By Lonnie Wilkey
FRANKLIN — In an historic action, directors of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, officers of the Tennessee Baptist Convention and the convention’s Committee on Arrangements voted overwhelmingly Aug. 27 to “postpone indefinitely” the annual meeting scheduled for Nov. 8-11 at Brentwood Baptist Church in Brentwood.
It is the first time in the 146-year history of the convention that an annual meeting will not be held.
The vote, which passed by a margin of 84 to 1, was taken during a special called Zoom meeting and was based on a recommendation of both the convention officers and the TBC Committee on Arrangements earlier this month.
Convention leaders reiterated that they did not want to cancel the annual meeting but, ultimately, heeded the advice of medical experts and others.
Clay Hallmark, chair of the TBMB board of directors, acknowledged that people are tired of seeing events canceled. Yet, Hallmark noted that leaders must make hard decisions that may not always be popular. “We cannot take the risk of people taking COVID-19 back to their churches,” he said.
“While it is not something we want to do, we feel it is something we must do,” Hallmark added.
Tiger Brooks, chair of the Committee on Arrangements, said he appreciated the unity shown as Tennessee Baptist leaders considered the pros and cons of an in-person annual meeting and risk exposing messengers and guests to COVID-19. Middle Tennessee is considered one of the “hot spots” for the virus in the state.
“There is far more to lose in coming together in-person than in not coming together,” noted Brooks, associate and executive pastor of Indian Springs Baptist Church, Kingsport.
Randy C. Davis, president and executive director of the TBMB and TBC president Bruce Chesser, who presided over the Aug. 27 meeting, addressed Tennessee Baptists in a video released after the called meeting:
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
article continues after video
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
“Earlier today (Aug. 27), we had a very historic vote,” Davis said. “With a great heart of unity, the decision was made to cancel Summit, which includes the annual meeting of the convention, the Pastors’ Conference and everything else typically associated with the event.”
Davis acknowledged he was “grieved” by the decision but from listening to medical opinions from all across the state and nationally, “COVID is still going to be with us come November.
“It just would not be wise or prudent to host the meeting,” Davis continued, noting that many messengers and guests who would attend Summit would be traveling from areas not greatly affected by the pandemic to an area that is experiencing a rise in the number of COVID cases. “We love our messengers too much to put them at any risk,” Davis said.
“It’s not a matter of fear. It is a matter of being faithful to our love of the Lord and the love for our people that we don’t want to bring people together.”
Chesser agreed wholeheartedly in the video message. “It grieves us all. No one wanted to do this,” he affirmed. “And, it’s a major deal when we do something that has never been done in the history of our convention. We understand that.”
He also noted that those who made the decision also understand “that not everyone is going to necessarily agree.”
In addition to the concern expressed by Davis about messengers coming to an area that is a hotspot for the pandemic, Chesser said his greatest concern was not “the fear or the thought of not having the Summit as much as if something happened at Summit and we had to stop having our church services again in our own communities.
“That would be devastating. … If not meeting for Summit keeps that from happening, to me it’s worth the sacrifice for all of us to be able to continue to meet in our local churches.”
Prior to the called TBMB directors meeting, the directors were given background information that included rationale for making the recommendation to postpone indefinitely.
Among the reasons:
- The threat to the health of individuals physically gathering in such a meeting will not appreciably be lessened between September and November.
- Medical opinions sought from several of the state’s leading epidemiology experts were all in agreement that hosting such an in-person meeting in November would not be wise.
- A survey of pastors and 2019 messengers revealed a willingness to attend the 2020 Summit (41.5 percent very likely and 20.9 percent somewhat likely) but comments expressed a high degree of concern and caution about attendance. There was a high expectation that strict social distancing and face masking be observed, although 9 percent said they would not attend if required to wear a mask.
- Since participants would represent 300-400 churches from across the state, the event could be a trigger for hotspots in more than 300 different Tennessee communities and could be a risk to the credibility and witness of Baptist churches in their local communities should Summit generate even a minor outbreak.
- There is no business of the convention, that could not otherwise by handled, significant enough to create the risk among messengers, churches and their communities (see separate article).
In addition to the indefinite postponement (cancellation) of Summit, the board of directors voted to move the 2021 meeting scheduled at Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova Nov. 9-10, to the same dates at Brentwood Baptist Church in Brentwood.