Baptists from across the Midwest came together to stick their toes in a fresh new stream a couple of weeks ago. It remains to be seen if these diverse Baptists found the water to their liking and will discover reasons to jump into that stream together.
It was a stream of potential relationships — deep, loving, cooperative relationships — with Baptist tributaries that had long since gone their separate ways even though they share similar spiritual DNA and the same surname — Baptist. It was Baptist cousins finally coming together as Baptist brothers and sisters.
The occasion, by the way, was the Baptist Border Crossing. It was a three-day affair that emphasized worship, meeting someone new, proclamation, meeting someone new, music, meeting someone knew and practical breakout sessions. And did I mention meeting someone new?
The wonderful facility of Pleasant Valley Baptist Church in Liberty was a perfect place for Baptists making their way back to a common stream. The gathering did not just happen. It had been in the idea stage ever since a national version convened in Atlanta in January 2008 in conjunction with annual meetings of three National Baptist denominations.
The planning stage of this regional get-together lasted several months. A lot of people lent their time and support, convinced that various Baptist bodies not only could get together but, under God’s leadership, wanted to come together.
This was a quiet start to something new. Apparently, the total participation was just shy of 1,000 people. Many had attended the Atlanta New Covenant event and were anxious to forge new relationships with different Baptists within regional shouting distance. This fresh start went almost unnoticed by Kansas City-area media.
As event coordinators said in the closing session, the Baptist Border Crossing was not coming to an end. The benediction would potentially signal the beginning of some new and wonderful things.
There are many borders to cross. The most obvious at the Liberty event was the racial border. Caucasian Baptists were in a definite majority, but many black Baptists were present, too. A few people represented other cultural and language groups.
There were many whose primary denominational identity has been Southern Baptist as well as American Baptists, National Baptists, General Baptists and others. Perhaps most of the bodies represented came out of Baptist splits, most of them generations ago.
Baptists were present who have been on the forefront of fighting for justice. Others have focused more overwhelmingly upon evangelism or on missions. Others have been immersed in reaching out in many ways to hurting humanity on the sidewalks in front of their church buildings.
We Baptists are somewhat multi-dimensional. But all of us could learn more about the breadth of fellowship and Christian service by spending more time together and observing each other.
What Baptists were seeking in Liberty already exists in pockets across the Midwest. A gathering can spark it, but only intentional effort can ensure that it will happen.
One of the co-chairs of the event was Jim Hill, executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Missouri. The other was Wallace Hartsfield II, pastor of Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church in Kansas City.
Hill credited Hartsfield’s father, Wallace Hartsfield Sr., pastor emeritus at Metropolitan Church, with being a prime mover behind the Baptist Border Crossing. Twenty years earlier, the senior Hartsfield, who is black, preached the funeral of Melvin Hill, Jim Hill’s father. Despite their differences, the two had been close friends.
More than a few Baptists appear ready to jump into the stream of fresh relationships between Baptists and Baptist bodies. It is a stream of reconciliation, of forgetting past wrongs, of burden-sharing, of cooperation, of celebrating a new beginning and of worshiping God together.
Perhaps God is calling from the middle of the stream, “C’mon Baptists, the water’s fine.”
Bill Webb is editor of Word&Way.