'In spirit & in truth' aim of black conf. worship
"Oh what a blessed assurance." "Blessed assurance, this is my song." "Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine," sang the Whosoever Will Choir comprised of volunteers attending the conference.
Arranger, worship pastor and recording artist Joe Pace, who serves under senior pastor H.B. Charles Jr. at Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., describes his arrangement as putting a "little spin" on the classic Fannie Crosby hymn.
"Cultural relevance even to our hymns is not predicated upon a specific style," Pace told Baptist Press after the July 16-20 sessions at Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina. "God calls us to worship in spirit and in truth, not necessarily spirit and in style.
"To be able to broaden the expression of worship by holding true to the theological truth that is embodied in the hymns is all we were trying to do," Pace told BP. "They are different expressions of worship stylistically. As long as they are rooted and grounded in the same theological truth..., the style just kind of broadens the expression."
Pace led evening worship with lively audience response at the conference that organizers describe as the largest gathering of African Americans in the Southern Baptist Convention, a training event capturing the nuances of African American church culture and worship.
Charles sang the traditional hymn "Lord Keep Me Day by Day," included with Blessed Assurance on the album "Joe Pace Presents: H.B. Charles Jr. and the Shiloh Church Choir," that debuted in second place in September 2016 on the Billboard gospel albums chart.
One of four pastors who preached evening sermons at the 25th anniversary conference, Charles focused on "Power to Reach Your Full Potential," based on Hebrews 13:20-21, in his July 18 evening sermon. "Not only can God equip you," said Charles, the 2017 president of the SBC Pastors' Conference, "but God can restore you after you've been broken so He can use you again."
Joining Charles as evening worship preachers were Dhati Lewis, BLVD director of the SEND Network of the North American Mission Board; Emory Berry, senior pastor of Greenforest Community Baptist Church in Decatur, Ga.; and Breonus Mitchell, lead pastor of Mount Gilead Missionary Baptist Church in Nashville.
Former SBC president Fred Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, led the July 17 joint adult Bible exposition class. Following him on successive mornings were Eric Beckham, lead pastor of Zion Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga.; T. Vaughn Walker, lead pastor of First Gethsemane Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky.; and Beverly Sonnier, content editor of LifeWay's YOU Bible curriculum. Sonnier demonstrated the use of the curriculum which celebrated its 10th anniversary at the conference.
Greenforest Community Baptist Church youth pastor A.L. Hollie served as FUGE Camp pastor, joined by FUGE camp director Bianca R. Howard, children and youth pastor of Zion Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., and FUGE worship leader Vernon Gordon, lead pastor of The Life Church in Richmond, Va.
Russell M. Andrews, minister of music of East End Baptist Church in Suffolk, Va., led morning praise and worship; Roy Cotton Sr., director of African American ministries for the Baptist General Convention of Texas, served as worship auditorium coordinator; and Victor L. Davis Sr., senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Richmond, Va., was usher coordinator. Shekinah Alston, worship leader of Cathedral of Deliverance in Jacksonville, Fla., was a featured vocalist during evening worship.
Julie Berry, wife of Greenforest Community Baptist Church pastor Emory Berry, completed the roster of key presenters as speaker at the women's fellowship dinner.
MP3 recordings of key conference sessions are available at www.lifeway.com/en/product-family/black-church-life.
Registration for the 2019 Black Church Leadership and Family Conference, set for July 22-26, 2019, is available at ridgecrestconferencecenter.org.