outreach to build up the relationships and partnerships with the ABCNYS region and its constituents and potential mission partners, I brought greetings at the outset of the morning session, inviting churches to imagine greater possibilities together than apart.

To the association moderator the Rev. Dr. Byron Williams, for his gracious welcome and kind invitation to bring greetings, to the gathered clergy, and to the congregants assembled into this one great body, and especially to those honored later today: our elders, who have brought us to faith and to grow up strong and to our youth, who shall carry on long after we have gone on, may God bless this wonderful day when we have gathered together.

I serve as the Associate Regional Minister for the American Baptist Churches of New York State.  That’s better known as 300+ churches from here to Buffalo, Canada and almost to the City.  And among these churches, we count a number of dually aligned churches.  So, while we have our own identities as conventions, we have some very important treasures shared in common:  these churches, these pastors and most importantly, our calling to be one in Christ Jesus.

Christ prayed that all who believed would be one, just as God and Christ are one.  From such a prayer, we have our unity.  Christ said we are one, yet we struggle from generation to generation to live into that reality. We still are a people in need a good reformation every once in awhile, for otherwise we might miss the Kingdom’s goal.  We need new ideas for emerging trends so that we can embrace the unfolding future.  Yet what we learned in Sunday school years ago still rises above it all.  The ancient wisdom as recorded by the Gospel according to St. John gives us the good word:  We are already one in Christ Jesus.

The work of living into that oneness is sometimes burdensome, sometimes uplifting, but all of it is gain for the glory of the Kingdom/Reign of God.   It is out of that biblical wisdom and theological conviction that I stand here this day, bringing greetings from one group of Baptists to another.

We have a great landscape of towns and cities in common, where we live and pray in the Central Hudson Association, aka for American Baptists as the MidHudson/Union and the Capital District associations.   Could we imagine together more opportunities to cooperate, to bring our churches together to share resources when it comes to meeting the deep needs of our communities?  How could our voices be raised together and our mission be shoulder-to-shoulder?

I would hope that you would visit with me and dream with ABCNYS about what can be done to strengthen our ties one to another.   The mission field is one we share in common.  Could we work together more often?  Could we share wisdom, talent and creativity? 

We have treasures to celebrate with shared churches and shared clergy.  We have much more opportunity to explore, one convention to another.

I can assure you it will be time well spent.  We are humbly living into the greater treasure we share:  being made One in Christ Jesus.

To learn more about the Central Hudson Association, visit
For more information about this year's association meeting, visit
To learn more about the American Baptist Churches of New York State, visit

Monday, July 8, 2013

Learning New Things

As I near the first month on region staff, I have been connecting with persons around New York State who are involved with American Baptist congregational ministry or related organizations.  The phone calls, the face-to-face interaction, and the emails are helping me get acquainted with the issues of "who's who" and "what's what".  Best of all, I am doing this work from a home office, which allows the graceful "interruptions" of a cat coming to visit or my refined elder beagle moseying in to see what's going on (with the hope that a treat may be close at hand).

Part of my work relates to congregational connections through Sunday morning worship.  Here's a sampling of "ministry contexts" where I have been or will be in the coming weeks:
* a historic downtown urban church with a history of social justice and engagement
* an urban congregation with a predominately Chinese speaking membership
* a rural church in a community where churches share ministry resources to cover needs
* a congregation pastored by a minister who is quite accomplished with social media
* a church where a pastor has served for well over twenty years among the community and congregants.

In each setting, I enter in as a guest, sometimes as the preacher, other times as one bringing brief greetings on behalf of the regional ministry.  Each time, I have been or I anticipate learning something new and wondrous along the way.  In a more traditional ministry setting, you stay within the rhythm and life of a particular congregation.  In regional work, you encounter persons and congregations in brief, yet you get a good look at what the Reign of God is up to in these places, rural and urban alike.

It's a different world than my last seven years of parish ministry.  I look forward to exploring it as part of my duties and calling as a minister in service with the American Baptist Churches of New York State.