by Aaron Weaver and Carrie McGuffin,
DALLAS — “Perhaps the most radical thing [we] can do is sit down and listen.” So began a conversation between George Mason, senior pastor of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship-partner Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, and Gary Simpson, senior pastor of the historic Concord Baptist Church of Christ in Brooklyn, N.Y, during the second night of the 2015 CBF General Assembly.
“The true sense of bridge building is that the bridge itself doesn’t belong to either side,” Simpson said. “It just keeps people moving.”
Simpson and Mason shared a conversation before a crowd of 1,100 Cooperative Baptists with the worship theme of “Building Bridges,” relating their lengthy ministries and longtime friendships to the bridges in Dallas and New York City.
Simpson opened the dialogue with the definition of a bridge — “a means by which travel or transport is made possible across a terrain that was previously uncrossable.” This uncrossable terrain that Mason and Simpson challenged the Assembly to imagine spanning, in light of recent tragedies and increased tensions in society, was the problem of racism in our nation.
“The power of a bridge is that it makes us get off of our own side,” Simpson said. “To build a bridge is risk taking.”
Understanding that a bridge is built with the underlying forces of compression and tension, Simpson emphasized that there are forces that have to be at work in tandem, and flexibility is necessary in both architectural bridge building and within and across communities. The senior pastor of the church once led for many years by the “Dean of Preachers,” the late civil rights icon Gardner Taylor, spoke passionately about the challenge that weather brings to a bridge. The weather and the elements, Simpson said, make it so that if there is no regular maintenance the bridge will corrode.
With this, we must examine our current climate, he added. We are participating in climates that are making it very difficult to build bridges across racial and social and economic divides, because this bridge building involves sharing of oneself radically and taking risks — this involves tension and flexibility, Simpson said.
Mason emphasized that this bridge building also requires a bridge across generations — as both pastors facilitate residency programs for young leaders in their churches. He reminded the attendees of the centrality of Jesus to bridge building.
“Jesus himself was the bridge to our salvation. He was willing to put himself in there…to sacrifice privilege to do this for us.”
Assembly attendees enjoyed the music of Ken Medema, an internationally recognized composer-singer-songwriter known for his gifts of live improvisations, and were greeted with a welcome from CBF of Texas Coordinator Rick McClatchy.
“I think that what we do in these gatherings is to satisfy that deep desire within each of us to form together and be connected to others,” McClatchy said. “Because, we intuitively realize that life is larger than just our individual self. So far a few days each year, we form together to visibly represent this connected Baptist ecosystem known as the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship that works together as partners in renewing God’s world.”
An offering was also collected to support all CBF programs and the Fellowship’s commitment to ministries, missions and strengthening its identity.
“This is your opportunity to give to programs and ministries that resource and strengthen congregations, equip and support ministers, nurture the calling of young Baptists, cultivate strategic partnerships and enhance our public witness,” said Stephen Reeves, CBF’s associate coordinator of partnerships and advocacy. “By giving tonight, you are helping CBF to facilitate 120 Peer Learning Groups throughout the country. These gifts will enable us to endorse new chaplains and pastoral counselors…help us offer conferences like Churchworks and produce missions education resources for children and youth.”
Donations made tonight at www.cbf.net/give went to support CBF’s advocacy efforts, Reeves added, including the annual Advocacy in Action event for students, ministers and lay leaders to learn from experts and partners in the nation’s capital as well as the costs of General Assembly.
“Your gifts mean those new to CBF life will have the opportunity to attend General Assembly in the years to come, to feel at home and among family,” Reeves said. “Everyone can give because every gift matters. Committed individuals yield a collective impact. Thank you for your commitment to forming this Fellowship together.”