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Ga. Baptists tap 30-year pastor, reduce budget by 7%

COLUMBUS, Ga. (BP)–Tony Dickerson, pastor of Pinehurst Baptist Church in Columbus, Ga., for more than 30 years, was elected president without opposition during the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Nov. 10-11 annual meeting.

Dickerson was nominated by Frank Cox, pastor of North Metro First Baptist Church in Lawrenceville, who described the Columbus pastor as a man with strong character, keen insight, biblical wisdom and a deep commitment to his church and denomination.

Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, a Baptist from Warner Robins and now a member and Sunday School teacher at First Baptist Church in Woodstock, addressed the convention via videotape. Georgia’s first lady, Mary Perdue, was the guest speaker for a special gathering of pastors’ wives on Monday. Urging Baptist women’s groups to join forces to help children in the state’s care, she recounted that she and her husband, who have four children of their own, also had taken in eight foster children over the years.

Messengers approved a 2004 budget of $46.5 million, a 7 percent reduction from the current budget.

Clark Hutchinson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Cartersville and chairman of the convention’s Cooperative Program budget committee, told messengers that the convention nevertheless will be able to continue its initiatives in evangelism, missions, church planting, Christian higher education and developing healthy Kingdom churches.

Hutchinson also noted that “Georgia Baptists will lead all Southern Baptists in dollar amount giving” to the Cooperative Program and the SBC’s international and North American missions offerings. In Cooperative Program giving specifically, the convention will continue to divide Cooperative Program gifts equally between SBC and state causes, after subtracting such shared responsibilities as administrative and promotional expenses that relate to national and state causes and the convention’s portion of contributions to ministers’ retirement accounts with the Annuity Board.

The committee, in framing its budget recommendation, studied the convention’s Cooperative Program income for the current year as compared with previous years and had estimated the income for the new fiscal year on such factors as past experience and prevailing economic conditions, Hutchinson reported. As assigned by the convention’s executive committee, the budget committee also studied both the ministry and missions needs in Georgia and throughout the Southern Baptist Convention. On the basis of their conclusions, Hutchinson said, the recommended budget provides an equitable distribution of available funds between all causes supported by Georgia Baptists.

In other officer elections, Terry Braswell, associational missionary in Douglasville, was elected first vice president, while Jerry Speer, pastor of Northside Baptist Church in Columbus, was elected second vice president. Don Hattaway, pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church in Cartersville, and Gary Morton, minister of music at Second Baptist Church in Warner Robbins, having received the same number of votes, will serve in the convention’s other vice presidential positions, third and fourth vice president, respectively. Billy Britt of Hebron Baptist Church in Dacula was re-elected recording secretary.

Messenger registration topped 2,400 for the convention’s sessions at the Columbus Civic Center.

Wayne Hamrick, pastor of Atco Baptist Church in Cartersville, reporting for the executive committee, noted that a record high 75 new churches and missions had become a part of the Georgia Baptist Convention during the past year.

During the convention’s missions emphasis, J.B. Graham, executive director of the Baptist Convention of New York, expressed thanks to Georgia Baptists for their partnership, which Baptists in western New York have enjoyed in recent years. He expressed gratitude for the convention’s vote earlier in the day to extend the partnership to 2008 and expand it to the entire state, specifically targeting the cities along the I-90 corridor as well as New York City.

Of the 26.8 million people in New York, as many as 20 million could be lost and without Christ, Graham said. Noting that 180 different people groups live in New York City, he said if God were to bring revival to this major metropolis it could spread to the rest of the world.

In other business, messengers voted by a large margin against a motion by Mark Johnson of Cherokee Heights Baptist Church in Macon to amend the convention’s constitution so that executive committee members would be divided equally between clergy and laity. The executive committee previously had voted unanimously to oppose the amendment in order to protect the autonomy of the local association and preserve a system that has proven to be effective. Johnson had offered the same amendment during last year’s meeting in Marietta, and it was soundly defeated.

Emmett Henderson, the Georgia Baptist Convention’s specialist in ethics and public affairs, noted President George W. Bush’s recent signing of the partial-birth abortion bill. The convention’s executive director, J. Robert White, acknowledged Henderson’s plans to retire at the end of the year and expressed gratitude for his faithful service to the convention.

White recognized convention attorney Tom Duvall, who introduced Walter Bush, the attorney retained to represent Georgia Baptists when the convention was sued by Shorter College. Reflecting on Shorter’s decision to separate itself from the convention and become an independent institution, Bush remarked, “I believe a terrible wrong has been done here. The hard-earned offering plate money of good people has been taken and misappropriated.”

An appellate court verdict is expected next spring in legal proceedings between the convention and the college.

The convention’s sessions included sermons, testimonies and music, including gospel favorites sung by the Reggie Saddler Family at different points in the convention proceedings.

Next year’s annual meeting will be Nov. 15-16 at the Georgia International Convention Center in College Park.

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  • Gerald Harris