Many people have remarked to me that ABC is different from most Baptist churches. I believe this difference is in our DNA, which will enable us to emerge into a Post-COVID ministry that is ready to flourish on into the future.* Here are some historic factors for you to think about.
(1) ABC’s Swedish Roots:
There are more than sixty different Baptist groups in the United States. Baptists are notorious for dividing over doctrinal controversies, often of the hair-splitting variety. However, I’ve observed that Baptist groups that originate for positive, rather than negative, reasons are more loving and affirming in their ministry. The roots of our particular Baptist denomination were in the ethnicity, language and culture of its people. They were Swedish Baptists because they were Swedes, not because they argued over doctrinal differences.** I believe that reality has left an unconscious imprint on ABC’s DNA. We’re together because we’ve said Yes to one another, not because we’ve said No to some other group of believers.
(2) ABC’s Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion:
Surprisingly, the second major factor in ABC’s DNA is its cultural diversity, which seems like the opposite of its origin in one people group. Merger of the Swedish Baptists with the existing First Baptist of Altadena in 1966 had already given it a broader population, though it was still a distinctly white congregation. However, as the community became more interracial during the next decade, and many other local churches became part of “white flight,” the leadership of ABC made a strong commitment to be a church for its neighborhood, whatever its neighborhood turned out to be. Ever since then, there has been a constant and intentional movement toward being a thoroughly interracial congregation.
(3) ABC’s Application of Scripture in Today’s Culture:
Beginning with the 1972 choice to make the NRSV the Bible translation in the pews and to use the same modern translation in preaching and teaching, there has been a commitment to presenting God’s Word in a way that is totally relevant to people in the modern world, rather than being bound to narrow traditional interpretations and applications. This commitment soon led to the affirmation of women in all church leadership positions, including Deacons and Pastors. The same approach in the use of the Bible has resulted in the full affirmation of people who express gender in non-traditional ways, including LGBTQ+ individuals who follow Christ.
(4) ABC’s Strategic Visioning:
In 2015, 25 representative leaders in the ABC congregation went through a “Strategic Visioning” process. Out of this, two important statements were developed:
ABC’s Mission: Together we seek to grow in Christ, cherish every person and live the Word.
ABC’s Vision: That the active family of ABC will be intentionally committed to significant regular involvement in activities that contribute to the fulfillment of the church’s Mission, . . . including outreach aimed at groups underrepresented at ABC. (paraphrased)
These have become part of ABC’s DNA.
(5) ABC’s Four Ministry Commitments:
During 2019, ABC’s Outreach Department developed four commitment expressions that show the direction they see the church going:
- Commitment to the Whole World
- Commitment to Intergenerational Partnerships
- Commitment to LGBTQ+ Inclusion
- Commitment to Racial Justice and Reconciliation
These, too, have become part of ABC’s DNA.
Post-COVID, ABC will follow the shape its DNA consistently has dictated. This will not result from deciding what kind of church we want to be, but from expressing the kind of church we are.
We will be positive, affirming, inclusive, adaptable and open to change. We’re ready for the future. We’ve got the DNA for it.
– Pastor George Van Alstine
* DNA explains the chemical process for passing on traits in living species of plants and animals. The metaphor suggests an analogous process operates in the generations of a local church’s existence.
** During a doctrinal dispute early in my ministry, an old pastor with a strong Swedish accent told me, “Swedes are lovers, not thinkers.” Praise the Lord!