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Alaska Baptists, at 70-year mark, give thanks

PALMER, Alaska (BP) — Constancy, change and unity all were part of the 70th annual meeting of the Alaska Baptist Convention, Sept. 28-30 at First Baptist Church in Palmer.

Seventeen pastors were recognized for having between 15 and 28 years of ministry in Alaska, and Executive Director Mike Procter received a resolution of appreciation from Ashley Clayton of the SBC Executive Committee for Procter’s 30 years in Alaska. Procter has announced he plans to retire May 1, 2016.

“Serving these 30 years has been a tremendous blessing because of the many pastors typified by those who are being recognized in the [convention’s] Book of Reports,” Procter said. “Many of our pastors serve in very small, rural and out of the way places and they are the true heroes in Alaska Baptist life.”

With “Thanks be unto God” as the 70th annual meeting’s theme, the convention looked back and forward to meeting needs in the United States’ northernmost state.

“God has laid on my heart that in our convention, Alaska Baptists need to get to the point where we can stand on our own two feet,” Todd Burgess, president of the state convention and pastor of First Baptist Church in Eagle River, said in his report to messengers. “We need to remember that God will always provide the resources for the work that He initiates and has called us to do.

“It is not NAMB’s responsibility to reach Alaskans. It is ours,” Burgess continued. “Nobody knows the difficulties and challenges faced in sharing Christ in our state better than those who live and minister here.”

The 100 Native villages without a Gospel witness remain a major focus of the Alaska convention, as do the people who speak one of the 100-plus non-English languages in the state. Bruce Strickland, Alaska’s director of church plantings and missions, has moved from that role to become a NAMB-appointed church planting catalyst with Alaska ethnics.

Alan Dial, Native church planting catalyst for the last five years, who retired this summer for health reasons, recounted to the convention “the formidable task of reaching the Native Alaskan population with the Gospel of our Savior” while based in the village of Tok.

“We met and shared the Gospel with indigenous Alaskans, natives of Alaska, visitors, immigrants, military, tax evaders, a conspiracy theorist and a man who thought wearing a tin hat would keep ‘them’ from reading his mind,” Dial said.

“We have taught, preached, nailed, glued, sawed, held dying hands, cleaned fish, cleaned outhouses, fried moose liver, patched roofs, boiled bark, collected chaga and spruce needles, dragged boats, prayed on piers, in canneries, on boats, in homes, in trucks, on bridges, on the ice, on the water, in schools, in ambulances, in [hospital emergency rooms], in clinics and in the park.”

Budget & business

Alaska’s budget, revised last May by the convention’s Executive Board as a result of an 18 percent increase in health insurance and other factors, was left unchanged from that revision during the annual meeting. The budget will be revisited during the Executive Board’s meeting in November.

The budget approved in May, at a 5 percent decrease from that voted on at the 2014 annual meeting, is $1,605,205, an $87,324 decrease from the original 2015 budget of $1,692,529, which was a 1 percent decrease from the 2014 budget.

The carry-over revised 2015 budget anticipates $713,808 in Cooperative Program receipts from Alaska churches. This is the third year for Alaska to send 36 percent of its CP dollars to Southern Baptist Convention causes. In 2013 the CP allocation was 33 percent to global causes and 67 percent for missions and ministries in Alaska.

“Being on the receiving end of mission support for years, we understand the value of the Cooperative Program,” Procter said. “And, if approved in November at the Executive Board meeting, our 2016 budget will have 37 percent going to global missions and 63 percent for missions and ministries in Alaska.”

Funding from NAMB was budgeted at $807,464; LifeWay Christian Resources, $60,000. The budget includes no shared expenses.

Burgess was re-elected to a second one-year term as president. Eric Ash, dean of Wayland Baptist University in Anchorage, was re-elected first vice-president. Eric Jones, pastor of New Birth Christian Church in Fairbanks, was elected second vice president. Judy Rice, a member at First Baptist Church of Anchorage, was reelected recording secretary.

No resolutions were presented for a vote by the 109 messengers present from 35 churches. Total attendance at the annual meeting was 167, including 58 guests. The convention encompasses 119 congregations, which includes six new church plants this year, and a total of 17 plants receiving financial support.

The 91 churches that filled out their Annual Church Profile reported 517 baptisms, with seven churches that baptized 20 or more. The 91 churches also reported 11,593 members, down 593 from last year.

The only other business was in seven changes to the convention’s constitution and bylaws to streamline processes and procedures. Messengers also heard reports from state convention entities.

The Alaska Baptist Foundation reported $5.7 million in trust, with $72,000 in interest available to the funds it manages.

The Alaska Baptist Family Services’ name change is nearing completion after a two-year rebranding, reported Executive Director Lorie Morris. The entity now does business as Birchwood Behavioral Health to clarify its mission.

“Rebranding will remove existing barriers that have prevented us from reaching unbelievers who need to know Jesus and are in desperate need of God’s grace in their troubled lives,” Morris reported. “Rebranding will be the vehicle to carry out the board’s strategic plan to expand the scope of our services.”

The expansion includes services for adults in crisis, community-based Christian counseling, marriage counseling and parenting skills development.

Burgess, in his message to the convention, asked, “Is it time to ask God for a new vision that will reach people for Christ in our villages as well as our cities? Is it time for change in our convention structure as organized in our current constitution and bylaws?

“Is it time,” Burgess continued, “to look at the possibility of our state staff operating out of the many empty rooms that exist in our churches, instead of the convention offices on O’Malley Road [in Anchorage]? These, as well as other issues, have arisen from my conversations with pastors and church members over the past year. All the traditions we have in Alaska are good and important as long as they don’t hinder what the Lord wants us to do.”

A sense of unity again permeated the annual meeting this year and its fellowship gatherings at First Baptist Palmer.

“Everybody loves the fellowship,” said Debra Long, the convention’s office manager/bookkeeper, who helped compile information for this report. “We have literally zero contention at the annual meeting. It’s pretty uplifting.”