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Ethnic Fellowship Breakfast provides opportunity for leaders to connect

(Left to right) SBC First Vice President Victory Chayasirisobhon, Second Vice President Alex Sands and SBC Executive Committee Interim President and CEO Willie McLaurin pause for a selfie at the Ethnic Fellowship Breakfast June 13 in New Orleans. Photo by Luc Stringer

NEW ORLEANS (BP) – The Great Commission Ethnic Leaders Breakfast, held Tuesday morning (June 13), was designed as an opportunity for leaders from various ethnic groups within the convention to connect, build relationships and celebrate the growing diversity of the Southern Baptist Convention.

“This Ethnic Fellowship Breakfast provides an opportunity for them to meet in person, and then that way they can easily build relationships outside of it,” said Peter Yanes, associate vice president for Asian American relations for the SBC Executive Committee.

Yanes said some similar group gatherings have been happening for years at the convention, but this is the third year since a more concerted was begun.

The Executive Committee’s Great Commission Relations and Mobilization team, of which Yanes is a part, began a more intentional effort to gather and organize a meeting of all the ethnic leaders within the Convention. This fellowship is one event that is already paying dividends to that end.

Charles Grant, SBC Executive associate vice president for Black Church relations, attends the Ethnic Fellowship Breakfast on the first day of the two-day 2023 SBC Annual Meeting in New Orleans. Photo by Luc Stringer

“During this short time, they see each other, they meet in person, they hug, they fellowship, they talk. We’re providing them opportunity at a different level, so they look forward to the SBC annual meeting because they are going to meet a friend from a different ethnicity and background.”

Statistics point to the growing diversity in the convention.

Research from the newly formed Ethnic Research Network (ERN) indicates there are 11,281 churches and church-type missions among ethnic and racial minorities in the SBC. This represents 22.4 percent of the total number of SBC congregations.

The members of these congregations represent more than 10 percent of the SBC’s total 13 million members.

The ERN, a research network focused on compiling various data about the ethnic makeup of the convention, was formally introduced at the Asian American gathering on Monday, June 12. 

Different groups represented at the June 13 breakfast included Hispanic leaders, Asian American leaders, Black leaders, leaders from the Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship and many more.

Special guests at the meeting included SBC officers Alex Sands, SBC second vice president and senior pastor and founder of Kingdom Life Church in Simpsonville, S.C., and Victor Chayasirisobhon, SBC first vice president, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Anaheim, Calif., and president of the California Baptist Convention.

SBC Executive Committee Interim President and CEO Willie McLaurin also addressed the group. McLaurin became the first African American leader of an SBC entity when he took over the interim role last year.

“The first letter in unity is U,” McLaurin said “God has uniquely made you and created you to be exactly who you are. And God has a way of taking these unique pieces and bringing them together that we could do more together that we could never do by ourselves.”

Representatives from some of the SBC’s many ethnic fellowships gathered for breakfast June 13 ahead of the 2023 SBC Annual Meeting in New Orleans. Photo by Luc Stringer

McLaurin explained there have been times in the history of the SBC where the Convention was not racial and ethnically diverse, but these current efforts represent a growing desire for diversity.

He encouraged listeners to engagement with the Convention beyond merely times of fellowship, but by participating in the annual meeting as messengers.

“As we begin our 2023 SBC Annual Meeting, I don’t want you simply in the hallways,” McLaurin said.

“I don’t just want you in the exhibit hall … but I want you to let your voice and your vote count. There are a lot of matters that are going to be on our agenda today, and those matters on our agenda we need a diversity of thought and a diverse voice speaking into those matters. I want encourage you that you make sure that you raise your ballots and you vote based on your convictions from the Lord.

Charles Grant, the EC’s associate vice president for Black Church Relations, and Luis Lopez, associate vice president for Hispanic relations, spoke to the importance of designing a fellowship gathering like the breakfast.

“The intentionality of celebrating diversity, we’re providing space for that here,” Grant said. “We witnessed the testimonies of people saying it’s just good to be in a space where diversity is being celebrated. Where I feel like I can come and belong. Prayerfully this can continue to be a place where it serves as a launching pad to celebrate more diversity across our Convention.”

“It helps each ethnic group leader feel like they are a part of something bigger that God is doing,” Lopez said.

McLaurin closed by speaking to the spiritual impact of his grandmother, who recently passed away.

“There are so many people who have gone before us,” McLaurin said. “The book of their life has closed, but we are a part of the story that lives on. I want to encourage you just to be a part of allowing God to use you to write a story so that when the book of our lives are closed, that next generation that comes behind us are a part of the story that’s living on.”