Posted on : Thursday October 15, 2020

By Sharon Mager

MIDDLETOWN, Md.— On Oct. 13, the General Mission Board (GMB) of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware (BCM/D) met for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic changed lives throughout the world and shut many church building doors. Some GMB members arrived at Skycroft Conference Center in Middletown, Maryland, masked, and sat in Gresham Hall, appropriately socially distant. Others joined the meeting via Zoom.

Members voted to transfer reserve funds to sustain Skycroft’s operation and to proceed with investigating financing to repair or replace the aging septic system on the grounds. Additionally, they voted to include meeting at Skycroft as part of an orientation process for new churches and those affiliating with the convention.

Following a short time of worship led by GMB Vice President Randall Blackmon, GMB President Frank Duncan welcomed board members, thanking them for their patience and faithfulness during a time filled with challenges. He also expressed appreciation for BCM/D officers who agreed to continue their terms of office for an additional year, due to the cancellation of the BCM/D’s annual meeting in 2020.

Duncan shared Jeremiah 9:23-24: “‘This is what the Lord says: the wise person should not boast in his wisdom; the strong should not boast in his strength; the wealthy should not boast in his wealth. But the one who boasts should boast in this: that he understands and knows Me — that I am the Lord, showing faithful love, justice, and righteousness on the earth, for I delight in these things. This is the Lord’s declaration.’”

Duncan prayed “Without You, we know nothing, we can do nothing. Help us to remain humble, to never presume … grant us wisdom that comes from above, Your wisdom to make decisions to glorify Your great name. We are your servants, your children. Use us as instruments of Your work.”

Financial Report 
Associate Executive Director Tom Stolle reported Cooperative Program (CP) receipts totaled $2,420,630.14 for the nine months ended Sept. 30, 2020 — down ($244,662.31) or (9.2 percent) from the year-to-date total which ended September 2019. Compared to the expected drop, Stolle said he is “incredibly encouraged.” The deficit is much lower than initially expected when the pandemic hit in mid-March.

When compared to budget, year-to-date CP receipts are down ($316,869.86) or (11.6 percent).

No major ministry/expense area is over budget. “The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we interact with our churches. We are engaging more virtually for a variety of reasons,” Stolle shared.

Regarding net income/deficit, Stolle reported that for the nine months ended Sept. 30, 2020, the bottom-line deficit totals ($86,666.21).

For the nine months ended Sept. 30, 2020, a total of $58,505.92 of the $112,512.46 of the State Missions Offering has been expended, with most dollars applied to ministry assistance for our Kenya partners.

Stolle, taking an overall view of Skycroft Conference Center’s finances, shared that income and expenses are just a fraction of the annual budget due to the lack of activity on “the mountain.”  Income is at 23.5 percent of budget and expenses are at 38.6 percent of budget.

Stolle said that the pandemic and associated government regulations mean few guests, certainly not enough to make money. He also added that the Payroll Protection Loan funds have been expended and monthly cash receipts are not sufficient to cover operating expenses in the current COVID-19 environment.

Skycroft will report a sizeable operating deficit at year-end that could exceed $500,000.

Stolle said “BCM/D Columbia is in a good ready cash position with its bills paid in full and on time. Skycroft is not in a good ready cash position. The pandemic, combined with state regulations, has wreaked havoc on the operation.” To continue operating the conference center, additional funding is needed from either reserves, borrowing, or support from BCM/D operations until the pandemic wanes.

Currently, BCM/D reserves total approximately $3,279,363.43.

Stolle said, “We pray God is pleased with what we’re doing, what you’re doing in churches, and what we’re doing in the convention, honoring Him in all we do.”

Stolle provided the report for the Baptist Foundation of Maryland/Delaware. He said the foundation will, as usual, write a check to the convention from the loan fund. These funds will be to start and strengthen churches. It appears that the check will total between $85,000 to $100,000, with the final figure available after the completion of the Baptist Foundation audit.

Skycroft Study Committee Report
Tim Simpson, reporting for the Skycroft Study Committee, recognized Skycroft Director Emily Reedy, thanking her for her leadership on the mountain, and for the Skycroft staff’s hard work during difficult times.

Simpson explained that Skycroft serves approximately 25,000 guests annually. This vital ministry is currently hampered by aging wastewater system. Replacing Skycroft’s septic system, constructed in the 1970’s, has now become a priority. Though functioning, the system will eventually fail if there is no repair or replacement.

Along with an engineer and legal counsel, Stolle and Reedy met with county officials in September and reported it was generally positive and cooperative.

Victor Kirk, GMB Administrative Committee Chairman, brought a recommendation, which the board approved, to permit Stolle to move forward with seeking financing for the estimated project cost, which, as currently estimated, could approximate $1,000,000. Information will be gathered and presented at the December 2020 GMB meeting for possible further action, including approval of securing the needed financing.

Additionally, board members approved a recommendation to permit the use of Skycroft reserve funds to sustain the operation, covering the estimated 2020 cash shortfall caused by the pandemic. “Skycroft is not a separate entity of BCM/D,” said Administrative Committee Chairman Victor Kirk. “We are part of Skycroft and they are part of us. We need to sustain Skycroft and its staff.” Kirk said the set-aside money in the reserves was originally for future improvements, “but at this point, we need it to sustain Skycroft.” Kirk also noted that all full-time Skycroft staff have been working primarily in a maintenance capacity once the pandemic hit, dramatically affecting the number of guests on site.

Registration is currently open for 2021 youth and children’s camps. Registration for the January winter camp is currently strong.

The board also recommended that future orientation meetings for new church plants and existing churches affiliating with the BCM/D be held at Skycroft. 

Executive Director’s Report
BCM/D Executive Director Kevin Smith told GMB members he appreciates their serving an additional year on the board during the pandemic.

Smith encouraged members, emphasizing the convention’s purpose to strengthen and plant churches. “We try to implement the core values of cooperation, affirmation, and multiplication,” Smith said.

“We can do more together than we can do individually,” he said, highlighting the impact cooperation has had, especially in striving to minister and serve during COVID-19 – locally, nationally, and internationally. “Because of our cooperation together, we have been able to encourage congregations in challenging times,” he added. “We’ve had opportunities to help brothers and sisters who have been hit with some extreme challenges …

“Because of our cooperation together and the CP, we still have thousands of missionaries on the ground all over the world and many of those missionaries are providing extensive ‘love your neighbor’ ministries …”

Smith shared that the BCM/D support which has undergirded three Baptist associations in western Kenya has been life-sustaining. The convention’s liaison in Kenya has assured Smith that the support from Maryland/Delaware has prevented possible starvation from taking place in some areas.

Through cooperation, church planters all around the United States are still receiving support and Southern Baptist seminaries are training future pastors.

Smith said he is encouraged by churches that were able to adapt to continue ministry during the pandemic. “Life changed,” Smith said, and he is celebrating churches’ responsiveness and creativity. “Brothers and sisters with no exposure to live-streaming, Facebook Live, and YouTube quickly pivoted.” He noted how churches also embraced online giving and quickly learned necessary safety protocols.

Smith said, “In the midst of trying times, I’ve been so encouraged to see how much pastors love their particular congregations.

“This is a challenging time for pastors,” he acknowledged, referring to people of different opinions regarding safety issues and protocols; ministry in a contentious election year; and social tension in society. “And yet in the midst of it all, Maryland/Delaware pastors are loving their congregations,” Smith said. They are faithfully preaching the Word of God, faithfully sharing from their pulpits, and seeking every effort to “keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

First Vice President’s Closing Remarks
BCM/D’s First Vice President Glenn Swanson told members, “God is still in control. Keep remembering that.”

He encouraged members to have attitudes of salt and light and said, “Our treasures are laid up in heaven.”

Referring to Matthew 6:25, he emphasized being anxious for nothing:“Therefore I tell you: don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing?”

“I haven’t seen any birds hungry,” said Swanson, with a smile. Keep your hearts on eternal things, he said.

Swanson referred to an old story about a skier who kept getting frustrated because he was running into the trees. “A wise man said, ‘don’t focus on the trees, focus on the path,’” Swanson related. The skis go where the eyes focus.

Swanson said we must keep our focus on Jesus.

He closed the meeting in a time of group prayer.

Cover photo by Dr. Kevin Smith