More than 15,000 Baptists representing 30 conventions gathered in Atlanta, Ga., for the historic Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant, and a number of Missourians were among them.
After three days of meetings, music and fellowship focused on unity, here is what some of them had to say about the celebration:
Jim Hill, executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Missouri:
“The New Baptist Covenant Celebration was one of the best Baptist meetings I have ever attended in North America.
“The meeting exceeded my expectations, and I am optimistic that we will be able to build a new level of partnership and collaboration for the sake of Christ’s Kingdom as we serve together.”
Chuck Arney, pastor of Cornerstone Church, Lee’s Summit:
“It was such a powerful event. I’ve told many that it is hard to put into words a ‘baptism of the Spirit.’ But a word that comes to my mind is ‘freedom,’ which seemed to come from the hearts of the blend of African-American, Palestinian, Latin and broken Caucasians.
“At least for a moment, we were all friends there. Not freedom in the sense that ‘no one controls us,’ but freedom to be vulnerable and broken before God, and then freedom to serve God. There was a freedom to worship with our hearts, minds and souls — together, and then a freedom to ‘go out’ and live with Jesus incarnate amongst hurting lives.”
Warren Hoffman, pastor of Third Baptist Church, St Louis:
“Laura and I thought that the gathering in Atlanta was historic and at the same time, fresh. It was the first Baptist fellowship gathering that we have attended in the past 15 years that wasn’t overladen with denominational politics and sadness. There were no undertones of division, only a joyous expectancy of hope and unity as we sought ways to minister together.
“The worship was truly inspiring, the preaching was stand-up-and-shout great, and the music from the different choirs and special groups touched us both deeply.
“On our way home from Atlanta, we began to think about ways in which we could contextualize this for St. Louis. We are planning on attending several (three) Baptist annual meetings in Missouri in March and April, and we intend to continue the conversation for a New Baptist Covenant and seek like-minded Baptist leaders who will shape a Missouri table to which we can all bring our ideas and our resources to share.
“We’d love to hear from other interested persons in Missouri who share our desire for reconciliation and forward motion for Christ.”
Robin Sandbothe, director of seminary relations at Central Baptist Theological Seminary:
“I loved the diversity and sense of community among the varying Baptist entities. I loved the good preaching — especially Dr. Charles Adams and Rev. Julie Pennington-Russell, and many of the other presentations were also outstanding. It was definitely a quality event and I’m glad I got to be a part of it.
“I’m not interested in a meeting for a meeting’s sake, though, and it bothered me that our offerings were to pay for the meeting. I’m more interested in giving toward some ministry we would do together. I’ll be anxiously awaiting the ‘next steps.’”
Molly Marshall, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary:
“I experienced the meeting as part revival and part family reunion. I was deeply moved by the richness of shared worship, prophetic preaching and respectful welcoming of difference.
“Baptist principles were in evidence as separation of church and state was clearly acknowledged, the priesthood of all believers (including women!) was demonstrated, and the authority of scripture beckoned to authentic discipleship.
“It was good to be together and to walk more closely into the future God is crafting with us.”
Jeff Langford, associate coordinator of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Missouri:
“Even though I typically don’t gravitate to big events, I thoroughly enjoyed the plenary session speakers. I believe this meeting will be truly meaningful if new relationships develop on a local level that result in unified ministry efforts among churches of all stripes. I look forward to participating in that.”
Harold Phillips, coordinator of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Missouri:
“Of all the messages we heard, I found the comments of Bill Clinton the most profound as he relayed the humility of 1 Corinthians 13:9-12.
“As a deacon in my church, I was most moved by the closing comments from Jimmy Carter. To hear his transparent story of how he reached a time where he “lost his way” and was helped by his sister and then by responding to mission service in Pennsylvania was a testimony I needed to hear in my own pilgrimage.
“The great hope of so many people was that of co-chair Jimmy Allen — that this event be more than a ‘moment’ and that it be part of a ‘movement.’”