June 28, 2017
By Carrie McGuffin and Aaron Weaver
ATLANTA — The 2017 General Assembly of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship kicked off Wednesday evening in downtown Atlanta with a dinner to celebrate the denomi-network’s 25th anniversary and the success of a $12-million endowment campaign launched last June to support the long-term sustainability of CBF missions and ministries.
Nearly 1,000 individuals gathered to hear stories of the collective impact of Cooperative Baptists and CBF partner congregations over the past quarter century. Hosted by emcees Boo Sheppard, an actress, comedienne and former moderator of CBF of South Carolina, and Matt Sapp, pastor of Heritage Baptist Church in Canton, Ga., CBF clergy and laity shared inspiring stories of being formed together, equipped and encouraged in ministry through the initiatives and ministries of the Fellowship.
“We gather in this place eager to celebrate the Fellowship that binds us together,” said Emily Holladay, associate pastor of children and families at Broadway Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., and chair of the CBF 25th Anniversary General Assembly Team. “A generation of Baptists who believe God calls all who proclaim Jesus as Lord to serve you together, forming ourselves into the body that God has called us to be.”
CBF’s commitment to the next generation of Baptists is evident through a dedication to theological education and investment in young Baptists, said Daniel Potter, minister to students at First Baptist Church, Columbus, Ga. Potter expressed his gratitude for the Fellowship’s investment in him from his childhood spent in CBF churches to participation in CBF-partner PASSPORT camps to his time as a CBF Leadership Scholar at Wake Forest University Divinity School to his current “first call” ministry position.
“Opportunities to connect with other ministers and lay leaders around the nation through programs like Student Dot, Advocacy in Action, and even the ability to attend General Assembly were all a huge part of CBF’s partnership in my education,” Potter said. “That investment in my education, CBF’s partnership with theological education, started in my childhood and continues to this very moment through the CBF Fellows program.
“I am living proof of the return CBF gleans through partnership in theological education. My young Baptist colleagues and I are tangible, invaluable assets molded and empowered by this investment in theological education. This investment starts local, in the best, perhaps most Baptist way, by encouraging and challenging young Christians to grow in their faith. It continues through adolescence and emerging adulthood.”
Looking toward the next 25 years, the event also celebrated efforts to live into the Fellowship’s commitment to diversity. Through the re-visioning of the CBF Latino Network — La Familia — and the translation of Walter Shurden’s classic book, The Baptist Identity: Four Fragile Freedoms, into Spanish, attendees celebrated their Latino brothers and sisters. Watch a video celebrating this translation here.
This commitment to diversity was also celebrated during a time of reflection on the friendship and partnership between S.C. Dixon, pastor of Greater Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, La. and leader in the National Baptist Convention of America International, and Mike Massar, pastor of University Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, La., and coordinator of CBF of Louisiana.
After the devastating “Great Flood” in Louisiana in August 2016, CBF Disaster Response and CBF congregations began to coordinate relief efforts to those affected, including the people of Greater Mount Olive, who were significantly impacted by the flooding.
“Out of that tragedy came friendships,” Dixon said. “Thank you for responding to the Macedonia call.”
This partnership continues to flourish as the churches share ministry spaces and fellowship together. In March, CBF announced a gift of donated disaster response funds totaling $150,000 to assist in the rebuilding efforts of Greater Mount Olive, a place of hope, friendship, safety and education for an entire community.
Embracing diversity involves the important work of advocacy, said Anyra Cano, who helps guide the Fellowship’s advocacy outreach on behalf of immigrants in Texas. Cano shared about her participation in Advocacy in Action, a week-long experience in Washington, D.C., to encourage and equip CBF ministers and lay leaders to effectively advocate on behalf of those on the margins of society.
“Hearing Stephen Reeves [of CBF Advocacy] and CBF field personnel Greg and Sue Smith advocate for immigrants taught me that I do have white brothers and sisters in the Baptist world who care about the strangers among us. This was a safe place for me to share my fear and hopes for this community. I felt welcomed to speak up for my community — the immigrant community.”
CBF field personnel Kim and Marc Wyatt also shared about their experience ministering to and among Syrian refugees in the Research Triangle of North Carolina. The Wyatts shared the heartache that many refugee families experience daily as part of the community and providers of support.
“This is the story of many,” Kim said. “It is only a taste of the salt and light being shared by the Beloved Community. This way of being the presence of Christ is transforming lives of our international neighbors.”
Not only is the work of the Fellowship transforming the lives of international neighbors, but it is also transforming the lives of people across the United States, said Jason Coker, national director of Together for Hope — CBF’s rural coalition. Through the work of Together for Hope, two teenagers, Keyveon Rice and Roderious Phillips, from Delta Hands for Hope in Shaw, Miss., have been blessed with amazing experiences through a photography and oral history program. This program brought them to the General Assembly in Atlanta to join the CBF media team to take photos, document the Assembly and learn about the Fellowship.
“Roderious and Keyveon are just two youth among thousands across America who participate in Together for Hope,” said Coker, who also serves as field coordinator of CBF of Mississippi. “This is how CBF is changing the world, and this is also the way that the world is changing CBF.”
Katherine Ellis, a CBF Leadership Scholar at Princeton Theological Seminary, offered reflections on the future that lies ahead for the Fellowship.
“This evening as we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Fellowship we have heard a few of the many stories of those whose lives have been impacted by CBF. So too, we all find ourselves in the midst of these stories,” Ellis said. “CBF has done remarkable things in these 25 years. The Fellowship has demonstrated its creativity and compassion in reaching out to so many, especially the next generation of ministers and leaders. I pray that we continue to strive to be compassionate and courageous as we wrestle with the beauty and challenges that tomorrow holds.”
As the Fellowship celebrated inspiring stories of impact, the celebration dinner was also an exciting culmination of the successful $12-million 25th Anniversary Campaign to sustain global missions, form healthy churches and nurture young Baptists. Alongside the recognition of churches and individuals who made the campaign a success, attendees also commemorated the occasion with two artistic expressions of the theme “Christ’s love compels us” — a new anthem composed by Terry York and David Shwoebel, and a painting representing the Great Commission by He Qi.
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.