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Denominational servants to study early Southern Baptist blacks

INDIANAPOLIS (BP)–More than 200 African Americans serve in denominational roles in the Southern Baptist Convention’s 12 entities and seminaries, 40 state/regional conventions and 1,200 associations.

Their Black Southern Baptist Denominational Servant’s Network will meet at 6 p.m. Saturday, June 12, at Gabriel Missionary Baptist Church, 5169 Norwaldo Ave. in Indianapolis.

“We’re going to have a program that will be based on African American Southern Baptist history,” said Sid Smith, executive director of the network and of the Florida Baptist Convention’s African American ministries division. “We will have different speakers talking about different issues relating to African American Southern Baptists.”

Smith, a leading researcher in the field, will discuss his work in search of the first African American Southern Baptist church. This is a tighter focus on a previous work, when he determined that what today is known as First Baptist Church in Petersburg, Va., was the first African American Baptist church in the United States. It was founded in the 1750s.

“I am convinced that, based on evidence, there was a predominantly black congregation as early as 1758 on the plantation of William Byrd III on the Bluestone River in Mecklenburg County, Va.,” Smith wrote in an April 2001 article in Baptist Press. “This church struggled, many members scattered, but the congregation revived in 1772, according to associational records, or 1774, according to church records. That church can trace its unbroken history to the First Baptist Church, Petersburg, Va., a black congregation today that claims the title: ‘The Oldest Black Church in America.’”

His new study on the first African American Southern Baptist church — not just “Baptist” — will provoke interesting discussion, Smith said.

Several other speakers will address subjects related to being African American and Southern Baptist, Smith said.

The network’s annual meeting and awards banquet, hosted by Gabriel Missionary Baptist Church, will follow the history presentation at 3 p.m. Sunday. Cost for the two events will be $30.

Highlights of the afternoon are expected to include the annual presentation of the Emmanuel L. McCall Denominational Servant Award, Founders Awards in honor of the founding members of the network, and the Hall of Servanthood Award.

Leo Day, assistant professor of voice at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, will bring special music. Mark Croston of East End Baptist Church, Suffolk, Va., and first vice president of the National African American Fellowship, is slated as guest speaker. Rosevelt Morris, president of the Black Southern Baptist Denominational Servants Network, will bring the annual president’s address.

“We hope this will be an exciting meeting that will encourage African American denominational servants and messengers who attend the SBC in Indianapolis in their participation in the mainstream events,” Smith said. “It is very important that African Americans participate in the mainstream in order for the African American presence to be felt.”

The denominational servants network is one way African Americans mentor, and are mentored by one another and stay current on job openings throughout the SBC. Officers will be elected for the 2004-05 year.

Officers for the 2003-04 year include Rosevelt Morris, director of the South Carolina Baptist Convention’s office of prayer and spiritual awakening, as president; Dennis Mitchell, director of NAMB’s church multiplication team, vice president; Ken Ellis, associate director of institutional chaplaincy for NAMB, secretary; and Maxie Miller, church planting coordinator in the Florida Baptist Convention’s African American Ministries division, treasurer.

The Black Southern Baptist Denominational Servant’s Network was formally organized in 1996.