25 new ministers begin two-year journey in CBF Fellows program

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By Aaron Weaver

DECATUR, Ga. — The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship welcomed 25 ministers in their first full-time position of service to its Decatur, Ga.-office last week for a time of fellowship and learning as they begin a two-year process to assist and support their healthy transition into congregational ministry.

Over the next two years, this cohort of CBF Fellows will meet at retreats and online to learn together, build community and provide support to each other. Fellows are also provided access to a trained coach with experience assisting ministers in congregational settings.

Fellows enter into a covenant with CBF and their congregation, which agrees to provide non-vacation time away for the Fellow to participate in retreats and learning experiences. Congregations are also asked to provide a Minister Support Team to meet periodically with their Fellow.

At the Decatur retreat, the new cohort was oriented to the Fellows process and its faculty. The goal of this two-year process is to help participants become more effective ministers through the examination of key areas of leadership. Joshua Speight, CBF Missional Congregations Services Manager, who leads the CBF Fellows program, emphasized the importance of the program in providing much-needed support to new full-time ministers.

“CBF Fellows is an active way we as a movement support ministers in their first years of congregational service,” Speight said. “I served in my ‘first call’ ministry position less than 10 years ago, and Fellows would have been a valuable community for me while navigating all the highs and lows of congregational ministry. Providing leadership to this cohort is a privilege, and I look forward to sharing the journey with these ministerial colleagues over the next two years.”

New CBF Fellows also expressed their excitement to begin this journey.

2014-2016 CBF Fellows cohort

2014-2016 CBF Fellows cohort

“I am already loving being a part of the CBF Fellows program,” said Mary Alice Birdwhistell, associate pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Waco, Texas. “My time at this retreat has been full of life-giving conversations and soaking in the wisdom of new friends, colleagues and mentors in ministry.”

Andrew Noe, minister to students at Rosemont Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky., added that being involved in the Fellows program is both exciting and terrifying.

“It is exciting for the new opportunity to continue learning from and with other ministers,” Noe said. “It is terrifying to know that while we were selected for this opportunity, we still have a tremendous responsibility to move forward using the knowledge that has been passed on and not let it be wasted.”

During the retreat, CBF Fellows heard from speakers including CBF Executive Coordinator Suzii Paynter and Stephen Cook, pastor of Second Baptist Church, Memphis, Tenn. Paynter welcomed the Fellows and shared her excitement for their involvement in and commitment to the larger Fellowship.

“I’m excited about our story, where we come from,” Paynter said. “I’m excited that you’ve been nurtured to this connection, and I’m very excited about our future. With the Fellowship, we’ve been given a terrific foundation. It gives you a voice and gives you expression. And I believe our world is in need of your voice and Christian expression right now.”

The CBF Fellows program is supported by the Lilly Foundation and facilitated in partnership with the Center for Congregational Health and FaithHealthNC. The first CBF Fellows cohort completed its two-year journey earlier this year at the CBF General Assembly in Atlanta.

The individuals listed below make up the 2014-2016 CBF Fellows cohort:

  • Kristopher Aaron, Deer Park Baptist Church, Louisville, Ky.
  • Matthew Andrews, First Baptist Church, Glendale, Calif.
  • Josh Beeler, Central Baptist Church of Fountain City, Knoxville, Tenn.
  • Mary Alice Birdwhistell, Calvary Baptist Church, Waco, Texas
  • Molly Brummett, Knollwood Baptist Church, Winston-Salem, N.C.
  • Paul Burgess, Benson Baptist Church, Benson, N.C.
  • Heather Burke, First Baptist Church, Conway, S.C.
  • John Carroll, First Baptist Church, Danville, Va.
  • Kyle Caudle, First Baptist Church, Winston-Salem, N.C.
  • Scott Claybrook, First Baptist Church, Knoxville, Tenn.
  • Erin Collier, First Baptist Church, Lumberton, N.C.
  • Jordan Dollar, ESIC Baptist Church, Edwardsville, Ill.
  • Tom Ficklin, Southampton Baptist Church, Richmond, Va.
  • Merianna Neely Harrelson, Emmanuel Baptist Fellowship, Lexington, S.C.
  • Andrew Noe, Rosemont Baptist Church, Lexington, Ky.
  • Lawrence Powers, Oakmont Baptist Church, Greenville, N.C.
  • Abigail Pratt, Central Baptist Church, North Chesterfield, Va.
  • Leah Reed, First Baptist Church, Ahoskie, N.C.
  • Lindsey Richardson, Second-Ponce de Leon Baptist Church, Atlanta, Ga.
  • Amy Russell, First Baptist Church, Henderson, N.C.
  • Tiffany Slaughter, Haymarket Baptist Church, Haymarket, Va.
  • Stephanie Swanson, First Baptist Church, Smithville, Mo.
  • Jakob Topper, Second Baptist Church, Lubbock, Texas
  • Kyle Tubbs, Grace Baptist Church, Round Rock, Texas
  • Sara Turpin, Buechel Park Baptist Church, Louisville, Ky.



CBF is a fellowship of Baptist Christians and churches who share a passion for the Great Commission and a commitment to Baptist principles of faith and practice. The Fellowship’s mission is to serve Christians and churches as they discover and fulfill their God-given mission.

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