A quiet black church group of 7 million

I was very surprised today to receive a press release from the National Baptist Convention USA, the nation’s largest African-American church group. Apparently, an NBC delegation left Sunday for a 12-day trip to the Vatican, Switzerland, South Africa and Kenya.

I don’t often hear from the “Convention.”:http://www.nationalbaptist.com/index.cfm?FuseAction=Page&PageID=1000000 I know more than a little bit about the group because I twice covered the Rev. W. Franklyn Richardson of Mount Vernon when he ran for the presidency of the Convention. He came in a close second to the Rev. William Shaw of Philadelphia in 1999 and then lost to the incumbent again in 2004.

The Convention keeps a low profile, except during periods of controversy. When Richardson, the pastor of Grace Baptist Church, ran, he insisted that he would make the Convention a political and social force on the national scene. But he never got the chance.

I met Shaw a few times, and there’s no doubt that he is a good and faith-filled man. He brought the Convention out of a dark period (his predecessor went to prison for stealing from the group), but has pretty much stayed out of the news.

The Convention may reach out to the black press. I don’t know. But it has very little contact with the mainstream media, something I’ve never been able to understand. The Convention has something like 7 million members from thousands of churches.

When I covered Richardson’s last run for president at the New Orleans Convention Center (exactly one year before Katrina), the only reporters there were me and Bruce Nolan, the fine religion reporter at The Times-Picayune in New Orleans.

There were 35,000 African-American Baptists there.

Anyway, the delegation plans to meet with representatives of the Vatican, the World Council of Churches, the South African government and the All Africa Conference of Churches, among others. I hope I hear how it goes.

Gary Stern

Gary Stern covered education in the Lower Hudson Valley for several years during the early 1990s. Now's he back on the beat. He believes that schools are one of the main reasons that people live around here and that educational issues -- from curriculum to financing -- are among the most challenging things that journalists can write about. He continues to be amazed by the complexity of educational jargon. Gary got his B.A. at SUNY Buffalo and his M.A. from the University of Missouri Journalism School (where his master's thesis was about the best ways to cover education). He lives in White Plains with his wife and two sons, who attend public schools.