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Late next year, a second major gathering will be held under the banner of a Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant. That is about all that is known at this point.

The highly successful event held in Atlanta in the winter of 2008 drew thousands of Baptists from across North America to an unprecedented time of worship, sharing and affirmation of historic Baptist principles of freedom.

A common commitment to reach out with Christian compassion to those in need drove much of the shared experience.

Planning a second event of this magnitude brings its own set of challenges, however.

Conventions, churches and other Baptist organizations and institutions have been hit hard by the down economy. Such is the case with many individuals who attended or helped fund the original meeting.

Changing leadership among some Baptist conventions will require effort to get all the original groups on board.

The program will be hard to top. Two former U.S. presidents, a famed novelist who rarely makes such appearances and other personalities of interest were quite a draw.

Recreating the energy that flowed from the first press conference announcing the gathering to the post-event evaluations is not easy to do.

So as planning for the next installment of a Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant gets off the ground, many questions hit the table.

Who will lead? Where to hold the meeting? How similar to the last gathering? Is everyone on board? Are there other Baptists in North America who could be involved or more involved? What subjects deserve the most attention this time around?

Despite these many challenges to planning an event of this magnitude and re-energizing those who can bring about its success, the value in doing so is also great.

Reaching across lines of race, region and organizational structures to find sisters and brothers who share the same faith and heritage is worth working toward. To worship together and to build relationships that allow for cooperative ministries well beyond a large meeting are highly desirable.

At a March 12, 2008, meeting at the Carter Center in Atlanta, a group of Baptist representatives assessed the evaluations and suggestions from the first Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant gathering. Among the easier decisions were: (1) to not form a new formal organization but remain an informal alliance and (2) to do this again.

In an old Baptist pattern of triennial meetings, the group agreed to meet again in 2011. Well, that time is almost here and President Carter is making sure we don’t miss it. More to come.

John D. Pierce is executive editor of Baptists Today. This column appeared previously on his blog.

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