Vol. 7 No. 7

  The Jesse Mercer Plaza
  Mercer University, Macon Campus 


Produced by The Center for Baptist Studies, Mercer University
A Monthly EMagazine, Bridging Baptists Yesterday and Today

Bruce T. Gourley, Editor, The Baptist Studies Bulletin

Wil Platt, Associate Editor, The Baptist Studies Bulletin




In Response To . . . : Bruce T. Gourley

         "A Unique Blend of Freedom and Community"

The Baptist Soapbox: Andrew Manis

         "Celebrating the Contributions of Fred Shuttlesworth to Baptist Life"

Special Invitation : Three Reasons to Attend the Mercer Preaching Consultation

         September 28-30, 2008 at St. Simons Island, Georgia
Baptists and Presidential Elections: Doug Weaver

         "1992: Southern Baptists Don't Vote for the Southern Baptist Presidential
         Ticket of Clinton-Gore"

Observations From the Intersection of Individualism and Ecclesiology:
Charles E. Poole

         "At a Busy Baptist Corner:  Equality in Baptist Life"

Baptist Heritage Series: The First Baptist Church in America: Libby Ivins

         "The Priesthood of Every Believer"

Dates to Note

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In Response to . . . :  Currently the Interim Director of the Center for Baptist Studies, Bruce has been on the staff of the Center since 2004.  He previously served as a campus minister and professor of church history.  In addition, he is involved in a number of areas of moderate Baptist life through the medium of the Internet.

"A Unique Blend of Freedom and Community"
By Bruce T. Gourley

          Some ten to twelve generations ago, the Baptist faith emerged in Holland in the form of exiled Puritan Separatists in 1608-1609. Over the next eighteen months, modern Baptists will celebrate the 400th anniversary of their common heritage, a celebration that will take the form of heritage tours, special book releases, historical emphases within some local congregations and Baptist groups, and featured articles within journals, including the Baptist Studies Bulletin.
          It is only fitting to celebrate four centuries of a Christian people whose early years were so filled with persecution that their continued existence was questionable. That well over 100 million Baptists exist in the early twenty-first century is testimony to the staying power of the beliefs initially shared by the handful of earliest Baptists living in exile and uncertainty in the early seventeenth century.  And yet a survey of modern Baptists reveals something unsettling: many are not faithful to their own denominational heritage. While some are simply unaware of the Baptist legacy, others have wandered down paths studiously avoided by previous generations of Baptists.
          At their simplest, the earliest historical Baptist convictions could be summarized as a unique blend of freedom and community under the Lordship of Christ. The original freedom fighters, the early Baptists insisted upon freedom of conscience, religious freedom for all persons, separation of church and state, freedom from creeds and the individual's free access to God. Advocating voluntary community and local church autonomy, the earliest Baptists limited church membership to regenerate believers who expressed personal faith and participated in believer's baptism. The freedoms and community claimed by early Baptists were lightening rods at a time in history when the only Western models of government entailed alliances with religious entities that dictated state religions, all other churches were hierarchical in nature, and infant baptism served as the entryway into church membership. For their radical beliefs, Baptists were persecuted by theocratic states on both sides of the Atlantic for most of their first two centuries of existence.
          Yet in a twist of historical irony, the foundational heritage of freedom and community and nearly-two centuries of attendant persecution has been forgotten, discarded, neglected and/or distorted in many twenty-first century Baptist circles, at the very time that Baptists face some of the greatest challenges and opportunities experienced since the eighteenth century. This century is already characterized by the numerical decline of Southern Baptists and stagnation for North American Baptists as a whole, while African-American Baptists and those of the earth's southern hemisphere experience notable growth and European Baptists evidence signs of revival. Concurrent with these trends, many conservative to fundamentalist Baptists in America now reject separation of church and state, seek special privileges in the public square for Christians who share their theology, and scoff at freedom of conscience. At the same time, some moderate Baptists in America have tilted the historical Baptist blend of convictions in such a way as to bury freedom under an avalanche of hierarchical community.
           In short, not only will some modern Baptists avoid recognition of four centuries of faith heritage in the coming months, but some will continue an ongoing campaign to dismantle or reconstruct the faith of their spiritual forefathers. At this 400-year point, the future of the faith handed down from the early Baptists lies in the hands of those Baptists in North America and around the world who are not afraid to hold aloft and celebrate the unique blend of freedom and community that first surfaced among a handful of persecuted believers and survived despite severe opposition. 

Visit Bruce's personal website.

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The Baptist Soapbox: Invited guests speak up and out on things Baptist (therefore, the views expressed in this space are not necessarily those of The Baptist Studies Bulletin, though sometimes they are).  Climbing upon the Soapbox this month is Andrew Manis, assistant professor of history at Macon State College and author of the definitive biography of Fred Shuttlesworth (A Fire You Can't Put Out, The Civil Rights Life of Birmingham's Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth).  In an excerpt from an article that originally appeared in the Whitsitt Journal, Manis offers his assessment of the contributions of Fred Shuttlesworth to Baptist life. During the upcoming CBF General Assembly in Memphis, Tennessee, the Whitsitt Society will be honoring Fred Shuttlesworth and his contributions to Baptist life.

"Celebrating the Contributions of Fred Shuttlesworth to Baptist Life"
Andrew Manis

           Editor's Note:  The program this year at the annual meeting of the William H. Whitsitt Society is free, open to everyone, and is in the "must attend" category.  The recipient of this year's Whitsitt Courage Award is Fred Shuttlesworth, one of the most important leaders of the Civil Rights movement.  He was THE leader in Birmingham and has been acknowledged, after King, as second to none in importance to the movement (one contemporary has said, if there had not been a Shuttlesworth, there would not have been a Birmingham).
           When and Where:  During the annual meeting of the CBF in Memphis: June 19th, Thursday, 9 a.m. to 10:10 a.m., Ballroom E, Memphis/Cook Convention Center.

           Emanating from the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in the spring of 1963, as one police officer told it, Fred Shuttlesworth and the Civil Rights movement had “the whole damn town rocking.”  Eventually, the movement moved not just this one city, but all of America. Some years later, a former mayor of Birmingham summed up the significance of those events like this: “[T]hose sidewalks on Sixth Avenue running from Sixteenth Street Baptist Church toward City Hall are as the ground at Valley Forge or Yorktown.”
           If Valley Forge and the first American Revolution gave us a hallowed collection of heroes, so during America’s Second Revolution did this and other sacred spaces across Birmingham give the nation a group of defiant and relatively unsung heroes. Like the heroes who are sung in the biblical Book of Daniel, these were heroes who braved “Bull” Connor’s fiery furnace, faced down the powers that were, and replied to Jim Crow: “We’d rather obey God than human beings. We cannot so help us God do otherwise.” More common than Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, they had names like Charles Billups and J. S. Phifer, Ed Gardner and N. H. Smith Jr., Abraham and Calvin Woods. Names like Lucinda Robey, Lola Hendricks, and Georgia Price.
           These were Birmingham’s revolutionaries―all of them Baptists, all of them members of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR), an organization conceived in defiant response to an Alabama court’s injunction outlawing the NAACP, and all of them followers of the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth.  For seven years the Alabama Christian Movement confronted Connor and Jim Crow until in 1963, by Shuttlesworth’s invitation, Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) came to build on what he had begun in Birmingham. The hundreds who went to jail that spring were the widened circle that began with the defiant revolutionaries who were inspired by the combative courage―and to them the divine deliverance―of Fred Shuttlesworth.
           Fred Shuttlesworth deserves a standing ovation from a huge crowd of CBFers. We hope you will be there. It is always a good thing to honor Civil Rights heroes. We hope and pray CBF will have many a special moment at its annual meeting.  I can’t think of a more special one that honoring Shuttlesworth.

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Co-sponsored by McAfee School of Theology and
The Center for Baptist Studies

28-30 September 2008

The King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort
St. Simons Island, GA

Featuring Greg Boyd and Joel Gregory

Other program speakers include:  David Gushee, John Finley,
Tim Willis, Jayne Davis, Brett Younger and Michael Dixon

Registration is only $100 per person

Click here for more information and to register.

Special Invitation:  The annual Mercer Preaching Consultation (see announcement above), co-sponsored by The Center for Baptist Studies and the McAfee School of Theology of Mercer University, is an event highly anticipated by clergy and laity alike.  We invite you to make your plans to attend, and present an overview of what you can expect from the three-day conference.

"Three Reasons to Attend the Mercer Preaching Consultation"

            1)  The Myth of America as a Christian Nation Causes Friction in Congregations
            Ironically, preaching the Baptist and American heritage of separation of church and state is dicey in many congregations, moderate or conservative.  Greg Boyd, founder and senior pastor of St. Paul, Minnesota megachurch Woodland Hills Church, learned this lesson the hard way.  Gradually realizing the fallacies of the Christian America myth even as he felt pressure to use his pulpit to promote the political agenda of the Religious Right, Boyd finally expressed his convictions in front of his congregation in a series of sermons.  Embracing religious pluralism as healthy and decrying attempts by Christians to secure preferential treatment in American life, Boyd's prophetic preaching and subsequent book, Myth of a Christian Nation, resulted in an exodus of over 1000 members from his congregation.  Accepting the loss of some of his church members, Boyd in recent years has become a national advocate for refocusing on the the Baptist heritage of Separation of Church and State.  At the Mercer Preaching Consultation, Boyd will speak on "Preaching and Kingdom Revolution" and "Preaching Politics and Social Activism." 
            2)  Effective Communication is Foundational to the Task of Preaching
            Each year the Mercer Preaching Consultation features sessions related to the art of preaching.  Inseparably linked to the task of preaching is the challenge of effective communication.  One would be hard pressed to find a more gifted pulpit communicator in Baptist life than Joel Gregory, professor of preaching at George W. Truett Theological Seminary, former pastor of First Baptist Church Dallas, Texas, and author of numerous books.  Gregory intimately understands the complexities and challenges of preaching and has a remarkable talent for conveying his knowledge of the subject.  He will be speaking on the subjects of "Creativity in the Biblical Narrative" and "Getting It Said or Getting It Heard."
            3)  The Opportunity to Gather and Network With Other Moderate Baptists
            The Mercer Preaching Consultation is attended by clergy and laity of all ages throughout moderate Baptist life. The schedule includes opportunities to spend time with old friends and meet new ones.
           Come and hear Greg Boyd, Joel Gregory and other leading speakers in moderate Baptist life, and enjoy the company of other moderate Baptists.  Register for the Mercer Preaching Consultation today!

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Baptists and Presidential Elections
  This series focuses on historical Baptist responses and interactions during previous United States presidential election years.  Doug Weaver is the author of this special series.  Doug is Director of Undergraduate Studies of Baylor University's Department of Religion.

"1992: Southern Baptists Don't Vote for the Southern Baptist
Presidential Ticket of Clinton-Gore"

By Doug Weaver

The 1992 presidential campaign pitted incumbent, Republican George Bush (Sr.), Democratic candidate Bill Clinton and Independent Ross Perot. Perot, a Presbyterian from Dallas, was never given much space in denominational discussions.  Likewise he didn’t care to emphasize religion which he considered a private matter:  “I’m not one of those guys who opens a meeting with prayer.  When I run into a guy like that, I just button up my wallet because he’s gonna pick it for the Lord.”
            Clinton’s campaign run was given significant attention.  He was introduced to Baptist readers as a Southern Baptist and when Al Gore was selected as Clinton’s running mate, they were called the first ever Southern Baptist presidential ticket. Clinton was a member of Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas and was a regular member of the church’s choir. However, Clinton’s candidacy did not attract favorable attention from conservatives in the SBC. They opposed his views on abortion and gay rights.  Clinton’s alleged extra-marital affairs were topics for media discussion. He also said that he sided with the moderates in the SBC controversy that had raged in the 1980s.
            President Bush was an Episcopalian, but said he resisted public discussions of his religious faith. However, during the campaign, the Bush-Quayle ticket courted Baptist and evangelical voters. In May 1992, Vice-President Dan Quayle created a firestorm when he criticized the popular television show, “Murphy Brown” for its story line about the birth of a baby to the unmarried main character. In June, Quayle was a speaker at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention.  He was honored with eleven standing ovations during his speech in which he criticized the country’s “elite culture” for scorning basic moral family values. Not all Baptists were happy that Quayle addressed the convention. R. G. Puckett of the Biblical Recorder (NC) said that with Bush at the 1991 convention followed by Quayle in 1992, SBC leaders had tried to “deliver the vote to Republicans.”
            In 1980 a National Affairs Briefing sponsored by the Religious Roundtable had, in Jerry Falwell’s words, started the “love affair” between Ronald Reagan and religious conservatives. In August 1992, another “briefing” was held. President Bush was a guest speaker; Baptists on the program included a star line up of Religious Right figures: W. A. Criswell, Adrian Rogers, Richard Land, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.  Land, leader of the Christian Life Commission of the SBC, who was known to wear GOP suspenders, said, “Don’t vote your geographical origin. Don’t vote your denominational affiliation. Vote your values.”
            Bush caused controversy when he said that the Democrats had left God out of their party platform. Immediately, a group of Christian leaders, including 17 Baptists from various Baptist bodies, signed a petition that criticized Bush and said, “God is nether Democrat nor Republican nor for that matter, American.” James Dunn of the Baptist Joint Committee added, “There is a pervasive temptation for politicians to claim God as their party mascot.”
            After the briefing, “Evangelical Leaders and Laymen for Bush/Quayle ’92” was formed. Paige Paterson, president of Southeastern Seminary and California pastor Jess Moody were named leaders of the group. Patterson said he was not representing the seminary but participating as a private citizen. Historian Bill Leonard remarked, “if Roy Honeycutt (president of Southern Seminary) had come out for Michael Dukakis, I think it would have been a whole different thing altogether.” R. G. Puckett said Southern Baptists had an identity crisis: “When Baptists sell their spiritual heritage for a mess of secular political pottage, the denomination is on its death bed.” He added that anyone who believed SBC leaders were acting as private citizens rather then denominational leaders “is a prime candidate for buying ocean-front property in Oklahoma…. And whose expense accounts are these well-paid denominational executives traveling on?”
            After the election of Bill Clinton, Baptists had a variety of responses. Sociologist Nancy Ammerman said that Baptists voted on the basis of economic considerations, just like the rest of the country did. Reacting to this news, Richard Land asserted that Baptists and other evangelicals who voted for Clinton had sacrificed their values for the benefit of their pocketbooks. He concluded, “George Bush never had the heart of evangelicals because they never felt they were in his heart.” On the other hand, James Dunn of the Baptist Joint Committee retorted that it should not be assumed that people who voted for Clinton had abandoned their moral values. Rather, many had repudiated the “superficial” definition of values offered by the Religious Right. Dunn suggested that some voters chose Clinton for economic reasons that were not tied to personal gain but were in search of an economic policy that demonstrated mercy for the poor.
            Just as Land and Dunn were polar opposites, Beverly LeHaye, Southern Baptist layperson and founder of Concerned Women for America, and Marv Knox of the Western Recorder, gave starkly different reactions. LeHaye was devastated at the prospects of a Clinton presidency:  She said, “This is going to be very serious, it’s going to be devastating for the American family.  I’m feeling brokenhearted.” Knox refrained from commenting on Bush and Clinton specifically but he editorialized about the broader issue of religion and politics.  He suggested that the “the conclusion of the Reagan-Bush era illustrates the grave limitations of
depending on politics to secure religious and moral values…simple faith in the government to “fix” all these things borders on idolatry.”
            Knox’s words were worth hearing, but the next decade didn’t indicate that many people had listened.   

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The brilliant fall colors of New England!  A brilliant Baptist scholar!

Heritage Tour of New England

Oct. 3-8, 2008, Providence, R.I.

 Join Dr. Walter Shurden
 Renowned Baptist historian and former Executive Director of The Center for Baptist Studies, Mercer University

 Sponsored by Associated Baptist Press
 Celebrating the 400th anniversary of the Baptist movement
 -- 1608-09

  • Worship and private tour at the First Baptist Church in America
  • See the autumn splendor of 8 cities from 1 hotel
  • Including Providence, Newport, Boston, Lexington and Concord
  • Norman Rockwell Museum
  • Boston's Freedom Trail
  • National Minuteman Park
  • ABP's Religious Freedom Award Banquet
  • And more!

    $1,609 per person

    ($1,259 for 2nd person in a room)

     Price includes all accommodations for 4 nights, day trips by motor coach, 14 meals or
     banquets, all fees, gratuities and taxes.

     Tour begins Saturday, Oct. 4 at 1 p.m. Come early for the ABP Religious Freedom Award
     Banquet Oct. 3 with award recipient and keynote speaker Dr. Shurden. Optional banquet and
     5th hotel night only $110 per person.

     To register or for more information:

  • Call (800) 340-6626, Ext. 5
  • Registration form

  • Tour itinerary

  • Courtyard by Marriott in Providence


    Observations From the Intersections of Individualism and Ecclesiology
    Charles E. Poole recently returned to the pulpit of Northminster Baptist Church, Jackson, Mississippi, following four years of street ministry with LifeShare Community Ministries in Jackson. "Chuck" Poole, a provocative preacher and servant pastor, has ministered to both the poor and the privileged for over a quarter century. In addition to Northminster, he has served First Baptist Church, Macon, Georgia, and First Baptist Church, Washington, DC.

    "At a Busy Baptist Corner: Equality in Baptist Life"
    By Charles E. Poole

    This is the last of my six dispatches from the busy Baptist corner where individualism intersects ecclesiology. Looking over the previous five, it occurs to me that, basically, I have spent five months worth of Baptist Bulletin space hanging up caution-lights and mounding up speed-bumps for those of us who spend our lives navigating the traffic at that distinctively Baptist corner where individualism and ecclesiology meet, merge and converge.
               All those cautions combined come to something like this:  The priesthood of  believers means all believers have equal access to God, but equal access does not mean equal skill. While there  is  no special Christian “gnosis” reserved for the few, there  are skills for Christians to gain; skills in Biblical interpretation and good theology that don’t just fall out of the sky because a person becomes a Christian. That means that while “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion,” not every opinion is equally true to the gospel. So we have to be careful.  Our ecclesiology says, “Every individual in the church has an equal voice, and the majority of those voices decides what the church does.” The beauty in that ecclesiology is the value and freedom it affords every individual. The danger in it is that it can  leave the church promoting the practice of democracy over the principles of the gospel. For example, when I was a kid in the sixties, church after church voted to exclude people of color from their sanctuaries. Majority rule carried the day. Thus, democracy was preserved.  Democracy was preserved, but Christianity was denied. That is one example of the peril which is inherent in our way of doing church. 
                I don’t have a better idea. That’s why I am a Baptist. As flawed and perilous as our way may be, it remains dear to us because it preserves the freedom  of every individual soul.   So, of course, we will continue to build our churches, and our lives, close to the curb at the busy Baptist corner where individualism intersects ecclesiology. 
                But, a speed-bump here and a caution-light there can’t hurt.

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    Baptist Heritage Series: The First Baptist Church in America:  As Baptists prepare to celebrate 400 years in 2009, this series highlights America's First Baptist Church.  Libby Ivins, wife of pastor Dan Ivins, is the author of this month's article.
    "The Priesthood of Every Believer"
    By Libby Ivins

    For someone raised as a Methodist, I’ve spent most of my life in some special Baptist spots. My husband has been a pastor in the four corners of the country with most of it in the Washington, DC area.  While there I worked at The Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, known for its strong stand on the Separation of Church and State. Today we live in Providence, Rhode Island, established by Roger Williams based on the principle of Religious Liberty. 
               Our 36th pastor of The First Baptist Church in America said recently “The older I get, the less I believe. But the stronger I believe it.”  That’s appropriate here  because religious freedom led to another foundational Baptist tenet, the priesthood of the believer. And it has implications for those who come to the church from a different religious background. 
               For newcomers, the freedom to re-think old theologies can be exciting.  However, some are uncomfortable with soul liberty. They expect to find doctrines that agree with their previous church experiences. 
               This church has a motto, “We Reserve the Right to Accept Everybody.” There is no gender, racial, sexual orientation preferences or denominational bias. Our church stands proudly in the historical American Baptist tradition, but mostly we just try to live like Jesus.  Like the make-up of his original disciples, there’s a wide spectrum of belief and disbelief among the membership.  But when everybody thinks alike, nobody thinks much. So at our place we like to include our brain along with our soul.  But taking the priesthood seriously guarantees diversity, which is not bad, just different.   
               Some folks prefer structure in their religious life. First Baptist has sought to develop faith apart from the rules. It’s not a “sit-down-and-order-church,” but a “cafeteria church,” where one is free to pick and choose what they believe. It’s a kinder, gentler place which allows for the freedom to disagree and still be friends. And more importantly, to support one another during times when it’s hard to believe. 
               There’s no need for a priest to interfere with the direct contact between us and God because we are “priests to each other.”(1)  A church that takes the freedom of religious expression seriously means everyone gets their say. But it’s not a “my way or no way” church.  The only exclusion is self-exclusion.   
    A recent Sunday visitor wanted to know our take on the Bible. I said “We take the Bible seriously but not always literally.” He said, “My church believes the Bible is inerrant.”  I could tell where that conversation was going. So I wasn’t surprised at what came next, when he inquired about the role of women in the church. I pointed out that we believe gender was a non-issue with God, and “we accepted everybody, including women.” He said, “My church believes women should not teach or speak with authority over men.”   The last time I saw him he was headed for the men’s room! 
    Allowing people to do their own thinking, interpreting, believing, or disbelieving is threatening for a lot of religious persons. But if they stay with The Meeting House long enough to engage others in worship, biblical study and missional efforts, some initial misgivings about “what they’ve always believed” begin to fade.
               Before long they start to realize that the faith of their fathers and mothers may still be good for them, even if they’re Methodists! But it can’t be worn like Dad’s brown overcoat once they learn a better color for them is orange. 

    1. Carlyle Marney’s book by that title.

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    Recommended Online Reading for Informed Baptists
    Compiled by Bruce Gourley

    Georgia Group Aims to Coax More Seminarians to Pulpit
    Associated Press
    (June 2008)
    "They come from a host of Christian denominations, but one thing unites them: they are part of a shrinking number of theology students nationally who are interested in taking over a pulpit rather than doing something else with their degrees."

    A Real To-Do List For the Church
    On Faith: A Conversation On Religion
    (June 2008)
    “A lot of us believe that the reason for Jesus is to get our souls to heaven," Brian McLaren notes.  "But I don’t think Christianity is a fire escape message. I think the message of Christianity is about the Kingdom on Earth.” The Lord’s Prayer, McLaren reminded people, says “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” – not ‘get me off this planet’."


    Dates to Note

    June 19-20, 2008, Annual Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly, Memphis, Tennessee, Cook Convention Center.  Information and registration.

    July 16-19, 2008, British Baptist Historical Society Centenary Conference, International Baptist Theological Seminary, Prague.  Theme: Baptists and the World: Renewing the Vision. Keynote Speaker: Dr. Bill Leonard.  Click here for more information and registration information.

    July 26-29, 2008, The Baptist International Conference on Theological Education (BICTE), Prague, Czech Republic.  Visit the event website for more information.

    September 28-30, 2008, Mercer Preaching Consultation 2008, King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort, St. Simons Island, Georgia. Co-sponsored by McAfee School of Theology and the Center for Baptist Studies. Featured speakers include Dr. Greg Boyd and Dr. Joel Gregory.  See advertisement above for more information.

    October 3-8, 2008, Baptist Heritage Tour of New England with featured tour guide Walter Shurden, former Executive Director of The Center for Baptist Studies. Click here for registration and more information.

    If you know of a Baptist event that needs to be added to this list, please let us know.  For a full calendar of Baptist events, visit the Online Baptist Community Calendar.

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