March 1st officially marks my one-year anniversary with you all as Executive Minister. In this past year I have traveled as far north as Camp Tamarack in Waupaca, as far west as First Baptist Church in La Crosse, and as far south as First Baptist Church in Beloit and First Baptist Church of Kenosha. I have visited 34 of our 59 churches for worship, shared in ministry opportunities with pastors and lay leaders, met with you in fellowship and worked alongside you in service together. If I haven’t visited your church yet, my plan is to do so over the next several months.
We are a gem of the American Baptist Churches, USA. With our congregations representing a variety of cultural and language backgrounds and community settings from urban to suburban to rural, we truly represent the diversity of our American Baptist family. In worship and theology and practice, we also differ from one another, and we have differed in our practices during Covid between virtual, in-person, and hybrid forms of worship, education, and fellowship. However, we hold these Baptist principles in common across all fifty-nine churches: our distinctives of soul liberty, congregational autonomy and interdependence, religious freedom, and the freedom to study the Bible and apply the Scriptures to our lives by direction of the Holy Spirit. We are the most diverse denomination in the state of Wisconsin, and yet we are small enough that we have opportunities to get to know one another and learn from each other, and those opportunities are growing and expanding this year with a return of the Teaching Pastor’s Forum and our Lay Leadership Trainings (we just held one for Board Leadership). There are opportunities at Camp Tamarack, and we hope to grow and share together what our churches are doing and how we can support one another as we share the Good News of Christ in our communities and beyond. Some of our churches are partnering together in new and exciting ways, such as witnessed by Milwaukee Myanmar Christian Church and Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church this past month.
As you may know, my passion is for the next generation of ministry leaders and am delighted to have that as our focus moving forward this year into our Annual Gathering at Green Lake October 13-15. We have high school youth and young adults in their 20’s and 30’s serving on our Program Committee. We also have young adults serving on our Board of Managers, who are helping craft our new purpose statement and vision. This is an exciting time!
Yes, even despite the decline of churches in the United States, the aging populations of many of our congregations, we know the Holy Spirit is at work. Church is not going to look like it did for many of us in our own childhood and youth. We must instead help the church become what is needed for people today, that they may receive the Good News of Jesus Christ and participate in the love of our neighbors. I am excited, even though it may mean some shifts in how we have done things before. We may see new types of worshiping communities develop even as older churches close. I am encouraged in the young leadership that is rising up and the new generation of believers. I am convinced that we are moving in the right direction, with the Holy Spirit’s direction and the love of Christ within us.
On this first anniversary, I look forward to many years ahead here in Wisconsin with you all, empowered by the Holy Spirit, for the sake of Jesus Christ in the world.
Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell