Anyone with an appreciation of time can attest that a number of important events and moments, both minor and major, can take place in one year, let alone 50 of them. With the pivotal role its members played in the Civil Rights Movement, no group of people may be more appreciative of the past 50 years in this country than the Progressive National Baptist Convention (PNBC).

The PNBC’s annual session will celebrate its 50th anniversary in Washington, D.C., from Aug. 7-12 at the Washington Marriot Wardman Park. With over 2,000 churches and 2.5 million members worldwide, the weeklong celebration is expected to draw more than 5,000 Baptists from around the globe.

While most will be there to celebrate the momentous occasion, church business will be conducted as well. Important social, economic and political issues and concerns that affect the church and the African-American community will be addressed. There will also be a number of inspirational guest speakers, preachers and lecturers, as well as courses and workshops addressing various topics such as health, education and economic empowerment.

The theme of the annual session is “Securing Our Future: Humility—A People of Fellowship.” It is a future that will, hopefully, contain more diversity in the convention said Rev. Dr. Carroll A. Baltimore Sr., president of the PNBC.

“I’d rather see much more diversity when it comes to age and gender, for it to be much more representative of who we really are,” said Baltimore. “Sometimes progress is slow. We’re diverse as it is—we have male and female pastors. But you can always use more diversity.”

If the PNBC is knowledgeable about anything, arguably, it is diversity. The convention is proud of its record of accomplishment when it comes to addressing racial equality and social injustice in America. In response to a call by the Rev. L. Venchael Booth, pastor of the Zion Baptist Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, the PNBC split from the National Baptist Convention USA in November 1961 due to divisive concerns on civil rights. The PNBC supported Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement, providing him and many other Baptist leaders of that era with a denominational home.

As the racial landscape has vastly changed since the PNBC’s formation, the convention has maintained its relevancy by dealing with cross cultural experiences to expand its understanding of diversity, said Baltimore, with a goal of bringing a message of old along with a newer message to its younger audience. While delivering a message to them, the PNBC also takes into account what the younger generation is telling them.

“The youth are much more engaged in the life of the convention, in particular the lobbying process in what they’re looking for in future leadership,” said Baltimore.

“They’re looking for more accountability and engagement, and want to raise issues to leaders about problems in the community.”

Baltimore also said that all churches, not just African-American churches, will eventually have to become more cross-cultural in the next 15 to 20 years due to the shift in population in cities across the country. If not, they will eventually be left in the past, he said.

The PNBC is more than proud of its own past, to say the least. Baltimore credited the sturdy foundation of the organization and the tenure of its leadership that has allowed it to last for as long as it has.

“We’ve been very fortunate to have our leaders to still be around us as time goes,” Baltimore said. “Those great minds are still with us to give us wisdom and insight, to help stabilize the organization and point us in the right direction. To have a Gardner C. Taylor to still be with us at age 93 is a blessing within itself. Those foundations and resources are still there and we celebrate and honor them. The founders laid a tremendous foundation for us.”

Kyle Taylor

Special to the AFRO