It's a week from one of her major conventions, and Sandra Flournoy is ticking off the things she has to do: finalize stage setup; check equipment availability; finalize requests, including one from the local radio station for broadcast; confirm signage and placement; and put final touches on the 30 meals to be served.
She recites this list as though the convention is next year, not next month. Her calm, conversational tone doesn't change.
“It's taken me many years to develop this demeanor,” Flournoy admits. “I am to a point that, as a Christian and a meeting planner for a religious organization, I must allow God to be part of every facet of the planning process. I have learned that if I put God first, everything will fall into place.”
The meeting, Sept. 8-12 in Kansas City, Mo., is the Annual Session of the National Baptist Convention USA Inc. She is expecting 35,000 people — a “medium-sized meeting” for the organization that includes 22,000 churches and 7.5 million members throughout the United States and the Bahamas.
Putting Faith in Others
But Flournoy, director of meetings and logistics for the convention, also puts her faith in staff and church members. In addition to her administrative assistant and three logistics coordinators, the president's office, a registration department,coordinators, and local host churches also organize the meetings. The groups work together well, she says. “Everyone understands other offices' roles and responsibilities.”
Years of tradition form these meetings. The Nashville-based convention, one of the largest and oldest Black Baptist Conventions, has been holding annual sessions for 123 years. The Congress of Christian Education, a meeting of 50,000, will meet for its 99th time in June in Memphis. Flournoy also organizes three smaller meetings during the year.
“There's a lot of tradition involved, but with technology coming in, there are lots of changes,” Flournoy says. In addition to prayer and worship, the meetings address new topics, such as Internet use. The meetings generally are held in convention centers and sometimes universities, and managing class space is one of her greater challenges. She can't “put delegates anywhere and expect them to learn,” she said.
Flournoy's background helps her to communicate with the host hotels and cities. Before joining the convention seven years ago, she did some meeting planning for the United Methodist Publishing House. This was after she earned her degree in business administration and finance from Tennessee State University. Later, she was a hotel and restaurant inspector with AAA for three years.
With AAA, she was on the road for as long as three months at a time. Then her father became ill and she wanted to return home to Nashville. An acquaintance knew about the position with National Baptist.
After covering all but three or four states and seeing “some of the most magnificent places this country has to offer,” Flournoy still does a lot of site visits. However, she loves that the Internet has made aspects of meeting planning more convenient. Also, delegates use it to get information about the host site, reducing the questions she and her staff must answer.
Flournoy views her current position as a “tremendous opportunity to serve the people of God. Striving for excellence in my daily work, and wanting to please God with my service keeps me motivated.”
Flournoy joined RCMA six years ago after a tip from her former boss. “In working with a religious organization, there are so many things that are so intricate, but it's still based upon hospitality trends and changes. The information transfers to the secular market as well. The seminars and workshops have had wonderful speakers. There's not as much of a rushed feeling as there is at other conventions.”
Away from her position with the National Baptists, Flournoy is her congregation's public relations director and director of enhancement ministry, which is responsible for workshops to enhance the lives of members, including classes on such topics as self-esteem, budgeting, and résumé writing.
After September, Flournoy will resume planning for 2004 and 2005 and “hopefully squeeze in a vacation.”