First Baptist Knoxville

For over 25 years, First Baptist Greensboro has been a part of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. The last weekend in March gave us plenty of opportunities to celebrate this partnership. March 28-29, our church hosted the 25th Anniversary General Assembly of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina, thanks to wonderful hospitality offered by our team of staff (especially Steering Committee reps, Rosemary Kellam and Alisa Windsor) and volunteers. Then, on Sunday, March 31, Dr. Paul Baxley — the newly installed Executive Coordinator of CBF Global — was our guest, leading in Sunday School and preaching in Morning Worship.

“So, what is CBF?” many of us, especially some newer to our church, might ask. CBF is a network of approximately 1,800 churches. But more than that, it is a particular way of being “Baptist.” It’s an opportunity for collaborative ministry, education, resourcing, and global mission for churches and individuals committed to historic Baptist freedoms. In an era of increasing independence and isolation, CBF and CBF-NC are reminders of the power of connection and community. When Paul Baxley is asked to communicate his vision for CBF, and why it matters to local congregations, he speaks of this connection and relationship. “I believe cooperation is essential for the faithfulness of our congregations,” he has written before. “I know it has a future — not because it was once a reaction against fundamentalism — but instead because it is a reflection of the image of the Triune God and an expression of the way God works within the Trinity and within the world.”

I experienced this connection powerfully last month after the young adult brother of dear friends died in Knoxville, where I led his funeral services. The young man was not a member of any church at the time of his passing, but many of his family are churchgoers, including my friends, his brother and sister-in-law. They were members and leaders of Metro Baptist in New York during my time as pastor and following. Prior to that, the sister-in-law grew up at Immanuel Baptist in Nashville, where I served as youth minister and Jenny and I remain very close to her entire family. Given the importance of church in their lives, and the sensitivity of the time, we all agreed it would be most fitting to hold the funeral in a church.

I contacted a minister friend, who once worked at First Baptist Knoxville. He immediately listed a number of ministers at First Knoxville, as well as other churches in the area, who might be willing to accommodate. The first I contacted was Rev. Pam Neal, Minister of Administration at FBC Knoxville. Despite the “away/vacation” response I received, she responded within 5 minutes, saying she had already heard about the death of this young man through her own networks, and that First Knoxville was willing to do anything they could. We planned the service for the upcoming Saturday, where First Knoxville provided pianist, sound tech, custodial support, and space for family viewing, visitation, service and private preparation. Rev. Neal herself, who was already committed and busy throughout the day on Saturday, still found ways to return to the church numerous times throughout the hours we were there, acting as another pastor to the family, bringing water, helping with logistics, helping me find quiet space for final prep, advising on my many questions on the “customs” of services at First Knoxville. At one point she found me in a quiet moment and gracefully and intuitively asked me if she could pray with me. For one Saturday last month, First Baptist Knoxville became our church, no less than if we had been lifelong members.

First Baptist Knoxville, First Baptist Greensboro, Metro Baptist in New York, and Immanuel Baptist in Nashville are churches that share one primary thing in common — a common sense of connection and community through the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Because of this, there was no trust to establish or credentials to show. We were already related. The next time someone asks me, “What is CBF?” I think I might just tell the story about how in ways critical and healing, during the hardest time of a family’s life when they were far from their own homes, they had a church, and with it a reminder of the love of God who is always in relationship with us and enabling us to relate, connect, cooperate with one another.

This article appeared in the April 2019 Connections Publication of First Baptist Church Greensboro. Read more about April at First Baptist and subscribe to the monthly newsletter.