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Virginia Baptists increase funding for new & revitalized congregations

ROANOKE, Va. (BP)–Virginia Baptists approved a $15 million budget Nov. 15 that dramatically increases funding to start congregations and reinvigorate existing ones in Virginia.

The action, taken during the Baptist General Association of Virginia’s Nov. 14-15 annual meeting in Roanoke, creates a new program of “church planting and revitalization” called Acts 17, based on strategies developed by the apostle Paul and described in the 17th chapter of the Book of Acts. Almost $1.3 million is allocated for Acts 17 in the 2001 budget, which begins Dec. 1.

BGAV leaders said the move is necessary to respond to Virginia’s population growth, especially among ethnic and international groups along the state’s “urban corridor,” which stretches from the Washington suburbs through Richmond to the Norfolk-Virginia Beach metropolitan area.

During its meeting, the BGAV also authorized a committee to study its relationship with a variety of national ministry partners, including the Southern Baptist Convention, whose shift to the theological right in the past two decades is at odds with the more moderate stance of the Virginia association.

The tension between the two organizations was highlighted at the outset of the meeting by outgoing president Thomas McCann, who said the BGAV and the SBC are “on divergent paths.”

“Remember, Virginia Baptists helped create the Southern Baptist Convention,” McCann said. “It is our child, not our parent. Clearly, it has grown away from us and no longer needs us. It is time to create something new.”

Messengers elected without opposition a retired Virginia Beach attorney as president. Darrell Foster, a member of Thalia Lynn Baptist Church, will serve with three other officers who also were elected unopposed: first vice president Reginald Warren, pastor of Sycamore Baptist Church, Franklin; second vice president Donna Hopkins-Britt, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, Roanoke; and clerk Fred Anderson, executive director of the Virginia Baptist Historical Society.

Hopkins-Britt is the first female pastor elected to a BGAV office, although four women have served as BGAV presidents and at least one ordained woman has been a vice president. Hopkins-Britt also preached the thematic interpretation during this year’s annual meeting.

The BGAV’s $15 million budget for 2001 is the same amount as this year’s. Also unchanged are the giving tracks available to churches for national and international ministries. World Mission 1 supports causes of the Southern Baptist Convention, World Mission 3 funds ministries of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and World Mission 2 supports a variety of SBC, CBF and other national and international causes. Churches also may craft their own giving plans.

However, the amount of money in the 2001 budget allocated for national and international ministries is decreased, primarily to fund the Acts 17 projects. In both the WM 2 and WM 3 tracks, Virginia ministries receive 70 percent of the funds, world mission causes 28 percent and Virginia partnership missions, 2 percent. In the WM 1 track, Virginia receives 64 percent, world mission causes 34 percent and partnership missions 2 percent.

The committee studying BGAV relations with national ministry partners will be named by newly elected president Darrell Foster. Although no deadline for the committee’s conclusions was specified in the motion, which was made by former BGAV President Walter Harrow of Deltaville, the committee is charged with recommending the “best possible uses in 2002 and beyond of BGAV resources” with a report to be made “to the appropriate session of the BGAV and to the appropriate budget committee.”

Although the BGAV works closely with a variety of national ministry partners — including the Southern Baptist Convention, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the Baptist World Alliance — most observers said the study is likely to focus on the SBC. Disagreements, especially over biblical interpretation and the role of women in ministry, between the SBC and the BGAV have flared for 20 years. Beginning in 1979, SBC presidents used their appointive power to pull the convention’s seminaries and mission boards to the right. By the early 1990s, the BGAV had altered its budgeting process to permit affiliated churches wide latitude to withold contributions to the SBC, and four years ago conservatives in Virginia started a new state convention, which now claims about 300 churches.

In his opening statements at this week’s BGAV meeting, outgoing President Thomas McCann said the Texas action has drawn national attention. “What Texans have done, added to what Virginia Baptists have already done, demonstrates that we are in the midst of denominational upheaval,” he said. “A revolution began in the ’70s. It was based on the appointive power of the [SBC] president. A counterrevolution began in the ’90s. It was based on the budget power of the state associations and local churches.

“It is clear to me that historic Virginia Baptists and the Southern Baptist Convention are on divergent paths. Virginia Baptists are one thing. The Southern Baptist Convention is something else. While we used to walk side by side, it is clear that the distance between us is growing. … The Southern Baptist Convention holds title to vast amounts of property, but it cannot hold title to our hearts.”

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