By Laura Barclay, Kentucky Baptist Fellowship
Last week, Suzii Paynter toured the Kentucky Baptist Fellowship-partner institutions of Highland Baptist, Louisville; First Baptist, Corbin; St. Matthew’s Baptist, Louisville; Broadway Baptist, Louisville; Calvary Baptist, Lexington; Baptist Seminary of Kentucky and Georgetown College; Third Baptist, Owensboro; and Crescent Hill Baptist, Louisville.
She shared her faith story and vision for the Fellowship and also heard questions, ideas and concerns from ministers and laity around the state. Trained as an educator who then went on to work in the field of Christian advocacy for the Baptist General Convention of Texas, Paynter shared a unique perspective. She told stories of teaching both children and prisoners to read, taking on congresspersons on behalf of the disenfranchised, and volunteering time with CBF churches and missions.
She referenced the CBF mission field on the importance of relationships, when CBF field personnel partnered with locals in Zambia to build a food manufacturing plant. Paynter pointed out the difference between empowerment and temporary charity work by explaining that locals could now grow and supply their own food instead of having to rely on industrialized nations who import expensive products during a yearly time of famine called “The Hunger Season.”
She also shared the story of running into a USDA employee while visiting the White House. He approached her saying that his job was to evaluate faith-based work and that KBF’s Extreme Build site was continually mentioned on the national level as a model. He also asked if she would consider hiring a grant writer as there were many grant opportunities for such projects. Paynter then shared on her KY tour that she had recently hired someone for the sole purpose of writing grants.
Paynter spoke about CBF expanding its reach in formal partnership with the Baptist World Alliance through their United Nations offices in New York and Geneva. CBF field personnel Shane McNary has already testified before the U.N. in Geneva on religious liberty issues. U.N. staff was so impressed, they implored Paynter to send McNary back to advise them further.
Paynter outlined a three point focus: identity, missions, and ministry with congregations.
Paynter stressed, “We need to support congregations because that’s where our mission is coming from and where ministry happens. A part of the restructuring of staff and resources at CBF is to provide more support for churches.” Paynter encouraged churches to take advantage of processes like Dawnings, which work alongside churches to discern missional pathways of growth and transformation in the 21st century. She wants to work more collaboratively with churches and state CBF bodies to learn from and empower one another in ministry.
Paynter’s tone was one of celebration for what the CBF network of churches is already doing and encouraging the Fellowship to move forward as a 21st century “denominetwork.” When asked by an attendee at the St. Matthew’s Baptist event, “What is the biggest challenge facing the Fellowship?” Suzii responded, “To bless our churches and our work. Let’s not get distracted by all the chatter that makes us think less of ourselves, like articles about the decline of the church. We have to claim our Christian hope and vitality. We need to make it easier to work together and organize ourselves collaboratively and that’s part of my job.”
She closed many of her sessions by stating, “We can be alone or we can be a fellowship. We can come together and be an even better fellowship, and that is my hope. That is my invitation to you.”
Laura Barclay is assistant for communications and networking with the Kentucky Baptist Fellowship. This report first appeared Feb. 14 in the KBF e-newsletter. Learn more about KBF here.