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.
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