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Minn.-Wis. Baptists celebrate 50 years of Baptist outreach

MADISON, Wis. (BP)–Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptists returned to their birthplace of Madison, Wis., for their annual meeting this year as they celebrated 50 years of Southern Baptist work in the Upper Midwest.

A total of 102 messengers from 46 churches and 86 guests gathered for the Oct. 30-Nov. 1 sessions at the Sheraton Madison Hotel. They rejoiced over the seed planted in 1953 that has grown into 152 churches with more than 13,000 members.

The meeting began with the reading of a commendation from Wisconsin’s governor, Jim Doyle, in which he extended “best wishes for a productive and memorable conference,” making special mention of the convention’s first church, Midvale Baptist Church in Madison. He also made reference to the MWBC’s “disaster teams that have worked with the Red Cross in the Upper Midwest flooding and the 9-11 cleanup at Ground Zero.”

The history of the convention was highlighted by the presence of all four men who have served as executive director: Otha Winningham, 1975-93; Bill Tinsley, 1993-2001; Gerald Palmer, nine-month interim executive director between Tinsley and Endel; and Leo Endel, who came to the post in 2002.

Messengers passed a “Resolution of Celebration,” to commemorate the event: “Whereas, 2003 marks the 50th Anniversary of the beginning of Southern Baptist work in our two states and the 20th Anniversary of the establishment of the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention, therefore be it resolved, that from the beginning of the small stream in Madison, Wis., the MWBC will continue to grow under the leadership of men like Otha Winningham, Bill Tinsley, Gerald Palmer, and Leo Endel in its mutual support characterized by ‘work produced by faith … labor prompted by love, and … endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Thess. 1:3).”

In his Thursday evening address, Winningham paid tribute to “those lay men and women who answered God’s call to serve, lead and work in the formation and development of the churches.” It was Winningham who led M-W Baptists to build the current state office building in 1981 and to transition from a fellowship to state convention status in 1983. He developed a state convention staff including current staffers Leah Smith, Betty Lynn Cadle and Norman Wallace, as well as Dave Turner who passed away in 2001. “It was a high privilege to serve in Minnesota-Wisconsin at a very special time in history,” Winningham said.

Tinsley led Bible studies in each session centered on the Sermon on the Mount. During his tenure as executive director, the MWBC created the M-W Baptist Foundation; established the Bethel Seminary scholarship program; formed a partnership with the Kentucky Western Recorder to publish the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist; established missions partnerships with Brazil and Siberia; and adopted the Twenty-First Century Strategies that guide convention work today.

During his executive director’s message, Endel urged messengers to build on the successes of the past to complete the task God has given them. He exhorted them to be Kingdom leaders who are God-called, prayer-focused and faith-motivated. Citing the statistic that there are more than 5 million lost people in their two states, Endel challenged M-W Baptists to show faith instead of playing it safe. “When was the last time you took a serious risk for the Kingdom?” he asked.

In the president’s message, Charles Dunning recounted his 40-year history with MWBC and preached on the meeting’s theme, “Pressing Toward the Goal,” citing the Apostle Paul’s advice in Philippians 3 to take hold of Christ’s goals by forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead. He emphasized the importance of pastoral and lay leadership to the future of the convention and its churches.

“In the early days in Minnesota-Wisconsin, the mantra for success of new church starts was the three Ls: Location, Location and Location,” Dunning said. “Let’s forget about depending on Location, Location, Location. We must reach for the three L’s: Leadership, Leadership, Leadership.

“For those of us in the early generation in the convention, I have news for us: We are not going to live forever,” Dunning said. “I spend quite a bit of time thinking about who would be effective as the next generation of leadership in our congregation, and helping as best I can to prepare them to lead. And we need to be doing the same leadership development with laypeople at the association and the convention levels.”

A multimedia presentation and 10 brief memory testimonies also helped provide a sense of the history of the two-state convention.

— Shelby Alcott, a member of Layton Avenue Baptist Church in Greenfield, Wis., compared the growth of the convention to “how a plant can push its way through six inches or more of asphalt paving. The plant did not use brute force to do this. It was accomplished by exerting constant and unrelenting pressure. I think this is the way God has worked through His saints in [Minnesota and Wisconsin].”

— Bob Phillips, a member of Calvary Baptist Church in DePere, Wis., told how he and his wife in 1953 sensed the Holy Spirit leading them to start a mission that grew to become Highland Crest Baptist Church in Green Bay.

— Coy Finley, retired director of missions of the Northwoods Baptist Association, said that to “see young men in Christ grow, mature, improve and discover new approaches to church starting, and do a better job than you, is the greatest reward in the Kingdom building calling.”

— Mary Nell Sauls, member of Fellowship Baptist Church of Kenosha, Wis., told about the missions passion of her mother, Mary Dee Kellum, who in 1952 involved her, her sister and a neighbor in a Girls in Action/Woman’s Missionary Union organization in Kenosha, Wis., one year before the first Southern Baptist church was established in that state.

The convention elected new officers: president, Larry Faus, retired pastor of Gospel Baptist Church in Sparta, Wis.; first vice president, Daryl Stagg, pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church in Kenosha, Wis.; second vice president, Les Stevens, member of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Rochester, Minn.; and recording secretary, Clint Calvert, pastor of Abundant Life in Rochester.

Messengers adopted a $2,214,743 budget, only slightly larger than the previous year’s $2,209,998 budget. It continues to divide Cooperative Program gifts with 87 percent remaining in MWBC and 13 percent going to national and international causes through the Southern Baptist Convention.

In addition to the resolution of celebration, messengers also approved:

— a “resolution of remembrance and resolve” to follow the example of the Southern Baptist Convention missionaries killed in Yemen last year, including M-W Baptist Kathy Gariety.

— a resolution affirming bivocational ministry.

— a resolution urging MWBC churches and individuals to “pray for, promote and participate in” the M-W Baptist Foundation.

Next year’s annual meeting will be Oct. 28-30 at the Kahler Hotel in Rochester, Minn.

    About the Author

  • David Williams