DECATUR, Ga. — A diverse group of Baptist leaders from five cities gathered in Atlanta on Thursday to begin a two-day summit to discuss collaboration and create plans for cooperative ministry projects. During the summit, participants are creating cooperative service projects called Covenants of Action to meet the specific needs of their communities.
These leaders — from Dallas, Birmingham, Ala., St. Louis, Atlanta and the Northwest United States region — are 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’ mandate in the fourth chapter of the Gospel of Luke to proclaim good news to the poor and set the oppressed free can be realized.
The New Baptist Covenant Summit kicked-off with a time for participants to share memories of the inaugural New Baptist Covenant gathering in January 2008, which brought together more than 15,000 people representing over 30 Baptist organizations to Atlanta for a time of worship, discussion and celebration.
“The New Baptist Covenant came out of a long series of things that were going on in the Baptist movement, both negative and positive,” said Jimmy Allen, co-organizer with President Carter of the 2008 celebration. “We were discovering the difference between us was maybe style, but never a heartbeat. The heart beats together. We are believers who believe in the Lordship of Christ. We believe in volunteerism in response to God. We believe … that Jesus Christ is Lord and every human on earth needs to know that.”
John Upton, president of the Baptist World Alliance and executive director of the Baptist General Association of Virginia, also reflected on the inaugural meeting and shared his hopes for the future.
“Like many of you, I’m tired of the fracturing of the church. Over little disagreements, we find ways to separate ourselves from each other and from Paul’s admonition in Ephesians to build up the body of Christ. We have either not taken that admonition seriously or we have been horrible in our treatment of the body,” Upton said. “Koinonia is not a luxury term. It’s not something you do when it’s convenient. It’s an expectation of God in Scripture.”
New Baptist Covenant National Coordinator Hannah McMahan outlined the summit’s objectives and discussed plans for the future of the NBC movement.
“This movement is about us loving each other and loving us through God,” McMahan said. “The New Baptist Covenant is getting ready to go into a new phase. We have gathered here to make covenants. We have gathered to make covenants of action and not of philosophy. In this meeting, we’ve come to know each other better. We’ve come to find ways to work side by side with each other.
“This year we have five covenant partners — Dallas, Birmingham, St. Louis, Atlanta and the Northwest region. They have come here to make covenants of action, to covenant among diverse partners who live in their communities to live together, to work to enhance Jesus’ Luke 4 vision in their community. Over the next four years, we plan to have over 100 covenants of action. Can you imagine what that would mean?”
The opening session included a panel discussion moderated by Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Executive Coordinator Suzii Paynter, featuring Scott Stearman, pastor of Kirkwood Baptist Church in Kirkwood, Mo.; Douglas Stowers of Habitat for Humanity; and Aidsand Wright-Riggins, executive director of the American Baptist Home Mission Societies. The group shared stories of transformative partnership experiences and discussed how groups can move forward to develop sustainable partnerships.
“What we’ve found at Habitat for Humanity is that we’ve shifted from just finding a good spot to build a house to actually building communities,” Stowers said. “Someone was willing to come in and not be the hub of the community, but undergird the community and be woven into the fabric of the community.”
“The reality is that reconciliation costs,” Wright-Riggins added. “It’s beyond saying, ‘I’m sorry.’ The reality is that life has to be offered. There has to be restitution. Reprimands. Real change. We’re not good at that because we don’t want to give up privilege. We don’t want to give up power. We don’t want to say that we’re wrong. We just want to say that we won’t do it anymore.”
The first-day of the summit concluded with a worship service at First Baptist Church of Decatur, Ga., where participants sang hymns, read Scripture and shared baptismal testimonials.
“It reminds me as one who holds the responsibility to baptize that before any activity is done it needs to be framed appropriately,” said Kasey Jones, senior pastor of National Baptist Memorial Church in Washington D.C. and moderator-elect of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. “There is power in the symbol that as we do these things in the name of the Triune God, that when we go down, we don’t stay down. When we come up, we come up together and that any action that takes place publicly ought to be framed appropriately, that something powerful and mysterious takes place when we do it in his name.”
During the worship service, an offering was taken to support the work and ministry of the New Baptist Covenant. Individuals gathered gave donations, and organizations vocally pledged support before the group. These pledges included $2,000 from Allen Temple Baptist Church, $2,500 from the American Baptist Home Mission Societies, $2,000 from a former project called Baptist Builders and $3,000 from the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
Otis Moss Jr. provided the night’s message on acting as arbiters of justice and having the courage to lead. He shared stories from Martin Luther King Jr.’s work for civil rights and urged the group to sow seeds for good in the world.
“The courage to lead is the courage to know that you never resign or graduate from the struggle,” Moss said. “So in the struggle do not grow weary, in doing what is right, in due season, we shall reap what we do not give up.
The service concluded with a time of remembering baptism led by George Mason, pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, and Katrina Moore, next generation’s ministries and children’s pastor at Greater Piney Grove Baptist Church in Atlanta, Ga.
The event continues today with a message from Dee Dee Coleman of the New Baptist Covenant’s Restorative Justice Team, and Covenant of Action group meetings and presentations.