I know, I'm talking about the next steps for the participants in the New Baptist Covenant Celebration (NBCC) when I never really blogged about the meeting itself. But here's the thing . . . One of the main objectives of the NBCC was and is forming new relationships. I didn't want to miss my chance at the meeting to connect with new people and to re-connect with old friends by being holed up somewhere staring at my laptop. Then, when I got back home, there were pressing pastoral matters to handle, so there wasn't time. Read the great blogs on the NBCC of Tony Cartledge and John Pierce to get a report on the gathering itself.
On the meeting, I will only agree with Walter Shurden that the origin, nature, purpose and mission of the NBCC along with the opportunity for racial reconciliation and gender recognition make the gathering a most significant event in Baptist history. I cannot recall ever going to a convention-style Baptist event and coming away feeling so good about being Baptist.
While I have not had time or made time to seriously blog on the New Baptist Covenant (NBC) until now, I did, at nearly midnight last Sunday night, compose an email that I sent to the organizers of the gathering. Besides thanking them for their efforts, I responded to Jimmy Allen's request for suggestions on where we go from here found on page 60 of the NBCC program.
At the Mainstream Baptist breakfast held in conjunction with the Atlanta meeting, Walter "Buddy" Shurden did a little comparing and contrasting of the NBCC to the Triennial Convention of 1814. In that discussion he mentioned that there will be no "super convention" to come out of the NBCC. Shurden noted that there was no national Baptist body before 1814, only regional associations. Now there are plenty of national Baptist bodies so we really do not need another one. This comment started me thinking that perhaps we need a little bit of the reverse of the Triennial Convention.
It was so great to sit in meetings with Baptists whose skin is a different color than mine. I made some effort in Atlanta to strike up conversations with Baptists of other races. These conversations were wonderful, but altogether too brief and too superficial. Between sessions I often ran into fellow Baptists of the same denominational grouping and same skin color that I had not seen in a while and spent time with them. It was nice to talk with these old friends, but I sense that perhaps an opportunity was missed to reach across some old lines in a more profound way.
What if the NBC could spawn regional connections that cross old lines among Baptists? I am a white Baptist. Wouldn't it be great if I could reach out to African-American Baptists in this region who attended the NBC or who might be interested in attending a future convocation? We could get to know one another and maybe facilitate cooperation on local mission projects. Perhaps there could be joint worship and fellowship events.
Then, maybe in three years, there would be another national convocation. Maybe I would then travel to that event with a new African-American Baptist friend. Maybe instead of renewing only old acquaintances with only my fellow white friends of the same denominational group I would start running into black Baptists with whom I connected through regional NBC efforts to work together and get to know each other.
At the breakfast meeting mentioned above Shurden said that the NBC, rather than being about forming some new denominational structure, is "an effort to say something together about what we should be doing together." I think he's right and what happened in Atlanta was nothing short of miraculous in that regard. Is there a way for us to move beyond "saying" to "doing" more together through regional connections?
I assume, through the registration process, there is a data base of names and addresses of NBCC attendees. Is it possible to identify regional groupings of NBCC participants? Can potential facilitators be contacted to investigate bringing these Baptists together to discuss the possibilities of fellowship and cooperation across old Baptist lines in keeping with the spirit of the NBCC?
Maybe in a particular locale the only participants are all white or all black. Could those Baptists get together and discuss ways to deliberately reach across racial lines to share the message of the NBC with a view toward local fellowship and cooperation and perhaps participation in a convocation in 2011?
I am not suggesting any formal regional structure for the NBC. Let the area connections evolve as they will. In some cases there may be only one white Baptist pastor and one black Baptist pastor who didn't know each other before and they will form a relationship and explore ways for their two congregations to get together. In other cases perhaps the grouping will be larger and it may, on its own, decide to elect a leader and develop more structure for working together.
I know that what I suggest is no small task, but it may be possible and it may be the only way for us to try to really get to know one another in a more profound way. If the NBCC can lead to regional connections that tear down old walls that may be crumbling already then a moment in Atlanta will certainly become a powerful movement.