James Merritt was the president of the convention that year, and he warned the messengers at the start of the meeting that he had been told the proceedings would be interrupted at some point in the day by gay rights advocates. He told us if that happened, just to remain calm and the event security would take care of things. Sure enough, about midway into Merritt's sermon later that morning a dozen or so protesters stood up at various positions from within the audience (I don't think you had to show a name badge to get into the meeting hall back in those days) and they began shouting at Merritt and chanting slogans. Merritt, for his part, gave it right back to them from the pulpit. I don't remember exactly what he said, but I'm sure it was something along the lines that they should repent of their sin and believe upon Jesus. Most of the messengers heeded Merritt's instructions to remain calm, although I did (unfortunately) see one old Baptist preacher get up in the protesters' faces and scream at them. As a small town kid from the Ozarks at his first big convention, this was better than the circus! I was in awe, thinking "Why haven't I come to these before? This is great!" It got even more exciting when we left the morning session and a number of police in full riot gear were stationed along the sidewalks protecting us from a large group of protesters outside the arena. I'm not sure we really needed the protection, but it definitely left an impression.
Beyond that, I remember being particularly moved by the worship. (If you've never been in a setting where thousands of people are singing praises together, it is powerful.) I remember being humored by a man named Wiley Drake who went to the microphone time and time again to make motions. I remember being intrigued by a guy in a casual, short-sleeve shirt named Rick Warren who spoke and showed a video of people being baptized in an outdoor baptism pool at his southern California church. (This was before Purpose Driven Life became a best seller.) All-in-all, it was a great experience.
Since that time, I have attended most of the SBC annual meetings and have compiled a lot of good memories. (Although none quite as exciting as that first one in St. Louis.) In 2005, I participated in Crossover Nashville and got to meet and be trained by Bill Fay in his Share Jesus Without Fear material, which I still use to this day. I was also interviewed by a local television station while participating in Crossover, and was on the local news that evening. That was a neat experience.
In 2012 in New Orleans I was honored to nominate my mentor, Dr. Jim Wells, for recording secretary of the SBC. What an honor that was, and what a surreal moment to experience the convention from the perspective of the platform rather than from the seats. As Jim has gone on to be with the Lord, this is a special memory.
At various points along the way, I've gotten to serve the convention as a teller and as a member of the committee on committees. Each one of these experiences gave me further insight into how the SBC works, and a greater appreciation for the mechanisms of our convention.
And now, I am preparing to travel to Dallas for the 2018 annual meeting. (I will head out after I preach tomorrow morning.) This may prove to be the most memorable, and important, convention in a long time. We'll see what happens. If I know Southern Baptists, one thing it won't be is boring. And somewhere at this convention there will be a young man/woman attending their first annual meeting. They'll be in awe of the worship, impressed with the exhibit hall and excited about seeing/hearing well-known personalities. Perhaps they'll look back one day on this event with great memories. Lord-willing, when they do, they'll be serving in a strong and healthy SBC.