Archive for October, 2020

By Mary Ann Delano

The deacons at Richmond’s First Baptist Church, while considered to be leaders in our church, are mainly selected to serve and minister not only to the congregation but the pastor and staff members as well. Through many hours of meetings to plan the business of the church, the deacons and staff work together to ensure that we carry out the mission of FBC in the service of bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, and around the world. “Together you are the one body of Christ, and each of you is a separate and necessary part of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:27, The Living Bible) is a key verse for understanding the work of the deacons.

Within the deacon fellowship, there are also leaders, and each year deacons elect a Chairperson, Vice-Chair and Secretary. Most deacon chairs have years of experience with church life and administration having taught Sunday School, serving on church teams or leading major projects at church.

In addition to setting the agenda for deacon meetings with the Pastor, the deacon chair becomes intimately involved in the business of the church. Sometimes that includes dealing with financial or personnel issues, along with the functioning and missions of the church.

There are 14 living former deacon chairs dating back to service 43 years ago.

Our oldest living former deacon chair, Richmond “Dickie” Hamilton served in 1977-1978 while Luther Joe Thompson was pastor. The biggest issue the church faced was double-digit inflation and the result that money did not go as far in carrying out the mission of the church. Membership changed some as families moved to suburban churches.

He was followed by James E. Kulp (1979-1981) who served three years and said there were some personnel issues during his term, but serving as chair “was a piece of cake” as there wasn’t much controversy. He started the tradition of serving refreshments at meetings—just coffee and cookies.

Meredith House (1983-1985) served during the transition of ministers from Luther Joe Thompson to Peter James Flamming and flew to Texas to help Dr. Flamming’s former church release him to our church. He provided assistance, orientation, church history and guidance to our new Pastor.

Two deacon chairs served twice at different times, James “Jim” Norvelle in 1988 and 2011-2012, and Robert “Bob” Palmer in 2000 and 2003. Bob Palmer and Dr. Flamming established ties with First African Baptist Church and we had prayer partners; we went to their church and they came to ours to pray together. An attempt to revive the connection after each church had new pastors took place in 2013 when a half dozen deacons from each church met several times, including worshipping with them during Lenten services.

Carl Johnson (1993-95) served while we had a vacant ministry position, so he filled some ministerial roles during the worship services including giving communion trays to the deacons.

Virginia Darnell (1996-1997) was the first deacon chair from Hanover — and the first female deacon chair. One of her first duties as chair was to agree with Dr. Flamming that the church should be closed because of a huge January snowstorm.

Lee Stephenson (2009-2011) had served six months when new pastor Jim Somerville asked the church to consider changing its membership policy. Up until that time, FBC required immersion in water of anyone seeking to join the church if they had not done so in a previous church. Lee guided the church through the proposal with a special study group and many meetings. The church voted to change the policy and people have become members since then even if their Christian baptism was by other methods. An organized orientation program for new members was also initiated at this time.

Before each worship service, deacons pray for the service, its leaders, those on the prayer list and any other needs. When he was deacon chair, Robert “Bob” Palmer (2000, 2003), also added a short devotional thought which this author revived when she served as deacon chair.

As Jim Norvelle told his successor, “You’ve taken on another full-time job.” All the former deacon chairs who were available to offer advice and counsel made the task easier. Along with that resource, the Deacon Advisory Committee, made up of the last five deacon chairs and vice-chairs, is available to every deacon chair and pastor.

Other former chairs are Burton “Mac” Marshall (2001-02), Lee Hilbert (2004-07), Jim Markham (2008-2009), Mary Ann Delano (2013), Richard Szucs (2014-2016), Charles Tilley (2017-2018) and current chair Mark Larson (2019-2020).

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By Emma Tilley

This year COVID-19 has altered the very way we do life and ministry. During this year, we have stood face to face with the fragility of life. As the book of Ecclesiastes puts it, “all is hevel (or breath).” Our jobs, our food systems, our health: they are all fragile. The COVID-19 pandemic has also revealed so starkly the ways life can be even more fragile for those who are homeless, in minority communities and work in service jobs.

In March, when Richmond’s First Baptist Church went virtual, Steve Blanchard began rethinking how the Ministry of Compassion could continue to serve our neighbors safely in this critical time. Feeding people has become his top priority. Feeding America, the largest hunger relief organization in America, estimates in 2020 about 54 million people in our country will experience food insecurity with 18 million of those being children.1

The food pantry was moved quickly to the corner of Flamming Hall and converted to a walk-up model. A place where our church once gathered together to eat every week now looks like a small grocery store currently serving around 280 people each week. Every Monday and Thursday anyone can walk up to the back door of the gym, be given a list on which to indicate the items they need, and be handed a bag full of their choice of canned goods, toiletries, clothes, shoes, a bag lunch or cleaning supplies. This summer the food pantry also began offering vegetables grown in our community access plot at Charlotte Acres. This partnership allows our pantry to make available fresh, healthy food to those we serve.

Throughout the year the number of clients has steadily increased as the pandemic wages on and word spreads about our ministry. Social workers, agencies or clients can also call ahead and order boxes of food throughout the week for pick up. Starting in August the mobile market resumed going out every first and third Saturdays to St. Luke’s Apartments and Glen Lea Elementary School. The FBC compassion van is stocked with food, fresh vegetables and cleaning supplies. We typically see a surge in clients at the end of the month when federal SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits run out and money is tight. These food supplies help families and individuals have consistent access to food.

Finding a way to operate the shower ministry during the pandemic was another concern. This took some brainstorming to find a safe way to allow our homeless neighbors to have access to a shower. In July, the Baptist General Association of Virginia provided FBC a shower trailer, with individual shower units, to continue to offer showers to our homeless neighbors. The shower trailer is located in the Mulberry Street parking lot and currently operates Mondays and Thursdays.

The Ministry of Compassion would not be possible without our weekly pantry and mobile market volunteers, Charlotte Acres produce delivery drivers, shoppers, shower attendants and cleaning staff, FBC support staff and many others. Above all, we are incredibly thankful for your generous gifts throughout this year. We have not been together in person these past months, but we have felt the love of your gifts and prayer. Every Monday and Thursday, the volunteers in the food pantry are blessed to be the ears of the church. We hear “thank you,” “God bless you all” amid frustration and struggles, and sometimes someone comes in singing a song to the Lord. I hope when you pray and give to this ministry, you hear those voices of gratitude and hope in your heart.

Check out the website for more updates on the compassion ministry.       

1 https://www.feedingamerica.org/about-us/press-room/feeding-america-study-projects-local-food-insecurity-rates-amid-pandemic-could

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