By Emily Holladay and Aaron Weaver
In a world of increasing religious and institutional decline, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is vibrant and being woven together. This is the message Executive Coordinator Suzii Paynter delivered during the opening session of the 2014 CBF General Assembly.
“We are woven together. In a world of religious, institutional and denominational decline, friends, we are vital, we are alive and it is not accidental,” Paynter said. “The Fellowship is faithful and intentional, and we are developing.
“This year, CBF was explicitly represented at both the George W. Bush Library and the Oval Office. In renewed collaboration with the Baptist World Alliance and 121 Baptist Unions around the world, CBF public witness was also represented at the United Nations on behalf of women and girls by Phyllis Boozer, Baptist Fellowship of the Northeast coordinator, and in Geneva on behalf of the religiously persecuted and international religious liberty by Shane McNary, one of our field personnel in Slovakia, and at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau by Stephen Reeves, our associate coordinator for partnerships and advocacy.”
“We have a dynamic young Baptist eco-system,” Paynter said. “There are more than 60 college students at this General Assembly in a series of events called Atlanta Sessions, and CBF seminary Leadership Scholars are in just about every meeting. Connecting congregations and young leaders will continue to be a focus for CBF.”
Paynter also recognized the exceptional work taking place in the CBF State and Regional Organizations as well as the partnerships developing in CBF Global Missions, particularly with the Together for Hope initiative, which seeks to serve communities in the 20 poorest counties in the United States.
She concluded her remarks with a reminder that “we can be alone, or we can be a Fellowship.”
“I know this,” Paynter said. “I alone cannot be your church. And you alone cannot be mine. We are already membered through time in a timeless love… This is our Fellowship, and we can be woven together.”
The opening business session also featured a celebration of churches through a video montage of individuals finishing the sentence, “without church…” Dock Hollingsworth, pastor of Second-Ponce de Leon Baptist Church in Atlanta also offered reflections on why he loves his church.
“Quiet acts of ministry are taking place every day by people who want no recognition — no spotlight,” Hollingsworth shared. “What I love most about my church is that right now, while I’m here with you at the General Assembly visiting friends, the children of Thaddeus, the members of Second-Ponce, are being the church and following Christ just for the love of Christ and Christ’s people.”
CBF Moderator Bill McConnell called the business to order with the adoption of the agenda and review of the Governing Board and its work over the past year. Jean Willingham, member of the Governing Board and chair of the Finance Committee, presented the 2014-2015 Missions and Ministries Budget. In accordance with the CBF business procedures, the motion will be discussed at a breakout session at the conclusion of the business session and the vote to approve the budget will be made in Friday morning’s business session.
CBF Past Moderator Keith Herron addressed the Assembly to present the Nominating Committee Report, and Governing Board Member Matt Cook presented the Governing Board recommendations for the Nominating Committee and Recorder. Both presentations require discussion at a breakout session and will be put to a vote at Friday morning’s business session.
Gary Skeen, president of the Church Benefits Board (CBB), reported that the retirement benefits ministry of the Fellowship now has total assets of more than $47 million and has been able to achieve this milestone in only five years. Noting that membership is increasing at a steady 15 percent, Skeen called on Cooperative Baptists to consider using CBB’s retirement plan.
“The CBF 403b retirement plan was created for like-minded Baptists, who share the same values and beliefs about ensuring the future of our ministers and church staff,” Skeen said. “If you say you are CBF-aligned, then you need to be CBB-aligned. It’s a visible way to show that we are preparing together for our future.”
Jeff Huett, CBF associate coordinator of communications and advancement, presented a report titled “Assessing the CBF brand.” Huett spoke about developing CBF’s brand, or reputation, with clarity and intentionality. He reported that in recent months a group of CBF staff members along with a cross-section of CBF pastors and laity participated in a process to help clearly define CBF’s brand.
“We’re living into the same values that CBF’s founders instilled nearly 25 years ago,” Huett said. “We live to be the presence of Christ — to be Christ-like — to be innovative, authentic, global, and to raise the bar on excellence with inspiriting partnerships, ministries and missions. We are this way because the 1,800 or so congregations that comprise our Fellowship are this way.”
Huett told attendees that a new CBF logo will be unveiled in the coming months.
“In the coming months, you’ll notice an elevated look and feel to the CBF logo. But know that when you see that, know that you’re not seeing a mere graphic,” Huett said. “Instead, you are seeing the results of collaboration between your CBF staff and you, working together — to clearly define our identity, to effectively share our story and to reimagine the way we present ourselves to the world.”