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Archive for June, 2015

Story by Win Grant. Photos courtesy of WWBT-TV.

Many of us take for granted that our church broadcasts our Sunday morning services locally on WRIC-TV and that we have a website and are heavily invested in social media. But those tools are not universally used by churches today. FBC, a pioneer in using various forms of media to connect with our members and beyond, began this outreach with radio and then television.

I remember as a child on Sunday mornings walking past the Radio Room under the staircase, just outside the doors to the Sanctuary on the Boulevard side of the church. In the 1950s into the mid-1970s a church member sat at an audio control board that not only controlled the public address sound system in the Sanctuary, but also fed a telephone line to send the audio to local AM radio station WRNL for our 11:00 a.m. worship services. If you paid close attention, you could see Dr. Adams lean into the microphone during the first hymn and welcome the live radio audience, a message that the congregation did not hear. In 1970, the radio broadcast of the “First Baptist Church Hour” moved to Sunday evenings, probably because WRNL had found an advertiser willing to pay more for the 11:00 a.m. time slot than FBC could afford.

A few years ago, a friend at WWBT-TV found some items in a storage building that was being torn down and recognized the significance to FBC. He brought me a reel of 16mm film that said “First Baptist Church” on the metal can, as well as some black and white photos. The film was a kinescope of a television special featuring Dr. Adams that was broadcast on WRVA-TV before the call letters were changed to WWBT-TV. (A kinescope, a way of recording a television program, was the only available method before videotape was invented.)

We had the film transferred to a DVD. The program, “The Pastor’s Study,” featured Wilson Angel singing two hymns, accompanied by Alton Howell on the organ. In a studio re-creation of his study, Dr. Adams shared a short inspirational message. Based on a photo of one of the TV cameras used in its production, the program was probably from the early 1960s and thus very likely FBC’s first television broadcast. Watch video of an early TV production.

FBC-DrAdams-sign400px

Sanctuary during Dr. Adams’ era

TV set of Dr. Adams' study

TV set of Dr. Adams’ study

In 1973, FBC embarked on a weekly television venture that began as a 15-minute program on Sunday mornings. Winford Hendrix joined the staff as minister of education/administration that year. In 1974, Winford took on the task of producing and hosting a television program called “Focus,” produced in the WCVE studios, but aired on WWBT. It was a talk show with a religious theme. It presented stories on local, church-related events and usually featured a musical performance as well as a message from Dr. Thompson. Barbara Nesbit was a driving force in the production of “Focus” and was a presenter as well.

Another save from the WWBT dustbin by my friend Wray Dudley was a video tape in a format that has been obsolete for years. The tape contained two 30-minute versions of the “Focus” program from January 1975. Let’s just say that hair and clothing styles have changed a bit since 1975.

In 1975, Dr. Thompson asked the church to conduct a long-range plan, and among the topics to be studied was television. Billy Graham was using television effectively, and some of the large Baptist churches had started to broadcast their Sunday morning worship services on local commercial television stations. In the very early days, a few television stations even offered free airtime to churches because selling advertising on Sunday mornings was practically impossible. The broadcasters were just happy to get a program to air, even if only a handful of viewers tuned in.

The long-range planning committee concluded that the church did not have the financial resources to acquire the equipment to produce a weekly broadcast of the worship service and to take on the other ongoing costs associated with a weekly worship service broadcast. Televised worship service broadcasts were not to be until some years later.

Next installment – The Flamming Era and Weekly Broadcast of the Worship Services

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Story by Allen Brown. Photos by Allen Cumbia, Win Grant and Allison Maxwell.

Easy to Follow His CallOn February 12, 2015 Becky Payne completed 25 years of extraordinary ministry as a member of the staff at Richmond’s First Baptist Church. During that time she has served as organist, soloist, children’s choir coordinator, accompanist for choirs, ensembles and soloists, advisor for senior adults, handbell choir director and ringer, and organizer and director of the JoySingers and the Youth Girls’ Ensemble. Becky has taken additional responsibility for many mission trips and choir tours and for a long-running Bible class for FBC members who live at Lakewood Manor.

In a recent interview Becky shared about her ministry at FBC.

Leaving First Baptist Church, Jackson, Mississippi, a place where you served happily and successfully for 11 years, was a major step for you, personally and professionally.

Yes, but for me the call of God was to “go.” I saw it not as a “leaving” but a “going.” Believing fully in God’s faithfulness, I found it easy to follow His call.

What are some memories of those early years at First Baptist?

becky-friends_350pxThe surprise of renovation. I had left a church which had just finished a major renovation, then learned that we were to do the same here. The renovation process causes big adjustments for an organist and accompanist. Also, I remember that it took time to balance staff responsibilities, each finding our niche and then finding ways to support each other.

Then there was the surprise of process, finding that the pace of most everything was much slower, especially in church life. In my previous church, things happened quickly and, other than scheduling, without needing the approval of deacons or committees.

Other vivid memories include the illness and subsequent death of our senior pastor’s son. The love and support shown to their family by FBC people told me so much about my new church home. (Dr. James Flamming was pastor from 1983 to 2006. His son Dave died in 1991, a year after Becky’s arrival.)

In your many roles since you arrived, what have been the most meaningful personal and spiritual parts of your ministry?
Worship and relationships. When I am using music to help people feel the presence of God, it is fulfilling. When the people sing “Worthy of Worship” or “Amazing Grace,” for instance, these become holy moments for the church family. But it is not about me—God is using my hands and feet and talents to glorify Him—to point people toward Him.

Personal relationships have been so important, especially walking through difficult times with someone. One of my spiritual gifts is discernment. I can feel the pain and share in the difficult but special process of walking with them.

Tell us some warm memories or “aha” moments.
becky-directing_350pxThere are at least three music moments that are special. One is our congregational singing of “The Lord’s Prayer” after communion. Another is when we sing “Silent Night” on Christmas Eve. Those two moments make me fully aware of what it means to be a part of the body of Christ and the power we share in that relationship.

The third is when the Youth Girls’ Ensemble sang “Blessings.” The phrase “what if the trials of this life are blessings in disguise…” When I selected music for the Ensemble, I looked for text more than melody. As they practiced, they sang the words over and over. For this piece they internalized a great truth: If we let Him, God uses what happens in our lives for good. I was glad to be part of their learning this lesson.

One memorable personal event occurred after I had been here about 10 years. I was driving home from a conference and realized for the first time that I felt I was coming home. This was my place and still is.

How do you feel about your work with seniors?
When I was new to Richmond, I met the Wendy Bunch (a small group of couples who met on Sunday nights after church, first at Wendy’s, then in homes) – the Seldens, the Dixons, the Shearons, the Harringtons, the Lucys, the Elmores, and others. They embraced me with such love and care that I knew I was in the right place.

As my work with seniors grew and became a significant part of my ministry, I found my life enriched on every level. We have studied together, laughed and played together, prayed together, grieved and celebrated together. Our senior adults are the heart of this church. I love them.

You’ve gone on several mission trips. How have they changed you?
beckywithchild_350pxI was a Sunbeam and a GA (Baptist missions organizations for children), and I had a missions-minded mother, so of course I’ve always had a desire to see God’s world and His people. But nothing could have prepared me for what I experienced in Germany and Indonesia.

In Essen, Germany, I learned what it felt like to be considered part of a cult (how many Germans view Baptists). That sense of separation was overcome as I watched a young girl weeping when she sang “Fairest Lord Jesus” in German while some of us sang in English. I realized anew that God is everywhere and that we serve the same God. And I have lasting friendships with members of our host church there.

The two trips to Indonesia were medical missions. It was a life-changing experience to be among people who had lived through a tsunami, who had never seen a doctor or white people. Many of them walked for hours to wait all day, hoping to be treated. Yet there were always more than we could possibly see each day.

Despite that disappointment, blessings abounded. Indonesia is a place where I should have been afraid, but I wasn’t. I witnessed a miracle as our group prayed for a girl who was obviously demon-possessed, and we saw her healed. Also, relationships among team members were deepened. We became more accessible and more important to each other as we recognized a new meaning in being brothers and sisters in Christ.

You are truly ministering to us through your exceptional instrumental and vocal skills. Tell us your feelings about this.
My calling is to teach others about the love of God through Christ Jesus. Music is the means, not the end. My abilities are God’s gift to me and He has been generous. I believe the greatest ability is availability—to be willing to use what God has given me to point others toward Him.

Editor’s note:
Becky’s last day as FBC’s organist will be June 28. She will retire on June 30, 2015.
View a video about Becky produced by Sean Cook and Allen Cumbia.


Allen BrownAllen Brown was Minister of Music in Baptist churches in North Carolina and Virginia, before becoming Director, Department of Church Music, at the Virginia Baptist General Board, from 1962 until his retirement in 1993. He has served the Music Ministry of Richmond’s First Baptist in many ways, including as a member of the search team that brought Becky Payne to FBC. He has been on Partnership Mission trips to Brazil, Germany, Slovakia and India. Allen and his wife, Charlotte, have two sons, four grandchildren, and two great grandchildren.

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By Steve Blanchard.

A morning without coffeeMark (not his real name) was on his way to get a much-needed cup of morning coffee at a local convenience store. He had a long day ahead of him and a to-do list whose length rivaled that of War and Peace. As he got out of his car, he noticed a woman squatted beside the ice machine. He thought she was homeless and though he was sympathetic, he just did not have time to talk.

But as he opened the door for another customer, something told him not to ignore her. She was cold, she was crying, and the voice inside his head screamed at him not to walk away. “I’ll just stop for a moment,” he thought, “buy her a cup of coffee, maybe a Danish, and move on.” That would make her – and him – feel better. As he knelt down beside her, he asked, “Are you okay?” “No”, responded the woman, in a half-harsh, half-sad, tone, “just leave me alone.”

That was his out. He tried to be a Good Samaritan but she rejected his humble effort, so time to get that coffee. Then he thought he’d give it one more try. “Are you sure? You look like you need some help. Can I get you a cup of coffee or something?” Again, the woman said, “NO! What I really need is to be left alone. Things are just too bad. I don’t want to even live anymore so just, please, leave me alone and let me die.”

Mark didn’t know what to do. He could walk away and pray for her, which sounded like a good idea. He could call someone, the police maybe. But something deep inside him made him press forward. He knew that God didn’t want him to go, didn’t want him to hand this lady off to anyone else. She had appeared in his path for a reason and now his faith mandated he stay.

He was nervous, he was scared, he did not know what to do. People were watching, him and the crying, woman, both on the dirty sidewalk next to the ice machine. What would they think? Then it dawned on him, the only thing that mattered at that moment was in front of him. He prayed, he talked, he listened and then started all over again. In the end, he took her to his church. He left her alone to sit with God when he felt it safe to do so. He prayed some more. Hours later, the crisis passed.

Mark realized that every day God places in our path people who need us to see, to feel and to act, according to His will. Extending compassion to others is not something we really have a choice about if we are being faithful in our walk with Jesus. It is a necessity; it is a call we cannot, or at least should not, avoid. Despite our fears, our schedules, our ignorance, our prejudices, or any other barrier we construct, God calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Sometimes that love only becomes complete by our putting it into action.

But don’t worry, God has already been there, He is there, and He will be there when your part is over. All we have to do is trust and obey.

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