An advertisement for a trip to Yellowstone National Park

The annual General Assembly of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship got off to a good start Wednesday night as about 1,100 people gathered for a 20th anniversary dinner at the Tampa Convention Center.

Most of the evening was designed to be fun. Brett Younger and Clarissa Strickland led a spirited romp through CBF’s first two decades, making good natured fun of all parties involved and noting how old one would have to be to catch a fair number of the jokes. Younger also reviewed CBF’s partner institutions by cracking on their logos, and Strickland read a humorous and scripturesque version of CBF’s history from the “errant and fallible” text of the “Dare She Scrolls.”

There were serious moments, however. Christy McMillin-Goodwin, minister of education and mission at Oakland Baptist in Rock Hill, S.C. and CBF’s current moderator, compared her spiritual/Baptist journey to Dorothy’s travels in The Wizard of Oz, growing up in a church that was open to women in leadership, later realizing she “wasn’t in Kansas anymore,” and finally finding a home in CBF, which was creating a new “Kansas.”

Molly Marshall, a former professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary who is now president of Central Baptist Seminary, raised seven questions for CBF as the organization contemplates its future. The questions and something of her reflection on them (as well as I could make them out and take notes), were:

* What is the pathway on which we sense the gospel to be moving? (she favors the pathway toward incarnational discipleship, in which believers go as well as send.)

* Will following this path require more faith, hope, and love? (CBF started small and needed faith. “It is a profoundly hopeful task to start new things … like seminaries.”)

* Are we persuaded that we cannot do this in our own strength? (“Holy work requires holy provision … we need to stretch toward goals that require the help of the Spirit.”)

* Will the pathway the Spirit is nudging us toward challenge notions of how God is at work in the world? (The Spirit is nudging us in ways that may make us uncomfortable, to deal with issues of human sexuality, gender as it relates to ministry, interfaith learning and partnership.)

* Will my community of faith grow in maturity as we grow more invested in CBF? (“We mature as we risk ourselves for God and walk toward what we cannot see.” Perhaps we are called to a “downward mobility” – “good things happen when we’re on our knees.”)

* Will redeeming expressions of grace and mercy flow from the path? (Jesus was all about compassion that leads to inclusiveness, not the kind of holiness that leads to exclusion.)

* Will following this path be an authentic participation in the reign of God? (We have to think differently about what it means to participate, who we are, and who we might become.)

Ken Medema followed Marshall with a song that he apparently made up as he went along, weaving strands of things that had been mentioned during the evening into a metaphorical soliloquy that sequed into “When I Fall In Love” and left many participants questioning what in the world he was singing about.

Since Marshall’s address had focused on questions, I suppose that was only appropriate.

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