August 27, 2021
By Carrie Harris and Aaron Weaver
DECATUR, Ga. — “Lean into the holy invitation of renewal” was the encouraging word of Rev. Emily Hull McGee to attendees gathered virtually for the concluding worship and commissioning service of the 2021 CBF General Assembly.
Hull McGee, who serves as senior pastor of First Baptist Church on Fifth in Winston-Salem, N.C., focused her sermon on the twin parables of the sower and the mustard seed from the Gospel of Mark.
“Spare and always enigmatic, the Gospel of Mark offers us these twin parables that speak of seed and soil and shade,” she explained. “The first parable of Jesus is found only in the Gospel of Mark. It tells the story of a seed growing secretly, automatically without visible cause. Rather the soil here takes center stage, for somewhere, somehow, deep within the seed is planted and the work begins to happen underground, underfoot, beyond sight.
“The second parable in parallel tells us that that little mustard seed, the seed that launched a thousand children’s songs and necklace charms, and reminders that with God all things are possible, just look at the mustard seed. It is the tiniest of seeds, but grows in Mark’s gospel to become the greatest of all shrubs.”
Hull McGee urged Cooperative Baptists to think about those parables—that there is no promise of success, but rather a reminder that God’s kingdom comes in due time, deep within the soil—even when we may not see it. But this is where the possibility of renewal and transformation comes alive.
“Our Christian tradition is rich with the theology of the soil, as you well know,” said Hull McGee. “In God’s generous creation, close to the humus in all our humanity, we only need to peak beneath the ground to be reminded of the ecosystem there under our feet. For the soil holds death and life together. A web of relationship that contains multitudes, making all things new again. It is no surprise then that Jesus finds the soil to hold meaning for our understanding of the kingdom of God. For in the scriptures, in stories of our life, the soil becomes space for renewal.”
Throughout the Assembly, Cooperative Baptists have heard a call to renewal from the inside out after a season of change and uncertainty brought on by the pandemic and social and political upheaval, leading to a sense of exhaustion—even as life continues to move along.
“You’ve reconsidered what you want from this life and you have become intimately acquainted with the things that matter most,” said Hull McGee. “You are alive and hopeful and tender and healing. And there it is. Death and life, beginnings and endings, fertile ground for renewal. For like the soil beneath your feet, you contain multitudes. This landscape is no different in our churches, right?”
“Every church is vulnerable right now,” she explained. “How easy it would be for our churches to respond to those feelings of vulnerability, with activity. Just think of all the weeds we could prune, grateful for the opportunity and the opening to scrap long-held church activities or traditions that had long passed their prime years ago. Just think of all the seeds we could sow, flinging deep and wide, every online webinar or outdoor gathering or idea we’ve never tried.”
How easy it would be to be led by anxiety instead, she said, holding on to what we have in scarcity rather than trusting the mystery of our soil and how God is at work.
“I wonder what gift might a vulnerable church offer to our communities and our cities,” Hull McGee asked. “A church that is vulnerable, honest and humble. One that tells the truth and loves in a big and bold way. A church that tends the soil and nurtures the ground. A church that trusts the fertile mystery of what God does beyond our efforting. A church that holds space for death and life, beginnings and endings, to become fertile ground for renewal.
“That is the kind of church this world needs. That’s the kind of church I want to be a part of. That’s the kind of church that would bring renewal to its members and its friends and any around them. That’s the kind of church that seeds black ash trees and watches as mustard seeds become shady places of safety and resurrection. That is the kind of church that like the soil beneath our feet, contains multitudes. That’s the kind of church that has come alive.”
She encouraged Cooperative Baptists to lean into vulnerability, letting creativity spring from the soil, believing and trusting that God will bring us life anew.
“Friends, this season invites us and our churches to renewal from the ground up,” Hull McGee said. “Renewal that comes with tending and remembering, renewal by way of resting in the sacred mystery of God. Being a soil-tending individual isn’t fast or flashy. Being a soil-tending church isn’t tidy or lucrative. But being a soil-tending people brings us to life.”
Commissioning of Chaplains and Pastoral Counselors
The closing Friday worship service also featured the commissioning of 29 CBF chaplains and pastoral counselors. Due to the pandemic, the process to appoint new Global Missions field personnel had been delayed, but the discernment process is currently underway for new appointments, CBF Executive Coordinator Paul Baxley reported, before introducing the video below on the impact of the long-term presence of CBF field personnel serving around the world.
Renee Owen, CBF’s endorser for chaplains and pastoral counselors, shared with attendees about those being commissioned.
“It has been an honor this past year to journey with our Council on Endorsement to welcome 29 new clergy into the CBF Chaplaincy and Pastoral Counseling Ministries family as CBF-endorsed chaplains and pastoral counselors,” Owen said. “We endorse clergy to serve as chaplains in multiple specialized settings, including hospitals and hospice organizations. Others are seeking to serve in the United States Navy, Air Force and Army or as a state National Guard chaplain.”
“We endorse chaplains to provide pastoral care to veterans at VA medical centers and to minister in prisons. Some endorsees are serving as chaplain residents in a training program of clinical pastoral education as they continue their clinical education and experience. This year we endorsed individuals representing a diversity of ethnicities, further enriching the sacred ministry our chaplains and pastoral counselors offer, living out their call to care for all persons….Please join me in congratulating and uplifting our chaplains and pastoral counselors by praying for them daily as they serve as an extension of CBF congregations, offering God’s love and the hope of Christ.”
The 2021 CBF General Assembly concluded as it does each year with the celebration of communion, led virtually by CBF field personnel Matt and Michelle Norman of Spain, Fredricc Brock, lead pastor of The Message Church in San Antonio, Texas, and Wendy Peacock, pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church in Americus, Ga.
Find all of the videos from this year’s Assembly, including workshop sessions, award presentations and sermons at www.cbf.net/assembly2021.
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.