Friday, April 17, 2009

A New Beginning for Baptists

The North American Baptist Fellowship began discussions with former President Jimmy Carter in 2007 regarding a gathering of the Baptist family from across North America. The New Baptist Covenant Celebration last year in Atlanta was the culmination of these discussions as thousands of Baptists from across denominational, racial, national and geographical boundaries came together for worship and dialogue. It was one of the best Baptist meetings I had ever attended. It was out of that experience that several of us began discussions about the possibility of a similar regional gathering for the Baptists of the Midwest. The result of these discussions that began almost a year ago was the Baptist Border Crossing.

I had the privilege of serving as co-chair for this historic gathering with Dr. Wallace S. Hartsfield, II, the pastor of Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church in Kansas City. His father, Dr. Wallace S. Hartsfield, Sr., Pastor Emeritus of Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church, was one of the driving forces behind the Summit. Estimates indicated that somewhere between 900 and 1,000 people participated in the Baptist Border Crossing Summit. The worship, preaching and breakout sessions were a wonderful beginning.

The Baptist Border Crossing was all about “beginnings.” It was about an opportunity for Baptists to begin to get to know each other. It was about individuals, churches, and denominations forging new relationships. It was about overcoming racial and social barriers to explore new partnerships with brothers and sisters in Christ. It was about Baptists discovering opportunities to collaborate for the sake of the Kingdom. One participant wrote me after the event to say, “As one who attended the new Baptist Covenant event in Atlanta, I had no expectation that we could do a Regional event that would match the Atlanta event in spirit and in quality; yet you accomplished it.”

As wonderful as the Summit was, I have much higher hopes for the follow-up on this historic gathering. What if during this year when we are celebrating the 400th anniversary of the beginning of Baptist work, the Baptists of the Midwest made a commitment to a “new beginning?” What if we decided to cross all the borders that have historically kept Baptists apart—racial, denominational, geographical, social, economic, and cultural? What if we accepted the fact that everyone who claims our Savior as Lord is our brother and sister? What if we intentionally began building relationships across these borders and boundaries? What if churches made a commitment to partner with other churches to learn from each other and to more effectively impact their communities for Christ? What if we humbled ourselves to acknowledge that we need each other?

One of best parts of being involved in the planning for the Baptist Border Crossing was the opportunity to meet and work with Baptist brothers and sisters I would not otherwise have known. The process of planning the event allowed me to make some new friends and deepen my understanding of God’s Kingdom. It is my hope and prayer that the Baptist Border Crossing will be a new beginning for Baptists across Missouri and the Midwest.

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