EDC convention welcomes new churches, offers accountability

Hunt announces retirement, upcoming bylaw revision

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District Minister Terry Hunt (far right) and pastor Mike Mathes (second from right) presented representatives of the four churches joining the district with commemorative plaques during Sunday’s service: (from left) Alemu Chemeda of Peniel International Ethiopian EV. Church in Clarkston, Ga.; Solomon Desta of Global Ethiopian Gospel Believers Church in Stone Mountain, Ga.; Robert Townsend of Branches Outreach Mission in Providence, Ky.; and Jules Mukaba of Restoration Church of Christ in West Chester, Ohio. Photo: Janae Rempel

Pastors, delegates, ministry partners and guests gathered at The Life Center in Lenoir, N.C., for the 2023 Eastern District Conference biennial convention Sept. 15-17.

Highlights of the convention included receiving four churches into district membership, church reports and announcement of an upcoming revision of the EDC constitution and bylaws.

Delegates also affirmed officers and representatives, heard a budget report and brief introductions from agencies, partners and workshop presenters, and attended workshops.

District welcomes four churches

Four churches were welcomed into district membership during Sunday’s worship service, representing a continued expansion of the district beyond North Carolina. More than 160 people attended the Sunday worship service.

District minister Terry Hunt and pastor Mike Mathes presented commemorative plaques to a representative from each church: Alemu Chemeda of Peniel International Ethiopian Evangelical Church in Clarkston, Georgia; Solomon Desta of Global Ethiopian Gospel Believers Church in Stone Mountain, Georgia; Robert Townsend of Branches Outreach Mission in Providence, Kentucky; and Jules Mukaba of Restoration Church in West Chester, Ohio.

“God’s doing a great thing on the east coast,” Hunt said.

Constitution and bylaw revision

Hunt announced an upcoming revision of the EDC Constitution and Bylaws, explaining that the revision would align the EDC more closely with the structure of the other districts.

EDC minister Terry Hunt announced an upcoming revision of the EDC Constitution and Bylaws. The revision will align the EDC more closely with the structure of the other districts. Hunt also announced his intention to retire as EDC minister, effective Sept. 30. Photo: Janae Rempel

Hunt has been acting as district minister, moderator and a full-time pastor. In the EDC, the moderator is tasked with appointing pastors, which, as the district has grown, has become unsustainable, Hunt said. The new model will require churches to hire and credential their own pastors.

The revision will also give term limits for officers, change district leadership board meetings from monthly to quarterly and provide for quarterly meetings of the district Board of Faith and Life. An executive group meets monthly. Hunt asked for patience with the process, with revisions expected to be presented at the 2025 convention.

Hunt also announced his intention to retire as EDC minister, effective Sept. 30. The district is accepting applications for the next district minister. Hunt will cover the position until it is filled.

Church reports provide accountability

District minister Hunt asked each church to give a report on numbers of members, new members, converts, baptisms, giving and other church activities, and then asked each to answer three questions: “Where do you see your church in the next two years?” “How do you plan to get there?” and “Are you willing to do the work to make it happen?”

EDC delegates shared congregational reports with fellow convention attendees. Here, representatives of Christian Center the Hand of God in Hamilton, Ohio, share. Photo: Janae Rempel

The questions, he said, were intended to challenge churches to not just provide a report and return to the same routines but instead seek improved spiritual growth.

Church membership numbers reported ranged from single digits to 230, and Hunt expressed both excitement and sadness over the reports, lamenting those reports containing no new converts, baptisms or members. Using the analogy of a baby that hasn’t grown in two years, Hunt expressed concern over the lack of new members and a desire to see thriving churches reaching their communities.

“I’m praying that God will continue to grow our churches,” he said, sharing a hope that EDC churches won’t number among the 4,000 churches that close per year and later adding that as long as there is breath in the body of Christ, there is life and hope.

In other business, delegates,

  • affirmed officers and representatives and members of EDC boards,
  • heard a financial report from treasurer Tyrone Sturgis, who listed expenditures at $57,735.74 and an ending balance of $15,104.93. Questions centered around church giving and ways to contribute. Hunt encouraged district and USMB support.
  • heard brief introductions from agencies, partners and workshop presenters, including Henri Ngolo (USMB CORD Program), Rick Eshbaugh (MB Foundation), Hyacinth Stevens (Mennonite Central Committee), Brian Harris (USMB Church Planting Mobilizer), Katie Dula (Darby MB Church), Will Francis and Toby Penner (World Impact), Janae Rempel (Christian Leader/USMB) and Peggy Goertzen (Center for Mennonite Brethren Studies)

Attendees chose two workshops to attend Saturday afternoon. Topics included: the gathering, managing and distribution of funds (Rick Eshbaugh, MB Foundation); women’s ministry (Katie Dula); trauma healing (Karin Esselstrom and Tia Francis, World Impact); church planting (Brian Harris); redemptive poverty and urban church planting (Will Francis and Bob Engel, World Impact); immigration (Hyacinth Stevens, MCC); and prison ministry (Rich Esselstrom and Bob Stevenson, World Impact).

EDC convention attendees pray together following a Mennonite Central Committee workshop on immigration. Photo: Janae Rempel

Speakers offer hope, vision

Two speakers highlighted the convention.

USMB national director Don Morris served as Saturday’s keynote speaker with the topic, “God is hope for us all.”

Convention attendees pray over USMB National Director Don Morris following Morris’ keynote message Saturday evening. Photo: Janae Rempel

Sharing from Genesis 16, Morris presented the story of Hagar, who, after conceiving a child with Abram, experienced Sarai’s jealousy and fled to the wilderness alone. There, an angel of the Lord visited her.

Acknowledging that names carry meaning, Morris centered on Genesis 16:13, in which Hagar calls God, “El Roi” or “the God who sees me.”

Sharing from personal experience, Morris said if God sees us we might feel several emotions, including bewilderment in the face of suffering, doubt in forgetting to look to God and also comfort in knowing a close and personal God who calls us by name.

“(God) is intimately involved in our lives,” Morris said. “He sees us.”

Morris challenged attendees to not only go to the God who sees them but to share about him with others.

“If we’re going to change the world today, if we’re going to re-imagine the church, it’s going to happen through relationships,” he said. “We will make a difference for the kingdom of God by taking the message of the gospel of Jesus one by one by one.”

Don L. Davis, founder and former director of The Urban Ministry Institute (TUMI), shared the Sunday message, “Let Christ be magnified,” with a vison for 21st century disciples.

“We must rediscover the Father’s heart to magnify Jesus Christ as supreme in all things,” Davis said.

Don L. Davis, founder and former director of The Urban Ministry Institute, shared Sunday’s message, “Let Christ be magnified.” Photo: Janae Rempel

Focusing on Philippians 2:5-11, Davis gave three points showing how Jesus is the pattern for the lives of his followers, including his perspective, pattern and preeminence.

“We live by what we believe, not by what we see,” Davis said.

Believers have forgotten that they belong to Jesus, Davis said, adding, “Does this perspective change the way you live?”

Using the analogy of a dime, which, when held to the eye, can block the sun, Davis said people can block their vision with petty concerns. Showing images from space, Davis said humans are a “dust speck on a blue dot” and challenged listeners to make it their mission to magnify the One who came to Earth.

After the message, Hunt returned to the three questions, inviting the district into a shared vision.

“We put the church before Christ,” he said. “(We) need to invite people to come to Christ and then they’ll want to come to church.”

After the four churches were welcomed into membership, Hunt invited Morris to the front, where he and Mike Mathes washed his feet in honor and appreciation in light of Morris’ upcoming retirement. Morris said he will treasure the relationships he has developed with people in the district.

Musicians from The Life Center (pictured) and Christian Center the Hand of God in Hamilton, Ohio, led in singing at the EDC convention. Photo: Janae Rempel

Musicians from The Life Center and Christian Center the Hand of God in Hamilton, Ohio, led in singing.

The EDC convention began with a Friday night “fifth quarter” event for youth following the local high school football game and ended with communion, a hymn and closing word from Hunt.

NOTE: The official names of EDC churches have been updated.

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