Sunday, June 27, 2010

Meet and Greet

One of the first people I saw at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in Charlotte greeted me with, “Didn’t you use to be somebody?” Well, I was and I am. In fact, everybody at the General Assembly was somebody to friends and colleagues they encountered.

The General Assembly is your typical “meet and greet” denominational meeting where you catch up with friends with a brief handshake or hug, chat for a few minutes before moving on, engage in a 15 to 20 minute conversation about what’s happening in your respective lives, or share a meal together. These are opportunities to share joys, troubles, words of encouragement, and assurances of prayer.

Of course, this type of interaction has some dangerous moments. You might run into the chair of that search committee that never called you back (embarrassing for that person) or misidentify someone you should know. I only had one serious experience of the latter this year. When you don’t recognize someone right off, it is usually safe to ask, “How are things at your church?” and hope that their response will trigger some recollection. Only problem was that I did this with a person who has not been in a church staff position in years and works for a professional organization. Embarrassing! I should have known better.

There were many more pleasant and affirming encounters. I ran into Esther Burroughs and her husband, Bob, who reminded me that I was the one that started her on the college lecture circuit talking about sex and marriage. A number of former students introduced me to their sons or daughters who would be college freshmen in the fall! I saw a number of former campus ministry colleagues, a number of whom were able to transition into good ministries as chaplains, educators, pastors, or church staff members when their state conventions changed their philosophy of college ministry.

I celebrated with some the joys of ministry and sympathized with others about the challenges they are facing. One friend shared his vision for a new church start that would reach unchurched people in the rural part of a southern state. Another talked about the work he and his wife will do in the Philippines.

I am always pleased to see and speak to those folks who have been my “heroes” in Baptist life—James Dunn, Carolyn Weatherford Crumpler, Emmanuel McCall, Bill Sherman, and Harlan Spurgeon (among many). Many of those individuals who have been my contemporaries—like Bill Leonard and Carolyn
Anderson--are now moving into another phase of their ministries but are still important contributors to the CBF movement. I was especially impressed by the young leaders, including a number of women, who have assumed leadership roles. I am pleased to know some of them personally

Of course, it was good to see former state CBF coordinator colleagues (although there is transition in those ranks) and Tennessee CBF friends. With a new coordinator, Terry Maples, on board, TCBF has an opportunity to move in new directions in the days ahead.

I also enjoyed time with some relatively new friends—my colleagues at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. We had to answer the question, “Where is Molly (Marshall)?” a number of times, but our president was busy representing the seminary’s interests at the Association of Theological Schools Biennial Meeting in Montreal (I assume that it was cooler there). Those of us representing the seminary were no substitute for Molly, but we did our best.

It was also a good time of fellowship with my “boss” and colleague, Mark Tidsworth, of Pinnacle Leadership Associates. Mark and Melanie, as well as their daughter Erin and her friend Jessica had a great Chinese meal together. Mark and I both attended the Leadership Institute with Alan Roxburgh and had the chance to share some insights from that and other parts of the program.

Of course, I noticed those who were not there, as well. Cecil Sherman has gone on to join his dear wife, Dot, leaving both a heritage and sense of loss. Other friends are at the age where they can no longer travel to the meetings, but they have made a significant contribution to the moderate movement. Then there are those who have chosen to move on to other pastures of denominational or vocational life. Their departure is our loss.

Since I am an only child, I value the folks I encountered at the General Assembly. They are my siblings, brothers and sisters in Christ. It was family reunion time.  Our personal conversations may be infrequent, but we have walked the same road together and this year our steps converged in Charlotte.

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