It’s Ralph Starling, Minister of Christian Invitation at Richmond’s First Baptist Church. He’s just started a blog called, “Ralph’s Adventures…Blogging about Life, Hope, and Adventure.” I hope you will take a look and leave a comment.
I remember the conversation I had with Ralph two years ago, shortly after I had come to Richmond. We sat in a booth at Arianna’s (one of his favorite places) and talked about his future. He seemed tired, worn out from being in the same role for 18 years and wondering if it might not be time for a change. He talked about his love for people, especially people who are broken and hurting, those who have a hard time fitting in at church, those who come from other countries and cultures. He sighed and said he had been thinking about going to China to teach English and that’s when I said, “Ralph, what if you were our Minister of Diversity? What if it were your job to look for every person who has been pushed to the margins of society and bring them to the center of the church?” His face lit up. “I could do that 24/7!” he said.
So, even though Ralph is not technically our “Minister of Diversity,” in his role as Minister of Christian Invitation he has brought a lot of diversity into the church. He’s been heading up the Divorce Recovery Workshop for nearly twenty years now, and through that ministry hundreds of broken and hurting people have been loved into the life of our congregation. He was in charge of our ministry to singles from the time he arrived in Richmond, and again and again he has made a place at First Baptist for people who might otherwise feel awkward around so many couples and families. In the two years that I’ve been here, Ralph has come through the door almost daily with someone you would never expect to see in a Baptist church, most recently with a few dozen Bhutanese refugees (see the picture on his blog).
Ralph seems to love the people Jesus loves, and he seems to reach out to the kind of people Jesus reached out to again and again—the ones who needed it most. He’s not perfect. He doesn’t always show up for staff meeting. But when he’s not there he is probably with someone who needs him even more than we do, and so we try to be understanding. “That’s Ralph!” we say, smiling. Out there loving the people Jesus loves: