One prominent pastor stepped down. Another longtime pastor stepped back. And a local organization stepped up its efforts to make a difference.
2011 was a year of transition, change, celebration and growth in the Baton Rouge faith community.
The Revs. Chris Andrews, of First United Methodist Church, and Larry Stockstill, of Bethany World Prayer Center, each relinquished their senior pastor positions after more than 20 years.
During a Sunday service in July, Andrews announced his retirement effective immediately. Andrews cited “personal reasons” in his decision to leave the largest Methodist church in the state with more than 4,500 members. He led the church for 22 years.
Andrews, who had been active in the community, previously announced in March his plans to retire at the end of 2011 but changed his mind a few weeks later.
Retired Bishop Robert E. Fannin has been serving as the downtown church’s interim pastor since September.
In October, Stockstill turned the leadership of Bethany over to his 30-year-old son, Jonathan. Larry Stockstill remains on staff, serving as a teaching pastor at Bethany and continuing to help plant new churches around the world.
Larry Stockstill said he was 30 when he took over the church from his father, the Rev. Roy Stockstill, who started Bethany in the family’s living room in 1963.
Jonathan Stockstill, who had served as the church’s music and worship leader, officially became lead pastor in early October during a packed Bethany United service at the church’s north campus in Baker.
Other top stories among the faith community in 2011 involved:
WORKING TOGETHER: Together Baton Rouge increased its involvement in helping and issues affecting the community.
Together Baton Rouge was founded two years ago by a group of ministers and has grown to a coalition of more than 100 faith and civic groups. The group has sought to bring people together across racial, neighborhood and economic lines to fight problems confronting the community.
This year, Together Baton Rouge became more visual.
In November, the group’s efforts helped expedite the reopening of the Blue Grass bridge in Glen Oaks. Later in the month, the group was part of a 150-volunteer effort to clean up the Gilbert Memorial Park Cemetery in north Baton Rouge.
Together Baton Rouge has also been active in pushing officials and the public to help the troubled Capital Area Transit System.
CELEBRATORY MOMENTS: Two faith groups celebrated milestone anniversaries in 2011.
In fact, the Diocese of Baton Rouge took the whole year to celebrate its 50th anniversary with the theme “Born in the Spirit of Faith.” The celebration included an anniversary quilt, an anniversary curriculum and concluded with a special service in November, near the anniversary of Bishop Robert E. Tracy’s installation as the diocese’s first bishop on Nov. 8, 1961.
In September, the Interfaith Federation of Greater Baton Rouge celebrated its 25th anniversary. Led by the Rev. Charles T. Smith of Shiloh Baptist Church, Rabbi Barry Weinstein (now rabbi emeritus) of Congregation B’nai Israel and others, the group was founded on Sept. 16, 1986, to bring together black and white and Christians and Jews. The group was then known as the Greater Baton Rouge Federation of Churches and Synagogues and started with 22 charter congregations.
The Interfaith Federation of Greater Baton Rouge now has about 50 congregations and is open to such faiths as Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism as well as Christians and Jews.
BAPTIST CHANGES: Two local Baptist groups saw some significant changes.
In August, the Baptist Association of Greater Baton Rouge named the Rev. Tommy Middleton as its executive director.
Middleton spent 25 years as the pastor of the 1,200-member Woodlawn Baptist Church. He replaced the Rev. Rodrick E. Conerly, who died in December 2010.
The Baptist Association of Greater Baton Rouge comprises 108 Southern Baptist Convention churches, affiliated missions and organizations.
In February, the new Greater Louisiana Convention held its first conference after a group led by the Rev. Leo Cyrus split from the Louisiana State Baptist Convention and the Fourth District Baptist Association.
Cyrus, the pastor of New Hope and Second Baptist churches, was one of about 50 pastors who switched conventions. The Greater Louisiana Baptist Convention, like the Louisiana State Baptist Convention, is still under the umbrella of the National Baptist Convention USA Inc.
The Fourth District had consisted of about 180 predominantly black churches in the Baton Rouge area.
Cyrus was a Fourth District officer for more than 20 years, ending a 10-year run as president in 2009. He was succeeded by the Rev. Jesse Bilberry, pastor of Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church.
The Holy Spirit is the one in the Trinity who most directly deals with man and has the “personality” to do so, said an area minister.
Pastor Carnell Bailey of Faith Christian in Donaldsonville has spent 20 of 26 years in ministry on exhaustive study of the Holy Spirit. He shares some of his revelation in his new book, “God The Intelligent Holy Spirit” (A&A Publishing).
“The personality of the Holy Spirit is completely unique to Him. He does not share it with God the Father, or God the Son,” Bailey writes in the first chapter titled “The Personality of the Holy Spirit.”
The 77-page book goes on to discuss how to understand the Holy Spirit’s personality; communion with the Holy Spirit; blaspheming the Holy Spirt; and also looks at some of the main characteristics and duties of the Holy Spirit, complete with scripture and personal testimony.
Bailey said the No. 1 way God leads is by an inward witness, which is the Holy Spirit speaking and witnessing to a person’s spirit.
“When this occurs, you will experience the feeling of absolute assurance,” he writes.
An inward witness is not audible and a common occurrence among Christians, he said.
“It is common to hear people say, ‘I should have followed my first mind’ after making a bad decision. Your ‘first mind’ does not actually exist. What we sometimes refer to as the ‘first mind’ is, in fact, your inward witness,” he writes.
Bailey later adds, “It is completely safe to follow our inward witness because it has already been purged by the blood of Christ.”
Other chapters in the book deal with “Developing the Human Spirit,” “The Inward Voice” and “Seeing in the Spirit.”
For information, call (225) 473-9001 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bring in 2012 with a prophetic word, said Bishop Dwight Pate of Church Point Ministries.
The church will host a special watchnight service at 10 p.m. Saturday at the Calloway Inn & Suites, 10920 Mead Road, alongside the Interstate 12 and Sherwood Forest exit.
Pate said 2012 is the year of “The Redemption of the Strong Ones,” and the service is for those who may have lost their way, left church and feel out of place and believe God has forgiven them and are ready to return to their call and purpose.
Refreshments and fellowship will continue into the arrival of the new year.
Call (225) 312-1774 to reserve space.
“Faith Matters” runs every other Saturday in The Advocate. Reach Terry Robinson at (225) 388-238 or email email@example.com
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