Minneapolis Hosts National Baptist Convention Annual Session
The largest predominantly African American denomination in the U.S. is bringing upwards of 30,000 people to Minneapolis over Labor Day weekend for their Annual Session. With an estimated membership of 7.5 million people, the National Baptist Convention, USA is the oldest and largest African American religious convention, which acts much like a denomination.
“This is a really big deal, the convention planners are very careful in selecting a city. The Annual Session was held in Minneapolis nearly two decades ago, but planners were wowed by how much better our city has gotten,” said Rev. Dr. Billy Russell, President of the Minnesota State Convention, NBC, USA Inc.[pullquote2 style=”right” quote=”dark”]People have different perceptions of Minnesota; asking ‘Are there black people there?’[/pullquote2]Dr. Russell says this past year he has been a traveling salesman pitching Minnesota to a denomination that is predominantly based in the South. Only 30 of the NBC, USA’s 31,000 churches are in Minnesota, including Dr. Russell’s home church of Greater Friendship Missionary Baptist Church.
“People have different perceptions of Minnesota; asking ‘Are there black people there?’ ‘How racist is Minnesota?’ I tell them, Minnesota is just like any other state, I’ve experienced some of the same things here as I did when I lived in Mississippi,” said Dr. Russell. “And that’s why we need the presence of a historically black denomination here.”
The National Baptist Convention grew following the Civil War in response to the withdrawal of most white Baptist churches from doing mission work on the continent of Africa, according to the NBC, USA’s website.
Change in the City
The Annual Session will be held over Labor Day week (Sept. 3-7 2018) at the Minneapolis Convention Center. Expect the cities to be busy all weekend long, as delegates arrive early to shop and take advantage of our sales tax-free clothes.[pullquote2 style=”left” quote=”dark”]whatever city the convention goes to, that city is changed for the better[/pullquote2]Starting Sunday morning and running through Friday evening, the week will offer high energy praise and worship and reputable speakers; past convention speakers have included Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Rev. Jesse Jackson, and Senator Corey Booker.
“All denominations and all of Minnesota will be brought together for worship. We are trying to change the whole city. In the past whatever city the convention goes to, that city is changed for the better,” said Dr. Russell.
The convention’s presence will be felt across the entirety of Minneapolis with plans to do evangelism, crime prevention, employment outreach, and opportunities to serve the homeless from North to South Minneapolis.
Injustice Disturbs Us
The theme for the Annual Session is “We Are Better Together. Injustice of Any Kind Disturbs Us.” There will be a focus on social justice and specifically crime and violence prevention, entrepreneurship, and education and employment.
“I will present a plan for crime and violence prevention, based on what has worked in Minnesota,” said Dr. Russell. “Two years ago churches across all denominations got together with gangs in our communities to raise funds and call for peace and de-escalation. We have been able to accomplish on the streets what the police couldn’t do.” Read more about their efforts here.
Evolution Since the Civil Rights
That fervent call for social justice wasn’t initially the legacy of the National Baptist Convention.[pullquote2 style=”left” quote=”dark”]We believe there is strength in unity, and we are going to show the world what the Church looks like.[/pullquote2]In 1961, the NBCUSA split over the issue of civil rights. The convention president at the time, Rev. Joseph H. Jackson put more of an emphasis on preaching spiritual salvation rather than the political activism of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s nonviolent civil disobedience.
According to the NBC’s website, “differing concepts about engagement in the Civil Rights struggle and differing postures on term limitations for the president led to a division in the Convention and resulted in the formation of the Progressive National Baptist Convention.” The new convention, PNBC, embraced the nonviolent activism led by Martin Luther King Jr. and other Baptist ministers.
A New Lease on Civil Rights Advocacy
Rev. Billy Russell grew up during the Civil Rights era of the 1960s, he was one of the first school children to attend a desegregated school in Mississippi. [pullquote2 style=”right” quote=”dark”]We’re not trying to push the Baptist denomination, we are the Church period. [/pullquote2]He says older preachers at that time thought Dr. King was causing a raucous and in turn more problems for African Americans.
“It was a time when older pastors were against the tactics used by younger preachers, like Dr. King,” he said.
Fast forward to 2018, and Dr. Russell says there’s been a big change since that fragmented time.
“We believe there is strength in unity, and we are going to show the world what the Church looks like. We can’t be divided or separated,” said Dr. Russell. “We’ve got to do something, we can’t sit back and watch things happen and just say we are going to pray about it,” said Dr. Russell.
Better Together – Everyone is Invited
That’s the impetus for the National Baptist Convention’s 2018 theme “Better Together.”
“We’re better together, let’s work together. We’re not trying to push the Baptist denomination, we are the Church period. We should not let denomination or our differences separate us, we are still all God’s people,” said Dr. Russell.
The general public is invited to the entire assembly, and is encouraged to participate in the outreach, evangelism and praise and worship opportunities.