ABHMS board celebrates more than two decades of officers’ faithful service

VALLEY FORGE, PA (ABNS 11/18/19)—At American Baptist Home Mission Societies’ (ABHMS) board of directors meeting Nov. 12-13, members celebrated the steadfast, faithful service of retiring officers, President Dr. Clifford I. Johnson and Vice President Wendy Hagn, who served 15 and eight years, respectively.

Johnson—the longest serving president—joined the board in 2004 and was elected president in 2010, serving through ABHMS’ leadership transition from Dr. Aidsand F. Wright-Riggins III to Dr. Jeffrey Haggray in 2015. “When I realized how much wisdom he had to share,” said Executive Director Dr. Jeffrey Haggray of Johnson, “it was hard not to call on him all the time.” As a perpetual symbol of appreciation for Johnson’s “sterling” service, Haggray announced ABHMS has named the Leadership and Mission Building’s Visitor Hub in his honor.

Johnson (left) and Hagn.

Hagn, who joined the board in 2010, served as secretary from 2012 to 2018 and vice president from 2018 to 2019. “We appreciate your meticulous dedication to this work and your loving spirit,” Haggray said in his tribute. “We are so grateful for your service.”

Haggray also announced that the Leadership and Mission Building’s Learning Center will be named for Executive Director Emeritus Wright-Riggins as “an indelible and lasting tribute” to his 24 years of service, the longest continuous tenure of an executive director in the organization’s history.

The board unanimously elected four new directors: the Rev. Laura Ayala, Puerto Rico; the Rev. Doug Harris, Chicago; Barbara Ragland, Ph.D., Chicago; and the Rev. Trevor Hyde, Brooklyn.

In an update about ABHMS’ Rebuilding, Restoring, Renewing Puerto Rico initiative, the Rev. Salvador Orellana, initiative director, reported that ABHMS invested $18,000 in the Ruth Maldonado Retreat Center in 2019 to house volunteers helping to rebuild the island. Volunteers working across the island to rebuild churches and homes have totaled more than 1,100 (serving in 93 teams) since 2018.

Sixty-seven homes were restored or repaired in 2019, thanks to grants totaling close to $60,000, and 65 pastors participated in an ABHMS-sponsored retreat to help them deal with the stress of ministering in the midst of such great ongoing need. Also, Judson Press’ “Restock the Shelves” fundraising effort has raised $10,845 to purchase books lost from Seminario Evangélico de Puerto Rico during Hurricane Maria.

Now moving into Phase III of the disaster recovery effort, ABHMS will focus on homes, Orellana said, seeking to raise $2.7 million from 2020 to 2022 to repair 450 houses, impacting close to 2,000 island residents. At least 25,000 families, Orellana said, continue to live under blue tarps, rather than sound roofs.

Board member Quinton Roman Nose provided a status report about Muskogee, Okla.’s Bacone College, which has been supported by ABHMS since 1880. Following an announced “suspension of operations” in 2018, “a courageous, transformational change has been taking place at the college” to realign the institution with its original mission to educate Native American students, he said. By chartering Bacone as a tribal college, the institution will qualify for securing federal funds “in partial fulfillment of the United States trust responsibility to educate Native American students.” Bacone continues to need the support of ABHMS “as much as possible,” he reminded board members.

Jennifer Sanborn, program director of ABHMS’ In Search of Excellence (ISOE), reported that ABHMS has received a second grant from the Lilly Foundation for this financial literacy and wellness ministry for American Baptist clergy. The $500,000 sustainability award is intended to support the program’s Round II from 2019 to 2021, and focuses on “gathering relationally,” Sanborn said. Referencing the program in his report, Haggray said, “We are confident that the ISOE program will make tremendous progress in improving the financial condition of American Baptist clergy leaders in relationship to the congregations they serve.”

Concluding his report, Haggray reminded the directors: “This is a momentous period in the United States’ history, when so many of the values, traditions, institutions and pillars of faith and public life are being tested. In such a time as this, God calls ABHMS to be bold in practicing our faith, in standing on our principles rooted in the teachings of Jesus and in our long and tested legacy of speaking truth to power, promoting the Gospel of religious liberty and freedom, and advancing the cause of justice for all people.”

In a devotional moment, board member the Rev. Karen Yee said that the board is called to see new ways and create new visions. “We have a responsibility to discern God’s call, to take risks,” she said. “But only when we hear God’s invitation to come.”

Johnson closed the meeting by thanking the board for the days of hard work together. “I have been richly blessed,” he said. “Thank you for allowing me to serve God in this way.”

American Baptist Home Mission Societies partners with American Baptists to promote Christian faith, cultivate Christ-centered leaders and disciples, and bring healing and transformation to communities across the United States and Puerto Rico.

American Baptist Churches USA is one of the most diverse Christian denominations today, with approximately 5,000 congregations comprised of 1.3 million members, across the United States and Puerto Rico, all engaged in God’s mission around the world.