Past year was mixed bag of challenges, opportunities
By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
FRANKLIN — Following 2020, a year that will forever be remembered for COVID-19, 2021 offered numerous headline opportunities for a nation still reeling from a worldwide pandemic.
Likewise, there was no shortage of news stories in the Tennessee Baptist Convention as leaders and churches dealt with a variety of challenges and opportunities during 2021.
Here’s a look at some of the headlines that shaped the landscape over the past 12 months:
• COVID-19 did not go away on Dec. 31, 2020. The worldwide pandemic continued throughout the year, forcing churches to adjust. Most churches and state conventions returned to regular activities and events throughout the year, but a late surge of COVID cases caused by a new strain of the virus near the end of 2021 has forced churches and Baptist leaders to be extremely cautious. Events such as Vacation Bible School, camps, the annual Summit, trustee meetings and more resumed in-person meetings last year although some major TBC-related events such as the Youth Evangelism Conference and the Woman’s Missionary Union Get-Together in Gatlinburg were held virtually for another year. Don’t be surprised if COVID continues to have an impact on our churches and nation again in 2022.
• In the second year of a worldwide pandemic, Tennessee Baptist Convention churches gave $34,914,459 through the Cooperative Program, the largest amount in 10 years. In addition, Tennessee Baptists gave $1,721,190 to the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions in 2020-21. Though it was the lowest total since 2014-15, it was still “an amazing amount given by Tennessee Baptists during a pandemic year when many churches weren’t meeting in the Fall of 2020, the time of the year most churches give to the offering,” said Vickie Anderson, executive director of Tennessee Woman’s Missionary Union.
• Trustees of The King’s Academy (Harrison-Chilhowee Baptist Academy) unanimously elected Jeremy Sandefur on March 4 to lead the 141-year-old Tennessee Baptist institution as president and headmaster. Sandefur joined The King’s Academy after spending eight years as Head of School at Cottage Hill Christian Academy in Mobile, Ala.
• Tennessee Baptist Adult Homes broke ground Nov. 30 for its first ministry in West Tennessee — Baptist Village-Humboldt. The new facility will join Baptist Village-Johnson City in providing Christian care and homes for senior adults in retirement. TBAH also has six group homes for adults with exceptional needs across the state.
• The Tennessee chapter of the Conservative Baptist Network launched the week of May 24. CBN “is the product of a grassroots movement that developed organically in the hearts and minds of devoted Southern Baptists who have become concerned about the current direction and perceived future of the (Southern Baptist) convention,” according to the organization’s website. Regional directors in Tennessee also were announced: Bryan Morris, Dyer, West Tennessee; Terry Wilkerson, Murfreesboro, Middle Tennessee; and Todd Stinnett, Knoxville, East Tennessee.
• Tennessee Baptist disaster relief volunteers and others responded in a powerful way due to major flooding in Humphreys County and especially Waverly on Aug. 21. More than 17 inches of rain fell in the county in one day. Dickson County and surrounding areas also were affected. First Baptist Church, Waverly, served as “Ground Zero” for weeks, offering help and hope to those affected. The church served as a distribution site and offered temporary housing to those affected by the flooding. DR teams from across the state have provided assistance and rebuilding efforts are underway. DR volunteers also responded to Hurricane Ida in Louisiana and tornadoes that ripped across Tennessee in December.
• For the first time since 2006, Nashville hosted the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention on June 15-16. The convention’s annual meeting was postponed in 2020 due to COVID-19. The messenger count for the 2021 annual meeting totaled 15,726, the largest attended convention since the turn of the century in 2000. A Tennessee seminary dean (Lee Brand Jr., of Mid-America Baptist Seminary in Cordova) was elected first vice president.
• And, speaking of the SBC, turmoil in the national convention also made headlines in 2021. In October, three Tennessee members of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention resigned from the entity prior to the remaining EC members voting to waive attorney-client privileges — a sticking point in the past several weeks to allowing a third-party investigator to move forward with its investigation of the EC’s handling of sexual abuse cases as mandated by messengers to the 2021 SBC annual meeting in June. In addition, a few days later (Oct. 11), the Nashville law firm of Guenther, Jordan & Price informed the Executive Committee that the firm will no longer represent the SBC entity because the board of directors voted to waive the attorney-client privilege. Jim Guenther of the law firm became the legal counsel for the EC in 1966 and that role later came to be filled by the law firm of Guenther, Jordan and Price. In late October, EC president Ronnie Floyd announced his resignation from the position after less than 30 months at the helm. He began his tenure in May of 2019.
• Clay Hallmark, pastor of First Baptist Church, Lexington, was elected president of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, succeeding Bruce Chesser, pastor of First Baptist Church, Hendersonville, who served two years due to COVID-19. Other officers elected to serve in 2022 are Travis Henderson of Knoxville, vice president, and Scott Brown of Waverly, second vice president.
• The Tennessee Baptist Mission Board restructured the state’s “mission fields” into six harvest fields with another harvest field devoted to ethnic congregations. In addition, each harvest field will now have a full-time team leader.
• The Tennessee Baptist Mission Board’s website received a “total overhaul” during 2021. Chris Turner, director of communications for the TBMB, noted that “our entire existence is to make Christ known by serving churches. The site will continue offering resources that will help them be successful.” The newly designed site features a “How Can We Help” section that has dropdown menus designed to steer most new users where they need to go.
• Baptist Press reported that church members are a minority in the United States for the first time in at least eight decades with just 47 percent identifying with a congregation, according to a Gallup poll released in March. The number was 70 percent in 1999, according to the article.
• Ryan Keaton joined the staff of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board as its first emerging generation specialist in an effort to help Tennessee Baptist churches in reaching young people between the ages of 20 and 40, many of whom are classified as “Millennials.” Prior to joining the TBMB staff, the 29-year-old Keaton served for 11 years at First Baptist Church, Lexington, where one of his responsibilities was overseeing ministries to young adults. “I see the need of reaching my generation,” he said during an interview with the Baptist and Reflector.
• During 2021, Renovacion Church, which meets at Tusculum Hills Baptist Church in Nashville, became the 100th Hispanic congregation planted and engaged with the Tennessee Baptist Convention. Since 2010, the number of Hispanic churches in the state has grown by 300 percent. B&R