W. Craig Henry, an attorney and longtime lay leader in his Monroe, La., church and the Alliance of Baptists, has been honored with the Heart of the Alliance Award. A former president of the Alliance and one of its most generous supporters, Henry was cited “for his deep investment of time, energy, gifts and love, which have advanced the spirit of the Alliance of Baptists.”
Reflecting afterwards, Henry said he first learned of the Alliance in a published article soon after its formation in 1987. “In the midst of the turmoil in the Southern Baptist Convention, the Alliance sounded like just the home I was looking for. I immediately mailed a check and have been writing checks ever since!” Concerning his service to the Alliance, first as vice president and then as president, he stated, “I like to think that I provided some important leadership in helping us reach beyond our regional southeast United States roots.”
While the Alliance began as a movement of individuals ready to move on from Southern Baptist life, disaffected congregations soon began to inquire about church affiliation with the nascent group. One of these was Northminster Church in Monroe, a city of just under 50,000 residents.
“Our church,” Henry noted, “was formed in 1989, shortly after the Alliance. One of our first acts was to become a partnering congregation. For our little bunch of renegades here in very conservative northeast Louisiana, the Alliance has been our lifeline, our connection to likespirited congregations and folks across the United States. We are not alone! Because of the faithful, justice-seeking witness of the Alliance we have all been stretched in our thinking and in our acting.”
One such “stretching” began just months after its founding in the summer of 1989, when Northminster Church became one of the first Alliance-affiliated congregations to enter into a partnership with a church in Cuba affiliated with the Fraternidad de Iglesias Bautistas de Cuba, a group that began under circumstances remarkably similar to those that led to the creation of the Alliance. Along with representatives of other Alliance churches, a delegation of four from Northminster traveled to Cuba to assess readiness to enter into congregational partnerships.
“In Ciego de Ávila we fell in love with the folks at Iglesia Bautista Enmanuel,” Henry recalled. The partnership, now 25 years on, has flourished as few others. Calling the relationship an ongoing “lovefest,” he declared: “What a beautiful, mutual partnership it has been. Lots of memories, and memories yet to make.”
Asked to reflect on Henry’s impact on Northminster Church, his longtime pastor and friend of 25 years, C. Welton Gaddy, wrote:
“Craig embodies empathy, sensitivity and compassion; he is a tireless and vocal advocate for equality and justice for everybody. With those traits he has earned respect in his profession, become a leader in our community, a noted supporter of the arts, and an impassioned participant in local as well as state politics, and as a patriot in our nation.
“No one person can make a church. But Craig has demonstrated how one person who has a biblical understanding of the meaning of church and a will to bring that understanding into reality can provide incredible vision, inspiration and strength to a church. Never has Craig’s commitment, energy and work related to church been more important to others and more fulfilling to himself than when he helped lead a few visionary people to start a new church and bring to northeast Louisiana a new kind of pastoral and prophetic authenticity and spirituality through a body of devoted believers who were and are ministers and activists.”
Begun in 2011 to recognize individuals and groups whose contributions to the Alliance have been particularly noteworthy, the Heart of the Alliance Award has cited eight individuals and one congregation, Baptist Church of the Covenant in Birmingham, Ala. Besides Craig Henry, individual honorees include Anne Thomas Neil (2011), Henry Crouch (2012), Roger and Mary Ruth Crook (2015), Relma Hargus (2016), and Anita and David Massengill (2017).
Stan Hastey is former executive director of the Alliance of Baptists. Among other things, he also was instrumental in the development of the Alliance’s partnership with the Fraternidad de Iglesias Bautistas de Cuba.