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Va. Baptists (BGAV) elect first black president

RICHMOND, Va. (BP) — Messengers to the Baptist General Association of Virginia elected the state association’s first black president, Mark Croston, during its Nov. 8-9 annual meeting in Richmond, Va.

They also restored ties with Averett University in Danville, Va., and adopted a reduced budget for 2012.

Croston, pastor of East End Baptist Church in Suffolk, Va., has been active in BGAV life for years, serving as its second vice president in 2005 and as president of the Virginia Baptist Pastors Conference from 2006-08. He has been a trustee of Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond and for more than 15 years has been a board member of the National African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention, serving as its president from 2005-08.

Croston also has been involved in the Virginia Baptist State Convention, one of two historically black Baptist conventions in the state. He continues to serve as first vice president of that organization.

Other BGAV officers — all elected without opposition — are first vice president Carl Johnson of Richmond, a retired chief financial officer of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board; Allen Jessee, pastor of Community Heights Baptist Church in Cedar Bluff, Va., reelected as second vice president; and Fred Anderson, executive director of the Virginia Baptist Historical Society, elected to a 30th term as clerk.

The Averett University action heals a conflict that ended a 146-year-old relationship with the school in 2005 — a dispute largely centered on Averett’s response to what were seen as gay-friendly statements by the chair of its religion department and a student advocacy group.

The proposal, adopted by messengers at the meeting without discussion or apparent opposition, was initiated by Averett’s trustees and its president, Tiffany Franks, who was elected about three years after the separation.

Last month Franks told the Virginia Baptist Mission Board that changes had been made in Averett’s religion department and that the school is seeking a New Testament professor who will become the department’s head. She also reported that new policies regarding student organizations had been adopted. Both measures apparently persuaded a BGAV study committee and the Mission Board to recommend a renewal of ties.

“During our discussions we reviewed every core value of Virginia Baptists,” said Jeff Bloomer, a retired Culpeper, Va., school administrator who chaired the study committee — a clear reference to a 1993 BGAV resolution affirming “the biblical teaching that homosexual behavior is sinful and unacceptable to Christians.” That statement is now included in the BGAV’s “core values.”

The day before the vote, Franks also endorsed the proposal and said the breach wasn’t primarily about attitudes toward homosexuality.

“This process began in the summer of 2008 when I had the privilege of starting as president at Averett,” said Franks, a member of West Main Baptist Church in Danville. “I have been listening and learning to understand the university’s history and what led to the separation. I promise you that the separation was far more about how the relationship [with the BGAV] was managed, nurtured, cared for and valued, and far less about any [single] incident.”

The 2012 budget of $12.4 million, which was adopted unanimously, is about $1 million less than the current budget of $13,350,000. The budget is broadly based on anticipated receipts this year, budget committee chair Jim Slatton, a retired Richmond pastor, said.

Virginia mission causes are allocated $8,928,000 and world mission causes $3,472,000. The budget continues to offer churches three pre-set giving tracks and a fourth customized option, all of which divide funds between Virginia ministries and national and international ministries.

The percentage divisions in the pre-set giving tracks remain unchanged:

— The World Missions 1 track provides 66 percent for Virginia ministries and 34 percent for Southern Baptist Convention ministries.

— The World Missions 2 track provides 72 percent for Virginia ministries and 28 percent for a combination of Virginia, SBC, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and other ministries.

— The World Missions 3 track provides 72 percent for Virginia ministries and 28 percent for CBF ministries.

The customized plan allows churches to select or delete any item in WM1, WM2 or WM3 and adjust percentages to reflect their own priorities.

About 845 messengers registered for this year’s BGAV meeting. Total registration, including guests, was 1,109.

Next year’s annual meeting of the Baptist General Association of Virginia will be Nov. 13-14 in Roanoke, Va.
Robert Dilday is managing editor of the Religious Herald (www.religiousherald.org), newsjournal of the Baptist General Association of Virginia.

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  • Robert Dilday