As this 200th anniversary year ends, I am assessing what has been accomplished over my past six years as the Executive Minister. This assessment has led me to a couple of observations. The first observation is that we are starting fresh and new from this point forward. Where we had been in transition, it can now safely be said that we have moved past the threshold into a new place. The phrase I have been using to describe being in this new place is “Uncharted Waters.” We have arrived at seas heretofore unnavigated and uncharted, meaning we have come into a frontier that we have never been to before. Of course, one could argue that we have been in these uncharted waters for some time now, and I would not argue. However, we sailed those waters in a vessel built for different sailing conditions. The vessel I am referring to is the previous Bylaws and Board structure, and the uncharted waters were the context and times the churches and region found themselves in.
So, when I say we are in uncharted waters, I am not only referring to the current circumstances of post-pandemic and post-modern times that the church and our denomination face but also the new methods of a set of new Bylaws and Board structure. We will enter this new vessel trusting in its potential by letting go of what we have already accomplished and pressing on to achieve various accomplishments that have not been seen. Our new vessel, the Bylaws and Board structure, is the vessel for which these unknown seas have been built. Consequently, I believe these are exciting times.
My second observation is that now, more than ever, we need to come together and lean into our associational heritage. For the new vessel to stay afloat will depend on the local Church balancing Baptist autonomy with the principle of Baptist association. In other words, the vessel needs all hands on deck – all churches engaged. As the Apostle Paul has been noted for saying, we are called to live collaborative and unified lives. Furthermore, Paul calls us to live in a way that does not deny the full autonomous role of each person and each Church while not letting our freedom prevent us from acting together. ( See I Corinthians 12:12-21)
I genuinely believe the future is bright for the Church and our association of Churches, but only if we are willing to work together. There is so much we can do if we are eager to be the body of Christ and the family of God. This will mean we will not allow minor matters that divide and separate us, but we will have courageous conversations and respect the ground that others stand that is different from our own. Furthermore, we will intentionally focus on the significant and essential matters. Essential matters like missions will be our unifying charge. We will accomplish unique missional endeavors that would not and could not be done if we were living in isolation from one another. Agreeing on where to put our mission focus will take serious effort, focus, and attention, but the result will be worth the work. Thus, we will grow in the unity of Christ and model to the world what the LOVE of God looks like. Therefore, I invite you to come aboard! Let’s set sail in these waters together, knowing our strength is our unity.
The following is taken from the Bylaws to show what working together looks like for churches that consider themselves on board.
The membership of ABCCONN shall be comprised of American Baptist Churches that meet the American Baptist Churches, USA (ABCUSA) Common Criteria:
- Affirm the statement entitled, We are American Baptists, revised June 19, 1998
- Affirm the mission/purpose of American Baptist Churches, USA, and the American Baptist Churches of Connecticut (ABCCONN).
- Participate in the life and mission of American Baptist Churches at the associational, regional, national, and international levels.
- Share with the ABCCONN family the impact of the local Church’s ministries in reaching the community and world for Christ by reporting annually on forms supplied by the region and ABCUSA.
- Financially support the mission of American Baptist Churches of Connecticut and American Baptist Churches USA at a responsible level.
- Nominate (2) delegates besides the pastor to represent their Church at the Annual Meeting and other specially-called meetings for delegates.