By Bob Allen
ASSOCIATED BAPTIST PRESS — Former congressman, U.N. ambassador and Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young is a featured speaker at this year’s Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly June 23-27 in Atlanta, CBF coordinator of ministries Bo Prosser reported to the Fellowship’s Governing Board Jan. 23 at First Baptist Church in Decatur, Ga.
“Andrew Young will challenge us on Thursday night with a ministry to the world, and that will be a wonderfully exciting time for us,” Prosser said at the second meeting of the 16-member body charged with administration in a new organizational structure of the 23-year-old moderate Baptist group adopted in 2013.
Prosser is staff liaison to the new Ministries Council which, along with a Missions Council, decentralizes power from a larger Coordinating Council that previously governed the whole CBF program. He said CBF partner Christian Churches Together also is planning a banquet with an unnamed speaker to encourage the predominantly white, 1,800-church Fellowship to embrace greater diversity.
“I am excited about that as well,” Prosser said. “I can’t announce it yet, because it’s not confirmed, but we’ll get it to you as quickly as possible.”
CBF Executive Coordinator Suzii Paynter said the General Assembly, to be held in 2014 under one roof at the newly remodeled Hyatt Regency in downtown Atlanta, is a major expression of CBF identity, a priority highlighted in the report of a blue-ribbon 2012 Task Force chaired by Alabama pastor David Hull and tasked with charting the movement’s course for the next 20 years.
Paynter, the first woman to lead the group which broke away from the Southern Baptist Convention in 1991 to defend principles like academic freedom in theological education and the freedom of local churches to call female pastors, said “how to clarify our identity” has been a major question since her election last year.
“One of the things that has been evident to me [is] as we have operated as CBF, we have expected identity to be a byproduct of what we did,” Paynter said. “So we would do things, and people would identify with them. What I have come to understand is that creating identity — and the task force report addressed this as a priority — is not something that should be incidental but has to be intentional.”
“We want to elevate the task of identity building,” Paynter said. “I’d say the General Assembly is one expression. A major focus of that meeting should be building identity.”
Another, she said, is establishing the Fellowship’s role in the larger Baptist family, reflected in cooperative work with groups like the New Baptist Covenant and Baptist World Alliance, as well as in the mission of local churches the Fellowship serves.
“Sometimes I feel it’s like an hourglass, where you’re in the middle and relating outward to a lot of audiences and then you are relating inward to a lot of audiences,” she said. “A part of our identity, I think, is to address both those domains.”
Paynter said internally, the CBF staff in Decatur, Ga., for now is focused on “highlighting congregational life and diversity.”
“If we did so much support at the beginning of CBF for missions and seminaries, it takes intentionality to really focus on supporting congregations now,” she said.
Another point of emphasis, she said, is reform of governance and the Movement Leadership Team, the designation for 18 employed coordinators of CBF state and regional affiliates.
“It is clear that our health and life depend on the state and regional expressions of CBF,” she said. “So how do we bring that together?”
“In looking at governance, I have really tried to be intentional about and thoughtful about bringing their wisdom, their leadership, their voice into every area of CBF life,” Paynter said. “This truly seamless organization has got to more intentionally have a conversation about state and regional leadership.”
Paynter said state and regional leaders have an important role to play in CBF life, “because they are representing the local church, essentially.”
Paynter, who in recent months juggled demands of her job with distractions of having to rehab her family’s home, one of 1,500 flooded last Halloween by torrential rains in Austin, Texas, said one thing that kept her going was commitments she previously made to speak in CBF churches.
“The joy of my life in the last six months has been going to these fabulous churches,” she said. “We just have fabulous churches. They know who they are. They express their ministry. They are unique. They are winsome, full of life and leadership. It is just a joy.”
“We talk about it in the staff a lot,” she said. “People come back after the weekend and [talk about] where they’ve been, and it’s just so beautiful to see this constellation of churches and the beautiful way in which they express themselves.”
Young, 81, a former pastor, joined the staff of the National Council of Churches in 1957, the year President Eisenhower sent federal troops to desegregate public schools in Little Rock, Ark. He left his job as a pastor in 1961 to work with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a civil-rights organization started by Martin Luther King Jr.
After King’s assassination, Young became the first African-American since Reconstruction to be elected to Congress from Georgia in 1972. He supported the 1976 campaign of President Jimmy Carter and was appointed by Carter as ambassador to the United Nations in 1977.
Young returned to Atlanta and in 1981 was elected the city’s mayor. He served as co-chair of the Atlanta Committee for the 1996 Olympic Games
Bob Allen is managing editor of Associated Baptist Press.