In my address to the participants and delegates at the ABCCONN Annual meeting held in September 2021, I invited ABCCONN to imagine a new paradigm of the regional ministry. I preposed that we who make up ABCCONN rethink our priorities by making the relationship with one another the priority.
Baptists have always held relationships as a critical component of our identity. We know this component as the principle of association. We have learned that we are stronger together by association than we are apart. I believe we hold this belief because of our firm commitment to local Church autonomy. Because, as we all know, autonomy left on its own without being balanced with relationships of association is not good.
There are several reasons Baptists have historically chosen to embrace the principle of association. Fortunately, each of those reasons has built on the legacy of the previous – transcend and include. The first is to support missions; after that came denominational loyalties. Most recently, the denomination’s ability to provide services and programs to the Churches. However, we now find ourselves at another crossroads asking, what is the next innovation in the denominational glue that will hold us together and forge a path into the future?
Dr. Martin Luther King used a term he called the Beloved Community. Imagine what ABCCONN would be if we strove to be the beloved community. What is meant by the phrase, Beloved Community? I think that King was referring to lofty ideals where unity is the reality, where genuine intergroup and interpersonal living happens among people who have historically been separated. The place where everyone is given space to be their authentic selves, and each culture and ethnic group in the body of Christ are affirmed, in all their uniqueness, to be fully human and beloved of God. This kind of unity acts as the liminal space into a type of inclusion where every voice is given the existential space to be understood, heard, honored, and respected.
The Beloved Community is what I would like to see us become. It is the single most outstanding work to be done in the church, where the diverse body of Christ is brought together to love, live, and work alongside one another. The thought of being a Beloved Community is how I understand our Vision Statement that reads: ABCCONN Churches Embodying Christ’s Love. Everything we do results from our living, loving, and working together, making the Love of Christ known.
To be the Beloved Community of God is the kind of goal befitting a denominational group like ABCCONN. All our cultural and ethnic identity groups have equal access and voice so that together we venture into the future.