GREENSBORO, N.C. (BP)–After lots of discussion, a smaller crowd of messengers than anticipated changed the face of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina during their Nov. 12-14 annual meeting in Greensboro.
Messengers to the 177th annual meeting adopted a 2008-09 budget that includes no funds for Woman’s Missionary Union; accepted the recommendations of a study committee whose chairman said “Baptist Retirement Homes will no longer be a ministry of the convention”; and approved the first of two steps required to relinquish trustee selection at the convention’s five colleges.
Messengers also heard and then rejected an appeal from Myers Park Baptist Church in Charlotte to remain in fellowship; responded to an altar call to “give up negativism, backbiting and sniping at each other”; and elected Rick Speas, pastor of Old Town Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, as the new president.
They also elected Leland Kerr, director of missions for the Wilmington Baptist Association, and Phil Ortego, pastor of Scotts Hill Baptist Church in Wilmington, as first and second vice presidents; voted to extend their partnership with Hawaii and Pacific Rim churches through 2009; rallied around a statewide Operation Inasmuch event April 19, 2008; recognized First Baptist Church in Goldsboro as sponsor of the first Royal Ambassador chapter nationally 100 years ago; heard a report on “great and wondrous things” in missions and on the final push in Gulfport, Miss., to finish 700 houses before Dec. 31.
Just 2,784 attended the annual meeting which promised beforehand votes more significant than any in recent years. Attendance was just under last year’s 2,832 and was the lowest since the 2,316 who attended the 1985 meeting in Charlotte. Convention leadership was prepared for 4,500.
North Carolina has more than 4,000 churches with 1.4 million members.
In the midst of all the major decisions, only one vote required a ballot and that was the election for assistant recording secretary, won by the incumbent Johnson Gupton. Gupton’s election was the only spot with more than one candidate.
Tim Lowry of Balfour Baptist Church in Asheboro was newly elected as recording secretary.
While messengers voted overwhelmingly their willingness to hear the Myers Park appeal, they voted similarly to reject it and sustain the decision of their convention’s executive committee which ruled Nov. 12 the church was not in compliance with membership articles.
By its own admission, Myers Park’s acceptance of homosexuals into positions of leadership positions the church in opposition to membership article 6a3, which says any church that affirms or blesses homosexual behavior is to be considered “not in friendly cooperation” with the BSC.
Discussion on the proposal from the colleges to give up Cooperative Program funding in exchange for electing their own trustees, brought by the Council on Christian Higher Education, centered on assets and Baptist identity.
Messengers speaking against the proposal felt North Carolina Baptists were giving away many millions of dollars in assets and they feared the schools would shed their commitment to be Baptist with the attrition of convention-elected trustees.
Those speaking for the proposal, including Council on Christian Higher Education President Jesse Croom, assured messengers that being “Christian and Baptist is at the heart and core” of the North Carolina Baptist schools.
Campbell University President Jerry Wallace, designated spokesman for the other four educational institution presidents who joined him on stage, assured messengers that the institution presidents “wholeheartedly support” the proposal and “pledge continued fidelity to our Christian heritage and to the Baptist churches of North Carolina.”
Allan Blume, president of the BSC board of directors, reminded messengers that the convention has never owned the institutions, but that, “We have a trustee relationship in which they own the institutions.”
Ultimately messengers responded to Wallace who pled, “Please support us on this,” and approved the first of two required steps to release control of trustee elections for the four universities and one college.
The final session on Wednesday morning seldom draws a crowd. In fact there were just 120 in seats when opening music started, but by the time the budget debate began there were closer to 1,200, probably double last year’s final session attendance.
They were there for the two major issues: the budget and the Baptist Retirement Homes study committee report.
Messengers approved a $38.98 million budget for 2008 and $39.28 million in 2009. That represents a 3.13 percent increase the first year and .79 percent the next. But total budget was irrelevant to discussion, which focused instead on allocations for the North Carolina Missions Offering, which included nothing for Woman’s Missionary Union.
WMU, an autonomous auxiliary which has worked voluntarily among North Carolina Baptist churches since 1888, has been a major promoter and the single largest recipient of funds through the NCMO, budgeted to receive $865,000 of a $2.5 million goal in 2007. The 2008 goal has been dropped to $2 million, with nothing for WMU.
Roy Smith, BSC executive director-treasurer from 1983-98, moved that the NCMO portion of the budget be increased to $2.5 million with $500,000, or 20 percent, designated for WMU. While opponents of the amendment consistently expressed their appreciation for WMU, they also were obviously concerned over WMU decisions since April 2006 that put their personnel policies at odds with BSC policies.
Prior to the annual session, WMU voted to vacate offices it has shared with Baptist State Convention staff since 1947 and give up Cooperative Program-funded logistical support of an estimated $400,000 annually. Its leadership considered this fall, then rejected, initiating a separate offering for its own support, in favor of remaining as an NCMO recipient.
However, the budget adopted by the convention’s board of directors in a special called meeting Oct. 29 included nothing for WMU in the NCMO. At the same meeting, the board endorsed and encouraged WMU to begin receiving a special offering for its own support.
Donice Harrod, a messenger from First Baptist Church in Wilmington, said she and thousands of other women have supported the NCMO in North Carolina Baptist churches. She asked that WMU remain in the NCMO budget at least two more years because, without it, “Our financial base is being taken away from us.”
David MacEachern, pastor of Bat Cave Baptist Church, said the rift between the BSC and WMU-NC was avoidable and that WMU “messed up by not going through the bylaws of this convention.”
The bulk of the budget increase goes to church planting, which rises from $865,000 in 2007 to $1.3 million in 2008 and $1.43 million in 2009.
The budget retains the BSC’s four giving plans with small adjustments in each.
Plans A and D, which account for more than 80 percent of BSC income, increase the amount forwarded to the Southern Baptist Convention by one-half percent each year for two years. By 2009 the BSC-SBC division of North Carolina Cooperative Program receipts from churches will be 66-34.
Plan B decreases money to SBC causes by one-half percent each year in favor of the BSC.
Plan C decreases by one-half percent each year funds going to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, in favor of BSC.
Plan D increases funds to both the SBC and BSC by one half percent each year and decreases special national and international projects by 1 percent each year.
Messengers accepted the recommendations of the Baptist Retirement Homes study committee with just one amendment. No one was present from BRH to participate in the discussion.
Study committee chair Joanne Mitchell told messengers that it appears Baptist Retirement Homes “will no longer be a ministry of the convention because the convention will no longer have a voice in choosing the leadership.”
The study committee report recommended first that BSC should not sue the retirement homes to reverse any decisions.
The other recommendations are that:
1. BRH be asked to follow the process outlines in the BSC bylaws “to officially sever its relationship with the Convention and then seek to establish a new relationship.”
2. BSC give BRH one-half of the 2005 Cooperative Program allocation, now being held in escrow. That is the amount BRH would have received had its 2005 proposal come to fruition.
3. BSC begin to explore other ministry options for senior adults beyond those services BRH provides.
An amendment was approved to require BRH to initiate the process in recommendation No. 1 before it receives any additional funds.
Committee members feel “we have come a long way as a convention of churches,” Mitchell said. “At least our questions today are how to best care for the elderly in our churches and communities, and that’s a very good thing.”
Next year’s annual meeting of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina will be Nov. 10-12 at the Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro.
Norman Jameson is editor of the Biblical Recorder.