KOH2RVA: Day 299

Book Buddies 2Tomorrow will be Day 300 of First Baptist Church’s year-long, every-member mission trip to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia.

How are we doing?

Well, the Kingdom hasn’t come, not yet, not entirely, but there have been many times when heaven touched down briefly, just long enough to encourage us. I sometimes think about that remarkable picture of the sixth-grade boy from the housing projects in the East End reading to one of our privileged preschoolers at First Baptist and realize that wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t been on this mission—if one of our members hadn’t been thinking about what she could do to help bring heaven to earth.

But that’s just one example. There are hundreds more, literally. So many of our members have been involved, and in so many ways. When I flip through the pictures I’ve posted on my blog in the last 299 days the stories come rushing back right along with them until I am almost overwhelmed by God’s goodness and grace and a glimpse of what is possible when his people put their shoulder to the wheel and push in the same direction, toward the coming of his Kingdom.

So I’m putting together a slide show for our closing celebration on Sunday, September 8. It’s going to feature dozens of those pictures and a song called “Heaven” by Michael Gungor that says, “I don’t know but I’ve been told, heaven is coming down to this world.”

There are days when I can believe it, and this day may be one of them. Why not seize the opportunity to do something on this day that is picture-worthy, story-worthy—one of those things that will stay in your memory forever as an example of how heaven can come to earth and sometimes does? And then do this: take a picture, write up the story, and send it to me at somerville@fbcrichmond.org. Who knows? It may be the Day 300 example of how “heaven is coming down to this world.”

KOH2RVA: Day 287

black_and_white_eatingI want to say a little more about the meeting between some of the key leaders of Richmond’s First Baptist Church and First African Baptist Church last Tuesday night. As I wrote in yesterday’s post, Rodney Waller, pastor of First African, directed our attention to that passage in Acts 2 where “all who believed were together and had all things in common,” and then asked, “What if our two churches could show Richmond what true reconciliation looks like.”

And that’s when I got goosebumps.

It’s a worthy goal, inspired by the Holy Spirit, but true reconciliation won’t come easily; the wounds that divide us are old and deep. I remember talking to a church member in North Carolina who told me that he wasn’t prejudiced, that he had “a lot of black friends.” I wasn’t convinced. I asked, “When was the last time you had one of your black friends over for dinner?” Because this is the simple truth:

Friends eat together.

Take a look at that passage from Acts chapter 2 again: And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved (Acts 2:42-47, ESV).

At Tuesday night’s meeting I pointed out that line where it says they were “breaking bread in their homes.” “What if we did that?” I asked. “What if we invited each other into our homes to share meals? Because having people in your home is different from sitting down together in a church fellowship hall. It’s more intimate, more personal. It lets them into your life.”

I don’t know what the others will do with that idea but I know that I’ve been wondering if I have room at my table for Rodney Waller and his wife and their three teenage children. If our two churches are going to show Richmond what true reconciliation looks like it would be important for their two pastors to lead the way. And if the word reconciliation means “to become friendly again” then we’d better get busy. We can talk all we want, and have meetings from now until Jesus comes back, but true reconciliation is about friendship,

And friends eat together.

KOH2RVA: Day 286

hands-sandOn Tuesday night of last week some of the key leaders of Richmond’s First Baptist Church sat down with some of the key leaders of First African Baptist Church “just to talk.” One of the things we talked about was the fact that our two congregations used to worship together until we went our separate ways in 1841. We’ve worshiped together a few times since then and our preachers have swapped pulpits from time to time, but for the most part we have carried out our separate missions separately.

So on Tuesday night we began by talking about mission of the Church: What is it here for? What it is supposed to do? The more we talked the more we seemed to agree on the Church’s essential missions and purpose. And then Dr. Rodney Waller, pastor of First African, said, “When it comes to the church’s mission I’ve got to go back to the book,” and he asked us to look at this passage from the second chapter of Acts:

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved (Acts 2:42-47, ESV).

We had been talking about the way the American church seems to be fighting for its very survival these days, doing everything it can to attract and retain members. Rodney pointed out that in the early church it was The Lord who “added to their number” as the church was faithful in doing all those other things: devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bead and the prayers. He wondered if The Lord wouldn’t add to our numbers if we would simply be faithful about doing the same.

And then he said: “What if our two churches could show Richmond what true reconciliation looks like?”

And that’s when I got goosebumps.

I don’t know what “true reconciliation” would look like, not yet, but it was exciting to talk about it and after an hour of conversation we agreed to get together for another meeting to talk some more. Before we parted ways Rodney said, “I believe The Lord was in this meeting tonight; I felt the Holy Spirit.”

I felt it too, Rodney.

I don’t think it was ever the Lord’s intention for our two congregations to go their separate ways. And I doubt that he cares much for all these denominational divisions in the world. As I tell people sometimes, “Jesus only has one church.”

These days, more than ever, it may be important to remember that.

KOH2RVA: Day 211

argument-380x258I had coffee yesterday with a pastor from the area who said some unkind things about me in one of his recent blog posts. A friend in town asked me if I had seen it. I hadn’t, but when I read it my first thought was, “Well, this man just doesn’t know me!”

So, I called him and asked if we could have coffee sometime, and that’s what we ended up doing yesterday afternoon, at the Starbucks on the corner of Broad and Bowe.

The conversation was cordial. We spent some time talking about our families and about our ministry, but eventually we got around to the subject of his blog post, which was the recent decision by the Richmond Baptist Association to allow Ginter Park Baptist Church to maintain its membership, even though it had ordained an openly gay man to the ministry. His argument was that by speaking up for Ginter Park Baptist Church I had affirmed gay ordination.

I didn’t see it that way at all.

I told him that what I was speaking up for was missional partnership, and that it was something that had been reinforced through KOH2RVA. On this year-long, every-member mission trip I have discovered that there are a number of other churches, organizations, and agencies that have a similar mission—in their own ways they, too, are working to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia.

St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, for example, just across the street from First Baptist, has a food pantry for hungry and homeless people. St. Mark’s does church differently than First Baptist. They have some different beliefs than First Baptist. But one of the things we agree on is that hungry and homeless people need to be fed; we both see it as a way of bringing heaven to earth.

So, do we have to agree on everything in order to work together? Not at all, at least not where feeding hungry people is concerned. But I wouldn’t invite the rector of St. Mark’s to teach a class on our core beliefs at First Baptist and he wouldn’t invite me to do that at St. Mark’s. Our beliefs are different enough that it wouldn’t be helpful.

So I was telling this pastor as we had coffee yesterday that I didn’t think we had to agree with everything Ginter Park did in order to partner with them in mission—sending inner-city kids to Camp Alkulana in the summer, for example, seemed like something we could both get behind.

But he didn’t see it that way.

He talked about tribal identity, and said that what Ginter Park had done really put them outside the boundaries of the Baptist “tribe,” and that they could no longer be considered part of us. For that reason we could no longer work together; we were too different.

He had a point. I’m guessing he wouldn’t invite the pastor of Ginter Park to teach a class on core beliefs at his church, and the pastor of Ginter Park probably wouldn’t invite him to teach that class at hers. But couldn’t they agree that inner-city kids need to go to Camp Alkulana in the summer, and couldn’t they pool their resources to that end? Do we have to agree on everything in order to work together?

I’m afraid that what’s going to suffer in this dispute is not his church or her church, but those inner-city kids. And isn’t that always the way it is? We Christians start arguing about doctrine and neglect our mission,

And children suffer,
And people go hungry,
And the good news isn’t shared,

And Jesus sighs.