June 24, 2016
By Aaron Weaver and Carrie McGuffin
GREENSBORO, N.C. — The 25th Anniversary General Assembly of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship concluded Friday evening with a commissioning service for newly-endorsed chaplains and pastoral counselors, church starters, and a special celebration of more than 100 field personnel serving in 30 countries around the world.
Forty-five CBF-endorsed chaplains and pastoral counselors were commissioned during the service, including CBF’s 1,000th endorsed person since the Fellowship began endorsing chaplains and pastoral counselors in 1997.
“These men and women are partners in renewing God’s world as they embody the presence of Christ in these specialized settings,” said Gerry Hutchinson, CBF’s endorser for chaplains and pastoral counselors. “They serve because the love of Christ compels.
“Your ministry is uniquely your calling. God has equipped you for such a time and such a work as this. Live out your calling so God calls out others through you. Speak, listen and minister in ways that are attentive and authentic. Remember the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is your home. We are your family of faith, and we commission you tonight to go forth with the strength of our love, prayers and support undergirding you.”
In addition to being anointed with oil and receiving a blessing, the new chaplains and pastoral counselors were presented with stoles designed and handmade by a Togolese weaver in partnership with CBF field personnel Mike and Lynn Hutchinson of Togo.
The largest and most diverse group of church starters were also commissioned, representing five of CBF’s state and regional organizations, with varying church sizes and styles as well as starters’ contexts, approaches, ethnicities and gender — all dedicated to relational and incarnational ministry.
“Dreaming provides us the opportunity to think creatively, innovatively and spiritually,” said Andy Hale, a CBF church starter and leader of the Fellowship’s New Church Starts Initiative. Hale said these new church starters have stepped into their new dreams with confidence and support with the help of CBF.
“Tonight we celebrate, affirm and inspire new dreams becoming a reality,” Hale said. “In this space we witness the union of called individuals, representing new faith communities and a dynamic Fellowship forming together to infuse a deeper partnership in the work of renewing God’s world.”
CBF Executive Coordinator Suzii Paynter emphasized that the “[Fellowship] is one and we are many.”
“What an impossible task it would be for one church to be in 30 countries, to minister in 45 settings, to start church families in eight communities,” Paynter said. “Really with no great burden on any one of us, we are there. It’s holy and miraculous. We praise and honor God for using us.”
Calling on the Assembly to lay hands on commissioned chaplains, pastoral counselors, church starters, as well as field personnel in attendance, Paynter stressed to the crowd of Cooperative Baptists the importance of this time.
“Pay attention to this moment,” she said. “You will bless this stranger into ministry. It is an act of faithfulness to the body of Christ.”
Bearing Witness to Jesus Christ
Focusing on the theme of “Bearing Witness to Jesus Christ,” CBF field personnel Kirk and Suzie shared their story of 18 years of ministry in Thailand, helping the Bisu people to create a written language in their dialect and translating the Bible into this language.
“Tonight, we would like to share with you the story of how God’s Word came to the Bisu,” Kirk said. “This is their story, but it is also CBF’s story. You prayed, you gave, some of you even visited.”
After telling the story of Bisu believers Por, Gawin and Bisu speakers beyond Thailand, Kirk and Suzie held up the tangible result of their 19 years of forming relationships with this community — the Bisu New Testament which went to print in late 2015.
“This is the Bisu New Testament, 18 years in the making,” said Kirk to resounding applause from the Assembly.
“Your prayers, giving and encouragement have been used of God to bring hope to Gawin, Por and other Bisu,” Suzie added. “Please continue to hold them in your prayers as these believers seek to minister to both their close neighbors and their distant cousins in neighboring countries who speak similar dialects.”
Cultivating Beloved Community
CBF field personnel Tina Bailey shared her moving story of cultivating beloved community in a Balinese prison in Indonesia through her relationship with Myuran (Myu) Sukumaran, one of the “Bali Nine,” and a death row inmate. Through the ministry of a prison art program, Bailey spoke to Myu’s beautiful spirit and reformation of character, as well as his artistic gifts. Although he was a “gentle giant,” Bailey said, Myu was executed on April 29, 2015, while she sat with his family, singing hymns with them and caring for his final paintings.
“It was a journey I wish with all of my heart I did not have to walk,” Bailey said. “But I did walk it and would do it again if called on. This is what we do. We find ourselves sometimes in places we did not choose, but we know we are right where we need to be.”
The Friday worship also included a statement read aloud by CBF Moderator Matt Cook which the CBF Governing Board adopted earlier in response to the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
“Admittedly and sadly, the Church has been said to be tacitly complicit in the Orlando attack because some Christians have either spoken in hateful ways about LGBTQ persons or have remained silent when other people spewed hate,” the statement read. “No more. We stand united in our belief that every person is created in God’s image and endowed with a sacred dignity that cannot be taken away. We stand united in proclaiming that God loves each person and wants all people to know God through God’s Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. That is to say: God is in Christ, reconciling the world unto Godself, making all of us into a single family. We stand united in condemning anyone who questions the full worth of LGBTQ persons before God or as citizens of our country. We reject any language and condemn any person who advocates violence against LGBTQ persons.
“CBF is not a like-minded fellowship about matters related to human sexuality; indeed, we proudly guard each other’s right to think and believe as the Spirit leads. We trust that the Spirit will lead us to reason together and that our communion is stronger for our individual convictions. The value of each person’s life and the worth of each and every person before our Creator are matters on which we find such abundant agreement, strong commitment, and resolute belief that we must speak when these truths are so brutally denied, as they were in Orlando and Charleston. To fail to do so would be to deny our common humanity and the faith, love, and hope that is ours in Christ Jesus.”
Read the entire statement here.
The 25th Anniversary General Assembly concluded as attendees gathered around the table and shared communion together.
“Fellowship, come to the Table, not because you must but because you may,” said Griff Martin, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Austin, Texas.
The total registered attendance for the 2016 CBF General Assembly was 1,972. For complete coverage of the Greensboro Assembly, including news, blog posts, photo albums and videos, please visit www.cbf.net/greensboro2016.
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.