KOH2RVA: Day 343

xy axisI came home from Preacher Camp a day early, just so I could participate in yesterday’s five-hour attempt to bring some healing to the fractured Richmond Baptist Association. I did it because I care about the Association. I want it to succeed.

At one point Bill Wilson, President of the Center for Congregational Health in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, asked us to create an X/Y axis of identity and mission and come up with some clever nicknames for the resulting quadrants (I know; I had a hard time picturing it, too). But eventually someone at our table drew a bold, vertical line down the center of a sheet of newsprint and wrote “Clear understanding of mission” at the top and “No understanding of mission” at the bottom. And then she drew a bold, horizontal line and wrote “No sense of identity” on the left and “Clear sense of identity” on the right.

And then we came up with clever nicknames.

We decided those in the bottom left quadrant were those who didn’t know who they were or what they were doing. We called them “The Clueless.” In the upper left quadrant were those who didn’t know who they were, but knew what they were doing. We called them “The Busy.” In the upper right quadrant were those who knew who they were and what they were doing. We called them “The Focused.” And in the bottom right quadrant were those who knew who they were but didn’t know what they were doing. We called them “The Feel-Good.”

The more we talked about those four quadrants the more obvious it became that the upper right quadrant was the place to be: that a clear sense of identity and a clear understanding of mission were essential to organizational health.

I couldn’t help but think of Richmond’s First Baptist Church in that moment. Who are we? Followers of Jesus. What are we doing? Working with him to bring heaven to earth. Currently, we are working with him on this year-long, every-member mission trip to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia. It couldn’t be much more clear than that, or more compelling.

One of the people at my table said, “That’s what we need: a mission so clear, so compelling, that it moves us from one quadrant to the other.” I think that’s true for every organization. We don’t want to be people who don’t know who they are or what they are doing. We want to be those who know exactly who they are, and exactly what they’re doing. That’s when things get done.

That’s when the Kingdom comes.

KOH2RVA: Day 295

BackpacksI re-blogged yesterday.

I hardly ever do that, but I spent all day Saturday working on the sermon and when I got up on Sunday morning it still wasn’t finished. So, a little after 6:00 a.m. I pushed the re-blog button on Meredith Holladay’s excellent summary of the workshop I led at the CBF General Assembly and went back to the sermon.

But I’m feeling a little guilty.

I’m supposed to be blogging about First Baptist Church’s year-long, every-member mission trip to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, not some workshop I led in Greensboro, North Carolina. So, it was a relief to get to worship yesterday and find that the faithful members of FBC were still on mission.

In fact, it’s kind of a funny story.

I was talking with FBC member Rob Courain last week about a brilliant fund-raising idea he’d had, and suggested that maybe he could raise funds for backpacks—stuffed with back-to-school supplies—for the students at Glen Lea Elementary school. I don’t know where that idea came from; it just seemed like a simple, do-able, hands-on project.

So, imagine my surprise and delight when I looked at yesterday’s worship bulletin and discovered, among the announcements on the back page, this one from the First Baptist Women on Mission:

Backpack Project for the Oregon Hill Baptist Center (collecting today through August 11). Our goal: 100 filled backpacks (sturdy, large enough for notebooks and textbooks). Supplies to be included in each backpack:

• 1 three-ring binder and divider tabs
• 1 or 2 packs loose-leaf paper (wide or standard rule – 200 sheets total)
• 4 black-and-white marbled composition books
• 2 one-subject notebooks
• 1 three or five subject spiral notebook
• 5 to 8 No. 2 pencils (no mechanical pencils)
• 5 to 8 black or blue ink pens (erasable/no gel)

See a list of additional items needed on the kiosks in the hallways. Collection bins will be located at the Mulberry Street Receptionist Desk.

I don’t know what you know about the Oregon Hill Baptist Center, but those kids need back-to-school backpacks every bit as much as the ones at Glen Lea Elementary, and it’s a wonderful way for our church to partner with the Richmond Baptist Association and one of its existing missions.

So, if stuffing a backpack full of back-to-school goodies sounds like fun and you’d like to participate, just follow the instructions above and drop it off at church when you’re done. And if you don’t live in the area, but still want to help, you can send a donation of $25 per backpack to the attention of Mary Palmer, Women on Mission, First Baptist Church, 2709 Monument Avenue, Richmond, VA, 23220.

Who knows? We may end up with enough backpacks for both places!

KOH2RVA: Day 263

AlkulanaSometimes the best way to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, is to get out of town. At least, that was the thinking of a few bold women who started “a little camp for city kids” nearly a hundred years ago.

Last night Beth Reddish Wright told us the story of Camp Alkulana, a year round mission of the Richmond Baptist Association with a targeted summer ministry to inner city children. Here’s what the web site says:

The camp has been in continuous operation since it began in 1915. The kerosene lanterns, which shone from the windows of the first cottage, appeared as bright eyes shining through the forest. Thus, the Indian word, “Alkulana,” meaning “bright eyes” became the official camp name.

Camp Alkulana is located in Millboro Springs, Va, deep in the Alleghenies. The proximity of the camp to the George Washington National Forest provides it with boundless space and endless program resources. Some of the activities offered during the summer are hiking, cave exploring, camping out, cooking out, rock climbing, rappelling, ropes course, swimming, crafts, Bible study and worship.

Though the camp is in Millboro Springs, we consider our ministry in Richmond because we serve the children and youth of Central Virginia. Throughout the year in Alkulana offers ongoing supports in Richmond to its campers through large group gatherings, a mentoring program for older campers, and a targeted leadership program for its junior counselors.

Camp Alkulana’s Mission is to reveal God’s love to low-income and at-risk children and youth of Central Virginia so that they might realize the intrinsic value in themselves and others.

Beth told us the story of a girl named Jo-Jo who was afraid to join the other campers in jumping off a rock into the river. The rock was high, and when she looked down she thought, “Uh-uh. I like my life, and I love to live.” She was scared. But everybody else was jumping and splashing into the water and coming up laughing. Finally her counselor yelled, “Scary things make good memories!” And so she did it; she jumped.

It was so much fun she did it all afternoon. And later? She remembered what her counselor said: “Scary things make good memories.”

Maybe we should say it like this: some kinds of scary things make good memories. Jo-Jo was from Gilpin Court, one of the poorest neighborhoods in Richmond. Drug deals go down in that neighborhood all the time. People sometimes get shot and killed. But for a little while last summer she got away from all that. She went to a place where she could see the beauty of God’s creation all around her, where people were kind to her and shared the love of Christ with her, and where the only scary thing was the idea of jumping off a rock into the river. I can almost picture her asking: “Is this heaven?” and I can almost hear someone answering,

“No, it’s Camp Alkulana.”

Every year at First Baptist we take up a special offering for Camp Alkulana. This year, as we continue our year-long, every-member mission trip to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, you might think of your offering as a way to do that: as a way of getting kids like Jo-Jo out of the city long enough to experience heaven on earth.

I’m planning to double my offering this year. I hope you will do the same.

KOH2RVA:Day 233

confusion4I got a call from Mary Ann Delano yesterday telling me that people had been “confused” by Sunday’s sermon. Mary Ann is the chair of the deacons at First Baptist. When she calls I listen. But I did wonder what people were confused about. I thought the sermon had flown like an arrow through the air toward its crystal-clear conclusion, which was this:

Bless my heart, every time I hear this story (about Peter and Cornelius) it forces me to deal with the possibility that God is willing to accept people I am not, and every time I hear it I need to ask, “Lord, am I calling something ‘unclean’ that you have made clean? And if so, would you show me?”

But I did refer to gay people in the sermon, as an example of those we might have difficulty accepting, and that reference came just a few weeks after I spoke up for a church in the Richmond Baptist Association that ordained an openly gay man. Put those two together and you might jump to the conclusion that the pastor of Richmond’s First Baptist Church was on a crusade of some kind.

Let me be clear: I am not.

But every time I preach from Acts 11:1-18 (the lectionary text for the day, selected months and years before the recent meeting of the Richmond Baptist Association) I seem to get in trouble, and it’s because the text forces us to consider those people we think of as “unclean.” In fact, someone sent me a copy of (Pastor Emeritus) Jim Flamming’s sermon on this same text from 2004—“Who Is Unacceptable to You?”—where he talked about the sheet that came down out of heaven in Peter’s vision, the one with all those unclean animals in it. He said it becomes quickly evident that the point of this vision is not animals but people. “Which people or groups of people do you consider ‘unclean’?” Dr. Flamming asked. “Who would be at the center of your sheet?”

But he didn’t preach that sermon a month after the Richmond Baptist Association had voted to maintain fellowship with a church that ordained an openly gay man, and he didn’t speak up for that church in that meeting. I did, and I can see how some people would make a connection, and think that I was on some sort of crusade.

Let me be clear: I am not.

I don’t think the two are unrelated, but when I spoke up for Ginter Park Baptist Church I was speaking up for the mission of the Richmond Baptist Association. I was trying to say, “Let’s not let the action of one church derail our mission.” Baptist churches are autonomous. We can’t tell them who to ordain and they can’t tell us. But we can work together in spite of our differences for the greater good and that’s what I was arguing for. I was thinking about Camp Alkulana and the three Baptist centers in Richmond that do such good work. I was hoping we wouldn’t lose Ginter Park’s contribution to that mission.

But now I understand some 15 churches are considering leaving the Association because we voted not to kick Ginter Park out. I called the pastor of one of those churches last week—a big church—and asked, “Is it true? Are you going to let the action of one small church cause you to abandon your long-term commitment to the mission of the Richmond Baptist Association? Isn’t that like the tail wagging the dog?”

I tried to imagine why his church would even consider such a thing and in the end decided that it must be fear. The churches that are thinking of pulling out are afraid that if they don’t they will become guilty by association—quite literally—and that everyone will assume they affirm gay ordination. They are afraid that by working with a church they consider “unclean” they, themselves, will become unclean.

That fear of contamination was the same fear that kept the early church from having anything to do with Gentiles until that day on a rooftop in Joppa when God told Peter not to call unclean what he had made clean. Suppose Peter hadn’t gone to the home of Cornelius? Suppose he had been too afraid? God’s mission could have stalled out right there, the Richmond Baptist Association would have never existed, and we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

I don’t want God’s mission to stall out, and I certainly don’t want it to stall out because of fear, but I also don’t want it to stall out because of confusion. I’ve tried to be clear about why I preached what I preached and why I did what I did. If you have questions or comments please post them below.  In the meantime, let’s get on with our mission.  This is Day 233 of KOH2RVA:

There is good work waiting to be done.

KOH2RVA Day 192

disaster-responseLast night the Richmond Baptist Association voted to maintain fellowship with Ginter Park Baptist Church, a church that recently ordained an openly gay man to the ministry.

The vote was close—very close—but it was enough to establish a simple majority and settle the question, at least for last night: Ginter Park can stay in the RBA family. How the churches of the Association will respond to that news remains to be seen.

But here’s what I find myself wanting to say this morning: Baptists and Buddhists can work together if the cause is just and the mission is clear.

When Superstorm Sandy pounded the coast a few months ago, for example, Baptists from Virginia were among those who raced north to provide relief. But they weren’t the only ones. People of different faiths and people of no faith at all were working alongside them to provide food, clothing, and shelter for people whose homes had been lost in the storm.  They didn’t have to agree on every point of doctrine in order to work together; just on that point that insists that people who are hungry and cold need some help.

I remember my own experience with disaster relief after Hurricane Fran hit the North Carolina coast in 1996. I jumped in a car with a few other Baptist men and drove to Wilmington, NC, where I ended up washing out empty food containers after hot meals had been delivered. I worked side by side with a delightful older couple whose views were almost completely opposite of mine. If we had been in a Baptist meeting, we would have voted differently on every issue.

But we weren’t.

We were in a disaster-stricken area trying to provide relief to people who had almost nothing left in the world. We didn’t have to agree on everything to agree that what we were doing was both urgent and important.

I think Sterling Severns helped us see that last night. He said that when he came to Richmond as a pastor nine years ago he asked his new church why they supported the Richmond Baptist Association. “Because of Camp Alkulana,” they said. Because every year the RBA takes busloads of boys and girls from inner city Richmond to spend a week at camp—breathing fresh air; hiking, camping, swimming; and learning about the love of Jesus in a beautiful natural setting. For those kids, for that week, heaven really does come to earth. That’s one of the best reasons why Sterling’s church, and my church, and Ginter Park Baptist Church give money to the Richmond Baptist Association—so those kids can go to camp. We don’t have to agree with each other on everything to agree that that’s a good thing, and something worth doing.

So, in spite of all our discussion about homosexuality last night, and about what the Bible says, and about what we believe, in the end we voted to keep on working together on what we agree is important—those kids who go to Camp Alkulana, for instance. And if the Buddhists decide they want to send us a check?

We’ll take it.

KOH2RVA: Day 12

I had lunch with Mike Robinson yesterday.

Mike is the Director of Missions for the Richmond Baptist Association. I wanted to tell him about our mission to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, and to ask for his partnership.

It was a good lunch, at a great little place called Garnett’s, but as we talked I surprised myself with my passion. “A church has to have a clear understanding of its mission,” I said, banging the table for emphasis, “and its mission can’t be its own survival.” I told him I believe that attendance and giving are a by-product of doing what Jesus has asked us to do and cited several examples.

One of those was Tabernacle Baptist Church, right here in the Fan, where my friend Sterling Severns is pastor. When Sterling came church attendance was under 100 people on Sunday mornings. Now it’s double that. Why? He says it’s because they embraced Burmese refugees who were moving to Richmond, helped them get established here, and invited them to church. Thanks to Baptist missionary efforts in that part of the world years ago, many of those refugees were already Christian, and eager to find a church home. By showing radical hospitality to these Burmese brothers and sisters (remember they didn’t have much of anything and didn’t speak English), Tabernacle has been transformed into a vibrant, mission-centered, community of Christ. Attendance and giving are on the rise, but only because attendance and giving are not the point.

I told Mike that I had invited Sterling and Tabernacle to partner with us on our mission trip, and wanted to ask RBA to do the same. Mike was happy to say yes. The Richmond Baptist Association is already deeply involved in bringing heaven to earth in Richmond. There are three community ministry centers in the city and every summer hundreds of kids leave the city to spend a week breathing the fresh air and enjoying the great outdoors at Camp Alkulana.

I’ve listed the community ministries of the Richmond Baptist Association below. I welcome the RBA as a partner in our mission of bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia.

Thanks, Mike!

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COMMUNITY MINISTRIES

CHURCH HILL CHRISTIAN WELLNESS CENTER
(located in Mount Tabor Baptist Church)
2011 Fairmount Avenue, Richmond, VA 23223
Rev. Glinda Ford, Community Missionary
804-780-0053; glinda.ford@rbaonline.org

OREGON HILL BAPTIST CENTER
(located in Pine Street Baptist Church)
400 South Pine Street, Richmond, VA 23220
Rev. Jennifer M. Turner, Community Missionary
804-648-1353; jennifer.turner@rbaonline.org

SOUTH RICHMOND BAPTIST CENTER
(located in The Saint Paul’s Baptist Church South)
700 East Belt Boulevard, Richmond, VA 23224
Rev. Wesley R. Garrett, Community Missionary
804-232-0174; wesley.garrett@rbaonline.org

CAMP ALKULANA
111 Camp Alkulana Road, Millboro, VA 24460
Mrs. Beth Reddish Wright, Camp Director
RBA Office: 804-329-1701 ext. 206; campalkulana@gmail.com
Camp Phone: 540-997-9444 (June-August)