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Black Baptists celebrate Southern Baptists’ diversity

ST. LOUIS (BP)–A commitment to Jesus Christ, the Southern Baptist Convention and fellow African Americans was lauded at the June 9 annual meeting of the Black Southern Baptist Denominational Servants Network in St. Louis.

The meeting was held in conjunction with the June 11-12 annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis.

“This is the ‘Show Me’ state,” said Richard Lee of Kansas City, Mo., as he welcomed about 60 network members and guests to the afternoon meeting. “Show me your love for Jesus.” Lee is a NAMB-appointed church planting missionary.

“We believe there is nothing higher for a child of God than to be a servant of Jesus Christ,” said Roy Cotton, the network’s president, in his opening remarks. “We serve our state conventions, denominational agencies, the nation and the world, and wherever we serve, we serve in the name of Jesus Christ,” said Cotton, black church extension director with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

Awards and reports were presented, including an historical overview of the African American presence in the Southern Baptist Convention, and Cotton concluded the afternoon event with his presidential address.

Other officers of the network are vice president Roosevelt Morris, director of new work for the South Carolina Baptist Convention; secretary, Eddie Jones, African American catalyst for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma; treasurer, Joshua Smith, a North American Mission Board-appointed missionary and regional director of work in the U.S. Virgin Islands; and parliamentarian, Victor Ketchens of New Jersey, a retired African American church planting director. Sid Smith, founder and executive director of the network, is director of the African American ministries division of the Florida Baptist Convention.

Gary Frost, vice president of strategic partnerships at the North American Mission Board, received the Emmanuel L. McCall Denominational Servant Award for outstanding servant leadership. This is the network’s most distinguished award, Cotton said in presenting it to Frost, who holds the highest position of any African American in the Southern Baptist Convention.

Founders Awards will be presented at various gatherings throughout the year to honor the 21 founding members of the organization, Smith announced.

In his executive director’s report, Smith provided an overview of the African American presence in the SBC. When the SBC was organized in 1845, Smith said, 100,000 of the 300,000 people who voted to establish the denomination were African American. As late as 1882, the Florida Baptist Convention was two-thirds African American, he added.

“I’m glad to be part of the Southern Baptist Convention today,” Smith said. “We have arrived at the point in the life of the SBC when we can no longer identify Southern Baptists by the color of their skin or the sound of their voice…. It’s a great day when a multicultural denomination can elect people of color to serve its boards and agencies.”

Smith made three recommendations that were passed unanimously: that the network establish a Hall of Servanthood to honor denominational workers who have served with distinction; that the network establish an African American Southern Baptist History Project to preserve, discover, research and transmit the history of Southern Baptists in the black community; and that the network establish a history project committee that would include Smith, Kevin Smith of Kentucky, Andre Punch of Texas and other volunteers.

In his presidential address, Cotton spoke from Philippians 2:5-8. “I count it a privilege to be a servant,” he said. “This is my 24th year [in ministry service] this week and most have been working with our [African American] cultural specificity. Thank God for the North American Mission Board and International Mission Board for being open to work beyond our people group.”

Cotton drew the attention of his listeners to a spider’s web. “The more you move, the stronger the web,” he said. “It’s time for us to realize we need to be a servant of one another.” He closed by singing, “Remember only what you do for Christ will last.”

The network, which organized in 1997 with 21 founding members, now has 66 members who serve at the International Mission Board, North American Mission Board, LifeWay Christian Resources and at 19 state conventions — Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

Its purpose is to provide a fellowship organization for black Southern Baptist denominational workers, to provide mentors; to share information and provide a forum for problem-solving relative to issues affecting Southern Baptists and the black community; and to provide a periodic black Southern Baptist news bulletin.