The 22nd annual gathering of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship continues today with presentation of a task force with recommendations to chart the organization’s future.

By Bob Allen

The 22nd annual Cooperative Baptist Fellowship began June 21 in Fort Worth, Texas, with a concert by singer-songwriter Carrie Newcomer, celebrations honoring retiring Executive Coordinator Daniel Vestal and opportunities for Fellowship Baptists to learn and share ideas for ministry together.

At the Wednesday evening concert held at Broadway Baptist Church, Bill Leonard, professor and founding dean of Wake Forest Divinity School, offered a reflection on their friendship and Vestal’s career.

Leonard, who attended junior high and high school with Vestal and his wife, Earlene, in Fort Worth, said Vestal started preaching at a very young age. One story tells of a young “Danny Vestal trying to convert armadillos in the back yard. You can’t get any more Baptist or Texas than that,” Leonard said.

“Danny and I were among just a few guys at the junior high school who didn’t wear leather jackets and ducktail hairstyle,” Leonard joked. “If memory serves, we both carried big King James Bibles to school. And not just to evangelize. They came in handy if you got into a fight.”

Leonard then talked about Vestal’s leadership as a moderate presidential candidate in the Southern Baptist Convention and at the founding of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

“His leadership, strength and character were so strong that there was little doubt who should lead the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship when it began 20 years ago,” Leonard said. “From the seventh grade to this very moment, I am honored to call you friend and to offer you the grateful thanks of a bunch of Texas Baptists.”

Newcomer, a Grammy Award-winning folk singer and songwriter, sang about community, the power of stories and change. A Quaker, Newcomer’s gentle style and thought-provoking lyrics were viewed as a fitting tribute to the Vestals.

At Wednesday’s pre-General Assembly meeting of the CBF Coordinating Council, members also honored Vestal, along with Terry Hamrick, retiring coordinator of missional leadership, and Rob Nash, CBF global missions coordinator, who will leave his position at the end of the month to teach at the McAfee School of Theology.

“Remember who called you,” said Hamrick, reflecting on the period of transition that he faces in retirement and that CBF faces in the coming year. “Remember the mission to which you are called. Create space so you can hear God calling you.”

CBF controller Larry Hurst reported that through May 31, CBF revenues were at $8.7 million, 95 percent of the projected amount for this period. Expenditures were available through April 30. They were at $6.5 million, 94 percent of projections.

More than 100 Fellowship Baptists attended the Leadership Institute. With the theme “Fixin’ Church: Finding a Way Forward in Crazy Times,” Fellowship Baptists heard practical ideas for living more faithfully and leading churches to a renewed identity in Christ.

At nearby Camp Broadway on the shoreline of Eagle Mountain Lake, approximately two dozen college students gathered for Fort Worth Sessions, a weeklong event focused this year on a Christian response to prison reform. This is the fifth year the Fellowship has offered a collegiate gathering at its General Assembly.

Also on Wednesday, CBF partner Baptist Women in Ministry (BWIM) hosted worship and lunch at Broadway Baptist Church.  

Lunch provided space for small group conversations on topics related to challenges and interests of women ministers. At the luncheon, Pam Durso, BWIM’s executive director, announced the 2011 Addie Davis Award recipients, Angela Fields of Atlanta, Ga., and Erin James-Brown of Abilene, Texas.

The General Assembly continues today and closes Friday night with a service that includes Vestal’s final address as CBF coordinator, followed by a reception. For those unable to attend, some sessions can be viewed either live or later on the CBF website.  

This story is based on reporting by CBF communications.