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ABC USA Biennial Delegates' Reflections

Read news from the Biennial Mission Summit in Portland, Oregon by our delegates:
Rose Welch
Marcia McCarthy
Ivan Marable
Lynn McClellan
Tasha Wilson (A General Board Member)
Rev. Brent Bowden, Pastor.

If you would like to reply or make comments to these reflections, you can do so by going directly to the Pastor's blog at

July 2, mid-afternoon:
Your Delegation

We have learned, we have worshipped, we have shared table with one another and with countless others in the ABC USA family. Soon we'll be headed home to tell the stories. See you back in Rochester!

-Pastor Brent

Reflections of the Biennial

by Marcia McCarthy (submitted upon return)

Family Reunion:
Attending an ABC/USA gathering is a bit like a family reunion for me. Both literally and figuratively. I was raised as an American Baptist, and the denomination has always felt like family to me.

Though Ken was not able to go this year, I was able to spend time with my sister Mary Beth and bother-in-law, Bill who are American Baptists in Colorado. Mary Beth and I enjoyed a breakfast with other American Baptist Women, and one evening we sat together for the evening program. On Sunday evening we enjoyed dinner with a former pastor from our home church who had performed our mother's funeral service.

The gathering also gave me time to connect with figurative family: pastor friends (Ken and Peg Williams, George and Joanne Huffsmith, Don Ng, Cassandra Carkuff Williams, and more); women from a number of states that are involved in American Baptist Women's Ministries; and ABC/USA staff who I have gotten to know across the years. As figurative family I got to celebrate with Virginia Holmstrom as she is about to retire; and I had the chance to weep with a pastor friend whose husband passed away from cancer since we saw one another last July.

Challenging Bible Study:
One of the things I most enjoy about biennial gatherings or conferences I have attended is the Bible study. This year Rev. Dr. Marie Onwubuariri led the Bible studies for American Baptist Women's Day event on Friday, June 30.

Her morning scripture came from Amos the 6th chapter. She reminded us that our security lies only within our relationship to God and doing God's will - in no other place will we find lasting security. The afternoon study on Paul's message to the people of Athens was equally powerful. Kim Salico-Diehl was our worship/music leader for the day, and response she wrote to the scripture through music and spoken choral reading was very powerful!!

I also found very meaningful the preaching of the Rev. Dr. Jeffrey Haggray, Executive of American Baptist Home Mission Society. He used the passage from 1 Corinthians 12, with the reminder that we are all a part of the same body, even though we have different functions, and look different. We can not tell other parts of the body that they have no place in the body. Powerful reminders for all the divisiveness in our society; in the Christian church.

This was the first time that I have had the opportunity to attend an annual meeting of the Association for Welcoming and Affirming Baptists. Some of the people who were there have been part of this group for a long time. One of those persons is Rick Mixon who particularly wanted to be remembered to Ken Dodgson. Together we shed a tear for our sorrow at missing Sally Dodgson.

It was evident in reports from AWAB board members that Katherine Chapman (Katie), the executive director has been a great deal of help to the organization. She guided them in completing the work to qualify as a 501C3, (able to accept tax deductible charitable donations). She has worked to provide additional training for the board in education for the tasks of support so necessary for the Association to flourish.

The location of the AWAB booth was at an easily accessed location in the general display area. AWAB gave credit for this to our Interim General Secretary, Susan Gillies. ABC/USA groups were at the center of the hall; related organizations were around the outside of the hall. The staff and volunteers at the booth felt that the reception they received was positive for the most part.

The location of our biennial this year meant that there was a less conservative presence which happens when we meet in the midwest or the south of the country.

American Baptist Historical Society
I took advantage of going to the ABHS breakfast. It was exciting for me, a history major and librarian by profession, to learn of all the work being done on materials at the headquarters on the Mercer University campus in Atlanta, GA. it is an ongoing effort to digitize the huge number of records which are a part of this collection. Our sister church, West Henrietta Baptist won the George Younger Award for research in preparation for their 200th anniversary in 2015.

Denominational News:
The attendees were introduced to our new Executive Secretary, Dr. Lee B. Spitzer. He comes from the American Baptist Churches of New Jersey. I had heard "mixed reviews" about the "new kid on the block," and so I took the opportunity to ask someone from a New Jersey church what he thought our new Executive would bring to the denomination. He told me he thought Dr. Spitzer was just a great human being. He indicated he's a very good listener, especially when approaching decisions. I will look forward to learning more about this new public face for ABC/USA.

We learned of the sale of the denominational headquarters. When I was in college and visited the Mission Center, it was referred to by many as "The Holy Donut," as it was built in the round. Since it is no longer meeting the needs of the various components of the denomination, new property has been purchased and building is underway. I look forward to additional information as the work progresses.

July 1, late afternoon, PST: Quick Upate - Young Adults

In a panel discussion of seven diverse people from 3 generations answering the question, "What are the top things you look for in a church?" The answers are 1) inclusive/welcoming and 2) active in the community.

-Pastor Brent

July 1, 2017, mid afternoon, PST: Technical Issues+

Well, a variety of factors has made this blogging venture quite challenging. The Portland Convention Center is very limited in Wifi Access and Cellular signal. Allow me to fill you in briefly, with only a sentence, what I might have given a fuller report on with more reliable connectivity:
  • A meal shared with a group of people who are doing creative and wonderful ministry in the world such as using art to work through serious trauma.

  • A wonderful sermon by the Reverend Dr. Zina Jacque, pastor of the Community Church of Barrington, IL, encouraging individuals and the denomination that "scars don't grow on anything dead." The marks we bear from trauma, conflict, and loss are proof that we have made it through.

  • Our delegation delivering a special and extended contribution to the new Executive Director of the Alliance of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists at our annual meeting.

  • A life giving conversation on ending poverty that occurred as a part of the general program this morning. Ending poverty is possible, but it needs people of faith to take significant risk. Nobody in the conversation seemed to think that was a bad thing.

  • The great joy I had in FINALLY meeting the incomparable Rev. Ken Williams and Rev. Peg Williams in person. We shared breakfast, a few stories, and a few laughs. My gratitude for Ken's incredible pastoral presence at FBC Rochester goes back many months now and my gratitude for our friendship will continue, no doubt, well into the future.

  • The tremendous amount of energy your delegates are putting into their work and presence here at the biennial. We'll have plenty of news and information for you from Portland when we return.
I'll keep trying to post a thing or two when opportunity presents itself.

-Pastor Brent

July 1, 2017, mid afternoon, PST: Black Caucus Worship

The ABC USA 2017 Biennial opened last night with a rousing, uplifting National Black Caucus worship service. There was joyous music involving all in attendance; several focused prayers; and the message was delivered by Dr. James Forbes, retired pastor of Riverside Church, New York City. Dr. Forbes dealt with our many social and political issues head on - racial, health, immigration, sexual orientation and others - he challenged us to examine the issues, talk about them and ask what God wants to do about them - and how can we join God's "Dream Team" in their resolution. He referred us to four biblical passages in II Timothy and Acts. A timely message for us as individuals and for ABC USA deliberation.

-Marilyn McClellan

July 1, 2017, mid afternoon, PST: Black Caucus Worship

Dr. Forbes, during last evenings Black Caucus worship service called the Church in general and ABCUSA in particular out for being in a state of denial regarding the Church being in a challenging mess of trouble. The most interesting part of the message was the labels we assign ourselves and the cultural conduct we promote to support our fears and avoid the risk of trust and network accountability. Dr. Forbes shared the above is true for both the Black church and White church. He then argued for the need of a spiritual dream team. I will share more with those who are interested when we return home.

-Ivan Marable

June 30, After midnight EST:

Well, everyone is present and accounted for here in Portland. While Tasha has been busy with board work already and Lyn came in a couple of days early to see Portland, the bulk of the Biennial really begins tomorrow. Tonight, I did have the opportunity to gather with 81 other people in a program called “Orientation to American Baptist Life.” Together we will venture through these busy days with a special focus on learning the structure, ministries, programs, and culture of ABCUSA. Tonight’s event was just a mixer, but it occurs to me that something of the ABC spirit was already present. I met seminary students, pastors of small, rural congregations, a astor of a storied church situated just six blocks from the White House in Washington D.C., and a guy who pastors a church and runs a ministry out of a coffee shop.

Through there, I joined Tasha for the last bit of Worship sponsored by the ABC Black Caucus. Rev. William Barber, founder of the Moral Mondays Movement and President of the North Carolina NAACP, was supposed to preach, but missed his flight. In his stead Rev. James Forbes stepped up. He was the pastor of Riverside Church in New York City for 18 years and is a graduate of Colgate Rochester Divinity School. His fiery (and funny) sermon called all people to the work of reconciliation in these trying days.

Much more from me tomorrow.

-Pastor Brent

Thursday, June 29, 3:00 PM:

Our delegates should soon be arriving in Portland, Oregon, if they have not already there. Travel days have been varied from several days ago for General Board meetings to late Thursday arrivals. As soon as reflections begin to be sent, this page will update. If you wish to respond or to ask questions, the blog allows for this option. We look forward to keeping you informated as our delegates represent us at this national event.

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