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Archive for January, 2017

Story by Rebecca Ozmore.

Take a look around the sanctuary on a Sunday morning at FBC and you’ll find people representing different cultures and ages. Most of us believe our church truly has The Open Door (See Editor’s note.), that it is a diverse place to meet and worship. Most of us also recognize our current diversity across generations and cultures did not happen overnight.

callout-Embracing HistoryMina Tatum, an FBC member since the 1950s, has seen much of this move to diversity during the latter part of the 20th century. Deeply involved in FBC life into the 21st century, she has a broad perspective on our church’s history. I recently sat down to talk with Mina and was captivated by her description of her life and how it paralleled the life of the church.

Embracing HistoryBorn in Leesburg, Virginia, Mina grew up and eventually met her husband Charles there. After they were married, Charles’ engineering job with the Virginia Department of Transportation led them to Richmond in 1953. The Tatums joined FBC and quickly formed a family with other members. Mina remembers attending Mrs. Adams’ (wife of Dr. Theodore Adams) class for young mothers while Charles attended the Fellowship Bible Class. Still in existence today, the Fellowship Class was developed for veterans returning from World War II.

Mina remembers many families attending Wednesday night prayer services in those days. When the Tatums’ children were growing up, the church also held Sunday night services for middle and high school youth. Parents provided snack suppers before the services and hosted different speakers. While Wednesday night involvement has changed as school demands have increased, Sunday night youth activities remain an important part of FBC life.

Music was important to the Tatum family. All of them sang in church choirs and the children attended music camp at Eagle Eyrie (led by FBC-member Allen Brown, then on staff at the Virginia Baptist Board). In 1962, the small church staff was enhanced by the hiring of Ray Herbek as the first full-time Minister of Music.

There were historic moments too, such as two Nigerian students at Virginia Union University requesting membership in January 1965. While Mina herself didn’t feel conflicted by the decision to allow the students membership, she remembers it being quite a significant event in the life of the church. As church members discussed the vote, the irony that these young men had come to Christ through Baptist teaching didn’t go unnoticed.

Mina’s involvement at FBC has spanned decades and seen many changes. She has noticed slow but positive steps in diversifying the church’s membership. Noting that change is always difficult for some, Mina is proud that the church staff and congregation have embraced an ever-changing culture and neighborhood. As she pointed out, this is no small feat for a church of FBC’s size.

Through small groups, Mina has remained connected; she encourages others to participate in these settings so important in a large church. Most recently, she has been involved in the 2020 Vision process and looks forward to what is ahead for FBC. Mina knows the first-hand importance of embracing history and learning from it—an important lesson for us all to remember.

Editor’s note: The Open Door, the church’s history from 1780-2005, is available for checkout or purchase in the church library.

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By Lynn Turner, with Brett Holmes.

It started with a prayer breakfast at U-Turn. Gail and Jim Markham invited me to hear Jamie Radtke, founder of WE Believe, talk about a city-wide initiative—Explore God—coming to Richmond in September 2016. WE Believe had taken responsibility for the Outreach, or advertising, portion of Explore God in Richmond. Individual churches were asked to lead in the evangelism portion. Jamie shared the goal of this effort: to reach millennials (18- to 35-year-olds) in our community by exploring the seven questions most Googled by that group:

  1. Does Life Have a Purpose?
  2. Is There a God?
  3. Why Does God Allow Pain and Suffering?
  4. Is Christianity Too Narrow?
  5. Is Jesus Really God?
  6. Is the Bible Reliable?
  7. Can I Know God Personally?
The Holy Spirit at Work in our Questions

photo: Sean Cook

Explore God launched in Austin, Texas in 2013. When God’s spirit moved in that city in a mighty way, the Explore God team wanted to share the experience with other cities. The prayer breakfast ended with our praying for God to use this initiative in our city.

Our church leadership enthusiastically embraced this seven-week series as a way of “Bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia,” specifically to its millennials.

In mid-July, billboards went up around the city, radio interviews were heard, “Explore God” became a buzzword on social media. On September 11, 150 churches across 13 denominations participated. Sermons and 300 discussion groups all over our city offered a safe place to ask the tough questions about the Christian faith. For these seven weeks Jamie directed us to: “Set aside our differences in favor of exploring the larger truths of God. And in this way, Explore God is achieving something that politicians, lobbyists, and special interest groups have failed to do in years past: stand together upon our common ground … for the sake of offering hope to young people.”

Brett Holmes, FBC’s pastoral resident and a millennial, felt this series impacted First Baptist Church:

The Holy Spirit at Work in our Questions“In my estimation the Explore God series taps into the longing for something more that we all experience in some way. Millennials, though, seem to be at a stage in life where this longing is new and the questions are nestled deep within our beings. So in that way, the series was directed toward millennials, but it kind of had something for everyone. We had life-long Christians who were able to take a step back and look at these big questions once again; we welcomed struggling Christians who through these discussions found their existential wrestling didn’t have to happen alone; and we had people from different religious backgrounds pushing us and our conversations such that we needed to learn what it meant to take dialogue seriously.”

The Holy Spirit at Work in our QuestionsWhen Jim Somerville decided to use a dialogical approach with his sermons, he not only created a space for millennial voices to address these difficult questions, but he also embodied what it looks like to have a conversation around important topics. It would have been fairly easy for him to stand in the pulpit for seven weeks and simply teach. Instead he chose to sit alongside someone—and thus with the entire congregation —and take all those individual thoughts seriously.

As the Explore God questions demonstrate, the Christian life is rarely neat and tidy. We are each called to a particular understanding and a particular way of living out that understanding. As we wrestle with these questions, our responses are reflected in our daily lives, and our lives are reinvigorated as we look for the Holy Spirit at work within and amidst us.

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