At the end of June, I had the opportunity to attend the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) General Assembly in Atlanta, GA. I was grateful that Sarah Laurence and Matt Waller were able to go this year and that we were able to bump into Cathy Cole who attended a portion of the assembly, as well. Due to the pandemic and other factors, it had been 4 years since I had last attended a General Assembly, and it was a great joy to be able to gather with friends old and new once again. While I do not have the space to share all of the things that made it a joy, I do want to share a few highlights.

Some of the greatest opportunities of any General Assembly are found in the spaces between and around the official worship and workshop sessions when you can catch up with friends and meet new colleagues in ministry. These conversations are always an encouragement for one’s spirit, often inspire new ideas and insights for ministry, and can even lead to new and unexpected partnerships. One of the cups of coffee I was able to share was with Rev. Angela Zimmerman. If you recognize that name, it is probably because you have prayed for her. She was the Associate Pastor at First Baptist Church of Danville when I was called to from there to serve as your pastor. She has since been called as the pastor of another church in Virginia. Angela is a dear friend, and we were looking forward to catching up on life and ministry in general. However, I also wanted to see how she was doing because she and her church had been a target of a recent campaign by a few intolerant individuals to highlight Baptist churches with some form of connection to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) who had female pastors or ministers. The goal of that campaign was to say that women should not be pastors of any kind and that churches who have female pastors should be removed from the SBC. Angela had weathered that ordeal well; she was being actively supported by her church; and, in the midst of local media attention about it all, she was steering away from the controversy to highlight the good that her church had been doing and would continue to do in the community in the name of Jesus. It was good for my heart to see and hear that she was doing ok. Yet, I know I will continue to pray for her and other female ministers who were targeted, and I would ask you to do the same.

Another highlight of the General Assembly stood as an incredible contrast to the difficultly Angela had to navigate—it was a dinner attended by nearly 700 people to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Baptist Women in Ministry (BWIM), an organization that focuses on supporting and advocating for female ministers. We had the opportunity to speak words of blessing over female ministers—including our very own Sarah Laurence. We got to hear from leading voices advocating for ways women can be affirmed and supported in local churches. We were also able to participate in the kick-off of BWIM’s Multiply Campaign by collectively contributing $27,000 toward their good work in just 15 minutes that very night. The whole event emphasized the clear support that the CBF family gives to women in ministry.

The final highlight that I want to name for you was not any particular event, but was simply an awareness of the growing diversity of the CBF family. CBF has done good, intentional work over the last few years to partner with Hispanic and African-American churches and ministers. The fruit of that good work could be clearly seen not only in the make-up of those attending but also in the leadership of worship and in the content of workshops. We will all be better churches, ministers, and disciples for having the opportunity to fellowship with and learn alongside a greater breadth of God’s church.

Grace and Peace,

John Carroll