Archive for May, 2020

By Shannon Harton

Suffice it to say that the giving landscape has changed dramatically for Richmond’s First Baptist Church since the outbreak of the coronavirus earlier this year. FBC’s financial picture over this strange period isn’t bleak, however. In fact, at the end of 2019 we were in a better position than we had been for years—achieving our budget for the first time in recent memory. We began 2020 feeling a renewed sense of commitment and enjoying the benefits of recently implemented online giving tools designed to make expressing our generosity easier than ever. Online recurring giving, as an example, had been embraced even faster than anticipated, and text-to-give one-time gifts was showing promise.

When the entire world seemed to pump its brakes in late March, the business office at FBC braced for the worst. Without members filling the Sunday pews, passing our shiny offering plates from hand to hand, would giving follow local restaurant sales off the financial cliff? In fact, no—or at least, not so far. According to the finance office, giving is remarkably consistent, and we may have made a very easy and fast transition from offering plate to website contributions.

Will this last? That is entirely up to us.

When the Generosity Team began its annual work in 2019 to make financial plans for 2020, we strategized the best ways to keep the stewardship message before our church community and we challenged ourselves to question every old assumption. We wanted to make sure we were asking the right questions and doing our best to inspire expressions of gratitude that we know our members feel in response to the goodness of our God and His gifts to us.

We held dozens of interviews with committed members of our church community, exploring our communication challenges from all directions. We crafted a communication brief that spelled out our new understanding of those challenges and how to overcome them. A local creative team was hired to work with our own talented communication staff on the assignment of coming up with incisive messages that boiled the whole challenge down to a concept that was short, effective and memorable. In November, we launched the annual outreach campaign with the concept that each member is called to “Make Your Mark” on the world, powerfully symbolized by a pair of fingerprints that converge in the shape of a heart.

At the same time, the finance office was working hard on a project of its own that overlapped with the work of the Budget, Finance and Generosity Teams: new digital platforms that would make financial planning more predictable, individual reporting more accessible, and giving both easier and location independent. New tools such as a churchwide app, text-to-give and enhanced web-based functionality became centerpieces of our communication campaign in the hopes that they would all serve to enhance giving.

In November, of course, nobody saw the coronavirus coming. No one knew the depth of the challenges that Richmonders would be facing just a few months later as they struggled for work, for health and for spiritual stability. We had no idea of the looming opportunity we would have to Make Our Mark during a crisis, yet FBC has quickly begun to rise to those challenges. Our pre-existing technological platforms have made it easy to invite our neighbors into virtual worship and Bible study settings. Our food and clothing pantries are providing crucial resources to families in need. And our members are fanning out to volunteer to serve our neighbors in previously unheard of ways ministering to the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of our community.

Who would have guessed that, literally overnight, we would cease passing the physical offering plates on Sunday mornings? If our church budget, which pays for the TV broadcasts, web streams, social services and a dynamic staff, still depended on physical offerings, circa 1950, we would be in a tough position indeed.

Thank you, from the Generosity Team, for your stewardship of God’s gifts and your generous response over the past few weeks and months. If you’re already giving online, please consider using the recurring giving function to ease your schedule and create even more predictable income to the church budget. If you haven’t yet tried our new online platform, visit fbcrichmond.org/giving-options, call the church office or choose Donna Earley as the recipient on our Contact Us form for personal help to log in and try it out.

Equally important, stay tuned-in to your church community for opportunities to meet the very real needs of our neighbors across Richmond. FBC’s history is full of heartwarming stories of service and more chapters are written daily, with your help. There has never been a better time to Make Your Mark!

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By Lynn Turner

I called Nancy Pettigrew, Prayer team chair of Richmond’s First Baptist Church, the week the church was closed to the public and said, “Nancy, this means we will not be able to do our Stations of the Cross in the Chapel during Holy Week as we have done the past three years. How do you feel about moving it outside?” She was thrilled!

Stations of the Cross 2020: A Sacred JourneyI met with Allen Cumbia, Ruth Szucs, Jack Pettigrew and Jeff Dortch to figure out how it might work. Jeff built the crosses, Jack made all the signs, and Allen Cumbia and Karen DeMarino went to work on creating a method to use QR codes (Quick Response Codes, the bar created with symbols to read information) that would access our narration for each station. I began working on the script for the narration and Allen brought in our staff one at a time to record it. Clint Smith and Alice Brette worked to create a page on our church website with the recordings for those without a QR code reader app on their phones or who chose to journey through the stations at home.

Karen DeMarino offered to make the drapes for the Celtic cross near our chapel that would represent the end of the journey. Richard Szucs and David Carter volunteered to weed and get the courtyard gardens in tiptop shape. It looked beautiful!

It was definitely a team effort!

Why was it important to find a way to make this a part of our Holy Week experience?

Throughout scripture, in both the Old and New Testaments, God’s people are called to remember. But we are not called to remember events for the sake of the event. We are called to remember because the events we learn about from scripture form a part of our own journey with Christ. During our celebration of Easter, the Stations of the Cross become markers for us of the journey Jesus made during the last hours of his life on earth. It begins with the Hall of Pilate and continues until that fateful death on Calvary. Some traditions mark 14 stations to the cross, while protestants have typically chosen the eight stations that are most represented in the Gospels. Walking the stations to the cross allows us to identify with Jesus as he identifies with us. We are drawn to contemplate, not only the suffering and pain of our own journey mirrored in His, but as we follow Christ, we are compelled to identify with those around us who suffer in their own journey.

The result? A blessing for all who walked our garden during the week and experienced the reality of the journey Christ made on his way to Calvary. There is no way to tell how many experienced this in our community, but the emails and Facebook comments tell us that it was meaningful for them. Many asked, “Can we do it like this again next year?” Well yes…yes, we can! And with the help of the same team of folks who made it possible, we are hopeful that is exactly what we will do next year when we are not in quarantine.

If you were not able to come in person this year, I hope you will make plans next year during Holy Week 2021 to experience this sacred journey with us.

Note: The Stations of the Cross we celebrate begin with the Hall of Pilate, a marker representing Pilate condemning Jesus to die on the cross. The next station represents Christ accepting the cross, followed by the station remembering Simon who helped Christ by carrying the cross for him. Station four represents Jesus speaking to the women who stood at the foot of the cross. The next station symbolizes Jesus being stripped of his garments, followed by the marker reminding us that he was nailed to the cross. Station seven characterizes Jesus caring for his mother by asking his disciple to treat Mary as his own mother. Finally, station eight marks Jesus’ death on the cross.

View the brief video about Stations of the Cross produced by Rodney Macklin and Allen Cumbia.

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