DALLAS—During the Texas Baptists Executive Board meeting May 20-21, outside experts, as well as convention leadership, staff, and officers repeatedly emphasized the importance of safeguards to protect those at church. The focus comes at a time when many Baptists are exploring more effective ways to prevent and respond appropriately to instances of sexual abuse within the church.
Katie Swafford, director of counseling services, organized a special two-hour presentation on sexual abuse prevention designed for board directors to attend on Monday afternoon. The presentation featured video training from attorney Greg Love of MinistrySafe, an industry leader in abuse prevention, and a follow-up panel discussion with time for questions and answers.
At the start of the special presentation, President Michael Evans encouraged board members to take to heart the importance of safety and security within churches.
“We are the watchmen and the individuals who I believe God has entrusted with the responsibility to take care of the lambs that He sends to us,” said Evans.
The four-person panel, comprised of church leaders from around the state, shared insight into safety procedures each had implemented in their churches and camps. Panelists discussed the importance of background checks, two adults always being present with children, peer-to-peer interactions and areas where walls are low and predators could easily gain access within churches.
“We live in a broken world and we minister to broken people,” said panelist Craig Christina, who is vice chair of the board and pastor of Shiloh Terrace Baptist Church in Dallas. “I cannot imagine you, as pastors, could not do all within your power to prevent something from happening on your campus. We want to protect the families, children, the church. We are undershepherds given the responsibility to protect.”
In addition to the overview provided by Love, and the panel discussion, Swafford provided information on upcoming MinistrySafe live training opportunities for pastors and church leaders in Houston, Georgetown and Corpus Christi.
At the conclusion of Tuesday’s session, Texas Baptists Associate Executive Director Steve Vernon announced plans to retire effective January 3, 2020.
“It has been a wonderful opportunity to serve Texas Baptists for the last 11 years,” said Vernon. “I love her churches, leadership and the staff that I work with…I’ve also worked with two of the finest men I’ve ever known—Randel Everett and David Hardage.”
Vernon has served in the executive leadership position since 2008. A committee comprised of Executive Director David Hardage, President Michael Evans, Board Chair Dennis Young, and Vice Chair Craig Christina, will meet this summer to review recommendations for the next Associate Executive Director. A recommendation will be made to the Executive Board for approval at the September 2019 board meeting.
“Thank you for the confidence you have placed in me over these years, it continues to be an honor,” Vernon said. “I look forward to the seven months I continue to serve and then look forward to hearing great things about the work of Texas Baptists for years to come.”
The fourth cohort of Leadership Texas Baptists participants was honored on Monday evening, at the conclusion of the nine-month leadership program. Thirteen emerging leaders in their 20’s and 30’s, ranging from pastors to institutional staff participated in the cohort. Applications are available for Cohort 5 of Leadership Texas Baptists.
In other business, CFO/Treasurer Jill Larsen shared a financial update. As of March 31, 2019, CP Texas gifts received were $7.4 million, which is 93.8% of the budget. Investment assets were up at $163.3 million, due to a positive market change. Additionally, Larsen shared that 57% of affiliated churches gave to CP Texas in 2018, including 247 churches who gave to CP in 2018 had not previously given in 2017. Additionally, 290 churches increased giving from the previous year.
Three recommendations were brought by Ward Hayes, chair of the Finance Committee, including a recommendation to invest reserve funds in a passive investment allocation through HighGround Advisors; rename and reallocate funds to the Counseling Subsidy for Survivors of Clergy Sexual Abuse Quasi-Endowment to provide counseling assistance for sexual abuse survivors; and to approve an expenditure for accounting software. Another recommendation was brought by the Audit Committee to approve Mitchell Thomas, of Park Cities Baptist Church in Dallas, to fill a vacancy on the Institutional Audits Council. All recommendations were approved by the board.