Reflecting on the 2023 Annual Gathering

By Lisa Dunson

Over the weekend of April 21-23, 2023, the Alliance of Baptists held our Annual Gathering in Atlanta, Georgia. This was the first time we have been able to gather in person since 2019 due to Covid-19. The theme of this year’s Annual Gathering was “To Set the Captives Free,” grounded in the Gospel of Luke 4:18.

From the moment we arrived, we were filled with an energy that flowed from heart to heart intertwined with feelings of expectancy, anticipation and excitement as we all somewhat privately acknowledged to ourselves that we knew we were about to “move on up a little higher” as we continued the work of excavating not just our roots, but all of the roots that have birthed and continue to birth systemic racism, generational oppression and individual and collective trauma in Black and Brown people and communities. We knew and we came with the understanding that as the Alliance of Baptists we have much work to do both internally and externally as individual members, in our member congregations, and as a denominational, faith-based organization.

The Gathering reflected the diversity found in the world in which we reside and the world as God designed and created it to be. Our speakers, preachers, panelists, presenters, and musicians were nothing short of phenomenal, and all that we heard both encouraged and challenged us to continue our journey to becoming our best selves, both collectively as the Alliance of Baptists and individually, as carriers of the messages we heard. Our plenary sessions and workshops covered everything from “Decolonizing Liturgy” to “A Clerical Response to Crisis: An Alternative to a Law Enforcement Response to Mental Health Emergencies” to “Confronting Whiteness” to Womanist and Sistheology: A Divine Movement by Black Women to Care for Themselves and Each Other in Community” to the work of Abolition and our call to be modern-day Abolitionists (and no, it’s not your great-grands Abolition).

“I am proud to be a part of an organization that is doing the work it has been called to do in God’s kin-dom; a kin-dom where “all God’s children got shoes” and a seat at the table.”

It is my sincere belief, that given the breadth of information that was shared as well as the immediate accessibility to the experts that presented the information, we all came away with not just something, but some things that resonated with us and that we are committed to following up on and/or becoming an active participant in. For me, I had to pick up a tote to put in all I wanted to delve deeper into after the Gathering, and neither time nor space affords me the opportunity to touch on all of them; however, one of those ‘things’ I placed in my tote was the movement to Stop Cop City. Rev. Ben Boswell, Senior Pastor of Myers Park Baptist Church, spoke about Cop City, the planned police and fire training center that is slated to be built outside of Atlanta in Dekalb County on 381 acres of forest land at an expected cost of $90 million dollars. Following his sermon, those of us who worshipped on Sunday at Park Avenue Baptist Church participated in honoring Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, an activist who was killed or as many put it “assassinated in cold blood,” as he nonviolently protested Cop City. And let me be clear that should Cop City be built in Georgia it will be and is expected to be the blueprint for other militarized police training facilities throughout the U.S.

The second takeaway for me that I will share here is how important and necessary the work of Abolition is as we work to abolish the systems that seek to compound injury upon insult to Black and Brown people and communities of color; and acknowledging that it is our responsibility to do our part to ensure that the re-victimization by unjust systems of authority levied against those who have been and are historically situated on the margins of society ends. As President of the Alliance of Baptists, let me say, this was an awesome Gathering!!! The co-directors and staff of the Alliance along with the entire planning team did a remarkable job and are to be commended for how well they executed the task of planning this Gathering! Elijah, Carole, April, Dejon, Malu, Stephanie, Cathy, Kristy, Brett, Caroline, Aretha, David, Tara, Ash, JoEllen, Elizabeth, Mia, Carrie, Kate, Ashley, Alexis, and Melanie…my sincere thanks to each of you for making this 2023 Annual Gathering an absolute success!

To Oakhurst Baptist Church and to Park Avenue Baptist Church, we thank you for sharing your space and your resources with us!

Lastly, I am proud to be a part of an organization that is doing the work it has been called to do in God’s kin-dom; a kin-dom where “all God’s children got shoes” and a seat at the table. We recognize the blessing in our being both a ‘brave space’ and a ‘safe space’ where the prophetic voices that seek to and are working toward making our world an Amos 5:24 world can speak ‘truth to power,’ where all who are committed to doing the often-times hard Luke 14:8 work find co-laborers in the field and where those who want to be a part of this justice work have and/or can find a home. It is my absolute pleasure to be able to serve the Alliance of Baptists as its President—in and for “such a time as this”!

The Reverend Lisa Dunson is the President of the Alliance of Baptists Executive Committee and is a member of the Ministerial Team at Covenant Baptist UCC. She also serves as Co-Chair of the African American Women in Ministry (AAWIM) Global Engagement Committee and on the Executive Committee for the Potomac Association AAWIM.

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