By Solomon Crenshaw Jr.
For The Birmingham Times
Frank Russell had heard about the 5 a.m. prayer service of the National Baptist Deacons Convention but he knew it wasn’t something in which he was interested.
Or so he thought.
The Charleston, S.C., resident was convinced to come just once but believed that spirit-filled session was a chance occurrence.
“It can’t be like this every morning,” he said. “I came back Tuesday morning to see if Monday morning was actually a fluke. Then I found myself there Wednesday morning, and then Thursday, all not expected it to be as it was. But it was better every day.”
That was eight years ago in Tampa, Fla. On Monday in the Magic City, Russell was among about 70 persons who attended the initial 5 a.m. prayer service of the National Baptist Deacons Convention of America, which hosted its annual convention this week at the Sheraton Birmingham downtown.
The convention kicked off with worship Sunday morning at the host church, Collegeville’s Bethel Baptist Church, and then a gospel concert Sunday evening at the hotel.
Bethel Baptist Pastor Thomas Wilder said he asked twice in early discussions if indeed the daily prayer service was before sunrise. He was told that a sizeable group would get up for the service.
On Monday morning Wilder said he was “not deceived. There is a lot of spirit here,” he said.
This is the 83rd year of the convention that began in 1934 in the northeastern United States.
National president John G. Marshall, in his first year, said he’s been involved since 1989. He tells a story similar to that of Russell. He was a relatively new deacon at his church in Delaware and attended with a longtime deacon.
“I think the thing that really got us was the early-morning prayer service,” Marshall said. “At that time, it was 5:30 a.m. that we started. Just to hear the testimonies of people and how God had brought them through, it was so encouraging. From that point, it was every year I started coming back. I don’t think I’ve missed but one year since I started.”
Marshall said preacher-based organizations, including the National Baptist Convention, the Progressive Baptist and the Southern Baptist, has a department that deal with laymen.
“This was designed to bring deacons together,” he said. “There are situations and circumstances that deacons go through that I think some people don’t understand. They are the armor bearers for the pastors.
“We are servants – servants of the Most High, serving their pastors and serving the congregation that you’re assigned to,” Marshall continued. “We don’t run the church. We are there to assist the pastor in ministry to the congregation. Sometimes you have to be the go-between because the pastors have a load on them already.”
The convention includes Bible-classes for deacons, a Women’s Auxiliary, a youth department and a young adult department. The theme – Getting Back To Basics: Blooming Where You’re Planted – “is all about, ‘What does the Bible tell us we are supposed to be doing,’” the convention president said. “Not just as deacons but children of God.”
The final 5 a.m. predawn prayer service is Thursday morning. The convention concludes Friday.