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Relationships begun, ended, celebrated at Convention


COLUMBUS - Messengers at the 184th annual session of the Georgia Baptist Convention were greeted by fellow Georgia Baptists in more than a dozen languages. With the theme "Celebrate the Harvest," members from some of the 310 ethnic and 116 African-American congregations greeted almost 1,900 messengers during the state missions report.

Messengers also elected a new president, approved a record budget and noted the conclusion of two partnerships and extension of another.

Joe Westbury

Newly elected GBC president Wayne Hamrick laughs with a friend between Convention meetings in Columbus. Hamrick is the first full-time evangelist elected to the position.

There were 1,892 messengers registered at the meeting held at the Columbus Civic Center - lower than last year's 1,981 which was touted as the lowest attendance in at least 30 years, and down 538 from the meeting in the same location just two years earlier.

But messengers still celebrated reports that Cooperative Program giving remained strong and voted for a $50,500,000 budget. A birthday cake was presented during the session honoring the 80th anniversary of the Cooperative Program.


New officers, new congregations

GBC president Tony Dickerson, pastor of Pinehurst Church, Columbus, passed the gavel to newly-elected president Wayne Hamrick, an evangelist from Cartersville, who ran unopposed.

Other officers elected were: Mike Stone, Emmanuel Church, Blackshear, first vice-president; Billy Duncan, Beallwood Church, Columbus, second vice-president; Bob Baxter, Mt. Harmony Church, Mableton, third vice-president; and Alvin Hobgood, North Metro Church, Lawrenceville, fourth vice-president.

Messengers also welcomed a record 104 new churches into the Convention, the first time the number has broken the 100 barrier in a church year. The number was up 32 from last year.


Mission Volunteers

Messengers voted to extend the Moldova mission partnership for another three years. Moldova is the poorest eastern European country with an average wage of $50 to $100 per month. The Baptist Federation of Moldova has 600 churches and missions.

Baptist pastors live on $50 to $150 a month, but many must leave Moldova to find employment in Russia or Europe, leaving their churches for three to six months at a time. Georgia Baptists will participate in nationwide revivals next June.

Partnerships in California and New York will continue while partnership in France and Utah-Idaho end this year. Last year more than 161,000 Georgia Baptists from 48 percent of the churches went on mission.

J. Robert White, GBC executive director, brought a report on ongoing disaster relief efforts in Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana. He announced that Georgia Baptists have given $4,390,156 for Katrina relief. During the last 84 days, GBC volunteers have prepared and served more than 1,200,000 meals. Volunteers have also helped repair more than 2,000 homes and cared for 100,000 children.

The state convention has "adopted" Hancock County, Miss., as a partnership area to help in long-term rebuilding efforts.


Shorter returns

Tom Duvall, attorney with Arnall Golden & Gregory who represented Georgia Baptists from 2002-2005 when Shorter College sued the Convention, announced the return of the school as a Georgia Baptist college. Duvall presented previously-unpublicized information about the lawsuit, including that prior leadership had "run Shorter College into the ground." GBC will release funds previously held to help the college.

"Georgia Baptists, thank yourselves and thank Dr. White for having the leadership to protect the assets of this Convention," Duvall said. Messengers responded by giving White a standing ovation.


Governor speaks

Gov. Sonny Perdue spoke during the closing session Tuesday evening. Perdue gave his testimony of growing up in a Baptist church.

"I thank a faithful bi-vocational pastor in Bonaire," Perdue said. "As an 11-year-old boy (under that pastor's leadership) I came to understand I wanted what Jesus had done for me. I'm so grateful for His grace and mercy in our lives. Whether you're a governor or a Baptist preacher or a lay person, it's not about where you are, but who Jesus is."

Perdue quipped that Jesus could also have been a politician.

"Jesus could easily have been a politician. Remember those people welcoming him with praises as he came through the city, then a few days later they were ready to crucify him."