NEW ORLEANS – The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting didn’t begin until June 19, but Recording Secretary John Yeats had to leave home in Jefferson City to go to the Big Easy five days early to help ensure the largest annual gathering of evangelicals went off without a hitch. Though he only came to the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) as executive director last fall, Yeats has been helping to keep the SBC annual meeting running smoothly since he was first elected to the office in 1997.
“It’s like our MBC annual meeting, just on steroids,” he said. “It’s bigger and larger.”
Steroids is right: At the last MBC annual meeting at Tan-Tar-A, there were 939 messengers. At the SBC annual meeting, there were 7,868.
“There are some procedural things that are a little different, but other than that, it’s very similar,” he said.
While many messengers come and go, leave the business sessions to visit the exhibit hall, or sneak away early to be tourists, Yeats and the other officers are on stage every second.
“We’re engaged in the meeting fullbore,” he said. “We’re here gavel to gavel.”
Yeats would know, too. Aside from his 15 years of experience, he wrote his doctoral dissertation on the role and duties of the SBC’s recording secretary.
Prior to the Convention’s first session, he sets up an office at the annual meeting site and trains an army of tellers and volunteer pages, including the process of securing identification information from the Convention messengers who speak at a microphone during the business sessions. During the meeting, in collaboration with the SBC executive committee staff, he edits the Daily Bulletin, records the proceedings of the SBC and completes the final review within three weeks following the close of the convention. He is responsible for reading motions that may be amended to the convention and oversees the voting by paper ballots when a visual vote is too close to call or is a momentous question, such as this year’s 53-46 vote that approved the informal “Great Commission Baptists” descriptor.
He orients every new SBC trustee elected that year, gathers and edits material the SBC Annual and Book of Reports.
A final task, and one that Yeats got to fulfill this year in New Orleans, is casting the “convention’s ballot” for when there is only one nominee in an election. That opportunity came when he cast the ceremonial ballot for Fred Luter, Jr., pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, as president of the SBC. In addition to being the hometown favorite, Luter is also the SBC’s first African-American president
Yeats’ words as he cast the convention’s ballot were blown up in bright blue as part of the lead story on the front page of the New Orleans Times-Picayune the next morning: “It is my high honor to cast this ballot … for Dr. Fred Luter as president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Hallelujah!”
“This year especially, that was extraordinarily special because I have four African-American grandchildren,” he said. “When I cast the ballot for my friend, the first vision that popped into my mind was my grandchildren. It was a moving experience.”
Aside from the annual meeting duties, the recording secretary is an active member of the SBC Executive Committee and attends their meetings in September, February and June, which lets Yeats stay abreast of every SBC issue.
“It’s really made me appreciate more our processes and how we accomplish God’s purposes through our cooperative work,” Yeats said. “I’m grateful that the Lord is using my skill in this way.”