Plan Now for
CBFGA Senior Adult Retreat!
Date: Sunday Evening, May 5 -Wednesday Lunch, May 8, 2024
Place: First Baptist Church, St. Simons Island
If you need information please email Melissa Kremer at email@example.com or call/text (704)491-9814.
Over 130 CBFGA folks gathered at First Baptist Church, Augusta, November 6-7 to fellowship, worship, and seek a way forward as we considered the theme “God’s Story, Your Story, My Story.” Through compelling sermons by Dr. Chuck Poole, and in engaging conversations facilitated by Dr. Dave Odom, we looked hard at some of the difficulties our churches and ministers have faced through the COVID-19 pandemic, focusing on what it means to be a neighbor in these times.
Dr. Poole led in two worship experiences, first on Sunday evening with a message entitled, “God’s Story and Ours,” in which he challenged us to start with the big story —God’s story — and then figure out where we fit into that story, so that God’s story becomes our story. Our job, he said, is to “get in on what God is doing, by drawing our circle wider and wider and wider, as wide as the circle of welcome around God.” On Monday, in “Your Story and Mine,” Dr. Poole reflected on his own story, of his painful process of learning to draw that circle of welcome wider and wider, especially as it relates to encouraging and supporting women in ministry. Challenging us to claim our stories, Dr. Poole urged listeners to let the Holy Spirit help us to reach back and bless the best from our past, while reaching forward to “draw our circle of love wide, as wide as God’s circle of love, in every direction.”
That theme, of drawing the circle wide, segued nicely into enthusiastic table discussions with Dave Odom leading, as participants explored a series of questions prompted by the pandemic. A three-person panel representing different-sized churches in varied contexts helped facilitate the conversation in the first two sessions. The panelists were Suzanne Hooie, Minister of Missions and Spiritual Formation at First Baptist Church, Dalton; Dock Hollingsworth, Senior Pastor of Second-Ponce de Leon Baptist Church in Atlanta; and Christian Burton, Pastor of The Oaks Baptist Church in Lyons.
Questions considered during the three discussion sessions included:
SESSION ONE: Please describe your congregation’s neighborhood. What age, living conditions, work, and families? How does your congregation learn from and about your neighbors? How does your congregation stay in touch with the neighbors? What is staying the same and what is changing for your neighbors?
SESSION TWO: What ministries with neighbors has the church expanded or started during and beyond the lockdown period of COVID? How does your church determine success or know that you need to adjust? What have you learned about your leadership and the leadership of others during the last few years?
SESSION THREE: What are the questions frequently on the minds of your members?…your neighbors? Where do you start? What is a next most faithful step?
After hearing from the panel, each table continued the conversation, and conversation was lively! Particularly helpful was the discussion of how a church’s definition of “neighbor” may have changed in the past couple of years, and what reaching out to our neighbors means now. The ideas were as varied as the contexts of the churches represented. Suzanne told how her church has become involved more deeply and differently with its neighbors in Dalton by focusing on food insecurity in nearby areas, by taking Vacation Bible School to children in one area, and by moving from “check-writing” to deeply involved hands-on ministry. Christian spoke of his church renewing its 9/11 Mission Day, of doing simple acts as a church, meeting as best they can what people need. Sometimes figuring out what people need is the challenge, he admits. Dock discussed the challenge of “redeeming the space we have,” of finding new and innovative uses for his church’s expansive space. When asked how their churches determine success or know that they need to adjust, all three panelists said they are still trying to figure that out! All agreed that we as churches often are still caught in “the counting world,” but Suzanne said that “COVID gave us permission to break the measuring stick” and to try new ideas and even to fail. That session concluded with helpful discussion of what we have learned about our leadership and the leadership of others during these years.
Other highlights of the gathering included a question-and-answer dialogue with Paul Baxley, Executive Coordinator of CBF Global. He gave positive reports on an increase in this year’s Global Missions Offering and the possibility of naming new field personnel fairly soon, after several years’ pause. He also addressed the recent State of Women in Baptist Life report, noting that while we do well encouraging women to respond to God’s call, we are not calling them often enough to be pastors; he describes this as an integrity problem and called for churches and search committees to rise to the challenge to change the situation. We are living through a time, Baxley says, when all the foundations are shifting, but we have the assurance that God is at work giving boldness, courage, and agility.
The CBFGA Lancaster Scholars were recognized during dinner on Sunday evening, as was BWIM of Georgia’s Sarah Owen Ethridge scholarship recipient, Maggie Parker Andrews.
First Baptist Church, Augusta, provided excellent space and warm hospitality and worship leadership for the meeting, and we thank them for their support and careful planning.
Next year’s State Gathering will happen November 12-13,2023, at Central Baptist Church in Newnan.
As the new moderator of CBFGA, my hope is that we can return to normalcy in our churches during 2022. Zoom and livestream are wonderful tools, but oh, isn’t it grand when we can meet face to face and give our warm hugs of Christian fellowship! We can see smiles in the eyes above the masks but not that facial smile. Recently after serving remotely only on a committee with a church member I did not know, we met in the parking lot, without masks. Her first question: “Who are you? Are you Norma? I have not seen your face before.” Now you may be wondering, how did she not know a fellow church member with whom she was working on a committee? Well, my church, Scott Boulevard Baptist Church in Atlanta, had merged with First Baptist Church, Decatur, in August 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, while we were not meeting in person. For five years, Scott Boulevard had been sharing a worship space (the chapel), a Sunday School room, and office space at First Baptist, Decatur. We had been meeting members of First Baptist in the hallways, and some even visited our services occasionally, but unknown faces were covered with masks. We have come to realize as a merged church that we need more than a simple commercial directory as we get to know one another. We need to know a little information about each other to start and share in conversations and to meet the needs of our members.
So, as the new moderator, let me introduce myself by answering the question, “Who am I?”:
I grew up attending a small country church, Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church, in Southern Illinois — at Fairfield, midway between Evansville, Indiana, and St Louis, Missouri. A few years ago, the church’s minutes were shared with my family. It was awesome to see the beautiful handwriting of my grandfather as he wrote the minutes. My dad attended Sunday School for over sixty years without an absence! One Sunday, the church even brought Sunday School to him in the hospital. During those early years, I learned the stories of the Bible, the old country gospel songs, and that I was going to be hit by a train and die before I got home if I did not come forward at the altar call and repent! Of course, in the countryside between home and church there were no trains, only cows and fields of corn and soybeans. But there I also learned to serve the church and the community with the talents God had given me. My dad was an excellent example of being a giving soul, of being kind and serving others. The message at his funeral was Hebrews 11:4, “By faith he was commended as a righteous man.”
On to my path of service: I attended Southern Illinois University, where I was active in the BSU and often went with a team on weekend revivals. I received my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in elementary education and taught in Carbondale, Illinois. My husband was working for the Baptist Book Store, and we were transferred to Georgia. After staying home with my oldest son, I returned to work with the DeKalb School System, where I taught at various times grades 1-5, science lab, and Title 1 Math for 17 years. Then I spent six years as instructional and discipline assistant principal and my last eleven years as a principal. In DeKalb County, I always worked in the economically disadvantaged parts of the county. It was wonderful to watch students and teachers bloom. My last couple of years, my school was the DeKalb Elementary School of Arts, and I especially enjoyed working with my young students from Section 8 housing. I received my Specialist Degree in Educational Administration and completed the course work and comps for my Doctorate at Georgia State University (always the procrastinator). I taught senior adults in Sunday School (weekdays with children were enough) and was on the deacon council, but I did not become active in other church ministries until after retirement.
Then for seven years I cooked Wednesday evening meals at Scott Boulevard Baptist, and I worked hard on the committee to sell our church facility. Our church became a part of CBF from the beginning. Dr. John Finley was our pastor at the time. For several years, I was chair of the Deacons at Scott Boulevard — no one else would take the responsibility at the time! Those were interesting and exciting times.
In retirement, I have enjoyed traveling near and far, watching my sons Keith and Heath become mature and nurturing fathers and leaders, tutoring, being a care giver and taking on too many responsibilities. Keith and his five children live in Hillsdale, Michigan, where he is a band director. Heath and his family live in Greenville, South Carolina, where they are members of Augusta Road Baptist Church, and where he serves as a deacon. Currently, I am the State President of Georgia’s outstanding women educators’ group, Alpha Delta Kappa. I serve on the Elaine Bryan STEAM Foundation and am chairman-elect for the deacons at First Baptist Church, Decatur.
It is a pleasure to serve as Moderator of CBFGA. Jody and the staff are great leaders for our state, and it is a Godsend to have the organization of CBF. I am proud to be a part of CBFGA and CBF and therefore in an umbrella organization that welcomes all God’s children.
Blessings, and GO and BE the presence of God.