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Birmingham, Alabama will play host this weekend to the first of several regional meetings inspired by the 2008 New Baptist Covenant celebration, a multi-racial and multi-cultural effort to celebrate Baptist ideals and explore ways in which diverse groups can work together.

The Jan. 31 meeting in Birmingham will be held at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, and St. Paul’s Methodist Church. Sixteenth Street Church was the site of a racist bombing in 1963 that killed four young girls. Now, more than 45 years later, pastor Arthur Price is glad the church can serve a more unifying role. “I am proud to be a part of the New Baptist Covenant Initiative,” he said in a press release. “If ever there is a time when God’s people must come together and be on one accord to make an impact in our churches and the culture around us for Christ, it is now. It is time to put into practice those lessons learned from the past so that our service is effective, unifying and relevant for today.”

Plenary speakers will include former president Jimmy Carter, a prime mover in promoting the January 2008 celebration that attracted 15,000 diverse Baptists to Atlanta in January 2008, and Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund.

Three other regional celebrations are planned for 2009, with more set for 2010. A Midwestern event set for April 2-4 in Liberty, Mo., is billed as a “Baptist Border Crossing.” A committee drawn from nine different Baptist organizations is planning the meeting, which is scheduled to coincide with the annual gathering of the Baptist General Convention of Missouri.

Organizers hope the sessions, to be held at Pleasant Valley Baptist Church, will attract Baptists from Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Arkansas, and Nebraska. Plenary speakers will include Carter, David Goatley, executive secretary/treasurer of the Lott Carey Baptist Convention, David Coffey, president of the Baptist World Alliance, Carol Ann Knight, founder of “Can Do Ministries,” and Tony Campolo, a noted author and advocate for the poor.

Baptists along the southeast coast will gather on the campus of Wake Forest University for a regional New Baptist Celebration event April 24-25. The university’s School of Divinity is hosting the event, which will feature Maya Angelou, Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest as the opening speaker, with Carter bringing the closing address. The theme of the conference, “This is God’s Year to Act: Responding to a Society in Crisis,” will be emphasized through a variety of workshops and worship services designed to help churches respond to social and spiritual needs in a time of economic crisis.

Carter will also headline a meeting scheduled for August 6-7 at a new convention center in Norman, Oklahoma. Bruce Prescott, executive director of Mainstream Baptists of Oklahoma and a member of the steering committee, said the Oklahoma celebration will highlight the 400th anniversary of the founding of the first Baptist church. Kim Henry, wife of Oklahoma governor Brad Henry, is scheduled to speak about their involvement in a mission project begun by former CBF missionary T. Thomas. The project, called “His Nets,” distributes free sleeping nets to protect poor residents of Ghana from malaria-bearing mosquitoes.

Gatherings for 2010 include a meeting tentatively scheduled for Chicago in June. Meetings in the New York and Los Angeles area are also currently being discussed. When New Baptist Covenant organizers met in March 2008 to evaluate the initial meeting, they announced the intent of holding a second nation-wide meeting in 2011, but no plans have been announced.

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