It’s unlikely that many baseball players have ever read Section 7.01 of the Major League Baseball official rulebook, which says “a runner acquires the right to an unoccupied base when he touches it before he is out.” Yet, it’s the first rule young batters learn after connecting with a pitch – run! Players eagerly comply with the guideline as they sprint to first base, not because they enjoy thumbing through pages of tedious regulations, but because they love to play the game.
BR photo by Dianna L. Cagle
Amy Whitfield, far right, listens carefully during a business session of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Whitfield worked closely with fellow assistant parliamentarians and Barry McCarty, center, chief parliamentarian, to help SBC business run smoothly.
Amy Whitfield, the Southern Baptist Convention’s first female parliamentarian, beams with the same genuine excitement when she talks about participating in the denomination’s yearly business meeting. Many Southern Baptists balk at the routine lineup of motions, resolutions and points of order, but Whitfield enjoys the play-by-play action.
She loves to see messengers representing churches across the nation work together to make decisions about the cooperative ministry of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).
“That is my favorite thing about how our deliberative body works,” Whitfield said. “It demonstrates a level of fairness … and the ability to get things done.”
Joining the team
Whitfield currently serves as the director of communications for Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., and has formerly worked at LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville, Tenn., and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. She is a member of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh.
The two-term SBC president for 2015-16, Ronnie Floyd, recruited Whitfield to be an assistant parliamentarian for the annual meeting, which took place June 14-15 in St. Louis, Mo.
She remembers watching SBC president Frank Page and chief parliamentarian Barry McCarty on stage at the 2008 SBC annual meeting as they put Robert’s Rules of Order into play, moderating one of the largest deliberative bodies in the world. “It would be so fun to do that,” Whitfield said at the time. “I never in a million years thought I’d get a chance to participate.”
McCarty said Floyd initiated the conversation about calling up a diverse group of younger Baptists to assist McCarty in his work as chief parliamentarian.
Whitfield said it was “kind of a surprise” when Floyd asked her about joining the lineup, which included Craig Culbreth, lead catalyst for mission and ministry with the Florida Baptist Convention; Adam Greenway, dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Ministry at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; and John Sullivan, former executive director of the Florida Baptist Convention.
“They were an absolutely magnificent team,” said McCarty. “They were essential.”
BR photo by Dianna L. Cagle
At left, Amy Whitfield is recognized by Kathie Litton, national director of ministry to pastor’s wives for the North American Mission Board, during the women’s breakfast hosted June 15 by Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Whitfield developed skills in parliamentary procedure as a politics major at Converse College in Spartanburg, S.C., where she took part in model international diplomacy competitions, debating top-tier schools like Harvard University and other Ivy League institutions. She held leadership positions in the diplomatic simulation program, vice-chairing a committee and serving as the Assistant Secretary General, which required her to moderate the general assembly.
There were no parliamentarians in the debates to answer procedural questions about the finer points of Robert’s Rules, she said. Participants had to cover all the bases. “I didn’t learn parliamentary procedure to be a parliamentarian,” said Whitfield. “I learned parliamentary procedure to participate in meetings.”
By the time she observed her first SBC annual meeting, she was no rookie. Her in-depth experience gave her a unique perspective. “It all made sense to me,” she said.
Whitfield is currently pursuing certification in both of the parliamentary accrediting entities recognized by the SBC, the American Institute of Parliamentarians and the National Association of Parliamentarians.
She is honored to be the first female parliamentarian, and many of her fellow Baptists made a point to congratulate her at the 2016 annual meeting.
“I appreciated the encouragement,” said Whitfield. “It meant a lot.”
She said her favorite part of being assistant parliamentarian was simply contributing to the team.
Whitfield recalled a particular example, when Steven Rummage, chair of the 2016 SBC Resolutions Committee, asked her for advice about his upcoming presentation. “We just sat for about 15 minutes and worked,” she said. “I never felt different from the rest. I felt like a part of the team.”
She emphasized that teamwork is the “end goal for females participating in [SBC life] … that we’re all hands on deck – all working together.”