WASHINGTON (ABP)—Worship infused with music and missions, cooperation and communion, and doses of laughter marked a historic reunion of Baptists in the nation's capital city.
The American Baptist Churches USA and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship held their first national joint worship service—a long-awaited coming together of Baptists whose shared commitment to missions and Baptist principles once was shattered by slavery.
“This is an awesome God moment,” ABC general secretary Roy Medley told the crowd of almost 4,000 participants, divided almost evenly between representatives of both groups.
“It gladdens the heart of God. It makes God happy to see us working together. … What an awesome moment. It gladdens our hearts too.”
The service in Washington's convention center marked the end of the Fellowship's annual general assembly and the beginning of ABC's 100th anniversary celebration. Program organizers noted the joint ABC-Fellowship session had been five years in planning. Actually, it was 162 years in the making.
Baptists in America united to support missions in 1814, but divided acrimoniously over slavery in 1845, when Baptists in the South formed the Southern Baptist Convention. In 1907, Baptists in the North reorganized as the American Baptist Churches. The Fellowship formed out of the SBC in 1991 and almost all of its churches trace their roots to the southern convention.
The strong presence of the Washington-based Progressive National Baptist Convention—one of four historic African-American Baptist groups—underscored the racial nature of the old division. But the Progressive National Baptists' presence also projected an even larger reunion. The Fellowship, American Baptists and Progressive National Baptists are among the key groups promoting a “celebration” of the New Baptist Covenant, which will be held in Atlanta Jan. 30-Feb. 1, 2008.
The June 29 worship service represented the breadth of Fellowship and American Baptist diversity through music—from traditional hymns and newer praise choruses sung by the audience to a rousing gospel solo belted by Cheri Coleman, folk music by Kate Campbell and a raucous Caribbean beat blasted by the Haitian Alliance Choir.
Participants also keyed on their common focus on missions. Midway through the worship service, they celebrated the appointment of two couples that will serve under joint appointment of the ABC and Fellowship.
Duane and Marcia Binkley are former ABC missionaries among the Karen people group in Thailand. During their new term, they will minister to Karen people both in Thailand and in the United States.
Nancy and Steve James previously served as medical missionaries in Haiti and now are members of a Fellowship church in North Carolina. The Fellowship is helping the ABC send them back to Haiti.
The Fellowship formally thanked the ABC for the support of its Ministers and Missionaries Benefit Board, which has helped the Fellowship's Church Benefits Board provide insurance and annuity services to its ministers and employees.
The ABC also presented its first Religious Freedom Award to the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. The Washington-based Baptist Joint Committee represents 14 Baptist bodies, championing efforts to preserve religious freedom and the separation of church and state.