There are booths representing fair trade coffee, Baptist Women in Ministry, the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, seminaries and divinity schools, church-related services, and more. There are sessions covering a wide variety of contemporary issues. Some sound useful; others do not. Some are well-planned and well-executed; others are not. Worship is a significant part of the event. And, the worship is fantastic. Before the official events started, the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists held a worship Service. It was fantastic.
Seeing old friends and making new ones plays a significant role in gatherings like this. These friendships are part of the richness of being in the family of Christ. Over the years, annual gatherings provide an opportunity to check-in on one another’s lives. Social media makes it easier to keep track of where friends live and what they are doing. But, being in one another’s physical presence deepens the relationships.
When we gather as a diverse group of Baptists, we can learn about what Baptist-oriented Christians are doing in different places. What music are they using? Are there new hymns? If my church has one style of worship, a gathering like this allows me to experience other styles of worship. What liturgies do people use? Some are good and worth taking home. Others might have sounded good in someone’s mind but did not feel right in worship. Being together and worshiping allows for experimentation and sharing.
One new experience for me was a story slam sponsored by Baptist News Global. The event highlighted empowering women. Six women told stories in the vein of The Moth Radio Hour—a storytelling show on NPR. The women’s stories were funny, heartbreaking, and powerful. They helped me better understand the experience of women in ministry. One woman told about the gut-wrenching time her boss told her to “smile more” after making an off-color, slightly misogynistic comment. She shared about what was going through her mind—lunch. She was trying to decide what to have for lunch. Instead of confronting the micro-aggression, she decided to have a hamburger for lunch. It was a strong choice to ignore the negative and focus on what was positive and good.
What am I taking away from my first CBF General Assembly? This is a group of my friends, and they love Jesus. They do not have a more genuine affection for God than other Christian groups, but this is my group. We share ideas and that helps me see my own church with fresh eyes. We worship together. We encourage one another. We partner together to do God’s work. And, in a year, we will get together again.