August 26, 2021
By Aaron Weaver and Carrie Harris
DECATUR, Ga. — “O, come let us worship and bow down. Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker, for he is our God. We are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand.”
CBF Executive Coordinator welcomed attendees to the virtual 2021 General Assembly of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship with these words from Psalm 95.
Baxley noted that many would prefer to begin the opening worship service with the words of a different Psalm—Psalm 13.
“How long, O Lord,” he asked. “How long will the cases of the coronavirus surge? How long will our nation suffer under the strain of paralyzing political polarization? How long will our common life be impeded by the stains of centuries of injustice? How long will we live in the grips of multiple pandemics? How long will we be content to remain silent in the face of so much that is tearing our communities and our country and our world apart? How long, O Lord.”
Baxley said that he believes we worship in between Psalm 95 and Psalm 13.
“We’re invited to come to worship honestly, carrying the heavy burdens of our time, even when those burdens take the form of lament and question and uncertainty,” he said. “But even in those spaces, we’re also called to come and worship our God, to kneel before the Lord our Maker, to find rest in God’s love, comfort in God’s presence and renewal by the work of the Holy Spirit. So, as we worship and pray and sing, let us offer prayers and songs from the depth of who we are, where we are. And let’s listen for a renewing word from God in this service.”
Renewed by the Wind and the Word
Daniel Martino and Antonio Vargas Jr., senior pastor and associate pastor of Church of the City in New London, Conn., offered bilingual preaching and reflection for Assembly attendees, encouraging Cooperative Baptists with the words of Paul: “Do not lose heart.”
“My family, the pandemic did not remove our bold dreams,” they said.
In fact, Vargas and Martino emphasized that COVID-19 has only intensified the need for boldness, and that waves of change and instability give us an opportunity to ask, “How has God used this pandemic?”
“When we look to scripture, we find time and time again that God has provided two resources that stabilize us for communal renewal,” they said. “We see in biblical antiquity and up until today, the need for the wind of the Spirit and the power of Word.”
Citing stories of Peter, Paul and the church in Corinth, Martino and Vargas emphasized that even in trials, our faith must rest not on human wisdom, but on God’s power and the Word that is the grounding force for effective ministry.
“The Apostle [Paul] emphasizes that this renewal has to do with what is not tangible,” they said. “These things that we cannot control often cause uncertainty. But it is right there in that uncertainty, where we find restoration, revival and renewal.”
While the Word and the wind of the Spirit are what guide and lead us, they said, the Holy Spirit transcends the limits of reason to renew our minds and facilitate us to go into uncharted territory.
“New territory toward justice,” said Vargas and Martino, “Of a clear identity. Of growth. New territories toward holistic diversity—racial, ethnic, ideological, theological, socio-economic, gender and age.”
With this new territory of diversity, they said, we can realize the mission field in our own backyards and recognize that the Spirit will lead us where we need to go.
“The Word of God does not change, but the Spirit’s direction might for this Fellowship,” they said. “We know renewal from the inside out is not modification, but total transformation…If CBF is truly a family, it’s time to ask a question: What kind of family are we aiming to become?”
The preachers asked Cooperative Baptists to look around them in this moment and ask who is missing here—who from the family of God has not received an invitation to the Fellowship?
“We often talk about expanding the table or even resetting the table, but as a Fellowship, let us aspire in this new season to rebuild the table with integrity and respect,” said Martino and Vargas. “It is the Word that has given us the foundational raw materials for this table, and yet it is the wind that gives us new directions to rebuild. New grooves, new shapes, and new colors.”
Vargas and Martino not only spoke of invitation, but of rebuilding—even when it may be uncomfortable. And as we invite and rebuild, we also celebrate how far we have come in CBF’s 30 years.
“Our hope for CBF is that we can remember what God has shown us and make these bold dreams a reality,” they said. “We don’t lose heart because we are being renewed by the wind and the Word. With us or without us, God is doing a new thing. And let us be mindful of this: Bold dreams are given to bold people that have the grace, the endurance, the willingness to deliver on these dreams.”
To make these bold dreams a reality, the pastors offered a challenge: “God is counting on you and God is counting on me.”
With this challenge Martino and Vargas offered the hope of renewal and that the wind of the Spirit would blow through all Cooperative Baptists.
“Our prayer is that the Word would abound in our hearts,” they said. “That the Spirit would blow over our children, over our youth, over our adults. That they be forces of change and true transformation, that the wind would tear down, uproot, renew and energize. Today, we declare with hope in our hearts: Blow wind of the Spirit. Blow Spirit of God over our churches. Blow today.”
Workshops and Networks
Register for General Assembly and login to the conference platform to watch the Thursday opening worship service of the 2021 General Assembly and join in for all other opportunities to worship and learn together.
Following the opening worship, Cooperative Baptists attended two workshop sessions featuring 12 engaging discussions on diverse topics including investment solutions for local churches, responding to Christian Nationalism, welcoming immigrants and refugees, decolonizing Jesus (en Español), how migration molds our faith, rethinking religious experience and conversion, women answering the call to serve in missions and more.
The second day of the 2021 General Assembly also included the meetings of 10 different CBF networks—Affirming Network of CBF, CBF Advocacy Network, CBF Children’s Ministry Network, CBF Disaster Response Network, CBF Environmental Stewardship Network, CBF Mission Leaders Network, CBF Youth Ministry Network, CBF Chaplains and Pastoral Counselors, Pan African Koinonia and Polyphony Music Resources—as well as two hour-long sessions for small groups of attendees to gather for a time of fellowship and debriefing.
The General Assembly officially kicked off Wednesday, August 25, with a slate of four workshop opportunities in both English and Spanish.
Two Spanish-language workshops, hosted by Familia, CBF’s Latino Network, focused on opportunities for Latino/as in theological education and preaching in the Latino/a context. In the first session—led by Fernando Cascante of the Association of Hispanic Theological Education and Gonzalo Alers, CBF Latino Network intern and doctoral student at Drew University—participants learned about programs Latino/as can take part in within the theological world and also explored the opportunities and initiatives of the Association of Hispanic Theological Education. Juan Garcia of the CBF’s Latino Network Facilitating Team moderated the discussion. In a second session, Tito Madrazo of the Lilly Endowment gave an overview of the richness of Hispanic church preaching based on his latest book, Predicadores, with CBF Ministries Council member Jesús Garcia as moderator.
During a two-hour live Zoom session, four CBF pastors—Cheryl Adamson (Palmetto Missionary Baptist Church, Conway, S.C.), Shaun King (Johns Creek Baptist Church, Alpharetta, Ga.), Christy McMillan-Goodwin (FBC, Front Royal, Va.)—shared about the challenges they have faced by preaching in the pandemics of COVID-19, racial injustice and toxic politics, and also spoke to where they are experiencing renewal.
A second live Zoom session focused on expanding engagement in the local church. Attendees heard from Courtney Mills Jones Willis, associate pastor of Faith Formation & Congregational Life at First Baptist Church, Greensboro, N.C.; Brittany Stillwell, minister with students and families at Second Baptist Church, Little Rock, Ark.; and Jeff Roberts, senior pastor, Trinity Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C.
The 2021 CBF General Assembly continues Friday with two plenary/worship sessions and a final session of six workshops plus live discussion. Register for free at www.cbf.net/assembly.
(Top Left) Yamilla Mateo reads from 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 in Spanish and Kiki Francois (Bottom Right) reads from the same passage in English. (Bottom Left) Jon Chacko and (Top Right) Daniel Solberg and Demetrious Sampson provide the special music for the opening worship service.
CBF is a Christian network that helps people put their faith into 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.