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CHARLOTTE — The Alliance of Baptists celebrated Stan Hastey’s 20 years of direction, welcomed new leaders, adopted six initiatives, and affirmed statements on social issues during its annual convocation April 17-19. More than 400 registrants attended the meeting, held at Park Road Baptist Church in Charlotte.

Hastey became the Alliance’s first employed executive director in 1989, taking over for Alan Neely, who had served in a volunteer role since the organization’s inception as the Southern Baptist Alliance in 1987. When long-time associate Jeannette Holt retired two years ago, the Alliance transitioned to a peer-oriented model, hiring Chris Copeland as Minister for Leadership Formation and changing Hastey’s title to Minister for Mission and Ecumenism. Plans for a third full-time staff member ran aground on the shoal of inadequate finances.

With Hastey retiring, Paula Clayton Dempsey of Mars Hill, NC (right) was hired as Minister for Partnership Relations, joining Copeland and three new part-time staffers. Dempsey, now the only full-time employee, will act as team leader for the decentralized staff, which will work from Mars Hill and Durham, NC, Washington, D.C., Stone Mountain, GA, and Oak Ridge, TN.

Alliance members agreed to close the organization’s current office in Washington, D.C., being assured that all staffers will remain available through a single toll-free telephone number. A new mailing address will be established in Atlanta, near finance director Carole Collins’ office.

Following a two-year period of discernment, Alliance members agreed to focus their work on six initiatives. A “growth and nurture” initiative sets out an intentional strategy for numerical growth through “midwifing new Alliance congregations” along with enlisting existing congregations and individual members.

Other initiatives included the development of new mission partnerships, facilitating the sharing of ministry resources, providing service opportunities for students, fostering deeper relationships among Alliance clergypersons, and creating additional opportunities for Alliance members to gather.

To address the initiatives, members approved a “Midwifing New Congregations” conference to be held in April 2010, a plan to connect students with mission partners for summer missions opportunities, and the development of an online “farmer’s market” where churches or individuals can post home-grown ministry resources or services they are willing to share.

In a lengthy business meeting, president Brooks Wicker of Apex, NC (right) led members in a frank “dinner table discussion” about Alliance finances. The group’s governing board had already reduced the 2009 budget by 20 percent, from $501,625 to $398,415. Wicker noted that the Alliance’s annual income has averaged about $400,000 for the past several years, without significant fund-raising efforts.

Susan Parrish, recently hired as development director, expressed confidence that a renewed focus on development will generate additional revenue. At a banquet honoring Hastey’s retirement, she announced the creation of “The Hastey Society,” an annual list of donors who contribute $1,000 or more to the Alliance.

Participants gave unanimous approval to statements calling for the U.S. Congress to raise the minimum wage to $10 per hour and to approve the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier for workers to organize. Members also affirmed a statement on climate change that calls for legislation to reduce climate change emissions, to support vulnerable communities affected by climate change, and to “assist and welcome climate migrants” forced to move because of changing environmental conditions.

The Alliance, which has a missions partnership with the Fraternidad de Iglesias Bautistas de Cuba (Fraternity of Baptist Churches of Cuba), also gave unanimous approval to a statement calling for an end to all travel restrictions between the U.S. and Cuba.

A fifth statement generated little real opposition but considerable discussion, and was eventually referred for further consideration and action at the 2010 meeting. The statement, proposed by pastors Rick Mixon and Brian Dixon (left to right in the photo), would have “invited” clergy affiliated with the Alliance to “refrain from acting as an agent of the state by signing marriage licenses, at least as long as the same licensing is not available to same-sex couples.” It also called for Congress to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and grant the same federal benefits and protections to same-sex as to heterosexual couples.

The Alliance has long been on record as “welcoming and affirming” gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgendered persons at all levels of its organization, and no one voiced dissatisfaction with the statement’s support for same-sex marriage. Some members, however, were less enthused with the proposed call for clergy to stop signing marriage licenses, wanting more time to consider the matter.

Others expressed concern that the statement entangled church-state separation and same-sex marriage issues. After attempts to amend and to table the statement failed, participants voted 75-40 to refer it to a special task force to report back in 2010.

In his final “State of the Alliance” report, Hastey expressed four hopes for the future, beginning with a desire “that we will remain true to our founders as a freedom movement among Baptists.” In an uncertain time, he said, Alliance members “have fixed our eyes on the Pole Star, the North Star of Christian freedom.” As the Alliance has resisted creeds and the “shibboleth of so-called ‘doctrinal purity,’” he said, members must continue upholding liberty of conscience for individuals and churches, standing on the principle of a free church in a free state and opposing efforts by either one
to use the other for its own purposes.

Hastey also called for the Alliance to remain active in interfaith dialogue and relationships, seeking “to be a part of the whole church” and to “work with believers everywhere in giving full expression to the gospel.

Continued efforts at becoming more inclusive are also essential, Hastey said. “It is better to be small and inclusive than large and exclusive,” he said, expressing hope that the Alliance “will become evermore an inclusive people” with regard to gender, sexual orientation, and race.

Hastey closed with the hope that “we will be captivated by Christ in a larger mission in the world.” No one comes away from involvement in mission partnerships unmoved, he said, “we must give attention to larger mission.”

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