Coming together under the theme of “Building Bridges,” church messengers at the 198th annual meeting of the South Carolina Baptist Convention committed themselves to advancing the gospel to all people and to healing racial divisions in their home state and beyond.
The emotional high point of the Nov. 13-14 gathering was a Tuesday evening worship service at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, also known as “Mother Emanuel” to those who revere the church’s heritage as one of the oldest independent black congregations in the South.
The worship service was highlighted by an emotional testimony from Anthony Thompson, whose wife, Myra, was leading a Wednesday night Bible study at Emanuel on June 17, 2015, when a gunman — an avowed white supremacist — murdered her and eight other worshipers. Anthony Thompson’s public expression of forgiveness toward the killer was credited with setting the tone for how the city responded with calm in the days following the murders.
The site for the other sessions of the annual meeting was Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church, a historically African-American congregation in North Charleston. Augustus Robinson Jr., pastor of Mount Moriah, welcomed the messengers, saying of SCBC president Marshall Blalock, “We did not start our friendship yesterday or last year,” and that the annual meeting theme of “Building Bridges” reflected “the manifestations of Jesus Christ.”
Convention president Marshall Blalock opened the annual meeting by telling messengers that the “greatest bridge ever built was on a hill outside the gates of the city, on a cross, in the person of Jesus Christ, whose bridge spans gaps in the hearts of human beings to every people, language and culture.”
“This is the most polarized time I can ever recall,” said Blalock, “the most secular society in my lifetime. But we can trust the Savior who holds all authority, the one who has all the power” to “build bridges to lost people.”
“Wherever you go, build bridges,” Blalock urged. “He is with you. May our hearts be moved to build bridges for the gospel.”
Messengers also approved an “Advance Plan” operating budget, altered their bylaws to officially align convention board members more closely with the Baptist Faith & Message 2000, published resolutions, elected officers and heard about the ongoing work of the convention’s ministry partners (three colleges, two senior care facilities, a children’s home, a foundation, and the state Baptist magazine) as well as South Carolina Woman’s Missionary Union and SCBC Executive Board (Baptist building) ministries.
Messenger attendance at this year’s annual meeting was 747, up from last year’s 611. Next year’s SCBC annual meeting will be held Nov. 11-12 at Anderson Mill Road Baptist Church in Spartanburg.
The 2017 South Carolina Baptist Annual listed 2,138 affiliated churches and missions with a total membership of 568,519.