“It helps now and then to take the long view” (Prayer of Archbishop Oscar Romero)
This past Monday began like most: taking a view of the day before. As I reflected on another Sunday in the life of First Baptist Church of Greensboro, my mind began to race and spirits began to rise as I considered all that had occurred in and through our community over the course of a single day.
As a way to catalogue this day — and consider the life of our church in these days — our staff began this week’s staff meeting by listing on the white board all that was contained from 9:00am-9:00pm on Sunday. Stepping back to take the wide view, I couldn’t help but conclude that this particular day in the life was First Baptist at our best.
Many of us came to church tired on Sunday, as over 150 had served the morning before throughout our community in our Day of Service. As Kim has recounted for us, it was a powerful day of service, learning, and relationship, and the images of the day encouraged us as worship began.
Our worship service included soaring music and passionate participation from our congregation, inviting us to experience the presence of Christ as the Good Shepherd who enfolds us all. Within the worship hour (okay, hour plus!), we also experienced a Baby/Parent Dedication, embodying as a congregation the enfolding love of God in our care and commitment to one another. We were blessed by the leadership of our music internship program, as Tyler Ingram served as our orchestra conductor. We heard a passionate articulation of call, as Jason Knight described his call to vocational ministry within the context of First Baptist.
Our service attendees included guests from some of our partner ministries, as well as new friends from our WE Shelter. Looking out, attentive eyes noticed a particular flare for fashion in the pews, as some of our youth were decked out in prom attire from the night before, electing to come to church even after a long night. We even saw three prom tuxes interspersed with our otherwise traditionally-clad orchestra, reminding us all to get our money’s worth!
Outside of the worship hour, faithful church members taught Sunday School. Others drove the bus to pick up at-home members who are unable to drive. Still others came early and stayed late for rehearsals. It’s that kind of faithfulness that must have been on the mind of two of our recent visitors – friends of mine – who told me on Sunday that while they’ve been renting a home in a nearby town, they’re looking to buy in Greensboro “because of this church. We love this church.”
Or maybe my friends were catching sight of the signs of life and growth in our congregation. Last Sunday included so many of them. Our youth held their first meeting in preparation for their summer pilgrimage to New York City in an emerging partnership with Metro Baptist and Rauschenbusch Metro Ministries. Down the hall, others met to plan for upcoming visits from three finalists for our new Pastoral Residency, which will begin this fall. When the Residency meeting began, the chairs in the conference room were still configured for the Downtown Discernment meeting that occurred earlier in the day, as members continue to consider the possibilities that exist for our church to minister within a growing segment of our city. And later, those same chairs held members of our Silver Compassion team, offering a proactive new ministry to support individuals and families amidst the challenges of the “second half of life.”
From my own afternoon meetings, I traveled a few miles down the road to attend an ordination service at sister congregation, College Park Baptist, joining with others across denominational lines in Greensboro to lay hands on recent Wake Div grad, Austin Carty, as he prepares to pastor a CBF church in Kentucky. And while I attended, others visited the hospital, carrying the care and concern of our congregation to those who are ill.
Meanwhile at the church in the afternoon, children finished up a “Following Christ” class, helping them to consider baptism and the decision to follow Jesus. During their class, they could hear the music down the hall as the youth choir rehearsed. They could also smell the food from downstairs, as members of our congregation joined with others for a Community Cookout, offering food and hospitality to our neighbors who live outside. Our youth even came downstairs to sing at the meal.
In a single day, there was so much bold, compelling evidence of the spirit of God at work in our church. And there were many other signs unseen. Just before the Community Cookout, our Chapel was quietly host to an intimate funeral service for one of our neighbors who is homeless, Keith. It was lovingly conducted by our church, joining with his friends to bear witness to Keith’s life and affirm his identity as a beloved child of God.
I closed my sermon on Sunday with the image of the Good Shepherd. I wondered what might happen if the 99 sheep didn’t simply stay in the safety of the sheep pen, but instead followed the Shepherd out to search until the last one came home. And then First Baptist Church spent the day doing just that.
The next morning, Kim received a text from Amy Murphy, our friend the Chicken Lady, who serves breakfast at the park each Monday for those who live outside. “I just left breakfast,” Amy said, “And I think some of us are coming to your worship service this coming Sunday.” They had been at the meal the day before and they saw something that made them want to come back.
As I take the long view, I have to say that I see it, too.