People of a certain generation will recognize that as a lyric from the song “A Long December” by the Counting Crows. And goodness, haven’t we been saying this for so long now? This next year must be better than last year.
It’s December, and it’s natural for us to reflect back on the last year with both joy and regret. We know that the changes that came with the Covid-19 pandemic are here to stay. Some of us will always mask, some will always participate in worship from home via online tools. Some of us will only give online now and can’t remember the last time we carried cash. And we know some have gone away from worshiping every Sunday and it is not the priority in the same way. We could argue until we’re blue in the face that in-person regular worship attendance is the best way for us to grow together and grow with God, but others may not believe it (and … what if we’re wrong and there are multiple paths to growing together and growing with God?)
So, before we start talking about resolutions, what I’d like us to do as the American Baptist Churches of Wisconsin is recognize three truths heading into 2024:
- We are not alone. ABCWI is not an office, or staff people, or an arm of the denomination. The region is YOU. All of you. Your congregations and ministries, and each of you individually. We are never alone. We may not look alike, think alike, worship alike, act alike, or speak the same language, but we are the body of Christ. And we need each other. Remember that you as an individual (a member or pastor or leader or …) and you as a church or ministry are NOT alone. We do have each other and there are 58 of us. And some of you have good relationships with other churches who are not ABC and might be considered extended family—National Baptist and United Church of Christ and United Methodist or Presbyterian or Lutheran—or other. And there are a multitude of community partners, other ministries you support and who support you.
- We need each other. Very few of our churches can afford to think they can go solo. We all need support in different ways. Whether it’s partnering to do a joint worship service together, or to bring our ministries together, or to volunteer to work together—whatever it is, we can’t do it alone anymore. This is the time for us to start forging relationships with each other. I’m especially calling upon our Milwaukee churches to embrace one another. If we look back at 2023, we did see some amazing things happen. A kickball game between four different church youth groups. A World Communion Sunday service between three congregations. A Thanksgiving service with several churches together. A prayer walk with churches and community partners to address violence in our neighborhoods. Pastors preaching in each other’s congregations. I hope we continue to grow with one another, for we are never in competition with each other.
- We have much to hope for. We received a Palmer Grant for $25,000 toward Inclusive Hybrid Ministry. Remember what I said above about perhaps there are multiple paths to growing together and growing in God? Inclusive Hybrid Ministry assumes the following: that digital community is just as important and real as in-person community, that worship life ought to be engaging whether in-person or online, and that digital space and community will only grow as we head into the future. And we know from multiple studies that while there is still a growth of people who do not believe in anything, 82% of US Americans still identify as religious or spiritual. Though the number of “spiritual but not religious” has grown to 33%, that is a population that has not given up searching for something greater than themselves. They may have given up on traditional church and institutions, but not on God. And 84% still view Jesus as at least an important religious figure. To me, this is hopeful.
It is also a challenge that we cannot continue to do things as we have always done them if we truly wish to live out the Gospel in the world. We are also reminded that the needs in our communities continue to grow, as the gap between rich and poor continues to widen, access to resources becomes scarcer—our churches can partner to fill in the gaps and collaborate to raise collective voices for systemic change in the community. We can live out the Gospel for everyone, that all who are hungry are fed, all who are thirsty have something to drink, all in need of clothing and medical care will have their needs met—and all those in prison will have someone to advocate and care for them.
I leave you with those three truths. I have a lot of hopes and dreams for ABCWI in 2024, but the greatest hope I have is to recognize that we are not alone, we need each other, and we can be living hope for the world—we are the American Baptist Churches of Wisconsin, together. Together, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. Together, we can share the Gospel in new ways and live out Christ’s call on our lives to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves.
And maybe, just maybe, next year will be better than the last.
With you on the journey of faith,
Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell
by Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell, Executive Minister
Advent for 2023 begins on December 3rd. December 24th is both the Fourth Sunday of Advent and Christmas Eve.
If participating online, use the hashtag #ABCWIAdvent
- Read the scripture for the day
- Reflect on the word for the day
- Optional: post a photo online that represents that word for you, or find a photo or symbol to make an Advent display at home.
December 3 Mark 1:1-3 Beginning
December 4 Romans 13:8-14 Awake
December 5 Jeremiah 29:11-13 Hope
December 6 Isaiah 60:1-5 Prepare
December 7 Habakkuk 2:1-3 Vision
December 8 Psalm 46 Stillness
December 9 Luke 1:68-79 Light
December 10 Psalm 34:8-14 Peace
December 11 Luke 1:26-38 Angel
December 12 Ephesians 2:8-10 Goodness
December 13 Joel 2:26-29 Dream
December 14 Philippians 4:4-9 Gratitude
December 15 Luke 1:39-56 Promise
December 16 Amos 5:23-24 Justice
December 17 Psalm 150 Rejoice
December 18 Isaiah 55:8-13 Ponder
December 19 1 John 4:7-10 Belong
December 20 John 1:1-5 Life
December 21 Isaiah 43:18-19 Renew
December 22 Matthew 1:18-25 Love
December 23 Psalm 33:18-22 Waiting
December 24 Luke 2:1-20 Wonder
By: Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell, Regional Executive Minister
“The trees are about to show us how lovely it is to let dead things go.”
I see this quote pop up on memes shared in social media every autumn. By the time you read this, most of the leaves might be on the ground or bagged up, but they seem to have held on a bit later this year.
Autumn is also the time for planting bulbs. Though we’ve experienced our first freezes, as long as the ground is workable, you can still plant for spring. Bulbs, as you see at the local nursery, are nothing beautiful to look at. They look like onions. But the most beautiful flowers come from things that don’t appear to have life.
Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24).
Death is a part of our lives that we want to avoid as much as possible, until we cannot. Until it interrupts and shatters. The five stages of grief that Elizabeth Kübler-Ross proposed over fifty years ago are commonly known as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Grief experts tell us that the stages are not linear—we can go back and forth among them—and we experience them in various degrees.
But the truth is, especially in Western Christianity, as much as we claim the resurrection of Jesus, we often avoid talking about death as much as possible. It makes people uncomfortable. We even try to use terms such as “passed on,” or “gone home to glory.” While this is true, we sometimes short-circuit the grief process.
If you suspect I’m actually talking about the church and the death of Christendom, you’re right. We don’t like to talk about it, and even when we do we want to say, “We know that, let’s move on already” so we can get back to doing church the way we know. Even our acceptance is denial, because we really don’t know what to do with it.
We don’t know what to do with the fact that the church is not the center of life for society anymore. A majority of people are not out searching for a church. Polls have shown consistently that the largest demographic of religious affiliations are the “nones.” Yet nearly half of the US population considers themselves religious and another one-third as “spiritual but not religious.” We’ve seen this trend for at least the last ten years if not longer. And another poll in 2022 shows that “Jesus polls higher than his followers” with 84% stating that “Jesus was an important spiritual figure.”
But what does this all mean for us? The church in general has been asking these questions for at least a decade, and in some cases longer (the first articles on the death of Christendom were published in the early 90’s). For many of our churches, we’ve been able to put off questions around the death of Christendom because we’ve been surviving just fine.
I don’t know of a single church that has been able to go back 100% to the way things were in 2019. I don’t know of a single church that did not lose members or experience a drop in financial giving. I don’t know of a single church that has been able to resume all the ministries they once had.
But I do know churches that have begun new opportunities to engage in digital space. Congregations that have assessed the needs of the neighborhood and have taken time to revision who God is calling them to be and what God is calling them to do. Churches partnering together in new ways to share their resources and ministries rather than being in competition with one another, sometimes even across denominations, and working with interfaith partners to advocate for those whose voices are marginalized. There are some amazing, creative ministries being birthed. Some priorities that have shifted. Ideas that were once dismissed as impossible, such as online church, now embraced, and expanding.
Those amazing ministries are happening in churches that are not afraid of trying something new, even if they lose by it. Even if it costs them money or members in the short-term. It goes without saying that we should care about long-term members of the congregation, but that the reality is, even before Covid, people came and went. For years people have joined and left churches. We should not be afraid when a few people decide this isn’t the right church for them. Sometimes the way that manifests is in unhealthy responses, such as sending an angry letter or storming off, but often the truth of why someone is leaving is that they are grieving what they have lost, or what they thought they have lost. They are grieving the death of what they once knew, and it isn’t necessarily coming back in any church.
The church as we have known it is going through a slow, painful grieving process. We’ve been in the denial stage for a long time. We’re now seeing more of the anger popping up. If we look at all the stages, perhaps we recognize our own feelings about changes in the life of the church. Perhaps we can recognize where our own anger is manifesting, and that maybe it’s not about the church changing, as much as it is about where we have experienced loss, and how ill equipped we are to go through that pain. We’ve been in denial so long.
But this is the good news—what Jesus said about bearing fruit. “Unless the grain falls to earth and dies, it remains a single grain.” Notice that. We can cling to what we have known and remain exactly as we have been. “But if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Something new can happen if we are willing to let go and trust the unknown.
Some of our churches will close in the next 5-10 years. Instead of hanging on through denial until it gives way to anger or depression, what does it take for us to get to acceptance—and in that acceptance, what beauty can we experience now?
In our own personal lives, why does it take a funeral to bring our families together? Why do we hold off on rebuilding those relationships that have fallen away? Why didn’t we get together before that, knowing that death can interrupt at any moment?
For the church, what does it take for us to come together and remember what our purpose and mission is? In this autumn season, what does it take for us to begin to see the beauty of the leaves as they prepare to fall? What bulbs might we start to plant? What new life could begin if we are willing to let go?
IM Requests Prayers for Peace in Israel and Gaza; Offers Relief Support to Partners in the Region
As the conflict in the Middle East escalates, International Ministries (IM) urgently requests prayers for peace across Israel, Gaza, and the surrounding area.
Together, along with the European Baptist Federation and Baptist World Alliance, we mourn with those who have lost loved ones, and we lift up prayers for peace and justice. Even during suffering and conflict, God’s light and faithfulness remain. We urge our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to be peacemakers who reject any restrictions on human rights based on geography, ethnicity, or faith. As the hands and feet of Jesus, we unequivocally denounce terrorism and all acts of violence that target innocent civilians.
“The developing tragedy in Israel and Gaza breaks our hearts as we learn of the violence against innocent civilians and anticipate a growing number of casualties,” says Charles Jones, Area Director for Europe, the Middle East, and Liberia. “Please join us in praying for God’s intervention, comfort for those who mourn, and a transformed commitment to peace and justice in this troubled land – the land of our Savior’s birth and life.”
We pray for protection, peace, and comfort over our local partners in this region, including the Association of Baptist Churches in Israel, Bethlehem Bible College, Christian Mission to Gaza, and Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development. We thank God for the safety of our global servants Melanie Baggao and Dan and Sarah Chetti, who serve in this area.
Let us stand together with those suffering in this time of complexity and violence. Our partners in the region have shared the following calls for prayer:
- Pray for lasting peace, hope, security, and freedom for the entire region.
- Pray for God’s comfort to be with those who are grieving lost loved ones.
- Pray for healing for those who have been wounded during the conflict.
- Pray for the safety and liberation of those who are being held hostage.
- Pray for wisdom and discernment during the facilitation of a peace mediation process.
- Pray for wisdom and discernment for the leaders.
- Pray for unity in God’s church.
- Pray for God to use Christians as witnesses of his love.
- Pray that Christians around the world will give generously to local partners who will holistically minister to people in this region.
Please also pray for IM’s local colleagues, global servants, and for the people they serve as we continue to monitor the developing situation. In the words of the prophet Micah, we hope to “act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly” (6:8) in pursuit of restorative peace and justice for all people.
World Relief Officer Lisa Rothenberger shares, “We are witnessing the mounting humanitarian needs on both sides of this conflict, and the coming days and weeks will determine the level of destruction in this region. What we know for sure is that there already is and will be an enormous human need for months and years to come. War creates a great need for physical rebuilding of homes, schools, medical facilities, and other infrastructure. It also leaves behind extraordinary psychological impact on families, communities, and entire countries. Working with our local partners in response to the needs they identify, we will respond and steward all funds to meet the needs of the innocent civilians regardless of location.”
Those who wish to directly support IM’s local partners that provide humanitarian relief in the Middle East can do so through their American Baptist Church (make checks out to International Ministries and write OGHS–Middle East Relief in the memo line), or online (click here).
Rev. Dr. John A. Jones IV – Associate Regional Minister of Education
“It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us …” ~ Acts 15:28
“My cup runneth over” with gratitude. It is the day after Annual Gathering 2023. I’m kind of tired from excitement, activity, and travel, but I’m grateful beyond measure because our event that focused on “Next Generation Ministries” went about as well as it could have – other than the nasty weather on Friday night.
The program offerings, workshops and preaching all went very well, with the exception of a couple of tech. hiccups. We have not compiled the Feedback Forms yet (if you’d like to share any evaluation, please let us know so we can send you the link), but anecdotal evidence suggests that people were generally pleased with the program offerings. I’m very grateful for that. However, the thing for which I’m most grateful is the spirit in which these worship services, workshops, and other program offerings were received and engaged.
Our focus on “Next Generation Ministries” means that we were and are leaning into the uncertainty of the future. We are calling on everyone to think about what God is calling us all to be in the “Next Generation.” We also called on young people to step up and play a role in this Annual Gathering and in the life of the Church going forward – and they responded!
All of this is to say that I believe we are seeking to follow the leading of God the Holy Spirit, which can be a challenging and even scary prospect. Everyone is willing to give at least lip service to the Holy Spirit, but in truth, we can all be a little apprehensive about it, because the Holy Spirit can challenge and surprise us. Things might not go the way we think they should, we might think we know better than the Holy Spirit about how things should develop, or we might even be suspicious to know if it is indeed the Holy Spirit that is present and doing the leading.
In my theology class, I say that the doctrine of the Holy Spirit is the guarantee that the God that we know in Jesus will always be able to surprise us. We can’t control what God is doing in our midst; that’s the activity of God the Holy Spirit. And I’m grateful for the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit through our Region fellowship at the Annual Gathering. By definition, we can’t control the Holy Spirit, but we can participate with the Spirit in mission and ministry, we can try to tap into the work that God is doing in our midst. That requires openness and flexibility and a generosity that embraces imperfection. I’m grateful to have seen that again and again through our fellowship at Green Lake. May the great Spirit continue to challenge us and to guide us.
Between September 24th and October 1st, there were four different events that occurred within our American Baptist Churches of Wisconsin family and touched the lives of those beyond our congregations. I want to highlight them here:
I had the honor of attending Greater Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Milwaukee’s 38th Anniversary on Sunday, September 24th, preceded by a revival the week before. At least four other churches attended with their pastors preaching. It was wonderful to hear different choirs and musicians, to listen to the word preached, and to celebrate with other congregations, including other Baptist churches that are not ABC.
The next day, I was at Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church’s event commemorating the National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims, a powerful and moving service of remembrance with a call to action. This event brought together community organizations and other local congregations and pastors, along with those who have lost loved ones to gun violence. A theme that came up repeatedly from the speakers was that we cannot do this alone, and we must work across denominational lines, and even with congregations of other faiths to practice nonviolence and work for justice and peace in our neighborhoods.
On October 1st, World Communion Sunday, Underwood Memorial Baptist Church, Milwaukee Myanmar Christian Church, and First Baptist Church of West Allis joined together on the lawn of First Baptist to celebrate and worship together. This gathering brought together three of our own ABCWI congregations, and represented our diversity in pastoral leadership, language, culture, and worship styles. They even met at a new, neutral time of noon—a time that none of their congregations usually met at. The offering was given to help Karen refugees from Burma (Myanmar) that have crossed the border into Thailand.
On the same day, I participated in The Federated Church of Green Lake’s 75th anniversary, beginning with a commemoration of the 1948 walk from the three founding congregations to the new church building. We gathered in the locations of the original churches and joined in a parade to the current church building. Each congregation was led by a float worn by a person—a miniature replica of the Methodist Church building, the Congregational Church building, and the Chapel Car Grace, which founded the Baptist Church in Green Lake in 1946. Representatives from the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ (Congregational), and myself for American Baptist all shared greetings, prayers, blessings, and a hope that perhaps our churches could learn from Federated Church on how to reach out across denominational lines.
However, it was walking in the parade that all of this came together for me. These tiny building replicas reminded me that we as a people are the church, and not the building. The building is too small to carry the kingdom of God! The church is the gathering of the faithful, the body of Christ. For far too long we have tried to be our buildings. We have much more in common than what can divide us. There is so much more we can do together. These three little churches also reminded me that the body of Christ is much bigger than any building, any institution.
We have focused on our own survival as institutions for far too long. Jesus doesn’t call us to build up institutions; he calls us to build up the body of Christ. Imagine what we can do if we let go of our own survival as an institution, as a building, as an organization, but work instead for the building up of the body of Christ. Could we share leaders and resources for faith formation? Could we have joint ministries, Bible studies, youth groups? Could we join together for services like World Communion Sunday but also Easter, Christmas, a special summer service? Could we partner with a congregation that is not ABC but involved in community service that we would like to help? Can we reach across denominational, even interfaith lines—or even partner with community services that have no religious affiliation to help the most vulnerable in our community?
Wouldn’t it be great to not try to reinvent the wheel, not try to do what others are doing, with fewer resources such as money, time, and people? If we are building up the body of Christ, it’s not about us in our individual congregations, but about us together as Christians.
We all know that these ideas sound great in theory but in practice are more difficult. Sometimes there are theological or cultural differences that need to be learned and understood. Often, though, power and privilege get in the way. “We are welcoming of everyone—IF they come to us.” “We would love to do things together—IF we do it our way!” Far too often those are the dividing lines rather than theology or culture. And even if we have differences, can we learn from each other, honor and respect each other even if we disagree—if we are serving Christ together?
Hospitality and humility must go hand in hand. Hospitality says everyone is welcome, and we’ll do what we can to make others welcome, but with humility, it means we are willing to let go of the power we hold. It means we give over to God the authority. It means we examine ourselves and recognize that the way we have done things is not necessarily the only way, or even the right way. It means recognizing that the body of Christ is far more diverse and wonderful than we might have imagined in the past.
This is one of the strengths of our Baptist identity: because we believe in soul freedom (individuals can relate directly to God without imposition of creed or clergy), because we practice believer’s baptism as our own choice in our faith journey with Christ, we are actually more open to ecumenism than many other denominations. We know who we are and what we believe, and we believe that each church is autonomous and interdependent. We believe we must be in relationship with each other, but we do not need to conform to each other. We are the perfect partners in ecumenical relationships!I have shared four examples from within our ABCWI family of hospitality and humility, and the legacy of one community that made the decision long ago to come together. We can look to these examples of relationship with other congregations, coming together with community partners, and sharing across cultures in worship and fellowship.
Your region office is here to help you explore ideas, find partners, learn about hospitality with humility, and grow in your ministry together. We are here to serve you, as you serve Christ together.
October is Pastor Appreciation Month, with Sunday, October 8th Clergy Appreciation Day. We are thankful for all those who serve the Lord in this vocation.
Responding to God’s call into ministry is not an easy path for anyone, but especially since the pandemic began. The Hartford Institute for Religious Research conducted a survey in 2021 and learned that 68% of pastors reported that 2021 was their hardest year in ministry ever. Barna Group learned in 2021 that 38% of pastors had considered quitting full-time ministry. 90% of clergy report working between 55-75 hours per week. 50% of pastors feel unable to meet the demands of the job, and 80% of seminary and Bible college graduates will leave the ministry within the first five years of the job.
There is no such thing as the perfect pastor. There are at times theological disagreements, differences over priorities among church leaders, and sometimes just plain personality conflicts between pastors and church members. A healthy Pastoral Relations Committee that meets regularly (not just when conflict arises) can help navigate those issues and provide space for clergy within congregations to share their struggles and receive support from the church. If we remember that we all serve a mighty God and are partners in ministry together, grace and humility can enter in. The Regional Office can provide support and guidance for a Pastoral Relations Committee to serve both the church and pastor.
I invite you this month to show your appreciation for pastors, chaplains, and other ministerial leaders in your life. Write them a note to let them know you are praying for them or send a card. This is a time when you can look to the gifts God has given them and share your appreciation, even if you do not always agree.
Happy Pastor Appreciation Month to all our clergy!
Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell
By now, you have certainly heard about our 179th Annual Gathering on October 13-15, 2023 at Green Lake Conference Center. Our theme is “God’s Dominion is from Generation to Generation” (Daniel 4:3 KJV) with our focus on Next Generation Ministries. For far too long, the church universal has neglected to raise up the next generation of leaders. Our Annual Gathering is ABCWI’s response to lift up the next generation in worship, fellowship, and in our variety of workshops. You can find more information here (including information on scholarships!) and a detailed schedule for the workshops here.
And while our focus is on youth (ages 13-17) and young adults (ages 18-30), we recognize that the majority of people in our churches are not of those age groups. You may be wondering “what is in it for me?” when looking at the schedule. I invite you to consider that God may be calling you to a “next generation” of ministry in your life. Perhaps you’re not called to pastoral ministry or chaplaincy or global service, but would it be wonderful to know more about what it means to be a global servant in the mission field today? It might be a way you can help your congregation understand why we support our global servants through International Ministries. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to know about campus ministry today and how we can support young adults in their faith formation? There are also workshops on including children, youth, and young adults in worship, as well as including people with disabilities in church. Come learn about creation care, pathways to God, and how Christian Education and faith formation is changing in our churches today. Every workshop is for every age, and we encourage you to attend.
While we are at Green Lake, the historic conference center of American Baptists, take some time to ponder what God is generating in your life. What has been passed down to you that you wish to have go on to the next generation? What is God stirring up in your life now that is new? What is God calling you to do or become? Who does God need you to be in your community, in your church, in your workplace?
We know that society is constantly changing at a rapid pace. The church itself went through twenty years of change in two during the pandemic. We also know that many churches are experiencing decline in numbers and giving. It becomes far too easy to focus on individual survival. The important thing to remember is that this is nothing new. The people of Israel were taken into exile, and many of the Israelites assimilated into the new land and culture they were in, but a remnant remembered who they were. They had to adapt and change in order to keep their faith and hope alive. In the early days of the church, following Jesus’s death and resurrection, Acts 1:15 tells us that the believers numbered 120 persons. What happened to the thousands that Jesus fed, the thousands that heard His word and experienced miracles and received good news? We don’t know. But we do know that in trusting in the Holy Spirit, God does something new, especially in times of rapid change. The short version of this is never count God out. Never count us out. God will do something new—God is doing something new, right now!
Please do invite the younger members of your congregations to attend—we are excited to have a Seminary and Ministry Fair that will help younger adults and youth explore various calls to ministry. But we hope this also will stir something in you, for God’s Dominion is from Generation to Generation.
Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell
*Please note the deadline for registration is Wednesday, September 27th. This is a HARD deadline for in-person registration so we can get our numbers to Green Lake Conference Center. There is an online option for those unable to attend in-person.
A year ago, some of our pastors and regional staff participated in the Transitional Ministries training by ABC-USA. One of the key lessons we learned is that change and transition are not the same thing. Change is something we all must face, every day. Right now, the road to our home has been torn up for road work. This morning, I had to take the longer way to the office because the shorter route was blocked off. It was annoying, but if it became permanent, I would learn to live with it. “Change is situational,” William and Susan Bridges write in Managing Transitions. “Transition, on the other hand, is psychological.” This is because transitions start at the end. A transition starts because something we know and depend on is ending. Something is coming to a close. Something is lost. We have to learn how to let go. In Managing Transitions, the authors explain that after the letting go, there is a “neutral zone,” before the new has come to be, where we are rethinking, or as the old GPS voice used to say, “recalculating.” Then we get to the beginning of something new. This transition phase is “Ending, Neutral Zone, and Beginning.” It is different than what we are used to. We can get hung up in this time when we rush transitions, or don’t think we need transitional time at all.
Your ABCWI region is starting a transition season. The Finance Committee of ABCWI has voted to put the Regional Office, 15330 Watertown Plank Road in Elm Grove, on the market. There are several reasons for this decision. The first is that we simply do not need this much space anymore. The top floor has seven office spaces plus a boardroom. The downstairs has two conference rooms plus two more office spaces that have become storage. We have parking lot space for 29 cars (you might imagine how much snow there is to remove!) Central Seminary closed their satellite campus in 2020, three years ago. Online learning and meetings have become the norm, whether we like them or not. While I would love to have more staff to provide more resources and ministries for the region, we would need to double our budget to do so.
The second reason is ministry. All our churches have had to tighten budgets. United Mission giving has steadily declined in recent years. As the number of staff has decreased at the region office, we have not replaced them. To put more money into the care of an office building we no longer need does not seem prudent. We would rather be able to support existing ministries, start new initiatives and support our churches and pastors. We have some options as to where the office will move to, and we will be exploring each one in prayer and with wisdom and guidance from the Holy Spirit.
Your Board of Managers has been at work this past year, beginning with a retreat in January, on developing a new vision and purpose statement and supporting scripture. We will share these at the Annual Gathering in October, but you can find our work in progress here: https://www.abcofwi.org/mission-vision/ This work will help guide us forward in our focus as a region in how we serve one another and Christ here in Wisconsin.
In the past, regions and churches often developed strategic plans for the next three to five years. We have learned from the pandemic that the best laid plans can be completely changed. There are a number of articles and books coming out in Christian leadership on leading through liminal spaces—in other words, leading when we don’t know what the outcome will be. This is unprecedented, as we keep saying, because we are heading into the unknown.
Just like the early church. When we go back to the book of Acts, we are reminded in the very first chapter that the disciples didn’t know what to do or to expect:
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” -Acts 1:6-8 (NRSV)
And they had to wait. Once Jesus ascended and the faithful gathered, their numbers were 120 persons (vs. 15). Besides finding a replacement for Judas, they did not do anything other than gather for prayer, worship, and fellowship. That’s exactly what they were doing in the second chapter, on the day of Pentecost, when suddenly the Holy Spirit came upon them. Peter recognized the work of the Holy Spirit, and that was when the church was born. Did they have a goal of how many people to baptize? Did they have a strategic plan of how many churches to plant? They had none of those things. Nonetheless, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, they trusted where to go, whom to talk to, and what to do.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47)
Perhaps in starting this time of transition we need to listen to the Holy Spirit’s guidance and see where the needs are in the world around us. It worked pretty well for the disciples. None of us can guarantee that three thousand people will be baptized (Acts 2:41) but we do know that when we trust in the Holy Spirit, we find that the measures of our success are not the numbers at the end, but lives transformed, including our own, by Jesus Christ.
It is Christ who calls us to serve in the world and proclaim the Good News in word and deed. May we worry less about numbers and plans, and seek instead to live into the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives and the world. As Your Regional Office staff and the Board of Managers, we are at the end of the old way of doing things, but we have not started the beginning. We are letting go of how we once did ministry as a region, and seeking the Holy Spirit’s guidance as we live into today and tomorrow.
With you in these transitional times,
Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell