For those of you not familiar with the American Baptist Churches, USA, you can go to our website www.abc-usa.org. We meet for biennial gatherings much like the Disciples of Christ meet for General Assembly and the United Church of Christ meet for General Synod. Two years ago, at our Biennial Meeting in Puerto Rico (I was unfortunately unable to attend), a new structure and bylaws were passed for our denomination. As a result, our Biennial gathering this year changed to a Mission Summit format. What that means is that there was a lot less formal business and more opportunity for conversation.
Of course, these are just my views, but here they are: I enjoyed the Mission Summit format. We were given a list of over thirty topics to choose from and got to go to the table of our topic of choice and meet others interested in the same topic (some topics had two or three tables—and each table had a facilitator). There were three rooms of conversations, under the categories of Our Future, Our Leaders, and Our Witness. We had some basic questions to get us started in the conversation, and after an hour or so, we got back together as a larger group in our category and each table shared a major insight/learning. We had two more opportunities for this, in which we could stay with the same subject and go deeper, or we could switch topics. I met new people, had good conversations, and even took away some ideas for my congregation. Practical stuff.
What I missed: the fact that our formal business session was fifteen minutes, to accept the nominations as slated. We have done away with our old Statements of Concern process to create new Public Witness Statements (which there were none presented at this gathering). The Resolution and Policy Statements of old are gone. Old resolutions can be amended or rescinded through a process, but no new ones can be created under the new bylaws. For some, this perhaps is a victory—the Statements of Concern process, which I witnessed firsthand at the Denver Biennial in 2005, was a painful and abusive process by some churches wanting to impose their views on homosexuality as a sin onto others. The resolution process was also abused. But now, we no longer make any resolutions. The new process for the Public Witness Statements is still unknown and relatively untested (a few regions have passed Public Witness Statements, but only a few, and it being so new, there were none for this gathering).
Who are we? What are we doing? We are answering the question well within our gathering. We are a diverse body in worship, fellowship and mission. I enjoyed the worship services, the beauty of music from around the world, dynamic speakers and positive messages. I enjoyed meeting new people and reconnecting with my Baptist roots. But outside of our gathering—who knows us? Who knows who we are and what we are doing, what we believe and what we say about ourselves? And as one of the few Tweeters during the entire gathering, I was disappointed with the denominational use of social media, that barely existed before the Mission Summit and was gone as soon as it was finished (by the way, the topic I chose for the Mission Conversations was Social Media).
I look forward to attending the next Mission Summit, I really do. But I hope that we American Baptists will find our voice again, will be willing to risk and to state what we believe in, what we hold dear—even if others do not feel the same way, even if it is controversial. I hope that we haven’t made the decision to simply avoid conflict by not saying anything at all.