ST. LOUIS (BP)–While most students spend their summers taking part-time jobs or hanging out at the beach, one group of Southern Baptist students sacrifices a week of vacation for the sake of service to the SBC’s annual meeting.
Each year, 20 to 25 pages attend the SBC for the purpose of ensuring the smooth operation of all aspects of the convention. The pages are an elite group of Challengers and Acteens representing several state Baptist conventions.
An integral part of the inner workings of the annual meeting, pages have had numerous duties over the past 40 years since the program started. In the early 1960s, a few young men assisted with duties for the platform personnel; by the 1980s, the young men and women were regularly assisting the registration process, including a convention that swelled to more than 40,000 messengers.
Veteran SBC registration secretary Lee Porter has supervised pages in registration since 1963 and is an advocate for the program as an opportunity for service, education about the convention, spiritual development and grooming future SBC leaders.
Today, page responsibilities include delivering messages and motions to the platform from the convention floor, assisting SBC officials and media representatives, and working with the Resolutions Committee and recording secretary. Pages are most visible on the convention floor during general sessions as they literally “run” motions from microphone locations to the president on the platform.
“I have always been very grateful for the pages, because without them, I fear I would have had to run motions to the platform myself,” said Paige Patterson, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and a former SBC president.
Page duties were expanded in 2002 to assist select exhibitors in the SBC exhibit hall.
Steve Nelson, of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, praised the enthusiasm of the pages as “invaluable to our efforts to promote the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund and BEAT Hunger Weekends.”
“Their zeal for the Lord’s work makes them a tremendous help,” Nelson said. “No doubt, the SBC annual meeting could not function with such great efficiency were it not for the handiwork of these fine young men and women.”
Some state conventions, such as South Carolina and Texas, have long-standing traditions of sending pages, while others, such as Michigan and the Canadian Convention of Southern Baptists, are relative newcomers. Challenger pages are nominated to the North American Mission Board by their state conventions while Acteens National Panelists serve as pages on behalf of the Woman’s Missionary Union.
States represented by pages at the 2002 SBC included Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Mississippi, Michigan, Missouri, New Mexico, as well as Alberta, Canada.
The evolving SBC page program is representative of the latest Southern Baptist trend of revitalizing traditional youth mission education organizations. Both Challengers and Acteens have been in a process of redefinition since the late ’90s, with the “new Challengers” being launched in 2000. The Acteens redesign by the WMU is expected to be complete within the next year. The page experience has gone beyond a utility service to convention workers to an “on-mission” endeavor involving the students in Crossover and personal evangelism opportunities.
Pages attend the SBC expecting long hours, hard work and little recognition, according to Wanda Lee, WMU executive director.
“The young women and men who serve as pages at the Southern Baptist Convention provide an invaluable service,” Lee said. “The primary responsibility of these volunteers is to be available and to assist the convention wherever needed. They are vital behind the scenes as they run errands for convention officials and aid in emergency situations.”
Jack Wilkerson, vice president for business and finance for the SBC Executive Committee and convention manager, described their service as “essential to the operation and success of any Southern Baptist Convention.”
“Pages come from our Southern Baptist families with a heart focused on missions and a desire to serve those who attend our annual meeting,” Wilkerson said.
The pages are allowed one year of service, though a few have returned for a second year.
Brian Southerland of Monroe Missionary Baptist Church, Monroe, Mich., waited until his senior year before being selected.
“I really enjoyed being a page — it was one of the greatest experiences of my life,” Southerland said. “I am very thankful that God gave me the chance to work at the SBC. I will always remember this experience.”