FREDERICKSBURG, Va. (BP) — The Baptist General Association of Virginia adopted a far-reaching governance proposal Nov. 13 which leaders said would position the network of 1,400 churches to more effectively meet the challenges of the 21st century while maintaining broad representation from its diverse constituency.
The proposal, adopted during the BGAV’s annual meeting in Fredericksburg, aims to shift policy-making authority in 2015 from the 97-member Virginia Baptist Mission Board to a new 20-member Executive Board, while creating a Mission Council of up to 120 members to function in a consultative role.
In addition, the Executive Board will develop annual budgets to be recommended to the BGAV, replacing the existing budget committee, which has functioned separately from the Mission Board.
During the annual meeting, Blacksburg Baptist Church pastor Tommy McDearis was elected BGAV president, with Waynesboro pastor David Washburn as treasurer.
McDearis had served the past year as the BGAV’s first vice president. He succeeds Richmond layman Carl Johnson, whose one-year term ended at the conclusion of the Nov. 12-13 annual meeting.
McDearis has been pastor of the Blacksburg church since 1997. He was succeeded as first vice president by Ann Brown, a former president of Woman’s Missionary Union of Virginia and a member of First Baptist Church in Gretna.
Edward Fisher, pastor of First Baptist Church in Bluefield, W.Va., was elected second vice president, while Fred Anderson, executive director of the Virginia Baptist Historical Society, was elected to a 32nd term as clerk.
All four officers were elected without opposition.
In separate action, Waynesboro pastor David Washburn was elected chief financial officer of both the BGAV and the Virginia Baptist Mission Board. A former banker who has chaired the BGAV’s budget committee for the past two years, he succeeds Eddie Stratton, who will retire Dec. 31 after 12 years of service.
Washburn has been pastor of First Baptist Church in Waynesboro since 2005. From 1989-95 he was assistant vice president of First Union National Bank in Cary and Wilmington, N.C.
BGAV ministries next year will be funded essentially at 2013 levels following adoption of a $12,214,000 budget at the annual meeting.
The 2014 budget, approved is slightly more than this year’s $12,100,000. The bulk of the $114,000 increase will fund rises in health coverage costs for Virginia Baptist Mission Board staff and insurance premiums on Mission Board properties.
As in previous years, the budget divides allocations between BGAV ministries — which in 2014 will be $8,794,080 — and world mission causes, totaling $3,419,920 next year.
The recommendation continues to offer churches three pre-set giving tracks and a fourth customized option, all of which divide funds between BGAV ministries and national and international causes.
The percentage divisions remain unchanged:
— The World Missions 1 track provides 66 percent for Virginia ministries and 34 percent for Southern Baptist Convention ministries.
— The World Missions 2 track provides 72 percent for BGAV ministries and 28 percent for a combination of Virginia, SBC, CBF and other ministries.
— The World Missions 3 track provides 72 percent for Virginia ministries and 28 percent for Cooperative Baptist Fellowship ministries.
In other action, the BGAV adopted a resolution opposing an amendment to the Virginia constitution aimed at permitting prayer in public schools and government meetings, calling the amendment “unworthy of the support of the citizens of Virginia.”
“Virginia Baptists collectively have traditionally and consistently taken the position that religious expression coming from or endorsed by government is inconsistent with the free exercise of religion according to the dictates of conscience,” notes the resolution presented by the BGAV’s religious liberty committee. “Sectarian legislative prayers have the effect of utilizing civil government as a mechanism for advancing faith and Virginia Baptists have historically held that individuals and not the government should advance faith.”
Sponsors of Senate Joint Resolution 287 said they want to amend the state constitution to protect the rights of individuals and public bodies to pray on public property and public schools and protect students from religious discrimination.
SJR 287 would amend the Virginia Bill of Rights, a document drafted by George Mason, adopted by the Virginia legislature in 1776 and later incorporated into the state constitution. Thomas Jefferson is believed to have drawn on language in the Bill of Rights when he drafted the nation’s Declaration of Independence.
Section 16 of the Bill of Rights — to which the amendment would be added — guarantees that no one “shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief.”
The proposed amendment instructs the state to “not coerce any person to participate in any prayer or other religious activity, but shall ensure that any person shall have the right to pray individually or corporately in a private or public setting” and allows individuals to “offer invocations or other prayers at meetings or sessions of the General Assembly or governing bodies.”
The BGAV’s resolution — adopted on a voice vote with some opposition — notes that Section 16 “has since its inception fully protected the religious freedom of the citizens of Virginia” but warned that the amendment would “dwarf the present Section 16 and detract from its iconic status.”
Next year’s meeting of the BGAV is scheduled for Nov. 11-12 in Hampton, Va.
Paige Peak is assistant executive director & chief communications officer for the Virginia Baptist Mission Board (http://vbmb.org) of the Baptist General Association of Virginia.