DECATUR, Ga. — Innovative Baptist leaders from diverse traditions and from five cities will collaborate on plans for cooperative ministry projects with fellow pastors from their city at a summit Thursday and Friday in the Atlanta area.
Participants will engage in workshops designed to help them create cooperative service projects called Covenants of Action, which will be tailor made to fit the passions, resources and needs of covenant partners in a particular community. A commissioning service for participants will be held at the Carter Center at 4 p.m. Friday.
These leaders — from Dallas, Birmingham, Ala.; St. Louis; Atlanta and the Northwest United States region — are a part of the New Baptist Covenant, a movement started by President Jimmy Carter in 2007, to break down barriers of race, theology, and geography among Baptists so that Jesus’ mandates found in Luke can be realized.
In Jesus’ first sermon, found in Luke 4: 18-19, Jesus says, “… the Lord has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor. The Lord has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight for the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Forming the foundation of this unprecedented collaboration is the Luke 4 passage and Baptists emphases on soul freedom, passion to help others to know God in personal experience, trust in the authenticity and authority of Scriptures, commitment to serve the weak and marginalized, valuing unity rather than uniformity and the autonomy of the local church.
President Carter expressed hope and expectation about the summit and the New Baptist Covenant movement.
“Baptists can do so much to bring healing and hope to the world that God so loved when we are united in shared service and common purpose,” he said. “I am eager to see the movement continue to grow, inspiring and energizing the Baptist family for generations to come.”
Hannah McMahan, the National Coordinator of the New Baptist Covenant, said that racial, theological, and associational barriers that have divided Baptists for too long.
“This will be the first round of covenant partnerships in a multi-year initiative that will engage numerous congregations from across the nation in the years to come. Over the next four years, we have plans to expand this effort and hope to facilitate 100 additional Covenants of Action across the nation,” McMahan said. “My hope is that through these Covenants of Action we will begin to reconcile our divided Baptist family and transform communities to reflect Jesus’ Luke 4:18-19 vision of healing and liberation.”
The inaugural celebration of a New Baptist Covenant in January 2008 brought together more than 15,000 people representing over 30 Baptist organizations. A second national New Baptist Covenant meeting in 2011 focused on the plight of incarcerated men and women and participants across the country were challenged to take on the difficult issue of restorative justice. New Baptist Covenant coordinators are now ready to accelerate the movement on the local level.
Jeffrey Haggray, the former executive director of the District of Columbia Baptist Convention and a New Baptist Covenant programming co-chair with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s Suzii Paynter, said the summit’s focus on local congregations within their larger communities is exciting.
“Whereas local churches are the most fundamental units of mission, the opportunity to develop Covenants of Action between local churches with the ultimate aim of reconciliation and transformation in their larger communities and among other Baptists is an exciting new venture,” he said.
At this year’s summit, national leaders will also engage in a time of collective planning as they consider how to nurture existing collaborative ministries and how to foster new opportunities for joint service and fellowship.
The keynote speaker is the Rev. Otis Moss Jr., who served as a board member and regional director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference during Martin Luther King Jr.’s tenure as founding president. Moss has been named as one of America’s Greatest Black Preachers. He is on the council of President Barack Obama’s White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships and retired in 2008 after 33 years of service to the Olivet Institutional Baptist Church in Cleveland, Ohio.
Pastors providing leadership from the five cities are from Dallas, George Mason, senior pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church; and Freddie Haynes, senior pastor of Friendship West Baptist Church; from Birmingham, Ala., Chris Hamlin, pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church and Terri Byrd, Coordinator of Alabama Cooperative Baptist Fellowship; from St. Louis, Jimmy Brown, pastor of St. Luke Memorial Baptist Church and Scott Stearman, senior pastor of Kirkwood Baptist Church; from Atlanta, Katrina Moore, director of next generation ministries and children’s pastor of the Greater Piney Grove Baptist Church; Trey Lyon, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel working alongside Park Ave Baptist Church; and Michael Wortham of the youth and college ministries at Ebenezer Baptist Church; from the Northwest, Chris Boyer, of the Evergreen Association of American Baptist Churches; and A. Wayne Johnson, of the General Baptist Convention of the Northwest will attend.
The New Baptist Covenant is an informal alliance of more than 30 racially, geographically, and theologically diverse Baptist organizations from throughout North America that claim more than 20 million members. Representatives of these Baptist organizations have reaffirmed traditional Baptist values, including sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ and its implications for public and private morality, as well as their obligations as Christians to fulfill the biblical mandate to promote peace with justice, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, care for the sick and the marginalized, and promote religious liberty and respect for religious diversity.