KOH2RVA: Day 154

First Baptist Church has been bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, for more than 20 years through its Divorce Recovery Workshop.  As I have said on more than one occasion, “It’s one of the best things we do.”

Take five minutes (and fifteen seconds) and watch this video, produced by Allen Cumbia and featuring some of our most committed and faithful DRW volunteers, Lynn and Andy Hamilton.

I think you’ll catch a glimpse of heaven on earth.


Last week was a busy week for me.

  • I preached three times at the bicentennial celebration of Wingate Baptist Church in North Carolina, a church I served from 1991-2000.
  • I went from there to a sermon-planning retreat in South Carolina, where five other Baptist pastors and I planned our preaching for an entire year.
  • I went from there to an Episcopal camp and conference center near Houston, Texas, to lead a preaching workshop for a group of newly ordained priests.
  • I came back to Richmond in time to preach (twice) on Sunday, dedicate three children, and run with the 10K training team.

I can sum up the events of the week in a few bullet points, but it would take much longer to describe how it felt to step to the pulpit in the sanctuary of Wingate Baptist Church last Saturday night and look out over the beautiful, beaming faces of people I loved and served for nine years.  I told them it reminded me of a dream I’d had about heaven once, and it did—almost exactly.  Or to describe what it was like to share ideas with five of my closest colleagues as we sat around the living room of a lake house in Greenwood, South Carolina, bundled up in fleece pullovers, taking notes and jabbing our pens in the air for emphasis as the sun went down on a January day.  It would take too long to describe that moment when the nervous young Episcopal priest stood in front of our group and told the story of how she learned what ministry was about during a summer on the pediatric intensive care wing of a hospital, as the rest of us swallowed at the lumps in our throats and wiped our eyes.  And it would take even longer to describe what it was like to come home to Richmond, finally, and preach to a sanctuary full of people who feel—more and more these days—like family, to catch those winks and nods, those smiles and knowing looks, that can only come after you’ve spent some time together.

It was wonderful.

I will say this: it seems that every time I come back to Richmond from somewhere else I feel a little more at home here, as if you needed to say “I’m home!” out loud a few dozen times in a new place before you really felt it.  I’m feeling it, and it feels good, and except for the quick trip I’m taking to Orlando on Wednesday and the drive up to New York at the end of the month to take some things to my daughter,

I’m home.

Meeting the Needs of the Latte Class

starbucks-latteI went to a workshop in Houston last week called “Being Missional in Your Church Context: Meeting the Real Needs of Your Neighbors.”

Houston?  In July?  Really?

Yes, really.

When it was time to introduce myself I told the group I was from Richmond, Virginia, and that when I walk to church on Sunday mornings I sometimes pass people sitting on their front porches, reading the New York Times and sipping lattes.*  “I’m sure they have needs,” I said, “I’m just not sure how to identify them” (I mean, really, do you want to interrupt someone’s newspaper reading to say, “Hey, got any needs?”).

The workshop leaders didn’t get around to that question right away, but they did say some good things which I jotted down in my notes.  Here’s just a sampling:

Dick Hamm mentioned that people over 65 tend to experience God through the institution of the church, and that the object—for them—is to get people to join.  People under 65 tend to experience God outside the institution.  For them mission is about relationship, and mission work is usually short-term and hands-on.

Gary Nelson said that in Canada, where he lives, a lot of people were going to church in the fifties.  The decline started in the sixties, and now only 12 to 16 percent of the population attends church with any regularity.  He talked about this as the “come-to” model (some would call it the attractional model) and asked what happens when people don’t come to church?  How do you engage?

He talked about “institutionalism” in the church, and said that it uses up a lot of energy and resources.  “How do we free people up from the institution so they can engage in mission?” he asked, and followed it with some thoughts about governance.  He said church committees were created in the 40’s and 50’s** and that since then millions of church members have served on committees.  He asked how much of our members’ time is taken up with church governance, and joked that in some places “it takes a village” to govern a church.   If we could spend less time governing the institution, could we spend more time engaged in mission?

Finally, George Bullard addressed the question about how to identify the needs of our neighbors: “Talk to bartenders,” he said, “bankers, real-estate agents, social workers, counselors at the neighborhood school.  Talk to anybody who spends time with your neighbors, listening to their questions and concerns.”

So, I may need to walk down to Starbucks this afternoon and talk to one of the baristas there about my neighbors.  “Who are these people?  What are their needs?”  And while I’m there, gathering information, I may just have to order a latte.

*for the uninitiated, a latte (pronounced lah-TAY) is a kind of a tall, frothy coffee beverage made with espresso and steamed milk.  It’s delicious.
**I’m taking his word for it, but it makes me wonder to what extent the church in America mirrored the nation’s efforts to win World War II.  Wasn’t it all about new departments and agencies and strategies in those days?  Did we think our success in war could translate into success in mission?  Did it?

Jesus at 32,000 Feet

air-tranIt’s true.  You can blog from almost anywhere.


At the moment I’m sitting in the William P. Hobby Airport, sipping a tall coffee and savoring the last few bites of a cheese Danish.  I’ve come to Houston to lead a preaching workshop at Christ Church Cathedral for some Episcopal priests-in-training, and since no one is picking me up I have a few minutes to spare.


It’s still early.  I got up at four this morning to get to the airport by five.  Two flights later here I am in Houston.  I saw the sun rise gloriously between Richmond and Atlanta and now it’s at full strength, coming in through these big windows and filling the place with God’s own light. 


My seatmate on the last flight was having allergy problems and she wanted to talk about them.  We finally got around to questions like, “Where are you going and why?”  I told her I was on my way to Houston to lead a preaching workshop.  “What about you?” I asked.  She seemed to blush before telling me that she was an exotic dancer on her way to a national competition.  “And now this!” she complained, pointing at her puffy eyes.  But as we talked she told me that she had grown up in a Christian family, that her father, in fact, was a pastor.  She looked down and said, “My parents aren’t too happy about some of the choices I’ve made.”


She talked about trying to live by their rules for years and years, and how finally she decided she just couldn’t do it anymore.  “Now I live by my own rules,” she said, lifting her chin.  That’s when I heard myself saying, “You know, Jesus said there were only two rules that really matter: loving God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and loving your neighbor just as much as you love yourself.  He said all the law and the prophets were wrapped up in those two, which makes me think that if we could do them we would have nothing to be ashamed of, not even when we stood before God.” 


Since she seemed to be listening I added, “When I’m trying to make moral decisions I sometimes ask myself, ‘Will this get in the way of my love for God?  Will this drive a wedge between me and my neighbor?’” 


She looked thoughtful.


“Your dancing,” I asked:  “Does it get in the way of your love for God?  Does it drive a wedge between you and your neighbor?”  “No,” she said.  “Not at all.”  But then she admitted that it had strained her relationship with her parents.  “It doesn’t keep me from loving them but it seems to make it harder for them to love me.”  And then she breathed a heavy sigh and fell silent.  Finally she looked over and said, “Thanks.”


“Thanks?” I asked.


“Yeah, thanks,” she said.  “That helped.”


I don’t know how it helped, but as I sit here sipping coffee I’m thinking how remarkable it is that a Baptist preacher and an exotic dancer had a conversation about Jesus at 32,000 feet.


But he’s like that, isn’t he? 


You never know where he’ll turn up.