Wednesday, June 13, 2012

From Raleigh to Richmond: the Baptist History & Heritage Annual Conference

When the Baptist church in Raleigh was organized in 1812 on the second floor of the original state Capitol building, there were 23 charter members—9 white and 14 black. In 1868, there was a peaceful separation of the two groups when the newly emancipated members established their own congregation.
Thus begins the History page of the Web site of First Baptist Church, Salisbury Street, Raleigh, North Carolina. The corresponding page of First Baptist Church, Wilmington Street, adds that,
By 1859 the original membership of twenty-three had risen to 228 whites and 208 blacks, and the Church had relocated several times to accommodate that growth.

In June of 1868, Henry Jett and a delegation of approximately 200 blacks asked for letters of dismissal from the integrated Church to worship as a separate body under the name of the First Colored Baptist Church. Thus began the era of First Baptist Church as we know it today and the beginning of the tradition of black pastors.
Last week, I flew to Raleigh to attend the 2012 Baptist History & Heritage Annual Conference, sponsored by the Baptist History & Heritage Society. Sessions were hosted by both of these historic First Baptist Churches, and participants were privileged to hear the two pastors present the histories of their respective churches.

But that barely begins to tell the story of this conference. This was my second such conference; I attended last year's meeting that was held at Dallas Baptist University. I'm always amazed at the ground covered by the program prepared by Executive Director Bruce Gourley and the Society's Board and its officers.

This year's theme was Baptists and Theology, and keynote addresses were delivered at the three general sessions:
  • Glenn Jonas - "Nurturing the Vision: Highlights from a 200-Year-Old Baptist Church in Raleigh"
  • Bill Leonard - "Conviction and Contradiction: Reassessing Theological Formation in Baptist Identity"
  • Fisher Humphreys - "To Go Forward, We Must First Go Back: Baptist Theology Since 1950"
On Friday morning, 23 papers were presented in breakout sessions. To give you just a taste of the depth and breadth of the subjects covered, here are a few of the provocative titles:
  • John Jasper: Celebrated African American Preacher
  • Deconstructing Hobbs: Theologian-in-Residence for the SBC
  • E. Y. Mullins' Neglected Theological Foundation for Church-State Separation
  • Baptists and Sacramentalism: Engaging Recent Work in Baptist Sacramental Theology
  • Toward a Twentieth-Century Baptist Identity in America: Insights from the Baptist Congresses, 1882-1913
  • Friedrich Schleiermacher's Influence on the Baptist Thought of Harry Emerson Fosdick . . . and Ours
  • Worship Wars: Theological Perspectives in Hymnody
  • Locating Baptist Dogmatics: Defining and Defending Identity in the Absence of a Normative Theology
  • Baptist Ecclesiology from John Clark to E. Y. Mullins: The Personal, the Communal, and the Eschatological
And that's just a small sample of the material covered at this year's conference. If you want to really dig deep into Baptist history - from a variety of perspectives - you need to add the Baptist History & Heritage Annual Conference to your "bucket list." By the way, videos of all general and breakout sessions - including all paper presentations - will be up on the Baptist History & Heritage Society Web site within the next month. Check the TBC Midweek Baptist Roundup in July, and I'll let you know when those videos are available and provide links to them.

During the final session, Fred Anderson, executive director of the Virginia Baptist Historical Society, announced that the 2013 Baptist History & Heritage Annual Conference will be held on the campus of the University of Richmond. Centered on the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the meeting's theme will be Faith, Freedom, and Forgiveness.

"Our emphasis," Anderson said, "is on religion in the Civil War, emancipation, and reconciliation in our time." As always, there will be keynote addresses and presentations of papers covering various aspects of the theme. A special feature of next year's meeting will be a panel discussion on the subject of racial reconciliation.

We Baptists have a special heritage that is wide-ranging; the list of those who have contributed to, and influenced, that heritage is beyond what any of us can imagine. If you love our Baptist heritage and want to know more, start thinking about attending next year's Baptist History & Heritage Annual Conference in Richmond, Virginia. In the meantime, go to the Society's Web site at, avail yourself of its many resources, donate, and become a member. Believe me, your understanding and appreciation of your Baptist heritage will soon flow, as the beloved fountain in the old song, "deep and wide."

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