Wednesday, November 01, 2006

ABC Experiences Three Earthquakes in One Day

November 1 has recorded a number of important events in history. Pompey was buried by an erupting Vesuvius, the paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel were first exhibited, human devised fusion occurred for the first time, and the European Union came into existence. But, for ABC-types, November 1 records two very contradictory kinds of departures, one on the right and two on the left.

Today, November 1, was the deadline given by the PSW regional board for a full, formal, and final separation from the ABCUSA. The aftershocks of the departure by the large and predominately traditional region will continue to reverberate for years to come.

But, losses on the right were not the only changes happening in the ABC today. Progressive leaders Margaret Cowden and Cheryl Wade announced their intentions to leave the employment of Valley Forge.

Dr. Margaret Ann Cowden, leaves after close to 30 years of ministry with American Baptist Churches USA, including National Ministries’ treasurer and chief financial officer. She plans to retire July 2007. Cowden completed programs at Columbia University’s Institute for Not-for-Profit Management in New York City and Harvard University’s Program for Management Development at its Graduate School of Business in Cambridge, Mass. Along with a Ph.D. in psychological studies from Temple University, Philadelphia, Pa., Cowden earned a master of divinity degree from American Baptist Seminary of the West, Covina, Calif., and a bachelor of arts degree from Linfield College, McMinnville, Ore.

Cowden, a strong voice for progressive causes, feminist advocacy, and justice issues, was a classmate of Dr. Aidsand Wright-Riggins, III, at ABSW when it had a Covina campus. “I do not know of a more committed, competent, and compassionate servant of Jesus Christ and this denomination than Dr. Cowden,” says Wright-Riggins about his colleague and former classmate.

In addition to her work in a variety of roles in MMBB, as president of the American Baptist Extension Corporation and at National Ministries, Cowden serves the denomination as a member of the General Executive Council, the Treasurer’s Council, the American Baptist Computer Center board of managers, and the board of the American Baptist Foundation. She also serves as a trustee of the Colgate Rochester Crozier Divinity School.

The second announcement of a departure from the left comes from the Office of the General Secretary. The Rev. Dr. Cheryl H. Wade, associate general secretary and treasurer of American Baptist Churches USA since January 1993, will resign those positions as of December 31, 2006, to become director of philanthropy for the Kendal Corporation and executive director of Kendal Charitable Funds.

Wade not only staffs the General Board Executive Committee and the Budget Review Committee, she serves on General Executive Council (the denomination's chief staff council) and its Executive Committee. She has also been noted for her singular efforts to help refocus the denomination's decision making process to "include significant time for 'Worshipful Work' and the pursuit of common ground and consensus."

As treasurer, Wade functions as chief financial officer for denomination, responsible for the collection, distribution and accounting for denomination-wide giving, is responsible for the operation of the American Baptist Churches USA Mission Center in Valley Forge, Pa., and chairs both the Building Management Council for that property and the Treasurers' Council at the national offices.

I have worked alongside Drs. Cowden and Wade in many denominational settings and have respected and been friendly with both of them. They are exceedingly intelligent, committed, sincere, and powerful persons. Both know how to be tough and tender; one would not want to stand up to either of them ill prepared or meet either of them in an alley unarmed.

Because of the key roles played by Margaret and Cheryl over several decades, they have had a greater opportunity to help shape the corporate culture of ABC and promote a specific agenda than all but a few other leaders. Whether you approve or disapprove of "Valley Forge," many of your opinions will depend upon what you think of the progressive agenda of Drs. Wade and Cowden.

Regular readers of His Barking Dog will remember the General Executive Council (aka GEC) as the power center at the heart of many of the debates in the ABC over the past several years. Contentious arguments over homosexuality, denominational structure, the new Budget Covenant, and more were all discussed, argued over, and processed in the GEC. And, Dr. Wade's signature quest of "consensus" often explained the outcomes of GEC meetings.

Their departures will leave gaping holes in the machine. Both Roy and Aidsand will have signal opportunities to further the alienation that resulted in the loss of the southwest or appoint evangelicals able to help reassure traditionalists in the constituency.

November 1, 2006 brings with it one loss on the right and two on the left. What Roy and Ace do next will help determine how many more losses and how many more Novembers remain.

[His Barking Dog was home working on a sermon for his daughter's wedding next week when news came about Drs. Cowden and Wade. Today's barking emerges from my own doghouse alone and is unrelated to the rest of the kennel in the southwest.]

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