PDC convention all about family

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PDC hosted by new church plant, emphasizes church planting and working together

by Myra Holmes

When delegates of the Pacific District Conference (PDC) gathered for their semiannual convention Nov. 4-5 in Portland, Ore., they did business. But the emphasis and the feel was that of family. Some 84 delegates from the westernmost branch of the U.S. Mennonite Brethren, with churches in California, Washington, Oregon, Arizona and Utah, swapped stories of God at work, cheered each other on and garnered support for the work ahead.

“We have important work to do together—the work of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords,” said district minister Gary Wall in his report.

The convention was hosted by Trinity Church, Portland, Ore., a vibrant church plant that exemplifies the kind of stories celebrated. Trinity launched just a year ago as a partnership with the PDC and Mission USA, the church planting arm of the U.S. Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches (USMB). The congregation, which meets on the campus of Western Seminary, now has nearly 100 in attendance, reflects a community-appropriate diversity and is already self-sustaining.

More stories were celebrated during the Friday evening home missions banquet—clearly the emotional centerpiece of the weekend. Church planters in Portland; Salt Lake City, Utah; Clovis, Calif.; and Selma, Calif., spoke passionately of people whose lives have been changed because of Christ through MB church plants. Brad Klassen, pastor of Copper Hills Community Church, Phoenix, Ariz., introduced the next PDC church plant. This effort, led by Gavin Linderman and out of Copper Hills, is already reaching a younger generation. Gary Wall then unashamedly issued a call for support, asking for generous donations for home missions; the delegates responded with an offering of $6,425.00.

Again and again as stories were told, speakers referred to both local congregations and the larger church as family. The convention itself was another example of what one speaker called “relational glue,” with valuable conversations taking place in hallways, between sessions and over meals.

In spite of the talk about family from the podium, from the floor and in the hallways, key family members were conspicuously absent. The PDC is a district of ethnic diversity; 32 of the district’s 114 churches are Hispanic and 28 are Slavic. Yet the vast majority of those attending the convention—those who gathered around this family table—were Anglo, as pointed out by Juan Wall, representing the Hispanic Council. 

“We want to be one conference,” Wall said in his report, noting that Hispanic leaders are working on building bridges.

Desire to strengthen relationships threaded through reports from various boards. PDC Board of Faith and Life chair Rod Suess talked about pastoral retreats designed to strengthen relationships, while Jordan Ringhofer, representing the Board of Youth Ministries, told about efforts to gather youth pastors and students in order to build relationships. Rick Bartlett and Dina Gonzales-Pina, representing the Board of Leadership Development, likewise talked about the importance of relationships as the district seeks to call out and give opportunities to young leaders.

Delegates also heard oral reports from the District Minister and Associate District Minister, Executive Board, Treasurer, Board of Trustees, Hispanic Leadership Training and Hispanic Council, as well as from a number of guests. They convened a brief meeting of the Fresno Pacific Corporation, the shareholders of Fresno Pacific University, the MB school headquartered in Fresno, Calif., and heard reports from the school. Special thanks was given to FPU President D. Merrill Ewert, who will retire in July 2012.

Each day’s sessions began with a challenge from Scripture, the foundation of this family’s values. Art Azurdia, pastor of Trinity Church, set the stage with a reminder from Hebrews 1:1-3 of the supremacy of Christ. It was a fitting start for a convention themed, “Honor and glory to the King.” Terry Brensinger, the new professor of pastoral theology at Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary (FPBS), started Saturday’s sessions with a devotional from Colossians 1:1-3, challenging attendees to choose to focus on the eternal.

In a new move, PDC offered three Saturday afternoon workshops to equip church leaders, centered on the themes of church, work and money. Christine Wall, representing MB Foundation, addressed encouraging generosity in challenging economic times; Norm Thiesen, professor of pastoral counseling at Western Seminary and a leader at Trinity Church, discussed a Christian theology of work; and Terry Brensinger of FPBS explored the nature of the church in his popular workshop.

In other business, delegates affirmed new leaders, approved a fairly flat budget for the coming year, and recognized two new PDC congregations: Eagles Harbor Community Church, Clovis, Calif., and Trinity Church. 

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