I travel to Atlanta this week to join thousands of other Baptists for the New Baptist Covenant meeting. The trip reminds me of an earlier meeting I attended in downtown Atlanta in December 1969. The meeting was Mission 70, a gathering of several thousand Baptist young adults, one that called that generation to missions and ministry for Christ.
The meeting was unique in many ways. Under the leadership of Ed Seabough, Mission 70 featured not only missionaries and those involved in social ministries, but upbeat music, creative worship, NBC news anchor John Chancellor, and opportunities for hands-on ministry in the Atlanta area. For many of the students, it was the first time to attend a racially integrated meeting of Baptists. Mission 70 was a testimony to the strength of the progressive movement within Southern Baptist life.
For me, as a student in his last year of seminary, it was also the opportunity to network with potential employers (including Glenn Yarbrough, who did offer me a collegiate ministry position the following spring). It was a landmark in my life and ministry.
Mission 70 was a time of hope, possibility, and youthful enthusiasm. Of course, it was followed by the growing quagmire of the Vietnam war, the disintegration of the Nixon presidency, and the beginning of the "conservative resurgence" in the Southern Baptist Convention. In spite of subsequent events, Mission 70 was a galvanizing event for a generation of lay people, ministers, and missionaries among Baptists in the south.
Thirty-seven years later, many of those Baptists are nearing retirement or have left the Baptist fold to join more progressive denominations. Although the New Baptist Covenant is not designed as a young adult meeting, I hope that it will challenge a new generation of Baptists to accept the mantle of missions and ministry in the name of Christ. There is a need for the "fresh wind of the Spirit" to blow among us. Let us pray to that end.