BGAV to seek membership in Baptist World Alliance

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)--The Baptist General Association of Virginia will seek membership in the Baptist World Alliance and significantly increase financial support for the global organization following a pair of votes during the Nov. 9-10 BGAV annual meeting in Roanoke.

The BGAV now contributes more to the BWA than any convention or union in the world, following the Southern Baptist Convention’s withdrawal earlier this year.

Messengers adopted a 2005 budget of $14.4 million, up $100,000 over the current budget, and elected the first African American officer in the BGAV’s 181-year history.

They also learned that the number of congregations ending their BGAV affiliation to join an alternative conservative state convention has dwindled.

This year, only two churches left the BGAV to join the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia, which now numbers about 430 congregations, said Eddie Stratton, the BGAV’s treasurer. The SBCV was formed in 1996 in opposition to what it said was the BGAV’s theological liberalism and alleged attempts to distance itself from the Southern Baptist Convention.

Stratton also said that since 1996, eight churches which left the BGAV for the SBCV have renewed their original affiliation.

Messengers approved the creation of a committee to seek membership in the BWA without debate and with virtually no opposition. John Upton, BGAV executive director, said Virginia Baptists have historic and extensive ties to the BWA and that many serve as members of the BWA’s committees and commissions. But traditionally the BGAV’s churches have linked to the BWA through an affiliation with the Southern Baptist Convention. The SBC has made that impossible, he said, and a direct BGAV link is necessary.

Still unclear is whether Virginia will seek full membership -- which includes representation on the BWA’s governing general council -- or associate membership, a new category created this year to allow broader participation. Associate members will have only indirect representation on the council.

Upton said the BGAV membership committee will move quickly to contact BWA officials and begin the application process.

In adopting the 2005 budget -- which drew no debate and little opposition during its consideration -- the BGAV increased its annual support for the BWA from about $90,000 to about $150,000, largely by reducing funding for the SBC International Mission Board.

As in previous years, the 2005 budget offers churches three pre-set giving channels -- World Mission 1, 2 and 3 -- each of which is divided between Virginia and world ministries. Churches also may craft their own giving plan while remaining supportive of the Virginia Baptist Cooperative Program.

Virginia ministries receive 72 percent of the funds in WM2 and WM3, and 66 percent of WM1.

Southern Baptist Convention ministries are funded in the 34 percent world ministry portion of WM1. Cooperative Baptist Fellowship ministries are funded in the 28 percent world ministry portion of WM3.

WM2’s 28 percent world ministry portion funds SBC and CBF causes, as well as other national and international ministries, as determined by the BGAV.

Allocations in each world mission track are distributed by percentage and the dollar amounts are determined by the receipts channeled through each track. Last year, each percentage point was equal to about $15,000 and projections for the 2005 budget indicate the amount will be about the same.

The BWA’s percentage, which is included in the WM2 track, was increased from 6 percent to 10 percent. The additional four percentage points were taken from two other line items. One point came from the 2 percent allocated to Gateway Ministries to Unreached People Groups, a Paris-based mission project whose partnership with the BGAV concluded this year and will no longer be funded in the budget.

Three percentage points came from the WM2 allocation for the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board, which was reduced from 20.43 percent to 17.43 percent. The IMB’s allocation in the other portions of the budget is unaffected by the change, as is the IMB’s annual Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.

In response to a question during a breakout session on the budget, budget committee chair Darrell Foster said that reducing the IMB to fund the BWA was logical since it was the SBC’s withdrawal that had caused a reduction in BWA contributions.

A dispute between the BGAV and Averett University over homosexuality and biblical authority is reflected in the 2005 budget. The Virginia Baptist-affiliated school in Danville is allocated $150,000, down from the more than $350,000 allocated in 2004. However, those funds will remain in escrow until the dispute is resolved.

Last year, the BGAV withheld Averett’s $350,000 when one of the school’s religion professors endorsed the ordination of an openly gay man as an Episcopal bishop and when a chapel speaker disparaged a literal interpretation of Scripture. About $180,000 of that amount later was released to fund Virginia Baptist scholarship commitments at Averett. The rest of the 2004 allocation remains escrowed.

In an attempt to resolve the impasse, Averett offered to establish a program -- separate from its religion department -- to train bivocational ministers in exchange for the BGAV’s allocation. Details of the program are expected to be presented to the Virginia Baptist mission board at its Nov. 30-Dec. 1 meeting.

If the board chooses not to release the escrowed money, the budget committee is authorized to recommend to the BGAV in 2005 how the funds should be distributed.

Suffolk pastor Mark Croston was elected the first African American officer in the BGAV’s history.

Croston, pastor of East End Baptist Church, was elected second vice president.

Other officers are attorney Richard Smith of Columbia Baptist Church in Falls Church, president, and Bert Browning, pastor of Huguenot Road Baptist Church in Richmond, first vice president.

Messengers also re-elected Frederick J. Anderson, executive director of the Virginia Baptist Historical Society, to a 23rd term as clerk.

Also adopted by messengers at the annual meeting was an extensive report from a properties study committee commissioned by the Virginia Baptist mission board.

By approving the report, messengers agreed to:

-- make significant changes in the operation of Eagle Eyrie Baptist Conference Center and Camp Piankatank, both owned by Virginia Baptists.

-- sell Peaks of Otter, a wilderness camping facility near Bedford.

-- sell the Baptist campus ministry centers at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.

-- make modifications in the maintenance of the Virginia Baptist Resource Center and in the mission board’s fleet of vehicles.

Changes at Eagle Eyrie, Camp Piankatank and the Virginia Baptist Resource Center drew no debate during consideration of the report. But the sale of the Baptist campus center at VCU drew extended and at times emotional debate. Michael Martin, a former VCU student and member of Bruington Baptist Church in Bruington, said the center was a “haven for Christian students” and offered an amendment that the facility not be sold.

“The BSU building as it stands today is in a space that cannot be replaced,” Martin said. “If [the BSU is] confined to a room on campus or a building off campus, Baptists will have lost a powerful beacon of hope.”

Eleanor Hartman, associate pastor at Branch’s Baptist Church in Richmond, said campus centers provide “a place where students can have fun, feel safe and fellowship with other Christians.”

Other messengers expressed concern that selling the building would signal a diminishing of campus ministry at VCU and that the building’s strategic location would be impossible to replace.

But David Shelton, who chaired the subcommittee that recommended the sale, said Virginia Baptists “are not diminishing campus ministry at VCU.”

“The key to college ministry is not facilities but relationships,” he said.

Shelton, pastor of Centerville Baptist Church in Chesapeake, said 95 percent of the mission board’s campus ministry budget goes toward building maintenance and staff salaries -- leaving only 5 percent for ministry programs. He noted that other denominational and nondenominational campus ministries are reaching far more students without owning buildings.

The motion to sell the building ultimately passed, though an amendment modified it to “allow” the sale, not “mandate” it.

In other business at the annual meeting, messengers:

-- learned that the first year of pre-registration for the annual meeting was an “outstanding” success.

Kirby Knight, web and teaching resource coordinator for the Virginia Baptist mission board, said response from messengers who pre-registered by mail and Internet has been “very positive.”

A total of 1,345 messengers attended the annual meeting. However, 1,662 actually registered, Knight reported. That number includes messengers, visitors and reporters, as well as people who registered but did not attend the meeting.

A total of 1,040 people -- or 63 percent of total registration -- pre-registered, said Knight, who hopes to increase that percentage next year. “But this is an outstanding first effort,” he noted.

-- adopted resolutions commending the Virginia Baptist mission board for “faithful stewardship” of the financial contributions from churches; resolving to pray for America’s newly elected national leaders; expressing appreciation for U.S. military personnel on active duty around the world; and offering thanks for disaster relief efforts for victims of hurricanes and floods in the Southeast this fall.

Next year’s BGAV meeting will be Nov. 10-11 in Woodbridge.


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