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Celebration, worship, and fellowship topped the agenda as 1,175 registered participants packed Forest Hills Baptist Church in Raleigh April 11-12 for the 14th annual gathering of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina (CBFNC).

Keynote speaker Julie Pennington Russell, pastor of First Baptist Church in Decatur, Ga., brought two messages on the assembly theme “Incoming Call: Hearing and Responding to God’s Call.”

In a sermon based on Jesus’ call of the first four disciples in Mark 1:16-20, Pennington-Russell noted that some readers are disappointed that Mark presents Jesus full-grown, with no story about Jesus’ birth. “We like the Christmas Jesus best,” she said — “weak and wordless.”

Mark offers little detail about how Jesus called out the disciples, “but maybe he leaves it out because the process is not the point,” she said. “The point is that Jesus comes to us and calls us to follow him. It’s about personal commitment to the person of Christ.” Jesus said ‘follow me’ – not a denomination or program or task or creed, she added.

“If our first calling is to follow Jesus, it gives us tremendous freedom to grow and be shaped along the way,” Pennington-Russell said: “Jesus doesn’t put us in vocational straightjackets.”

To sense the direction Jesus would have us to go, she said, believers must learn to be still and hear the Spirit speaking.

In a brief business session, participants approved a 2008-2009 program budget of $1.1 million, up 19 percent from the previous year’s budget of $915,000. During the 2007-2008 fiscal year, CBFNC received $2.4 million, including funds channeled to CBF national, Baptist colleges and institutions in North Carolina, and other ministry partners.

Steve Little, an attorney who is a member of First Baptist Church in Marion, was elected as moderator-elect, to serve in 2009-10. Greg Rogers, pastor of Oakmont Baptist Church in Greenville, took the gavel for 2008-09 from Gail Coulter, pastor of Providence Baptist Church in Hendersonville, who presided this year.

In her moderator’s remarks, Coulter thanked CBFNC and the five CBF-related churches that helped to sponsor Providence when it began in 2002. Providence “is one of the strongest small churches to be found,” she said. Coulter retired from the pastorate March 31.

Coulter highlighted CBFNC accomplishments during the past year, including “phenomenal growth in the Missions Resource Plan and undesignated giving,” the addition of new program staff, new missions initiatives, leadership development efforts, and the establishment of the Lolley Fund for theological education.

CBFNC is currently assisting with six Hispanic and two Anglo church starts, with plans to help launch several more in the near future.

Coordinator Larry Hovis praised Forest Hills Baptist Church for its assistance in hosting the event, and announced that next year’s meeting will be held at Snyder Memorial Baptist Church in Fayetteville, with Fred Craddock preaching. The dates will be March 20-21.
In a closing message, Pennington-Russell said urged attenders to surrender themselves as “instruments of God.” Jesus never said “Go and do some witnessing,” she said. Rather, “he said ‘you will be my witnesses.’”

Those are very different things, Pennington-Russell said. To be a witness is “to be an instrument for the purposes of God on this earth.”

For related blogs, learn about the Baptist Women in Ministry N.C. meeting and a banquet that kicked off the Lolley Fund for theological education.

[Photos: Above: Julie Pennington-Russell. Below: Larry Hovis thanks Gail Coulter for her service as moderator in 2007-2008.]

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