Inspired by the vision and success of the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant held earlier this year, several Baptist groups are planning similar regional gatherings for 2009. Next year will also mark the 400th anniversary of the Baptist movement.
Announcements have been made for meetings in Birmingham, Ala., in January, Kansas City, Mo., in April, and Norman, Okla., in August. Other regional gatherings will likely be held. The planners for each event include a diverse group of leaders from several different Baptist denominations.
A one-day event will be held on Jan. 31, 2009, in Birmingham at the 16th Street Baptist Church and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. The 16th Street Baptist Church was the site of a 1963 bombing that killed four girls and galvanized the civil rights movement. One primary goal of the upcoming event will be to unite Baptists across racial lines.
Former President Jimmy Carter, who was instrumental in the planning of this year’s Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant, will lead a Bible study and deliver the keynote address. As with the 2008 gathering in Atlanta, Luke 4 will guide the breakout sessions at the Birmingham event.
The steering committee for the Birmingham meeting includes pastors and lay leaders from Alabama, Mississippi and Florida. Co-chairs of the committee are Arthur Price, pastor of 16th Street Baptist Church, and Gary Furr, pastor of Vestavia Hills Baptist Church.
“I am energized most by Christians coming together to worship God and deepen their fellowship,” Furr stated about the upcoming gathering. “The New Baptist Covenant is an event for all Baptists that we hope will foster Christian unity. It is not about politics, party, or rehashing painful histories. My hope is that we will leave as better friends and believers, energized to serve the Lord, and committed to act like people of the Kingdom.”
A three-day gathering will be held April 2-4, 2009, in the Kansas City area at Pleasant Valley Baptist Church. Leaders from the Kansas City area involved with the planning include those from multiple denominations: American Baptist Churches USA, Baptist General Convention of Missouri, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, General Baptist Convention, National Baptist Convention of America, National Baptist Convention USA, Progressive National Baptist Convention and Southern Baptist Convention.
The scriptural focus for the event is Zechariah 2:1-5, in which Zechariah describes seeing “a city without walls.” In addition to breakout sessions, speakers for the gathering will include Baptist World Alliance President David Coffey, author Tony Campolo, North American Baptist Fellowship President David Goatley, and evangelist Carolyn Ann Knight. Carter will also participate in the event.
“One of my hopes following the New Baptist Covenant Celebration in Atlanta earlier this year was that we would have the opportunity to explore a new level of collaboration within the larger Baptist family in the communities where we live and serve,” Baptist General Convention of Missouri executive director Jim Hill told EthicsDaily.com. “I believe the Baptist Border Crossing Network provides this opportunity. I am thrilled with the plans that are being made for the Baptist Border Crossing event in April as Baptists from across the Midwest come together to build relationship and worship together.”
A two-day meeting will be held August 6-7, 2009 in Norman at the new Embassy Suites Norman Hotel and Conference Center. Carter will speak at the gathering. Baptist leaders in Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas are part of the steering committee, including leaders of the American Baptist Churches Central Region, Baptist General Convention of Texas, Baptist University of the Americas, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Oklahoma, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Texas, Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists, Oklahoma National Baptist State Convention, Ouachita Baptist University, Texas Baptists Committed and Western Division of United Free Will Baptists.
“Baptists of every stripe are looking forward to celebrating the 400th anniversary of the founding of our denomination,” steering committee chair Bruce Prescott told EthicsDaily.com. “We certainly have much to celebrate. No other denomination shares our legacy of concern for liberty of conscience coupled with our commitment to missions and evangelism. Baptists in the Midwest will be celebrating our history, reaffirming our Baptist distinctives, networking with each other to increase our effectiveness in putting Christian love into action, and exhorting one another to renew our commitment to sharing the love that God revealed to us in Jesus Christ with others.”
In March of this year, a group of Baptist leaders met to discuss how to follow up on the success of the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant. One goal reported from the meeting was to “[e]ncourage local and regional NBC meetings.”
“The possibility of convening at least five regional meetings in the next year as we expand participation in the New Baptist Covenant was explored, including special efforts to encourage participation among young people,” a statement on the meeting explained. “Other local New Baptist Covenant gatherings are encouraged.”
Brian Kaylor is a contributing editor to EthicsDaily.com and the editorial assistant for the Baptist General Convention of Missouri.