By Chris Turner
Director of Communications, TBMB
FRANKLIN — In an unprecedented move, leadership of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board made the decision to “suspend” both the 2020 Youth Evangelism Conference and the Woman’s Missionary Union annual Get Together/Connection.
“We did not make this decision to suspend these two great events lightly,” said Randy C. Davis, president and executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board. “The COVID-19 situation moved very rapidly Wednesday evening with the National Basketball Association suspending the rest of its season, the SEC basketball tournament here in Nashville moving forward with no spectators and President [Donald] Trump’s address to the nation.
“We have a TBMB COVID-19 Task Group that has have been daily monitoring this situation. We have communicated that we would make decisions regarding TBMB hosted or sponsored events based on the latest information available. After an emergency meeting late last night (March 11), I, along with the other members of our leadership team, felt it was in the best interest of those scheduled to attend these events to call them off immediately.”
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Davis said he appreciated the way Nashville Municipal Auditorium and the Gatlinburg Convention Center have “gone the extra mile” with such a tenuous situation. He also communicated TBMB leadership would be considering whether the two events will be postponed or canceled all together.
“We are still looking at that,” he said regarding postponement or cancelation. “We have to understand what contractual options are available to us. What we do know is that we needed to make the initial call because setup for YEC was scheduled to begin today (March 12). We recognize we are erring on the side of caution but with so many unknown variables, we could not in good conscience proceed. We have a responsibility to serve Tennessee Baptists and we feel the greatest way to serve them right now in this circumstance is to suspend these two very large events.”
The TBMB’s action follows a day when major Tennessee universities such as the University of Tennessee and Vanderbilt University both made decisions to suspend residential classes and move them to online platforms. Williamson and Davidson Country school systems in the Nashville area have both canceled classes for the remainder of the week. Some health officials are not calling for widespread cancelations but are advising prudence wherever possible.
Jay Barbier, TBMB youth ministry specialist, was disappointed but agreed suspending the event is the best course of action.
“The safety of all our attendees is paramount,” he said. “We recognize that youth are not as susceptible to the virus as older adults, but we also have to keep in mind the wellbeing of all those dedicated youth workers who would have been accompanying their youth to Nashville.
“I’m disappointed because we’ve been praying and preparing for most of the past year. I believe we would have had an amazing event. However, God is in control. He isn’t surprised by this. We’ll move forward and prepare something great for when we are able to gather for YEC.”
Attendance for YEC was projected to approach 6,000 and more than 1,500 were expected for the Get Together/Connection event scheduled in Gatlinburg March 19-22.
“It is unfortunate that we’ve had to suspend the event,” said Vickie Anderson, executive director of Tennessee WMU. “However, we did not want to expose the ladies who attend Get Together to unnecessary risks. Originally, we planned to move ahead, but the entire situation has become more tenuous over the past 24 hours. We felt it was in the best interest of our attendees, guests, speakers and vendors to make the call, allowing them enough time to adjust.”
Davis said he recognized how unprecedented the decision is regarding the two events, saying, “We’ve not really seen anything like this situation, so we are plowing new territory.” He advised people to continue checking the Center for Disease Control’s website (cdc.gov), to take practical precautions like consistent hand washing, and looking for opportunities during this time of cultural uncertainty to share hope with friends and neighbors concerned about the virus.
“Throughout history, the church rises up ‘for a time such as this,’” he said. “As Christians, we need to give evidence of the hope within us and display that hope to a frightened world. This may be one of those gospel moments in history where people are open and receptive to the Jesus Christ, so I’d encourage everyone to pray, and to be prepared to share Jesus with somebody.”