DECATUR, Ga. (ABP) — The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship will stress community at the organization's 20th General Assembly June 24-25, 2010, in Charlotte, N.C.
Daniel Vestal, executive coordinator of the Atlanta-based CBF, told members of the group's national Coordinating Council Oct. 23 that next year's assembly and the official anniversary celebration in 2011 in Tampa, Fla., are a "kind of tandem" celebration of 20 years of what he calls a "Fellowship movement."
"We are Fellowship Baptists," Vestal said. "I like the word 'Fellowship' Baptist rather than 'moderate' Baptist, because 'moderate' sort of conveys a reaction to something that we came out of. It represents sort of the past. It represents, 'We're not something else; we're moderate.'"
"I like the word 'Fellowship' because it is a biblical word," he said. "It articulates our commitment to relationships and fellowship and partnerships and friendships working together. It acknowledges that in our freedom and our love of freedom and our respect for one another's freedom."
Vestal said the Fellowship movement is made up of Baptists "who treasure and cherish fellowship."
"All the data that we get about why people come to the General Assembly, the primary reason has to do with fellowship," Vestal said.
Vestal said CBF members value one another even in their differences.
"There are, in this Fellowship, different political views," he said. "There's not nearly as much racial diversity as I would hope that we can gain. There is definitely evidence, I think, of greater diversity around gender."
Vestal said CBF "represents a new kind of unity" that he didn't see in Baptist life 20 years ago. That unity, he said, can serve as "kind of a light that shines" in a society racially, politically and economically divided.
Vestal said the Fellowship movement is more than an organizational structure. "We are a movement of God's Spirit the last 20 years," he said. "And out of this movement of God's Spirit, this blowing of God's Spirit, organizations have been created, institutions have been created, ministries have been created, lives have been transformed."
"So I see the Charlotte assembly, and then particularly the assembly in Tampa, as a kind of a celebration not just of this organization but of this whole movement, which includes all of our partner ministries, all of our partner organizations," Vestal said.
The theme for the Charlotte General Assembly is "Connect." Scheduled keynote speakers are Bill Leonard, dean and professor of church history at Wake Forest Divinity School, and Lauren Winner, assistant professor of Christian spirituality at Duke Divinity School. The former book editor for BeliefNet, Winner is author of three books, Girl Meets God, Mudhouse Sabbath, and Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity.
After the meeting closes with workshop sessions for laity on Saturday, June 25, organizers are encouraging attendees to "stay and play" overnight and worship Sunday morning in a CBF-related church.
"For numbers of folks who come to the General Assembly, they come from places where they are not part of a CBF-affiliated church," said Constance McNeill, coordinator of administration. "And so we are encouraging them, all of them, to stay over in the Charlotte area on Sunday morning and gather in the some 40-plus CBF-related churches and be part of worship together in congregational settings for that Sunday."
After a year of closely monitoring its finances, the Fellowship reported finishing the fiscal year Sept. 30 with revenues of $12.9 million, 78 percent of projections.
Larry Hurst, CBF's controller, reported that expenses as of the end of August were $12.3 million, or 81 percent of the projections. Final expenditure numbers for the fiscal year including September were not yet available.
The Coordinating Council is scheduled to consider a 2010-2011 budget at its next meeting, Feb. 18-19, for presentation to the General Assembly in June.
–Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.