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WRAP-UP: CBF pares its budget to $16.5M, partners with American Baptist churches

WASHINGTON (BP)–Nearly 2,600 registered attendees adopted a reduced operating budget and participated in a joint worship service with the American Baptist Churches USA June 28-29 at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly in Washington, D.C.

The Fellowship also affirmed its participation in the New Baptist Covenant, a broadly inclusive Baptist movement called for by former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton to counter what they call a negative image of Baptists and to address poverty, the environment and global conflicts.

The General Assembly adopted a 2007-08 operating budget of $16.5 million, a decrease from last year’s $17.05 million operating budget.

As of May 31, the CBF was operating at 88 percent of its 2006-07 operating budget. Through May, the organization had projected bringing in $15.8 million in revenues but had received only $13.6 million, or 86 percent of its projection.

At a CBF Coordinating Council meeting June 27, CBF’s executive coordinator, Daniel Vestal, warned that the CBF is in financial trouble and needs “radical rethinking” to reduce costs.

“I think staff has done a good job in trying to contain costs, minimize administration, reduce overlap — doing absolutely what we have to do and no more. But in all candor to you as a council, I think we’ve done about all we can do as staff. And so for us to reduce costs anymore in some ways would require some pretty radical rethinking,” Vestal said.

He added, “It’s time for us to really appeal to our constituency to support CBF ministry and mission with their dollars.”

The culminating worship service of the General Assembly celebrated a new partnership between the CBF and ABCUSA. The service included The Fellowship and American Baptists taking the Lord’s Supper together. The two groups also jointly appointed two missionary couples and have participated in joint ventures to rebuild churches and homes in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. In addition, they have planted five churches together.

In 2006, the conservative Pacific Southwest Region of the ABCUSA, with approximately 300 churches, severed ties with the denomination because of the ABCUSA’s failure to enforce its policy statements on the incompatibility of Christianity and the homosexual lifestyle. In the past two decades, for example, several groups within the ABCUSA such as the Evergreen Association in Washington and the Rochester-Genesee region of New York have accepted homosexuality-friendly churches from within their own regions.

“There is a common commitment to Christ and a common commitment to reach people for the Gospel, a common commitment to Baptist principles and a great desire to find the broader Baptist family,” Vestal said at a news conference June 29 of the relationship between the two groups. “And it’s worked.”

Also participating in the worship service were the Progressive National Baptist Convention and the District of Columbia Baptist Convention. The evening’s keynote address was an interview with Roy Medley, general secretary of ABCUSA; Tyrone Pitts, general secretary of the Progressive National Baptist Convention; and Vestal.

The CBF Coordinating Council June 27 unanimously adopted a statement of support for the New Baptist Covenant. Vestal previously had signed the covenant as a representative of the CBF.

Organizers of the covenant have scheduled a “Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant,” Jan. 30-Feb. 1, 2008, at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, which they hope will attract 20,000 Baptists.

“It is the desire of the Coordinating Council to enthusiastically affirm the New Baptist Covenant,” the statement said. “We appreciate the involvement of Coordinator Daniel Vestal and others in the CBF movement in the creation and signing of the New Baptist Covenant. We encourage the full involvement of the Fellowship and its leaders in continuing to promote the Covenant and the upcoming 2008 Convocation.

“Finally, we encourage congregations and individuals in our Fellowship to pray for the New Baptist Covenant, to be involved in this new movement of cooperation and fellowship, and to be present in Atlanta in January for the New Baptist Covenant Convocation.”

In other General Assembly news:

— Vestal said in his coordinator’s report that Fellowship Baptists must celebrate their freedom and be the “presence of Christ” in the world.

“We are free from the institutions of the past even as we birth and build new institutions for the present,” Vestal said. “We are free to work with people of other faiths for social justice and racial reconciliation. We are free to celebrate what other groups are doing, even as we celebrate what we are doing.

“We are free to experiment. We are free to explore. We are even free to fail.”

— David Coffey, president of the Baptist World Alliance, said in a June 28 general session that the CBF must have an anointed ministry to the world. He also thanked CBF for their participation in the BWA.

“I want to thank CBF for their loyalty and their commitment to the Baptist World Alliance,” he said. “Thank you for honoring the world family with your membership.”

–Attendees participated in the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Offering for Religious Liberty and Human Rights.

–Harriet Harral, a member of Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, and an organizational consultant, began her one-year term as CBF moderator. For the past year she served as moderator-elect.