Annual Session 2014 Reflection – Elmo Familiaran


More than just an alliteration, the theme of the 2014 ABCNJ Annual Session on “Preaching the Word, Reaching the World” underpinned the celebration of this year’s annual gathering of ABCNJ to celebrate the salient ministries that our regional family of churches have engaged in during the last 12 months. Our regional vision continues to define what we do as a family of American Baptist churches in New Jersey not only in the USA, but around the world. The week leading up to the annual session was really unique this year. The ABCNJ ministry team hosted a delegation of youth leaders from our Baptist partners in Brazil, who were accompanied by IM/ABCUSA missionary to Brazil, Rev. Dr. Ann Borquist. Vern and I spent two days with our Annual Session guests, taking them around the historical sites and museums in Philadelphia as part of their “immersion” experience in the culture and history of America, following a day in New York City focusing on 9/11 and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They were overwhelmed in discovering the “birthplace” of the United States in Independence Hall. We also learned a whole lot more about Brazil and, most of all, something about the passion and commitment of these young men to the young people of our Baptist partners there. It was a joy to see them participate in several areas of our busy two-day annual session weekend.

The weekend was kicked off by the ABCNJ Pastors’ Academy. We believe that learning doesn’t stop when a pastor graduates from seminary. The life of scholarship and study is a life-long journey. Academy workshops focused on Financial Accounting and Legal Responsibilities, with ABCNJ’s CPA and legal counsel leading those two workshops, respectively. The third session was on Youth Ministry, where our guests from Brazil and missionary Ann Borquist shared their experience leading this program back in Brazil. Dr. Lee Spitzer and Terri McAdoo, from Cherryville Baptist, completed the Academy with a presentation on the role of Email and Social media in Pastoral Ministry.

Annual Session itself percolated with energy and activity, as the many facets of ABCNJ’s ministry during the last 12 months were placed center stage. ABCNJ’s disaster response to Hurricane Sandy and to Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines were highlighted by Denise Gratzel, ABCNJ disaster response coordinator. ABCNJ’s special ties with the Convention of Philippine Baptist Churches helped shape the priorities that ultimately guided our national effort through the One Great Hour of Sharing funds overseen by the World Relief Office and the East Asia and India desk of International Ministries. Denise Gratzel also “unveiled” the new ABCNJ Disaster Response mobile trailer that contains the essential tools and equipments of our response teams and is emblazoned by a striking logo that Denise designed!

The program was anchored by several pastors of the region, tasked to preach 2-minute sermons on our call to ministry engagement, then responded to by lead persons of these various ministry engagements that took place the previous 12 months - the mission trip to an emerging new Baptist partner in Rwanda, the call for our churches to be “Sacred Safe Spaces” that cultivate a culture that rejects domestic violence, and cares for its victims. The capital campaign for Camp Lebanon, “Cedars of Lebanon 2020” is growing, and already is sending youth to camp through investment income scholarships. The President of ABCUSA, Rev. Dr. Don Ng, and the new President of Eastern University and Palmer Seminary, Dr. Robert G. Duffett, Rev. Dr. Ann Borquist, IM missionary to Brazil, and Romal Tune, author of “God’s Graffiti” were featured speakers and preachers, underscoring ABCNJ’s commitment to higher education, denominational life, spirituality, and reaching out to the younger generation.

Talking about younger generation, the Annual Session was capped by a rousing “Next Generation” party and regional gathering of ABCNJ’s young people where our Brazilian guests were featured leaders and speakers at First Baptist Church of New Brunswick. More than 200 ABCNJ young people attended!

If you are reading this and you are feeling tired already, I call it holy fatigue - to Christ be the glory!