There are more Baptists than any other kind of non-Catholic Christians in the world, and when a group like the Baptist World Alliance holds a gathering once every five years, a big crowd might be expected. Circumstances, however, may have victimized the 15th World Baptist Congress scheduled next Tuesday through Saturday in Los Angeles.
The weak relationship of foreign currency to the U.S. dollar is expected to keep many foreign delegations from the meeting at the Convention Center.
And the Southern Baptists, by far the largest Baptist denomination in California and in the country, spent much of their energy and money on a controversy-wracked convention in Dallas in mid-June when more than 45,000 delegates registered, doubling the previous attendance record.
The Rev. Jess Moody, pastor of Van Nuys First Baptist Church and local arrangements committee chairman for the World Baptist Congress, said of his fellow Southern Baptists:
"They spent so much money blowing the whistle they don't have enough left for steam to run the engine." Like many Southern Baptists, Moody believes that the leadership struggle between fundamentalist and moderate conservatives detracts from the evangelistic and mission projects of the churches.
More than 20,000 Baptists were originally expected to attend the Los Angeles meeting, but Moody indicated the total could be less than 15,000.
Not that the guest speakers are minor league. Former President Jimmy Carter, who is active with Southern Baptists, will speak the night of July 4, and evangelist Billy Graham, who will begin a 10-day crusade in Anaheim on July 19, will address the closing session next Saturday night.
Delegations are expected from more than 60 nations, including the Soviet Union and Cuba.
The Rev. Kenneth Leestma, pastor of the 1,200-member New Life Community (Reformed) Church of Artesia since 1976, has been elected to a one-year term as president of the Reformed Church in America.
The Dutch-heritage denomination of 345,000 members, at its recent general synod meeting in Kalamazoo, Mich., also urged the United States to cease hostile actions against the Nicaraguan government and, after lively debates, reaffirmed its existing ecumenical ties.
Delegates endorsed the Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry document of the World Council of Churches and asked a committee to study the implications of joining the mainline Protestant group called the Consultation on Church Union.
Rabbi Allen I. Freehling, spiritual leader of University Synagogue of Brentwood for 13 years, has been installed as president for a two-year term of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, which represents more than 220 rabbis in Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist organizations.