By Emily Holladay
The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is enriched by the presence of gifted leadership in its officers and throughout its governance. With Kasey Jones, senior pastor of National Baptist Memorial Church in Washington, D.C., stepping into the role of moderator, CBF is poised for a productive and impactful year of ministry and missions through partnership and collaboration. National Baptist, though small in numbers, has supported teams of Student.Go students to serve at its church for the past six years and has taken part in the formation of young ministers by making a space for interns through CBF’s Collegiate Congregational Internship program.
As CBF moderator, Jones is a voice of inspiration and encouragement to others like her, who are looking for a way to make an impact in their community, both locally and globally. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Jones and learn more about her story. The following is an excerpt from our conversation.
Tell me about your background. Where did you grow up?
I grew up in a small town in Southern California called Duarte. My formation growing up was two-fold: the church and the community. I was raised in a Baptist church, and it seemed like we were always at church. I remember as a teenager thinking that we were at church every single day of the week. But it was not like my parents dragged me along; I enjoyed being there. It was like a second home.
The other part of my formation was community. My father was one of the first African-American school board members in our small town, and my parents were very active in community development. As a child, I would help by putting fliers in mailboxes, and I would talk to folks about the issues surrounding the campaign.
Church and community were closely tied for me. My parents’ involvement in church and community modeled for me the importance and necessity of participation. Even now in my ministry, I don’t think participating in my community is optional. I believe that if something is wrong, people ought to play a part in transformation.
Who were important influences in your development as a leader?
My parents were the biggest influence. Of course, my dad through his leadership within the community, but also my mom because of her deep faith. I remember as a little girl that I was my mom’s shadow. When she would visit somebody who was homebound, I was right there by her side.
Another person would be Marian Wright Edleman. She is a brilliant woman, and I was blessed with the opportunity to work at the Children’s Defense Fund, looking and learning at her feet. She had a tremendous impact on me. When I was there, she started a new initiative called the Black Community Crusade for Children, and I worked in the youth and young adult arm of that initiative. I sat in meetings with her. We had conversations about strategy and project planning. She was there at the table with us. She invited us to the table. She wanted us to be an active part of the crusade.
Hearing the stories of when she was a young lawyer in Mississippi and the strategic planning that took place to help transform her community inspired me. I talk about transformation now because I believe that it’s real and it’s possible that things can be better and that we have a role to play to make sure that happens.
Can you share about your church’s rich history?
National Baptist Memorial Church is one of the historic churches in Washington, D.C. It started in 1906 as a city-wide Sunday school ministry, and by the end of the year, the church called its first pastor. Originally named Immanuel Baptist Church, in 1915 the pastor cast a vision to build a National Roger Williams Memorial Baptist Church for all Baptists and began a campaign to encourage the Baptist bodies around the country to help make his vision possible.
Resources came in from organizations such as the Southern Baptist Convention and the Northern Baptist Convention (now American Baptist Churches, USA), as well as from churches and individuals from across the country to build a facility known as the National Baptist Memorial Church for Religious Liberty — now officially National Baptist Memorial Church. In 2006, the church’s centennial year, I was named the first female and first African-American called to serve as senior pastor.
How did you connect with CBF?
My introduction to CBF was layered. I met Tommy Justus, the pastor of Mars Hill Baptist Church in North Carolina, in April 2006. For about 25 years, Tommy brought mission teams to National Baptist to stay in the building and do work throughout the city. He mentioned that Mars Hill was a CBF church, and I was not really sure what that meant, but I soon learned. I learned through the developing partnership with Mars Hill, other CBF churches and young adults that this Fellowship is serious about helping Christians and churches discover and fulfill their God-given mission.
Around the same time relationships were being forged at the local church level, I believe God saw fit to garner my attention toward CBF at the global level. Soon after starting my pastorate in 2006, I was chosen to participate in the Emerging Leaders Network (ELN) of the Baptist World Alliance. The purpose of the network was to develop emerging Baptist leaders.
Earlene Vestal was assigned as my mentor during the BWA gathering in Ghana in July 2007, as my understanding of CBF was still being formed. The mentorship program was designed to help guide new leaders and she took her responsibility seriously. Earlene introduced me to her husband, Daniel Vestal, and other Baptist leaders, and helped me understand more about the wider Baptist life and the Fellowship in particular.
Before long, I received an invitation to be a part of the Mid-Atlantic CBF. As a relatively new pastor, I thought, “How can I say no to an organization that has poured so much into me personally with Earlene’s mentorship and collectively with all the churches that have supported our local church?”
What do you bring to the table as moderator?
I believe I am a part of the new growing legacy of the Fellowship. I do not come with the lived historical experience of the conflict from which CBF was born. I am a part of CBF because of the foundation of what those folks have built. I am attracted to CBF because of the cooperative spirit, because of the real meaningful work that CBF does. So, I guess, the first thing I bring with me is the testimony that God is using this Fellowship to make a real and meaningful impact.
I also bring my formation experience, an experience that taught me that, when Christians gather and get involved, transformation is possible. Born out of strife, but sustained with a strong cooperative spirit. It is time to claim our identity. As moderator, I would love for us to own and continue to live into the powerful legacy as Baptists that cooperate with Christians and churches to be the presence of Christ around the world.