Audio from the State of the Church lunch meeting. Alan sharing his remarks following his first year at First Baptist Church and this year’s program theme of “Open Church.”
Article (by Alan Sherouse) printed in the October Connections newsletter – p3
Several years ago, a good friend and mentor told me, “I hope you end up at an open church – a church where people are open to the Spirit.” As I mark one year as your Pastor, Jenny and I and our family are grateful for so many things that characterize our life together at First Baptist, but I think I love our openness at First Baptist Church most of all.
It’s a word I hear again and again used to describe the state of our church. We are “open.” Open to one another. Open to the Spirit of God. Open to our past and open to our future. Open to heritage and open to what’s new. At a recent Deacons retreat, our leader, Dr. Ruth Anderson of Greensboro’s Servant Leadership School, observed this about our Deacons, saying, “I sense such energy and openness toward what’s ahead.”
Observations and experiences like these have led to a theme for the program year ahead: “Open Church.” As I shared at our recent “State of the Church” gathering on Sunday, September 21 (audio file link), I see at least five key elements of what it means for us to be an Open Church in the year ahead, building on the work that has led us to this point.
- Open to our City, and continuing to consider ways of loving our city, connecting with our neighborhood, influencing our community, and finding the interplay between the future of our city and the future of our church.
- Open to our Heritage, and remembering the history and assets that are a source for a hopeful future. As part of this, I want us to find ways to emphasize our denominational heritage, becoming more conversant with just what we mean by “Baptist.” Instead of turning us inward, I think such a focus will allow us to become even more ecumenical and cooperative by accentuating our particular identity.
- Open to our Story, and finding new ways to tell it. We have an important story to tell of a church that is preserving a strong heritage while dreaming new dreams. We need to tell our story boldly and strategically through the most efficient means and media available to us.
- Open to One Another, and exploring ways of connecting intimately with one another across divides of generation or affinity. In a large church, where our programs operate on a large scale, we want to find increasing ways for intimate connection and relationship.
- Open to Collaboration, and the energy that comes through work together. This has been a goal for our staff, but it extends to our congregation, too, as we seek to achieve a stronger balance between our staff and lay leaders that will ensure sustainability for the future.
Ultimately being an Open Church means being open to the Spirit. In my first sermon at First Baptist, back in July 2013 when I was your pastoral candidate, we reflected on the Spirit, whose coming is described in two places in the New Testament. John 20 describes the Spirit coming to a group of shaken disciples who were huddled together with their doors locked out of fear. In Luke’s version, however, the Spirit arrives in Acts 2 to people gathered together out in the streets. Open doors. Open windows.
The Spirit of God finds First Baptist Church open. While so many churches within American religious life are finding reason to huddle together, we’ve found that it is not the time for fear, but hope. We are a healthy church with great possibilities for the future, so it’s not a time for urgent things, but important things. It’s not a time to worry about survival, but to consider the things that make us thrive.
It’s not a time for locked doors. It’s a time for an open church. Info on ACCESS Class Open Forum
On Wednesday Nights during October at 6:15 in the Fellowship Hall Alan is leading a time for further conversation about our program year theme – “Open Church.”
October 1 – Open to our City: A Church in the City
October 8 – Open to our Heritage: Baptist is our Middle Name
October 15 – Open to our Story: Knowing our story and how to tell it
October 22 – Open to One Another: Intimacy and community in a “big church”
October 29 – Open to Collaboration: More together than we are apart