Wednesday, July 11, 2007
It's been a week since we got home from the American Baptist Churches Biennial meeting... I wanted to write seriously about it but by now, a lot of the meeting has receded into that area of my brain where cobwebs outnumber synapses so you'll get some impressions only.
The meetings took place in the Washington DC Convention center... it s a cavernous place that really requires many more people than we had (about 2500) to feel "alive." Even the opening night which we shared with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, who were ending their convention, wasn't full. (they numbered about 3000.) The space made it difficult to feel connected and all of the meetings felt smaller than they were.
THE CBF is a lively group. Their display area was wonderful to walk through. The downside of them is that they seemed pretty homogeneous - white and southern.
The joint ABC/CBF worship began with a presentation from the pension/benefit board. Huh? What a silly way to celebrate our relationship even though it is a way that ABC has helped out the CBF.
ABC did a better job with media this year but still was not as good as many local churches.
The worship services leaned towards the "Swiss army knife" style that happens when you try to make an extremely diverse group of people happy. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it felt just like a Swiss army knife - lots of little parts that aren't big enough to do what they're meant to do while at the same time making the whole thing a less than useful monstrosity (yes, that is an exaggeration but I liked the word).
The preaching was less than I hoped for. Lauran Bethell was probably the stand out for me. She was the individual least likely to be known for her preaching but the genuineness of her presentation really worked for me. There was some wonderful music - a few of the choirs were amazing - and some that did nothing for me at all - enough said there. A number of the African American churches brought dancers as did a southeast Asian congregation. Fun.
Walter Shurden spoke at the Association for Baptist Principles meeting and was wonderful at laying out the foundation for who we are as baptists.
The best part of the meetings is getting together with friends, many of whom I get to see only at the biennials. We had some reasonable beer and some great conversations.
I was happy to see the racial diversity (we do this better than anyone else in the US) but saddened that the full breadth of who we are wasn't visible. The anglo conservatives didn't come. In addition to the folk from PSW who weren't there (and most would not have attended anyway), I didn't see any of the conservatives that I know from around the denomination. This lack of theological breadth made for less contention but it also made for some boring meetings and didn't feel quite "Baptist." For me, the diversity of theological stance is crucial to who we should be. There was also an awful lot of gray hair present...
The next biennial will be in Pasadena. I hopeful that the location will draw some new folk to the meeting and that the planners will build on what was done well... two years will tell.