Most Southern Baptist state conventions are either redesigning or canceling their 2020 annual meeting to prevent spread of COVID-19. As of Sept. 10, only 12 — including the South Carolina Baptist Convention — intended to proceed with in-person gatherings.
In Mississippi, where COVID-19 test results show a 14.51 percent positivity rate, the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board has postponed its annual meeting until further notice. The meeting was previously scheduled for Oct. 27. According to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, 2,526 people have died in the state from the virus.
Mississippi board leaders and meeting planners “will continue to monitor the pandemic in an effort to determine an appropriate time and place to conduct the annual meeting,” convention president Ken Hester said after the board’s Aug. 25 postponement. Hester, pastor of First Baptist Church of Pontotoc, said only the Civil War had prevented the convention from convening previously, in 1862 and 1863.
As allowed by the Mississippi convention constitution, the board will supervise all convention interests in the interim, including missions, education, social services and benevolent giving, and will appoint persons to fill any committee vacancies. Current convention officers will remain in place until the next annual meeting.
Mississippi is among seven state conventions either postponing or canceling their annual meetings. The others areAlabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Maryland/Delaware and Nevada.
The Dakota Baptist Convention, serving churches in both North and South Dakota, is among 12 currently scheduled to hold in-person gatherings, according to state reports to the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee. The SBC has 41 state or regional conventions.
“I’ve discovered that the two biggest enemies of wisdom are paralyzing fear and stubbornness,” said Fred MacDonald, the Dakota Baptist Convention’s executive director, in explaining their decision to meet Oct. 8-9 in Rapid City, S.D.
“The leaders of North and South Dakota have done a good job of trying to avoid these two extremes, encouraging safe practices without creating an atmosphere of fear and shutting down the ability to live life,” MacDonald said. “This has enabled people to make wise personal decisions, and it has put us in a position to make the decision to move forward with our plans for our annual Dakota Baptist gathering.”
The Dakotas have a combined COVID-19 death toll of 317, according to the Johns Hopkins resource center. South Dakota’s testing positivity rate is 9.40 percent; North Dakota’s is 6.01 percent.
South Dakota health officials have reported 100 cases in the state that are traceable to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, a 10-day annual event that drew nearly a half million bikers in August, NPR reported Sept. 2. To date, according to NPR, more than 260 cases in 12 states have been traced to the event, including a death in Minnesota.
“We will, of course, be encouraging Dakota Baptists to act wisely as they come to the meeting,” MacDonald said.
Among the other state conventions meeting in person is South Carolina, Nov. 9-10, at First Baptist Church, Columbia. At least 21 new coronavirus deaths and 790 new cases were reported in South Carolina on Sept. 15. Over the preceding week, there was an average of 1,080 cases per day, an increase of 19 percent from the average two weeks earlier. As of mid-September, there had been at least 134,122 cases and 3,132 deaths in South Carolina since the beginning of the pandemic, according to a New York Times database.
The Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention is among 10 conventions opting for virtual annual meetings.
The virtual meeting Nov. 5 will include updates on convention ministries and work, including the Hawaii Baptist Foundation, the Hawaii Baptist Academy, convention committees and international outreaches. Scripture, prayer, music and updates from Southern Baptist entities are planned, the HPBC said.
The state of Hawaii has suffered 75 COVID-19 deaths and has a testing positivity rate of 4.28 percent, according to the Johns Hopkins resource center.
Among the other state conventions opting for virtual meetings is Tennessee, Nov. 10. Plans for other virtual meetings vary and were still being finalized. Business conducted depends upon bylaws of the individual conventions, but typically state convention boards are authorized to make certain decisions until the next on-site gathering.
Some conventions have chosen to shorten their meetings. Puerto Rico has rescheduled until February 2021. Among the others holding abbreviated meetings is Georgia, Nov. 9. North Carolina was considering a shortened meeting Nov. 10, but the decision was to be finalized in September.
Four states are undecided, and Michigan will hold a hybrid gathering of in-person and virtual events Nov. 6.
Most abbreviated meetings will not include reports, and some meetings will be viewable on the corresponding convention’s website.
— Diana Chandler is a senior writer for Baptist Press.