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The Executive Minister’s Annual Report Celebrating 310 Years

The Executive Minister’s Annual Report Celebrating 310 Years

Today, the PBA is three hundred and ten years old. Our organization is older than the United States of America. We are a strong, resilient, and generous body of believers.

The Philadelphia Baptist Association (PBA) is the birthplace of American Baptist Churches USA and all Baptist denominations in the USA. The PBA remains one of the strongest regions within ABCUSA that is based in an urban and/or metropolitan area. We serve a five county area in Metropolitan Philadelphia and Delaware. Our 120 congregations have over 50 thousand members. We live out our heritage of Soul Freedom and Local Church Autonomy. We are bound together by our choice to be in “Association.”

Our vision statement reads: “We inspire and equip the congregations of the Philadelphia Baptist Association to support and strengthen American Baptist witness and mission for our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ through dynamic, multi-cultural, and diverse relationships.”

One of the conversations that we have not held as an Association is the impact of our nation’s economic trends on the life of the Association, our congregations, and our families. Historically, the Philadelphia Baptist Association tends not to offer a critic of capitalism and the distribution of wealth in this nation. Yet, the diminution of the middle class could very well be a major driver of the decline of mainline denominations in this country. The ability of our congregations to support historic American Baptist missions and to design new mission objectives is directly tied to stagnant wages, job loss, shifts in manufacturing, aging housing stock, population shifts, and suburban sprawl, etc.

Our congregations tend to form around homogeneous units (socio-economic sameness), much like the historic patterns of populating the neighborhoods in Metro-Philadelphia and Delaware. Today, in the main, our neighborhoods have shifted from a base in cultural/racial/ethnic homogeneity to a base of same or similar economic status (cost of housing). This phenomenon has increased the diversity demographic in most of our neighborhoods. Many of our congregations, regardless of ethnicity, have not adjusted to these socio-economic shifts. They choose to turn inwardly, away from their new neighbors and neighborhoods, thereby initiating a process of slow and certain decline. Unchecked fear of differences has been a major drag on our Association life. Over the last 30 years we have made attempts to address/discuss issues related to our differences (e.g. class, race, gender, sexual orientation, family composition, and the diverse theological perspectives held by our member congregations, etc.).

We are a people who delight in our relationships and we have learned how to agree to disagree. Yet, in the main, we lack community efficacy. We do not determine the quality of our lives together. We are more reactive than proactive as it relates to addressing our common concerns. The harsh realities in our life together remain largely unexamined. This results in the most vulnerable among us living in isolated in pockets of poverty. We all suffer from the impact of community/regional neglect. The disconnect from one another, city and suburb (Metro-Philadelphia and Delaware) is well documented. As a region in the Delaware Valley, we often fail to realize our commonality and interconnectedness.

The call to our historic Baptist Principle of Association is a call to community across the ways we divide ourselves for the sake of our Christ, our own well-being, and the future of our children. “We the people” of deeply held beliefs, far too often, have a faith that is tacitly held, largely unexamined, and emotionally charged. Sometimes we fail to see one another and withhold support from each other.

We are not a broken people. We are not strangers to one another.  However, we are in need of deeper levels of connection. Our conversations need to be about possibility and purpose rather than “us vs. them, or city vs suburb.” The PBA is not the staff at the office on Ridge Ave. The pastors and congregants of the member churches make up the community that is the PBA.

Through a five year process of discernment the PBA Board of Directors has identified the fact that maintaining our historic sense of belonging and being a community of Baptist believers in a time of rapid and constant demographic shifts is the primary adaptive challenge for our Association today.

It is clear to us that a sense of belonging to one another is a prerequisite for sustaining a common mission for Christ. We are working to discern the leading of the Spirit and the “structuring of belonging” for this 310 year old body of believers so that we might welcome the bright future that Christ has for us.

In our polity, the center of mission, and the impetus for creative service comes from the local church. Here are just a few of the trends and challenges that we hold in common in local church ministry today:

  • declining church membership
  • understanding the development and maturation of faith process with the millennial generation
  • developing ministries with and for single adults (now 50% of the adult population)
  • Addressing the spiritual and physical needs of our aging membership
  • developing and maintaining a balance in multigenerational congregation life
  • responding to the impact of ever increasing numbers of people living at deep levels of poverty in our communities (highest in major cities in the USA)
  • responding to the highest incarceration rate of any major city in the USA and the need for reentry support for people leaving the system
  • understanding addiction as a public health issue and the role of the church in healing
  • curbing the epidemic of domestic violence
  • defining and developing multicultural congregations with respect to the shifts in  neighborhood demographics and emerging family structures (racial, cultural, theological, sociological, and/or economic diversity)
  • responding to the challenges and necessity for developing interfaith ministries to support community efficacy in our neighborhoods
  • responding to the stressors of aging buildings with smaller congregations
  • encouraging the baby boomer generation to fund endowments for the future ministry needs of the church

No congregation can address these and other concerns in isolation. We need one another to assure excellence in ministry in the days ahead.

Again, we are 310 years old. We are a strong resilient and generous body of believers. Challenge is not new to us! The good news is that we have amazing talent and resources within our congregations. We have the spiritual gifts resident in this body of believers to revitalize and renew our life and witness for Christ.

At this moment in time, it would be wise to recommit ourselves to the Baptist Principle of Association. When we work together on the things we cannot do alone… the possibilities are as limitless as the power of our Christ. If you don’t believe me, just read the history of what Christ has done through our member congregations of the Philadelphia Baptist Association!!!!!!!!!!

To read the complete report please click here.

James McJunkin

Executive Minister