PDC delegates tackle business, focus on Christ
By Myra Holmes
When delegates of the Pacific District Conference (PDC) met for their biennial convention Nov. 6-7, their focus was on Christ. Between reminders that Christ is the foundation, they tackled two important business issues, welcomed two new churches and heard many stories of how God is at work in the district.
Neighborhood Church, Visalia, Calif., hosted the convention with what district minister Gary Wall calls “gracious hospitality.” The PDC is comprised of 117 churches located in Arizona, California, Oregon, Utah and Washington; 31 churches were represented. Roughly 160 registered delegates and guests attended, down slightly from 175 at the 2007 convention.
The convention theme was, “Anchored in Christ,” from Colossians 1:15-20. Four speakers addressed the theme: Paul Robie, pastor of South Mountain Community Church, Draper, Utah; Forrest Jenan, pastor of student ministries at Neighborhood Church, Visalia; Elmer Martens, president and professor emeritus at MB Biblical Seminary, Fresno, Calif.; and Tim Neufeld, representing Fresno Pacific University, Fresno.
Again and again, speakers reminded delegates that Christ is both the historic and current foundation for Mennonite Brethren. “Nothing has changed in that regard,” Wall says.
Stories of lives transformed by Christ were woven throughout the convention during the various reports and during Friday evening’s Home Missions Dinner. Robie served as speaker for that event, which is a traditional highlight of convention.
Christ’s transforming work was evidenced in a tangible way Saturday morning when the district officially welcomed two new congregations. The Grove is a four-year-old congregation in southeast Fresno, Calif., led by Sam and Annette Sarkissian. Oneness in Christ Church is a new Korean-language church plant in Northridge, Calif., led by Travis and Lisa Koh.
During business sessions, delegates tackled two recommendations brought by the district’s Board of Trustees. Both were affirmed with little discussion. Wall credits the Trustees for preparing churches and delegates well, thus minimizing potential conflict and allowing the district to move forward.
The first recommendation dealt with earnings from the district’s Church Planting Reserve, which funnels monies from church closures and property sales into new church planting efforts. Earnings from this fund are used to offer interest-free loans to emerging churches and, in a limited way, to support the district’s general budget. Delegates approved a simplified formula to allow funds to, as Wall says, “release more funds into ministry without jeopardizing the core of those funds.”
The second recommendation clarified the district’s property reversion policy, an issue which Wall says had become divisive in recent years. The bylaws of both the national U.S. Conference and the district say that if a church closes or otherwise ceases to be a member of the Mennonite Brethren family, ownership of property reverts back to the conference. In the PDC, an additional recorded reversion agreement had been attached to titles since the 1950s.
The reversion clause is intended to reinforce denominational connections, provide accountability and protect local congregations from rogue leadership. Wall admits, however, that the policy has been applied in “a less-than-consistent manner,” and newer church plants have expressed resistance.
“So we listened to our constituents,” Walls says. According to the recommendation approved by delegates, the district will no longer require the additional recorded reversion agreement and will rely on the bylaws.
The recommendation is “the fairest way” to apply the reversion clause, Wall says, and will hopefully allow the district to put this issue to rest. “We’ve got important work to do,” says Wall. “It’s not that this issue isn’t important, but we need to move beyond this issue.”
Overall, Wall describes the convention as a positive, unifying time. “There are so many good things happening in the district,” he says.
Home Missions Dinner focuses on Utah
A perennial highlight of the Pacific District Conference convention is the Home Missions Dinner, which is open to attendees of area churches as well as convention delegates. Since the event focuses on church planting, it is appropriate that veteran PDC church planter Paul Robie was the featured speaker at the Nov. 6 dinner.
Robie and his family moved to Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1998 with the support of the PDC and Mission USA, the church planting arm of U.S. Mennonite Brethren. Their vision was to plant an MB church in an area dominated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Today, South Mountain Community Church (SMCC) is a growing congregation with one daughter church, Shadow Mountain Church, and two satellite campuses, Daybreak Community Church and The Springs. Together, these four congregations represent 600 baptisms, some 2,000 worshippers and countless stories of lives transformed by Christ.
Robie talked about the need for and challenges of church planting in Utah’s unique culture. Here’s a taste of what he told those who attended the dinner:
- “Church planting in Utah is necessary because of the lack of impact the evangelical church has made so far.”
- “The deceit by the Mormon Church has gone unchecked for far too long.”
- “We are not the ones who started this ‘war for the gospel.’ (Mormons) declared war on biblical Christianity the day Joseph Smith spoke of his ‘vision’ from God and declared that all the Christian churches were wrong.”
- “Church planting in Utah is necessary in order to spread God’s fame where it has been ripped off and degraded.”
- “Utah is a major battleground for the glory of God. The only way to get the job done is to be aggressive in church planting, campusing and building.”—MH