Participants enjoy worship, workshops, art, much more at ABHMS’ ‘Space for Grace’

VALLEY FORGE, PA (ABNS 11/20/18)—More than 500 individuals gathered for dynamic preachers and presenters, Spirit-filled worship, more than 24 “Leadership,” “Discipleship” and “Healing and Transforming Communities”-themed workshops, thought-provoking conversations, hands-on local activities, and faith-inspired art and performances at American Baptist Home Mission Societies’ (ABHMS) “Thy Will Be Done”-themed Space for Grace 2018 national conference held Wednesday through Friday in Philadelphia.

The Rev. Dr. Julie Vaughn, staff chaplain at Highline Medical Center, Burien, Wash., was excited to participate in “Explore Challenges and Opportunities in Philadelphia’s Asian American Community”—one of four opening-day activities.

“Every time I get a chance to dig deep into someone else’s culture, that’s what I’m about,” she said, as someone who often finds herself at the bedside of patients who are not U.S. natives.

Having led volunteers in serving a meal at Philadelphia’s Broad Street Ministry earlier that day, evening homilist the Rev. Lauren Lisa Ng, ABHMS director of Leadership Empowerment, recalled growing up with parents who taught their children to eat everything on their plates.

Ng asked, “What are those women and men [at Broad Street Ministry] doing tonight, as their stomachs begin to grumble again?”

Evening worship speaker Dr. Molly T. Marshall, president and professor of Theology and Spiritual Formation at Central Baptist Theological Seminary, Shawnee, Kan., asked, “How is God’s will accomplished, and what is the role of the human in it?”

As she examined the question, using the Bible’s Josiah as an example, she further asked, “What do we throw out? What do we keep? What do we recover? And what do we adapt from our culture?”

During morning worship on the second day, homilist the Rev. Dr. Leslie D. Callahan, pastor of St. Paul’s Baptist Church, Philadelphia, said that the challenge to today’s nation and church is deciding whose testimony to embrace and whose to dismiss.

“Testimony is crucial to the very arc of salvation history,” she said. “Where would we have been had Mary, Jesus’ mother, been unwilling to tell her incredible story?”

The Rev. Dr. Corey D.B. Walker, vice president, dean and professor of Religion and Society at Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology, Virginia Union University, Richmond, then preached on a theme with which he said he has been wrestling: “Desegregating God toward a Theology of Freedom.”

“It does not matter who you are. The invitation is extended,” he stressed. “It does not matter what you do. The invitation is extended. It does not matter your family background. The invitation is extended. It does not matter where you live. The invitation is extended. It does not matter how much money you have. We are all invited to join together, to pray together, to worship together, to live together, to embody this Word and take up this work of freedom.”

During that evening’s worship, homilist the Rev. Jamie P. Washam, ABHMS board member and pastor of First Baptist Church in America, Providence, R.I., said that forgiveness must become a perpetual way of life.

“If you don’t forgive others, you will not receive forgiveness,” she reminded those assembled. “All of us have been hurt. And all of us have been hurt by others.”

Featured preacher the Rev. Dr. Raphael G. Warnock, senior pastor, Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, addressed “Making Music in a Messed-up World,” stressing the nexus of faith, music, memory and emotion. Discussing the singing, dancing and tambourine-playing of the Bible’s Miriam and other freed Israelite women, he said, “If your praise is authentic, there ought to be some protest in your praise. If God is sovereign—and she is.”

During closing day’s morning homily, Shane Claiborne, founder of The Simple Way, Philadelphia, and co-director of Red Letter Christians, discussed contemporary issues facing the United States and its churches.

“I don’t know how you hold a cross in one hand and a gun in the other,” he said.

Morning worship featured a “Rebuilding, Restoring, Renewing Puerto Rico” panel discussion, moderated by the Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Conde-Frazier, coordinator of Relations for Theological Entities at the Association of Hispanic Theological Education. Panelists were the Rev. Edgardo M. Caraballo, executive minister of Iglesias Bautistas de Puerto Rico; Josué D. Gómez-Menéndez, Esq., president of American Baptist Churches USA; the Rev. Laura Ayala, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico; and the Rev. Salvador Orellana, ABHMS director of Intercultural Ministries and the “Rebuilding, Restoring, Renewing Puerto Rico” initiative.

“God gives us opportunities to walk by hope rather than sight,” said Ayala, whose church served 17,000 meals in the three months after Hurricane Maria.

At a presentation during that day’s luncheon, Jennifer Jones Austin, Esq., CEO of the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, New York City, and daughter, granddaughter and great-granddaughter of Baptist preachers, shared about surviving leukemia. Among the positive outcomes of her illness were bringing awareness about the national bone marrow registry and increasing its registrants by more than 13,000.

“This isn’t about me,” she said. “If the Lord was going to allow me to suffer, it must have been for some purpose bigger than me.”

At that evening’s worship, the Rev. Dr. Amy Butler, senior minister, The Riverside Church, New York City, preached about the evils entrenched in our culture and its systems.

“Let us be the ones who speak truth to power,” she said. “If you are not interested in that, you have to pack it in, Church. It is that simple and that hard.”

In the benediction, ABHMS Executive Director Dr. Jeffrey Haggray said, “It is my hope that, this week, your soul has been renewed again. Go back renewed. Go back strong in the Lord.”

A collection for the New Sanctuary Movement and Esperanza, both nonprofit organizations in Philadelphia, yielded $2,593.49, while a collection for Ruth Maldonado Retreat Center, Puerto Rico, raised $3,303.93.

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.