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  • Settling the Table, by Ann Quattlebaum

    Ann Quattlebaum offered these words at the 30th anniversary banquet during the Alliance of Baptists' annual gathering on April 28, 2017.

    Brene Brown, a noted clinical social worker perhaps best known for her TED talks, writes that owning our story—our personal gifts, imperfections and vulnerabilities—and loving ourselves through that uncovering 

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    process is the bravest thing that an individual will ever do. She compellingly argues that this is absolutely necessary work if we are to experience a joyful living that she calls WHOLEHEARTEDNESS: a knowing, understanding and loving of our true selves while allowing others to see and know us as we are most authentically. She describes this as EQUAL PARTS HEART AND HEAD WORK, noting the importance of her Christian faith as she continues her life-long journey toward wholeheartedness.

    I think our founders, those who “set the table” for the banquet that was to become The Alliance of Baptists, understood the importance of wholeheartedness on an institutional level. Others were telling us who we were supposed to be as Baptists instead of allowing us to live our own stories. These founders began difficult heart and head work, risking personal pain and sacrifice while relying on a community and a theology that felt Christ-centered and authentic. This work resulted in an invitation to a new table laden with hospitality and spread with an inclusive tablecloth. The Alliance’s Covenant became the table’s visual centerpiece, just the right size so as not to be too big to get in the way of earnest—and sometimes lively—conversation. (Why Baptist?) The founders laid china and glasses to ensure that hungry people had a means to partake of Bread, Wine, and Living Water in a welcoming and safe place. Utensils served specific purposes and facilitated each meal, also reminding that each of us is a tool with varied gifts and usefulness in promoting the earthly realm of God.

    Perhaps the final preparation was an unlimited supply of place cards, invitations to the table for individuals, congregations, existing and new Baptist entities, and mission partners, signifying there is always room for everyone at this ever-expanding table.

    All of us who dine at this special table in 2017 feel deep gratitude to its thirty-three founders. (Some dare call them saints, but I know many of them too well to do that!) I ask you to stand as I call your name. Those whom we know are here tonight are Walter Coleman, Welton Gaddy, Richard Groves, Nancy Sehested, Mahan Siler and Jim Strickland. (Others?) Alliance Founders who are deceased are Tom Austin, Tom Conley, Henry Crouch, Bill Treadwell and Alan Neely. In his very excellent history of the Alliance, Andrew Gardner refers to Alan and our beloved Anne Thomas Neil, also deceased, as the father and mother of the organization. Although she wasn’t a founder, Anne was very influential from its earliest days and, perhaps more than anyone else, is responsible for the equal participation of women in the life and work of The Alliance. We profoundly thank you all, including others who could not be here tonight, for your vision, your courage, and your tenacity.

    Another important person in the room tonight is Jeanette Holt. No expression of our appreciation for you is adequate, Jeanette. Can those of you who are old enough to remember imagine the Alliance surviving its early years without the staff leadership of Jeanette and Stan Hastey? They guided us through both difficult and joyful times, stabilizing with their knowledge and wisdom, their passion for the work of the Alliance, and their love for its membership. We regret that Stan could not be here tonight to receive our gratitude in person, but we are happy that he and Bettie made a recent move to sunny Florida.

    When Jeanette and Stan retired after so many years of dedication to The Alliance, some expressed concern that we might be at risk because they had played such huge parts in its success and their absence as “table hosts” would be hard to overcome. We miss them, of course, but look at the “hosts” we have now: Paula Dempsey, Carole Collins, Leah Grundset Davis, Cathy McGaughey, Ken Meyers, Kristy Pullen and Jason Smith. Under their shared leadership, we continue to grow and increase in influence. We are very grateful to each of you for your beautiful ability to serve together and maintain the table in an invitational and nurturing way. We thank God for you and pledge to you our continuing personal support and our support of The Alliance. And, I have to add that I am especially gratified and assured about the well-being of our future when I look around the room and see so many young adults who are choosing to participate in and provide real leadership to the organization.

    We can’t possibly individually name everyone who has influenced the Alliance as it reaches this important milestone, so I would like to recognize and ask all current and former officers to stand and remain standing. Current and former Board members. Any one who has served on a committee of an Alliance convocation, program, mission, or provided any other service. Now I ask the rest of you to stand, for your very presence indicates your value to the health of The Alliance family. Lastly, as we remain standing, I invite any of you to say aloud a name of someone who is not present and has not been mentioned and for whom you would publicly like to express personal gratitude and celebrate their contribution to The Alliance.

    (Many very special people were named at the banquet!)

    The banquet continues. The table remains ready but servers are needed, for many are still hungry and hurting. We have not arrived; our work has just begun! May God continue to guide our journey toward institutional wholeheartedness.