There was a time, not so long ago, when Wednesday night was known as “church night” in many parts of the country. Every other activity would be suspended so that people could go to church for a meal and mid-week opportunities to learn and grow in their faith. That doesn’t seem to be true anymore. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other activities compete with church and often win. But last night I think I saw who the true winners are.
Usually, I go to the dining hall at 5:00, give my $6 ticket to Bob Vance, pick up a tray, and go through the line, where smiling volunteers serve up a delicious, steaming hot supper complete with rolls, salad, beverage, dessert, and—if I’m in the mood—a slice of pie and an after-dinner cup of decaf (poured at my table by Allen or Charlotte Brown). I look for a place to sit where I can get to know someone a little better, and sit down for an hour of lively and interesting conversation. At six o’clock, Bob Higgins stands up to share prayer concerns and offer a prayer, and then at 6:15 I usually stand up to teach or to introduce a guest speaker.
It’s a great way to spend an evening.
But last night I did something different. I went to the gym—not the dining hall—at 5:00 and got a huge salad from the salad bar, topping it with black beans, edamame, dried cranberries, sunflower seeds, and yummy croutons. I sat down to eat as I usually do, but the atmosphere in the gym is a little different than the dining hall. Children go racing past from time to time, laughing and out of breath; someone comes by to show off a new baby; parents share trade secrets in hushed voices while their children eat with friends.
I loved it.
At six o’clock I went to the dining hall for some spirited hymn singing, the evening prayer, and an update on our year-long, every-member mission trip: KOH2RVA. We watched a video about church members who have dedicated their time to making small repairs around our building so that it can continue to be used as a seven-day-a-week ministry center. That’s certainly one way to do it. I challenged the folks in the room to come up with a good answer when I ask them in the hallways, “What’s your way of bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia?”
And then I turned things over to Bob, who was just starting an October series on the Parables of the Kingdom from the Gospel of Matthew. I hated to leave, but I wanted to see what else goes on at First Baptist Church on Wednesday nights.
When I left the dining hall I heard music, and peeked into a few classrooms before I found the source. There was David Carter, sitting at the piano, surrounded by beautiful little girls singing “Footprints of Jesus.” It was the Angel Choir, and I hated to interrupt, but I couldn’t really get hugs from everybody without interrupting.
And then I went upstairs, where I found six young women sitting around a table prepping earnestly for what was going to happen next: a horde of “Girls in Action” (GA’s) was about to descend on them, and they needed to be ready to teach. I said hello and moved on quickly.
I heard music again, and looked around the corner to find about forty children rehearsing. It was the Children’s Choir, and they were kind enough to let me sing a song with them, an “Alle, Alle, Luia” song about Christmas they will present sometime in December. I ended with a big, show-offy flourish just to make them smile and—right on cue—they did.
And then I found all these adults in Suite 280, sitting in classrooms, learning from good and capable teachers. There was a session for parents of teenagers, one for parents of younger children, a session on managing personal finances, and the one I ended up in, the S.K.E.I.N.S. group, which has become famous for knitting warm, wool caps for shivering children in South Africa.
I talked and laughed with those women for a full thirty minutes (I never knitted a thing), and as I made my way back downstairs afterward I felt full in a different way than I had right after supper. I was full of that good feeling a pastor gets when he sees that the church is busy being the church even when he isn’t in the room. And in this year of KOH2RVA I could see how the Kingdom of Heaven was coming to Richmond, Virginia, right there in our building, in a hundred different opportunities for people to learn, and laugh, and love.
I hope you’ll join us next Wednesday night.