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PDC approves bylaw revision, discusses reversion clause

Delegates to the PDC convention Nov. 2-4, voted on a proposed revision to Article IV of the PDC bylaws, the proposed budget and nominees for open board positions and discussed the pros and cons of the reversion clause. Photo: Connie Faber

The 2023 Pacific District Conference convention was hosted Nov. 2-4 by Butler Church in Fresno, California. Delegates heard three messages on the convention theme, “The kingdom of God is like…,” asked questions of board members, voted on a proposed revision to Article IV of the PDC bylaws, the proposed budget and nominees for open board positions and discussed the pros and cons of the reversion clause. A plea by PDC minister Jordan Ringhofer for churches to honor the PDC church covenant prompted a lengthy discussion.

Changes initiated for report format 

Changes were made to convention business sessions board reports. In the past, board chairs submitted a written report and gave an oral report followed by a time for questions from delegates.

With the goal of having delegates better engage with boards, 2023 written reports were emailed to all pastors and churches before the convention and delegates were invited to submit questions; hard copies were available in the convention booklet.

Reports Friday morning were given via panel discussions hosted by moderator Dennis Fast or vice-moderator Nathan Ensz. Board members who were present sat on the stage for their board’s report and various members answered the questions submitted prior to the convention. As time allowed, delegates could ask additional questions.

This report format was followed for the Board of Faith and Life, Board of Home Missions, Board of Trustees and Hispanic Council. Moderator Fast reported that the Board of Next Gen is in a rebuilding phase; delegates elected seven new Next Gen board members.

Board of Faith and Life chair Dina González-Piña (holding microphone) speaks during the BFL report. Nathan Ensz, far left, moderated the BFL report. Photo: Connie Faber

Questions for the eight members present from the Board of Faith and Life dealt with greatest theological concerns or tensions and how the board is addressing these topics, how the board assists churches, pastoral licensing and how to pray for PDC congregations. Board members listed their greatest concerns as issues related to the value of human life, Christian nationalism and human sexuality.

The four members of the Board of Home Missions answered questions regarding the future of church planting in the PDC, why the board supports older churches and the greatest needs for church planters. Chair Paul Canaday spoke of his commitment to better communicate with PDC churches about the board’s activities. A comment from the floor encouraged the Board of Home Missions to better communicate with the Board of Trustees when a church plant is approved.

Questions for the four of nine members present from the Board of Trustees dealt with what is involved in managing property, legal challenges the board faces, the difference between the treasurer and accountant, plans for increasing the number of churches that financially support the PDC and what happens when a large donation is received, to which chair Charlie Rivoire replied, “Praise the Lord!”

Hispanic Council chair Xavier Piña was joined by five of the nine council members. He explained that this is not a board but a team of people that works to create unity and fellowship among PDC Hispanic congregations and to strengthen the connection between these congregations and the PDC. They organize an annual convention held in May, a pastor’s retreat in September and a youth retreat in July. Council members talked about the unique challenges Hispanic churches face and described the ways in which five regional pastors assist in their ministry.

Delegates pass revised bylaw

The Executive Board report did not follow the new format. Moderator Fast reported that reconciliation with former district minister Gary Wall concluded when Wall declined to participate, reviewed ways in which current district minister Jordan Ringhofer is being supported and held accountable and said quarterly Zoom meetings for PDC pastors and leaders have drawn small groups.

Attendance at the 2023 Pacific District Conference convention was the “largest in years,” Jordan Ringhofer, PDC minister, said Thursday evening. Photo: Connie Faber

Fast said that the PDC’s decision to dismiss Willow Avenue Mennonite Church and Laurelglen Bible Church’s decision to withdraw from the PDC prompted the district to review and revise its bylaws. In Spring 2022 the PDC held a special business session at which delegates voted to revise the bylaws to give the district the authority to dismiss a church, a mechanism that had previously not been in place.

At this convention, Fast said delegates would be voting on a recommendation outlining the process by which a church can terminate its membership in the PDC. The recommendation was distributed Thursday evening and following discussion was voted on Saturday morning during the closing business session. It passed, with some dissenting votes.

Reversion clause debated

These two bylaw revisions raised questions about the reversion clause, and Fast told delegates that he would be taking a straw poll later to see how delegates felt about what should happen to church property when a congregation is no longer part of the PDC. Currently the property should revert to the district, a practice that has not always been followed.

Trustee chair Revoire said, “We’re split as trustees. We need guidance, which is why we’re asking for a straw poll.”

While some delegates spoke in support of the reversion clause, others were in favor of taking a different approach.

“I can’t say yes or no because it depends,” one delegate said, to which Fast replied, “That’s what we are all struggling with.”

After extensive discussion, Fast asked delegates to vote with raised hands if they were in favor of or opposed to the reversion clause. Results were not definitive, with similar numbers voting for each option.

“We are very much split,” Fast said. Delegates laughed when he added, “We thank you for that.”

Other business, reports

Jordan Ringhofer, PDC minister, also provided a written report and gave comments. He reported that Lawrence Smith joined the PDC staff as associate district minister.

In other business, delegates voted on the slate of board nominees. Delegates to the 2021 PDC convention had voiced concerns about the nominating process and requested that in the future delegates be provided with information about board nominees. Prior to the 2023 convention a booklet was distributed via email with photos and biographical information about nominees. The nominee booklet and report book were also available in printed form at the convention.

Delegates passed the budget of $575,010 for fiscal year 2024, ending Sept. 30, 2024. This compares to $615,000 for fiscal year 2023, which ended Sept. 30, 2023.

Discussion extends into lunch break

The process for licensing pastors, first raised Friday morning as a question for the Board of Faith and Life, was revisited later that morning and sparked a broader discussion that extended the business session by an hour. Delegates agreed to a shorter lunch break (from two hours to one) so that the discussion could continue.

DM Ringhofer had reported that 20 PDC churches have not licensed their pastors. He listed other ways in which churches are “out of covenantal compliance.” Churches are:

“We need to all be in compliance, and many in this room are not,” Ringhofer said.

Much of the discussion about what is means to be in compliance focused on the pastoral licensing process, including that it currently involves the lead pastor in only part of the interview. Several lead pastors spoke strongly about the importance of their involvement in the interview while other speakers asked about reasons for the concerns. Several pastors shared that based on their licensing experience, they are not concerned about the current process.

BFL members spoke about the value of community and gave reasons for the process.

“Pastors are not keeping the covenant they signed, and we’re a covenant community,” said BFL member Harold Ens. Ens also noted that because the Confession of Faith addresses some social justice issues, the licensing process also involves talking about social justice issues.

Dave Thiessen, Mountain View Church pastor, said it’s helpful to distinguish the difference between disagreeing about bylaws and policies and matters related to the Confession of Faith. “Don’t lump them all together,” he said.

Dina González-Piña, BFL chair, said the board wants pastoral staff members to know that BFL supports them.

“We want to give pastoral staff the opportunity to speak freely with the boss not there,” González-Piña said. “We want to create a space for pastors, staff and leaders to share honestly.”

Speakers also noted their concern that the PDC and Fresno Pacific University hold liberal views. Others disagreed.

“I don’t see a deep concern,” said Lance Linderman, Axiom Church, Peoria, Ariz.

“It’s okay if we don’t agree,” said Jim Aiken, Heritage Bible Church, Bakersfield, Calif., “We’re part of a covenant community. We hold to the Confession of Faith but give freedom.”

Delegates convene as FPU corporation

Josh Wilson, chair of the FPU Trustees, leads the report from Fresno Pacific University. Photo: Connie Faber

Saturday morning delegates convened as the FPU corporation, with FPU board chair Josh Wilson moderating the meeting. The district’s primary role is to elect board members, Wilson said. He noted that 60 percent of the FPU board is elected by the PDC, with four of those seats designated to the BFL and Trustees chairs, PDC moderator and PDC minister. There are currently eight open seats; delegates nominated and affirmed individuals to fill three of the openings.

Higher education faces significant challenges, Wilson said, mentioning enrollment and moral issues. He noted concerns that FPU has experienced “theological drift” and reported that the PDC BFL has invited the university to talk with them about how the district “speaks into this issue.”

FPU is a school, not a church, President André Stephens said. “We are an arm, a ministry, of the church…. We prepare students for the world, not protect them from the world.”

Stephens described FPU as an “untended garden” that needs to be weeded, pruned and watered. The hard work of tending to FPU has involved developing a new cabinet and efforts to “turn around” enrollment in the adult degree completion program. Stephens said increased traditional undergraduate enrollment numbers this fall was a good sign. Stephens became emotional as he spoke of the ministry of Christian higher education as “sacred work.”

Outdoing moderator Dennis Fast and his wife, Connie, are surrounded by delegates who prayed simultaneously for the couple. Photo: Connie Faber

In the closing business session, Randy Reiswig, pastor of Shorelife Community Church, Capitola, Calif., was introduced as the new moderator.

Jordan Ringhofer celebrated the work of Dennis Fast, outgoing moderator. Delegates responded with prolonged applause. Fast and his wife, Connie, were asked to stand on the floor as delegates prayed simultaneously for the couple.

Banquet features church planters, home missions

The home missions banquet, held Friday evening, featured stories and testimonies shared by church planters.

Cesar and Maria Salazar, pastors of Plaza Iglesia Cristiana in Bakersfield, Calif., shared the story of their church, with a fair amount of laughter as Maria translated from Spanish to English.

The couple encouraged churches to form partnerships, using their congregation’s story as an example. Plaza Iglesia Cristiana’s partnership with The Bridge Bible Church, also of Bakersfield, began with hosting a four-week children’s program that drew 100 kids. When the coronavirus pandemic created huge needs in their community, the Hispanic church went to The Bridge for help in providing a food pantry.

“We provided 50 families with groceries for a year thanks to The Bridge,” said the Salazars. “The Bridge put aside their preferences to partner with us.”

Cesar and Maria Salazar, pastors of Plaza Iglesia Cristiana in Bakersfield, Calif., shared the story of their church, emphasizing the importance of partnerships. Photo: Steve Wiest

Noting the differences between their two churches, the Salazars said, “Only God can bring people together. We serve a great, great God, and he needs courageous people. If you are a church with resources, you can come alongside a church that has needs. God is looking for people to bless someone else. Everyone can help in some way.”

Multiply Fresno Western U.S. mobilization team members Galen Wiest and Silvia Lopez told of activities hosted by the MB global mission agency in the PDC, including an intercultural workshop given by Multiply missionary Nasser al’Qahtani that was hosted by Hope Kingsburg and SOAR Fresno, a first-time event that brought 50 participants from six Latino and three Anglo churches together in a cross-cultural experience. They are planning to host a SOAR Central Valley in June 2024 and announced a Nov. 15 youth rally to be hosted by Reedley (Calif) MB Church.

Nikki McArron, an intern from Reedley MB Church, told about her Focus Internship. “It was an opportunity to stretch my skills,” she said.

Church plant pastor Scott Gossenberger of Rock Harbor Church, Fresno, said he was grateful for the monthly support from the PDC and said the church is now “on our own.”  Gossenberger told of God encouraging him to return to pastoral ministry through a conversation with a stranger while Gossenberger and his wife were on vacation. Noting that success in church planting is not always easy to measure, he said, “Obedience does not come with success. It’s just obedience.”

The banquet program concluded with an update from MB Foundation given by Bruce Jost and an offering during which Butler’s Amor y Fe congregation’s pastor Elbio Carballo provided music.

Worship times focus on the kingdom of heaven

Daily messages focused on the convention theme, “The kingdom of heaven is like…” from Matthew 13.

Jordan Ringhofer, second from left, prays for Scott Holman, Butler Church lead pastor, who gave the Thursday evening message. Butler pastors Elbio Carballo, Amor y Fe congregation, and Nixon Khoutsavah, Asian Grace congregation, also spoke briefly. Photo: Connie Faber

Scott Holman, Butler lead pastor, spoke Thursday evening with Matt. 13:44-46 as his text. The text talks about God’s kingdom as a hidden treasure and a perfect pearl. Holman told about the “hidden treasures” of Butler Church—people whose testimonies include suffering and service. “In southeast Fresno, many overlook the beauty and hidden treasures of this neighborhood,” he said.

Just like the merchant searched for the perfect pearl, we are often searching for Christ, Holman said. “To enter the kingdom of heaven requires surrender, letting go of resources, safety nets and expectations,” he said.

To illustrate that the kingdom of God involves considering the needs and desires of others, Holman told of their church’s recent decision to remodel their sanctuary to create space on stage for dances popular in the Asian culture and to sit around tables rather than in pews. Despite their preference to retain a traditional sanctuary, members of the Faith Community congregation, primarily the church’s older members, paid for the chairs.

“It is not lost on me how hard that was to do,” said Holman. “The kingdom of God is more important than our preference.”

FPU President Stephens spoke Friday morning. He shared his personal story and then reflected on the parable of the fisherman and the net. Matt. 13:47-50, making four observations.

FPU President André Stephens shared his on story Friday morning as part of his message on the parable of the fishermen and the net. Photo: Connie Faber

Stephens conclude with a caution—there are believers and make-believers—and the reminder that Jesus will return.

Retired seminary professor Tim Geddert spoke on the parable of the weeds from Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43. After offering observations about this parable, Geddert said, “We are told what almost everything is—everything is identified—except for one thing: what the parable is about.

Jesus says parables reveal and conceal, said Geddert, and then Geddert noted several things we can learn from this parable.

“When Jesus interacted with hpeople or talked about them, he never called anybody a weed,” Tim Geddert said in his introduction to the parable of the wheat and the weeds. Photo: Connie Faber

Chris Bennett, Butler Church, along with Lawrence Smith, PDC associate minister, and others, including FPU students, led in singing prior to the messages.

Also on the schedule

Delegates could attend two of five workshops offered Friday afternoon. Christa Wiens, North Fresno Church, spoke about being a trauma-informed church; Nathan Ensz, Kingwood Bible Church, Salem, Oregon, outlined how to host a marriage retreat; Silvia Lopez and Galen Wiest, Multiply, led a prayer walk around the FPU campus; Phil Wiebe, Lakeview Church, Grantsville, Utah, spoke about recruiting and keeping volunteers; and Jared Pulliam, Christ Church Sellwood, Portland, Oregon, addressed expository teaching.

Agency representatives set up displays in the Ministry Hub. MB Foundation sponsored the breaks, held in the Ministry Hub. Prior to the workshops, ministry partner representatives were introduced.

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