Alaska continues refocus on vision, 'face,' structure

by Karen L. Willoughby, posted Tuesday, October 01, 2019 (2 months ago)

SOLDOTNA, Alaska -- The Alaska Baptist Convention (ABC) entered the third year of its refocusing effort involving a "new vision, new face, new structure" at its 74th annual meeting Sept. 23-24 at College Heights Baptist Church in Soldotna. Messengers also learned that their churches' membership and attendance each grew by around 4 percent.

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A total of 115 congregations in a state more than twice the size of Texas affiliate with what will now be known as the Alaska Baptist Resource Network (ABRN.) This is ABC's new "face."

"We moved further with our rebranding, one of the major aspects of our three-year plan," said Randy Covington, ABRN's executive director/treasurer. "We have a new website -- alaskabrn.com -- which launched two months ago."

Alaska's new vision "is to be people who abide in Christ, build the Kingdom of heaven on earth, and cooperate in one sacred effort, or ABC for Abide, Build, Cooperate and for Alaska Baptist Convention," Covington told the messengers at last year's annual meeting.

At least 41 of Alaska's 115 congregations -- which stretch from Barrow in the Arctic to Unalaska off the Bering Sea -- sent messengers to this year's annual meeting.

Among the out-of-state guests were a couple serve in southern Europe with the International Mission Board; Rick Curtis, the North American Mission Board's assistant to the president for convention and associational relations; and Ashley Clayton, vice president for the Cooperative Program and Stewardship with the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee in Nashville, Tenn.

Representatives from Gateway Seminary, California Baptist University, and Wayland Baptist University Alaska campuses also were present.

"It was a good spirit with everybody who came," Covington said. "College Heights did a fabulous job hosting us, preparing meals, assisting with the sound system, and being available to meet every need."

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The annual meeting's "Rekindle" theme from 2 Timothy 1:6 -- Fan into flame the gift of God -- was to "encourage our churches to seek to be revitalized," Covington said.

Tracy Simmons preached Monday evening from John 5:8 where Jesus told the paralyzed man to "take up your mat and walk." Simmons is pastor of Christ Community Church in Anchorage and president of the Alaska Baptist Convention. He was reelected this year to a second one-year term.

"When you get up, it changes your whole perspective," Simmons preached. "We need to be prepared for change, rather than to make excuses for the current situation. Change and move ahead!"

Michael Bunton, pastor of Greater Friendship Baptist Church in Anchorage, preached "Don't let that flame flicker!" from the Rekindle theme verse.

New vision

Bunton's was a message that reverberated with the history of the church and the ABC. In 1951, Greater Friendship was one of two African American congregations to join the SBC after an era of separatism, since most African American churches had left the denomination by the 1870s, according to a June 2003 article in Baptist Press. Today, more than 4,000 SBC churches worship in an African American context.

"Alaska is unique," Covington said. "We're still a pioneer area. There are so many places and people still untouched by the Gospel. We need to be stepping up our game and doing everything we can to make sure we're touching every corner of our state."

Whether or not churches have pastors, resources are available from ABRN to help churches evaluate where they are and help them establish a plan to move in a positive direction for growth and outreach, Covington said.

In addition to ABC's 15 ongoing church plants are three new ones this year, two of which worship in a "Set Free" addiction recovery context. One of those, which started in early August in Wasilla, had 62 people participating in Saturday worship in mid-September, Covington said.

New budget

The 2020 budget for the Alaska convention was proposed by the Executive Board at its May meeting. Messengers at the annual meeting voted unanimously to adopt it.

The budget totaled $908,394.12, including $696,639.52 from Alaska churches, of which $116,106.59 is allocated for national Cooperative Program causes. The North American Mission Board contributes $100,000 for administrative support. LifeWay Christian Resources' support is $60,000. Another $51,754.60 is to come from various trusts held by the Alaska Baptist Foundation. See last year's report for more information.

The total 2020 budget is up $14,885.28 from last year's anticipated budget and includes $15,000 for Campus Ministries and a 3 percent cost-of-living personnel increase. Unknown until November: the new rate for medical insurance.

"The Cooperative Program will continue to be the lifeline of missions effectiveness in our state and around the world," Covington said. "We continue to encourage our churches to support CP.

"Our first mission field is Alaska; that's our Jerusalem and Judea," he continued. "We also recognize we have the responsibility to carry that message to the ends of the earth, and that's why we continue to give to national SBC."

Realizing the need to reach college students with the Gospel, ABC this year added a $15,000 line item to its budget.

"Campus Ministries were affected by funding reallocations by NAMB, and they need assistance," Covington said. "We've been providing support, and generally we were taking that from the state missions fund. Now we've put them in the budget."

Elections

In addition to Simmons' reelection as president, Scott Belmore was reelected first vice president and Anna Allen was reelected recording secretary. Belmore is campus minister at the University of Alaska in Anchorage; Allen is a member of First Baptist Church of Anchorage.

Nathaniel Buck, church planter of Agape Fellowship in Palmer, was elected second vice president. All votes were unanimous and without opposition.

Business

No resolutions or bylaw/constitution changes were presented. Among staff reports, 98 churches and missions turned in an ACP for the 2017-18 church year. Highlights: Two churches had 20 or more baptisms; total membership climbed to 12,017, up more than 500 from the previous year; average Sunday morning worship attendance grew by more than 300 to 6,684.

While Alaska has no official state-to-state partnerships, Alabama has been a longtime informal partner, and this year South Carolina helped Alaska purchase a disaster relief shower trailer used for the first time after the mid-August fires that burned between Willow and Talkeetna.

This year's annual meeting theme was both "an individual challenge and a corporate challenge," Covington said. "We need to be sure we are constantly stoking the fire of the gift God has given us."

The 75th annual meeting of the Alaska Baptist Convention is set for Sept. 28-30, 2020, at First Baptist Church of Anchorage, site of Alaska's first annual meeting in 1946.

Karen L. Willoughby is a national correspondent for Baptist Press, online news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.
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