Strategic review of USMB vision, structure is top 2014 news story
By Connie Faber
Reviewing the top Christian Leader news stories of 2014, the big news of this past year concerns the future—2015 and beyond.
Being a healthy denomination
A representative group of USMB leaders is currently fleshing out a preferred scenario for the future of the U.S. Conference of MB Churches. Their assignment stems from two working retreats held in the fall of 2014 that were led by consultant George Bullard. Bullard (pictured right) was hired by the Leadership Board to help the conference assess where we are as a denomination and where we need to go if we desire to be a healthy conference that can make a difference in the world.
About 40 individuals representing USMB districts, institutions and agencies met with Bullard in September and then again in November. During the November retreat, the group identified a preferred ministry model that is currently being developed by a small group of nine participants. This group will present their description of the preferred scenario in March during the annual meetings of the Leadership Board and the Leadership Summit, a gathering of key leaders from national, district and partner ministries.
Executive director transitions
The review of USMB vision and structure was prompted by Ed Boschman’s decision to retire as the USMB executive director, effective August 2014. Boschman had served as the executive director since 2007. For 40 years, he served as a Mennonite Brethren pastor and conference leader.
An emotionally charged celebration at the 2014 National Convention honored Boschman. Terry Hunt, one of four individuals that reflected on Boschman’s leadership, washed Boschman’s feet as an indication of “how much we appreciate you” (pictured left.)
Rather than appoint a new executive director prior to knowing the outcome of the strategic review, the Leadership Board tapped Don Morris, Mission USA director, to serve as the interim executive director.
The “new” Article 13
Many delegates to the 30th USMB National Convention viewed the decision regarding Article 13 of the Confession of Faith as the reason to attend the 2014 biennial gathering held July 25-26 at the Santa Clara (Calif.) Marriott. It was evident from comments made during the Saturday morning business session and the afternoon workshop that U.S. Mennonite Brethren continue to debate whether a Confession of Faith should be prescriptive or descriptive and do not agree on “what the Bible means when the Bible says what the Bible says,” to use Board of Faith and Life (BFL) chair Larry Nikkel’s words, with regard to living out the call to be peacemakers, particularly when it comes to military service.
Yet in the end, with a ballot vote of 103 to 10, delegates approved a new statement on Love, Peacemaking and Reconciliation. The delegates also unanimously passed a motion from the floor that mandates BFL to “foster communication within our congregations to encourage the study of, commitment to and growth in biblical love, peacemaking and reconciliation, guided by the Mennonite Brethren Confession of Faith Article 13 and to report the response to this initiative at the 2016 convention.”
The unanimous support of this mandate suggests that the delegates—including a significant number of USMB pastoral staff members—agree with BFL’s desire to do more than just change the wording of Article 13. In their November 2014 open letter that updated the USMB constituents on the board’s actions since the July convention, BFL challenged us to share their conviction that “our effectiveness would be strengthened by incorporating the essence of Article 13 into our personal and congregational lives.”
2014 was the third year of an ambitious 10-year effort to plant as many as six new USMB congregations a year. This past year found Wes and Michele Wilmer moving from Omaha, Neb., to Fremont, Neb., in order to plant a new church there in partnership with Stony Brook Church of Omaha, Neb., the Central District Conference and Mission USA. While only one new church plant was initiated in 2014 in partnership with Mission USA, director Don Morris nurtured other potential new projects and supported the nine other fledgling church plants.
During the first four months of 2014, Mission USA celebrated the ongoing development of three of its 10 church plants. In January, The Greenhouse, a church plant in Saratoga Springs, Utah, began holding public gatherings and Friends of Jesus in Las Vegas, Nev., celebrated their grand opening. Grace Point @McAllen in McAllen, Texas, moved into a new facility and hosted their grand opening on Easter Sunday (pictured left.)
The USMB church planting strategy involves a number of components that must come together in order to begin a church plant project. Finances is one of those necessary ingredients, and a first-time funding campaign in late 2014 went a long way toward financing church planting start-up costs for 2015. Mission USA joined the Giving Tuesday movement and hoped to raise $30,000 on Dec. 2. When the Giving Tuesday campaign concluded, donations totaled $54,799.
Church planting and church health efforts in the Central District Conference got a shot in the arm when a significant gift of $1.2 million from the Katy Glanzer estate made it possible for CDC convention delegates to approve a 2014-15 budget of $386,000, a $122,000 increase over the previous year’s budget. The additional funds are designated for four areas that will benefit new and existing congregations.
In 2014, USMB officially switched to a fiscal year that matches the calendar year. The 2014 budget was set in 2013 at a time when the Leadership Board was uncertain of the outcome of the 2013 fiscal year and so the board approved a 2014 budget that did not include funding for new projects. But when the national conference finished the 2013 fiscal year with a strong positive balance of almost $35,000, the USMB Leadership Board revisited the 2014 budget and increased the budget by $50,000, earmarking those funds for church planting.
Global MB community gains new conference
In 2014, the International Community of Mennonite Brethren grew to 21 national conferences in 19 countries when the Free Christian Church in Lithuanian was officially accepted as an ICOMB member at the May annual ICOMB summit.
Colleges continue to grow
The two U.S. Mennonite Brethren colleges—Tabor College in Hillsboro, Kan., and Fresno Pacific University headquartered in Fresno, Calif.—reported strong enrollments for the fall 2014 semester. For the first time, FPU enrollment numbers surpassed 3,700 students, a 7 percent rise above the previous year. TC enrollment increased overall by 4 percent, with 766 students enrolled compared to 736 in 2013.
Tabor College launched its new master’s in entrepreneurial ministry leadership with a daylong free seminar April 24 hosted by Rick Bartlett, director of theological education, on how faith and human need correspond. The Higher Learning Commission approved the program for accreditation Feb. 25.
FPU President Pete Menjares abruptly resigned Sept. 11, 2014. Five days later, the FPU Board of Trustees announced the appointment of Richard Kriegbaum (photo right) as the university’s 12th president and endorsed a new leadership model that increases the role of the provost.
Local church news
The Gospel Fellowship Church, Wolf Point, Mont., building was severely damaged by a morning fire Nov. 18 (pictured left.) The congregation was invited to worship with Wolf Point’s Community Bible Church through the month of December and possibly longer, depending on how the temporary arrangement works out.
Two USMB congregations celebrated 50th anniversaries: Greenhaven Neighborhood Church, Sacramento, Calif., and Grace Bible Church, Gettysburg, SD.
Three USMB congregations, each working with MB Foundation, concluded facility improvements during 2014. MB Foundation is the U.S. Mennonite Brethren stewardship ministry.
- In November, College Community Church Mennonite Brethren of Clovis, Calif., completed construction of a new sanctuary building and is remodeling the existing fireside wing. The new building was dedicated Jan. 3-4, 2015.
- Ethiopian Evangelical Church, Aurora, Colo., completed work on the renovation of a former YMCA that they purchased for their new worship home. They dedicated the facility in November 2013.
- New Life Missionary Church, Portland, Ore., purchased a facility that was dedicated Nov. 23.
Thumbnail: Ed Boschman, far left, retiring USMB executive director, and his wife, far right, pray for Don and Jana Morris, center, as Morris will be the interim executive director.
Top photo: Delegates attending the 2014 National Convention.
Article 13 photo: Delegates were invited to speak to the proposed revision of Article 13 of the USMB Confession of Faith during the Board of Faith and Life report and during an afternoon workshop, pictured.
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