RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Virginia Baptists increased their support for a variety of state, national and international ministries — and for the second year in a row persuaded their budget committee to modify its proposal because of concerns about funding for educational institutions.
Messengers at the Nov 13-14 annual meeting of the Baptist General Association of Virginia in Virginia also elected a slate of officers who ran unopposed — continuing two decades of wins by candidates endorsed by the advocacy group Virginia Baptists Committed or the loose-knit organization of moderates that preceded it.
About 1,010 messengers and 190 visitors registered for the sessions at the Greater Richmond Convention Center. Three sermons by Lance Watson, pastor of the predominately African American St. Paul’s Baptist Church in Richmond, highlighted the growing racial diversity of the traditionally white BGAV — reflected in a lively worship service Tuesday night led by a mass choir from St. Paul’s. Other worship leaders were Ken Medema, a well-known singer and composer; Re:Creations, a two-person drama team from Baptist-affiliated Bluefield College in Bluefield, Va., whose appearances at BGAV meetings have become traditional; and a handbell choir from the Fredericksburg, Va., developmental disabilities home, a ministry of HopeTree Family Services, a Virginia Baptist social service agency.
Joe Lewis, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Petersburg, Va., was elected president in one of several brief — and almost discussion-free — business sessions, which included the approval of a $14,360,000 budget for 2008 and adoption of resolutions on the New Baptist Covenant, payday lenders and the shootings at Virginia Tech last April.
The $14,360,000 budget for 2008 is $160,000 more than this year’s. A new feature includes a reduction in direct allocations to the BGAV’s affiliated academies and colleges while adding scholarship allocations to each of the institutions. In addition, a newly created student and ministry formation scholarship fund will assist students financially at any college or seminary.
The change was initiated by the Virginia Baptist Mission Board’s emerging leaders subcommittee, which named a task force to study the issue, and was developed in conversations among key leaders of the mission board and the budget committee.
“The key question is, Do we want to continue to support institutional entities or do we want to support individual students as we look to the future?” according to a FAQ sheet distributed by the student scholarship study committee. “Instead of answering this question with an either/or response, we want to answer it with a both/and response. The BGAV wants to remain strong partners with our schools and academies, but also expand our support to students who choose to receive their education in other colleges or universities. We want to emphasize our support for the next generation of future leaders of Virginia Baptists.”
However, messengers balked at the reductions for the John Leland Center for Theological Studies, a BGAV-affiliated seminary in McLean, Va., whose allocation would have been reduced from $165,000 to $100,000. After hearing concerns raised in a budget breakout session the day before the budget vote, the budget committee altered its proposal, giving both Leland and Bluefield College, also slated for a reduction, direct allocations of $140,000 each, with the possibility of another $10,000 each in student scholarships. Over the next five years, the scholarships are expected to be increased to a total of $50,000 each.
It was the second year in a row messenger concerns have prompted a budget change. Last year, a successful motion from the floor increased funding for Bluefield from $142,000 to $307,000, while reducing allocations to Fork Union Military Academy in Fork Union, Va., from $100,000 to $10,000 and to Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va., from $65,000 to $10,000.
The new scholarships will be administered by the mission board’s ministerial education committee, which will be renamed the BGAV scholarship committee. Priority in awarding scholarships from the new student and ministry formation fund will be given to the BGAV’s existing educational partners, followed by historically Baptist educational partners and other public and private colleges and universities approved by the mission board.
As in previous years, the budget offers three pre-set tracks for international and national mission gifts and permits churches to craft their own plans. The World Mission 1 track sends 34 percent of its total to Southern Baptist Convention causes and 66 percent to Virginia causes; WM 2 sends 28 percent to a variety of SBC, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and other causes and 72 percent to Virginia causes; and WM 3 sends 28 percent to the CBF and 72 percent to Virginia causes.
In addition to Lewis, who had been the BGAV’s first vice president, other officers elected were Jeff Bloomer of Culpeper, an education administrator and member of Culpeper (Va.) Baptist Church, and Pat Bloxom of Mappsville, Va., a retired public health nurse and former president of Woman’s Missionary Union of Virginia and a member of Mappsville Baptist Church.
The elections continued the BGAV practice of alternating its one-year, non-renewable presidency between ministers and laypersons, and of elevating the sitting first vice president to the top office.
Fred Anderson also was elected to his 26th term as BGAV clerk. Anderson, executive director of the Virginia Baptist Historical Society, was elected by acclamation.
The resolution on the New Baptist Covenant encouraged BGAV leaders to continue the participation in the national meeting of Baptists in Atlanta, Jan. 31-Feb. 1, while urging it to “honor its promise and pledge for a nonpartisan gathering.” The other resolutions denounced “the payday lending industry and its practice of further impoverishing the poor” and expressed gratitude to the “brothers and sisters who have served so faithfully” in ministering to students and their families affected by the shootings at Virginia Tech.
The tragedy at Virginia Tech — and Virginia Baptists’ ministry in Blacksburg, Va., following the shootings — also was explored in a video presentation during the Tuesday night worship service, which included comments from Tommy McDearis, pastor of Blacksburg Baptist Church.
Messengers also approved a series of constitutional and bylaw changes recommended by the Virginia Baptist Mission Board, which functions as the BGAV’s constitution and bylaws committee. Most of the changes were described as an updating of language, though a few amendments were more substantial, including:
— The elimination of the Alma Hunt Offering for State Missions as a basis for a church’s messenger representation. Only gifts to the Virginia portion of the budget will provide representation at the annual meeting for a congregation.
— The replacement of the term “Cooperative Program” with the term “Cooperative Missions.” The new term has been in general use for some years, though until now the change was not official. A phrase added to the constitution notes, “Cooperative Missions is Virginia Baptists’ long-standing commitment to the Cooperative Program.”
— Giving authority for naming the chair of the BGAV budget committee to the BGAV president only. Previously the bylaws gave that responsibility to the president “and two vice presidents … acting as a committee.”
New mission partnership agreements signed at the meeting highlighted Virginia Baptists growing involvement in national and international ministries. Among them was a revised agreement between the BGAV and Woman’s Missionary Union of Virginia, which outlines relations between the two entities. BGAV Executive Director John Upton said the two have combined four separate agreements which governed the relationship into one document.
Other agreements were signed with the International Baptist Convention, a worldwide fellowship of English-language churches; the Free State Baptist Association of South Africa; and the Baptist Convention of Ontario and Quebec, which will increase ties between Virginia Baptists’ Latino Network and Hispanics in the two Canadian provinces.
Next year’s annual meeting will be Nov. 11-12 in Roanoke.
Robert Dilday is associate editor of the Religious Herald, newspaper of the Baptist General Association of Virginia.