Family Gathering draws on diversity, strengthens unity

Texas Baptists of varied cultural and ethnic backgrounds united in worship during the Texas Baptist Family Gathering in San Antonio. (PHOTO/Robert Rogers/Baylor University)

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SAN ANTONIO—Business took a backseat to worship and fellowship at this year’s Baptist General Convention of Texas annual meeting. More than 4,000 Texas Baptists assembled in San Antonio for their first Family Gathering to celebrate their diversity, recommit to their mission and strengthen their sense of unity.

bgct officers400Newly elected Baptist General Convention of Texas officers are President Jeff Johnson of Commerce (center), First Vice President Kathy Hillman of Waco (left) and Second Vice President René Maciel of San Antonio. (PHOTO/Robert Rogers/Baylor University)

The Family Gathering brought together the BGCT and various affinity groups in one meeting. The BGCT, Hispanic Baptist Convention of Texas and the African-American Fellowship of Texas held their annual meetings in conjunction with the Family Gathering.

Other groups who participated in the Family Gathering included the Bivocational/Small Church Association, Cambodian Baptist Fellowship of Texas, Chinese Baptist Fellowship of Texas, Japanese Baptist Fellowship of Texas, Joint African Evangelical Churches of Texas, Korean Baptist Fellowship of Texas, Laotian Baptist Fellowship of Texas, Texas Fellowship of Cowboy Churches and Vietnamese Baptist Fellowship of Texas.


The BGCT annual meeting drew 1,296 messengers and 1,129 visitors, compared to 894 messengers and 476 visitors last year in Corpus Christi. The Hispanic Baptist Convention attracted 409 messengers and 903 visitors. All together, the Family Gathering drew 2,303 registered visitors, bringing the total attendance to 4,008.

In the annual convention sermon, Julio Guarneri, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in McAllen, challenged Texas Baptists to embrace diversity, pointing out the heavenly vision in the New Testament book of Revelation shows people of every nation, tribe, people and language gathered around Christ’s throne.

“This is the worship service of worship services. This is the mother of all family gatherings,” Guarneri said. “This is what every worship service on earth should aspire to look like. … You want to talk about diversity? It’s there. You want to talk about inclusiveness? It’s there. … The more our gatherings look like this, the more prepared we will be for an eternity where inclusiveness and diversity is the norm.”

john nguyen130John Nguyen, president of the Vietnamese Baptist Fellowship of Texas, led in prayer at the first business session. Worship leaders led prayers in a variety of languages during the Family Gathering.laotian vongsurith130Houmphanh Vongsurith was elected president of the Laotian Baptist Fellowship of Texas.BGCT President Jeff Johnson began his message to the Family Gathering by reading to a from The Sneetches, a Dr. Seuss story about diverse characters who learn a valuable lesson about peaceful coexistence.

“God loves diversity,” Johnson said. “God loves the nations. He loves across all geographical boundaries.”

Worship services centered on themes of diversity, mission and unity featured pastors of African-American, Anglo, Ethiopian, Filipino, Hispanic and western-heritage churches.

As part of the missions emphasis, participants contributed $4,403.55 to the Mary Hill Davis Offering for Texas Missions.

Worship services and business sessions included prayers in Vietnamese, Chinese and Bhutanese and music in a variety of languages and worship styles. The concluding session featured observance of the Lord’s Supper.

During business sessions, BGCT messengers elected officers and granted the BGCT Executive Board and an ad hoc committee authority to consider sale of the Baptist Building in Dallas.

Johnson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Commerce, was elected to a second term as president by acclamation. Messengers also elected by acclamation Kathy Hillman of Waco as first vice president, René Maciel of San Antonio as second vice president, Bernie Spooner of Coppell as secretary of the corporation and Doug Powell of Garland as registration secretary.

famgathering tally400The tally board at the registration area for the Texas Baptist Family Gathering shows more than 4,000 Texas Baptists attended the San Antonio event.Van Christian, outgoing chair of the Executive Board and pastor of First Baptist Church in Comanche, presented a motion granting the board and a committee authority to negotiate the sale of the Baptist Building in Dallas “if it is determined that such sale is in the best interests” of the convention.

“Absolutely, positively, in no size, shape or fashion and without doubt, we are not voting to sell the Baptist Building,” Christian said, adding, “No offer has been made.”

Earlier this year, Baylor University approached the BGCT about the possibility of purchasing the Baptist Building for its Louise Herrington School of Nursing. The nursing school’s building on the Baylor Health Care System campus is at capacity. The Baptist Building is located adjacent to the health care system campus east of downtown Dallas.

No messengers raised questions from the floor, and the convention approved the motion overwhelmingly but not unanimously, by a show of ballots.

In a related action, messengers granted initial approval to a closely related constitutional amendment. The convention’s constitution names the physical address of the BGCT Executive Board as 333 N. Washington Avenue in Dallas. The amendment removes the reference to a physical address. As a constitutional amendment, it requires approval at two consecutive annual meetings.

Change in bylaws

Messengers approved a change in the bylaws, deleting language that cites detailed descriptions of committees and their duties. Instead, those descriptions become part of the BGCT Executive Board policy manual. Messengers also initial approved a related constitutional amendment.

The convention constitution grants the BGCT Executive Board authority to organize itself in committees, subcommittees, groups, teams, councils and commissions, but the bylaws included a detailed list of committees and their duties.

Messengers also amended convention bylaws to bring them in line with constitutional changes approved at the last two BGCT annual meetings. The amendment grants the presidents of recognized ethnic fellowships voting privileges on the BGCT Executive Board. Messengers also voted to allow out-of-state Baptists to serve on groups, teams, councils and other Texas Baptist entities.

No vote on a budget

In a departure from typical annual meetings, messengers did not approve a budget, since the summer meeting schedule did not coincide with the budget-planning cycle. At previous annual meetings, messengers approved a constitutional amendment granting the BGCT Executive Board authority to adopt the budget at its fall meeting in years when a summer annual meeting is held.

Joseph Parker, pastor of David Chapel Missionary Baptist Church in Austin, was selected to preach the convention sermon at the 2014 BGCT annual meeting, Nov. 16-19 in Waco, and Elmo Johnson, pastor of Rose of Sharon Baptist Church in Houston, was named as alternate.

Other business

In miscellaneous business, messengers approved a motion by Bill Jones, messenger from Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, stipulating: “at least 30 days prior to each annual meeting, the Baptist General Convention shall purchase ads in the Baptist Standard that present the complete text of any proposed amendments to the BGCT constitution or bylaws. Additionally, the complete texts shall be posted on the BGCT website.”

Three resolutions passed without opposition—a statement of appreciation to San Antonio Baptist Association for serving as hosts for the BGCT annual meeting, appreciation to convention officers and BGCT Executive Board staff, and a statement of commitment that the spirit of “unity in diversity” evident in the Family Gathering continue.

The resolution on the Family Gathering noted Texas Baptists “celebrate the great richness of our varied cultural heritages while at the same time celebrating our oneness in Christ and all that holds together.”

Editor’s Note: After this article originally was posted, the 2nd paragraph was edited and 3rd paragraph added to provided more complete information about all the participating groups.

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