ABHMS Board of Directors gathers for facilitated communications workshop and regular meeting

VALLEY FORGE, PA (7/18/23)—The Board of Directors of American Baptist Home Mission Societies (ABHMS) convened in San Juan, Puerto Rico, for a working retreat and regular meeting over three days, June 19-21, prior to the American Baptist Churches USA’s (ABCUSA) Biennial Mission Summit that week.

The president of the board, the Rev. Dr. Jamie Washam, enthusiastically welcomed her colleagues and guests from ABHMS staff, and gave thanks for the safe return of Dr. Jeffrey Haggray, ABHMS executive director, from his months-long sabbatical. She commended the organization for its performance during Haggray’s absence and especially noted the dedication of Michaele Birdsall, ABHMS deputy executive director, treasurer and chief financial officer, who had temporarily assumed the executive director role.

The board then immersed itself in its retreat, a daylong workshop titled “Fierce Foundations” facilitated by Birdsall. Together they explored the criticality of effective, or “fierce,” communications for organizational success. Birdsall stressed that “fierce” in this context connotes bold, meaningful, authentic and enriching communications intended to address tough challenges, encourage learning and strengthen relationships.

The workshop included several exercises designed to help participants recalibrate their thinking about conversations. Board members learned the importance of approaching tough subjects with a sense of urgency, how verbal exchanges are filtered through lived experience, and to appreciate the effectiveness of silence versus an outpouring of words as a key conversational tool.

When the board reconvened in regular session, Haggray delivered his remarks. First, he expressed gratitude for his sabbatical, characterizing it as a welcome time of reflection and spiritual renewal after a protracted period of disruption and change. He then touted some key accomplishments at ABHMS over the past year. Among these: an expanded chaplaincy network and strengthened scholarships program under Leadership Empowerment; the onboarding of new Intercultural Ministries leadership, including the Rev. Dr. Marie Onwubuariri, director, and the Rev. Abner Cotto-Bonilla and the Rev. Michele Turek, national coordinators; and the appointment of the Rev. Kerwin Webb and Min. Sandra Lee to ABHMS’ Healing & Transforming Communities ministry.

Haggray also reflected on ABHMS’ efforts to build and fortify external partnerships. “ABHMS staff … hosted the American Baptist Foundation as a means of strengthening our partnership with that important agency,” he said. Further, ABHMS brought “a sizeable delegation to the 2023 Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference in Atlanta to cultivate new ministry partners across the [United States] while expanding our mission impact.”

In addition, ABHMS took significant measures to strengthen itself internally, according to Haggray. All the organization’s staff received in-person fierce conversations training last February to “communicate more effectively and [deepen] trust throughout our organization,” he said. “My excitement for ABHMS’ mission engagement—present and future—continues to grow.”

Birdsall updated the board on the History in the Hallways project for ABHMS’ Leadership and Mission Building (LAMB). She described it as a collaborative endeavor of ABHMS staff and vendors to create an inspirational exhibit that will inform how American Baptists have changed the nation’s tapestry since the early 1800s. Currently in the planning phase, the display is expected to be organized around topics that include education, working with those on the margins, welcoming strangers and uplifting those who have been devastated by disasters.

The board next learned about ABHMS’ newly launched Summer Passionary Institute from the Rev. Lisa Harris Lee, director of Healing & Transforming Communities. The program formally began in late May with an orientation of the inaugural cohort of nine “passionaries,” ages 18-29 years, who will be interning at nine mission partner sites, including ABHMS, over a 10-week period.

Harris Lee described the institute as a unique opportunity for the interns to have “deep conversational and reflective engagement to help [them] determine their vocation; experiences that align with their developing sense of life calling;” and a connection with “people who are significantly impacted by challenging circumstances.”

Harris Lee anticipates that recruitment of the second cohort of passionaries will begin in Fall 2023. She also envisions members of the present cohort appearing at the 2024 Space for Grace & Spiritual Caregivers Conference next April. “These interns are a sign for us that new days are coming,” she said.

Less than one year from its 200th anniversary, Judson Press is poised to have a memorable celebration that climaxes next April during the Space for Grace & Spiritual Caregivers Conference. And while she eagerly anticipates this historic milestone, the Rev. Dr. Cheryl Price, publisher, is planning for the ministry’s next century.

To better align with the wants and needs of an evolving readership and a new generation of writers, Price said that Judson Press is investigating new publishing models. In addition to its traditional model, Price sees another path, “where writers have a larger financial stake in publishing their titles.” She also envisions a new imprint—Emerge Press—for up-and-coming writers who want to delve into areas not typically associated with Judson Press.

Price also foresees establishing a Judson Press authors club, with membership that could include perks such as discounts on workshops and activities of interest to authors. Also under consideration for members is author training delivered by Judson Press in collaboration with the ABHMS Center for Continuous Learning.

Chief Development Officer Vincent Dent described 2022 as a solid year for donations, which totaled more than $2.3 million, and other financial impact amounting to nearly $1.8 million arising from the custodial intake of more than $1.0 million to ABHMS’ Common Investment Fund and the dissemination of Palmer Grant and America for Christ Offering funds. Dent also highlighted two new initiatives now underway: a yearlong campaign to raise money for college scholarships that began in June 2023 and a regional event in September honoring donors from the mid-Atlantic region.

In her treasurer’s report, Birdsall emphasized strategic efforts to increase revenue streams from Judson Press, the ABHMS Center for Continuous Learning and ministrElife, while also encouraging greater donor support through the Office of Development. She concluded with a quick rundown of pending capital projects and a recognition of staff in ABHMS’ finance office for helping to facilitate “one of the most efficient audits in the history of the organization.” A motion to accept the audit was carried unanimously.

Rounding out the meeting, the board received an update on the status of Bacone College, Muskogee, Oklahoma, a school of higher learning for Indigenous People founded by the progenitor of ABHMS in the late 1800s. Board members also expressed an appetite for other training opportunities beyond “Fierce Foundations,” which had been enthusiastically embraced by the board as the focus of their retreat.

To learn more about ABHMS, please visit abhms.org.

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.