By Karen L. Willoughby, Managing Editor
HAMMOND – Three associations in southeastern Louisiana are pondering consolidation of their administrative structure.
[img_assist|nid=6141|title=The North Shore Baptist Association office serves the people between Pearl River on the Mississippi state line and Livingston|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=100|height=75]The executive boards of the three Baptist Associations served by Director of Missions and Ministries Lonnie Wascom each voted unanimously in their January meetings to recommend to their churches that they establish a new Northshore Baptist Association at their 2010 annual meetings.
In further action, they authorized their associational moderators to establish a transition team to formulate governing and financial documents and policies to be recommended as well, at the fall meetings. The first meeting of the transition team took place Feb. 10.
This involves the Chappapeela, LaTangi and St. Tammany Baptist Associations.
The recommendations carried two stipulations, Wascom said. All three associations must approve – “We move together or not at all” – and the matter be voted on in 2010 and again in 2011. First to be approved (or not) for the 2010-2011 year, and if approved, visited again at the 2011 annual meeting for a second vote, making the arrangement permanent or returning to the structure as it is today.
“The member churches of the associations will make the decision when they gather at Living Waters Baptist Assembly near Loranger on Oct. 11 for an historic, combined annual meeting,” Wascom said. “Each association will conduct its business separately, and then gather for a combined reporting/celebrating/worship time.
“Can we continue to function as we have should one or more of the associations vote ‘no’ to the recommendation? Absolutely,” Wascom continued. “We will continue to work cooperatively, no matter what the decision.”
The change is to improve stewardship of time and money, Wascom said.
“At the final Executive Board meeting after the vote was taken I heard someone say, ‘Finally!’ You see, he knows we have been operating in cooperation for years now,” Wascom continued. “It is simply the right time for us to have our administrative model reflect how we conduct our cooperative missions ministry.”
Churches in southeastern Louisiana north of New Orleans have tweaked the way they associated since the time the first few churches were established.
In what today is known as St. Tammany Baptist Association, the oldest churches still in existence in the association are Hebron Baptist Church in Bush, organized in 1831, and Bogue Falaya in Folsom, organized in 1858. In LaTangi Baptist Association, it’s Old Zion Hill in Independence, organized in 1832 and New Beulah in Hammond, 1859. In Chappapeela Baptist Association, First Baptist Hammond, organized in 1888, is the only church started in the 1800s in that association still in existence, according to the 2008 annual report of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.
The St. Tammany Baptist Association was organized in 1906 in Slidell, reorganized in 1914 with the New Orleans Baptist Association, and reorganized again in 1925, when New Orleans Association broke off, and the West Pearl River Association came in. Today, 43 churches and missions are members of St. Tammany. Two more are under watchcare, a preliminary step toward membership.
The LaTangi Baptist Association of 11 churches was organized in 1956 from the Amite River Association, which was located in Livingston and Tangipahoa Parishes. By 1972, there were 20 churches. Today, there are 19.
The Chappapeela Baptist Association was organized in 1965 by churches formerly belonging to Tangipahoa Association. Sixteen congregations were in the association in 1972. Today, 32 churches and missions are members; one more is under watchcare.
Then came the “District” concept of associational life. These three associations, plus the three that Joe Baugh today is director of missions of, and what today is known as Eastern Louisiana Baptist Associations, were a part of District 11. District 11 was legally dissolved not many years ago, though it had functioned in name for 40 years, He said.
The outcome of that dissolution was the incorporation of the North Shore Baptist Associations, which included the Chappapeela, Eastern Louisiana, LaTangi and St. Tammany Baptist Associations. Under the leadership of the director of missions at that time, Reggie Ogea, this entity was created to protect the property and buildings owned by the associations.
Eastern Louisiana left the North Shore cluster at the end of 2003. Just east of the Greater Baton Rouge Baptist Association, and including the rapidly growing towns of Denham Springs and Livingston, ELBA was evolving from a rural to an urban association.
When Wascom was called as director of missions and ministries in 2004, he spent 18 months visiting all the churches in the three associations – getting to know them and them, getting to know the new DOM whose salary and benefits they had just begun providing. This was because the Louisiana Baptist Convention executive director and executive board had returned the obligation of providing salary and benefits for the DOM to the churches of the association – in this case, three associations.
Hurricane Katrina plus three more that followed within a three-year time span, and other missions and ministries, found the three associations working and serving together across associational lines in an unprecedented manner.
“All those factored into what I wanted to see: walls coming down,” Wascom said. “When I think of the Northshore Baptist Association region, I see us as a waffle, not a pancake. We are made up of many distinct ethnic people groups, many speaking their own language and isolated by their unique culture.
“Like pouring syrup on a waffle, we have yet to get the gospel to all the peoples in our region,” the DOM continued. “Evangelizing a region such as ours entails the challenge of reaching distinctly different peoples with the gospel. To do that in the most effective way, we all need to work together and be good stewards of our time and financial resources. I believe the new administrative model will help us do just that.”