ST. LOUIS — The regional meeting of the New Baptist Covenant II hosted by St. Luke Memorial Baptist Church in St. Louis began with a spirited worship service and an estimated crowd of about 500 on Nov. 17 and concluded with a morning of hands-on missions opportunities involving 25 people on Nov. 19.
In between, on Nov. 18, a group made up primarily of African-American and white participants heard updates on and discussed thorny issues facing the St. Louis area, among them race relations, ministry to HIV/AIDS-affected families, youth violence, heroin addiction and a community shelter ministry.
An evening service on Nov. 18 featured a live national broadcast from NBC II's anchor site, Second-Ponce de Leon Baptist Church in Atlanta, featuring messages by Children's Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman and popular speaker and president of the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education Tony Campolo.
The larger event — including simultaneous regional versions in Los Angeles, Oklahoma City, Philadelphia, San Antonio, Seattle and Washington D.C. in addition to St. Louis — was a follow-up to the first New Baptist Covenant national gathering in Atlanta in early 2008, which drew an estimated 15,000 participants.
This time around, people who could not attend the regional events participated in dozens of smaller church-based gatherings via Internet video streaming.
The brainchild of former President Jimmy Carter, the New Baptist Covenant is an effort to unite Baptists from various denominations and traditions in North America around social and justice issues and ministries.
In St. Louis, host pastor Jimmy Brown expressed the goal of local NBC II organizers by citing Jesus' prayer for unity among his followers. "Whatever causes us not to work together…is working against Jesus," he said.
"What if real relationship comes out of this?" he asked. What if Baptists together took on the "problems of our communities?"
The black pastor described a new relationship that had already come out of the planning for the St. Louis event, a friendship with the event's point person, Senior Pastor Scott Stearman of Kirkwood Baptist Church. Both expressed a commitment to continue a relationship that had deepened over planning and "several meals" together.
Stearman quipped that he is having his business card updated, identifying him as a "friend of Jimmy Brown."
Cecelia Stearman led a joint choir made up of the Community Gospel Choir she directs and the Gospel Symphonic Choir that records with composer, educator, music minister and recording artist Dello Thedford.
The two choirs, as well as the Shalom Church City of Peace choir, each presented music for the opening service. The joint choirs concluded with a moving presentation of "Make Us One," composed and accompanied by Thedford.
The spirited gospel music repeatedly brought worshippers to their feet.
Freddy J. Clark, pastor of Shalom (City of Peace) Church in St. Louis, challenged worshippers to make what he called "sudden impact" in their communities by following Jesus' admonition in the Sermon on the Mount to be salt and light in the world around them.
"There is a transforming faith that accompanies the Christian faith," Clark said as he urged listeners to impact those around them.
The properties of salt — a pure substance with the power to preserve and flavor — must be evident in the life of the church, Clark said. "When the church loses sight of its mission, it becomes as worthless as salt would be if it lost its saltiness."
Christ also called his disciples to be light in the world, he noted, explaining that Jesus called for them to be illuminators. "They were…to enable things to be seen as they really are," he said.
"The light that shines in us is not our light but his light," Clark reminded listeners. "There are no secret disciples.
"Jesus said you are salt and light, and every time you show up something should be happening," he concluded to a chorus of amens.