News

God Is Making A Way Through. Do You Sense It?

Dear friends,

We are one month away from the 178th Annual Gathering of the American Baptist Churches of Wisconsin! Be sure to join us on Saturday, October 8th, from 8:30-4:30 at First Baptist Church of Beloit. Hotel information, registration, and more can be found here.

Our guest speaker is my friend Rev. Rick Barlow. Rick is a development consultant with the American Baptist Foundation and serves as a Servant Leader at Seattle’s historic Mt. Zion Baptist Church. Some of you know Rick through his work in the foundation, others know him as a gifted preacher. He is my friend, and I’m glad he will be with us for our celebration together.

This is one of our first in-person events since the pandemic began in March 2020. We are also offering the gathering online as Covid is still a risk, and we are glad to be able to embrace current technology for a hybrid experience. Whether you join us in-person or online, we do hope you will register for the Annual Gathering.

This year, our focus is on reconnecting with one another and seeking the wisdom of the Holy Spirit as God calls us into a new time. Our theme of Isaiah 43:19 reminds us that God is the one who makes a way in the wilderness. The verse prior states that God is “about to do a new thing; now it springs forth. Do you not perceive it?”

What is it that is on the tip of your tongue? What is it that is just beyond your vision? What is it that you are reaching for? God is doing something new among us as American Baptist Churches of Wisconsin. As I visit our churches, I am seeing where God is making a way through this wilderness: of Covid, politics, greed, environmental degradation, racism, sexism, poverty, and all the other barriers that might try to stop us. God is making a way through. Can you sense it?

Join us on October 8th. We will have fellowship. We’ll have a time of Table Conversations to share what we have learned and lost over the last two years and what we hope for. We will share in the business of the region together: electing our new Board of Managers, sharing the news around us, and looking to our future with hope. To top it off, we’ll have a wonderful celebratory lunch followed by worship together (and worship will be streamed on Facebook Live).

Register now for the 178th Annual Gathering, with Rev. Rick Barlow preaching.

 

With you on the journey of faith,

Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell
Executive Minister

Gearing Up For Autumn

Dear friends,

The back-to-school sales have begun. It’s still summer, but autumn is creeping closer. For many congregations, this is the first fall since 2019 where Christian Education ministries for children are resuming, since young children are finally able to be vaccinated. There is a lot of expectation and hope moving forward.

Yet we are still in a pre-post-pandemic world. Covid cases rise and fall with new variants. Some families are still uneasy about sending children to church. Others have found that the two plus years of online worship works better for their busy family schedules. As much as we may feel in-person worship is the best way to worship together, we know that for some it isn’t possible, especially those who are immunocompromised.

The return to in-person worship services after Covid closures has plateaued. While online attendance is up since pre-Covid times (how many of our churches had online service options before Covid?) it has remained roughly the same since last year.

Something has to shift. We are being asked to be adaptive and to change yet again. I know this is difficult. The world we once knew has changed, and in some ways the last two years have felt like twenty. Some churches who cannot adapt will close in the next five years. What is the determining factor?

“For the love of Christ urges us on” (2 Corinthians 5:14a). While there are some practical things we must do, such as adapting to digital space and connecting with our community (both online and in person) in tangible ways, there is one thing we must do: move forward in the love of Christ. We cannot stay the same. The rest of verse 14 into verse 15 reads “because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore, all have died. And Christ died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.” We are reminded by Paul’s words that Christ died for all. For everyone. We live for Christ and not for ourselves, and if we live for Christ, we live for one another.

The churches I see that are thriving are the churches connecting with the needs of their neighbors and truly living out their love for Christ: through food banks, mental health services, community gardens, after-school programs, ministry to neighbors who live on our streets. People not connected with a church can become connected when they see a church living out their ministry and inviting them into those opportunities. Too often we focus on inviting people to worship on Sunday first. However, inviting someone into a tangible way of serving our neighbors in need is often even more life-transforming.

If you and your congregation are discerning where God might be calling you to shift, I hope you will consider attending “Adaptive Change: Responding to Volatile Times” on August 11th at 7pm on Zoom, as we listen and learn from congregations in ABCWI who have participated in the ReShaping Church initiative through Central Seminary. These are churches who are learning through this Covid time how to discern and integrate lasting change. We invite you to come and learn together.

This may be the perfect way to gear up for autumn, back to school and back to church. However, I hope you remember that numbers are not always a great indicator. While we love to see more people in worship, it’s the lives transformed that matter, and sometimes those people never set foot in our churches. But the love of Christ urges us on. Let Christ’s love urge you on, to not lose heart, to be encouraged. Even the churches Paul planted struggled (and not one of them survived to today!) but they transformed lives in the moment they were in. Perhaps that is the most we can do with the time given to us, to be transformed by Christ and to help others experience that transformative love.

With you on the journey of faith,

 

Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell
Executive Minister

How About A Do-Over?

Dear friends,

 

The first half of 2022 is over. I don’t know about you, but with all the news lately of violence and political upheaval, trials and court rulings and elections—I feel like 2022 could use a do-over.

 

And why not? We serve a God of new beginnings. God wipes the slate clean and starts new:

 

Psalm 40:3: “The Lord put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.”

Psalm 51:10: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.”

Jeremiah 31:31: “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.”

Ezekiel 18:31: “I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them; I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh.”

 

We just passed the point when the earth is furthest from the sun, called aphelion, even though it is summer in the northern hemisphere due to the tilt of the earth’s axis. So from July 4th, 2022, on until perihelion around January 4th, we are moving back toward the sun, though our days are technically shortening and daylight lessening. We will be in midwinter right when we are closest to the sun. In the darkest time of the year, we are closest. In the brightest time of the year, we are furthest. And so is the dance of the universe. Even when things should be getting better in our world as we come out of Covid, the world may seem pretty bleak. Yet one thing is certain: God is still the center of our movement, our constant gravity pull. God is the center of our revolution. Who is God calling you to be in the remainder of this year?

 

As we continue to emerge in this pre-post-Covid time, we are learning how to be the church in new ways. We now are online as well as in-person. We are creating new ministries and new ways of connecting with one another as the church as well as connecting to our surrounding community and meeting the needs of the people. Our neighborhood now includes the digital world, which has different boundaries than a physical neighborhood. What is God calling you to do in the newness of this time?

 

One final verse: Isaiah 43:19: “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” This is our verse for our Annual Gathering on October 8th, 2022 at First Baptist Church Beloit. We will be exploring how God is making a way through the wilderness, and where God is calling us to be trailblazers. Because God is always doing something new in the world. God is always doing something new in us. Are you ready? Can you perceive it?

 

Making our way together in faith,

 

Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell
Executive Minister

From Comfort to Hope

Dear friends,

May was not the month I expected or hoped for. Personally, illness and injuries plagued my family, so I had to cancel some of my planned visits and meetings this month.

However, it was the violence that ripped through communities which broke me, again. Milwaukee. Buffalo. Galena, California. Uvalde, Texas. A culture of violence that is shaped by white supremacy, toxic forms of masculinity, power and greed, and loud voices willing to point the finger and lay blame but not willing to compromise and work together. We’re all tired of this, and the lack of political will to end gun violence.

I’m thankful for the witness of our pastors and churches this past week, from sharing prayers and ringing church bells in solidarity with the community of Uvalde, to attending the community prayer vigils with calls to action in Milwaukee and Madison. It encouraged me to see familiar faces when I attended the vigil in Milwaukee, to know that our American Baptist family care about the most vulnerable among us.

That movement of solidarity and call to action gives us comfort. But what gives us hope in times of such despair?

For me, I am encouraged by what I see in our churches. Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Madison partners with Anesis Family Therapy. They provide free drop-in mental health services every Tuesday and Thursday. First Baptist Church in Kenosha is partnering with a mobile mental health services unit that will provide drug treatment and mental health care from their church parking lot in the mornings. Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church in Milwaukee has a community garden, growing vegetables for the neighborhood and planning a peace walk path in the garden. Greater Galilee Baptist Church’s Greater Life Community Center continues to make a difference in their neighborhood and beyond with several organizations partnering to provide counseling, dance, martial arts, health care, and much more to the community.

When I hear and see and experience these stories, I know that the Holy Spirit is alive and at work in our churches in how they engage and impact the community around them, sharing Christ’s love in real, tangible ways.

I have hope because God is bringing forth life in a world of violence and death, and God is doing it through our churches here in Wisconsin. No matter the size of a congregation or budget, God needs us, all of us, in order to build the beloved community on earth as it is in heaven. I know that the Spirit is moving in ways of discernment, dreaming, and idea-sharing of what God is calling you to do, and who God is calling you to be. We all have gifts to share God’s love, and we can partner with each other to share our resources, our time and talents, and together be the change we need to see in our world, as the American Baptist Churches of Wisconsin.

 

With you on the journey of faith,

Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell
Executive Minister

Christ is Risen, Indeed!

Dear friends,

Christ is Risen, Indeed! The Easter season lasts 7 weeks until Pentecost (this year, Pentecost is on June 5th). In this Easter season, we remember that the disciples experienced the risen Christ as we experience the arrival of spring, as the old hymn “Now the Green Blade Riseth” sings:

Now the green blade riseth, from the buried grain,
Wheat that in dark earth many days has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.

As we emerge in this “pre-post-Covid” time, many of our churches gathered in person for the first Easter since 2020. Some are resuming fellowship with food; others are remaining cautious in care of their elderly and immunocompromised members. One thing we know for certain: our ministry will contain an online component for the future. We have to. Our neighborhoods are no longer the streets around us but the digital reach of our website, streaming and social media.

The Commission on Congregational Mission is hard at work putting together a survey to help your congregations get the support and help they need for technical assistance. This survey will help the Commission pair up churches with volunteers who can assist congregations with needs for upgrading and learning new technology.

We are also recognizing that many of our clergy have carried heavy burdens during this pandemic time. My hope in the next year is to provide space and opportunities for clergy to find respite and renewal. We will be providing spaces (online and in-person) for clergy to gather, to share in their needs, and to have time of retreat and rest. I encourage church leadership to make sure your pastors are taking their days off every week and vacation time. I also hope church leaders will recognize the need for mental health care and provide time and funding, whenever possible, for that care.

I also know many of our churches have experienced loss and grief: death of loved ones, inability to hold funeral services, people who had to move during the pandemic and were unable to say goodbye in person. Many seniors in assisted living facilities have not been out of their homes in two years and may never return to visit in person while they are alive. Church leadership may be wondering how the church will survive moving forward.

And yet, “like wheat that springeth green,” life grows again. We are experiencing a new chapter, with new possibilities for digital ministry and hybrid opportunities. For far too long, churches have been focused on how many people attend Sunday worship and how much money comes into the plate as metrics of success. The pandemic has forced us to shift our thinking and our values. It’s forced us to change our methods and technology. It’s caused us to shift our inward thinking about growth away from the metrics of dollars and people, to outward—how we are reaching people with Christ’s love and what resources we can share.

This shift has been desperately needed for some time. While we didn’t need a pandemic, we did need a wake-up mind-shift. Your region, the American Baptist Churches of Wisconsin, is experiencing this shift. My goal is to spend less time in my office over the next year and instead spend more time in your churches, meeting with your pastors and lay leaders, and cultivating this new harvest in this new season of growth.

I’m encouraged! I see so many opportunities for growth and change happening in our churches, large and small, rural and urban. I see models of intentionally inclusive ministry in multicultural settings. I have experienced the love and care of your ministries that reach the most vulnerable in our state. The hospitality and welcome you all have shared with me is an extension of the love you share for one another and for those whom we have yet to meet. Some of our churches and leaders have the ability to be examples and teachers for us. I hope we will create opportunities to learn from each other in the next year.

In this Easter season, may we know the harvest is plentiful, even if it’s just beginning to sprout forth. As we travel through this “pre-post-Covid” time, navigating the changes and precautions to protect the most vulnerable while moving forward, may we look to the new life Christ has sown among us. May we help one another grow, moving away from inward surviving to outward thriving.

Blessings,
Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell
Executive Minister

Authentic Diversity event by Underwood

On Saturday, March 5, 2022, Underwood Memorial Baptist Church hosted our first event supported by the New Wineskin Events Grant called Authentic Diversity. Authentic Diversity was an online event in partnership with Rhonda Hill of Race and Faith, Emerald Mills of Diverse Dining, and the Wisconsin Council of Churches. Fifty registrants gathered for just over three hours. We began with a grounding worship service. We then learned about the difference between working as an “actor,” an “ally,” or an “accomplice” in racial justice work. We spent time in small groups digesting what we were learning and ended the day with a panel that included local activists, political leaders, and clergy. All in all, it was a great day and was appreciated by all involved.

Thank you to the Finance Committee and the New Wineskins grant for making it possible. We will begin planning our next event in the coming months.

Retirement of Jim Carlson

Rev. Jim Carlson, Ph.D. has retired from ministry. For the last 6 years, Jim has served as the Hispanic Liaison for ABC of Wisconsin. In this unique role, Jim worked with the leadership of the four Hispanic congregations in the region: Kenosha, Iglesia Bautista El Calvario; Racine, Iglesia Bautista Renacer; Milwaukee, Iglesia Evangelica Bautista and the Hispanic Congregation of First, Waukesha. This past year, he has also been working closely with Milwaukee, Smyrna, one of the Karen congregations. In these and many other ways he has been serving the region as a valuable staff member.

Jim is a longtime friend of the region, having served as pastor of Waukesha, First from 2001 to 2012. We wish Jim all the best and extend heartfelt thanks for his ministry.

The following is a piece composed by the pastor of Iglesia Evangelica Bautista, Rev. José Encarnación. Pastor Encarnación is the director of the Hispanic Lay Institute, where he and Jim taught all of the classes.

 

 

Sobre Jim Carlson

Conocí a Jim Carson hace muchos años en República Dominicana. En ese tiempo Jim iba a mi país como líder de jóvenes en viajes misioneros.

Unos años más tarde, en una reunión annual de nuestra Región, fui sorprendido al ver a Jim allí. Me acerqué a él, nos reconocimos y entonces hicimos una amistad que ha sido duradera. Estuve presente cuando él fue instalado como pastor de la iglesia First Baptist of Waukesha y, a partir de ahi nuestra relación se transformó en compañeros del ministerio.

Puedo decir que Jim Carlson es un fiel amigo y excelente compañero ministerial; es un fiel siervo de Dios, lleno de humildad y sencillez, excelente maestro y expositor de la Palabra de Dios. Juntos formamos el Instituto Hispano Bautista de Wisconsin con el fin de preparar lideres laicos que sirvan en nuestras iglesias hispanas locales y puedan suplir la eventual necesidad de pastores en nuestras congregaciones.

Jim es un maestro teológico y doctrinal excepcional y él hizo possible que nuestros estudiantes sean graduados por el Seminario Central Bautista de Kansas City.

Su retiro me deja un gran vacío. Siento soledad sin él. Oro a Dios que Jim sea bendecido y prosperado en todo lo que haga y sueño con que él pueda seguir enseñando en nuestro Instituto Hispano.

Te extrañaremos, Jim.

Tu pastor y amigo,
Rev. José Encarnación

About Jim Carlson

I met Jim Carson many years ago in the Dominican Republic. At that time Jim was going to my country as a youth leader on mission trips.

A few years later, at an annual meeting of our ABC/WI Region, I was surprised to see Jim there. I approached him, we recognized each other, and then we made a friendship that has been lasting. I was present when he was installed as pastor of First Baptist of Waukesha and from there we became partners in ministry.

I can say that Jim Carlson is a faithful friend and an excellent ministerial partner; he is a faithful servant of God, full of humility and simplicity, an excellent teacher and expositor of the Word of God. Together we formed the Hispanic Lay Institute of Wisconsin in order to prepare lay leaders who serve in our local Hispanic churches and can supply the eventual need for pastors in our congregations.

Jim is an exceptional theological and doctrinal teacher and he made it possible for our students to graduate from Central Baptist Seminary.

His retirement leaves me with a great emptiness. I feel lonely without him. I pray to God that Jim be blessed and prosper in everything he does, and I wish that he could continue teaching in our Hispanic institute.

We will miss you, Jim.

Your pastor and friend,
Rev. Jose Encarnacion.

Getting Settled

Dear friends,

I have spent my first month unpacking, getting settled into a routine, learning how to pronounce certain names like “Waukesha” (but don’t ask me to pronounce “Oconomowoc” yet) and meeting many of you! In my first month I have visited nine churches of our region, and I have scheduled most Sundays through mid-June at this point to either visit or preach.

At our Board of Managers meeting on March 5th, I asked the board two questions. The first was “What are your hopes for the Regional Executive Minister for the first six months?” These were some of the responses:

-Make initial contact with all the churches.

-Built relationships in our region, keeping in mind our geographic distribution.

-Connect with pastors and lay leaders.

-Feel welcomed and inspired.

-Feel affirmed in my gifts and skills.

-Reach out if there is anything I need.

-Connect through our methods of communication, including the Synergy.

The responses to this question are excellent ones (thank you, Board of Mangers!), and I wanted to share that indeed, I feel welcomed and inspired, affirmed in my gifts and skills. I am excited to continue meeting you, and I do encourage pastors and lay leaders to reach out to me at mindi.wm@abcofwi.org While my Sundays may be filling up, I am happy to drive and meet people during the week for coffee or to schedule a Zoom call.

The second question I asked was about our board’s priorities coming out of the Strategic plan, and the first priority is leadership. The board brought up the request of some churches to have more training in financial programs and record-keeping. The result of the Board’s conversation is to have a training day in a few months for treasurers in our region. This will go over best practices, tax reporting, program to use, and more. John Jones and I are also in conversation about having a training for church boards and providing resources on restructuring/reorganizing as well as roles and best practices. We will keep you informed as we put together these trainings.

We are also working on opportunities for continuing education for our clergy. Under Ministerial Resourcing on the website, you will find links to some of those training opportunities along with scholarship resources. There may be some trainings that are open to church leaders, and I will share that information as it comes.

My family and I look forward to meeting many of you at the Executive Minister and Family Meet and Greet on Saturday, May 21st from 11-1:30. This is part of the Spring In To Camp. Please let Carolyn Dugan (carolyn.dugan@abcofwi.org) know if you’d like to attend so lunch will be provided for you.

As we prepare to celebrate the resurrection of Christ, may we find signs of new life springing up—both physically and spiritually. May we find the seeds God has planted, in our lives and in the world around us, have begun to break forth. May we have the wisdom to know how to cultivate God’s harvest, and I am so glad to be with you on this journey as the American Baptist Churches of Wisconsin.

Blessings,

Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell
Executive Minister

No Innocent Bystanders – a Review

The Commission on Congregational Mission has taken up the issue of Racial Justice and Racism in the church as its focus for the latter part of 2021 and the first part of 2022. Commission members have been tasked with reading a volume and returning to the Commission with a review of the text as part of the study process.

Rev. Terry West of Milwaukee, New Hope has penned this review of No Innocent Bystanders: Becoming an Ally in the Struggle for Justice by Shannon Craigo-Snell and Christopher Doucot.

No Innocent Bystanders

ABC Commission On Congregational Missions

Continuing a Second Project dealing with the issue of Social Justice.

“Racism in the Church”

Definitions:

Social Justice:  The view that everyone deserves equal economic, political and social rights and opportunities.

Racism: A belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human racial groups determine cultural or individual achievement usually involving the idea that one race is superior and has the right to dominate others or that a particular racial group is inferior to the others.

The book that I selected for review was “No Innocent Bystanders: Becoming an Ally in the Struggle for Justice” by Shannon Craigo-Snell and Christopher Doucot.

A bystander is a person who is present when something happens and who sees it, but does not take part in it.

If churches have a disconnect between the Teaching of God’s word and the Practice of Racial & Gender Justice, the writer’s introductory type book may be a good place to begin the necessary tough conversations, within a congregation. But talking religion and living religion, are two different actions. Conversations are good, but “walking a mile in somebody else’s shoes,” could make all the difference, in the world. As a Viet Nam Veteran, I truly know what “boots on the ground” means! The writers wanted the reader to understand the struggles for LGBTQ Equality and Racial Justice.

First of all, the practical layout of this book is written like a small-group study guide. There are short chapters followed by discussion questions. The writers selected Racism and anti-LGBTQ oppression, as sins that require repentance, reparation, and God’s grace to repair these kind of issues. It is within that framework that the authors covered some of the basics of Racism and Homophobia (a dislike of or prejudice against, the Gay community [LGBTQ]).

       (March 8, 2022) Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis (Florida) has signaled he would sign a bill which would ban/prohibit “classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender.” The bill has been referred to the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Other states are following Florida’s lead.

       Secondarily, getting Ready to Become an Ally in that struggle for Justice laid upon the selected sector of the LGBTQ community for this book.  An Ally is one that is acting on behalf of others, in the pursuit of helping to end whatever type of oppression, might exist. This goal can be accomplished by educating others, being a voice for others, being a sponsor for others or being a mentor for others. Every Christian ought to be an Ally!

       Thirdly, the author sets out several Resources for Being an Ally one would need to carry out this assignment, by considering the words of the Apostle Paul: “And now abideth faith, hope, charity (love) these three; but the greatest of these is charity (love)” (1 Corinthians 13:13).  “For God SO loved the world…” (John 3:16).

       Finally, some Concrete Steps are provided in order to carry out the mission. A number of individual leaders share some of their lifetime experiences to shed light on a number of actions they successfully took along their journey in times like these.

Above all, as the body of Christ, as an Ally, let us study, teach and live out God’s word directly and through His prophets of old.

“If my people, which are called by my Name, shall humble themselves and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways: then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)

“The grass witherth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God, shall stand for ever.” (Isaiah 40:8)

If a man say, ‘I love God,’ and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God, whom he hath not seen”? (1 John 4:20)

“For I was hungry, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in;….Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matt 25:40)

“For ye have the poor always with you;” (Matthew (26:11a)

“As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good to all men, especially unto them, who are of the household, of faith.” (Galatians 6:10)

 

As a child of God , a true Ally in the struggle for Justice, a favorite songwriter reminds us:

“If I can help somebody as I pass along, If I can cheer somebody with a word or song, If I can show somebody he is traveling wrong; Then my living, shall not, be in vain.”

TJW

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Rev. West is ending his term of service on the Commission on Congregational Mission. The Commission and the region at large wish to extend their heartfelt thanks for sharing his time and talents in the work of the Commission.

~Your Commission on Congregational Mission

  • Bonnie Sorenson, Wauwatosa, Underwood Memorial
  • Carolyn Parker, Milwaukee, Progressive
  • Terry West, Milwaukee, New Hope
  • Linda Cutler, Milwaukee, Greater Mt. Zion
  • Russ Antos, retired
  • Karen Sundland, West Allis, First