General CBF

Fifteen churches, six states later: What does it mean to be a Fellowship?

The following is Suzii Paynter’s monthly column, Words from the Executive Coordinator. You can subscribe to receive this column in your e-mail at

WordsCoordinator2In case you ever doubted that we are a living network, being a Fellowship is not an abstract concept or a thin framework of fragile connections. We are a real, breathing, living community of brothers and sisters in Christ forming our lives through common love and faith. We have been building congregations and families of care for more than 20 years.

In the past month, it has been an inspiring experience of blessing to be in 15 Fellowship churches in 6 states. Each is so beautifully unique, yet we sing a clarion song of strong, common presence. Here’s a snapshot of the vitality that is energizing me.

At Northminster Baptist Church in Jackson, Miss., I find a sweet reunion of dear friends where Chuck Poole leads an active congregation that is intentionally and positively exploring its future call with inspired and committed lay leadership.

At Kensington Baptist Church in Kensington, Md., Bill George takes me through his warm hospitable church with Saturday preparations for Sunday’s church-wide baby shower. Coming around the corner, there are large covered timpani in the hallway – who knew? A metaphor for the divine surprises that are in all our churches.

In the Mid-Atlantic region with Cameron Edgar, Kasey Jones, pastor of National Baptist Memorial Church in Washington, D.C., prays us into the presence of God with a sure conviction of faith and an uncompromising call to action.

In Richmond, Va., Jim Somerville inspires the historic First Baptist Church and the city of Richmond with his blog about the Kingdom of Heaven, asking people to text and tweet where they encounter God. Somerville is a leader and an engaging witness for Christlike living.

In an evening supper meeting at Freemason Street Baptist Church in Norfolk, Va., Steve Jolly and his congregation welcome pastors and laity from the region – the fellowship so congenial and conversational that everyone lingers until the nursery workers finally let the children loose. There is a quality of friendship here that nurtures and sustains.

At Fredericksburg Baptist Church in Fredericksburg, Va., Larry Hahn warmly recognizes a recent immigrant member who is the featured chef for a delicious luncheon and he rousingly celebrates her many accomplishments. Chaplains, college ministers and recent seminary grads join the crowd.

At University Baptist Church in Charlottesville, Va., Michael Cheuk sets a CBF luncheon in the midst of mission madness, tables circling the dining room ready to repair, paint and refurbish homes around the city. Rob Fox of CBF Virginia, and Cheuk are currently in China visiting CBF field personnel.

At Rosalind Hills Baptist in Roanoke, Va., Brad Smith gives his inspiring witness of community, and expectation and hope for the future of a robust Fellowship family. He is joined by Nelson Harris of Virginia Heights Baptist Church and his wife Cathy, also on the Rosalind Hills staff, who multitasks between the active afterschool program and Wednesday night children’s missions.

Activity levels are also busy at Hendricks Avenue Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., where Kyle Reese hosts Ray Johnson and CBF of Florida, as well as the weekly athletic teams and pastors from the Caribbean. The blend of cultures and real community presence are a signature of this beautiful congregation.

Attending a regional meeting at First Baptist Church of Asheville, N.C., Guy Sayles welcomes us all and brings his Doctor of Ministry students to lunch, an example of the many generous mentoring and teaching responsibilities of our dedicated pastors who are partners with the 15 seminaries and divinity schools of the Fellowship.

Arriving at Peace Haven Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C., we join several community groups already meeting at the church building where Nathan Parrish provides a staff model for three Wake Forest Divinity School students, so that practical ministry complements their academic work.

It’s homecoming for Larry Hovis of CBFNC, at The Memorial Baptist Church in Greenville, N.C., where Greg Bowers is gregarious and energetic and leads this congregation through inspiring worship to city outreach and mission service. Before leaving Greenville, we visit the apartment complex and community garden owned and operated by Oakmont Baptist Church, where chaplain Layne Rogerson and pastor Greg Rogers have helped transform the neighborhood.

In the capitol city, First Baptist Church of Raleigh is a strong leading congregation across from the state capitol. Chris Chapman, the capable staff and FBC members are living out a full mission to their community, sustaining CBF field personnel across the world and have covered the walls of their fellowship hall with support for youth auction items, so there is barely a space available.

I ended my tour in two signature congregations. St. John’s Baptist Church, Charlotte, N.C., where  Dennis Foust shows us the apartment facilities in the church for families in crisis, and we pray for the associate pastor, Martha Kearse, who will return to Sudan for the ongoing partnership there.

The last stop is Ball Camp Baptist Church in Knoxville, Tenn., for its 216th anniversary. Led by Ed Sunday-Winters, Ball Camp’s mission teams are reporting from North Africa, Ukraine, Together for Hope in Ky., and Family Promise. There is a dedication of a long-awaited and precious adopted son and the baptism of his older sister. We sing “I’ll Fly Away” and no one wants the celebration to end.

Being a Fellowship is the common experience of more than 20 years of principled missions, reflective and inspiring preaching, intentional spiritual formation and a focus on building healthy churches. Yet, because of our culture of call and the centrality of our autonomous congregational identity, each church expresses itself in a beautifully uncommon way.

Common faith, uncommon expressions. That’s a Fellowship.

Suzii Paynter has served as the executive coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship since March, 2013.

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