By Patrick Keating
CHRONICLE STAFF WRITER
The National Baptist Congress will hold its 106 annual conference at Cobo Center June 10-15, with Rev. Jim Holley, senior pastor at Historic Little Rock Baptist Church, serving as host pastor. According to conference organizer LaDonna Boyd, the theme this year is peace and prosperity in difficult times. The scriptural reference is John 14:27.
The National Baptist Congress was established in 1906 by Rev. Richard Henry Boyd, a former slave, who in 1896 had formed the R.H. Boyd Publishing Corp. Dr. T.B. Boyd III, LaDonna Boyd’s father, is the current president and CEO.
“Every year our theme for the congress changes,” LaDonna Boyd said, adding that the Congress does a traveling school of Christian education.
“So, every year we’re in a different city, and we seek to provide the city with economic development and spreading the Gospel through presentations and classes. We have nationally-noted speakers who are coming, as well as entertainers.”
She said they seek to always leave a city better than they found it. According to Boyd, some 5,000 people are expected to attend, and the conference will generate $5.5 million in revenues for the city. She said hotel, dining and tourism dollars make up a large amount of that revenue, though conference leaders are also encouraging guests to patronize various businesses throughout the city— especially African American-owned businesses.
She also said the Congress also offers scholarship programs to youth across the country.
Boyd also said that the National Baptist Congress likes to visit cities again (they were previously in Detroit 11 years ago), and that all the cities the Congress goes to are the ones where they have the biggest following.
“We like to make those commitments to cities that work with our conference, and always have pleasant experience,” she said. “That’s what mean by our economic development; just bringing a conference of this size into the city to spend dollars.”
Asked if the Congress has any particular goals, and whether they vary from city to city, Boyd said they gave a general schedule they stick with.
“We can incorporate other things into that schedule if necessary,” she said, adding that city officials and key individuals are invited to speak to the congregation and Congress youth, and to get the city involved and excited about the Congress’ arrival.
She said the general goals of the Conference are to bring people out to hear nationally-known speakers and entertainers; and to offer them an array of classes. The Congress also always seeks to increase its membership numbers. That’s a main goal.
This year’s guests include Vickie Winans, Kierra “Kiki” Sheard, Dr. Dorinda Clark-Cole, Rev. Dr. Tellis Chapman, Rev. Dr. James C. Perkins and Rev. Dr. Wayne E. Croft.
Boyd said the Congress offers about 70 classes per year, as well as different seminars. She said the classes are mostly in theology. Courses are offered to people of all ages.
“We have a specific youth congress, and then we have our adult class offerings,” she said. “For the adults we have classes like ‘Why am I Baptist. We teach a class on world religion. One of our classes is called ‘Experiencing God.’ Another one is ‘issues facing the 21st century family’; ‘Survey of the Old Testament’, and it goes on and on.”
She said the classes are all Bible-based in addressing current issues within society.
She added that they have classes on marriage and parenthood, too.
Classes are only taught during the congress. There’s no “campus”, per se, though their offices are in Nashville.
She said most attendees try to do a little of everything offered during the conference.
“There are so many offerings,” she said, adding that there’s a full day of available activities.
“We, of course, encourage everyone to take part in the class sessions, and at least hear our morning assemblies,” she said.
The first class starts at 7 a.m., followed by the general assembly at 9.
“It goes all day, and we actually close it out about midnight, because we have a late service that starts at 10 p.m. in the host hotel,” she said.
Boyd said the overall mission of the National Baptist Congress is Christian education and leadership skills. She said the Congress has always been a resource for pastors and ministers and their congregations.