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Disaster relief donations prompt BGAV budget reduction

WOODBRIDGE, Va. (BP)–Virginia Baptists approved a reduced budget for 2006 during a peaceful annual meeting Nov. 10-11 which focused on worship and a new mission partnership with Baptists in India.

About 850 messengers registered for the Baptist General Association of Virginia’s 182nd annual meeting, held at a Christian conference center in suburban Northern Virginia just outside Washington, D.C.

The $14.4 million budget for 2006 is $300,000 lower than the current budget, which BGAV treasurer Eddie Stratton said may fall short by as much as $500,000.

Budget committee chair Darrell Foster attributed the shortfall and reduced budget to Virginia Baptists’ generous contributions to relief for victims of the South Asia tsunami and the Gulf Coast hurricanes.

“The good news is that Virginia Baptists have opened up their hearts to give to disaster relief,” said Foster, a retired Virginia Beach attorney. “But on the other hand, our gifts to cooperative missions are significantly behind.”

Stratton said Virginia Baptists have given about $2.3 million to help victims of the tsunami and the hurricanes. “Total giving through the treasurer’s office this year [for both cooperative missions and designated gifts] exceeds the best year that the BGAV has ever had,” Stratton said. “We need to celebrate that.”

But because so many contributions that would have funded the budget have presumably been channeled to disaster relief, the budget committee proposed a lower goal for 2006, Foster said.

“For years we have been committed to a reality budget,” he said. “The question this year was, What is our reality? Is this year an aberration affected by these disasters or is it a trend? We hope it’s the former, but we simply don’t know and won’t know until this coming year, when we hopefully won’t have any disasters. So we decided we needed to reduce the budget by $300,000.”

As in previous years, the budget offers BGAV churches three pre-set giving channels — World Mission 1, 2 and 3 — each of which is divided between Virginia and world ministries. Churches also may craft their own giving plan while remaining supportive of Virginia Baptist cooperative missions.

There are no changes in the world mission portions of the budget. Virginia ministries receive 72 percent of the funds in WM2 and WM3 and 66 percent of WM1. The Southern Baptist Convention is funded in the world ministry portion of WM1 and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in the world ministry portion of WM3. WM2’s world ministry portion funds SBC, CBF and other national and international ministries.

No allocations for Virginia ministries in the budget were increased and funding for eight ministry partners was reduced.

For the first time, Averett University in Danville, Va., is not included in the BGAV budget. Last year, the BGAV ended allocations to the university, which has long been affiliated with Virginia Baptists, in a dispute over homosexuality and biblical authority. The $150,000 detoured from Averett was allocated to the newly created Southwest Virginia Christian Leadership Network, a training program based in Roanoke, Va., for lay and clergy leaders.

The budget was adopted without discussion, although parts of the financial plan had been discussed in a breakout session open to messengers the previous day.

All three officers were elected without opposition. Each was nominated by Virginia Baptists Committed, a moderate advocacy group.

Bert Browning, pastor of Huguenot Road Baptist Church in Richmond, was elected president. Browning, a Virginia pastor since 1976, had been serving as first vice president. His election continues a recent tradition of electing the sitting first vice president as president of the state association. The BGAV restricts presidents to a single one-year term, and electing the first vice president is seen as a way of providing experience to the top officeholder.

Browning’s election also continues a longstanding tradition of alternating between clergy and laity for the post. He succeeds Richard Smith, an attorney and member of Columbia Baptist Church in Falls Church, Va.

Other newly elected officers are first vice president Boyce Brannock, a Waynesboro, Va., attorney and member of First Baptist Church there, and second vice president Barbara Filling, pastor of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Charles City, Va.

Fred Anderson of Richmond, executive director of the Virginia Baptist Historical Society and the Center for Baptist Heritage and Studies, was elected to a 23rd term as clerk.

Worship highlighted much of the BGAV annual meeting, led by well-known preacher Fred Craddock, a retired professor of preaching and New Testament at Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, and by Billy Kim, a Seoul, South Korea, pastor who just completed five years as president of the Baptist World Alliance.

Also featured were concerts by the Far East Broadcasting Company Korean Children’s Choir and the Virginia Baptist Male Chorale, along with sketches by the drama team of Bluefield College.

A signing ceremony inaugurated a mission partnership between the BGAV and the Indian Baptist Convention of Kerala, a fellowship of churches in southern India.

Signing the document were Indian Baptist leaders Kunjumon Chacko and Sabu Thomas as well as Virginia Baptist leaders, all of whom exchanged Virginia and Indian flags.

Messengers adopted five resolutions, including appreciation for churches and state Baptist leaders who have “contributed sacrificially” to disaster relief efforts” and to the staff of the Virginia Baptist Mission Board who “continue to serve … with grace, compassion and skill” despite “new circumstances” precipitated by budget shortfalls.

One resolution noted the 50th anniversary of Eagle Eyrie Baptist Conference, to be celebrated in June 2006, and another urged “elected and military leaders to protect our military members’ free expression of their faith, and also to condemn the pressuring of others to conform to any particular faith expression.”

In response to a question, resolutions committee chair Jay Lawson said the resolution was prompted in part by concerns of Virginia Baptist chaplains who said they sometimes feel their faith statements are restricted.

Attendance at the meeting was the lowest since 1957, when 733 people gathered in Roanoke. BGAV Executive Director John Upton attributed the low attendance to lack of controversial issues on the agenda and to the Northern Virginia location. Washington’s busy suburbs traditionally deter messengers from the rest of the state from attending meetings held there. About 1,000 messengers attended the last Northern Virginia meeting in 2001. More than 4,600 messengers attended the meeting in Richmond in 1990, when confrontation between moderate and conservative Baptists was at its height.

Next year’s meeting will be Nov. 9-10 in Virginia Beach.

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  • Robert Dilday