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Archive for April, 2018

Story by Brett Holmes, Pastoral Resident, 2016-2018. Photos by Susan Brown and Janet Chase.

One of my favorite movies from last year was Lady Bird, a coming-of-age comedy starring Saoirse Ronan as Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (although one would be forgiven for assuming it is a biopic about the former First Lady). The film follows Lady Bird through her senior year at a Catholic high school in Sacramento, California and is a hilarious, heart-breaking and beautiful picture of teenage life in the early 2000s.

The story invites us into her world. Part of that world is her experiences as a senior in high school, particularly the anxiety of applying to colleges. Lady Bird desires to attend a college on the East Coast because it will allow her to get out of the staunch, soul-sucking Sacramento that she’s called home her entire life.

In one scene late in the movie, Lady Bird is meeting with the Vice Principal, Sister Sarah, to discuss an earlier incident, but the scene turns when Sister Sarah tells Lady Bird that she read her college essay.

Sister Sarah looks at Lady Bird and tells her she can see in her writing that she clearly loves Sacramento. Confused, Lady Bird asks, “I do?” Sister Sarah says, “Well, you write about Sacramento so affectionately and with such care,” to which Lady Bird deflects by saying, “I was just describing it.” Sister Sarah responds, “It comes across as love.” Lady Bird comments, “Sure, I guess I pay attention.” And, it’s here that Sister Sarah begins to home in on her message: “Don’t you think maybe they are the same thing? Love and attention?”

Love and attention. Perhaps these are two sides of the same coin. When I first saw this scene, I wanted to rewind it—I wanted to listen carefully to those words from Sister Sarah all over again: “Don’t you think maybe they are the same thing? Love and attention?” Those words played in my head like a broken record for weeks after seeing the movie.

As my time at Richmond’s First Baptist Church draws to a close, I am reminded of these words. I am reminded that love and attention are so closely related that they might just be the same thing. During my time in Richmond I have been shown a lot of love and a lot of attention, but more than that I have been taught what it means to pay close attention to the lives of God’s people.

Throughout my (almost) two years as the Pastoral Resident, I have been invited into homes, hospital rooms, Sunday school rooms, but most importantly into relationships with countless loving people who call First Baptist their church home. I have had the opportunity to teach, preach, pray, cry, celebrate, and eat meals with so many wonderful people.

Love and Attention

During these last two years I have grown into a pastor because the people of First Baptist granted me the space to learn. I remember the first time I stood in the pulpit to preach and looked out at a congregation eager to give this young pastor a good ear. I remember being asked to lead retreats and getting the opportunity to invite people into the strange and beautiful mystery that is prayer. I remember going with the Lambs class to the annual Virginia Baptist Special Needs Retreat at Eagle Eyrie and how, for the one weekend in October, I was given a glimpse into their genuine love for God. I remember the overwhelming impossibility of remembering everyone’s name and having to accept that my most repeated phrase of my first year was, “I’m sorry, please remind me your name.” Yet, in spite of that you each welcomed me, loved me, and generously helped me along.

Ministry can be a daunting task. I recall early on during my time here talking with a member of the Young Professionals Sunday school class and thinking, “Why do these people trust me to answer life’s most difficult questions? What can I say that can be worth anything?” Slowly, though, that anxiety left because I began to realize (and see) that my job is not to have the answers, but to sit with the questions—to wrestle, to be present, to pay attention.

This is perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned about ministry. I want to have all the answers and I want to fix problems. Yet, as Henri Nouwen said, “Ministry means the ongoing attempt to put one’s own search for God, with all the moments of pain and joy, despair and hope, at the disposal of those who want to join this search but do not know how.” What I’ve learned about ministry at First Baptist is to pay attention to the lives of everyone around me and to pay attention to what God is doing because “Don’t you think maybe they are the same thing? Love and attention?”

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