When delegates from seven congregations of the North Carolina District Conference (NCDC) gathered Sept. 13-15, 2019, at The Life Center in Lenoir, North Carolina, for the annual district convention, it marked two historic firsts.
The convention celebrated the name change from NCDC to Eastern District Conference (EDC) and the potential growth the change represents. Two years ago, the NCDC voted to change its name when a new church in Virginia comprised of Ethiopian immigrants was in the process of joining the NCDC. When immigration issues slowed the affiliation process, the district name change was put on hold. Earlier this year the church, Assemblies of Trinity International, contacted the district to begin the process of re-engaging with the district, says Terry Hunt, now EDC minister.
In addition to the Virginia Ethiopian congregation, Congolese congregations in Maine, Kentucky, Tennessee and Ohio are also interested in joining NCDC. Conversations with these congregations prompted NCDC leaders to contact the churches this summer to inform them that the name change would go forward.
“As the NCDC began to expand into other states, it became apparent that a name change was needed to include the churches in the other states,” says Hunt in an email. “It became clear to us that the name Eastern District Conference would be a perfect fit. Over 18 million people live in the 14 states that have shoreline on the Atlantic Ocean. That is over one-third of the nation’s population, and we have only a few MB churches here.”
Following the convention, the name change was affirmed by the USMB Leadership Board when it met Nov. 8-9, 2019, in Omaha, Nebraska.
“For some time, it’s become apparent that the North Carolina District Conference was facing the good prospect of expansion into ministries with churches outside of North Carolina,” says Don Morris, USMB national director, in an email interview after the convention. “As Mennonite Brethren begin working in states such as Tennessee, Virginia, Ohio and even Maine, the district name needed to fit what God is doing in that region. It’s with a sense of joy and anticipation for God’s continuing work among us that USMB has processed with the district for this name change to the Eastern District Conference of MB Churches. I also want to recognize all the work of district minister Terry Hunt. Terry has a vision of growth and for reaching more people with the Gospel, and he has been faithful to that for some time. It’s coming to fruition.”
Pastor Alexis Mutabazi of His Grace Christian Life Church International, a Congolese church in Nashville, Tennessee, was a guest at the convention.
The 2019 convention also marked the first time that women was licensed for pastoral ministry in the district.
“The Eastern District Conference is in full agreement with the 1999 resolution concerning women in the ministry,” Hunt says.
A total of four individuals, including two women, were commissioned for pastoral ministry at The Life Center during the convention worship session Sunday morning. Cliniece Bradshaw, who is married to Patrick, and Greg Snider, who is married to Kim, were licensed as associate pastors and Darrin and Carrie Foddrell were licensed as youth pastors.
“Both women have been working in The Life Center of Lenoir church for the past two years,” says Hunt. “Cliniece Bradshaw has been teaching the Wednesday night adult Bible study, along with her husband. Carrie Foddrell has been leading the youth department at TLC along with her husband.”
The Foddrells are also the first couple licensed by the NCDC/EDC, says Hunt.
Saturday includes sessions, workshops, tour
Saturday’s convention events included a time of praise and worship, a business session and workshops.
During the business session, each church gave a report. Attendees also heard from treasurer Tyrone Sturgis who gave the financial report and Clyde Ferguson who reported on The Urban Ministry Institute satellite site that meets at The Life Center.
Workshop leaders included Scott Kanupp from the Lenoir Police Department who led a men’s workshop on church safety and Katie Dula who presented a workshop for the women on the convention theme, “Dare to Dream.” Dula is a member of Darby MB Church, a retired school administrator and a student in the TUMI program.
Curtis Brooks, Mennonite Central Committee East Coast staff member, presented “Loss at Turtle Island,” a Mennonite Central Committee participatory learning experience that depicts the historic relationship between European settlers and the Indigenous nations of what is now the United States. Blankets scattered on the floor represented the land and participants represented distinct Indigenous nations who experienced colonization, genocide, broken treaties, forced removal, assimilation and termination. When a blanket was removed, those representing that tribe would sit down, signifying the tribe was extinct.
The afternoon session was a tour of Elk Park, the small town where Mennonite Brethren missionaries first began their ministry in the area and the site of Emily Prudden’s school. The tour was led by Gaylord and Peggy Goertzen and NCDC pastors Larry Smith and Terry Hunt. Participants also visited Beech Bottom MB Church and had dinner at Daniel Boone Inn, a local family-style restaurant
The convention theme of “Dare to Dream” focused on church growth and church planting. Sunday’s guest speaker Joe Jones, president of Fresno Pacific University, the Mennonite Brethren university in Fresno, California, addressed the convention theme. With Acts 2:17 as his text, Jones spoke of his own life journey—how God gave him a dream and how he pursued it.
During the weekend, Jon Wiebe, president and CEO of MB Foundation, and Don Morris, USMB national director, each spoke briefly, bringing greetings from their respective ministries.
Convention activities began Friday evening with the annual youth convention. Since a high school football game that evening would likely draw students away from the youth convention, organizers encouraged district youth to attend the game and to then attend a fifth quarter event hosted by another area church. When a thunderstorm caused officials to cancel the football game at halftime, the after-game party got an early start.