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STATE MEETINGS: West Virginia to be self-sustaining; New York stalwart amid challenges

West Virginia aims ‘to become completely self-sustaining’

By Karen L. Willoughby

The West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists met virtually for its 50th anniversary celebration Nov. 5, and so far, 1,800 people have watched, according to Eric Ramsey, who has been the state convention’s executive director since February.

The convention’s “In West Virginia as it is in Heaven” annual meeting theme helped celebrate the milestone anniversary, as did Ramsey’s Zoom conversation with three former state convention executive directors – Tom Kinchen, who served from 1986-90; Terry Harper, who served from 2001-14; and Bill Henard, who served from 2015-19.

“It was remarkable to have a conversation with the former executive directors,” Ramsey said. “God had each one of these men for a very specific time in West Virginia, to fulfill a very specific role and assignment.

“The future of West Virginia Southern Baptists is very bright. We are extremely encouraged as we are moving into the future.”

During the two-hour online event, the 2021 budget of $1,441,213 was announced. The budget is down $855,330 from last year mostly because of a decrease in funding from the North American Mission Board (NAMB) and LifeWay Christian Resources.

“We went through the painful process of reducing the state convention staff by two administrative assistant roles.” Ramsey said.

Prior to Ramsey’s arrival, the NAMB-funded position of Church Planting Director was eliminated from the state convention staff. Danny Rumple, who held the position, continues to serve West Virginia Southern Baptists in a similar capacity through the NAMB Send West Virginia office.

“Our goal is to become completely self-sustaining,” Ramsey said. “We’re excited about that.”

Cooperative Program giving from the state convention’s churches this year so far is “spot on,” the executive director said. The budget reflects an anticipated $1,220,013 from churches in 2021, up from a budgeted $1,016,218 in 2020. Of that 41.5 percent will be forwarded to the Southern Baptist Convention for national CP missions and ministry. This allocation is the same as last year.

“The Cooperative Program is perhaps the most powerful mission funding system in the world,” Ramsey said. “We’re glad to contribute 41.5 percent and look forward to increasing that in the years to come.”

The only business at West Virginia’s annual meeting was to adopt the budget and receive two churches into the state convention. The 2020 officers will remain the same in 2021: President Mason Ballard, pastor of Resurrection Church in Charleston; First Vice President Larry Garrison, pastor of Open Door Baptist Church in Weirton; Second Vice President Jason Spade, pastor of Fairlawn Baptist Church in Parkersburg; and Recording Secretary Chuck Morrow, associational administrator for the Upper Ohio Valley Baptist Association.

West Virginia churches “financially weathered this past year surprisingly well,” Ramsey said. “West Virginia was one of the last two states to really be affected by COVID. It was us and Idaho. We watched other churches across the nation adapt to COVID challenges and adopted some best practices we learned from them.”

The next annual meeting is scheduled for Nov. 4-5, 2021, at the Fairfield Inn & Suites Conference Center in Wheeling, W.Va.

New York remains stalwart despite COVID

By Karen L. Willoughby

The Baptist Convention of New York took a three-phase, COVID-induced approach to its 2020 annual meeting utilizing the theme: “Thank God: We’ve Made It This Far.”

Phase 1, a pre-recorded “Annual Celebration” streamed Sept. 23, illustrated the effect of the global pandemic on the hard-hit state. Alberto Camacho, a Filipino pastor of The Rock Church in West Haverstraw, brought the president’s address. He lost his father and an uncle to the virus.

Bobby Dean, a Native American who pastors Tonawanda Indian Reservation Baptist Church and Highpoint Church in Pembroke, brought the annual sermon. Dean and other members of his family, diagnosed with COVID during the week following the annual celebration, have recovered.

“Never in our history has the Baptist Convention of New York experienced such challenges,” Executive Director Terry Robertson said. “Some of our churches have still been unable to return to worship services; some are doing in-person services; others are doing electronic services; and for still others, there is continued adjusting back and forth because of renewed spikes of COVID-19 outbreaks.”

Robertson said government guidelines have been especially rigid in New York.

Phase 2 of New York’s annual meeting, set for Nov. 22, is to be a pre-recorded and streamed Thanksgiving Celebration, featuring “Words of Thanks” from each of the multi-state convention’s 10 Baptist Associations and BCNY’s Women’s Ministry.

Phase 3 on Dec. 7 is to be a special called meeting of the state convention’s executive board to conduct limited business. The 2019 officers will remain the same until the 2021 annual meeting. The 2021 budget won’t be finalized until January. Any constitution or bylaw changes will wait until next year’s meeting, as yet unscheduled.

“Financially we continued to be challenged,” Robertson said of the convention’s 2020 budget projections. “That’s especially true since LifeWay withdrew funding to us and [the North American Mission Board] greatly reduced funding, and we’ve taken a slight hit with the churches’ Cooperative Program giving.”

Nonetheless, the national allocation for the state’s Cooperative Program giving is to remain at 30 percent for 2021.

“CP giving has been more stable than expected, though the last two months of 2020 will tell the final story of our decrease for this year,” Robertson said. “Through September we were encouraged that the decrease was balancing out but then October hit us hard and we’re not sure what to expect for November and December. That being said, giving 30 percent indicates we as a convention and our churches continue to be very committed to the Cooperative Program.”

Next year is to be a year of revitalization in the 515 churches in the regional convention that includes parts of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Massachusetts as well as New York.

“If as a convention we keep our focus on revitalization,” Robertson said, “it should enhance opportunities for churches to reach people, do discipleship, provide resources and plant churches.”

Adding to the challenges, though, are a hiring freeze and the retirement of two vocational staff members. The state convention staff consists of Robertson, a full-time executive assistant and a ministry assistant.

    About the Author

  • Karen Willoughby