Rev. Dr. Nancy Hall, Associate Professor of Ministry and Director of Contextual Education
In a blog posting last year I shared that in addition to my ABSW faculty position I am also the part-time pastor of First Baptist Church of Berkeley, located just four blocks from the seminary campus. ABSW and FBCB have enjoyed a long history of partnership, with the church having been a teaching congregation for ABSW ministers-in-training many times in our 122-year history.
Recently, FBC Berkeley was privileged to participate in another way of partnering with the seminary, and we are hoping that this kind of special support might be a model for other congregations to do something similar for our beloved school and its students.
In spring 2010 I was strongly encouraged by Rev. Dr. Marcia Patton (executive minister of the Evergreen Baptist Association — of which FBCB is a member congregation — and also a member of the ABSW Board of Trustees) to take part in a year-long training project, the Missional Church Learning Experience, sponsored by American Baptist Churches USA. With our congregation’s blessing, an MCLE team was formed and we attended four day-long training events in 2010-11, led by Rev. Glynis LaBarre, Transformation Strategist for the American Baptist Home Mission Societies. [Note: for more information about MCLE, go to: http://www.nationalministries.org/mcle/ ]
Our FBCB team’s mission (along with teams from several other Bay Area ABC churches, all part of the Evergreen Baptist Association) was to find a need within our immediate community that would result in an opportunity to reach out and build a partnership with a local community group, for the greater good.
After taking time to contact and consider a number of possible community partners, our team found that the most fruitful conversations were taking place with members of the ABSW Student Council. The students of ABSW make great personal sacrifices in order to pursue a theological education. One example: with all of ABSW’s courses held at night, many students arrive from their full-time jobs or other weekday commitments just in time to sit down for class, often without having the chance for an evening meal. Another example: after paying his or her tuition bill each semester, a student may not have sufficient funds remaining to purchase all of the required textbooks for each class.
The seminary provides as much tuition assistance to students as possible. But how could FBC Berkeley reach out and form a partnership with the students, to help address some of their other needs? Here’s what FBCB was able to do, after several consultations with members of the ABSW Student Council:
— We purchased one copy of each required fall 2011 semester textbook for the ABSW “core” curriculum courses. These books were placed on the fourth floor of Hobart Hall, becoming an on-campus “reading library,” available to all students.
— We restocked the ABSW food pantry with non-perishable items that students can use on an emergency basis, when funds run low.
— We donated to the Student Council a used two-drawer file cabinet from the FBCB church office to help the council keep its papers organized.
— We purchased and served food for one of ABSW’s regular Monday evening community meals (attended by faculty and students), concluding with an ice cream social, on September 26.
— We still have funds available to help “seed” the Student Council’s evening snack bar fund-raising project, when it gets underway for the fall 2011 semester.
None of the above projects required a huge amount of time, effort, or money. In FBCB’s case, we were helped by a grant from the MCLE program. But any church could undertake the hosting of a Monday evening supper at ABSW, or could help expand the “reading library” with copies of textbooks for courses in upcoming semesters. [Intrigued? E-mail me: firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll tell you how easy it is to support our ABSW students with outreach projects such as these!]
This opportunity to show American Baptist Seminary of the West how much we value its presence in our community brought our church and the school closer together. As is so often the case, we who undertake mission in the name of Jesus Christ are just as richly rewarded as those to whom we reach out.
So, here’s some good news from First Baptist Church of Berkeley and the campus of ABSW: small projects can bear fruitful partnerships! We give all praise to God for guiding us through this year of learning, praying, and planning. As a favorite gospel hymn proclaims: “We’ve come this far by faith, leaning on the Lord.”