Southern District convention attendees hear from James Bryan Smith
By Myra Holmes
When 187 delegates and guests gathered July 31-Aug. 2 in Norman, Okla., for the 95th biennial convention of the Southern District Conference (SDC), they received two congregations into the district and celebrated an emerging church plant.
First Mennonite Church, Clinton, Okla., and The Rock of Southwest, Littleton, Colo., were officially received as district churches during the first business session Friday evening.
Lynn Quiring, representing the Clinton congregation, said the church was drawn to the Mennonite Brethren Confession of Faith and noted that they are near geographically to several Mennonite Brethren congregations in Oklahoma, so already feel an affinity. Interim pastor Daniel Mosburg, who also attended the Pastors’ Get-Together, said he had already met many “incredible” people and felt welcomed by “a neat group of people.”
The Rock of Southwest recently merged with Belleview Community Church, Littleton, Colo. The new congregation will be known as The Rock of Southwest and will be dually-affiliated with the Mennonite Brethren and Converge Worldwide. Bruce Fosdick, lead pastor of The Rock, and Mike Andrews, former lead pastor of Belleview and current associate pastor at The Rock, said the merger was driven by a deep desire to evangelize Denver and a firm belief that unity is the best way to accomplish that dream.
“This merger for us, that’s what it’s all about: becoming unified so that our community can be fully evangelized,” said Andrews.
Fosdick said The Rock was re-started as a church plant some 15 years ago. Now a congregation of 1,100 to 1,200, the church has a goal of planting a new church every year. Fosdick says he believes the merger will provide a strong foundation from which to do so.
The merger became official in April. The Rock has closed the Belleview campus and is building on the site.
Delegates voted to receive The Rock and to also allow the district’s executive council to negotiate and fulfill a variance to district bylaws regarding the handling of capital assets as a result of this merger.
District leaders prayed over the two congregations and presented each with a plaque with the words of Ephesians 2:19: “You are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people.”
A third new congregation, Lighthouse Church, Golden, Colo., was celebrated during Saturday evening’s Church Extension and Evangelism Commission (CEEC) dessert. Lighthouse is being planted through a partnership of CEEC, Mission USA, the USMB’s church planting arm, and Mountain View Community Church, Fresno, Calif. The church plant is working toward a public launch in October.
Josh Shaw, church plant pastor for Lighthouse, talked about the vision for the church plant and shared the story of a man who attended one of their pre-launch services and accepted Christ as a result. “A church that has yet to launch has already seen someone come to Jesus,” Shaw said. “Our dream is to have baptisms on launch day.”
Attendees gathered around and prayed for Josh and Brianne Shaw.
The keynote speaker for both the convention and the Pastors Get-Together was James Bryan Smith, a theology professor from Friends University, Wichita, Kan., and author of a number of books on Christian spiritual formation. The convention theme, “The Good and Beautiful” alludes to the title of his popular book series: The Good and Beautiful God, The Good and Beautiful Life and The Good and Beautiful Community. Attendees were given a copy of Smith’s The Good and Beautiful Community.
Smith’s three keynote messages focused on community and the church. While the church is far from perfect, he told attendees, it is “God’s best for his people.”
He told attendees to be encouraged by knowledge that Christ’s church will be victorious in the end, and he urged unity. “We are focused on the body of Christ universal as well as our local expression.”
Finally, he told a personal story of a valuable guitar to urge attendees to view all people as sacred and valuable. “The person next to us is way more valuable than an Eric Clapton guitar.”
Smith was also the speaker for the Pastors’ Get-Together, attended by 76 pastors and spouses July 29-31. During worship sessions, Smith urged pastors to care for their own souls in order to minister to others most effectively. True to the message of his books, he encouraged attendees to cultivate a deeper spirituality by practicing certain spiritual disciplines. Judging by hallway conversations with those in attendance, his message was received as a practical and helpful reminder.
Worship for the convention sessions was led by a team from Avenue Denver, the English-language service of Ethiopian Evangelical Church, Aurora, Colo. District Minister Tim Sullivan explained that the team willingly filled the need on short notice and drove all night to get to the convention. Their contemplative style seemed to be well-received by attendees.
A total of 11 workshops were offered during two time slots during convention, with presenters from Mennonite Brethren ministries and partners such as MB Foundation, USMB Leadership Board, Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary, MB Mission and Tabor College. By far the most well-attended workshop was “Marriage, MBs and the Supremes,” presented by SDC district minister Tim Sullivan. The discussion revolved around the recent Supreme Court ruling on marriage, the Mennonite Brethren position and response and current thinking on local church responses.
In other convention business, delegates affirmed budgets for the next two years that, according to Arlan Potter, Stewardship Commission chair, varied little from the budgets of previous years. Delegates also affirmed a new slate of district leaders. Bruce Eitzen of Hesston, Kan., succeeds Dave Buller of Topeka, Kan., as district chair.
Both the convention and the pastors’ gathering were held at the National Center for Employee Development (NCED) Conference Center and Hotel on the outskirts of Oklahoma City. The NCED is a training center for employees of the US Postal Service and features a Marriott hotel and resort-style amenities. SDC attendees could take advantage of free time options like the outdoor pool, gymnasium or health spa.
That free time was an important facet of both convention and the pastors’ gathering, since connecting and building relationships was a goal of both events. Attendees explored area attractions, took advantage of NCED amenities, lingered for conversation or enjoyed much-need down time.
Children and teens attended age-appropriate activities during both events. District administrative assistant Chris Spahr led a team of volunteers from First MB Church, Wichita, Kan., and Lighthouse Community Church, Wichita, Kan. Children learned about Bible “superheroes” through lessons, crafts and games–with Jesus being the ultimate hero. Nearly 30 babies, children and teens were registered for the convention and pastors’ event.
Attendance at both the convention and the pastors’ event was up from the last few biennial events; a total of 222 registered for convention this year compared to 156 in 2013 and 179 in 2011. For the Pastors’ Get-Together, 114 registered this year, compared to 102 in 2013 and 87 in 2011. Many observers, including speaker Smith and district minister Sullivan, noted that many younger pastors were present. “It is gratifying to see so many young women and men who are willing to answer the call to serve Jesus and his bride, the church,” Sullivan says.
Photo 1: District leaders pray over representatives of First Mennonite Church, Clinton, Okla., as the church was officially received into the district. Pictured (left-right): Dave Buller, district chair; Lynn Quiring, of First Mennonite; Daniel Mosburg, interim pastor; Garvie Schmidt, SDC executive council.
Photo 2: Musicians from Avenue Denver, the English-language service of Ethiopian Evangelical Church, Aurora, Colo., led worship for the convention.
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