While planning for tomorrow might appear to be foolish in the face of COVID-19, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship must step forward in bold faithfulness, speakers and preachers said during CBF’s virtual General Assembly June 25-26.
The global pandemic itself sidelined the annual meeting that was to be held in downtown Atlanta — a 30-year tradition that centers as much on hallway and after-dinner conversation as keynote speakers and workshops.
Despite the absence of these one-on-one interactions, CBF leaders sought to generate warmth and relationship through the awkwardness and technical challenges of an online-only event.
Mary Alice Birdwhistell preached the closing session’s sermon from the front pew of Calvary Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, where she serves as pastor. She told the story of walking through a terminal illness with a beloved church member and feeling the sting of grief like she could not have imagined.
“Nothing could have prepared me for it,” she said, likening her emotions to those of the biblical character Joseph of Arimathea, who obtained Jesus’ body from the Cross and ensured his burial. While some critics would say Joseph showed up too late because Jesus already was dead, the truth is that he stepped out in boldness against the powers that ruled in that day, she said.
“What would it mean for us, like Joseph, to live boldly, even if to the rest of the world it looks like caring for something that already has been declared dead?” she asked.
The truth, she added, is that “resurrection can’t happen without a death. Something can’t be resurrected until it dies.”
In this time of global pandemic and religious transition, she said, faith communities ought to ask, “What is it within me, within us, within our fellowship that needs to die in order for God to create something new and beautiful?”
Birdwhistell asserted that must also include questioning what are the systems at work within the church that are doing more harm than good. “What is it that needs to die within us in order for God to resurrect something new?”
Boldness and new life were constant themes in the two-day assembly, with business sessions focused on the current strategic input process called “Toward Bold Faithfulness.”
Outgoing Moderator Kyle Reese of Jacksonville, Fla., introduced the work already done and, along with Executive Coordinator Paul Baxley, outlined the second phase of gathering input that will lead to a new action plan for the Fellowship.
Reese announced appointment of a Collaborative Response Team that will take all the input gathered over months of inquiry and research and then present a recommendation to the CBF Governing Board.
The team includes Rick Bennett, coordinator, CBF Tennessee, Maryville, Tenn.; Matt Cook, assistant director, Center for Healthy Churches, Dallas; Susan Crumpler, co-coordinator, CBF North Central, Mason, Ohio; Juan Garcia, pastor, Primera Iglesia Bautista de Newport News, Va.; Larry Hovis, executive coordinator, CBF North Carolina, Winston-Salem, N.C.; Lauren McDuffie, associate pastor, First Baptist Church Morehead, Ky.; Carol McEntyre, pastor, First Baptist Church Columbia, Mo.; Heather Mustain, associate pastor, Wilshire Baptist Church, Dallas; Charles Qualls, pastor, Franklin Baptist Church, Franklin, Va.; Jeff Roberts, pastor, Trinity Baptist Church, Raleigh, N.C.; Amanda Tyler, executive director, Baptist Joint Committee, Washington, D.C.; Patricia Wilson, professor, Baylor Law School, Waco, Texas.
Due to the unknowns of the global pandemic and its long-term effect on church finances, the CBF Governing Board recommended postponing consideration of a 2020-2021 budget for three months. The current budget will be extended through that time.
In other business, a Baylor University law professor and lay leader was named moderator-elect. Patricia Wilson has been involved in CBF work for 15 years as a lay leader and deacon at Seventh and James Baptist Church in Waco.
At the conclusion of this year’s assembly, Carol McEntyre, pastor of First Baptist Church of Columbia, Mo., became moderator, succeeding Reese.