The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has announced it has canceled the denomination's annual meeting for the first time in the organization's 75-year history due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
SBC leaders decided to call off the 2020 SBC Annual Meeting, scheduled for June 9-10 in Orlando, Fla. after prayerful deliberation on Tuesday, according to the denomination's website.
The annual meeting will not be rescheduled.
Calling the global pandemic, "a grave emergency," SBC leaders are also calling on all Southern Baptists to pray for an end to the pandemic as well as reminding its members that "God will bring His Church together at this time to sharpen our focus like never before."
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The SBC also reminded its almost 15.2 million members that this is the time to advance the gospel.
"This is not a time for Southern Baptists to shrink back in timidity and fearfulness or be paralyzed with uncertainty," the SBC said on its website. "This is not the time to retreat. This is a time for us to advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every person in every town, every city, every state, and every nation."
SBC President J.D. Greear, the pastor of The Summit Church in the Raleigh-Durham, N.C., area, told the Baptist Press he was "saddened" to make the announcement, but described it as necessary in light of the ongoing crisis and the uncertainty of when it might end.
"We are a people committed to keeping the Gospel above all," Greear said, "and our sole purpose in coming together is to support one another in that mission, catalyzing our collective mission efforts. This year, our unusual circumstances mean we can best meet that goal by not meeting together."
Calling the SBC Annual Meeting "the most pivotal gathering we have as we advance our commitment to reaching the world for Christ," Ronnie Floyd, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee said SBC leaders were "faced with a decision that none of us believed we would ever face," and described the cancellation as "heartbreaking," but said, "the reality around us nationally and globally cannot be ignored."
"We know it is the right thing to do," Floyd told the Baptist Press. "We are extremely disappointed in having to make this decision, but God will see us through and give us a way until we are able to meet in person together again. ... We know our churches need to focus on ministering to their communities and to those who have been impacted by the COVID-19 global pandemic.
"While we will not physically be coming together in June in Orlando, we will be going together in unity as we minister to our churches, our missionaries, our church planters, our seminary students and our own communities."