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Fla. Baptist annual meeting short on business, long on inspiration

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)–The 136th annual meeting of Florida Baptists, Nov. 10-12 at Jacksonville’s Prime Osborn Convention Center, was long on inspiration and short on business.
None of the messengers from Florida Baptist churches presented any miscellaneous business; three of the four resolutions presented were referred to the state board of missions; and the new officers of the convention were elected by acclamation.
Messengers adopted a 1998 basic budget of $27,069,494, up $1,053,602 from the current budget. The convention will continue to designate 51.75 percent for Florida Baptist causes; 40 percent for Southern Baptist Convention causes; 5 percent for church pastoral aid and 3.25 percent for the Church Annuity Program. Cooperative Program receipts above the basic budget will be designated at 75 percent for the FBC unrestricted reserve fund and 25 percent for the Florida Baptist capital needs budget.
A total of 1,573 messengers and 553 visitors attended the annual session.
The only discussion came during the report of the state board of missions, which, in its annual session prior to the convention, voted to sell the Florida Baptist Children’s Home property in Miami and relocate the south Florida facilities to Broward County.
Mason H. Van Tassel, pastor of First Baptist Church of Redlands in Homestead, raised questions about the sale.
“Why move from where there is a great need for the children’s home?” Van Tassel asked. “How did you arrive at the cost? Did they get an appraisal or a contract? And, it is vague where the children’s home is going to move to.”
John Sullivan, FBC executive director-treasurer, explained that “we have a written letter of intent. But we need the convention’s approval to enter into a contractual agreement. We did not go out looking for (this offer), or putting (the children’s home) on the market.
“But once the offer was made, we had to explore whether to or how to facilitate the offer.”
Leslie Williams, minister of education at Wayside Baptist Church, Miami, whose property is adjacent to the children’s home property, asked how the decision would impact the church.
“Does the church have first right of refusal — an opportunity to purchase the property?” Williams asked and then explained, “We need it for parking.”
Sullivan responded, “As I understand it, the church does have a right of refusal. If the church can match the same dollar figure … the church would have the opportunity. Florida Baptist Family Ministries plans to assist the church to find additional parking. And, with the apartments (to be built) there, the church has the best of both worlds.
“We feel that if God is in it, it will happen. If not, it won’t. But we felt we had to explore the opportunity.”
Messengers then passed the motion from the board to relocate the South Florida Children’s Home.
Messengers submitted four resolutions to be considered by the resolutions committee. After deliberations, the committee decided to refer three resolutions to the state board of missions for further consideration. Those referred to the state board dealt with taxation of churches, the Year of the Bible and covenant marriages. The traditional resolution of appreciation for those involved in facilitating the annual meeting of Florida Baptists in Jacksonville was presented by the committee and approved by messengers.
The new convention officers are Jerry B. Garrard, pastor of Celebration Baptist Church, Tallahassee, president; Elroy Barber, pastor of Westside Baptist Church, Hollywood, first vice president; Charles N. Suttles, a businessman from Jacksonville, second vice president.
Messengers also affirmed the action of the state board of missions to provide an annual cash subsidy to Florida Baptist Financial Services to underwrite the ministry of the Florida Baptist Retirement Centers, Inc., in Vero Beach.
Ed Johnson, chairman of the state board’s budget committee, said the annual allocation — amounting to $157,000 in 1999 — will conclude that year unless a revised funding agreement for the 1999-2001 budget cycle is negotiated between FBFS and the state board. Any continued funding must be approved by the state convention.
Kathy Connors, messenger from Southside Baptist Church, Jacksonville, asked who would take over the retirement center at the end of the three-year plan.
“It would continue to be under the direction of FBFS,” said Johnson, pastor of First Baptist Church, Ocala. “Our hope is that it would produce income to be self-sustaining at that time.”
In other business, messengers approved a number of constitution and bylaw changes designed to bring those documents in line with current not-for-profit law.
In presenting those recommendations from the state board of missions, Ken Whitten pointed out the board had retained the services of Gammon and Grange, a law firm from McLean, Va., which specifically deals with nonprofit and exempt organization statutes, employment and human resource issues and constitutional and religious freedom privileges.
“Our documents speak about contributions to the Cooperative Program but nowhere in our documents do we explain what the Cooperative Program is and it’s so important and vital to who we are,” said Whitten, pastor of Idlewild Baptist Church, Tampa, explaining the need for the changes. “(The law firm) has come back to us saying we are not in compliance with nonprofit law.”
Messengers approved six changes to the constitution. However, those changes also must be approved by messengers to the 1998 annual meeting, Nov. 16-18 in Fort Lauderdale, before they can take effect. Constitutional changes must be approved by messengers to two consecutive annual meetings.
Messengers voted to change Article 3 of the constitution, concerning contributions, to read: … and to accept any designated contribution, grant, bequest or devise provided it is consistent with the Convention’s (1) mission and priorities, (2) budget process and fiscal restrictions, (3) full ownership and control of the funds or assets, and (4) tax-exempt purposes. As so limited, donor-designated contributions will be accepted for special funds, purposes or uses, and such designations will be honored. The Corporation shall reserve all right, title and interest in and to, and control of such expenditure or distribution thereof in connection with any special fund, purpose or use.”
“We want to keep those funds in line with our mission strategy,” Whitten said. “(The change) keeps us all within our priorities.”
The proposed change in Article 5 substituted the phrase “Administrative/Personnel Committee” for “Administrative Committee” and Article 13 added the phrase “affirmative vote” to state, “This Constitution or any article thereof may be amended by the affirmative vote of two-thirds of the messengers present …” Articles 1-13 were amended by inserting the words “State” prior to all references to “Convention,” “cooperating local church” and “Florida Baptist Convention,” where appropriate as an editorial clarification.
Messengers also approved several wording and language changes to the convention’s bylaws, as well as the bylaws of the state board of missions. Bylaw changes do not require affirmative votes at consecutive annual meetings as do constitutional changes.
One bylaw change clarifies the standing rules of the convention.
“We’ve had standing rules written and documents for many years but the law firm pointed out we don’t really have written in one place the rules we’ve followed-the standing rules of our bylaws,” Whitten said.
Other bylaw changes granted the right of a person submitting a resolution to speak to that proposal before the resolutions committee; allowed FBFS trustees to serve on boards of subsidiary corporations of that agency; clarified a quorum; allows Florida Baptist Theological College to operate under its academic year — June 1 to May 31 — rather than the calendar fiscal year.

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  • Michael Chute