By John Armistead
JACKSON - Representatives at the 166th annual meeting of the Mississippi Baptist Convention Tuesday elected the Rev. Frank Pollard as their new president.
Pollard, pastor of the 8,000-member First Baptist Church of Jackson, and the Rev. William P. "Bill" Smith, director of missions for the Lee County Baptist Association, were the only two nominees. Pollard received 717 votes to Smith's 192.
"I want to spend this year encouraging our people for missions and evangelism and especially fellowship," said Pollard, 67, after his election. "Jesus said, Because you love each other, all men will know that you are my disciples.' Many people think we're not like the disciples because we don't love each other as we should."
The convention's president is elected for a one-year term and is eligible for re-election for one additional term.
Pollard, who has served as pastor of the state's largest Baptist church for 21 years, has announced his retirement, effective Jan. 1, 2002. He will then begin teaching preaching two days a week at Baylor University's Truett Seminary in Waco, Texas. At one time, Pollard served as president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, Calif.
The Rev. Kermit McGregor, pastor of First Baptist Church of Mendenhall and the current convention president, opened the morning session by leading the messengers, as the representatives from the convention's 2,000 churches are called, in saying the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag, the Christian flag and the Bible. The saying of the pledges was an addition to the program, which had been printed prior to Sept. 11.
Resolutions were introduced by messengers dealing with human embryonic stem cell research, the events of Sept. 11 and the nation's current war on terrorism, and domestic violence. The resolutions will be discussed and voted on today.
Tupelo Mayor Larry Otis, a messenger from Calvary Baptist Church, gave one of the testimonies.
"God works through me and makes me appear greater than I am," said Otis. "Without him I am not capable of doing anything. When I am asked to take on a task, I go to the Lord in prayer. I can only respond when I feel a peace in his leadership."
The Rev. Jeffrey Parker, pastor of the Southside Baptist Church in Jackson, preached the convention sermon. "Now, in the midst of Sept. 11, this nation has heard from its liberal media and its government officials," said Parker. "The nation now waits for a word from its preachers."
Parker chastised the pastors for compromising the gospel, trying to be managers and CEOs rather than ministers, passionless preaching, and in thinking that politics will meet the needs of a country in crisis.
"The soul and heartbeat of America is in her pulpits," he said. "The only Bush that will save this land is the burning bush of Sinai. We need a word from God."
The state convention is a blend of revival, worship and business, but one of its most important aspects is the fellowship renewal among the participants.
"I ate lunch today with a guy I hadn't seen in two years," said the Rev. Bert Harper, pastor of West Jackson Street Baptist Church in Tupelo. "We got to renew acquaintance and spend some time. Convention is a renewing time. The Southern Baptist Convention used to be like this. It's neat that Mississippi still is, and that's the driving desire for me to come. To renew fellowship."
The total membership of the churches which belong to the Mississippi Baptist Convention is almost 700,000.
The convention, meeting at First Baptist Church in Jackson, will conclude at noon today.