Hampton, VA – The 194th Annual Meeting of the Baptist General Association of Virginia (BGAV) began Monday afternoon with several breakout sessions and a powerful worship service.
Monday evening, the meeting kicked off at Ivy Memorial Baptist Church, whose praise band opened the service with inspirational arrangements of several favorite hymns and choruses. Hundreds of attendees worshipped together, joining their voices in praise.
John Upton, BGAV Executive Director, offered an interpretation of this year’s theme, “Answering God’s Call…Now What?” Drawing upon Matthew 4:18-22, he remarked that when Jesus called these first disciples, they immediately left what they were doing and followed.
“They saw in this one the possibility of a new world,” he commented, “And what I love about this story is that it’s yours and it’s mine. Jesus is standing on the shore looking at us saying, ‘Follow me,’ and we have to decide: are we in or are we out? Are we going to take the risk or just stay where we are?”
Through videos and presentations, attendees were challenged to respond when the storms of life arise. Aaron Lee and Kristen Curtis, BGAV Disaster Response staff members, recalled how Virginia Baptists began a relationship with the people of Liberty, Texas, after Hurricane Ike in 2008 and how that strengthened the effect of the disaster response there recently after Hurricane Harvey this past September.
They also expressed the importance of responding in other ways besides the physical, as they recounted stories of individuals who just needed people to minister to them by listening to their stories.
Chuck Harrison of the Peninsula Baptist Association spoke of responding to a different kind of storm—that of racism and division in communities. He told of how the violence in Ferguson, Missouri after the shooting of Michael Brown in 2014 motivated him and others in his area to begin talking to each other and eventually working together to build strong relationships. Their efforts toward reconciliation have led to black and white churches working together and to community leaders building relationships with church leaders from many different kinds of churches. “I believe God blesses in a unique way when we come together across barriers,” he said.
Hearts and voices joined together further in worship as leaders from Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Temple, including their pastor, Jerome Barber, led spirit-filled choruses of praise that echoed throughout the sanctuary.
Freddy Villarreal, pastor of Freedom Life Church, offered a closing reflection to challenge Virginia Baptists to rise up and respond to the “serious storms” the country is experiencing. Reading from Mark 4, he explored how Jesus calmed the storm with three simple things: his presence, his promise, and his power. “Ships sink because of the water inside them, not because of what’s outside,” he explained. “Are we putting more faith in what’s around us than in what’s inside?” He said further, “I believe the church is the biggest sleeping giant in the country. When we wake up, there’s no issue we cannot solve—because the body of Christ holds the answer.”
Earlier Monday afternoon, attendees had the option to attend one of several breakout sessions, with topics including the church’s response to disaster, the power of story in preaching, women in ministry, discipling digital teens, small church ministry, and being church in a digital/physical culture.
Over 100 pastors came to the Virginia Baptist Pastors’ Conference for an interactive workshop focused on relational intelligence led by John Chandler of the Spence Network. Other groups met as well, including the Korean Fellowship, African American Fellowship, and more.
The meeting continues Tuesday morning at 8:45 am with the first business session.
The Baptist General Association of Virginia (BGAV) is a cooperative missions and ministry organization that consists of over 1,400 autonomous churches in the Commonwealth of Virginia, as well as churches from Seoul, South Korea, Toronto, Ontario, the District of Columbia, and the states of California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, and West Virginia.