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Preaching, teaching, fellowship at 30th annual Black Church conference

Aoctavia Spencer-Miller of Baltimore, Md., was lead vocalist for the Whosoever Will Choir at the 2023 Black Church Leadership and Family Conference. Photo by Aaron Earls

RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP) — Pastor James Gailliard points out the intelligence of the Ethiopian eunuch, whose baptism was recorded in Acts 8.

“This is not a Black man with reading comprehension problems,” Gailliard told evening worshipers July 20 at the Black Church Leadership and Family Conference. “His native language was either Somali, Amharic or Oromo. He was reading either the Greek version of the Old Testament or a Hebrew text.”

James Gailliard, lead pastor of the multisite Word Tabernacle Church in Rocky Mount, N.C., preached the July 20 evening sermon at the 2023 Black Church Leadership and Family Conference. Photo by Aaron Earls

Pastor Peter Wherry in his sermon “Being Mrs. Lapidoth” pointed out the undeniable femininity and concurrent leadership of Judge Deborah as introduced in Judges 4:4. Lapidoth was Deborah’s husband, named in the same verse.

“Four successive feminine nouns are used in one verse to introduce her,” Wherry preached July 19. “Deborah, a female name which even in Hebrew has the feminine ending of the word leader,” is followed by prophetess, wife and she.

The North Carolina pastors’ exhortations signify the insight and teaching germane to the annual BCLFC, which marked its 30th year July 17-21 at Ridgecrest Conference Center. Gailliard is lead pastor of Word Tabernacle with campuses in Rocky Mount; Wherry is senior pastor of Mayfield Memorial Missionary Baptist Church in Charlotte.

Nightly and early morning preaching, daily Bible study from Lifeway Christian Resources’ YOU curriculum, men’s and women’s events, and a diversity of morning seminars drove the conference.

Mark Croston, national director of Black Church ministries for conference convener Lifeway Christian Resources, includes respite, education and recreation in the event.

Peter Wherry, senior pastor of Mayfield Memorial Missionary Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., preached the July 19 evening sermon at the 2023 Black Church Leadership and Family Conference. Photo by Aaron Earls

“It gets people out of their normal/familiar environments and to a place where we can hear and experience God in fresh new ways,” he said. “Additionally, this is an event where leaders don’t have to leave the family home. There is truly something for everyone.”

About 30 percent of the 600 who attended this year were first timers, Croston said, a consistent trend in the conference he believes will reach its pre-pandemic attendance of 1,000 or more.

“We have doubled our COVID low and should exceed our pre-pandemic numbers by next year,” Croston told Baptist Press. “Churches are hungry for insights and training on how to successfully navigate this post-pandemic paradigm.”

Richard Blackaby, president of Blackaby Ministries International, and William “Duce” Branch, assistant professor of preaching and Bible at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, preached the evening sermons July 17 and July 18, respectively.

Among conference speakers and teachers were Eric Beckham, lead pastor of Zion Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga.; Richard Gaines, senior pastor of Consolidated Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky.; David Sutton, lead pastor of Bread of Life Baptist Church in Chicago; Marc Lavarin, lead pastor of First Calvary Baptist Church in Durham, N.C.; Charles Salem, senior pastor of New Destiny Christian Church in Quincy, Fla.; and Jasper Paul Taylor, senior pastor of Broadview Missionary Baptist Church in Broadview, Ill.

Many attendees at the 2023 Black Church Leadership and Family Conference approached the altar for various reasons on the event’s evening worship July 20. Photo by Aaron Earls

Other key speakers and teachers were Monica Francis, executive minister of Wake Eden Baptist Church in the Bronx, N.Y.; Diann Ash, minister of Christian education at Greenforest Community Baptist Church in Decatur, Ga., and an adjunct professor of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary; and Bianca Howard, Centrifuge Camp director and a member of Zion Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga.

On tap were Centrifuge Camp Pastor Johnnell Williams, youth pastor of Zion Baptist Church in Ontario, Calif.; Jason Thomas, lead pastor of Epic Family Worship Church in New Orleans; and Morgan McCoy, an actress and producer whose film “Finding Boaz” was screened after the July 19 evening worship.

Worship leaders and coordinators were Glenn-Alan Shelton, minister of music and performing arts at Colonial Baptist Church in Randallstown, Md.; Russell M. Andrews and Cecilia Robinson, minister of music and assistant minister of music, respectively, at East End Baptist Church in Suffolk, Va.; Michael Pigg, evangelism team leader for the South Carolina Baptist Convention; and vocalist Aoctavia Stewart-Miller, fine arts director of Empowerment Temple African Methodist Episcopal, Baltimore, Md.

The children’s choir led worship on the closing night of the 2023 Black Church Leadership and Family Conference. Photo by Aaron Earls

SBC President Bart Barber greeted the crowd on opening night, as did Willie McLaurin, interim president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, one of several conference sponsors. Paul Chitwood, president of conference sponsor the International Mission Board, greeted attendees in a prepared video.

Among other sponsors were Samaritan’s Purse, World Vision, Logos Bible Software, the North American Mission Board, GuideStone Financial Resources, the Woman’s Missionary Union, the National African American Fellowship, and the Black Southern Baptist Denominational Servants Network.

Registration is open at ridgecrestconferencecenter.com for BCLFC 2024, scheduled July 22-26, 2024, at Ridgecrest.