Calif. Baptists emphasize unity, worship at convention

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (BP)--The focus was on unity and worship Nov. 13-14 as the California Southern Baptist Convention held its annual meeting in a church facility for the first time in more than half a century.

More than 1,000 gathered at Valley Baptist Church in Bakersfield for the 61st CSBC annual meeting under the theme, "Lift Up His Name." The meeting included individual session emphases on unity, worship, integrity in relationships, practical love and the promise of Christ's imminent return.

Messengers also transacted convention business, approving a record operating budget for the coming year, hearing reports about convention entities and partnerships, and electing CSBC officers.

The 2002 CSBC budget approved by messengers totals more than $16.6 million and includes a Cooperative Program goal of $7.85 million. The new spending plan represents a 3 percent increase over the 2001 CSBC budget. Thirty percent of the 2002 California CP objective, or $2,357,407, is earmarked for world missions through the Southern Baptist Convention Cooperative Program. That amount is an increase of more than $68,000 over the California convention's 2001 CP allocation, although the percentage remains unchanged.

Montia Setzler, pastor of Magnolia Avenue Baptist Church in Riverside, won election to a second one-year term as CSBC president. As is customary for incumbent first-term presidents, Setzler was unopposed for re-election.

Ken Fletcher, pastor of Hemet Valley Baptist Church in Hemet, was elected by acclamation to serve as first vice president. Dick Dillender, music minister at Immanuel Baptist Church in Ridgecrest, also was elected without opposition to serve as music director for next year's meeting.

The only vote requiring a written ballot involved the contest between Tomas Angulo and Robert Sorenson for second vice president. Angulo, pastor of First Bilingual Baptist Church in Pico Rivera, received 261 votes or 59 percent of the ballot to win the election. Sorenson, pastor of Paradise Baptist Church in Paradise, received 178 votes, or 41 percent of the vote.

In other business, messengers approved a bylaws change that increases the number of members from any one church who may serve on convention boards. For the second year in a row, however, messengers voted against creating a board to oversee operation of "The California Southern Baptist" newspaper.

Messengers indicated their overwhelming approval for the amendment to Article IV Section 4 of the CSBC bylaws by a show of ballots. Trustees of California Baptist University initiated the proposal earlier this year. Later, California Baptist Foundation directors also endorsed the proposal that eventually came to the convention as a recommendation from the CSBC executive board.

"The basic logic behind this recommendation has to do with electing the most qualified people in our state in places of need," explained Wayne Stockstill, executive board chairman and pastor of First Baptist Church in Hesperia. "The way it read before disqualified some people from some churches because they already had someone serving."

Richard Neely, pastor of Grand Avenue Baptist Church in South San Francisco, questioned whether the convention is "really having that much trouble getting qualified board members that we need to change" the bylaw.

"I think the way it previously was hindered us from getting the most qualified members," Stockstill said.

Executive board member Ted Knapp, speaking in favor of the amendment, told messengers the subcommittee he chairs initially opposed the bylaws change.

"By the time we got done with four months of praying and studying, we unanimously recommended it," Knapp, pastor of Gardena-Torrance Southern Baptist Church in Gardena, said.

Knapp said convention boards need specific expertise in technical, legal and land management issues

"Right now we've got people who want to serve on boards who cannot. Other state conventions of like size have adopted this kind of motion," Knapp added.

That comment drew a response from Robert Hendricks, pastor of Griffith Avenue Baptist Church in Wasco. "I'm not sure doing what other conventions are doing is a good precedent," Hendricks said.

"If we want to make it easy, this would be a very good way to do it," Hendricks continued. "But if we want to be a representative convention where others are allowed to be a part of it and have a voice, I think this is going to shut it down."

Stockstill responded to Hendricks' concern that "six or seven large churches" would control the convention if the bylaw amendment succeeded.

"I want to emphasize this is not a matter of big church/small church; you can't represent all the churches anyway," Stockstill noted. He urged messengers to help CSBC nominating committees identify qualified individuals to serve on boards and committees.

"We may be missing the best people no matter what church they are from because you don't bother to recommend them," Stockstill said.

In the end, messengers approved the bylaws change, which takes effect immediately. The section now permits up to three members from any one church to serve at the same time on all convention boards, but limits each board to only one member at a time from any church. Previously, no more than two members from one church could serve on all boards at one time.

For the second time in as many years, messengers voted not to create a separate board to oversee operations of The California Southern Baptist newspaper. Charlie Leffingwell, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in San Lorenzo, introduced the proposed amendment to Article VII of the CSBC constitution. He said creating a separate board for the paper would result in publication of more opinion and greater accountability for the executive board, which currently is responsible for the publication.

"I think opinion is a good thing to have in our paper to tell us how to vote and how not to vote" on various issues, Leffingwell said. "I'm also concerned about accountability. I think we all appreciate the checks and balances."

Brad Wilcoxen, pastor of Bell Road Baptist Church in Auburn, spoke against creating a separate board for The CSB.

"Change in itself isn't bad but this changes the operation of the paper; it removes accountability from the executive board," Wilcoxen said. He said the motion was "by its very nature a provision for division."

Messengers, voting on a show of raised ballots, rejected the proposed new board.

In another vote involving the state Baptist paper, messengers also rejected a new motion by Leffingwell that would have directed the executive board to double the publication of the California Southern Baptist to two issues per month beginning in January 2002.

"The timeliness of information is sadly lacking" in the publication's current schedule, Leffingwell insisted. "We need to increase the timeliness so that the information is something that people want," he said.

Daryl Lackey, pastor of First Baptist Church in Upland, spoke against the proposal.

"I'm personally pleased with the direction of the California Southern Baptist," Lackey, who will chair the executive board in 2002, said. Besides, he noted, the 2002 budget messengers had already approved "is allocated on the basis of its current publication schedule."

The motion to increase the frequency of publication failed on a show of ballots.

Two other motions introduced at this year's meeting began setting the stage for the 2002 CSBC sessions, when messengers will vote on the two proposed constitutional amendments. Both involve issues that have generated animated discussions at past CSBC meetings.

Norm Aycock, pastor of Rosedale Baptist Church in Bakersfield, introduced a motion to shorten the convention's name to "California Baptist Convention." The proposed amendment to Article 1 of the state convention constitution would require a two-thirds vote to win approval at next year's meeting.

Since 1985 there have been five unsuccessful bids to remove "Southern" from the California convention name. The most recent attempt failed by just 15 votes at the 2000 CSBC meeting in Riverside.

Dewey Squyres, pastor of Oak Grove Baptist Church in San Jose, temporarily stepped down as a parliamentarian at this year's meeting to introduce another motion messengers will decide in 2002. Squyres' motion would change how the convention defines the qualifications of cooperating churches.

Article III Section 2 of the CSBC constitution currently includes a requirement that churches be "in agreement with the Baptist Faith and Message as adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention." The motion Squyres introduced would replace the reference to the Baptist Faith and Message with a requirement that churches "have doctrine and conduct consistent with the faith and practice of churches as taught in the Scriptures."

Since the motion seeks to amend the CSBC constitution, approval by at least two-thirds of those voting on the issue would be required to enact the change.

Registration for the 2001 CSBC annual meeting included 692 messengers and 244 visitors. However, convention officials believe the actual turnout was more than 1,000 since many who attended some of the sessions did not register.

Next year's annual meeting will be Nov. 12-13 at the Fresno Convention Center.


Cynthia Wright contributed to this article.

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