Potluck of reports whets appetites

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U.S. MB delegates approve budget, leaders, change bylaws

by Myra Holmes

Mennonite Brethren are known as People of the Book. But unofficially, they are also people of the potluck. Where Mennonite Brethren gather, food abounds.

So it is perhaps appropriate that the business portion of Conection 2010, the USMB biennial convention held in conjunction with Celebration 2010 in Vancouver, BC, July 15-16, felt a bit like a potluck, complete with tables laden with a variety of scrumptious goodies and not enough time to taste them all. As if to reinforce this notion, attendees even sat around tables for the reports, decisions and discussion.

The featured goodies came in the form of a smorgasbord of reports from U.S. Conference ministries and partners. The largest segment of the day was given to Mission USA, the church planting and renewal arm of USMBs, for reports from church planters across the U.S. Each talked passionately about their vision for reaching their particular community and told about lives transformed by Christ.

  • Jeff and Lianne Nikkel lead Trailhead Church, a four-year-old project in Centennial, Colo. Jeff Nikkel told of a recent service project that was a catalyst for conversation with a man who said he was “running from God.”

Gary and Cindy Mejia, church planters with Eagles Harbor Community Church, Clovis, Calif., talked about a plateau in growth that was broken after much prayer and fasting. The church has seen a 33 percent growth spurt this spring.

  • Roger Engbrecht, district minister for the Central District Conference, said members at Christ Community Church, Sioux Falls, SD, are learning to become bold in their witness and gave an example of one man who printed up testimonial t-shirts and was able to share Christ with the printer.
  • Morris told about outreach efforts at SMCC @ Daybreak, a campus of South Mountain Community Church in Salt Lake City, Utah. “This is a church that is reaching Mormons,” Morris said, “and we’re not finished yet by a long shot.”
  • Josh Gonzales talked about the newest church plant emerging in Salt Lake City, which especially draws outsiders in this predominantly Mormon community. “We’ll accept anybody,” Gonzales said.
  • Paul Bartel, part of the church planting team for Watershed in Kansas City, Mo., talked about the group’s partnership with their local elementary school in an effort to be “the tangible hand of God in our community.”
  • Vaughn and Taryn Jost presented their vision for “The Micah Project” in Littleton, Colo., the first church plant out of Trailhead Church.
  • Aaron and Alejandra Hernandez, of Grulla (Texas) MB Church, shared how MUSA has come alongside their congregation as they re-imagined their vision and mission in the past four years.
  • Terry Hunt, The Life Center, Lenoir, NC, gave a video tour of their nearly-ready new facility, which will enhance ministry for all district churches and youth.

The feast of stories was just enough to whet appetites. “We’re doing this together,” said MUSA director Don Morris. “I invite you to invest with us.”

BFL surveys delegates

With two years of work under its belt, the relatively new national Board of Faith and Life (BFL) was also given a longer reporting time. BFL chair Larry Nikkel noted how easily institutions can slide into compromise. In order to prevent that kind of drift among U.S. MBs, he said, BFL is “taking stock of how we’re walking the talk.”

Nikkel led attendees in a survey that considered how well U.S. MBs practice each article of the MB Confession of Faith. The survey was conducted using “response card” technology that allowed those present to see results almost instantly. BFL will use survey results to focus their efforts in the coming months.

In the Christian Leader report, editor Connie Faber and assistant editor Myra Holmes traced the 126-year history of North American MB communications, an effort intended from the beginning to connect a far-flung family and inspire the mission.

Binational ministries report

MBMS International and MB Biblical Seminary were each given opportunity to follow up on reports given during Thursday’s binational reporting session. Although their questions were unique to their respective conferences, Canadian and U.S. delegates shared a common concern for how the recent decision to transfer MB Biblical Seminary-Fresno to Fresno Pacific University will impact theological education and pastoral training.

U.S. delegates were not given the opportunity to address this transition on the convention floor. Instead, those who wished to discuss the changes did so during lunch. Seminary president Lynn Jost summarized the noon discussion saying, “We received a strong word to not give up on working together,” referring to partnerships, specifically with Tabor College, to extend theological education beyond Fresno, Calif.

Delegates also sampled reports from the National Youth Convention, Tabor College, Fresno Pacific University and MB Foundation.

It was a full table, and, as is often the case at a really great MB potluck, there were too many goodies and too little time. While a tight schedule was necessary to conform to the allotted time slot, some attendees expressed informal frustration at the pacing of the reports.

Church planters, for example, were given only six minutes to share their vision and tell a story of transformation—barely a taste. Speakers were sometimes not-so-gently reminded that their time was at an end.

That pacing continued when it was time to get down to business; delegates dispatched the decisions quickly and with minimal discussion. They passed a budget representing a less than 1 percent increase over the past year; affirmed new representatives to the Leadership Board and other partner ministries; and approved a change in U.S. Conference bylaws to allow district ministers sit on the BFL by virtue of their position.

Newly-appointed board members include: Sue Kliewer, Auberry, Calif.; Clyde Ferguson, Hudson, NC; Vyacheslav “Slavic” Gladysh, Fresno, Calif.; Aaron Hernandez, Grulla, Texas; Marv Schellenberg, Wichita, Kan.; and Jodi Thomas, Rapid City, SD. Continuing board members are: Steve Schroeder, Hillsboro, Kan.; David Hardt, Bakersfield, Calif.; and Matt Kolbert, Clovis, Calif.

As Conection 2010 wrapped up, executive director Ed Boschman gave a taste of what’s next, including:

  • A review and revamping of the “norms” system for conference giving—a system that Boschman says has been “on wobbly legs for some time.”
  • Better connections with the third of US MBs who are Slavic, which may include part-time staff.
  • A continuing emphasis on leadership development. Boschman encouraged congregations and pastors to “pray out the next generation of leaders.”
  • A new effort to communicate electronically, including a search for a part-time social media coordinator, who will be based in California’s Central Valley.

US MBs will meet—and hopefully feast again on reports of transformation—again in 2012 in Omaha, Neb.

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