Editor’s Note: This is the first installment of a new series called “Illuminations,” which aims to highlight stories of cooperation, unity and diversity from across the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Illuminations is a communications initiative of the Illumination Project, a project of discernment and accompaniment involving CBF congregational leaders to illuminate the qualities that have built unity in CBF, and through discernment, identify intentional processes to maintain and grow unity through cooperation. Learn more about the Illumination Project at www.cbf.net/illuminationproject.
By Terri Byrd
It was a weekday morning and I was excited to be speaking to the women’s mission group at one of our local Birmingham churches about missional engagement through the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) and Alabama CBF. The room we gathered in was a lovely little carpeted room with a fireplace, sofas and chairs which seemed endearingly out of place in the church recreation building which also housed the gymnasium, weight room, games and shower facilities. But in this room, where we picked up our tea and cookies as we filed in, so many women gathered that they had to pull in extra chairs.
I felt at home in this space, and am incredibly grateful for it, because this incredible church had partnered with Alabama CBF in amazing ways after the 2011 tornadoes: housing volunteers from other states who slept on cots in the gym that were donated by the local fire station; donating the time of one of their associate pastors for a year to coordinate house rebuilding efforts in a community 20 miles away completely flattened by tornadoes; and providing meals to hundreds of people for months.
I spent many days during that year greeting volunteers and checking on work schedules in this building. These amazing women cared about missions and weren’t afraid to be “all hands on deck.” I have felt a special connection to them ever since.
As the meeting was about to begin the leader, Mary, pulled me aside and with a twinkle in her eye said, “I am so excited! We collected more for Global Missions this year than we ever have before!” And we both rejoiced.
During the meeting, I updated them on recent developments with Sowing Seeds of Hope, our rural development coalition, that is a part of CBF’s Together for Hope initiative. Their monthly donations provide welcome stability for the Alabama CBF work that happens in Perry County throughout the year. We talked about our CBF field personnel, especially Jade and Shelah Acker, who are from Alabaster, Alabama, and have family members in the church.
As we chatted about the ways their financial gifts influenced the work in Alabama and around the world and the next project they were planning in the state, I was reminded of the beautiful, covenant relationship that Alabama CBF has with CBF and the many ways our work weaves together ribbons of mission and ministry that bind us together to accomplish more than we could ever do alone.
There are many foundational principles that have guided CBF and our health as a unified body under the Lordship of Christ and one of those principles is the covenant way in which we work together as both a global network and multiple state and regional organizations. There is a respect for the different ways that each organization is structured and a desire to lift up and embrace the diversity and giftedness that each region brings to the whole.
In recent years, I have become more aware that the success and goodness of our Global Mission endeavors only benefit the missional engagement that happens on the ground in Alabama. Our people really care about missions! As the members of our churches find confidence in a funding policy that insures the long-term presence of our field personnel in countries around the world, the more likely they are to reach out to our state office for opportunities to serve with the Central Alabama Food Bank or Sowing Seeds of Hope or to build a chapel for veterans with our partner, Volunteers of America in Mobile.
Our state and regional organizations are diverse in many ways: the number of churches in their area – from 10 congregations to hundreds of congregations, how many of those churches are dually aligned, the huge difference in the miles of geography they cover, and what kinds of partnerships they form with other organizations. However, there is deep and abiding unity found in the covenants we share with CBF that provide us each with an overwhelming sense of shared mission, loving community, and grace-filled room to be ourselves… and to be a fellowship.
Terri Byrd serves as coordinator of the Alabama Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Learn more about Alabama CBF at www.alabamacbf.org.