Our American Baptist Family
On June 23 Carol and I are off to Overland Park, Kansas (suburban Kansas City) for the 2015 biennial meeting of American Baptist Churches, USA. First Baptist Church members Steve and Trudi Bils and Wayne and Leslie Cody will also be going.
Many of us are familiar with the international missionaries deployed by ABCUSA because of our personal connections to such wonderful servants of Christ as Lauran Bethell, Ann and Bruce Borquist, Glen and Rita Chapman, Ed and Miriam Noyes and Judith Sutterlin, and more recently, Tim and Kathy Rice and Emerson and Ivy Woo. Also, many of us have a long-standing connection to our regional family of churches, the American Baptist Churches of the Central Pacific Coast (formerly the American Baptist Churches of Oregon), through our participation in men’s and women’s ministries, camping and congregational outreach and leadership development initiatives.
But it’s not as easy to identify with a far-flung family of more than 5200 churches which brings its constituent parts all together only once every two years. Why is our identity as American Baptists so important? I could give a long list of reasons, but I will select just a few.
As a national family of churches, we do things in Jesus’ name that no individual congregation could do alone. American Baptists first came together around outreach and mission across the sea. American Baptist International Ministries is directly descended from the churches who together supported Adoniram and Ann Judson in their pioneering work in Burma from 1814 on. Today BIM works with regional and national partners, by their invitation, in over 86 countries.
American Baptist Home Mission Societies has been planting and supporting wholistic ministries in urban settings and frontier locales across North America since 1832. Today they support Christian Centers, chaplaincy projects, disaster relief, neighborhood action programs, camping ministries, campus ministries, justice projects, evangelism training and missional church training across our nation.
Our national family of churches is far and away the most diverse gathering of “mainline” Christians in the United States. We are white, black, Asian, Hispanic, both as congregations and within individual congregations. Recently thousands of Karen, Kachin and other ethnic minority people from Burma/Myanmar, whose Christian faith is directly derived from the ministry of the Judson’s and their associates, have arrived as refugees from the genocidal policies of the Burmese government, and have enriched the lives of the American Baptist congregations they see as their spiritual mothers. Today fully 50% of American Baptists are ethnic minorities.
Also, united in our profession of faith in Jesus as Lord, we are evangelicals, theological moderates and liberals, members of urban, suburban and small town churches, gathered in small, middle-sized and large congregations, and expressing ourselves in myriad worship forms, from Bach to contemporary praise music to Christian rap. Social justice pioneers such as Walter Rauschenbusch and Martin Luther King, Jr. were American Baptists. Evangelical scholars such as Carl F.H. Henry and David Scholer were American Baptists. American Baptists have included prophetic women leaders such as Helen Barrett Montgomery, Bible translator and convention president in 1921, and Rev. Mary Armacost Hulst, and peace activists such as Rev. George Hill and Dr. Jitsuo Morikawa.
In Overland Park, near the campus of Central Baptist Theological Seminary, where I served for fourteen years, Carol and I will experience the full spectrum of contemporary American Baptist life, in all of its richness. We will be reminded of our history and brought up to speed on our present. On June 25, I will deliver a paper at the American Baptist Theologians Conference, and on June 26, my former student Rev. Jerrod Hugenot — now associate regional minister of the American Baptist Churches of New York State — will join me in hosting the biennial dinner of the Roger Williams Fellowship. And we will immerse ourselves in the kaleidoscope of our shared life in Christ. Might you come with us? Our congregational support of the biennial means that registration for this event is only $40 for any FBC member. Information is online at www.americanbaptists2015.com . If you can’t send yourself, send your prayers, and help us celebrate our family in Christ.
—Dr. David L. Wheeler