By Paul Baxley
Last week our Fellowship held our first ever virtual General Assembly. I would like to thank each member of our Fellowship community who made time to engage in the worship, plenary sessions, workshops, network gatherings and partner events that took place Thursday and Friday. While we certainly missed the unique beauty of sharing one space, there were amazing opportunities presented by this year’s virtual gathering.
You should know that participation in the Assembly was at least at a five-year high. Our final registration count (before our third-party platform crashed) was 2,381. That surpassed our largest total in the past five years. Plus, once we decided to offer worship and plenary sessions on Vimeo and Facebook Live, we know we engaged people who were not registered for the event. We simply don’t know how many people took part in the Assembly, but we know we engaged about twice as many as came to Birmingham a year ago.
That so many of you made time and space for this very different Assembly is incredibly encouraging. It is a profound statement about our growing strength as we move toward the beginning of our fourth decade of ministry.
The virtual Assembly also gave all of us a chance to practice even more of the faithful agility and innovation that certainly characterized the early church in Acts and that has been required from all of us since early March. The days ahead will require even more of that from us, so it is good to see evidence that the Holy Spirit is helping us recover not only the bold faithfulness of the early Church but also the agility that such faith requires.
I am especially grateful for the patience so many of you extended as we worked through a series of technological challenges. Obviously, there were things that did not work as intended. Some of that is because we were attempting something we’d never done before (a reality with which I am sure almost all of you are familiar!) But more of that is because of a series of glitches and failures involving the third-party platform that was built for this year’s Assembly.
Early Friday morning last week, that platform crashed entirely and could not be rebuilt. Our communications team, in partnership with our General Assembly steering committee, moved with determination and tremendous skill to create an alternative platform for the Assembly, and that work was essentially done in two hours! Our hosts at Johns Creek worked with us to make sure we could still broadcast the Friday morning plenary session live. Every member of our team, alongside our hosts at Johns Creek, played an essential and even heroic role in bringing the second day of our Assembly to life. I’m incredibly grateful to colleagues and friends who worked so hard and served so remarkably.
Over the weekend as I reflected on all that took place Thursday and Friday, I realized that our virtual Assembly was just the latest reflection of what all of us have been experiencing these past several months.
We’ve had to learn new ways of serving. We’ve had to cultivate perseverance so that in the face of frustration and even resistance, we do not give up. When I consider all that I saw and experienced late last week as we navigated the challenges and opportunities of a unique assembly, and I look at all that our congregations, field personnel, state and regional leaders, chaplains, church starters, theological schools, partner ministries and Together for Hope leaders have faced and how all have responded, I can’t help but remember Paul’s words to the Galatians: “The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” The love, joy, patience, generosity, and faithfulness (that is perseverance) that has been evident in these months is a sign that the Holy Spirit is at work within us and through us.
For that reason, we can face the days ahead with confidence and hope.
If you would like to look back on all of the events of Assembly including the worship and plenary sessions and workshops, you can find all of these at www.cbf.net/virtualassembly.