By: Amanda Lewis
Last month, I had the honor of attending the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s General Assembly (GA) in Birmingham, Alabama. The focus for the week was on racial justice. As a part of Sessions (a program for young adults), we visited the Civil Rights Institute, 16th Street Baptist Church, the Legacy Museum, and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. We had the opportunity to assist with events for various organizations including the Angela Project, the Emmanuel McCall Racial Justice Trailblazer Award, the New Baptist Covenant, and the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty (if you’re tired just reading all of that, don’t worry … we were exhausted)!
All of these experiences were eye-opening, educational, inspirational, and reminders of the reasons I 110% support CBF! Our time visiting historical sites in Birmingham/Montgomery served as a sobering reminder of the complex and horrendous history of racial injustice in our country. We still have so much work to do to bring about reconciliation, but if the conversations I heard and took part in are any indication, there is SO much hope for our broken relations! There were multiple examples during the week of clergy, congregations, and national figures who are all working to bring about healing, understanding, and recognition of the issues surrounding racial justice. We were exposed to stories of pain and stories of those witnessing racist acts and the realization that racism does still exist in 2019. However, we were also overwhelmed with the stories of hope from those seeking to change the conversation about relations between blacks and whites from one of blame and hurt to “how can we work together?” to combat racial injustice. Just as many churches led the way during the Civil Rights Movement, there is the opportunity for the Church to take the lead yet again!
Additionally, our days were filled with conversations and worship! I have not had the chance to attend GA in five years, so it filled my heart with joy to be reminded of the amazing work that our organization is doing in the name of Christ! Wednesday night’s worship focused on how to work toward opening conversations about race in our own communities. Also, it was empowering, as we helped to serve communion to the hundreds of attendees, to see the diversity that exists in the kingdom of God! As I passed the basket, the diversity was evident! Still predominately a denomination of white, middle-aged individuals, there were clear differences from 2014! Thursday night’s worship service included the commissioning of church starters, chaplains, and field personnel! This service is always my favorite and a beautiful picture of how CBF is being the hands and feet of Christ locally, nationally, and globally – thanks be to God! It is also a reminder of CBF’s emphasis on relationship building instead of evangelizing when field personnel travel into new communities to work alongside the folks already living there. Friday night’s worship was a magnificent end to an amazing, challenging, and love-filled week as we heard Krista Tippett remind us, “When we listen with presence and the willingness to be surprised, we can come together … as long we approach differences with the notion that there is good in the other.”
The highlight of the week was getting to meet and interact with the new Executive Coordinator for CBF since March, Paul Baxley. Before Assembly officially started, he took time out of his schedule to meet with “Sessions” attendees. He ate dinner with us, welcomed us to the Assembly, and even still sat with us an additional hour and a half to listen to our concerns and ask us questions about what we wanted/needed from CBF going forward. This was the FIRST time an ExecutiveCoordinator visited the Sessions group! It is so encouraging to know that young adults are being listened to in CBF life! I had the surprise of sitting with him and his family at the McCall Trailblazer dinner and getting to share in more conversation with him! He even came to the Young Baptist social at TopGolf! I’m so excited about the new route that CBF seems to be taking toward tackling difficult topics and including the voices of those who seem to always be left out of the conversation!
CBF GA is in Atlanta next year. I highly encourage you to think and pray about if God is calling you to go connect with other like-minded Baptists and to learn more about this amazing network. As you are thinking and praying about how you can fight for racial justice, how you can advocate for Baptist principles, and how you can be the light and love of Christ no matter where you may be, I leave you with words from Paul Baxley: “Jesus holds before us a standard of love that is relentless—not an ordinary love or a conditional love or a fleeting love. It is a relentless love. It is a sacrificial love. The love Jesus holds before us is not a love of manipulation, a love not of subjugation, a love not of domination. Make no mistake; it is an active love.”
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