Archive for July, 2015

By Steve Blanchard

Poverty. Fear. Homelessness. Violence. Prejudice. Isolation. These things most of us never experience. We may dabble with them on some level but for the most part, most of us never experience these on a deep or daily level.

There is a world out there like this – not necessarily a world across the ocean but maybe one just down the street from where you live, or one you pass every day.

Imagine a World UnknownImagine a city where 30% of its citizens live below the poverty line; between 800 and 1700 of its citizens are homeless, many of them children; thousands of its citizens have no jobs; many cannot speak the local language because they have fled violence and famine in their home countries; slavery still thrives. Imagine Richmond, Virginia.

What is the responsibility of our church? What does God command us Christians to do in the face of such overwhelming complexities?

Do we pretend the problems don’t exist? Do we hand off the responsibility to the government or other entities? Do we lock our doors and pray it all goes away? There is only one answer to these questions. No.

God is clear throughout Scripture that our call is to confront the evils of this world. We know we’re not alone in doing so, for God also promises to go before us and to give us the courage, strength and tools to fight the battle. He calls us to love our neighbor, to embrace the poor, to show mercy, love and grace to those we meet. He calls us to care.

Each of us has our share of problems – busy schedules, finances, relationships, fears, etc., but do we not serve a God who is greater than all that? Compassion is not something we have the luxury of choosing to embrace. As Christians, we are commanded to do so. Not with an air of superiority or duty, but with a motive of love – love of God and of our fellow human beings.

We all encounter those around us who are struggling. We most likely are struggling ourselves. But imagine we all move outside ourselves and truly have compassion for everyone we encounter, whether indirectly or face-to-face. Imagine we become open enough to feel something akin to love; imagine we then choose to act.

Maybe we won’t know what to do; maybe we won’t know what to say. But we can place our fears and responses in God’s hands and then simply act. Maybe we offer a cup of cold water, or speak out against an injustice, or simply offer a listening presence or shoulder to cry on, but at least we don’t stand by and do nothing. Imagine we don’t avoid knowing the world around us.

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By Win Grant. Photos by Win Grant and Paul Bickford; video produced and directed by David Powers.

TV history, part 2

Dr. Peter James Flamming

Dr. Peter James Flamming, our church’s fifteenth pastor, arrived in 1983, and in March 1984, Jimmy Shearon was appointed to chair a chancel study committee. My role on the committee was to make sure that if a decision was made to launch a television ministry, we didn’t overlook an opportunity to provide for the physical structures to support television as part of the chancel renovation.

In April 1984, our Easter Sunday service was broadcast live on NBC. This honor was rotated among various denominations each year, and when the Baptists’ turn came in 1984, the Radio and Television Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention invited First Baptist Church to represent Baptists. I suspect that Jimmy Allen’s knowledge of Dr. Flamming’s preaching skills played a role in our selection. Dr. Allen was the chairman of the Radio and Television Commission at the time and a fellow Texan.

NBC sent two “sports trucks” to Richmond for a week before the Easter Sunday broadcast. These tractor trailers of equipment were the same remote trucks the network used for live sporting events. It was genuinely a big deal for FBC to be featured on a live, one-hour national television broadcast. Not long after, NBC eliminated its Religious Programming Unit. As noted in Fred Anderson’s history of FBC, The Open Door, the network broadcast “gave the church leadership an opportunity to consider if televised services might someday become a regular part of their ministry.”

TV history, part 2

Sunday broadcast

In 1986, the church approved the renovation of the chancel area, and at that same time, FBC was again approached by the Radio and Television Commission of the Convention to represent Baptists on television. The Convention had invested in the ACTS satellite channel and had a certain number of hours of programming to produce. ACTS was picked up by a number of local cable television systems and available to millions of cable TV subscribers around the country.

FBC was asked to allow the ACTS channel to carry our Sunday worship service on the “Baptist Hour” for six months. The only catch was that we needed to acquire the equipment and provide the program to ACTS every week. Dr. Flamming referred to the launch of a television ministry as a venture of faith. The FBC Endowment Fund found the money, and David Walker was called as the first “television minister,” as the position was then called. David was fresh out of seminary and was a staff of one assisted by a number of volunteers. We produced 43 worship services for the “Baptist Hour.”

The ACTS satellite channel had limited availability on the cable TV systems in Virginia. The church made the decision to purchase airtime on WRIC-TV, the local ABC affiliate so that our 11:00 a.m. service could be seen locally in the Richmond area. Our relationship with WRIC continues to this day. Some may recall a period in the 1990s when we moved to a 30-minute broadcast to save money on airtime. Our members (and the television station) agreed that the 30-minute service was less than ideal as the program consisted mainly of the sermon, a hymn and a prayer. We were able to go back to the full hour broadcast after a few months.

After six years with us, David Walker left to explore other media interests, and we began the year-long search for a new media minister. I was the chairman of the search committee and told them that I thought we could wrap up our assignment in a few weeks as I had the perfect candidate in mind. David Powers, a video producer at the Foreign Mission Board, had been a member of FBC. I called him up and practically offered him the job. He politely told me that he was very interested and flattered, but that it was not the right time to leave his current job. So the search for a media minister went on.


David Powers with TV crew volunteers

During the next year, David Walker graciously agreed to help out during the week with editing our program, but all the other responsibilities fell to our loyal crew of volunteers. In those days, we needed a crew of about ten people to record the worship service. After almost a year of searching for an appropriate leader for our ministry, I decided to give David Powers one more opportunity to consider my original proposal. This time, the Lord had spoken to David, and he agreed to talk to the search committee. David joined us in 1993, and took the ministry to a new level.

During the “Powers Era” we upgraded our equipment twice, first from analogue to digital and then to high definition. We established the church’s first website and began broadcasting our Sunday services live on the internet. We established a Bible study class that is carried live on the internet and allows participants from all over the world to email questions and comments during the webcast. The church began to use social media such as Facebook and Twitter, a requirement to reach young people today.

Screenshot 2015-250px

China video title screenshot

David also produced three memorable special programs. The first was a documentary shot in China in 1996 tracing the work of legendary foreign missionaries Henrietta Hall Shuck who had FBC ties and Virginian Lottie Moon. He also produced two Christmas specials, “A Richmond Christmas” that aired in 1998 and “A Richmond Christmas Celebration,” in 2003.


Paul Bickford directing broadcast

In the 2010s local television broadcasts of our worship services continue, but the competition is fierce as Richmond viewers have two other Baptist worship services to choose from at 11:00 a.m., as well as dozens of cable channel offerings. The internet will probably make local television broadcasting obsolete in another ten years, but we are already poised to meet that challenge as an early adopter of webcasting. (It was pretty neat a few years ago when we were in Tokyo to turn on my laptop at 10:00 p.m. on a Sunday night and watch our 11:00 am worship service broadcast live on the internet.)


Allen Cumbia in TV control room

Our media ministry is now led by Jess Ward and Allen Cumbia with essential support from Janet Chase and Sean Lumsden-Cook. The weekly worship service broadcast does not just happen. It requires hours of preparation and post-production to produce the program that airs on a one-week tape delay. For the six Sundays each year when we broadcast our service live on WRIC, even more preparation and rehearsal go into the broadcast.

In addition to the great leadership of this ministry there are two essential ingredients without which the TV ministry simply would not be possible: volunteers and money. Every Sunday, about 20 volunteers donate their time to produce the television webcasts and broadcasts. The equipment we have is state of the art. Our cameras were purchased at a substantial discount after NBC used them for two weeks to air an Olympic Games broadcast. Generous contributions from the Endowment Fund and some special gifts by individuals at times when there were critical needs have allowed FBC to pioneer in using TV for outreach and inreach.

We’ve come a long way from our AM radio days of the 1950s but even then, we were one of just two churches in Richmond that had a radio broadcast. So it will not be a surprise that FBC continues to find new ways to reach our members and the world through the use of electronic media.

Read A Brief History of the First Baptist Church Television Ministry, Part 1

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Story by Fred James. Photo by Susan Brown.

I am not a fan of Valentine’s Day. I have long contended that it is a legal extortion racket perpetrated by the Greeting Card/Chocolate Industrial Complex. Any link to the actual St. Valentine has long been glossed over in the name of “romance.” Give me a break! With that said, my lovely wife, Julie, and I had an acoustic Gospel musical performance scheduled on the morning of Valentine’s Day 2015 at Glenburnie Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Richmond.

Fred and Julie James

Julie and Fred James

With our two children in tow, we arrived with less than ample time to spare due to the efforts of our four-year-old daughter. When we started setting up, there was a lady parked in a wheelchair where we usually perform and a table with Valentine’s Day refreshments where I usually place the guitar cases. Already a bit mentally scattered, I had to get the instruments and equipment in place while Julie got the kids situated. The room was fairly packed so the children had to sit directly behind us with very little room to stretch their legs. They saw what we saw.

Once we were ready to start, it occurred to me that our capos (clamps placed on guitar necks to adjust pitch and to allow for certain chord-fingerings) were nowhere to be found. I could have sworn that I packed them, but I couldn’t find them. We had to get creative very quickly because we use them for many of the songs.

The day before, I read an article about my guitar-hero Eddie Van Halen. He spoke to an audience at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. about innovation and what it means to be an American. During his remarks, Van Halen referred to “throwing yourself down the stairs and hoping you land on your feet” when performing live. He also stated that it was more important to capture the emotion of the moment than to hit the right notes. When you play as many notes and are as gifted as Eddie Van Halen, the law of averages would dictate that you hit more good notes than bad. Distortion pedals, tremolo bars and inebriated audiences also help his cause. Unfortunately for me, the songs we play are acoustic, the solos are more melody-driven, and I don’t convert guitar keys in my head, on the fly particularly well.

But this was our situation, and Julie and I had no choice but to perform in front of a wheelchair-bound audience, with one of them reminding us that she was hungry. At this point, I referred to Eddie’s comments and said that we were going to throw ourselves down the stairs and try to land on our feet. Julie and I would briefly confer on how to do a song and then were off and running. Some songs she sang higher, some lower, and some I managed to convert successfully.

We were actually doing fairly well until “Love Lifted Me.” We started in the key of A, but it quickly felt too low. We then realized it was in C. No capo needed. Julie did not accompany me on the guitar and instead stood up and “worked” the audience. Immediately, the entire room was singing at the top of their lungs and well within the key of C. At the end of the song a woman kept singing in her own melody “God Lifted Me! God Lifted Me!” I thought of Ben Harper and The Blind Boys of Alabama’s “Take My Hand.” The entire song proved to be one of the most purely joyful moments of my life. After the song, I shouted, “We ALL threw ourselves down the stairs and landed on our feet!”

We went on to perform with confidence and emotion and even played two songs from our wedding, “Fairest Lord Jesus” and “Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us.” We finished with “Amazing Grace” and our son Ian joined us on the ukulele.

At the end of the performance, I told the audience that I couldn’t think of a better way to spend Valentine’s Day than with them and glorifying God through music with my beautiful wife. I believe one of the reasons God joined us together as a couple is to make music together for Him. The other reasons were sitting behind us watching the whole thing.

Afterwards, it occurred to me that our Christian walk is a lot like playing the guitar. Spending too much time trying to hit the right notes is like our futile attempts to obey the law. Without heart or genuine faith, we end up making noise, not music.

Author’s notes: I found the capos in my jacket pocket as I was packing up after the show. And the next morning, Sunday, February 15, the first hymn we sang with the congregation of FBC was “Fairest Lord Jesus.”

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