Delegates approve recommendations, hear reports, enjoy evening programs
By Connie Faber
U.S. Mennonite Brethren from all five district conferences traveled to Omaha, Neb., in late July for two back-to-back events: the National Pastors Conference held July 25-26 at Embassy Suites Old Market and Conection 2012, the USMB delegate convention held the following two days at the same downtown hotel.
The delegate convention and Pastor’s Conference shared the theme, “Be One,” taken from Jesus’ prayer for all believers in John 17. USMB Executive Director Ed Boschman began the opening Conection 2012 address with a call to be unified so that USMB can better serve the world. Various reports and both evening speakers also referred to the convention theme.
A secondary theme was the importance and power of prayer. Prayer was the focus of the pastor’s event with James Nicodem, pastor of Christ Community Church and author of Prayer Coach, as the keynote speaker. Times of prayer characterized both the National Pastors Conference and the delegate convention.
Conection 2012 was a notable convention on at least two fronts: the location and decisions regarding finances.
Location: The 2012 convention marks the first time Mennonite Brethren congregations in Omaha hosted the biennial USMB delegate convention. In fact, the last time delegates traveled to the Central District for a national convention was in 1980 when they met in St Paul, Minn.
The five USMB Omaha congregations did an excellent job hosting their 298 guests. Wearing black “One Mission” t-shirts, they greeted delegates and convention guests, provided childcare, organized and volunteered as on-site hosts for local service projects, hosted the Discover Omaha bus tour, served as workshop speakers and provided music during the two evening dinners.
Finances: Delegates unanimously passed an historic $1 million budget that increases USMB’s investment in church planting, national staff and promotion. In related action, delegates also approved a new strategy for determining the amount local congregations will be asked to contribute to the national conference, bringing an end to the decades-long “norms” formula.
A dozen years ago, delegates to the 2000 convention approved a budget approaching $1 million and the following year the Board of Church Ministries, the executive board empowered to serve as the decision-making body between regular conventions, approved a 2001-02 budget of $1,087,245. These budgets represented a vision for ministry that included an increase in church planting and the addition of a full-time national executive director and a team of part-time regional fundraisers. When a decentralized fundraising strategy did not work as hoped, the budget was reduced and USMB ministries were downsized.
In the years following the difficult cut backs, a fulltime USMB executive director was hired, existing ministries were strengthened and additional staff members hired, in spite a sluggish economy. And now once again, delegates were being asked to commit to a budget that included planting more churches and increasing staff.
As was the case a decade ago, the prospect of seeing lives transformed by God as new U.S. Mennonite Brethren churches are planted is likely what prompted delegates to approve a $1 million-plus budget for the first time. The approved 2012-13 budget of $1,018,524, an increase of 20 percent over the previous year, passed unanimously following minimal discussion.
Church giving for 2012-13 is again pegged at $420,000 while staff fundraising is expected to increase in order to balance the budget. But USMB leaders hope replacing the “norms” approach to church giving with a proportional funding strategy will help to increase the number of churches contributing to the budget. Currently only 30 percent of the churches contribute to the national conference.
Under the new plan, each USMB congregation is asked to forward 2.5 percent of their annual income, defined as tithes and offerings received by the congregation to support its general budget. Three delegates commented on the recommendation, and it passed with one dissenting vote.
While their parents were involved in morning business sessions, children and youth were kept busy with activities designed for their respective age groups. Volunteers from Stony Brook Church, a recent USMB church plant in Millard, Neb., organized “Red Sea Kids Conference” for 23 children through elementary school. This group also met during the evening sessions. Saturday evening they performed for the adults during the final session. Teens attended the evening sessions but enjoyed a variety of morning activities organized by Ben Thorson from Faith Bible Church. Read the related story.
Delegates spent the afternoons pursuing hands-on activities. Workshops on a variety of topics were offered in the early afternoon, followed by a service opportunity Friday and an informative bus tour of Omaha on Saturday. Read more about afternoon activities.
Evenings were intended to be inspirational and entertaining. Comedian Kenn Kington entertained the crowd Friday night, and Alex Kendrick, actor, screenwriter and pastor, spoke the next evening. Read more about the evening sessions.
Iglesia Agua Viva, a USMB Hispanic congregation from Omaha, provided dinner music Friday evening and The Chad Stoner Band performed Saturday evening. Musicians from The Bridge Bible Church of Bakersfield, Calif., served as the worship band for the week.
Four USMB partner ministries contributed towards the breaks and meals served during the convention. Tabor College sponsored the Friday morning break while Fresno Pacific University and Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary were the Saturday break sponsors. MB Foundation was the Friday dinner sponsor and MB Mission did the same Saturday.
Ministry partners set up displays in the hallway outside the large hotel meeting room as well as the perimeter of the room itself. Agencies and ministries that reported to delegates had displays as did Family Life Network, a media ministry of the Manitoba (Canada) MB Conference; Mennonite Central Committee, Mennonite World Conference and Mennonite Disaster Service.
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