With a theme, “We’re Better Together,” 375 black and multicultural pastors and laypeople gathered at Lake Yale Baptist Conference Center Aug. 5-6 for the Black Multicultural Church State Fellowship Conference – the first gathering of its kind for Florida Baptists in 20 years.
Reminiscing about long-ago experiences attending such events while growing up as a preacher’s kid, Patrick Coats, black/multicultural church consultant for the Florida Baptist Convention, said, “This conference was an effort to rekindle the fire, re-engage our black and urban multicultural churches – letting them know that the Florida Baptist Convention is still their convention. We are still family, and we need you back at the table. What I love about the Florida Baptist Convention is that there is room for every nation and tribe.”
Black and multicultural churches “are a crucial part of the health and success of the Florida Baptist Convention. The central message was that we are better together. We need each other to survive and thrive within the post-Christian culture of our nation,” agreed Jeffery Singletary, Florida Baptists’ regional catalyst for Central Florida.
After a two-decade hiatus, the conference was needed at this time for a variety of reasons, Singletary said.
Acknowledging that many of these churches are disengaged from the Convention, feeling unappreciated, devalued and disenfranchised, Singletary said, “Because of current cultural crises and racial tension in America, the church of Jesus must stand united. For such a time as this, we must come together as the people of God and as a Convention and speak with one voice for a nation that has lost its moral and spiritual compass.”
Designed for both pastors and laypeople, the conference featured keynote messages as well as training sessions on worship, family ministry, women’s ministry, men’s ministry, Christ above culture, team leadership, senior adults, youth ministry, children’s ministry and evangelism.
Keynote speaker Tommy Green, Florida Baptists’ executive director-treasurer, said, “The unity of our churches in Florida is based in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Christ brings us all together. We are better together in Christ.”
Green, who recently celebrated his one-year anniversary leading Florida Baptists, “has as his heart a Convention for the churches. Every church – mega, large, small, church plant — is valued. This conference was a great catalyst for rebuilding relationships with our legacy churches who have fallen through the cracks,” said Coats.
Other speakers at the conference included: Erik Cummings, pastor, New Life Baptist Church of Carol City in Miami and secretary of the SBC National African American Fellowship; Richard Dunn, senior pastor, Faith Community Church, Miami; Jerome Symonette, pastor, Restoring Grace Community Church, Ft. Lauderdale; Mark Croston, national director, black church partnerships, LifeWay Christian Resources; and Sherard Burns, pastor for preaching and vision, Renewing Life Church, Miami.
Emanuel Roque, Florida Baptists’ Hispanic church catalyst, led a breakout session at the two-day conference. “It was my joy to worship, be edified through preaching and share in fellowship as we seek to show how the gospel unifies us . . . while also being challenged to reach Florida through all churches sharing and working together,” he said.
Pastor Symonette said that the gathering was, for him, “spiritually refreshing.”
“Beyond the issues of diversity, we need to be and we are united in what’s most important – the advancement of the gospel,” he said.
The conference was a “game-changer” for Felix Walters, pastor, El-Shaddai Baptist Church in Seffner. The pastor has been a part of the Southern Baptist Convention since 2009. “This conference,” he said, “gave me a fresh outlook on the entire convention.”
“We’re Better Together,” the conference theme, “says it all,” he believes.
Already, Florida Baptist leaders are making plans for next year’s conference, scheduled for Aug. 4-5, 2017, at Lake Yale Baptist Conference Center. Hundreds of Florida Baptists have already pre-registered for the event.
“This was not a moment; this is a movement. Next year’s conference promises to be bigger, better, larger and more diverse and inclusive, representing all of who we are as Florida Baptists, because we are better together,” Singletary said.
By Margaret Colson, Florida Baptist Convention, August 23, 2016