For the first time in its history, the Executive Board of the South Carolina Baptist Convention (SCBC) met and conducted business virtually to observe COVID-19 meeting restrictions. Staff and board members heard reports, voted, and shared ministry updates via video conferencing for the scheduled Apr. 21 session, presided over by Chairman Albert Allen.
In his words to the board, SCBC Executive Director-Treasurer Gary Hollingsworth likened the current crisis to a storm saying, “None of this is a surprise to God, He is still sovereign and has not budged. The world will look different, and already does. But I believe this storm will accelerate the advancement of the Gospel.”
The board heard from Budget, Finance & Audit Committee Chair Allen Nates who reported that the Convention received a clean audit for 2019 from the external audit firm of Capin Crouse. He also reported that 2019 Cooperative Program giving was down one percent from 2018. YTD giving in 2020 through March is also down one percent from the prior year. Due to the COVID-19 crisis, the first two weeks of April 2020 are down 20 percent from the same period in 2019.
SCBC Chief Administrative Officer Scott Lee updated the board on the sale of White Oak Conference Center (WOCC). Despite having been in discussions with interested parties, there are currently no active offers. He said WOCC staff continue to maintain the property and decisions will be made soon about its summer schedule.
Board members heard an update from the Convention Structure Study Group, an ad hoc committee voted on at the 2019 Annual Meeting and tasked with reviewing convention structure and processes for effectiveness and efficiency. Board member Tim Coker, of Central Baptist in Darlington, made a motion to receive the ad hoc committee’s report, refer it to the Bylaws Committee for consideration and request a response at the October board meeting. The board voted to adopt the motion.
Board reports and presentations were centered around the convention’s stated vision, mission and strategy. The South Carolina Baptist Convention’s vision is to see every life saturated and transformed by the hope of the Gospel. Utilizing the essential catalysts of prayer and leadership, the convention creates environments and resources that encourage and equip churches to be STRONG churches making disciples who SERVE Communities, SHARE Hope, SEND Workers, and START New Work.
Five main priorities dictate the SCBC’s work with churches – church strengthening & discipleship (STRONG), serve community (SERVE), evangelism (SHARE), missions mobilization (SEND), and church planting (START). The Priority Advancement Committee is charged with understanding, engaging and advocating for those priority areas. SCBC Associate Executive Director and Chief Strategist Jay Hardwick connected this existing work to how God is moving in this season and to the opportunities that are ahead for SC Baptists.
“We will ADVANCE Anyway, even in a pandemic,” he said.
Hardwick announced new resources including a podcast for SCBC leaders and the creation of www.hopeforchurches.org/, an online source of encouragement and resources for church planters. Advance-related reports included: SC Disaster Relief response to recent tornado outbreaks and respirator mask donations to healthcare workers; weekly Baptist Collegiate Ministry online worship and virtual small group opportunities; and, the fall launch plans for Palmetto Collective, a cohort of third year college students committed to developing into missional leaders.
Board members learned that the convention and the South Carolina Woman’s Missionary Union have made $250,000 available to SCBC churches through COVID-19 Serve Community Aid, a fund established to “aid our churches in meeting the specific needs of their communities in meaningful ways.” Churches may request up to $1,000 through an online application, a process Hardwick says 33 churches have already completed. Additional information may be found at www.scbaptist.org/serve-community-aid.
Two ministry partners brought reports with the board. Dr. Dondi Costin, President of Charleston Southern University, said while COVID-19 has attacked the community atmosphere that universities are known for, “we are looking forward to getting back to learning together and discipling students through spiritual and academics on campus.” Dr. Danny Nicholson, President & CEO of Connie Maxwell Children’s Home, celebrated a recent anonymous $2 million gift to expand ministry to children in the Charleston area and that Connie Maxwell Baptist has called Rev. Stephen Johnson as Pastor. “Currently we are not experiencing hardships because of the faithfulness of those committed to love children in Jesus’ name,” Nicholson said.
In his report, Hollingsworth shared the SCBC applied for but did not receive CARES Act grant money in the first round of funding. He also explained a recent discovery that some SCBC churches have used the state convention’s tax ID number, a previously undetected and inadvertent action. Moving forward the SCBC will work alongside churches to help them obtain unique tax ID numbers.
Hollingsworth also alerted the board to a request the convention received for a clear statement of beliefs on social issues. The statement would be in addition to The Baptist Faith & Message and employee documents and made available to ministry partners. A draft statement will be presented to the board in October.
“We need a simple statement on who we are, what we believe and where we stand so that people will clearly know it as they approach our institutions or events. It would serve as another layer of defense in the event that we would be challenged,” Hollingsworth explained.
Looking to the Annual Meeting in November, President Josh Powell reminded the board of God’s faithfulness through the many crises Baptists have weathered over the years. “If there was ever a need to be together to pray and worship, it’s now. We as a people understand that our mission is what is most important, and as Baptists historically we’ve held tight to those beliefs of cooperating together, educating others and reaching people with the Gospel,” he said.
The Executive Board plans to reconvene Oct. 6 in Columbia.