By Grayson Hester
On September 1, Sean Roberds, pastor of First Baptist Church, Herndon, Virginia, was named the Mid-Atlantic Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s (MACBF) new executive coordinator, a part-time position he is holding jointly with his full-time assignment as FBC Herndon’s pastor.
But, to both, he is dedicating his whole self.
“I said ‘yes’ in June, and asked the coordinating council if I could postpone my start until September,” Roberds said. “I knew that at our church, we were going to be looking at the possibility of resuming some in-person worship after having shut down in August due to COVID. and that I would be deeply engaged in those plans. They agreed.”
Roberds is assuming the position after Rev. Dr. Trisha Miller Manarin concluded her seven years of service as coordinator to become the executive director/minister in the D.C. Baptist Convention (DCBC) in Washington. Given D.C.’s anchoring location in the Mid-Atlantic, and its centralized role in church life nationally, the transition seems a natural one.
“I’m thrilled to be at the DCBC,” she said. “In many ways, MACBF was great preparation, or a foretaste of what DCBC could be.” Indeed, she intends to bring along with her the work she achieved while at MACBF, in addition to the lessons learned.
During her time at MACBF, she was instrumental in helping form identity for the organization, building community, as well as adopting and implementing clergy accountability measures.
“It was a lot of fun to watch that purpose and identity come to light and bear fruit,” she said. “We took very seriously the notion that MACBF exists to ‘pastor’ pastors and to equip and engage congregations.”
Roberds is poised to build off the work Miller Manarin did over her seven years at MACBF. That in and of itself is noteworthy. The transition is remarkable, too, because of its occurrence during an ongoing pandemic. But maybe most notably, the transition is happening between two very good friends.
“I think the world of Sean and all he has to offer,” Miller Manarin said. “He’s an amazing pastor, visionary, justice seeker and a racial reconciler; he’s able connect all this globally and locally.”
Indeed, in his short tenure thus far, Roberds has exemplified all these attributes. The primary role of a coordinator, at least in Roberds’ estimation, is to be a pastor to pastors. And never has this supportive capacity been more important. “Being able to reach out to pastors and people who are working and to say, ‘Hey, I’m here,’ and to give them an opportunity to talk to someone who’s supportive and who understands has a lot of meaning,” he said. “It’s the best part of my job—to be able to do that and feel that connection.”
Pastoring can be a lonely profession in the best of times. Since 2020 has definitively not been one of those best of times, the conversations conducted via Zoom or telephone have become crucial to the spiritual well-being of the pastors and the MACBF of which they are a part.
Another aspect of the coordinator role is the planning of gatherings. It goes without saying that this responsibility, too, has changed considerably due to the pandemic. “How do we continue to be present and help congregations in the midst of COVID when we can’t have our gatherings?” Roberds asked. “That’s one of the things that we’re working on right now.”
In passing the baton from one coordinator to another, Roberds has continued a practice Miller Manarin began—a weekly prayer gathering via Zoom. Also taking place on Zoom are the yearly clergy retreat and MACBF gathering, scheduled for next February and March. It may be unusual, but it is altogether necessary.
Necessary, too, is the work Roberds has done within the realm of racial justice. Answering the call not only to the coordinator position, but also to the demands placed on white Christians by this year’s flagrant racial injustices, Roberds has continued leading a book study even into this new role. “We’ve been able to do some work with different organizations dealing with race,” Roberds said. “We have a clergy covenant group that meets monthly and, in fact, we were able to open it up to a broader group of people on Zoom. We’ve almost doubled the size of the covenant group.” The group has read such books as The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby and Rediscipling the White Church by David Swanson. And before people can join the group, they must sign a covenant to undergo regular spiritual practices and hold each other accountable.
In an area as diverse as the Mid-Atlantic, and in a year as decisive as this one, such efforts towards racial justice help meet real, deeply-felt needs. Roberds, with his calling towards pastoral care and social justice, has, in the short two months of his tenure, responded to a church and world clamoring for leadership. And the coordinating council seemed to agree.
“The call from the coordinating council to Roberds was unanimous one,” Miller Manarin said. “Sean understands this region, and is deeply connected to CBF. That’s an added asset and gift.”
As far as Roberds is concerned, he simply hopes that the MACBF can continue its work and move forward, even amid all the difficulties this year imposes. “The churches and groups in the Mid-Atlantic are so creative. They might be small, but they are dynamic in a lot of ways,” he said. “We’re now going to have a mission focus that looks different, and I hope to encourage churches to support it with their buildings, time, money, gifts and talents. And I think it’s going to be exciting to see where all that goes.”