Tuesday, September 21, 2021, was a historic day for Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Virginia for two reasons: we offered the first in-person gathering since the onset of the pandemic, and we offered the first hybrid General Assembly experience in CBFVA life. For those of you who could not join us at Central Baptist Church in-person or via Zoom, I gladly share this retrospective.

Let me begin with words of gratitude to our host church. Central Baptist Church extended hospitality and welcoming space for our General Assembly. Most of our sessions were held in the sanctuary. The Fellowship Hall was perfect for our times of conversation and the luncheon; some folks even enjoyed eating under the outdoor shelter. Contiguous rooms for workshops were spacious and accommodating.
The Fellowship Hall was beautifully decorated by Hailee Miller and Mary Carol Jones—Hailee’s Mom. Tables were decorated with beautiful plants. Much effort went into the display for Mission Madness (shadow boxes on one wall and tee-shirts on another). As always, myriad promotional items were available for the taking on the CBFVA table.

Support and encouragement from the Central staff were outstanding. David Turner, Mary Richerson, and Leslie Hepburn were very helpful in the planning process, during the General Assembly (filling a variety of roles as needed), and after the meeting was over. Their servant spirits were a huge assist! Central’s support staff also jumped in to coordinate food and drinks for fellowship times.

Key for this gathering was launching CBFVA’s 2021-2023 theme: Imagine. Much of the General Assembly focused on lifting up the importance of imagining what a re-formed post-pandemic church might look like. Participants received a Ministry Planner outlining major events and experiences for the coming year; some events are still in the planning phase. You may obtain a digital copy of the Ministry Planner which is a useful resource including thematic article, details about major events, and a retrospective on CBFVA life this past year. Click here: https://cbfva.org/wp…/uploads/2021/09/MP-Final-2-1.pdf.

I thoroughly enjoyed introducing Virginia folks to my friend Scott Willis who served as our worship leader. Scott is a singer/songwriter/worship leader from Murfreesboro, TN; he drove a long way to enrich our three worship sessions. Participants responded well to Scott’s energy and sound theology. Scott even wrote a new thematic song specifically for our assembly.

When I knew Scott could be with us, re-formatting the General Assembly to include three worship and proclamation sessions made sense. All three of our proclaimers – Megan Strollo, Kasey Jones, and Barrett Owen – woke-up our imaginations. Our proclaimers offered those present a generous, much-needed dose of divine inspiration!

Important during the planning process for the General Assembly was offering timely and contextual workshops. I’m grateful to the following for facilitating workshops to equip and serve those who gathered:
• Clergy: It’s Your Time to Grieve with Jennifer Collins
• Advocacy 101: An Introduction with Art Wright and Mark Snipes
• The Damascus Journey with Kasey Jones
• CBF Companion Congregations with Kasey Jones
• Building Capacity for Hard Conversations with Jim Somerville
• Imagine the Post-Pandemic Church with Megan Strollo and Terry Maples
Fellowship times were a priority for this General Assembly in particular because of the isolation we all experienced in a disruptive pandemic season. Folks enjoyed catching up during the registration time, scheduled breaks, and lunch.

During the luncheon, we conducted essential business. Ben Brown, treasurer, gave a positive financial report. CBFVA is in the black (income exceeding expenses), and we are blessed with healthy reserves. We elected new leadership for the Coordinating Council: Ira Nealy, Travis Russell, Andre Towner, and Matt Winters. Finally, the Assembly approved a 2021-2022 Ministry Spending Plan of $325,348 which includes many ways for us to imagine a more excellent way!

A time of sharing took place following the luncheon.
• Susan Blanchard, Director of the Baptist House of Studies at UPSem, shared about the good start to her work and invited folks to send students to Union and to support theological education.
• Melissa Fallen, who serves on the Baptist Seminary of Kentucky Advisory Team, gave an update about our theological partnership for this in-place seminary. She invited folks to meet BSK’s president David Cassidy who will be in Richmond to lead a training session for Bible study and small group facilitators at Glen Allen Baptist Church on November 14, 4-6 PM.
• Mark Snipes expressed gratitude for the sabbatical leave he has been granted in 2022. He also pointed out all the decorations in the room in the room to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of Mission Madness. Tee-shirts from each year were mounted on the wall, and we even had a sheet cake to mark this significant milestone!

These are exciting days for CBF Virginia: we are offering innovative ways to re-form the church, forge new partnerships to expand our ministry, find creative ways to bring clergy and congregations together in cohorts, and establish a sustainable path forward for quality theological education.
Come journey with us as we imagine a more just and loving world!