Last weekend I attended our Regional Meeting in Rochester, NY. The meetings are held three times per year in order to keep people informed about the working American Baptist Churches of the Rochester Genesee Region, (ABCRGR), much like our quarterly congregational meetings. Representatives of all of the region churches gather to discuss how we can best function as a region, build relationships, and vote on relevant issues. If you would like to read a full summary of the meeting, including a letter from our Executive Minister, Rev. Alan Newton, please scroll to the bottom of this letter.
One of the items I was eager to discuss was the appointment of our new General Secretary of ABC-USA, Rev. Dr. Lee Spitzer. Dr. Spitzer was the former Executive Minister of the ABC New Jersey region of which we were a part. Dr. Spitzer holds a very conservative theological and social perspective and has shown himself to NOT be in favor of full inclusion of all people into all aspects church life. His appointment is disconcerting, and the vote to accept him was not unanimous on the part of the electing body.
As you may know, the Leadership Team of FBCM met a few weeks ago to discuss how Dr. Spitzer's appointment may impact our church, and I was tasked with seeking more specific information at our region meeting, specifically if there was going to be a formal response on the part of RGR, as well as what procedures /processes are in place to ensure that Dr. Spitzer adheres to American Baptist principals, namely church autonomy and the right of individual churches to ordain the people they feel called to ministry.
Here are my findings and some comments:
1. The General Secretary is accountable to the General Board of ABCUSA. The General Board is made up of representatives from each region, and the General Secretary has no input as to how those board members are chosen. RGR has one representative on the General Board, which meets monthly to discuss the work of the General Secretary and keep regions connected.
2. The General Secretary, though our national head of communion, does not have authority over regions or individual churches. Unlike other denominations where edicts come down from the highest office and churches follow, American Baptist Churches are not structured that way. Church autonomy is still paramount among American Baptists - each church has the freedom and authority to govern itself.
3. There is no formal response from our region planned. Some of the churches in our region are concerned about Dr. Spitzer's appointment, as he represents a very conservative theological and social aspect of Christianity. However, there are also churches in our region who are quite happy with Dr. Spitzer being the new GS, as they are also conservative. Part of ABCUSA life means that we come from many different backgrounds and theological perspectives and respect each other's right to believe as we wish on issues.
4. Many of the churches approached me after the meeting to let me know that they are praying for us; that they understand that Dr. Spitzer's appointment is upsetting to us as we have had previous experience with him as the Executive Minister when we belonged to ABC-NJ Region. It was comforting to be surrounded by a loving and supportive community of churches, who wanted all of you to know that we have a safe home with RGR.
At the congregational meeting on June 18, we will be discussing this with all of you to hear your comments, concerns, and ideas going forward. Our church has a long history with ABCUSA, and we take our denominational affiliation very seriously. Please take the time to gather your thoughts, pray and bring constructive ideas and comments to the meeting.
Please note- there is no pot luck luncheon at this particular meeting as it is Father's Day. We will, however, go into the lounge for a coffee hour where there will be extra chairs set up so we can still "meet and eat." Please try to arrange your schedule to be at this important meeting in the life of our church. We need your voice - and have saved a place for you!
'Pep' Talk- 6/1
This past Sunday our church held a congregational luncheon and chat called "Widening our Circles." The purpose of the gathering was to solicit feedback and brainstorm ideas about our church. It was a wonderful event! I was so happy to see so many people in attendance, and all so willing to share! We had more than enough delicious food (holy carbs!!!) and as we ate our lunch together, we looked over a list of all of the ministries currently operating at our church. Then we discussed four questions- first at our individual tables, and then with the whole group. The following is a compilation of the question and responses:
1. Why do you attend FBCM?
It's a welcoming, comfortable, safe community where we can be authentic
2. What present ministries would you like to see continue, with your support? (Each of the following ministries got volunteers to sign up to be involved/support)
Worship Greeting & Welcome
Food Pantry American Baptist Women
Q-Munity Children and Youth Ministries
Congregational Care Music/Performing Arts
Breezeway Chats Properties and Grounds
Community Cafe Diner's Club & Social Activity planning
3. What things would you like to see at FBCM that we can improve upon or add? (for each of the following, a team has been formed to work on that specific area)
More small groups for increased connection
Bulletin board to help connect people to ministries
More creative/interactive worship- more tactile elements to worship
More diverse music, including ethnic music, contemporary music, and upbeat music
Blended service- mix of traditional and contemporary
Better communication church-wide
4. What things are you led to pray about when you pray for FBCM?
For our leaders and pastors
To become even more diverse, and more welcoming
For our children
That we can be aware of and involved in justice issues
That we can learn to communicate better
For growth in finances
For church growth
When we had finished our discussion, we stood, hand in hand, and prayed for our congregation- and for the things mentioned in this last section. It was a beautiful, spiritual time for us.
If you could not be at the luncheon, we would still love and value your input. If you have responses to any of these questions that are not on the above list, please drop me a note via email, letter, or even meet to chat with one of our pastors or leaders. I am so encouraged for the future of our church. I know that God is doing wonderful things through our congregation and witness.