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Delegates to the meeting of the National Baptist Convention of America Inc., International (NBCA) will vote Wednesday to choose one of three presidential candidates to lead the convention.
The second largest black Baptist convention in the United States, the NBCA faces a key presidential vote with an unprecedented election featuring the current president facing off against two vice presidents.

NBCA’s president, Stephen Thurston, faces two challengers for re-election: Samuel Tolbert and George Brooks.

Thurston, pastor of New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago, was not expected to run again and did not enter the race until after the other two candidates.

Bartholomew Banks, president of the Progressive Missionary and Educational Baptist State Convention of Florida Inc., explained to that Thurston did not enter the race until “after the train had left the station” with Tolbert and Brooks already running.

Banks, a Tolbert supporter, added that the election is therefore “not necessarily an election against the president, but about moving the convention forward.”

Tolbert, the NBCA’s first vice president, is pastor of Greater St. Mary Missionary Baptist Church in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

Tolbert appeared in the documentary “Different Books, Common Word: Baptists and Muslims.”

Brooks, the NBCA’s fourth vice president, is pastor of St. James Missionary Baptist Church in Nashville.

Formed after a controversy in 1915 regarding control of the National Baptist’s publishing house, the NBCA split off from the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. (NBC USA).

Each convention later split, with the Progressive National Baptist Convention leaving the NBC USA in 1961, and the National Missionary Baptist Convention of America leaving the NBCA in 1988.

The Lott Carey Baptist Foreign Mission Convention had previously split from the NBC USA in 1897.

In recent years, all five conventions have joined together for various collaborative efforts, including the New Baptist Covenant gathering and efforts to rebuild Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.

First elected as NBCA president in 2003, Thurston became the 14th president of NBCA and the youngest to obtain that position.

He barely won a three-candidate race, edging out Wallace Hartsfield Sr. by just 24 votes out of more than 2,000 cast. Thurston later was re-elected to a second term without opposition.

Thurston’s presidential tenure lasting more than a decade is not unusual in the NBCA. Thurston’s predecessor, E. Edwards Jones, served as president for 18 years.

Banks believes the “dynamics have changed” with many talented leaders in the body so that the convention no longer needs “one person to lead the convention indefinitely.”

Banks and other NBCA leaders who spoke with expect Tolbert to win.

According to his campaign website, Tolbert has garnered an impressive list of national and state NBCA leaders. The campaign website for Brooks only features some Tennessee supporters.

Some NBCA leaders think Thurston will finish last. Yet, even those supporting other candidates praised Thurston for his leadership, instead explaining their support for another candidate, as what they think is needed next for the NBCA.

Banks praised Thurston for doing “a great job leading the convention even as we faced challenges.”

However, he supports Tolbert and believes Tolbert has demonstrated that as president he would “reach out and build consensus”

On his website, Tolbert described his “vision” for “a new era of operational efficiency, effectiveness and overall relevance as we continue working to sustain and promote the body of Christ.”

“My intentions are to lead NBCA to ‘Serve Congregations,'” he said. “My goals include improving our governance documents and operating the Convention in an efficient manner which will lead us to serve this present age with purpose.”

The election will take place from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Wednesday during the NBCA’s weeklong annual gathering, called the Family Faith Fest, in Memphis, Tennessee.

The NBCA’s election commission will oversee the election; registered delegates with photo identifications will cast their preferences at voting machines.

Brian Kaylor is a contributing editor for You can follow him on Twitter @BrianKaylor.

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