General CBF / Newsroom

Ministry leaders in Texas reflect on the future at the CBF Texas Spring Gathering

By Lauren Lamb

Hannah Coe, senior pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Waco, closes the weekend with a challenge for ministers to consider why they are serving.

WACO, Texas ― “What keeps me here? What keeps you here? What keeps us here?” Hannah Coe, senior pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Waco asked the CBF Texas Spring Gathering. “The future feels full of beauty and possibility around that question.” The March 24-25 event at Seventh & James Baptist Church, titled “Stories from the Churches: New Forms for a New Era,” brought nearly 100 pastors and lay leaders from across Texas together to share, listen and reflect.

CBF Texas coordinator Rick McClatchy directed the weekend of panels, break out discussions and times of worship. “Stories stay with us better,” McClatchy said. “My hope is that you hear the stories from different churches and what they’re doing and leave saying, ‘we could pull off something similar in our congregation.”

McClatchy has announced that he will retire at the end of the year. A process is beginning to select his successor.

“These days in ministry we face all kinds of questions about what ‘here’ means. It needs to look like each of us,” Coe challenged in the closing session. “We’re navigating all kinds of change in the midst of a cultural moment rife with shame and exhaustion, fear and disconnection.”

Rick Adair, pastor of The Crossing Baptist Church in Mesquite, Texas, speaks in the final plenary session, “Story of Multicultural Competency.”

The Crossing Baptist Church in Mesquite, Texas, mirrors the neighborhood’s new diversity in its congregation. The church is only 26 years old and hired its second senior pastor, the Rev. Patrick Adair, in 2017. “It was entirely white when it started,” Adair said. “The demographic of the neighborhood was changing, and the church reflected that.” Some original church members did not like the new diversity. “The church shrank in numbers but grew in diversity.” The congregation is now 36% Hispanic, 36% Anglo and 28% Black. “It turns out that bringing multiple cultures together to form something new is what the Bible is about. The New Testament is about looking at the values of cultures and thinking about the kingdom of God.” To answer Coe, the ‘here’ is rooted in Scripture.

A breakout session followed Adair’s story to discuss developing multicultural competency. Christopher Mack, Meredith Stone and Jorge Zapata led discussions on crossing cultural barriers.

When McClatchy asked ministers how the church gains credibility again in a skeptic community, the answer was missional engagement. “One arm is compassionate ministries working for the common good of everyone. The second arm is advocating for justice for everyone in the community.” Heather Mustain, associate pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, and John Moore, the pastor for missions at First Baptist Church in Abilene, described the advocacy work in their congregations.

“What are the fingerprints of your church on the community?” Mustain asked. Mustain’s advocacy work is defending and supporting others. Wilshire holds town halls to educate people on major concerns the community is facing. “In April we’re having a townhall on homelessness and housing. Trying to help people understand that while we may not be impacted by homelessness, it still has an impact on us,” Mustain said. “Data doesn’t change us, stories do. That’s the work of the church.”

Heather Mustain and John Moore at Seventh & James Baptist Church participate in a discussion of missional engagement.

While statistics are helpful in addressing community struggles like homelessness, the story is built on knowing someone’s name. Moore agreed in recounting a story about relationships being transformative in people’s lives. First Baptist Church Abilene is home to City Lights ministry that has nine programs to help their homeless. A man experiencing homelessness who participated in a culinary lifestyles program is now working at a local restaurant in downtown Abilene and comes to worship on Sunday. “You can see the happiness. It’s worth that relationship,” Moore said. Their answer to Coe’s challenge is built on relationships with the people they serve.

Two breakout sessions were held to continue the discussion on organizing missional engagement. Anyra Cano, Dennis Tucker and Israel Loachamin spoke about the collaboration with others in missional ministry. Josh Houston and Stephen Reeves focused on advocating public policy.

DaySpring Baptist Church in Waco was represented by Eric Howell, senior pastor and Tiffani Harris, the associate pastor of community life, in a plenary session. They explained their congregation’s contemplative worship style. During their service, there are moments of silence for reflection and prayer. “Newcomers often think that someone forgot to come to the front during worship,” Harris said. “We have to teach what Lectio Divina is and the importance of silence.” Lectio Divina is a monastic practice of meditation and prayer. “At first, practicing silence and solitude is hard to do alone,” Harris said. “Questions come up, but they’re worked out when we share with each other.”

Tiffani Harris and Eric Howell of DaySpring Baptist Church explain their contemplative worship at the first plenary session, “Story of Mystical/Contemplative Orientation.”

DaySpring Baptist’s campus mirrors its worship style. “We had an architect describe the long drive as a decompression phrase of entering the space,” Howell said. “The architecture has a rhythm as you enter it. The church has open windows so there’s a symbol of wind blowing through the trees.” On Sunday mornings, the choir and pastors sit in the back of the church rather than the front.

“For me as the pastor it dislocates me from the whole thing,” Howell said. “If something goes wrong, it goes wrong, and I can’t fix it. If something goes right, I didn’t make it go right. It’s good for the congregation to have the cross in the center. Those things create the physical space that gives room for the experience of God’s presence.”

A new scholarship was announced that will be awarded from CBF Texas as a gift to seminary students of color. The scholarship is named after Israel Campbell, the “father of Black Baptists” in Texas. In 1867 Campbell began the African Baptist Church of Galveston. The Rev. Donnell Johnson currently serves as the church’s senior pastor, which is now called Avenue L Baptist Church.  He was present to acknowledge the importance of the Israel Campbell scholarship.

“So, whatever brought us here and keeps us here may we carry this assurance,” Coe closed. “Where Christ is, there is healing. There is loving sustaining community. Courageous compassion. Reconciliation, respiration, resurrection, a bright and bold future for us to share together.”

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