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McMURRAY, Pa. (BP) -- Messengers to the annual meeting of the Baptist Convention of Pennsylvania/South Jersey pressed on despite the impact of Hurricane Sandy on their region, gathering for a time of business and fellowship.

In the immediate aftermath of the storm, with disaster relief just beginning in the eastern part of the convention, messengers convened in the western part of the convention at Faith Community Church Lakeside in McMurray, Pa., Nov. 1-2.

The meeting drew 104 messengers and 82 guests from 61 Penn-Jersey churches. The convention has a total of 364 churches.

A 2013 budget of $3,573,346 was approved, marking an increase of 1 percent over the current budget. Anticipated Cooperative Program giving from Pennsylvania and South Jersey churches for the coming year is $825,000, with 25.5 percent of the receipts to be forwarded for national and international ministries, an increase of .1 percent. The budget does not include any Penn-Jersey/SBC shared expenses.

The North American Mission Board will provide $1,937,297 for the two-state convention while $75,170 will come from LifeWay Christian Resources.

The convention's new officers were elected by acclamation: president, Pusey Losch, pastor of Mountain View Community Church in Richland, Pa.; first vice president, Tom Lemmon, pastor of Faith Community Church Lakeside in McMurray, Pa.; and second vice president, Steve Clifton, pastor of Bread of Life Baptist Church in Altoona, Pa.

Kenton Hunt, pastor of Williamsport Southern Baptist Church in Williamsport, Pa., was elected recording secretary. Emma Tentarelli, a member of Cultivate Church in Voorhees, N.J., was re-elected assistant recording secretary. Fred Boehlke, a member of Trinity Baptist Church in Philadelphia, was re-elected historian. Jerry Cowan, pastor of Valley Baptist Church in Middletown, Pa., was elected parliamentarian.

With the theme "inDependence" based on Psalm 33:18, Bible studies were presented by Trent Kirkland, pastor of Zion Church in Clarion, Pa., and Darius Nable, pastor of The Church of the Good Shepherd in Cherry Hill, N.J.

The convention message was delivered by Fernando Downs, pastor of Southside Baptist Church in Lumberton, N.J. Downs' home and church were impacted by the hurricane, and a group of disaster relief volunteers were staying at the church despite no electricity.

Downs asked the messengers to assess the health of the convention, noting how many believers it takes to win one person to Christ.

"To understand how we're doing, we need to understand our assignment. Our assignment from God is redemption," Downs said.

From Ezekiel 37, Downs gave two practical applications. People of God, he said, need to understand the seriousness of sin and they need to believe that God is God.

"Only God can transform a life," he said, adding, "Jesus said, 'If I be lifted up, I will draw them to me.'"

Jeff Christopherson, the North American Mission Board's regional vice president for Canada and the Northeast, shared his testimony of how a movie theater showing a free Billy Graham movie helped introduce his family to Christ.

K. Marshall Williams, chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention's African American Advisory Council and pastor of Nazarene Baptist Church in Philadelphia, introduced Frank Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee.

Page preached from Revelation 2:1-7, warning messengers not to forsake their first love. He urged them to focus on the main job that needs to be done rather than being distracted by multiple good things. Page exhorted messengers not to let the tyranny of the urgent rob them of their first love, which is Christ and His Kingdom.

David Waltz, executive director of the Penn-Jersey convention, emphasized in his report that Penn-Jersey Baptists are part of a larger Southern Baptist family.

"As Southern Baptists we can do a lot more together," Waltz said, encouraging messengers to give through the Cooperative Program.

Waltz highlighted the work of Gail Hallman, leader of Penn-Jersey's Sending Missionaries team, and commended her missional mindset.

"South Jersey has a population of over 3 million people, one of the most unreached states in our nation with 2 percent evangelized," Waltz said. "The International Mission Board calls 2 percent or less an unreached area."

Hallman, who will retire at the end of the year, then gave a report on her work in South Jersey.

Waltz also shared a video that "makes proud to be a part of a family called Southern Baptists." The clip from ABC News featured Fred Luter being named "Person of the Week" upon his election as president of the SBC in June.

Waltz expressed gratitude for the African American Advisory Council and for Williams' service on the council, adding that he stands behind Williams and Luter as they help the convention move forward in race relations.

Kim Grueser, pastor of Pittsburgh Baptist Church in Pittsburg, completed his second term as president of the Penn-Jersey convention by delivering a sermon that included his testimony.

Karen Warren, an administrative assistant for the Baptist Association of Southwestern Pennsylvania, was recognized for more than 42 years of service. The association's building has been named in her honor.

Messengers approved resolutions of appreciation for Jerzy Ratz, who is retiring as director of the Philadelphia-based International Seaman's Ministry; for Gail Hallman, retiring as leader of the Sending Missionaries team; for Richard Wall, moving from the Keystone Baptist Association to Browns Mills Baptist Church in Browns Mills, N.J.; and for the host church.

Next year's annual meeting of the Baptist Convention of Pennsylvania/South Jersey will be Nov. 7-8 at a location to be determined in the central region of the convention.

Based on a report by Fanny Grote of the Baptist Convention of Pennsylvania/South Jersey. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

Copyright (c) 2012 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net

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