Posts Tagged ‘Southern Baptist Convention’

Story and photos by Jeannie Dortch.

“I’ve always done what I wanted, but it takes patience.” Tasha Tudor

As the wife of Jim Flamming, First Baptist’s former Senior Pastor of 23 years, Shirley Flamming folded herself into church members’ hearts with her conviviality, sincerity and spiritual depth. Since Jim’s retirement in 2006, Shirley has not withdrawn as much as she has drawn within.

In a recent conversation, she shared some milestone events that shaped her life since she and Jim made Richmond their home in 1983.

calloutThe daughter of a Southern Baptist preacher and educator, Shirley attended Hardin-Simmons University, a Southern Baptist institution. She met Jim there and after their marriage, Shirley spent as much time at church as her husband, eventually becoming the Director of the Children’s Department at First Baptist, Abilene, Texas. “It was church 24/7,” said Shirley. “And by the time we moved to Richmond, I had been exposed to no other life than that of a Southern Baptist.”

The trajectory of Shirley’s life began to shift soon after she and Jim arrived in Virginia. She read a book about the life of Tasha Tudor, a children’s book illustrator. Tasha lived the last third of her life secluded from modernity, surrounded by her plants, her animals, and, most importantly, her family. Shirley declared, “After reading that book, I wanted to be Tasha Tudor, and I knew I was at a perfect place in my life to start over.”

Shirley Flamming

As a young mother, Shirley balanced the demands of church and home with the medium of clay.
Her studio has provided her a prayerful retreat for over 40 years.

The division in the Southern Baptist Convention had an enormous effect on the Flammings. In the late 70s a conservative group in the convention announced their intention to take control of the denomination’s agencies and institutions. For a few years in the 80s, Jim served on a “Peace Committee” that tried to heal the rifts between “moderates” and “conservatives.” That experience gave Shirley a new look at denominational life. She wondered how God could be working amidst all the ugliness she was seeing. She questioned her previous assumptions: “I had always thought that Southern Baptists were the only denomination doing something good. If this was no longer true, then I wanted to be part of a larger framework to see what God was accomplishing through other Christians.”

Shirley found an opportunity to do that as one of the founding board members and later president of Richmond Hill, an ecumenical retreat center. She was attracted initially to its interracial and interdenominational makeup. Through participating in its programs, she began to discover the contemplative nature of her own faith. “This was a life changing experience for me. My own spiritual life was deepened through silent prayer and reflective retreats. But more importantly, by being with people of other faiths and ethnicity, I learned that God was bigger than I had imagined and that I needed to bless what people were doing for Him in this world.”

Shirley’s mornings spent in silence and prayer led to her giving workshops on praise and thanksgiving in the U.S., Mexico and South America. Shirley stated, “Significance of purpose for Jim was accomplished through the church, but I was learning that I had been given a different set of gifts, and one was to make friends for the church outside of church.”

In 1989, the Flammings’ second son, Dave, moved to Richmond with his family to be closer to the Medical College of Virginia for his treatment. They lived with Shirley and Jim for two years before leukemia took Dave’s life. “After Dave died, no one in our family was the same,” Shirley confessed. “I saw how the Lord had gone before me preparing me in such a powerful way. Dave’s children had lost their dad, and I didn’t want them to lose their childhood, so I put my all into Dave’s family to bring delight back into their lives.” That decision continues to bring comfort and joy in the midst of pain.

Soon the Flammings’ other sons, Doug and Dee, had children. Shirley began traveling, infusing her spiritual energy and gifts into their families, as well as into her larger extended family. “I love worshiping with God’s people, but I no longer feel the need to be a constant presence at church to be full of God’s spirit while doing His will. God sends me people to befriend, to bless, and to pray for. But, as my family has grown and aged, God’s heart has prompted me to remain close to them in order to be true to myself.”

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By Susan Beach & David Powers.

The congregation will discuss and vote April 27 on a proposal from the Deacons to change the church’s missions giving plans. A brief synopsis of the proposal and a side-by-side comparison of the plans are available on the church website. Copies are also available on the kiosks in the church hallways.

Carl Johnson: “The goal . . . was that no members would feel they needed to leave First Baptist because they might disagree on where their mission dollars were being sent.”

Missions and giving to missions are basic to the identity of Richmond’s First Baptist Church. According to former Deacon Chair Carl Johnson, when the Cooperative Program of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) originated, “FBC was an immediate and full participant.”

That participation remained consistent until the early 90s, when some members of the congregation sought an alternative giving plan that would better reflect their views on how to divide the 10% mission portion of the annual budget. A committee gathered input from the congregation, studied the issue, and recommended three giving plans: the Cooperative Program (SBC) plan, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) plan, and an FBC plan. Carl remembers: “The goal of the committee, embraced by the church membership, was that no members would feel they needed to leave First Baptist because they might disagree on where their mission dollars were being sent.”

The Deacon Advisory Council (DAC), consisting of the five previous Deacon Chairs and Vice Chairs, was initially organized by then-pastor James Flamming in the early 90s to review and recommend changes to FBC’s giving plans on a periodic basis. The DAC and the Deacons have recommended, and the congregation has approved, changes in the giving plans twice in the last 20 years.

Lee Stephenson: “The proposal was intended to align our giving options with FBC’s statement of denominational relationships.”

In 2009, at the request of some church members, the DAC again reviewed FBC’s giving. Lee Stephenson, chair of the Board of Deacons then, says: “The specific issue raised was the policies of the NAMB (SBC’s North American Mission Board) with regard to ordained women not being hired for leadership positions and whether it was appropriate to include NAMB in the FBC-tailored plan.”

The DAC presented a proposal to the Deacons, which they approved in February 2011. Lee says the proposal was intended to align our giving options with FBC’s statement of denominational relationships: “First Baptist Church relates to the Richmond Baptist Association, the Baptist General Association of Virginia and the Baptist World Alliance, and supports missionaries through the Southern Baptist Convention and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.”

Each person who gives to the church may choose a plan to allocate his or her denominational partnership giving. If a giver does not indicate a choice, the allocation is currently made according to the FBC Plan (the Shared Plan under the new proposal). In 2010, 233 giving units chose the First Baptist Plan; 56, the CBF Plan; 17, the SBC Plan; 1,063 units did not choose a plan and their gifts were allocated according to the FBC Plan.

While there are significant differences in the three proposed giving plans, what is identical in all three are the first two items, 65% directed to the Baptist General Association of Virginia (BGAV) and 2.8% to FBC Community Missions. While the BGAV was included in all the previous plans, the percentages vary slightly from the previous amounts. In the previous plans, FBC Community Missions was part of only the FBC Plan.

Other changes reflect the uniqueness of each plan. NAMB is no longer included in the Shared Plan, but is still in the SBC Plan. Convention operations of SBC and CBF are no longer part of the Shared Plan, but continue to be included in their two giving plans. Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond (BTSR) was originally only included in the FBC Plan; it is now also in the CBF Plan because it is affiliated with the CBF.

Continuing as part of the Shared Plan and the CBF Plan are the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, important to Virginia Baptists for its support of separation of church and state; the Associated Baptist Press, a significant source for information on mission work outside the state; and the Baptist World Alliance, as listed in our denominational relationship statement. None of these is part of the SBC Plan because they are not SBC entities.

Lee Hilbert: “The change in the Shared Partnership Plan is balanced . . . not showing favoritism to one philosophy versus the other.”

The Shared Plan expresses the view that each mission organization is valued equally for what it does, not for the numbers of its personnel. According to Lee Hilbert, Chairman of the Deacons from 2004 through 2006, “the DAC saw the First Baptist Plan as disproportionately weighted toward SBC. So the change in the Shared Partnership Plan is balanced . . . not showing favoritism to one philosophy versus the other. The principle of supporting the groups we say we are aligned with makes sense to me.”

The previous FBC Plan allocated 18% to the International Mission Board of the SBC and 6% to CBF; the proposed change will give 12.5% to each of them. NAMB, which previously received 3% in this plan, is not included in the proposed Shared Plan.

Lewis Myers has a different view of how the allocation should be divided.

Lewis has been a member of FBC since 1977 and a life-long supporter of SBC missions. His education at Baptist schools, his service as a missionary in Vietnam and then on staff at the International Mission Board exemplify his commitment to what God is doing through the SBC.

He looks at the 10,109 missionaries supported through the SBC compared to the 160 supported through CBF and sees the even division of dollars to SBC and CBF illogical. “In any reasonable business plan, money would be allocated on the size and budget needs of the whole. I can’t conceive of any business being run where each component part, large or small, receives equal resource allocation.”

Through the SBC, NAMB supports 5,096 missionaries at work in North America, 1,616 of which are self-funded Mission Service Corps missionaries. The IMB supports 5,013 missionaries overseas. All CBF missionaries, whether serving in the U.S. or internationally, are counted together as Global Missions personnel.

Although Lewis would have chosen different percentages, he supports the new SBC plan because all SBC structures are included. He is glad to have FBC Community Missions brought into all the giving plans; however, he notes that its inclusion has caused an effective reduction of the 10% the church has committed to missions outside of the church. Lewis also supports FBC’s denominational relationship statement, saying it “fits my perception of my relationship with the SBC.”

Lewis Myers: “All (plans) reflect concern for global needs . . . The passion of my heart is that ‘to the ends of the earth’ be taken seriously, which is one of the marks of a missional church.”

But Lewis regrets that support for NAMB has been removed from the Shared Plan. While he disagrees with NAMB’s decision to not appoint ordained women, he “cannot turn (his) back on those 5,000 missionaries who are laboring their hearts out all over this country.”

Lee Stephenson states that removing NAMB does not mean that we are abandoning missionaries serving in North America. Of the 5,096 NAMB missionaries 3,480 are operating under various levels of cooperative funding with state conventions and local associations. She points out that we continue to support missionaries serving in Richmond through our contributions to the Richmond Baptist Association.

Lee Hilbert says that “our church is not trying to decide for everyone how to spend their missions dollars. If NAMB is important to people, they can show that by choosing the SBC plan” which includes it at 7.34%.

He believes the Shared Plan best expresses who the majority of FBC’s members are: “We’re diverse but tend to lean to the middle. One of the unique things about First Baptist is that we are able to bring together a wide array of Baptist philosophies. We have a culture (that is) able to support lots of different views as long as our core values are the same.”

Martin Law has given through the CBF plan since he joined FBC in 1992 because, he says, “it has provided additional choices for people who want to support quality missions and higher education institutions with moderate evangelical perspectives.” He feels this option reflects changes in our congregation’s understanding of the range of Baptist mission efforts.

“Ben and Leonora Newell are excellent examples of the holistic witness provided to some of the most poverty stricken and deprived people in our nation,” Martin states. The Newells have served as CBF missionaries in Helena, Arkansas since 2002. Martin believes this kind of witness to the people Jesus had the most compassion for is where CBF excels. Because FBC has sent numerous volunteer groups to work with Ben and Leonora, “our church has learned more about the full meaning of Jesus’ command to witness,” says Martin.

Martin Law: The Shared Plan’s increase in giving to BWA is reflective of FBC’s part in a “more complex Baptist community.”

Martin supports the proposed changes to the Shared Plan because they “will provide crucial additional financial support to CBF missions activities at a time when virtually all missions organizations are struggling to maintain adequate funding.” He also appreciates the increase in BWA giving because “it is one of our primary relationships. Even though the increase is not huge, it still is a six-fold increase from 0.4 to 2.4%.” He sees this change as reflective of FBC’s part in a “more complex Baptist community. FBC’s very close relationship with the BGAV has also been an important part of this change” as it has partnered with diverse missions organizations.

Lewis sees the giving plans as a good thing: “All (plans) reflect concern for global needs . . . The passion of my heart is that ‘to the ends of the earth’ be taken seriously, which is one of the marks of a missional church. I think by and large these plans reflect that intent.”

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