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FROM THE STATES: Arkansas Baptists restructure leadership; Sunrise and CHFS reach agreement

Transition and restructuring take place at the Arkansas Baptist State Convention

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (BP) — The challenges brought on by the recent pandemic have taught us that change is inevitable and often necessary to achieve desired goals. In an effort to best meet the changing needs of ABSC churches and ABSC organization, the Executive Team and the Church Planting Team of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention (ABSC) have recently undergone some restructuring.   

Sonny Tucker’s title and role as Executive Director will remain unchanged. Marcus Brown’s title will change from Executive Convention Administrator to Director of Convention Administration. He will assist Tucker in leading the convention staff and giving direction to the daily operation of the convention ministries. David Bond’s title will change from Executive Business Administrator to Director of Convention Business. He is responsible for overseeing the work of the Business Team, including accounting, as well as oversight of Camp Paron.  

Craig Jenkins, former pastor of Beech Street Baptist Church in Texarkana has joined the Executive Team in the newly created role of Director of Convention Advancement and News. Jenkins’ role will include advancing the impact of Arkansas Baptists as he advocates for cooperative missions through the Cooperative Program as well as Dixie Jackson Arkansas Missions. He will serve Arkansas Baptist churches in a variety of ways, including leading some Executive Team ministries.  

Jenkins’ role will also involve executive leadership of the Arkansas Baptist News (ABN).  He will be responsible for the day-to-day operation of the ABN website, bi-weekly eMagazine, promotion of the ABN and more as he works with the ABN staff to tell the stories of all that God is doing around the state in and through the churches. 

Nick Burt is transitioning into the role of Director of Communications. Burt’s work will operate separately from the ABN, even though the two teams will collaborate in many cases. The Communications Team will focus primarily on telling the stories of the ministry and work of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention. Burt’s team will also provide equipping resources on a wide variety of topics to assist Arkansas Baptist churches.   

In addition to the changes to the Executive Team, some transition has also taken place among the team leaders. Tim Wicker  joined the ABSC staff as a member of the Missions Team in 2009. In 2013 he transitioned to the role of Team Leader for the Church Planting Team. During his time in this role, Wicker worked with team members to assist Arkansas Baptist churches in identifying potential planters and potential locations. He also helped them assess and train the planters that were being sent out by the local churches.  

Wicker has recently begun the process of transitioning to Northwest Arkansas, where he will serve as the Northwest Arkansas Lead Strategist for Church Planting and Missions. Due to the rapid growth in this area of the state and with some staff members already living in the area, the ABSC has opened a remote office located on the campus of Elmdale Baptist Church in Springdale. While he will be available to assist churches across the state, Wicker will focus primarily on working with churches in the northwest to help plant churches and assist in the area of missions.  

As Wicker transitions to his new role, the position of Church Planting Team leader will be filled by Vince Blubaugh. Blubaugh comes to the ABSC from the Southern Baptist Convention of Virginia where he served in the northern part of the state as a church planting strategist. Although he and his family are in the process of transitioning from Virginia to Central Arkansas, Blubaugh has already begun his ministry and is available to assist the churches in the area of church planting.  

Sunrise and CHFS sign contract agreement for upcoming year

FRANKFORT, Ky. (BP) – Sunrise Children’s Services and the Cabinet for Health and Family Services have agreed to a new annual contract after a 22-month negotiation process.

In a statement to Kentucky Today, Susan Dunlap, executive director of the Office of Public Affairs for CHFS, wrote, “The Cabinet for Health and Family Services and Sunrise Children’s Services, Inc., entered into an agreement on July 15 to continue placing children and youth with the provider.”

Sunrise Children’s Services is an agency of the Kentucky Baptist Convention providing foster care, residential and therapeutic services to children and families in crisis. According to Sunrise, they have been in existence since 1869, partnering with the state for the last 50 years.

“We are proud to be that partner and will continue to do our best to help children and families across this commonwealth. We are thankful for this day and opportunity,” said Dale Suttles, Sunrise president.

Dunlap said the contract would run through June 30, 2022. CHFS back-dated the agreement to take effect on July 1, 2021.

“Kentucky Baptists will be pleased to hear that Sunrise Children’s Services is once again under contract with the commonwealth providing services to needy children,” Todd Gray, executive director-treasurer of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, said.

Suttles agreed, “We are also thankful for the prayers and support from thousands of Kentuckians across this commonwealth. It has been amazing to hear from so many that care deeply about this ministry.”

Negotiations stalled as Sunrise would not sign the contract offered by the Cabinet, claiming it would cause them to violate their deeply held religious beliefs. The agency says they receive any child they can help but refers prospective LGBTQ foster parents or employment applicants to other agencies.

“The terms of the agreement were the same as the previous contract that Sunrise had with the Cabinet from July 2019 to June 2020. Additionally, Sunrise agreed to refer any service applicants who identify as LGBTQ to another provider in good standing with CHFS,” Dunlap said.

The June ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in Fulton vs. Philadelphia, a case similar to the situation between Sunrise and CHFS, paved the way for the groups to agree.

“We are pleased that the administration has followed federal law in regard to the Fulton case that allows a ministry like Sunrise to continue to operate and be a viable partner with the Cabinet,” Suttles said.

Despite the signing of the contract, Gray still has concerns about the Beshear administration’s stance toward religious liberty.

“As thankful as I am for Kentucky Baptists, I am equally disappointed over the actions of the state. If it were up to this administration, Sunrise would not be providing care for Kentucky’s needy, neglected, and abused children,” Gray said. “It should be of grave concern to every person of faith in Kentucky that it took a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court to move Governor Beshear to agree to a contract with Sunrise.” 

In the House Interim Joint Committee on Appropriations and Revenue Committee meeting on June 2, Suttles testified the state contract is responsible for around $16 million of Sunrise’s $22 million annual budget.

“This has not been an easy road, but today we are so grateful that we do have a signed agreement between Sunrise and CHFS,” Suttles said.

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron weighed in on the contract being signed.

“The U.S. and Kentucky Constitutions are abundantly clear that government cannot discriminate against a religious organization because of its beliefs,” he said.  “The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed this foundational principle in a  unanimous ruling last month.

“I’m glad to see the Beshear administration follow the law and do what governors of both parties have done for decades, work with Sunrise so that the organization can continue the important work of serving Kentucky’s children.”

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