Florida Baptists celebrate unity, approve 2022 budget, address sexual abuse concerns during 2021 annual meeting

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LAKELAND–Florida Baptists celebrated the ties that bind during the 2021 Florida Baptist State Convention meeting held Nov. 8-9 at Lakes Church in Lakeland.

The theme of the two-day event, “Blessed Be the Tie,” and scripture found in Philippians 1:27 was the focus of the President’s Message given by Erik Cummings, lead pastor of New Life Baptist Church in Carol City located in metro Miami-Dade.

“It’s easy to get together. It’s a little tricky to stay together,” said Cummings, who has served as president for the past three years after the 2020 meeting was cancelled due to COVID concerns.

“The reality is we’ve dealt with some bad … tough … sad times. These have been some interesting days in our lives individually and collectively.

“We have seen our Baptist battles play out on national media. We have seen ugliness spill out on social media where the casualties of friendly fire have been great … all while it seems our purpose and mission have taken a back seat, sadly.”

Other speakers during the meeting and Pastors’ Conference lamented the strife within the Southern Baptist Convention yet offered reassurance and hope that God is still in control.

The meeting drew 1,624 in attendance, including 970 messengers.

Messengers overwhelming approved a recommendation to create a nine-person special committee to examine policies and procedures governing sexual abuse allegation reporting, sexual abuse survivor care and sexual abuse prevention within all cooperating ministries of the Florida Baptist State Convention.

Brian Stowe, Erik CummingsIn presenting the recommendation from the State Board of Missions, President Brian Stowe said, “It is reprehensible that this sin exists,” adding that the State Board “has worked proactively in this area for years.”

In 2019, the State Board underwent a comprehensive review of existing policies governing the prevention of sexual abuse, abuse reporting and care that resulted in establishing several new policies, including the background screening of all board members.

Stowe reported that over the past weeks, “We have wrestled with the question of what more should we do? We believe our actions in the past are appropriate and designed to address the areas of sexual abuse, abuse reporting and care but we want to go a step further.”

The recommendation can be found here: FBSC Messengers overwhelmingly authorize special committee to review policies, procedures of sexual abuse allegation reporting, survivor care and prevention.

During a time for questions, two messengers addressed the recommendation.

Lydia Greear, a messenger from Anastasia Baptist Church in St. Augustine, asked for “urgent and expedient formation” of the committee and for the timing of the report’s findings to be moved forward.

Teresa Juarbe, a messenger from First Baptist Church in Dade City, suggested the number of committee members be increased to include a male survivor of sexual abuse–along with the female survivor–and asked for the committee makeup to be representative of the ethnic and culturally diverse communities that compose the state convention.

In other business, messengers approved a 2022 Cooperative Program goal of $29,150,000 to be distributed 51 percent to Southern Baptist Convention causes and 49 percent for Florida Baptist Convention causes. The 51/49 split is the same distribution Florida Baptists have approved since 2016, the first budget recommendation after Tommy Green became executive director-treasurer in 2015. Florida’s 2022 budget is a $650,000 increase over the 2021 budget of $28,500,000.

A slate of FBSC officers for 2022 was nominated and elected without opposition. Tampa pastor Paul Purvis, newly elected president, was nominated by Jimmy Scroggins, pastor of Family Church in West Palm Beach. “We need a pastor who will help us stay together, stay the course and listen to all Southern Baptists,” Scroggins said. Purvis has served as pastor of Mission Hill Church, formerly First Baptist Church in Temple Terrace, for the past decade.

Paul Purvis, Florida Baptist State ConventionUnder his leadership, the church has grown from a single location in Temple Terrace, to a multi-neighborhood church with three locations. The church is located on the doorstep of the University of South Florida and has aggressively reached out to the campus. During the past decade, Mission Hill has baptized over 1,000 new believers.

Dwight Woods, senior pastor of Family of God Baptist Church in Panama City since December 2017, was elected first vice president, nominated by fellow Panhandle pastor Mike Orr who leads First Baptist Church in Chipley.

Florida Baptist layperson John Bozard, a member of First Baptist Church in Orlando, was nominated by his pastor David Uth as second vice president.

Randy Huckabee, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dade City, was tapped as recording secretary.

The 2022 Florida Baptist State Convention is set for Nov. 14-15 at Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola.

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