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La. convention approves sale of retirement center

LAFAYETTE, La. (BP)-Messengers to the Louisiana Baptist Convention approved the sale of a retirement center, elected an unopposed president and rejected changes to the executive board election process during their Nov. 10-11 annual meeting in Lafayette.

The convention’s 1,235 registered messengers also approved without opposition or discussion a reduced Cooperative Program budget of $22 million for 2004, a reduction of $1,923,076 from the current budget. The reduction comes as giving for this year continues to fall behind budget as well as behind last year’s record pace.

The convention increased the portion of CP gifts it will send to Southern Baptist national and international missions and ministries, however, to 35.25 percent, a .25-percent-of-receipts increase – the first increase since 1988.

The convention’s decision to sell the Baptist Retirement Center in Arcadia passed easily on a show-of-ballots vote.

After months of financial struggle, trustees announced plans earlier this year to try to return it to solid footing. However, by August, the financial pressures had increased to the point that the trustees voted to sell the facility. Trustees emphasized the action was taken quickly because of fears that ongoing problems could lead to an exodus of residents from the center and result in a loss of value for the 43-year-old facility.

A tentative sales agreement for $5 million was signed with Danny Prince of Paramount Healthcare. Prince is a member of First Baptist Church of Ruston who stepped in with interim management at the facility after administrator Bob Nelson left that post this summer.

The convention’s executive board approved the sales agreement in October. However, the agreement had to be finalized by a vote of messengers as well.

In presenting the recommendation to sell, center trustee chair Bobby Dye told messengers it was the culmination of an ongoing process. “This decision did not come easily,” Dye, pastor at Central Baptist Church in Bossier City, recounted. “The unanimous vote of the board, however, indicated it was the right thing to do.”

Messengers elected a trio of convention officers – all by acclamation: president, Philip Robertson, pastor of at Philadelphia Baptist Church in Deville and a former president of the LBC executive board; first vice president, George Bannister, pastor of First Baptist Church in Scott; and second vice president, Bendel Johnson, a member of Summer Grove Baptist Church in Shreveport.

All three were endorsed by the Louisiana Inerrancy Fellowship, which had distributed newsletters urging their election.

The election of Robertson by acclamation broke with tradition, with a contest typically following a president’s completion of the second of his one-year terms. Since the mid-1980s, those “open-year” elections have been hotly contested.

The closest came in 1989, when the election was decided by four votes. The widest “open-year” margin since 1987 came two years ago, when Steve James, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Lake Charles, was elected by 247 votes.

While there was some speculation about a last-minute run to oppose Robertson this year, nothing materialized. Instead, the convention saw a rare feat – LBC Executive Director Dean Doster casting a unanimous ballot not once but three times for the convention’s officers.

In other action, messengers overwhelmingly rejected a motion that would have allowed local associations to select their own LBC executive board members. At last year’s annual meeting in Bossier City, Jim Duck from University Baptist Church in Thibodaux had proposed a constitutional amendment to allow local associations to elect their own board members. Currently, members of the board are proposed by the Committee on Nominations and elected by messengers. As required, the motion was referred to the executive board, which voted during the year not to recommend the change, describing it as violating Baptist polity.

The board asked convention messengers to affirm their decision, and, messengers rejected Duck’s proposal 755-199.

Messengers also affirmed resolutions stating their opposition to homosexuality, child abuse and video poker. Messengers voiced their support in resolutions affirming Christian marriage and the Louisiana Moral and Civic Foundation.

Next year’s annual meeting will be Nov. 15-16 in Alexandria.
Based on reporting by C. Lacy Thompson & Brian Blackwell.

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