May 26, 2009

ABC Stew
by Pastor George Van Alstine

We’ve settled on 1934 as the year of origin for Altadena Baptist Church because that was the year a Baptist Church was founded on this corner in Altadena, but the church’s roots go back much farther. In 1920 an immigrant group formed the Swedish Baptist Church of Pasadena, which later became Bethel Baptist Church and finally merged with the Altadena congregation in 1966. This ethnic, Swedish-speaking infusion marked the beginning of ABC’s long history of multiculturalism.

Both congregations, Bethel and Altadena, already had strong commitments to world missions. However, their prayer and financial support went in different directions, Bethel’s to missionaries sent out by the Baptist General Conference, and Altadena’s to a variety of missionaries sent out by independent “faith” missions. One of the hardest negotiations in the merger process had to do with guidelines for future missionary support. Fortunately, this was worked out without any loss of mission vision in the new congregation.

Proximity to Fuller Seminary, World Vision International, and the U.S. Center for World Mission has over the years exposed the church to people from many lands, both native and missionary. ABC’s people have often been able to worship with Christians from Africa, Asia or South America. They have also been able to rub shoulders with missionary decision-makers from these three agencies.

Of course, the congregation’s multi-ethnic makeup has not just involved Swedes. Filipinos have been part of the church for over fifty years. And since the early 1970’s, the American-born members of the congregation have included blacks as well as whites. There are even a couple of Native-Americans in the mix.

“Missions” is not just an overseas enterprise, but includes the needs of those next door as well. The current outreach ministry of ABC has a strong emphasis on helping address the needs of the poor and other forgotten folk in the community. Volunteering at the cooperative Bad Weather Shelter and donating to the Altadena Community Food Pantry are important outreach efforts involving church members. Visiting and writing to people in jail came from this same impulse toward practical caring. Many of us are probably unaware of how well this carries on the vision of the 1934 congregation, one of whose leading members was Rev. Clinton Goodwin, himself converted while serving time in prison, who was for twenty-five years the Superintendent of L.A.’s Union Rescue Mission.

In its long history, ABC has never been an isolated club for believers who act and think alike. There has always been a close connection with people from other lands, language groups, cultures, and societal classes. The church’s current multicultural flavor and global consciousness have been mixed in a stew pot for over seventy-five years.