FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) – Participants in the June 20-22 General Assembly meeting of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship considered what moderator-elect Keith Herron described as “life in the wrinkle of time between the past and the present,” as Coordinator Daniel Vestal was honored for 15 years of leadership and a strategic report to refocus and streamline organizational structures was embraced unanimously.
Twenty-one years after fellowship organizers broke away from the Southern Baptist Convention, moderator Colleen Burroughs praised a refusal to “sign on the dotted line” as she offered her final report as moderator. “The neighborhood of networks and partners escape conventional definition,” resisting a traditional model of what it means to be a Baptist, she said.
“You refuse to paint your lips red with creeds or wear skinny jean theology that flatters no one and just makes you unable to breathe,” Burroughs added, urging young leaders who have no memory of “the holy war” to remember their first name by demonstrating a picture of cooperation.
Described as a network of partner churches and individual Christians, communications director Lance Wallace said the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is not a denomination, has no doctrine and does not make statements of beliefs or take official stances on social issues, according to an interview with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
By the closing night registration had grown to 1,625 fellowship Baptists as Vestal spoke on the meeting theme of “Infinitely More” drawn from Ephesians 3:20-21. He encouraged listeners to “go into the future boldly” as new leadership emerges in “new wineskins.” At the close of the final session, participants took communion by intinction in observance of the Lord’s Supper.
Earlier in the week, Quaker folk singer Carrie Newcomer offered a concert where Vestal was honored in anticipation of his retirement. Wallace noted, “She helped us grieve Daniel’s moving on while giving us hope for the future at the same time.”
Of the more than 1,800 partnering congregations, 1,500 are dually affiliated with another Baptist organization and 171 were identified by coordinator search committee chairman George Mason as the “most deeply engaged in CBF” according to affinity markers that include attending general assemblies, endorsing chaplains, giving certain amounts of money, supporting CBF missionaries and sending students to the 15 partnering schools of theology.
A relatively flat $12.4 million operating budget was approved for the fiscal year 2012-2013.
In addition to conversing with pastors of those “engaged” churches about the person to replace Vestal as coordinator, the search committee met with ministry partners, prompting Mason, the pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, to conclude, “We are finding confidence that we will be able to take this next step together.”
Officers for the 64-member Coordinating Council include Herron as moderator; Bill McConnell, a partner with Rogers and Morgan, Inc., and member of Central Baptist Church of Bearden in Knoxville, Tenn., as moderator-elect; and Renee Bennett, a marriage and family therapist and member of Highland Hills Baptist in Macon, Ga., continuing as recorder.
CBF commissioned five new field personnel to serve in Haiti, Danville, Va., and Merritt Island. Three new church starters were assigned to Clayton, N.C., Houston and Charlotte, N.C.
“Throughout our history, we have started around 150 new churches,” said David King, associate for church planting. “We also partnered with the Baptist General Convention of Texas and Baptist General Association of Virginia in an Hispanic initiative to engage over 200 mostly house congregations.” The number of field personnel serving in other countries amounts to 132, with five area coordinators located stateside.
In place of the current CBF Coordinating Council, the adopted strategic report provides a governing board, a missions council and a ministries council to develop resources needed by congregations.
Cooperative agreements will be developed between national CBF and state/regional organizations. The plan also calls on the fellowship community to become “increasingly committed to generosity without strings,” allowing leaders the freedom to allocate funds necessary to fulfill CBF’s mission.
“There’s no missing the point we’re living in the wrinkle of time between the past and the future, between leaders, between structures, living in the interim, seeking, praying, working and trusting,” Herron said, calling the period a preparation to “realign our sights and refocus our energies and rearrange our priorities.”
Workshops and partner meetings filled out the schedule over the course of three days. One of the best-attended workshops showcased the products of CBF partner schools as six young preachers, two women and four men, provided the crowd of about 60 people with samples of their style.
Nearby Broadway Baptist Church provided an introduction to Taize, a contemplative style of worship, and Vespers, a reflective service utilizing dimmed lights and candles, silence and ancient prayers from the Book of Common Prayer.
Leading worship for Baptist Women in Ministry were Meredith Stone, women in ministry specialist at the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT), and Jana Harwell of Arlington, Texas. Other partner events featured Central Baptist Theological Seminary President Molly Marshall, Mercer University Professor David Gushee and Wake Forest Divinity School Professor Bill Leonard.
CBF printed a disclaimer stating that the views expressed at partner events coinciding with the General Assembly do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of, or endorsement by CBF or its members.
The BGCT was the only state convention featured at partner events and on the program as choirs from Baptist University of the Americas, Hardin-Simmons University and Baylor’s Truett Seminary led in worship.
The Greg Warner Lifetime Service Award went to Toby Druin, former editor of the Baptist Standard, during the Friends of Associated Baptist Press Dinner. Current editor Marv Knox praised Druin as “an exceptional war correspondent” who covered Baptist controversies of the 1980s and 1990s.
With the retirement of Vestal at the end of June, much was made of CBF’s future direction, with Burroughs encouraging the next generation not to worry when they are misunderstood.
“From the moment you were born you refused easy identifiers that would confine you inside the walls of another institutional McMansion,” Burroughs said. “We didn’t construct walls for you on purpose. The fluid, nimble nature of your networks and partners’ identity is actually what will save you from sure destruction.”
While CBF parents dreamed about what their child would become, Burroughs said, “Now, on your 21st birthday, you have grown into a beautiful young mother yourself, having given life to countless children who fill in your address as the only Baptist home they have ever known.”
A “neighborhood full of seminaries” now cultivate “even more neighborhoods of ministers trained to think critically about the Bible and theology,” carrying with them the saving gospel of Jesus Christ with “their GPS locked on Micah 6:8.”
Praising the evidence of celebrating their giftedness “just like we knew you would back when women were not allowed to preach,” Burroughs said, “You’re doing it. You have become exactly what we dreamed you would become.”
The 2013 CBF General Assembly will be held June 26-29 in Greensboro, N.C.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tammi Reed Ledbetter is news editor of the Southern Baptist Texan, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, online at TexanOnline.net.)