KOH2RVA: Day 363

Preschool-ClassRemember how I was complaining a few days ago about spending too much time answering email and not enough time with people? Well, I got some of that time yesterday, with some of the most delightful people in Richmond.

I accepted Mary Hiteman’s invitation to stand with her at the Mulberry Street entrance of our building and greet the parents and children who were coming to our preschool’s open house.

They came in droves.

Some children were so shy they hid behind their mothers’ legs when I tried to say hello, others ignored my greeting altogether and galloped past me into the building, excited to be back at school. But all of them were beautiful, precious children. Most of their parents were happy to stop and say hello, and seemed grateful that I was taking an interest.

Because there seems to be a disconnect between the church and our preschool. There are parents who bring their children every weekday and never think of our building as a church. To them it is a school. A good school, certainly (you should have heard them gush), but nothing more than that. So as I shook hands yesterday and introduced myself as the pastor many of them seemed to be making the connection between the church and the school for the first time. “Ohhh,” they said, and I could almost see the light come on.

I’m hoping to maintain that connection in this school year by greeting children and parents at the door more often, telling the children Bible stories during chapel, and showing up for special programs and events. When I came to Richmond five years ago the staff asked me what we could do to “reach the Fan,” the neighborhood surrounding our building where so many of these parents and children live. I said, “What if we didn’t try to reach the Fan? What if we tried to love the Fan?”

That’s what I was trying to do yesterday: love the Fan and the people who live there. And what an easy way to do it! Stand at the door as they bring their children into our building; squat down and say hello to precious little boys and girls; and then stand up and shake hands with their parents, look them in the eye, and tell them how glad I am that they have brought their children to our school. And as I was doing it that thing happened that has happened so often in this year of mission…

…heaven came to earth.

KOH2RVA: Day 265

Maruca and ClemmonsOne of the surprises of our year-long, every-member mission trip has been a friendship and partnership with the Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School in Richmond’s East End. It started when Melissa Ansley Brooks, who lives in the neighborhood, chose the Cooper School as her KOH2RVA “project.” She began to volunteer at the school, and as she did she began to see the potential for a Kingdom-bringing partnership between the school and First Baptist Church. Her enthusiasm was contagious, and “infected” a number of people at First Baptist including Mary Hiteman, Director of Weekday Early Education, and Joyce Clemmons, leader of the church’s Generosity Team. It was Joyce’s idea to provide gifts and prizes for the school’s “Spring Bash” a few weeks ago, and to spoil the teachers with extravagant gift baskets during Teacher Appreciation Week. Here’s her report:

TEACHER APPRECIATION WEEK AT AJCES

The Cooper School enjoyed a marvelous lunchtime experience on May 8th as ten teachers were presented with mementos of that special week set aside for teachers everywhere.

The lunchroom was a beehive of eating, talking, and speeches. Head of School Mike Maruca introduced visitors from First Baptist Church who presented lavish baskets overflowing with gifts for each of the ten teachers. Joyce Clemmons, Generosity Team leader, asked the students to join her in rousing applause for the role each teacher plays in their everyday lives. She encouraged the students to continue to pursue an education and set goals for the future. Those two things will assist each student in having a high school diploma, an opportunity to attend college, and a bright future ahead of them.

Teacher AppreciationRichie Hilbert’s Bible Study group was represented by Nell Coffman. A majority of that group generously donated items to fill the bright yellow, red, lime-green, and blue baskets. Generosity Team members Joyce Clemmons and Chuck Dean added their gifts. A colored picture of each teacher was attached to the gift.
Items included Flying Squirrels tickets, Car Pool car washes, McBucks from McDonalds, and gender specific items for the school desk and at home.

Thank you teachers at AJCES for all you do. Thank you Bible Study group for your generosity. Thank you Nell Coffman for the delightful framed plaque—”A Teacher’s ABCs”—which can be displayed on the teacher’s desk.

It was a fun lunch time and George, Sr. fed us well. Thank you, George!!

I don’t think the teachers at the Cooper School are always so generously appreciated. I think it was Joyce’s intention to overwhelm them with appreciation. I think she succeeded.

I’m grateful for the way heaven has come to earth through this partnership, and I want to thank Melissa, Mary, and Joyce, for the way they keep it coming.  Who would have guessed that a big Baptist church on Monument Avenue and a little Episcopal school in the East End would form such a beautiful friendship?

It sounds like something Jesus himself might have dreamed up.

KOH2RVA: Day 242

Choice of tomato, pepper, begoniaRecently Len Morrow forwarded some pictures of the sixth graders from the Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School in the Children’s Garden at First Baptist Church. The sixth graders have been making occasional trips to the church to read to the children in our preschool, their “Book Buddies.”  It’s been a heart-warming partnership, and the pictures from the Children’s Garden were touching, but I didn’t know the story. So, I asked FBC member Melissa Brooks (our primary connection to AJCES) what happened. This is what she told me:

Hi Jim,

Thanks for asking! We celebrated our last “Book Buddy” meet up of the year with a Garden Party hosted by Dr. Potato Head (A.K.A. Len Morrow). We had to miss the month of April because of Spring Break and Coach G (teacher at AJCES) told me on the bus ride over that the kids had been asking her when they were coming to see their Lil’ Buddies again. When the 6th graders filed into the preschool classrooms it was electric! We did a little reading/play time in the classroom to catch up on life and then headed out to the garden for some planting with Len. He taught the Cooper kids a few things about planting while the little ones played. It was great to see the Cooper kids get their hands dirty and every so often look to Dr. Potato Head for affirmation that they were doing things correctly. Some planted vegetables, some planted perennials. Some of the kids were already thinking of family members or loved ones they could give them to. They were proud to put their names on the little stick and call it their own. It was their parting gift.

Book BuddyThen the Cooper kids and the FBC kids had a good ole fashioned playdate—and in the warm sunshine they were sliding down the slides together, and climbing on the monkey bars, and at one point I witnessed four very dainty little girls in the middle of at least 8 big 6th graders on the large teeter totter while the 6th graders rocked it wildly from side to side. My motherly instinct kicked in and I approached them to suggest that maybe the big kids should cool it a little bit as to not “scare” the little ones. Very quickly I was corrected by Miss Virginia Dean who insisted she wasn’t scared at all. In fact, the other three little girls quickly chimed in, “We’re not scared, either, we’re having so much funnn!” (their blonde bobs whipping and smocked dresses flying around as they rocked from side to side). Message received. I shut my mouth and stepped back and let it be. Powerful lesson learned, courtesy of a 5 year old.

We ended with a Popsicle.

Mary Hiteman has an AMAZING picture that she posted on her Facebook page and I insist that you use it. It literally brought me to tears. It’s a picture of one of those precious little blondes I mentioned embracing her Book Buddy. It’s powerful. You can probably nab it from Mary’s FB wall.

Thanks,
Melissa

Thank you, Melissa, and thanks for going ahead and nabbing the picture.  It’s precious.

KOH2RVA: Day 146

book buddies

Yesterday was a cold and windy day in Richmond, Virginia, but I had promised to drive a church bus to the East End and that’s what I did. There was a lot of play in the steering wheel, and when a gust of wind caught the side of the bus on an interstate bridge I had a hard time holding it in the road. But I did, and eventually made it to the Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School where Melissa Brooks and I picked up a load of sixth graders and brought them back to First Baptist Church. The idea was that these sixth graders from a poor neighborhood would come and read books with preschoolers from a rich neighborhood.

And that’s what happened.

I can’t tell you how much I love this picture, not only because of the way the sunlight is coming through the window and falling on the floor, but because of the way this sixth-grade boy is reading to this preschool girl, and the way the book is helping them forget—for the moment at least—that they come from different worlds. They are in the world of the story, together, and it is a world of perfect equality.

When I asked our staff six months ago how we would measure the success of this year-long, every-member mission trip, David Powers said we would measure it with “pictures and stories.” Well, here’s a picture that spells success. And the story behind it is remarkable, too.

So often when I look at pictures of mission trips I see affluent, educated people helping people who are poor and uneducated. And that’s not a bad thing; to whom much is given, much is required. But I love the way Melissa Brooks and Mary Hiteman partnered to turn that around. Melissa lives on Church Hill and has been volunteering at the Anna Julia Cooper School, a school for students of limited resources primarily from Richmond’s East End neighborhood. Mary is the director of our preschool at First Baptist, which draws most of its students from the historic (and affluent) Fan District. “Why not get the two schools together?” they thought, and this was the result: a day of learning, laughing, reading, praying, dancing, storytelling, and baking enough gingerbread for everybody to take some home (it smelled so good on the bus back to the East End!)

Is KOH2RVA a success?

Well, yesterday it was. And I’ve got pictures and stories to prove it.

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Photo by Melissa Brooks

KOH2RVA: Day 143

Here’s a terrific article by Nancy Mairs about how First Baptist brought the KOH2RVA on Martin Luther King Day.  I couldn’t have said it better myself. –Jim

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Martin Luther King Day of Service – Bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond VA

January 29, 2013 by Richmond’s First Baptist Church online magazine

By Nancy Mairs. Photos by Susan Brown.

Martin Luther King day of serviceWhile most folks were looking forward to a day off from school and maybe even work, a group from Richmond’s First Baptist Church decided to use that day to help bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond Virginia (KOH2RVA). It all started with one member’s question to the administrator of the Anna Julia Cooper School a few months ago. The school, located in Church Hill, is an independent, tuition-free, faith-based middle school for students of limited resources.

Melissa Brooks, a member at First Baptist since 2009, discovered the school through an article in a community newspaper. Wanting to be part of the church-wide effort to bring the KOH2RVA, Melissa decided to ask if there was anything she could do for them. As Melissa puts it, “This is a great question to ask when you’re trying to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, VA, or at least it’s a great place to start.” Melissa began helping out each week at the school. As she explains, “I fell in love with the mission and vision of the school, the kids, their stories, and the faculty.”

As Melissa was dropping off her son, Sawyer, at his class in the FBC Weekday Preschool, she approached Mary Hiteman, Minister of Weekday School, with the idea of the preschool sponsoring the Anna Julia Cooper School as one of its monthly community mission projects. From this conversation, FBC’s involvement in the Martin Luther King Day of Service Project began.

Martin Luther King day of serviceWhy was Martin Luther King Day selected? Dr. King spoke often about love being the way to overcome the problems of the world. What better way to honor Dr. King’s vision than to help a school that is committed to the academic, social and spiritual development of children who might otherwise live a life unfulfilled and in despair? And as the school’s namesake, Anna Julia Cooper, said, “Jesus believed in the infinite possibilities of an individual soul.”

Mary Hiteman facilitated the FBC Staff’s involvement. Others heard about the project and by the third Monday in January, not only had most of the First Baptist ministers agreed to participate, but other members of the church and several of the families of children who attend the FBC preschool had joined in. Their work started in the morning at the Anna Julia Cooper School with painting; putting up bulletin boards where more than 500 photographs were displayed; sanitizing tables, chairs, and door knobs; and even climbing up on the roof to sweep out the gutters.

Martin Luther King day of serviceThe group then traveled to the Essex Village Apartments, a public housing project in the East End of Richmond, for the second part of their King Day Service Project. Through an invitation from FBC member Len Morrow, a special guest provided a dramatic portrayal of Dr. King. This guest, Rev. James D. Daniely, a dynamic and inspirational speaker who is also the Director of the Pace Center for Campus Ministry at VCU, helped bring Dr. King to life for the children.

As Mary Hiteman explained, “Most of the children do not know why they have the day off – our intent was to change that through Dr. Daniely, and then follow-up with art activities and, of course, birthday cake to celebrate Dr. King’s birthday.” The final activity of the day was picking up trash throughout the area.

And how does Melissa, whose question started this project day at First Baptist, sum up the activities? “My hope is always to continue to shine the bright light of Jesus to our community so that others will see good and glorify God. It’s not a ‘me’ thing or a ‘First Baptist Church thing’ or even a ‘Martin Luther King Day thing’. This is a God thing. All we have to do is show up!”

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Nancy MairsNancy Mairs joined Richmond’s First Baptist Church more than 20 years ago and is a member of the Disciples class. She works in the Regulatory Affairs group at Dominion Virginia Power, and enjoys hiking, canoeing, traveling, and spending time with her husband, Jim, and son, Jack.

Jingle Bell Angel

angelAt staff meeting this week Mary Hiteman was telling us about “Dress-Up-Like-a-Biblical-Character-Day” at our preschool. 

All the children had come in costume, some more imaginative than others.  For example: there were a dozen or so “Marys,” lots of shepherds, four Noahs, and one Jonah (who carried a small, blue whale).  The most imaginative costume, according to Mary, was the one worn by Menley Blanchard, who came to preschool holding hands with her mother Susan, each of them wearing half of a large, red “C.”  When Mary seemed puzzled Susan and Menley stepped apart and Susan said, “Get it?  The parting of the Red ‘C’!”

But my favorite was the little boy who came in an Angels’ baseball uniform.  Instead of the Los Angeles Angels, however, this little fellow was one of “God’s Angels,” Gabriel to be precise, as the name on the back of the uniform clearly indicated.  He was wearing wings and a baseball cap with a halo attached, but on the front of his jersey were the words “Do not fear!” (which is what angels always say), and on each of his shoes there was a small jingle bell, to let others know he was coming, so that they would not be afraid. 

I love that, and I think some of those biblical characters would have loved it, too.  Zechariah, for example, who was “terrified” when Gabriel surprised him in the temple.  Mary, for example, who must have been startled almost out of her wits when Gabriel dropped in to tell her she was going to have a baby.  Those shepherds, for example, who were “sore afraid” when an angel sneaked up on them while they were watching their flocks by night. 

There is a reason angels always say “Do not fear.”  It’s not only because they show up suddenly and unexpectedly, often in the middle of the night.  It’s because they know that fear is the thing most likely to keep us from doing the will of God.  I’m going to try to remember that the next time I hear jingle bells.  I’m going to try to think not so much of Santa and his reindeer as Gabriel in a baseball cap reminding us not to be afraid.  Because if God’s will is ever going to be done on earth as it is in heaven…

…it’s going to require some fearlessness.

Inauguration Day 2009

rJust before 11:00 this morning Mary Hiteman, Director of the Weekday Early Education ministry at First Baptist Church, asked me if I had “two minutes.” 

“Sure,” I said.

She led me down the hall to one of the children’s classrooms, and introduced me to a two-year-old girl who was wearing a T-shirt with Barack Obama’s picture on the front. 

“Who’s that?” Mary asked, pointing at the shirt.

“Obama!” said the girl.

I had squatted down to her level to say hello and told her, “I like your shirt.”

“I’m glad you do!” said one of the teachers, making it obvious that Mr. Obama had not been her first choice for president. 

“Well,” I said, “this is one of those days when we come together as a country, regardless of who we voted for.   On November 4th you vote your conscience—and I’m glad you did—but on January 20th we support our president.”

As I watched coverage of the inauguration later I marveled at how well we seemed to be doing that.  This orderly transfer of power, almost unique among the nations of the world, was carried off with a generosity that made me proud to be an American.  Mr. Bush was extraordinarily gracious in handing over the reins of leadership, and Mr. Obama was equally gracious about receiving them.  There were no overtly partisan remarks; very few boos from the crowd.  On the whole we seemed to understand that there were larger issues at stake, and that if we were going to prosper as a nation it would take all of us working together. 

So, three cheers for Mr. Obama and three cheers for Mr. Bush and all the cheers in the world for the way power was passed from one president to another on this day.  Just before Bush boarded the helicopter that would carry him away to his new civilian life he and Obama not only shook hands, they hugged.

Where else but America?