Church planting continues during 2013 in spite of financial challenges
By Connie Faber
Revising Article 13, Love and Nonresistance, of the USMB Confession of Faith is the top Christian Leader news story for 2013. The review process began January 24-26, 2013, at a study conference hosted by the national Board of Faith and Life (BFL) in Phoenix, Ariz., and the process is expected to conclude in 2014.
In October 2013, BFL issued a preliminary recommendation based on eight months of public discussion that included counsel and feedback on several drafts from study conference participants, USMB pastors, district boards of faith and life, district conventions (picture left) and Bible, ministry and theology professors at Tabor College, Fresno Pacific University and Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary as well as the International Community of Mennonite Brethren, the Canadian Conference of MB Churches and Mennonite Central Committee. Guidance and comments were also collected via an online forum hosted on the USMB website.
BFL will finalize the recommendation when the board meets in March 2014, and USMB National Convention delegates will take action on that recommendation this summer during Conection 2014.
2013, the second year of an ambitious 10-year effort to plant six new USMB congregations a year for a total of 60 new USMB congregations by 2022, saw mixed results. Mission USA, the USMB church planting and church renewal ministry, is working with the five regional districts to achieve this national ministry goal.
- Three of the congregations planted in 2012—Axiom Church in the greater Phoenix, Ariz., area, Disciples Church in Spokane, Wash., and Christ Church Sellwood in the metro Portland, Ore., area—began holding public worship services in 2013.
- Mission USA had a part in planting three new churches in 2013. The USMB national church planting and renewal ministry partnered with the Pacific District Conference to plant a church in Las Vegas, Nev., and one in Saratoga Springs, Utah and with the Latin American MB Conference to plant a church in Mission, Texas.
- Thanks to the addition of the church in Las Vegas—Friends of Jesus Church, a re-launch of an existing independent congregation with a significant Filipino-American makeup (Friends of Jesus pastors pictured right)—U.S. Mennonite Brethren now have a church in a sixth western state. Another expansion into new territory occurred on the other side of the country when the North Carolina District Conference welcomed a largely Hispanic congregation, Iglesia de Dios Bethel, Lenoir, NC, into their district. This was the first time that the NCDC added a church since 1942.
Financial efforts—for today and tomorrow
Planting 60 new churches in a decade will require additional financial resources and fundraising was a priority in 2013. The USMB Leadership Board approved a budget plan which included a decision to spend $50,000 from financial reserves to support the ministry vision. Fundraising efforts by executive director Ed Boschman were very effective. New fundraising efforts included Plant 2013 fundraising dinners and auctions—one held in California and the other in Kansas. Unfortunately USMB finished the 2012-13 fiscal year with a deficit, in part because of an unforeseen expense needed to correct a payroll error. This past fiscal year church giving, the largest single source of income for the national conference, was up over the previous year—from $384,937 in 2011-12 to $407,592 in 2012-13.
In an effort to increase annual USMB income over the long term, USMB and MB Foundation, the U.S. Mennonite Brethren stewardship ministry, hosted Will Power events in Oklahoma, Kansas, South Dakota and California. The primary purpose of the nine events was to encourage attendees to leave legacy gifts to benefit USMB ministries.
Topping the list of USMB leadership transitions for 2013 is the announcement made by the Leadership Board in early June that Ed Boschman, USMB executive director since October 2007 will retire, effective at the conclusion of the July 2014 delegate convention. Meeting in executive session during their October 2013 meeting, the Leadership Board decided to defer the appointment of a new executive director until the board has reevaluated which leadership ministries and services it will provide.
A two-year venture to provide support for Slavic congregations affiliated with USMB was discontinued in early May. The resignation of Aleks Borisov, who was hired in September 2011 to fill the part-time position of Slavic Ministries director, prompted the decision. Borisov resigned in late March in order to plant an English-language church in Spokane, Wash., one of the 2012 USMB church plants to launch in 2013.
J Edward Epp, appointed in October 2012, concluded his ministry as the USMB director of development at the end of June 2013. Epp was the first person to hold the position on a full-time basis since it was created in 2011.
Terry Brensinger, who joined the Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary staff in 2011 as professor of pastoral ministry, began serving Aug. 1 as dean and vice president of the seminary. Brensinger holds a unique position as seminary dean/vice president in that FPBS is both a school within Fresno Pacific University and the USMB national seminary. Brensinger, an ordained minister in the Brethren in Christ Church, is the first person outside the Mennonite Brethren Church to lead the seminary.
The largest gathering of U.S. Mennonite Brethren in 2013 was the Southern District Youth Conference, the annual November gathering that attracted 500 high school students and their sponsors. The Central District Youth Conference, also held annually in November, drew 148 teens and sposors.
Other regional youth events this past year included the Latin America MB Conference’s first youth camp held in July that drew some 80 teens. A spring break service opportunity in March built on a one-day, regional youth conference organized the previous November by a group of Pacific District Conference youth pastors.
All five USMB district conferences—Central, Latin America, North Carolina, Pacific and Southern—held conventions in 2013. The Pacific District Conference celebrated their 100th anniversary during the November 8-9 convention hosted by Reedley (Calif.) MB Church, the congregation that hosted the first PDC convention.
The only national gathering in 2013 brought 33 pastoral staff members new to the pastorate or to USMB together for the National Pastors Orientation hosted by the Board of Faith and Life in March and held in San Diego, Calif.
Local church news
2013 was a year of ministry, celebrations and challenges for all USMB congregations, but several congregations observed milestone events.
- College Community Church Mennonite Brethren broke ground on a campus expansion and remodel May 26 as part of their 50th anniversary celebration.
- Birch Bay Bible Community Church of Blaine, Wash., celebrated its 75th anniversary July 5-7.
- Reedley (Calif.) MB Church dedicated their new two-story, 16,000-square-foot student center facility Sept. 8.
- Ethiopian Evangelical Church of Denver, Colo., converted two gyms and other features of a 27,000 square-foot former YMCA for use as a place of worship and community outreach. They dedicated their new facility the weekend of Nov. 30-Dec. 1.
- Two USMB congregations closed in 2013. After 50 years of ministry, The Bridge on Glendale, in Phoenix, Ariz., held is final service May 12. Eagles Harbor Community Church, a USMB congregation planted five years ago in Clovis, Calif., held its final service Dec. 29.
USMB ministry partner news
The Mennonite Brethren Historical Commission hosted its first student archival intern—Amanda Bartel, a student at Bluffton (Ohio) University—and selected Canadians Christine Kampen and Dorothy Peters as the first recipients of the MBHC research grant. The Commission is responsible for fostering historical understanding and appreciation among Mennonite Brethren in Canada and United States.
Both Fresno Pacific University (FPU) and Tabor College continued strong enrollments trends for Fall 2013. FPU, the MB school headquartered in Fresno, Calif., set both graduate and undergraduate enrollment records this fall while enrollment numbers for freshmen and new students were at an historic high at Tabor, the MB school headquartered in Hillsboro, Kan. Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary, a school of FPU and the USMB seminary, saw a 9 percent increase over the previous fall.
MB Mission partnered with Shorelife Community Church, Capitola, Calif., and Lincoln Glen Church, San Jose, Calif., to host SOAR Santa Cruz, a new mission opportunity that expands the global mission agency’s short-term mission options within U.S. borders. The pre-Easter mission March 22-30 drew 50 volunteers, primarily teens. MB Mission also hosted a Missional DNA Summit that brought together 15 pastors from Southeast Asia, 11 pastors from North America and 10 MB Mission staff members from North America and Southeast Asia (picture left). USMB participants who traveled to Thailand for the summit were Mission USA director Don Morris, Pacific District minister Gary Wall and pastors Chad Stoner of Omaha and Jeff Gowling of Bakersfield, Calif.
International MB news
North American guests were involved in the festivities when the India MB Conference dedicated the Hiebert Academic Center on the MB Centenary Bible College campus Feb. 28 in Shamshabad, India (picture right). Guests, including USMB representative Gary Wall, Pacific District minister, also attended graduation ceremonies at the Bible college, attended Sunday worship services and facilitated Bible studies with local pastors.
Two Japanese Mennonite Brethren were among the leaders of Japan’s five Anabaptist conferences that signed a letter encouraging Japanese Christians to defend their country’s “peace Constitution.”
In June, the International Community of Mennonite Brethren and Mennonite World Conference requested prayer for Colombia’s Mennonite Brethren Church of Chocó on the west coast of the country that has been negatively impacted by aerial fumigation carried out May 10 by the Colombian government.
In October, more than 300 Canadian Mennonite Brethren attended a national study conference in Edmonton, Alta., to discuss the church’s response to shifting societal attitudes on sexual practices.
Relief and recovery
Response to the civil war in Syria and a typhoon in the Philippines highlighted the work of Mennonite Central Committee in 2013. Since March 2011, MCC has distributed a total of $9.4 million, including $1.5 million in 2013, to people affected by the Syrian war. This year MCC worked through Syrian churches and other partners to deliver food, cash allowances and household supplies to more than 10,000 families in Syria and also to refugees in Lebanon and Jordan. After Typhoon Haiyan devastated islands of the Philippines in early November, MCC gave $200,000 for emergency food and household items.
In mid-December, Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) completed their work in Minot, ND, where they repaired Bible Fellowship Church, the city’s USMB congregation, and then used the refurbished facility as their headquarters. MDS worked on more than 100 homes in the community. MDS also concluded two-year rebuilding projects in Joplin, Mo., and Walker County, Ala., which suffered two of the worst tornado disasters in U.S. history in April and May of 2011. Mennonite Brethren volunteers served with the inter-Mennonite disaster relief organization in a variety of locations, including Minot and the Oklahoma City metro area where a series of tornados struck in May.