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SBC annual meeting in Atlanta moves to Tues.-Wed. format
By Herb Hollinger
     ATLANTA (BP)--An abbreviated two-day session of the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, approved by a messenger vote last year, is set for June 15-16 in Atlanta's Georgia Dome with the theme "His Tears ... Our Task!"
     For a number of years, the annual meeting has been two and a half days, starting Tuesday morning and finishing Thursday at noon. However, as early as 20 years ago, the convention met for three full days and 50 years ago the annual meeting started Wednesday morning and finished with an evangelistic service Sunday night. The new schedule still allows for Wednesday afternoon free for messengers, with SBC seminaries' alumni and other groups planning meetings during that period.
     An SBC official predicted 14,000 messengers would register for the 142nd session of the SBC in its 154-year history. Messengers will hear preaching, singing and reports from SBC entities and vote on a number of items, including recommendations not to change the name of the convention and not to move the convention next year from Orlando, Fla.
     Also on the agenda is a testimony by Reggie White, professional football player, seen as a future National Football League Hall of Fame member, from Knoxville, Tenn. White has raised some controversy with public remarks considered upholding traditional family values and calling the homosexual lifestyle not biblical. The black minister is pastor of a church in Knoxville which was destroyed in a fire officials said was caused by arson.
     An election for SBC president will also be held, although tradition holds that a president serving in his first year is given a second one-year term. Paige Patterson, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, N.C., was elected last year in Salt Lake City to a one-year term as president. No opposition has surfaced to Patterson's re-election.
     Messengers will be asked to approve a record $159,583,743 Cooperative Program Allocation Budget for SBC entities for 1999-2000. Nearly $5 million over the current year's budget, the proposed budget will retain the same distribution percentages to 12 SBC entities.
The two-day schedule for the annual meeting will mean messengers wanting to introduce resolutions for consideration must do so before the start of the Tuesday afternoon session. Messengers who want to have resolutions considered are urged to send them to the Resolutions Committee before the annual meeting.
     Messengers will vote on a recommendation not to change the name of the convention. The SBC's Executive Committee discussed two proposals offered at last year's annual meeting but decided in its February meeting there is "no compelling rationale" for a change and "is not justified when all factors are taken into account."
     Also, the Executive Committee, acting on several referred motions from Salt Lake City last year to move the location of the 2000 session, will recommend not moving the annual meeting in 2000 from Orlando, Fla. The recommendation says messengers to the Orlando meeting will "meet the challenge presented by worldliness that the Southern Baptist Convention has met in other convention cities." The recommendation also says "the faithfulness of Southern Baptists to Crossover Orlando (evangelistic efforts prior to the start of the SBC) and the refusal to patronize the Disney organization will be a profound testimony for the cause of Christ to Orlando, Florida, and the nation."
     The recommendation also says "... the faithfulness of Southern Baptists in keeping contractual agreements will be a positive and effective testimony for the cause of Christ to the hotel and convention industry."
      Orlando is the home of Disney World, thus the referred motions stem from the so-called boycott of The Disney Company endorsed by messengers to the 1997 SBC annual meeting in Dallas, challenging various "anti-family" and "anti-Christian" directions and specific practices at the entertainment conglomerate.
     Another referral from the Salt Lake City meeting would add to the Baptist Faith and Message statement of Baptist beliefs, Article I, which includes a reference to Scripture's truth: "in every area of which it speaks." The Executive Committee declined to act on the referral following a recommendation of "no action be taken" from the Council of Seminary Presidents.
An addition to the Baptist Faith and Message statement last year regarding the article on the family, specifically husbands' and wives' relationships, drew widespread media interest and debate in religious circles following the Salt Lake City meeting.
      The theme of the Atlanta meeting, "His Tears ... Our Task!" is taken from Luke 19:41 in which Jesus " ... beheld the city, and wept ..." In addition to Patterson bringing the annual message of the SBC president, the convention sermon will be preached by Ralph Smith, pastor emeritus of Hyde Park Baptist Church, Austin, Texas.
      The two evenings of the annual meeting will feature missions presentations by the North American Mission Board on Tuesday and the International Mission Board on Wednesday.
The week prior to the SBC, an ambitious evangelistic project coordinated by NAMB, called "Crossover," will penetrate metro Atlanta. Then, a number of satellite meetings, such as the annual Pastors' Conference and Woman's Missionary Union meetings, will be held Sunday and Monday before the SBC meeting starts.
     The registration area will be on the lower level, gate C of the Georgia Dome, said Lee Porter, just off International Avenue. Porter has been the SBC registration secretary since 1978. Registration will open at 4 p.m. on Sunday, June 13, and at 8 a.m. on the following Monday through Wednesday. It will close shortly after 9 each night.
     According to SBC Bylaw 8, the church's clerk or moderator must sign the familiar messenger card, "the best credential," Porter said. The messenger card may be obtained from state convention offices, or in some states, the local association office. A messenger is similar to a delegate in his/her election by a local church but traditionally has not been instructed by the church.
     The registration process is designed to be completed in five minutes, Porter said, except possibly during the early rush hour. If a messenger comes to the meeting without a properly filled-out card, Porter said the person must go before the convention's Credentials Committee which could take 30 minutes or more. The Credentials Committee will open after 8:30 a.m. on Monday. Porter said if at the last minute it is not possible to bring the messenger card, then the person should bring a letter from the church and meet with the committee.
     The registration desk will be able to help messengers reach churches with information via telegrams or faxes. The registration area also serves as the convention's lost and found office, Porter said.
     Who can register as a messenger is stated in Article III of the SBC Constitution. Messengers of the convention are members of missionary Baptist churches cooperating with the convention as follows:
"1. One messenger from each church which (1) Is in friendly cooperation with the Convention and sympathetic with its purposes and work. Among churches not in cooperation with the Convention are churches which act to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior. And, (2) Has been a bona fide contributor to the Convention's work during the fiscal year preceding.
"2. One additional messenger from each such church for every 250 members; or for each $250 paid to the work of the Convention during the fiscal year preceding the annual meeting.
"3. The messengers shall be appointed and certified by the churches to the Convention, but no church may appoint more than 10.
"4. Each messenger shall be a member of the church by which he is appointed."
Porter said the convention does not register "alternate messengers."
     An additional service the registration desk provides is, after noon on Monday, information about where messengers are staying during the convention. Messengers wanting the information should know the person's name, church, city and state, Porter said. Thus, messengers should be sure to fill out the last line on the messenger card which identifies where they will be staying in Atlanta.
     Cited as a big improvement last year, an enlarged nametag for messengers will be printed via computers in bold, large type, Porter added.
     Visitors from churches are also encouraged to come to the meetings, Porter said. The Dome provides ample space for messengers and guests.

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