BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Rev. Suzii Paynter, who served as only the third executive coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship from 2013-2019, was celebrated Thursday evening at an all-Fellowship dinner in her honor at the 2019 CBF General Assembly in Birmingham, Ala.
Cooperative Baptist leaders celebrated the impact of Paynter’s leadership in four areas of work: building out the new governance structure of CBF, her love of the local congregation and of CBF ministries, strengthening and cultivating relationships between CBF and CBF state and regional organizations, as well as her launch of formal advocacy efforts rooted in the same spirit and call that motivates CBF’s global missions endeavors.
Former CBF moderators emphasized Paynter’s “fierceness” and “gutsy leadership” in not shying away from difficult conversations and other challenges, describing her as “the right leader at the right time.” Payner was lauded for her commitment to diversity and racial justice as well as confronting head on the problem of clergy sexual misconduct.
“Suzii was not going to allow us to avoid difficult conversations or postpone difficult conversations that would be necessary to put our global missions on a bright and faithful future,” said CBF Executive Coordinator Paul Baxley.
Baxley said the word that comes most to mind when thinking of Paynter is “courage.”
“Suzii, thank you for your courage and your refusal to allow us to settle,” Baxley said.
Stephen Reeves, who Paynter hired in 2014 to lead CBF’s formal advocacy efforts, highlighted her contributions to ensuring a public witness for CBF and one done in “the right way” and “the truly Baptist way.”
“During her time at CBF, Suzii worked to build advocacy the right way, the truly Baptist way—from the ground up,” Reeves noted. “the best advocacy comes from those directly impacted by policies and by those that minister to them, so Suzii rooted CBF advocacy in our mission commitments and not in political resolutions fought over, passed in June and then forgotten.
“Christian advocacy is tricky, maybe more so now than ever. But Suzii has never been one to shy away from something hard. We need bold advocates in CBF life, and just like missions is not a fly-by-night operation, we need advocates devoted to the long-term, committed to communities and the issues that affect them. Our country desperately needs a better model of Christians in the political realm, a counter-cultural realm, a counter-cultural witness. Following Suzii’s leadership, I believe CBF is making our way and making a difference.
Paynter concluded the celebration with remarks of thanks to the crowd of Cooperative Baptists, pointing out that she leaves the executive coordinator role “with arms full of bounty and blessing…I find myself restored with life-giving energy for a new day/chapter blessed by you the Fellowship.”
“In my six years at the helm of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, I have seen things born anew and I have seen other things put to rest,” Paynter said. “To be very sure, you have endured my many shortcomings and weaknesses and yet blessed me as a leader among you—what grace is that?
“You have been a Fellowship of seekers and true hearts, workers and companions. We have endured the minutia of governance and committee work only to see fruitful, exceptional, vibrant international ministry that astounds us—how could these beautiful realities have come from such humble and unremarkable seeds like committees and awkward conference calls? I stand amazed at what God does with our offerings of diligence and small tasks when we are committed to God’s almighty purposes.
“During these years, I experienced some personal tragedy, enough to crater me. And, yet, because of holy friendship and true support from you in the Fellowship, I am sustained for new and deeper chapters of love and blessing. I was replenished with a song, the lyrical winsome cadence of the Holy Spirit humming in my ear. Her voice sounds like your voices—prompted in you by God’s own well-repeated vocabulary. You kept singing and sighing these God-given words and I learned to listen to you with all my heart.
“Fellowship leaders, your ledger is full of talent, insight, imagination, innovation for God’s purposes among us. It wells up in every stripe of congregations, missions, ministries and prayer rooms here and around the world,” Paynter said. “There is endless imagination for service and endless imagination for loving others for God’s purpose—all born in God’s own heart for the beloved.
“I am amazed at the power of voice. Of speaking and listening to one another. We have taken comfortable blind privilege and exposed it to the clarifying light of the Gospel, instead of loss it has been all gain, in humility, confession, reparation and a renewed strength for healing the world through Christlike living in the face of horrific racism and hatred of our day.
“But as I attest tonight, I am here to witness and testify that we prevail only in close companionship with the living Christ—only through the Lord who we strive and fail to follow daily.”
The 2019 CBF General Assembly will conclude Friday (June 21).