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Alaska Baptists look ahead with new exec. director

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (BP) — Alaska Baptists’ 71st annual meeting heralded the arrival of native son Randy Covington as the convention’s new executive director/treasurer.

Covington, in addressing the meeting, said Baptists will continue to impact lostness in Alaska and beyond by relying on God’s direction and building on the work He has already accomplished, yet with an eye to adapt methods as needed while not compromising the Gospel message.

Covington started his new role in Alaska in May, traveling across the state for listening sessions with pastors and church leaders “to renew a sense of understanding of the needs of the churches in Alaska,” the executive director/treasurer said in his report to messengers during the convention’s Sept. 26-28 sessions at University Baptist Church in Fairbanks, where Gary Cox is pastor.

“Alaska played a major role in my spiritual formation and preparation for local and international ministry,” Covington said he told the Alaskans he has met over the last five months. “Now I have the awesome privilege of giving back to Alaska what it so graciously offered to me as a young man in ministry.”

Under the theme from 1 Corinthians 3:9 — “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building” — fellowship and the excitement of a new beginning enveloped Alaska’s annual meeting and the gatherings that preceded it, the pastors conference, WMU conference and missions rally. A $1.4 million budget was approved and reports were given of God’s work through Southern Baptists in Alaska and around the world.

“The thrust of our meeting was ‘partnering together,'” Covington told Baptist Press. “This is one of the main concerns in a state that is so massive geographically. It is rare to get all of our people together in one place.”

This year’s annual meeting highlighted “the faithful service of [recently retired executive director and his wife] Mike and Rebecca Procter,” according to the Book of Reports. Special recognition was given to two longtime pastors who died last October: Robert Chadwick, who served 36 years as pastor of First Baptist Church of Birchwood, known today as The Crossing @ Birchwood, and Jimmie Stringer, pastor of First Baptist Church of Juneau from 1979-86 and again since 1995.

This year’s annual message, Lawrence Ellison, pastor of St. John Baptist Church in Fairbanks, and the president’s sermon by Todd Burgess, pastor of First Baptist Church of Eagle River, both referenced John 6:5-9, the feeding of the 5,000.

“We must always ask, ‘Is there enough?’ God will provide the resources,” the executive director said. “He is in control!”

The convention’s $1,403,431.64 budget increased by less than $1,800 from the previous year. In all, 49.3 percent of the total budget — $691,545.64 — will come from churches’ Cooperative Program giving alongside support from SBC entities. The 37 percent of Alaska CP receipts for Southern Baptist national and international missions and ministries remains unchanged from the 2016 budget.

“The Cooperative Program continues to be the unifying source for the support and expansion of the Gospel witness throughout the Southern Baptist Convention,” Covington told Baptist Press. “In Alaska, we have been recipients of CP funding as well as active participants in giving to national and international projects.”

Bryan Myers, pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Fairbanks, was elected president by acclamation. Eric Jones, pastor of New Birth Christian Church in Fairbanks, was elected first vice president. The other nominee, Tracy Simmons, pastor of Christ Community Church in Anchorage, was elected second vice president. Donna Fleury, a member of First Native Baptist Church in Anchorage, was elected recording secretary by acclamation.

No resolutions were presented. From the ABC’s 123 congregations with 12,103 members as of the 2014 Annual Church Profile, 116 messengers representing 32 churches/missions attended the annual meeting, along with 48 guests.

Special guests included Frank S. Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee; Steve Bass, North American Mission Board vice president of convention relations in the western United States; Rick Curtis, NAMB regional mobilizer in the West; Wanda Lee, recently retired as executive director of national WMU; and Terry Sharp, International Mission Board state, association and urban mobilization strategy leader.

Page preached from John 1:1-3 and 14 on the need for unity: “My friends, we need to realize we need everyone at the table. … The world is winning too many battles. We must recognize that what pulls us together is the centrality of Christology, of who Christ is and who He is to us in salvation and to our churches.”

A number of out-of-state guests were on hand to honor Covington, who was a church-planting and, later, strategy-leading missionary with the International Mission Board for 23 years before returning in May to lead Southern Baptist work in Alaska, the state where he was born, reared and served before going to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he earned a master of arts in religious education degree in 1984 followed by a Ph.D. degree in administration in 2004.

Covington had received the approval of 94 percent of messengers at a specially called business meeting in February for his selection as the convention’s executive director/treasurer.

In his first five months, Covington listened to pastors, church leaders and convention staff, learning that, “Now is not the time for us to step back from our commitment to reach a lost generation,” the exec said in his report. He listed 11 “thoughts and impressions the Holy Spirit laid on my heart.”

He mentioned cultural shifts and the need to “find new ways to engage our culture with the Gospel,” adding, “We must be more intentional in our efforts to cooperate with other members of the body of Christ: Southern Baptists and non-Baptist evangelicals. …

“I will be forming a work group made up of Christian leaders from across our state and tasking them with investigating, interviewing and gathering information from our constituent churches and members as well as outsiders,” Covington said. “They will make recommendations for new processes, programs, emphases and structure that will guide the work of the Alaska Baptist Convention for the next decade and decades to come.”

Staff reports included mention of a partnership between Chugach Baptist Association and the South Carolina Baptist State Convention; 18 church planters; and a group of 21 people from various cities who moved to Fairbanks in order to start a church.

Mixed in with staff reports were some “only in Alaska” stories, such as the church planters who made a 400-mile journey in a boat up the Yukon River to witness in five remote native villages, among 87 such villages that still have no access to the Gospel.

“The first session celebrated partnering beyond ourselves — national and international missions — with messages from the SBC Executive Committee, NAMB and IMB,” Covington told Baptist Press. “The final session emphasized state missions and the work through the [Alaska] convention and our Valeria Sherard State Missions Offering. It was not a business meeting but a celebration and time of corporate worship and fellowship.”

Alaska’s 2017 annual meeting will be Sept. 25-27 at First Baptist Church in Ketchikan. Gordon Mills, pastor of Glacier Valley Baptist Church in Juneau, is to deliver the annual message.