FORT WORTH, Texas – In the final session of the 2012 General Assembly, Daniel Vestal gave his final sermon as CBF executive coordinator, speaking to a crowd of 1,625 Fellowship Baptists about the Assembly’s theme of “Infinitely More” and Ephesians 3:20-21.
“Isn’t this really our ultimate purpose as CBF, to be a people that honors God and worships God and centers in God?” Vestal said. “So join me tonight in offering a benediction of praise to God and God alone. And as we do, we receive a blessing. It is in blessing God that we are blessed. It is in giving our heart’s devotion, and our mind’s attention and our will’s allegiance to God that we find the deepest needs of our lives fulfilled, the deepest longings of our spirit satisfied, the deepest questions of our intellect addressed.”
Vestal, who has served as CBF’s Executive Coordinator since 1996, reflected on the challenges and surprises of his time leading the Fellowship, including the generosity of Baptists and relationships that have sustained his ministry in challenging times.
“I can’t tell you how many times in the past 15 years I have been surprised by God,” Vestal said. “About the time I thought I had things ‘figured out’ or thought I understood what was going on in the culture or in the Baptist family or in CBF, something would happen that would show me how little I knew. I’ve been surprised by the caliber of the people who continue to step forward and say, ‘I want to serve God in the hard places, the remote places, the forgotten places.’”
Also Friday night, Vestal and his wife, Earlene, were honored with the announcement of the Daniel and Earlene Vestal Leadership Scholar Endowment, which will provide scholarships to outstanding seminary students at CBF partner schools. The first two recipients were presented Friday night ‒ Emily Holladay, a student at the McAfee School of Theology, and Mary Beth Gilbert Foust, a student at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond.
A second offering for CBF Global Missions was received bringing the two-day total raised to $32,847.
Assembly approves budget, nominating committee report, 2012 Task Force report
In the Friday business session, the Assembly approved the 2012 Task Force report, which included an amendment added on Thursday in the business breakout. On page 8, the pull-out statement about “letters of identity” from churches was changed to read “Congregations may embrace their identity by sending a letter that outlines the details of their partnership with CBF.” The Assembly approved the amendment before approving the full report in Friday’s business session.
“Thank you for launching us far down the road for the next 20 years,” moderator Colleen Burroughs said to the 2012 Task Force committee members. “It is a beautiful document, and we are grateful.”
Moderator-elect Keith Herron spoke to the next steps in the process, saying that he hopes to have a plan for implementation in place by the October meeting of the Coordinating Council.
“The task of implementation is to construct a road to the horizon,” said Herron, who is pastor of Holmeswood Baptist Church in Kansas City, Mo. “When we leave this gathering today, interim CBF executive coordinator Pat Anderson and I will gather a group of strategic thinkers and leaders to figure out how to best put this plan into action.”
The Assembly also approved the 2012-2013 CBF budget of $12.4 million and the nominating committee report, which included the election of moderator-elect Bill McConnell, a Tennessee businessman.
George Mason, chair of the Executive Coordinator Search Committee, spoke to attendees about the on-going search process.
“We have called 171 pastors to have conversations with them, and it was really fruitful to hear people talk about CBF life,” said Mason, pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas. “Then, we went to partners and began to talk with them. There is such a sense that we really are cooperative Baptists. We are finding confidence that we will be able to take this next step together. The people of God in CBF are going to make this successful whoever God leads us to.”
In the moderator’s report, Burroughs, vice president of Passport, Inc., reflected on a year which included the announcement of Vestal’s retirement, the Baptist Conference on Sexuality and Covenant and the completion of the 2012 Task Force report.
In what she called “a love letter to CBF,” Burroughs talked about the Fellowship’s beginning more than 20 years ago and how the organization continues to live out its founding values.
“If you keep your hands extended and hearts wide open, believing that God has something big in store for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, well, your children’s children will be around a long, long time from now,” Burroughs said. “And they will be singing the lullaby of the love ‒ sung to you from your birth – a song that will teach their children to be the kind, risk-taking, gracious presence of Jesus Christ in a world without borders. Thank you for letting me walk with you this year.”
Miley instructs Coordinating Council Alumni to ‘mind the gap’
More than 165 CBF Coordinating Council members and alumni gathered Friday for dinner.
Spirituality writer and columnist Jeanie Miley of Houston, Texas, gave the keynote address offering wisdom on “minding the gap” during times of transition.
“I wonder if minding the gap is the same as practicing resurrection,” Miley said. “Hasn’t that been what we’re doing all this time, practicing resurrecting for 21 years?”
Vestal presented the CBF Coordinating Council Distinguished Alumni Award to Helen Moore-Montgomery of McKinney, Texas.
Moore-Montgomery has been a part of the Fellowship from its inception, committed to providing opportunities for lay involvement. She has been a member of both the CBF Coordinating Council and CBF Oklahoma’s leadership council, and instrumental in the first Laity Luncheons at early General Assemblies.
“This was before the days of e-mail and smartphones,” Vestal said, “So Helen personally invited people via countless letters ad numerous phone calls.”
Clemons urges Fellowship Baptists to build a financial foundation for the future
At the annual gathering of the CBF Foundation’s Fellowship Heritage Society, featured speaker Hardy Clemons challenged attendees to move beyond American consumerism, drawing a stronger tie between faith and finances.
“It all belongs to God,” said Hardy, who retired from pastoral ministry in 2000 and now serves as an executive coach and counseling supervisor. “How much of it am I going to give back to God?”
Calling a 10 percent tithe not “the goal line but a kickoff” point, Clemons urged his audience to “give until it feels good … people like us can make a difference [and build] a foundation for the future that none of us will see.”
Leonard receives award from Baptist Joint Committee
More than 500 people attended the Baptist Joint Committee’s 22nd annual meeting Friday. At the lunch, Bill Leonard, a professor at Wake Forest School of Divinity, received the J.M. Dawson Religious Liberty Award from the Baptist Joint Committee, a CBF partner.
In his presentation, Leonard touched on points about pluralism being easy for Christians to affirm until now, cultural privilege with culture witness and rediscovering the power and energy of conscience. He stressed the importance of the BJC’s principles and the need for Baptists to support the separation between church and state.
“Let’s help provide religious pluralism, after all, we (Baptists) helped start it,” said Leonard.
CBB honors Vestal as members receive investment overview
More than 110 Church Benefits Board members received an update on the management of their retirement funds as well as education on investing for retirement at the annual CBB luncheon. The event began with a special recognition of Vestal and his role in establishing CBB as a trusted provided of benefits to CBF churches.
“You have been a significant partner with us at the Church Benefits Board,” said Chuck Moates, CBB chair, in presenting Vestal with a ceramic communion chalice. “This chalice symbolizes our shared faith in Jesus Christ and years of shared ministry together.”
CBB President Gary Skeen announced that the partnership with The Standard, the provider of financial services for CBB, has expanded. As of January, The Standard has been providing life insurance and disability insurance products for CBB members, expanding coverage at better rates.
“Our partnership with The Standard has moved into a whole new era,” Skeen said. “I can’t be more grateful.”
He also announced that the CBF 403(b) retirement plan’s investment adviser, Joe Derickson, was recently ranked in the top 100 out of more than 10,000 financial advisers in the country.
Rita Taylor-Rodriguez, regional pension manager for The Standard, presented an investment education workshop on financial behaviors and retirement readiness.
“You’ve got one of the top ranked investment advisers in the country, and Joe along with Gary and his team can be very beneficial to you and your church,” she said.
Read more about the Assembly, watch streaming video of the general sessions and view photographs at www.thefellowship.info/fortworth.
The 2013 CBF General Assembly will be held June 26-29 in Greensboro, N.C.
CBF is a fellowship of Baptist Christians and churches who share a passion for the Great Commission and a commitment to Baptist principles of faith and practice. The Fellowship’s mission is to serve Christians and churches as they discover and fulfill their God-given mission.
The following writers contributed to this story: Patricia Heys, Ryan Higgins, Emily Holladay, Lance Wallace and Carla Wynn Davis.