Rash named editor-elect of state Baptist newspaper

BIRMINGHAM (TAB) — Jennifer Davis Rash has been named editor-elect of the nation’s most widely circulated state Baptist newspaper — The Alabama Baptist (TAB).

Rash, who began her journey with TAB as a news writer Jan. 1, 1996, has served as executive editor of the publication for the past six years.

jennifer-rash-10-4-16-smallShe oversees the weekly production of the paper in all its formats — print, digital, social media, etc. She also has been directing the launch of a new website for http://www.thealabamabaptist.org and blogs at http://www.rashionalthoughts.com.
Rash has served alongside and been mentored by TAB’s editor and president Bob Terry for nearly 21 years. She joined the team five months after Terry became editor. Together they have helped lead the staff to receive more than 200 national and state awards for work in news writing, feature writing, editorial writing, layout, design, investigative reporting and broadcast.Terry made the announcement of Rash being promoted to editor-elect during the Oct. 7–8 TAB board of directors’ meeting in Birmingham.

“In 2010, Jennifer chose The Alabama Baptist a second time when she was offered the editorship of the Arkansas Baptist News that year and turned it down. It would have made her the first female editor of a major state Baptist paper,” Terry said.

“It was a hard decision but Jennifer chose to stay at The Alabama Baptist. She was clear. She wanted to be editor of a state Baptist paper. She was also clear in knowing that God called her to serve in Alabama.

“At some point I will finalize my plans for retirement and as I do so, it will be with great appreciation for the action of this board of directors and with great confidence in the future of this ministry,” Terry said.

Selection process

The Alabama Baptist will have superior leadership. The board of directors, acting as a search committee of the whole, could not have done a better job in selecting the next editor and president to lead this ministry.”

TAB board chairwoman Amelia Pearson, Ed.D., explained that the board took its action in order to have a succession plan in place. The succession plan would be activated at retirement, resignation, incapacitation or death.

“The goal was for the organization not to be caught in a crisis time without having plans in place to proceed in an orderly fashion,” said Pearson, who is retired after serving as a college faculty member, dean and president across 40 years. “Many businesses have succession plans in place and that was a good model for TAB to follow.”

The board affirmed Rash in her quest to be editor six years ago, so she was the obvious choice when it was determined a succession plan should be established whenever and however that transition is triggered, Pearson said.

“Jennifer Rash is an exceptional writer and has demonstrated tremendous capacity as the executive editor,” she said. “We are very fortunate to have someone with Jennifer’s skills and talents to name as editor-elect for The Alabama Baptist.

“Jennifer has big shoes to fill as Dr. Terry has been a superb editor and provided excellent leadership to the staff and the board of directors for many years,” Pearson said.

“She is blessed to be able to work under Dr. Terry’s mentorship as she continues learning the various aspects of the paper’s top position.”

Rash agreed.

“To be able to learn so many life lessons, develop my skillset and grow up in general through the ministry communications channel of The Alabama Baptist has indeed been a blessing and a gift,” she said.

“I will always be indebted to Bob Terry for the investment and confidence placed in me to grow into the person capable of the position,” Rash noted. “And to have the unanimous support of TAB’s board of directors provides the strength and foundation I need to continue developing into the leader I hope will make them proud.”

Along with her responsibilities with TAB, Rash currently serves as vice president for Associated Church Press and is a past president of Baptist Communicators Association. She also serves as an instructor for the online ministry communication certificate through the Ministry Training Institute at Samford University in Birmingham.

Rash is an honors graduate from the University of Alabama with a bachelor of arts in journalism and earned a master’s of theological studies from Samford’s Beeson Divinity School. She grew up at Mountain View Baptist Church, Phil Campbell, and served two years on the missions field with the International Mission Board after college. She and her husband, Jason, have been married 19 years and are members of NorthPark Baptist Church, Trussville.

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Interactive Bible reading event coming to downtown Birmingham

BIRMINGHAM (TAB) — A different kind of Bible reading event is coming to Birmingham in November. On Nov. 5 the Birmingham-based audio Bible ministry Your Working Copy Inc. will host The Nehemiah (812) Project.

For the project, the entire Book of Revelation will be read aloud by participants of all ages. The idea is to help people interact with Scripture like the ancient church did, where crowds gathered to hear scribes read before them.

Susan Bates, the primary narrator for Your Working Copy, said, “I believe that Your Working Copy and The Nehemiah [812] Project are so important to us today because it is no longer enough to attend church, read a daily devotional and engage in light Bible study.

“The project is an idea whose time has come … again.”

The event will take place at St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church, Birmingham, and will begin at 1:30 p.m. It also will be live streamed at Facebook.com/YourWorkingCopy.

For more information, visit www.yourworkingcopy.org.

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Bentley creates advisory council on gambling; illegal bingo allowed to operate in state

MONTGOMERY (Maggie Walsh) — Gov. Robert Bentley announced this afternoon that he is creating an advisory council to study local and state laws on gambling and any possible revenues that may come from it.

The council will present findings and recommendations to Bentley, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh and House Speaker Mac McCutcheon by Jan. 1, 2017.

“The ongoing issue of gaming needs to be solved once and for all,” Bentley said during the afternoon press conference today.

The announcement is just the latest development in the ongoing gambling saga in the state. Although electronic bingo machines were ruled “illegal” under state law by the Alabama Supreme Court in March, they are still in operation in Macon and Lowndes counties.

gambling-2Most recently Gov. Robert Bentley and Attorney General Luther Strange sent a letter to sheriffs and district attorneys in Macon and Lowndes counties reminding them of their duty to enforce the state’s gambling laws and set a Sept. 30 deadline for submitting a plan of action.

Bentley and Strange also sent letters to officials in all counties with constitutional amendments related to bingo gambling. While electronic bingo machines were still being operated in Greene County in 2015 (as shown in the photo to the right), the letter to officials there did not indicate wrongdoing.

The Alabama Baptist could not confirm by press time when or how the gambling operations were shut down in Greene County, if they were.

But district attorneys E. Paul Jones of Macon County and Charlotte Tesmer of Lowndes County as well as Lowndes County Sheriff Big John Williams had responded to the letter at press time, according to Yasamie August, Bentley’s press secretary.

Pass-the-plate basis

Their responses indicate a continuing of what has been a pass-the-plate routine of law enforcement.

Tesmer claimed a conflict of interest prohibited her from pursuing action against electronic bingo operations in Lowndes County. At the same time, Williams said budget constrictions are the halting factor to his taking action, adding that he would fulfill his duty when he receives a court order — which Tesmer says she cannot provide. So in Lowndes County there’s a stalemate.

Birmingham lawyer Eric Johnston said, “The next step would be enforcement from the state level like from the attorney general with the governor giving him support to do what he needs to do,” explaining that Strange would need to investigate VictoryLand and then Bentley would have to supply the police manpower to support Strange in enforcing the law.

“The state has to close it down,” Johnston said.

Jones’ response echoed Williams’ saying the money just isn’t there for him to consider raiding VictoryLand.

Jones has been the most outspoken about his role in this situation, saying to multiple news sources his duties “do not include the investigation of crimes,” only “the prosecution of crimes.”

Therefore the investigation of VictoryLand is solely on the shoulders of Macon County Sheriff Andre Brunson, who had not responded at press time.

Jones closed his response to Strange and Bentley by saying, “Under the circumstances, I am curious as to what action the two of you would expect me to take?”

The enforcement of gambling laws has been an issue ever since Bentley took office in January 2011. His first action was to dismantle former Gov. Bob Riley’s Task Force On Illegal Gambling and “fully support” Strange’s authority to lead the fight against illegal gambling. Then Bentley moved the responsibility from Strange to local law enforcement in 2015.

Thus it comes down to district attorneys and sheriffs. But at VictoryLand in Macon County and White Hall and Southern Star casinos in Lowndes County, the laws are not being enforced.

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Alabama Baptist universities among best in South for veterans

BIRMINGHAM (TAB) — Two Alabama Baptist universities ranked among top schools in the South for their programs for veterans. The University of Mobile (UM) was ranked 3rd and Samford University in Birmingham was ranked 4th in the South for Best Colleges for Veterans in the 2017 U.S. News & World Report college rankings released Sept. 13.

201 Nations LogoUM also jumped 17 spots, from 25th to 8th, for Best Regional Liberal Arts Colleges in the South.

Samford University also garnered the No. 4 spot for regional universities in the South. Samford also is ranked 3rd in the South for “A Strong Commitment to Teaching.” According to U.S. News officials, these are schools where “the faculty has an unusually strong commitment to undergraduate teaching.”

samford_university_logoFor Samford, the latest rankings come at a time of growth as it just announced its eighth consecutive year of record enrollment with 5,471 students.

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Short-term fix for Medicaid found; not a solution, bill’s sponsor says

BIRMINGHAM (Maggie Walsh) — The day before the special session ended Sept. 7, lawmakers passed a plan to buoy Medicaid with BP oil settlement money.

After two proposed lottery bills failed to offer a solution, lawmakers came together Sept. 6 to focus on BP oil settlement money, using most of the $1 billion that BP is set to pay over 18 years for the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf Coast.

In 2018 the bill (HB 36) will split the settlement between Medicaid, debt repayment and road projects in Mobile and Baldwin counties.


Gov. Robert Bentley

For the immediate $85 million need of the 2017 Medicaid budget, Gov. Robert Bentley has allocated $70 million — $50 million from the first BP payment and $20 million from the General Fund. The additional $15 million will be given directly to Medicaid from the BP settlement, according to Birmingham Business Journal.

The bill issues bonds and then uses the BP payments to pay off the bonds. It also creates the Alabama Economic Settlement Authority to issue the bonds estimated at $640 million. The money will be divided as follows:

  • $120 million to Medicaid, which is split $15 million in 2017 and $105 million in 2018.
  • $162 million to repay the General Fund Rainy Day Account. That money was used seven years ago to support the budget and must be repaid by 2020.
  • $238 million to the Alabama Trust Fund, also to replenish funds transferred a few years ago to support the budget.
  • Remaining $120 million would go to Mobile and Baldwin counties for specific road projects.

Rep. Steve Clouse

The bill also includes an amendment from Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, which earmarks at least $4 million in Medicaid funds for outpatient dialysis and reinstates Medicaid reimbursements to doctors back to what they were before Aug. 1.

Lawmakers approved the bill 22–8 in the Senate and 87–9 in the House. Bentley signed the bill into law Sept. 8.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, said, “We have not solved the problem on Medicaid. … This is just something we’ve got to continue to work on.”

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AG Strange warns against new phone scam

MONTGOMERY (Mike Lewis) — Attorney General Luther Strange warns Alabama residents of a new telephone scam in which scam artists using a faked caller ID claim to be from the Attorney General’s Office seeking payment for an old debt or bad check.

Attorney General Luther Strange RGB

Attorney General Luther Strange

“My office has logged multiple complaints today from people across Alabama reporting they’ve received phone calls from the Attorney General’s Office Investigations Division threatening them with arrest if they don’t pay off an old debt or bad check,” Strange said.

The scam callers are using “spoofing” technology to generate fake caller IDs that read the same as the Attorney General’s Office. The scam artists are attempting to pressure their victims to purchase pre-paid credit cards or other forms of payment to avoid arrest.

“Please know that any call you may receive from the Attorney General’s Office, or any law enforcement agency or court office for that matter, to collect money is a scam. Furthermore, debt collectors cannot arrest you. If, for any reason, law enforcement or the courts have an issue with you, you will usually be notified in writing and be ordered to contact the clerk’s office, either in person or by telephone.

“Persons should never assume phone calls and caller IDs which claim to be from law enforcement, the courts or the IRS, are genuine. You should always seek to verify them by first calling those agencies directly.

“Impersonating a law enforcement officer and misrepresenting the judicial process to scam people out of money is a serious crime and I encourage anyone who receives such a call to report it to my office at 1-800-392-5658,” Strange said.

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DR volunteer dies while serving in Louisiana

BATON ROUGE, La. (TAB) — Working on the First Baptist Church, Satsuma, disaster relief laundry unit team, Sonny Ellis was doing what he did best — serving people.

“He was showing the people of Denham Springs, Louisiana, an example of what Jesus would do,” said Roy Hill, pastor of First, Satsuma, who also was serving on the team.


Sonny Ellis

On Sept. 1, Ellis had just placed a load of laundry in a washing machine in the unit, which was in operation helping flood survivors. A little before lunch, Ellis, 72, lost his balance and fell out of the door of the unit and sustained brain injuries, according to Hill. Ellis was taken to Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and died later that evening.

“God is still on His throne and Jesus is still Sonny’s Savior,” Hill said on his Facebook page. “We were reminded last night at church that there are times we must prove that we believe what we say we believe. This is one of those times and (the Ellis family) is living out their faith.”

Ellis’ testimony is a unique one. His close friend, who happened to be a deacon at First, Satsuma, prayed for him and shared the gospel with him frequently. It wasn’t until about 10 years ago that the Holy Spirit moved in Ellis’ heart and he accepted Christ and was baptized, Hill explained.

“Ever since he got saved, goodness, he’s been a whirlwind of serving,” Hill said. “He would serve wherever there was a need.”

Ellis’ wife, Gloria, who serves as the church’s financial secretary, and their two daughters were able to arrive in Baton Rouge and be with him in the hospital.

Mark Wakefield, disaster relief and chaplaincy ministry strategist for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, said, “Sonny Ellis typifies the sacrifice made by so many disaster relief volunteers. All of them could and would be using their time doing other important things, but they choose involvement in the ministry of disaster relief — serving the Lord by serving others.”

The team from First, Satsuma, had been serving since Aug. 21 and was stationed at New Covenant Baptist Church, Denham Springs.

After Ellis’ death, his family requested that the laundry unit remain in operation to continue to help those in distress after the historic flooding.

Hill said the unit would remain as long as there was a need, and volunteers from First, Satsuma, would return to serve at the unit after Ellis’ funeral. At press time, volunteers from other Alabama associations were making sure the unit remained operational.

Ellis is survived by his wife, two daughters, three granddaughters and one great-grandson.

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No lottery for Alabama after ‘thoroughly confusing’ process

BIRMINGHAM (Maggie Walsh) — “The lottery bill for the 2016 special session is dead,” announced the measure’s sponsor, Sen. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, on Aug. 26 after the Senate voted against agreeing with the House changes to the bill (SB3).

The House changes included defining the lottery as paper tickets, an attempt to prohibit electronic lottery terminals, and earmarking 1 percent of lottery proceeds to rural fire departments.

It was the narrowed definition of the lottery that drove the 7–23 vote that signaled the demise of the bill, several legislators said.

Rep. John Knight, D-Montgomery, said after the two votes, “I’ve been here a while, but you are thoroughly confusing me now.”

And the rest of Alabama was right there with him.

The lottery bill’s ride through the special session was riddled with unexpected twists and turns, including confusion over when the deadline was to get the bill on the Nov. 8 ballot.

The recurring chant in the State House on Aug. 26 from legislators was “I’ve never seen anything like this,” referring to the wild ride of SB3.

For the full story, go to www.thealabamabaptist.org.

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Lottery bill passes in House; back to Senate today

BIRMINGHAM (TAB) — Gov. Robert Bentley’s lottery bill, SB 3, fell two votes short of passing in the House last night, but in a surprising turn of events that includes a reconsideration motion and a re-vote, the bill was passed just before midnight.

The first vote fell 61–37 against the lottery and the second pushed it through, 64–35. Three representatives — Darrio Melton, D-Selma; Kelvin Lawrence, D-Hayneville; and David Sessions, R-Grand Bay — made the difference, voting “yes” on the second vote.

After the votes, Rep. John Knight, D-Montgomery, said, “I’ve been here a while, but you are thoroughly confusing me now.”

SB 3 now heads back to the Senate at 10 a.m. for concurrence or a conference committee since the bill was amended in the House.

Bentley and Sen. Del Marsh are still saying the lottery vote could be on the Nov. 8 ballot, but confusion continues to swirl around that claim.

To contact your Senator, visit capwiz.com. 

The Alabama Baptist will continue to update the story as information becomes available.

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Lottery bill still in motion; will not be on Nov. 8 ballot

BIRMINGHAM (TAB) — Gov. Robert Bentley’s lottery bill, SB 3, is still moving through the House of Representatives, although it has missed the Aug. 24 deadline to make it onto the Nov. 8 ballot.

SB 3 was passed through the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee this afternoon, so it’s on to the House floor tomorrow for debate and a possible vote.

This afternoon Sen. Jim McClendon, the bill’s sponsor, and Sen. Del Marsh both claimed they had until Friday to get the measure on the Nov. 8 ballot, but Secretary of State John H. Merrill said he was confident the deadline was today. Merrill said unless a change is made to the state law that sets the deadline for getting amendments on the ballot, it will not be voted on in November.

Merrill reached out to Attorney General Luther Strange this evening for his opinion of the law “to make sure no stone is left unturned.” Strange had not responded as of press time.

The bill has language that would allow the lottery to go on the November 2018 ballot if needed or legislators could call a special election — a move that would garner less voters and cost at least $3 million, according to the Montgomery Advertiser.

The bill is an attempt to fund the state’s $85 million Medicaid shortfall by creating a statewide and Powerball lottery, a move that Bentley claims would generate $225 million in revenue.

To contact your representative, go to capwiz.com.

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