VALLEY FORGE, PA (ABNS 02/09/07)-Initially formed early in 2006, a new Association of American Baptists in the Southwest (ABC-SW) has begun reaching out to ABC churches in that area. Their goal is the rebuilding of regional infrastructure for over 200 churches in the former Pacific Southwest Region (PSW).
According to Rev. Jose Guerra, member of the Association's Coordinating Committee, informal meetings in Alhambra, CA and Phoenix, AZ in recent months have yielded opportunities for churches to discover what resources are still available to them under ABCUSA as well as what process will be in place as they make their individual decisions on organizational membership.
The first formal meeting will take place in Los Angeles during the American Baptist Churches of Los Angeles' (ABCLA) Mission Conference (held March 2-4, 2007 and sponsored jointly by ABCLA, ABC-SW and International Ministries featuring American Baptist speaker, Tony Campolo. Approximately 200 churches will be invited via letter to this meeting (March 3) representing all former PSW churches who have not formally declared separation. At this meeting, the Coordinating Committee for ABC-SW will form task forces to address such topics as leadership, bylaws, mission priorities and identity. The goal of these task forces is to have proposals in place to be voted on at the Association's second organizational meeting on May 4 in Los Angeles.
Dr. Bill Godwin, pastor of University Baptist Church in Palm Desert, CA, said that his church was "excited about the upcoming organizational meetings." The church voted to withdrawal from the former PSW in November 2006 and also voted to transfer its deed to ABCUSA at that time until they realign with a new region.
While the new Association forms, ABCLA will be acting as "shelter and support in the spirit of Good Samaritan response" for churches who desire to remain American Baptist according to ABCLA Executive Minister, Dr. Samuel S. Chetti. Their support will act as an administrative bridge between former PSW churches and the denomination until the Association votes to either form a new region or to join an existing one.
"There is a positive missional future for American Baptists in the Southwest," said the Rev. Dr. A. Roy Medley, general Secretary for American Baptist Churches, USA (ABCUSA). "The denomination, including National Ministries, International Ministries and MMBB, is committed to working alongside these congregations to strengthen both their life and their expressions of mission.. Dr. Jeff Woods, Associate General Secretary for Regional Ministries, on behalf of the denomination, is working with ABCLA and the churches to form an association that will achieve these goals.
"Because of the dedicated efforts of Drs. Alonso Cooper and Joe DeRoulhac, and the Revs. Jose Guerra and Jim Kilinsky, a continuing American Baptist ministry and witness is growing in the region. In response to the request of my office on behalf of the denomination, the American Baptist Churches of Los Angeles led by Dr. Sam Chetti, agreed to provide strategic and administrative support to their efforts. Former IM missionaries, the Revs. Stan Crews of Phoenix, AZ and Chuck Shawver of Glennville, CA, together with Revs. Jose Menendez and Dennis Casaje of Los Angeles, CA will provide outstanding support to these congregations in their new role as 'Regional Associates' for the budding association."
The four Regional Associates are available to all former PSW churches to answer questions about organization, resourcing and programs. Also, assisting the new Association is new ABCLA staff member, Debbie Gentry. For further information, please call 213-955-4950.
Churches that belong to both the denomination and the region still retain their membership in both organizations unless they make a formal announcement of separation. To date, ABCUSA has received 16 formal declarations of separation from over 200 former PSW churches, although only 14 of those have stated that they chose to align themselves to the former ABCPSW, now known as Transformation Ministries. The new organization has not yet begun the process of confirming church affiliation, so no numbers of churches who have formally separated from Transformation Ministries are available. Other possibilities open to churches are to belong to both bodies or to separate from both of them.
Questions still exist for former PSW churches concerning deeds, titles and other financial matters but will most likely be dealt with on a case-by-case basis as churches make their individual decisions regarding membership.
Even as these changes have occurred and Transformation Ministries has begun to function as a new organization of churches, some cooperation for the sake of mission has continued. On January 17, Reid Trulson, executive director of the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society, known as International Ministries (IM), and Dale Salico, executive minister of Transformation Ministries, signed an Agreement of Cooperation in mission. Trulson notes that the mission society has been engaged in broad collaborative efforts for the sake of Christ's mission since its inception. In 1819 the mission society joined forces with the Richmond African Baptist Missionary Society to jointly appoint Lott Carey and Colin Teague as its first missionaries to the African continent. Trulson explains, "Cooperation with a wide range of church, non-denominational and secular agencies is one of the 15 core mission principles that guide the way IM responds to Christ's call to global mission."
IM and Transformation Ministries have agreed to work together to provide churches and individuals a wide variety of ways to become personally engaged in international mission, including prayer, short-term mission experiences and involvement in the ministries of IM missionaries. Transformation Ministries' involvement in the work of IM missionaries will include continued participation in the World Mission Offering-the single largest source of financial support for IM missionaries-and in the development of Missionary Partnership Networks and Teams. The agreement does not follow the ABCUSA denominational pattern of providing for representation from either Transformation Ministries or IM in the governance or employment structures of each other's agency. IM's By-laws require candidates for missionary appointment to be American Baptists or Baptists whose denomination is in fellowship with the Baptist World Alliance.
Notwithstanding, Transformation Ministries is moving forward on its path of separation from the rest of the denomination. According to Rev. Bruce P. Schipul, Church Resource Minister for Transformation Ministries, the new organization has gained membership in the National Association of Evangelicals and they have just organized their own Women's Ministries body.
For American Baptists in the area, mission work continues. On February 18, a worship service at The Terraces, an American Baptist-related Homes and Caring Ministries retirement community, will provide the opportunity for those interested in creating a possible new ABC congregation to gather together. New Church Planting Coordinator for National Ministries, Dr. Thomas V. Johnson went on to speak about an additional event for Phoenix-area churches. "Later that same afternoon, at the Monte Vista Baptist Church , there will be an introductory session of missional church training for ABC churches and any interested individuals. The goal is to break out of the survival mentality that has gripped many churches and recreate a strong sense of missional outreach to the community."
Andrew C. Jayne American Baptist Churches, USA Mission Resource Development http://www.abc-usa.org/