Suzii and I spent last Thursday and Friday in Atlanta at the offices of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Suzii was presented as the nominee for Executive Coordinator for the CBF, first to the staff, then to the State and Regional Coordinators, and finally to the Advisory Council. Later that afternoon her nomination was the subject of a brief press conference. You may view the video used to introduce her to CBF here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZAEoA4PIi8Q and watch her statement at the press conference here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tUnbYU8-cpY. You will note that in both videos she speaks with great affection about our congregation, First Baptist, Austin.
You would have been very proud of her presentations at each meeting. George Mason, Senior Pastor of Wilshire Baptist in Dallas and Chair of the Search Committee, did an outstanding job of presenting Suzii as their choice in all three meetings and her response in each meeting was tailored to the concerns of each group, while maintaing her overall hopes and vision for CBF combined with her sense of call to this work.
I simply could not have been more proud of her. In each session, her confidence and character were a shining light in the room and the response of each group was positive, energetic, and laced with hope. When she was introduced to the staff, there were tears of joy all across the room. Many, many of them had made known to me that they truly hoped she would at least consider the possibility and then, on the day of the announcement, that they were overjoyed at this news. I join them in their enthusiasm about what she will mean to the future of CBF.
The Search Committee did their homework, speaking, for instance, to 171 CBF pastors, countless laity, and endless conversations with various groups. There were many, many wonderful candidates, but at the end of the day, the Committee felt that Suzii’s particular skill set combined with her experiences in the larger religious world beyond baptist boundaries, and guided by their unanimous sense of the Spirit’s leading, caused them to extend the invitation to lead. “When a diverse search committee finds itself self well-aligned with the wishes of a diverse CBF constituency, and when a candidate emerges who embodies without compromise all those hopes, you can’t help but celebrate the power and presence of the Spirit” said George Mason. Keith Herron, current CBF Moderator added, “Suzii Paynter is one of us. She was present in our earliest gatherings and was deeply involved in helping create the ethos of the Fellowship movement, even before the name Cooperative Baptist Fellowship was attached to it. Her work has been highlighted in such media as PBS’s Moyers on America, The Wall Street Journal, and The New Yorker.”
She is the third woman elected to lead a national religious body, the other two being Katherine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church and Dr. Sharon Watkins, President of the Disciples of Christ. George Mason made it very clear that the committee sought the best person for the position and that given the long culture of CBF and it’s support of women’s leadership skills, was doubly blessed that their choice was a woman and a layperson.
CBF is based in Atlanta and extends across the nation and globe with 14 state organizations and 4 regional organizations from the East to the West Coast. Suzii’s nomination is expected to be confirmed by the Coordinating Council at their meeting in mid-February.
Suzii has found a very nice condo in downtown Decatur, an Atlanta suburb and will move during Spring Break. We have spent hours and will spend more coordinating travel schedules as her calendar is quickly filling with speaking requests. Her new “home away from home” is only blocks away from Columbia Theological Seminary and across the street from a MARTA stop, making travel in and out of Atlanta very easy.
I recognize this news is exciting for us while also creating anxiety. Suzii has been a very effective Sunday School teacher and her Symposium class is very loyal to her. Indeed, she and Steve Mines have made a wonderful team and they have been wonderfully supportive of each other’s gifts. Others worry that I won’t know how to take care of myself (I do the laundry, the dishes, we have a housekeeper, and I doubt I will suffer from starvation!), others have even suggested this will be very damaging to our relationship. No doubt we will have to work at creating a healthy relationship but we have always been about that task for 42 years now. I have confidence in our relationship and I also have the support of many of you who ALSO live a similar lifestyle. But as always, I appreciate your prayers for both of us, and I especially ask you to pray for Suzii as she takes on a very large, very demanding task. She feels and I agree, that this is the hand of God in her life and in that confidence, we move forward with great hope and anticipation.