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Denominational Servant’s Network takes stock of year’s milestones

PHOENIX (BP)–Key milestones from the preceding year were highlighted during the Black Southern Baptist Denominational Servant’s Network June 15 meeting in Phoenix.

About 200 people of African heritage serve the Southern Baptist Convention in a denominational role; their networking and mentoring organization, formed in 1996, met June 15 at Bethesda Community Baptist Church for their annual meeting in advance of the SBC’s annual meeting June 17-18.

“If we’re not careful, we’ll take our eye off the provider,” said Ken Weathersby of the North American Mission Board of budget-tightening steps in various Southern Baptist-related entities.

“The brook dried up,” Weathersby said in opening the meeting with a message based on 1 Kings 17. “[B]ut as long as God is on the throne, the resources are there. Look to the ultimate resource.”

Sid Smith, the network’s executive director, recapped various milestones from the past year. Smith is director of the Florida Baptist Convention’s African American ministries division. Among the items Smith referenced:

— The network established a Hall of Servanthood for retired denominational servants with a history of outstanding achievement during the course of their career.

— The network organized a Black History Project and hosted its inaugural seminar June 14, attended by more than 50 people. The network also developed a Journal of African American Southern Baptist History, which will be available by subscription. The network covered costs for the first issue; copies were made available at the Saturday seminar and Sunday meeting.

— The network lost some key people with the retirement of Tom Kelly, director of African American ministries with the California Southern Baptist Convention, and the death of Clifford Marity, who had retired in 2002 after planting more than 150 churches in California, Minnesota and Florida.

— The network became multicultural with the memberships of three people from a non-African heritage: John Sullivan, executive director of the Florida Baptist Convention; Bill Sumners, director of the SBC Historical Library and Archives; and Jerry Windsor, director of the Florida Baptist Historical Society.

Smith also noted the increased coverage of African American churches in Baptist Press and state Baptist papers.

“God is blessing the network,” he said. “It’s a good day for the network. I am glad the Lord called me to be a Southern Baptist denominational servant.”

Network officers for 2003-04 were elected by acclamation: president, Rosevelt Morris, director of the South Carolina Baptist Convention’s office of prayer and spiritual awakening; vice president, Dennis Mitchell, director of NAMB’s church multiplication team; secretary, Ken Ellis, associate director of institutional chaplaincy for NAMB; treasurer, Maxie Miller, church planting coordinator in the Florida convention’s African American ministries division; and parliamentarian, Michael Evans, director of African American ministries for the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

Tom Kelly received the Emmanuel L. McCall Denominational Servant Award for “role modeling the highest characteristics of a Southern Baptist denominational servant embodied in the life and ministry of Dr. Emmanuel L. McCall.” Kelly was director of the California Southern Baptist Convention’s black church relations department from 1982-2003.

“It is indeed an honor to have your peers select you to be listed with those who have been named before,” Kelly said. He credited the work of several who had gone before him and thanked his wife Fannie for “her blessed support for 48 years.”

Kelly is serving in retirement as an African American volunteer mobilization specialist with NAMB.

Hall of Servanthood awards for “outstanding career contributions” were given to Emmanuel L. McCall, Bill Johnson and Willie Simmons, three men who pioneered Southern Baptist work among African Americans.

“We’ve got to risk to win the next generations,” Roy Cotton, the network’s outgoing president, said in his address. “New challenges call for new strategies. … Vision and values are not negotiable, but goals and strategies are negotiable and must be adapted to new situations. Our message does not change but our methods do.

“Servants are to be making a difference,” said Cotton, regional church planting consultant with the BGCT. “Faithfulness is the number one criteria. Servants are to hang in there; faithfulness implies endurance.”

There are people who are cop-outs, hold-outs and drop-outs, but denominational servants are “all-outs who set goals, commit to them and pay the price to reach them,” Cotton preached.

“New churches are needed that will impact our African American communities and reach a new generation,” he said. “Funding formulas today are more challenging than ever before. Some people are tired of making bricks without straw” — referring to the children of Israel before the exodus.

“We have not received our calling from the Southern Baptist Convention,” Cotton said. “I received my calling before I knew there was a Southern Baptist Convention. … Your reward is not from … even the entire Southern Baptist Convention. It’s from on high.

“We must ask ourselves,” Cotton concluded, “if the Son of God is the divine servant, then who am I? Your labor in the Lord’s work is not in vain.”

In his final act as president, Cotton awarded Sid Smith with a Faithful Servant award.

“You’re a man of integrity and great wisdom,” Cotton read to Smith as he handed him the wooden plaque with that inscription. “We honor you for your faithful and dedicated service.”