Nearly 14 months ago, 15,000 Baptists from 30 conventions and organizations gathered for the New Baptist Covenant meeting in Atlanta in an attempt to bridge racial, theological and geographical divides.
On April 2-4, Baptists in the Midwest will have the opportunity to continue the discussion at the Baptist Border Crossing.
“People stop me and say, ‘We don’t want this to be just a moment, but a movement,’” former U.S. President Jimmy Carter told reporters after the national event.
For many pastors in Missouri, that movement means such gatherings are more than just a series of meetings, but a way to build relationships with neighboring churches who may be a different variety of Baptist.
Pete Hill, pastor of First Baptist Church, Smithville, has developed a friendship with Wallace Hartsfield II and Wallace Hartsfield Sr., pastor and pastor emeritus of Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church, Kansas City. “We’ve become acquainted while working on the Baptist Border Crossing meeting,” he said.
Hill hopes the two churches will be able to partner this summer on Project Matthew 25, a program designed by William Jewell College in which churches are linked to improve substandard housing in Kansas City’s urban core.
Hill believes developing church relationships across racial and cultural lines helps alleviate fear. “The better we know each other, the easier and the more we can love and appreciate one another, and the more our ignorance and fears subside,” he said.
“The truth is, I didn’t have any fears about the folks in the Baptist Border Crossing mix. We Baptists, we’re brothers and sisters, we all have the same heavenly Father. Our problem stems from the fact that we haven’t figured out that there is only one race — the human race.”
Hartsfield II has invited Hill to preach for him some Sunday. They teased each other about differences in preaching style in their respective traditions. “I said I didn’t sing in my sermons,” Hill said. “He said I didn’t need to, but that it was a part of their tradition. Hopefully, it will be fun and we can accept each other and work together as Baptists of all stripes to accomplish Kingdom work.”
Columbia churches First Baptist and Second Missionary Baptist have been working together for years. According to First Baptist Church’s pastor, John Baker, the two churches were once one.
“Most of the initial members of SMBC were members of FBC, who felt strengthened to start their own congregation following the Civil War,” he said.
“FBC provided all of its African-American members who desired to affiliate with the new church a letter of dismission with its blessing and encouragement. The two congregations have been in the back of each other’s minds and hearts ever since.”
Since Baker arrived at First Baptist in 1997, he has worked to intentionally strengthen the ties between the two churches.
From praying in a pastor installation service at Second Missionary Baptist Church to joint fellowships and dinners to community service projects, the two churches seek ways to combine resources and enjoy fellowship.
“Getting to know each other does away with many stereotypes that prejudice and bigotry create,” Baker said. “I personally need my African-American brothers and sisters in Christ for me to be whole.”
He added that through working together, the churches’ joint visions of what God is doing in the community have expanded.
“Our Baptist family is fractured by so many things; these relationships provide some healing and a bit more unity,” he said. “The long run, I hope, is greater peace, fellowship and…harmony.”
Baker and Clyde Ruffin, pastor of Second Missionary Baptist Church, will be joint panelists at the Border Crossing for a showing of “Beneath the Skin: Baptists and Racism,” a film produced by EthicsDaily.com.
“I dearly love and respect SMBC and its leadership, both clergy and laity — and those lines are blurred in the SMBC tradition, by the way — and our times together continue to affirm that affection and appreciation,” Baker said.
The event begins at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 2, at Pleasant Valley Baptist Church in Liberty. The opening worship speaker will be David Goatley, executive-secretary/ treasurer of the Lott Carey Foreign Mission Convention and president of the North American Baptist Fellowship.
Sessions continue on Friday with worship sessions beginning at 10 a.m. and 6:30 p.m., with Carolyn Ann Knight, evangelist and founder of Can Do Ministries, Inc., in Smyrna, Ga., and former President Jimmy carter speaking in the morning and David Coffey, president of the Baptist World Alliance, speaking in the evening.
The closing plenary session, at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, will feature Tony Campolo, professor emeritus at Eastern University, who is the founder of the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education.
Friday afternoon has been set aside for break-out sessions (1:30 and 3:15 p.m.), as has Saturday at 9 a.m.
The event will also feature about three dozen exhibitors.
Planners of the event included representation from American Baptist Churches, USA; Baptist Geneal Convention of Missouri; Cooperative Baptist Fellowship; General Association of General Baptists; National Baptist Convention of America; National Baptist Convention, USA; Progressive National Baptist Convention; and Southern Baptists.
Jennifer Harris is the news writer for Word&Way.