Fellowship seeks 'community'
___By Bob Allen
___Associated Baptist Press
___BIRMINGHAM (ABP)--In 1990, unsuccessful Southern Baptist Convention presidential candidate Daniel Vestal called for a consultation of concerned Baptists to discuss options in light of moderates' increasing disenfranchisement in the SBC.
The meeting, held in Atlanta, drew 3,000 people and was the first step in formation of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
|DICK HURST of First Baptist Church in Tyler works on a project to create a playground for underprivileged children conducted in conjunction with the 1999 Cooperative Baptist Fellowship general assembly.
___Nine years later, Vestal, now coordinator of the Atlanta-based Fellowship, addressed a similar-sized crowd in Birmingham, Ala. The mood, however, has changed.
___Vestal called on participants in the Fellowship's June 24-26 general assembly to "nurture community" in the coming year, following a focus on spirituality that guided Fellowship planning the past year.
___"I don't know the shape or form the church in the 21st century will take, but I believe with all my heart that the only effective churches will be the ones that understand, practice, celebrate and nurture Christian community," Vestal said in his annual address to the group.
___"I don't know all that CBF will become, but I believe with all my heart that we will not become what God intends unless we nurture, celebrate and practice Christian community."
___Moderator John Tyler echoed Vestal's call for community and lauded the Fellowship's forward-looking stance. "We are a people living in the present with eyes fixed firmly on the future," Tyler said. "Brothers and sisters, this is your home. These people are your extended community."
___Meeting participants were invited to "shape the future" of the Fellowship by gathering in small groups to assess strengths, challenges and priorities for the CBF. Their responses will be used in a strategic ministry plan due to be developed during the next 12 months and presented to the general assembly next year, said John Brantley, an Athens, Ga., consultant hired to guide the process.
_About 2,500 messengers registered for the meeting, and Tyler estimated 3,600 attended the opening-night session.
|CBF OFFICERS are John Tyler of St. Louis, outgoing moderator; Donna Forrestor of Greenville, S.C., moderator-elect; Sarah Frances Anders of Pineville, La., moderator; and Carolyn Dipboye of Oak Ridge, Tenn., secretary.
___Tyler, a retired communications executive from St. Louis, completed his one-year term as moderator by presiding over the general assembly. Sarah Frances Anders, an emeritus professor at Louisiana College who was elected last year as moderator-elect, will succeed him. This year's general assembly chose Donna Forrestor as new moderator-elect, to preside in the year 2001.
___Forrestor, minister of pastoral care and counseling at First Baptist Church in Greenville, S.C., will become the Fellowship's fifth female presiding officer in 10 years.
___In a light business session, participants approved a $15.5 million budget for 1999-2000. It anticipates $8.7 million in undesignated gifts and $5.1 million through the annual Global Missions Offering. The budget is 5 percent higher than this year's spending plan, said David Currie, chairman of the finance task group of the Fellowship's Coordinating Council.
___Finances this year are 8 percent above budget, but most of that is due to a 12 percent increase in the Global Missions Offering and a special appeal for Kosovo relief that pushed designated gifts up 39 percent, said Currie of San Angelo, director of Texas Baptists Committed. Funds for general operation are only 1 percent ahead of budget, he said.
___The main reason the national budget hasn't grown in recent years is expansion of state and regional networks, several of which now have full-time staff, Currie added. That is good for the long-range health of the organization but has placed limits on missions
work, he noted. "We are not doing many things I believe God wants us to do."
|TEXAS NATIVE Bill Leonard (right) and Mary Foskett, both of Wake Forest University, present a historical theme interpretation. (Photos by Mark Sandlin)
___The Fellowship has the potential to reach many new churches, he observed. "If there are 37,000 churches that relate to the name 'Southern Baptist' --as we still do--the vast, vast majority of the people in those churches would be more comfortable here than they would be in Atlanta (site of this year's Southern Baptist Convention, which met the week before).
___"We are the real Baptists."
___In other business, the Fellowship appointed eight career and eight short-term missionaries, bringing the total CBF missionary force to 125.
___In his last report as global missions coordinator, Keith Parks called the Fellowship's use of both career and volunteer missionaries "the best opportunity I know of in Christendom today" for the local church to be free in "shaping its own mission and yet not being isolated and taking on the world by itself."
___Parks, who took early retirement as president of the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board to become the Fellowship's first global missions coordinator in 1993, planned to retire earlier this year but stayed on until the general assembly. A search committee hoped to announce his successor in Birmingham but was unable to meet that goal, said Sanford Smith, the committee's chairman.
___The general assembly acted on one motion from the floor.
___It was presented by Lynn Wardell, a former board member of Friends of New Churches, a "partner" organization that receives CBF funds.
___ Wardell and three other board members resigned last year after failing in an effort to fire the executive director. Her motion sought to restrict Friends of New Churches to using the $152,000 it will receive next year from the CBF only for grants to churches.
___A breakout session for business discussed the motion for an hour before voting against it, 27-21.
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