Crisply marching drill teams of youths launched the National Baptist Congress today, a conference with three days of music, sacred dance and seminars.
The 105th annual Congress, meeting at the Broward Convention Center and the nearby Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina Hotel, will blend inspiration, celebration and training on how church people can affect their communities. About 6,000 to 8,000 people are expected to attend the four-day gathering.
"We'll examine where faith meets reality," said T. B. Boyd III, president of the R. H. Boyd Publishing Corporation, sponsor of the gathering. "The people will take knowledge back to help their churches. So this conference will have a great impact on the nation."
After a Tuesday night gospel concert, the conference scheduled its main opening for this morning, with thousands of young people forming a March for Jesus. Trained by churches around the nation, the youths execute marching formations in tight patterns. They’ll compete for best group this week.
After the procession, the attendees will be able to attend more than 70 classes and seminars. Sessions deal with matters such as preaching, choir direction, church finance and social issues.
Speaking at the conference will be about 20 ministers, during classes, rallies and worship services. One of them will be the controversial Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. of Chicago, who drew attention when he said "God damn America" rather than "God bless America."
At a press conference on Tuesday, Boyd acknowledged Wright can be controversial but praised him as a "great preacher of the gospel" who "understands that we must go beyond church walls."
Boyd said that past conferences, too, have invited controversial leaders, like Benjamin Hooks, Jesse Jackson and, in 2010, Al Sharpton.
Added David Groves, director of publication: "A diversity of speakers enhances Christian education. Some may be controversial; but from controversy, we learn. It's up to the listeners to decide what they believe."
The events divide into morning Bible rallies, afternoon classes and seminars, nightly concerts at 7 p.m., and late-night services at the hotel, starting at 10 p.m. Classes cost $110 for the first, $75 for the next, but the nightly concerts are free.
The drill teams are only one activity for the youths, expected to make up nearly 40 percent of attendees. Tuesday night, the youths gathered for a gospel concert and comedy show. Tonight they’ll attend an event called the Spoken Word Café, hearing an urban poet named Butterfly. On Friday, the youths plan to make food boxes for Feeding South Florida. Some youths also plan to learn sacred dance.
Culminating the youth activities will be a big finale about 6 p.m. Friday, including the dancers and the drill teams.
The conference was more than outside staff work; it's also been the work of 95-110 local volunteers, organized by host pastor Anthony Burrell of Pompano Beach. The Host Committee has coordinated work of several other groups, for matters like transportation, hospitality and exhibitions.
A tradeshow area boasts an enormous variety of merchandise. Besides the usual Bibles, hymnals and souvenir T-shirts, 50-60 vendors are selling suits, dresses, hats, shoes, ties, jewelry. You could almost dress yourself head to toe.
Staffers from nearby Broward Health will be on hand to give health screening.
Although the Congress retains its black Baptist style, Boyd stressed that everyone is welcome.
"It's not just for African Americans," he said. "You don’t even have to be on two legs. Just come in."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun