April 25, 2016
By Aaron Weaver
DECATUR, Ga. — “Our ultimate end must be the creation of the beloved community.” This was the oft-repeated message of Martin Luther King, Jr., throughout the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. King’s vision — rooted in the belief that God is love and love is of God — has been described as “the realization of divine love in lived social relation.”
The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Georgia and New Era Missionary Baptist Convention of Georgia recently formed a partnership to live into this vision of beloved community. At its April 15 General Assembly in Atlanta, CBF/GA entered into a “covenant of action” with New Era, a state affiliate of the Progressive Baptist National Convention, an historic African-American Baptist denomination. Founded in 1961 by clergy and laity deeply involved in the civil rights struggle, New Era counts King as one of its early active members.
During a signing ceremony, the two groups covenanted together to “regularly participate in a fellowship of work and worship which will be centered on concrete mission and ministry in Georgia” with a mission event scheduled for May 14 as the first step in this new journey.
This “covenant of action” comes as part of an initiative of the New Baptist Covenant, an informal and diverse alliance of Baptists in North America working to break down barriers and fulfill Jesus’ mandate in Luke 14:18-19 to proclaim the good news and set the oppressed free.
The relationship predates this covenant, however. For the past 15 years, CBF/GA Coordinator Frank Broome has attended and brought greetings to New Era meetings and New Era’s past three presidents have done the same at CBF/GA’s assemblies. Following a flood in south Georgia several years ago, the groups came together to distribute 500 Bibles to affected churches.
This casual relationship between the groups began to evolve into something more concrete at the New Baptist Covenant Summit in November 2013, where Tyrone Pitts, a NBC leader and former general secretary of PNBC, encouraged Broome and New Era’s president, Douglas Stowers, to consider a partnership.
The next year, an unexpected freeze caused pipes to burst and flooded the dormitory building at New Era’s retreat center near Griffin, Ga., where the state convention hosts annual worship and educational conferences. This unfortunate incident brought the two groups together.
Stowers, who has served as pastor of Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Atlanta since 1994 and is a board member and treasurer of the PNBC Foundation, said that the partnership between New Era and CBF/GA is for the long term.
“This covenant is not for a week or month, but for evermore as we come together to lengthen our cords and strengthen our stakes,” Stowers said.
“It gave us a concrete mission where we could do something mutually beneficial,” Broome added. Volunteers from both groups will gather May 14 — the day before Pentecost Sunday — and cut down dead trees, clear brush, remove carpet and damaged drywall, clean and paint. A time of joint worship and fellowship will also take place.
“Whenever we do work together, we’re going to worship together too,” said Broome, who noted that the creation of a beloved community is what both groups wish to see realized.
“What ultimately we all want is what Dr. King called the beloved community,” Broome said. “We want a world in which black and white work together, pray together, eat together — where there is interconnectedness between our congregations.”
“I have come to believe that we have talked about the beloved community enough. I’d rather do something that would put some flesh and blood into this vision of the beloved community, and I think this project has the ability to do that. We’re not just talking about joining together; we are actually doing something together.”
Broome hopes that this partnership will find success and expand in the coming years with potential projects around disaster relief, deacon ministry and joint missions projects for youth. Right now, the two groups are taking this new journey one step at a time, and the first step is to catch the spirit of Pentecost on May 14.
CBF is a Christian Network that helps people put their faith to practice through ministry efforts, global missions and a broad community of support.The Fellowship’s mission is to serve Christians and churches as they discover and fulfill their God-given mission.