Kevin Walden, Associate General Secretary of the American Baptist Churches USA addressed the ABCVNH Annual Gathering 2019 with this brief meditation on Christian Unity.
On Friday and Saturday, March 8 and 9, some 230 American Baptists from all over Vermont and New Hampshire Region came together to conduct business, to worship, to learn, to pray and…to be together.
The great weekend event advance our awareness of the mission that is right at our doorstep through the theme “How Will They Know?” This is why Friday began with the Ministers Council deciding to increase their financial commitment to ministry, and with two great workshops on how our churches can best finance our gospel ministry and how we can learn how to be the salt of the earth where we are.
We heard good news Friday afternoon at the Region Business Meeting. Bob Wyand, the Region Financial Secretary, announced that the Regional Offering is up, and our budget deficit is down. In fact, ABCVNH is one of a small handful of ABC Regions in the country whose offerings were up over last year. We can only attribute this to the work of the Holy Spirit. Dale Edwards reported on the variety of ministry initiatives fostered among a variety of congregations by the region’s small staff and a host of volunteers. He ended by stating that in spite of everything, “I am the most optimistic I have ever been about the Kingdom of God in New England.”
After a time of singing great hymns to God’s glory, Dr. Emmett G. Price III of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary brought the evening to the right conclusion with his message on Luke 11 that took us from the Sycomore Tree to the Cross. Woven into the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus, Dr. Price posed challenging questions like, “How many people are seeking Jesus but can’t find him because church people are in the way?” While church people tend to cloister in sanctuaries and discuss in deacons meeting, Jesus is out in the streets and the alleys, seeking the lost where no other man or woman is ready to go. “Jesus,” Dr. Price said, “is not so much asking who will go, as he is asking who will go with me?”
Kevin Walden, the Associate General Secretary of the ABC-USA presided over the Lord's Supper to close the evening, offering a powerful meditation on Christ's sacrifice for us. It was good to commune in Spirit as we remembered his saving work for us, and received his presence at his table.
Saturday began with recognition of ordination anniversaries for those in ministry, as well as recognition of new ministries launched. We welcomed in Fireside Church and Blueprint Ministries. We also were able to acknowledge two people, Andrew Barnes, and Rhonda Houston, who have completed the Institute for Learning program for Pastoral Ministry.
Sharon Koh, the Executive Director of ABC International Ministries, addressed the Gathering before lunch with a great reflection on the meaning of 205 years of gospel mission. Initially formed as the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society in 1814, she reflected on the deep roots of gospel mission in the American Baptist soul. She is herself the product of that gospel work, as her grandmother first heard the gospel from American Baptist Missionaries in Swatow China. She challenged us with a word from Luke 5 as Jesus told the parable of new wine and old wineskins.
Rev. Koh encouraged us to gospel faithfulness. She reminded us that Jesus was saying “let the old be old. Let the new be new. And understand what you have to do in the time with both of them….The church of Jesus Christ is not dying out. It is embracing a new chapter in our history while trying to understand all that we are going to and all that we are coming from.”
Then she went on to assert that when we ask the question, “How will they know?” we will find the answer as we learn to stop thinking of “them” as “them.” As we learn their stories, and connect them to our stories, we can learn to share the story of Jesus together as God’s way of becoming us.
The early afternoon offered several excellent and challenging workshops on how we can be taking the gospel to our neighbors, so that they will know and believe.
Finally, Dale Edwards, Regional Minister, sent the Gathering out with a challenge to be both Sent and Surrendered. Jesus sends all his people to go out on his mission. Dale recalled how in 1983 he realized that being sent is not the end of it. “I don’t want to live in the shallow place. I want the sent to be surrounded by surrender…I was meant – we were meant – to be surrendered in the sending. I want to be sent with all of you, the body of Christ, in the name and in the power of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
With those words, the Gathering was dismissed so that we could go out to love and serve our home congregations and communities with the love and good news Jesus. Pray that in the year ahead that he will show himself faithful in us, and do mighty works of redemption so that we can celebrate them with renewed excitement when we gather again in 2020.
The countdown has started. We are just 5 brief days from the start of our 2019 Annual Gathering of the American Baptist Churches of Vermont and New Hampshire. This gathering is a great opportunity to celebrate, learn, pray, love, and serve together with Baptists brothers and sisters from all over the Region.
Everyone who attends is making a significant investment in time and money. So don’t come in cold and unprepared. There are some things you can do to help insure that you get the most out of your time at the AG. Not just for you, but for everyone in your congregation.
Pray that the Holy Spirit will encourage and strengthen our hearts for his mission.
The theme for this year’s Annual Gathering is “How will they know?” It is a question anchored in the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans chapter 10. “…how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?” (ESV). So as we consider the mission at our doorstep here in Northern New England, let’s pray that God will prepare and stimulate us to proclaim his good news to our neighbors right where we live.
Share a ride so you can talk about your experience with a friend.
Talking with a friend is the best way to process your experience after an event like the Annual Gathering. You can both share what you have learned, and how you think it might be helpful to you going forward. Your friend may have noticed things you did not, or attended workshops you didn’t and so can give you a perspective you missed. You will remember more of your weekend if you talk about with a friend, so share the ride.
Have conversations with 2 people you only see at the Annual Gathering
Some of you go to the Annual Gathering every year. You see the same faces over and over again and even though you only see them once a year, you count them as good friends. Make a point of catching up with them for more than a quick hello. Sit down for lunch or coffee and talk about what is going on in your churches. Pray together and keep in touch through the year.
Pray that the Spirit will convict you of something you need to do or stop doing.
God is certainly a God of encouragement and help. Sometimes the way he encourages and helps is to give us a good dope slap when we really need it. It hurts, but if it wakes us up to his will and draws us closer to him – it is a good thing. Pray that God will act to change your heart, even if it hurts.
Ask at least 2 Exhibitors how they can help your congregation
.The hallway will be packed with tables from exhibitors ranging from Regional Ministries to Credit Unions and Insurance companies. Don’t just pass these tables by. Stop and ask one simple question – how can you help my congregation? You may be surprised by the answers you get and come away with a few new ideas.
Have conversations with at least 2 people you don’t already know
I know your mother told you never to talk to strangers. Well, your mother isn’t here and you are now old enough to talk to strangers. This is actually one of the best parts of the Annual Gathering – making new friends. Introduce yourself and where you are from and then just start asking questions about your new friend. Find things you share in common and ask about their church. Make sure you pray for each other before your conversation is over and keep in touch through the year.
Pray for the Speakers that they will speak in the power of the Holy Spirit.
We have some great speakers lined up. They are preparing now, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to deliver to you the words you need to hear. Take some time right now and every day this week to pray for them, that God would put on their hearts and in their mouths the words that God knows we all need to hear.
Take Notes on the Speakers, and Share notes with your Congregation
No, this isn’t class and there will not be a test. So you do NOT need to brush up your shorthand, or record every point of the speaker’s outline. But have a notebook and pen with you so that when the speaker says something that does strike you, you can write it down. This helps you engage and listen, because you are listening for the good nuggets. Then be sure to share what you wrote down with someone else later. That way it blesses you and them a second time.
Listen to the Speaker recordings again within 2 weeks after the AG.
We are making plans to record the speakers this year so that we can publish their presentations on Social media and on our website. Sometime in the next 14 days following the Annual Gathering, go to our Facebook page or website and listen again the talks given at the Annual Gathering. Things you didn’t hear the first time will pop out. Things you heard and like will impress you again. Then make sure to share your favorite parts with someone in your congregations who could not attend. This adds value to the lives of all involved.
Pray that the Good News of Jesus will be proclaimed across Vermont and New Hampshire.
New England has a bit of a reputation for being unacquainted with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Lots of churches. Even a fair number of church people – but not much gospel. We are working to change that, praying for and laboring for gospel renewal and grace awakening in our cities, towns, and villages all over Vermont and New Hampshire. We must, however, soak all of or work and talk in prayer, calling upon the Spirit to empower us to be faithful, and to open the hearts and ears of our neighbors to hear. Pray now. Pray during. Pray later. Keep praying.
Find someone from a church similar in size to yours and talk about what your congregations are doing
.There are 140 or so American Baptist Congregations in Vermont and New Hampshire. If you are wondering what your church can be doing to share Jesus with your neighbors, you should start talking to people from other churches. You will find that you share many of the same challenges. You will also find that your new friends may have found solutions to those challenges. If nothing else, you will come away feeling a little less isolated and lonely. Make sure you pray for one another, and continue praying and talking through the year.
Commit to praying for one another all year long until the next Annual Gathering.
What we really want to be able to say next year is, “Look what God has done.” It is never about us, our plans, our programs, our resources. It is about God, working through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, proclaimed in the power of his Holy Spirit. When we pray, we call upon God to keep his promises to save. And when he answers – he gets the credit. So start praying now and keep praying all year long that God will show himself faithful in New Hampshire and Vermont during 2019. Praise God, from whom all blessings flow.
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