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Story by Ruth Szucs. Photos by Karen Brown and Robert Thompson.

Each Wednesday night from the first week of September through the week before the end of the school year, children from age 3 through grade 5 meet together in Children’s Choirs. They sing hymns, anthems, spirituals, Psalms and choruses. Participating in choir provides a medium for singing about things not often heard in the secular world of music or on the radio. They sing about God, talk about God and explore the nature of God.

However, being a part of the Children’s Choir program at Richmond’s First Baptist Church is about so much more. This year, the choir program focused on the fruit of the Spirit. The Carol Choir singers, for those in grades 3 through 5, have a goal of being a total “Fruit Basket.” To be a “Fruit Basket,” they have to learn 10 verses starting with Galatians 5:22-23: “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. There is no law against such things.” After memorizing this verse, the children earn baskets and begin to learn another scripture verse. Once they have recited the new verse, we place a piece of fruit into their baskets, and then they are “Fruit Baskets.”

Children's Choirs: So Much More than SingingThrough their time together, longtime friendships develop, and the children begin to learn about living in Christian community. When you ask Virginia Dean, who participates in the Carol Choir, what her time in choir means she will tell you about the importance of hospitality during choir time. Hospitality doesn’t have much to do with music, but it has much to do with community, which is how choirs are formed. Virginia says, “It makes me feel good to be friendly and to show others around.” Being hospitable occurs when “you are a disciple and you are showing others about your church,” says Virginia. When we asked Virginia about choir she said, “It is not just about singing, but being friendly, welcoming others and worshiping God.”

Another Children’s Choir member, Peyton Thompson, put the importance of Christian community a little differently. When we asked for her thoughts on coming to the Angels (for those ages 4 and 5 or in kindergarten), she said, “I get to have dinner, see Vanessa Carter and Lynn Turner and play with my friends in the gym. When I go to choir, I have a lot of fun singing, and then I get to go to Mission Friends to learn about missions.” For Peyton, Wednesday evening is an experience where she feels loved and can have fun.

Wednesday night is a special night. It takes effort for parents to bring their children to the Wednesday family activities. The midweek connection with other Christians for fellowship, music and missions is well worth this effort. We are blessed at FBC to have Wednesday programs. More than programs, these are learning experiences to make disciples of Christ.

The children’s choir program incorporates developmentally appropriate materials and activities by age and grade. The four different choirs are:

  • M&M 3s, age 3 by October 1 of the choir year
  • Angels 4&5, ages 4 and 5 or in kindergarten
  • Music Makers, grades 1 and 2
  • Carol Choir, grades 3 – 5

Editor’s note: If you are interested in becoming a part of the Wednesday Night First Family through Children’s Choir, contact Ruth Szucs at 358-5458 ext.164.

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By Phil Mitchell

One Accord ensemble

One Accord ensemble

The music of Richmond’s First Baptist Church finds its way from the sanctuary and rehearsal rooms to the community. …and back again. Our church has been blessed by the rich relationships that have been shaped through making music in nursing homes and retirement centers like Lakewood and Covenant Woods, in outdoor settings such as public housing events and at Richmond Squirrels games, in parks, malls, concert venues like Carnegie Hall, and caroling in the neighborhood. Choirs from our church have sung and played in Mexico, Italy, Canada, Romania, Germany, Czech Republic and the United States. As our musicians have sung and rung, they have discovered the common ground of mutual respect and hospitality, and shared in the common language of love and music-making. God has taken us around the world to share his love with his people.

JoySingers at Covenant Woods retirement community

JoySingers at Covenant Woods retirement community

While we have regularly taken music to the world, beautiful music and thousands of gifted musicians have come to us! The revolving door of music has given us the privilege of hearing choirs and individual musicians like Ken Medema, Ovid Young and Stephen Neilson (pianists), George Beverly Shea, State Honor Choirs, The Centurymen, the choir of St. Olaf and other college choirs, and the Kyiv Symphony and Chorus. FBC had the honor of serving as the home of the Richmond Symphony in 2008-2009 during the construction of the Carpenter Center.

FirstRingers at Covenant Woods retirement community

Joyful Ringers at Covenant Woods retirement community

Music inside our church and from our church into the world blooms in the choir room and in the sanctuary. It is planted by faithful servants like Fran Costin sitting in a circle with an energetic group of three year olds, and in the handbell room where Ruth Szucs patiently guides volunteers to make music jump off the page. The choir room is nothing less than an incubator where music is prepared to be set loose into the community. In that warm and welcoming space, singers prepare to lead in worship. In that same room, singers are led to worship while rehearsing!

Men's Chorus at YMCA breakfast

Men’s Chorus at YMCA breakfast

The leadership of our Worship Ministry is continually seeking and discovering both means and places to be the presence of Christ through making music. We are regularly made stronger and richer by our engagement with our community and beyond. These are exciting days as God continues to bless our hosting, partnering, and going, to usher in the Kingdom of God. God’s Kingdom can be found among us when we sing, sing to God, and sing together. It comes near when participants in FBC’s music ministry are willing to go and share. …and then watch God at work in and through the music. We see God’s Kingdom come near when we go and when others bring their music to us, opening their hearts and inviting us to do the same.

Youth choir at Toronto stadium

Youth choir at Toronto stadium

The Kingdom of God came near when the Youth Choir stood in a cramped nursing home in Atlanta and was suddenly serenaded by a 90+ year old gentleman singing, “Amazing Grace! How Sweet the Sound.” The Kingdom of God came near when the Youth Choir sang the final lines of the Canadian National Anthem in French to an appreciative crowd in the stadium of the Toronto Blue Jays. It came near through the sounds of our FirstRingers on the streets of Slovakia and here in Richmond during Advent at a local nursing facility. It came near on Monday, January 21, 2019 when the choirs of FBC and Mt. Tabor Baptist Church sang “Total Praise,” following powerful, tag-team preaching by Jim Somerville and Herbert Ponder.

Mt. Tabor and First Baptist Church choir

Mt. Tabor and First Baptist Church choir

The Kingdom of God is at hand and we have only begun to sing and hear it resound in our neighborhood and in our world.


Phil MitchellPhil Mitchell has been Associate Pastor for Christian Worship at FBC since 2001. Libby and Phil are both from Nashville, TN and have two children. Their daughter, Erin Thomas, lives in Portland, TN with husband, Olin, and their children, Preston and Caroline. Their son, Austin, lives in Washington, DC. Phil loves to conduct research, read biographies, play golf, and do the dishes.

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By Bev Wells

Have you ever stopped to assess what led you to some of the major milestones in your life? Would you consider the times following those milestones to be peaceful and filled with a close relationship with God, or tumultuous and consumed by the stress of the situation? When I look back on marriage, the birth of my son, my divorce, the loss of my father, my deacon ordination, losing my job and other significant events in the last 20 years, I see a common pattern. Each event led me to a closer walk with God—a dependence on Him—a sense of peace—a feeling of gratitude.

Going through a divorce is painful but facing a divorce with children to provide for is downright scary. The fear of not being able to provide financially for your child; the desire to keep them in the same home and school; finding a way to logistically handle all of their activities while working; the concern of how the divorce will emotionally impact your child; handling home repairs, yard work and car maintenance on your own—these are all intimidating challenges. Added to these challenges are feelings of pain, anger, rejection and isolation. My married friends could not relate. My family was supportive but could not understand. My coworkers and church friends wanted to help but struggled for the right words.

There was nowhere to turn but to God, and he answered so many prayers. He lifted me up and brought me peace. He put the pieces of my life back together in a way I could not have imagined. I was able to let go of how I thought my life should be and embrace what my life had become. I felt God with me on a daily basis, as I often reached out to him at times of frustration or physical weakness, whether because of exhaustion or not having enough strength to start the lawnmower. Every night when I checked on my son, it brought tears to my eyes as I felt grateful for this beautiful boy given to me, and I was grateful for the events that led me to this place in my life. I was, and still am, happier than I have ever been. God has blessed me in so many ways and has protected my son and me and provided for us financially. He has helped me make difficult decisions. I reached a peaceful place in my life, where I felt completely confident and happy with being a single mom. I wanted to help others get to this place.

As I gradually met other single mothers, I realized that most were not doing quite so well. Many were struggling financially, did not have a stable job, were stressed beyond belief and were not confident in their abilities to make decisions and handle things around the house on their own. Some were emotionally full of anger and pain, and were terrified to be alone. Some were making reckless decisions that were negatively impacting their self-esteem and their children. I realized that single moms needed an opportunity to help each other, to bond with other women, to share their joys and struggles and to take some time to focus on their needs.

Single Moms in the Lord's Embrace

It was out of my desire to help other single moms that the Single Moms in the Lord’s Embrace (SMILE) program started at Richmond’s First Baptist Church in 2013. Every month for the last five years, FBC has provided a place for SMILE to meet, a meal for the moms and kids and safe childcare for the children. We provide not only a program but a network of friends. We partner with other churches, other Bible studies, the Divorce Recovery Workshop held each year at FBC, the Sophie House and other organizations geared toward meeting the needs of single moms. The Compassion Ministry at FBC also provides baby items, clothing, and supplies to women who participate in SMILE.

Each month we have a speaker present on a relevant topic specifically focused on single moms. The speakers range from co-parenting specialists, therapists, financial advisors, lawyers, physicians, fitness experts, spiritual leaders and many others. We close with a devotional and prayer and then there are hugs, smiles, tears of joy and tears of relief as they share their struggles. We all share the bond of wanting to do our best for our children amidst the struggle. SMILE gives the children an opportunity to socialize with other kids raised by single moms without judgement, but instead, acceptance and understanding. It allows the moms to feel the love, support and acceptance that God wants all of us to receive.

Thank you, FBC, for making this program possible! As one of our regular participants said, “Through SMILE, I feel wrapped in God’s love and hope during this time of transition in my life. Richmond’s First Baptist Church demonstrates the true meaning of compassion; Gods love in action. Thank you for positively impacting lives and giving hope to many families here in the Richmond region.”

Editor’s Note:
The monthly SMILE meetings moved to Wednesday evenings in January 2019, which allows the children to participate in additional opportunities provided by our church and simplifies meal planning as we join the rest of the church family for Wednesday night suppers.

For more information or to help provide a program for the children, speak on a topic, serve a meal or provide a devotional for our program, contact Bev Wells.

Follow SMILE on Facebook.

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by Robert Thompson

chair photo

In my years of ministry, I cannot count the number of times I have been contacted by someone who is suddenly facing an end-of-life health issue. It’s during these times when questions are asked such as, “What do I do? I wasn’t ready for this. Where can I go for help? I can’t afford a nursing home! What does Medicare pay for? How do I begin to make funeral arrangements? What does hospice mean? How can I cope? I’m told I need an Advance Directive. What is that?”

There are steps that can be taken now before the end of life issues must be faced. When beginning the process of planning for the end of life, I have found that there are two key words to focus on: preparation and choice.

calloutThe first word, preparation, involves organizing the information that will be essential when your life is coming to an end. And, it will make your death easier on those left behind who will carry out your wishes and desires. There are many resources available to help you plan, and one of the best and most comprehensive resources was developed by the Pastoral Care and Compassion Ministries of Richmond’s First Baptist Church. The manual, entitled For the Living of These Days…an end-of-life guide is a practical outline of decisions that will need to be made. It also includes information that will be essential such as contact information for those who will need to be notified, information that will be needed for the death certificate, and suggestions on governmental and financial institutions that will need to be contacted. The guide includes a section on legal documents that should be prepared now such as wills, trusts, power of attorney, and an advance directive for health care. Another section lists the important documents with space to record where these documents are kept. It even includes a section on planning your funeral or memorial service so that music that is special to you and Bible verses that have meaning for you can be included. By taking the time now to work through the manual, or something similar, all of the necessary details will be organized and documented.

The second word, choice, means that you have the opportunity now to decide what is important to you and how you want to be remembered, and to communicate those choices. Would you like to be remembered with flowers or would you prefer to be remembered through memorial gifts? Is there a ministry within the church that has been a meaningful part of your life? Are there people who are special to you who you would like to take part in your service? Taking the time now to think through what is important to you means that when the end comes, plans that are important to you can be put into action.

The good news is that you are still alive! Take advantage of the time you have. As Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, a pioneer in the field of death and dying once wrote: “It’s not really the dying that is so hard, dying takes no skill and no understanding. It can be done by anyone. What is hard is living—living until you die; whether your death is imminent or a long way off…the real challenge is to fully live the time you have.” (Corr, pg. 13)

Be prepared; make good choices; live so you can echo the words of 2 Timothy 4:6-8: “The time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge will award to me on that day and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”

 


Editor’s note: Consider your legacy. The 1780 Society is an option.

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Reflections on Dr. Jim Somerville’s 10 years of ministry at Richmond’s First Baptist Church
by Lynn Turner and Allen Cumbia

Being a successful Senior Pastor at any church is not an easy task. One has to be a visionary, a leader, a great communicator, a counselor, a teacher, an encourager, a mentor, and wear many other hats. To do this well requires an individual who is honest, bold, can listen, challenge and have a servant’s heart, just to name a few.

Many such pastors have blessed Richmond’s First Baptist Church, leading it through the years. Each one has been uniquely gifted by God to do what they did as they led the church during their ministries. As we mark the 10th anniversary of Dr. Somerville’s leadership here, it is only natural that we pause, look back on this last decade, and recognize his unique calling and how he has led and become a part of our church.

____________

Almost 10 years ago in the first staff calendar-planning meeting after Jim Somerville became Senior Pastor, he leaned over and softly said, “You know, Lynn, I feel like I’m a poet.”

Lynn Turner, Senior Associate Pastor, really didn’t understand exactly what he meant by that statement until she read a book by Craig Barnes, The Pastor as Minor Poet: Texts and Subtexts in the Ministerial Life. From Barnes book:

“When we begin with our own identity in Christ, and the pastoral call to assist others in becoming fully alive in Him, we are freed from the drudgery of being managers and service providers to pursue something much more creative, being poets of the soul. A good poet is hard to find. …A poet is one that is blessed with a vision that allows them to explore and express the truth behind the reality.”

From the very beginning of his ministry, Jim’s mantra for ministry has been centered in this quote from Old Testament Scholar Walter Brueggemann:

“The central task of ministry is the formation of a community with an alternative, liberated imagination that has the courage and the freedom to act in a different vision and a different perception of reality.”1

10 years of ministry

In many ways Jim has been a poet of our souls, challenging us to live and lead in a different vision.

It began with the reorganization of our leadership staff from an attractional model of ministry, to one shaped around the missional model that he felt God was calling us to.2

Reflecting on this reorganization of the staff Dr. Somerville says, “When I came to First Baptist I asked the staff why we were here, that is, why First Baptist Church was here in the city of Richmond. They offered some good answers, but in the end we searched the Scriptures for the clear commands of Christ and came up with five that stood out above all others: 1) Love God; 2) Love others; 3) Love one another; 4) Make disciples by baptizing; 5) Make disciples by teaching. From those five clear commands, we came up with five ministry areas: 1) Worship; 2) Compassion; 3) Community; 4) Invitation and 5) Formation. It only made sense to organize the ministry of the church around those clear commands, and fortunately, we had good staff in place who were able to adapt their ministries to those areas. We did that in May 2009, right around his first anniversary. We’ve been doing it that way ever since, and a number of other churches across the country have adopted our ‘Missional Model.’”

These roles came out of the Creative Vision that Jim felt God was leading us to focus on as a congregation, “KOH2RVA,” bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia. Dr. Somerville explains, “At some point in those early days I began to point out the priority of the Kingdom of God in the teaching of Jesus. In one way or another, the Kingdom is mentioned some 120 times in the Gospels. Obviously, establishing God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven was His primary focus, and since it is His church, it should be the church’s focus. I began to talk about the Kingdom, and about Richmond, and about establishing God’s kingdom here, but it was Billy Burford, then Church Administrator, who first pronounced those immortal words in an offertory prayer. He said, ‘May these gifts help us bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia.’ It rolled off his tongue so beautifully and I thought, “That’s it! That’s our mission!” But it was Bob Palmer and the members of the Ministry Planning Team who had the idea of reducing that mission statement to an acronym that would fit on a license plate, ‘KOH2RVA.’ In fact, that’s the license plate on my car today!”

Dr. Somerville’s vision has caused us to think about the ministry of this great church beyond the walls of this building and to reimagine how we might fulfill the commands of Christ in the Gospels, thus freeing us, each in our own way, to become our own poets of souls.

And that vision led to a church-wide process called, “2020 Vision,” to help the church understand it’s rich history, how it ministers today, but most importantly how Richmond’s First Baptist is going to fully embrace ministry here in the early years of the 21st century.

Clint Smith remarks, “Church life can be full of surprises, but maybe none so much as when your pastor calls you and says, ‘We’re putting together a team to help set a church vision for the next five years, and I’d like you to lead it.’” Mark Larson and Clint received that call from Dr. Somerville in December of 2015 and anxiously agreed to take on the challenge.

Knowing very little about what might be required of them, they decided that God would put a team of people around them who would make it possible, and that’s exactly what God did. Many people were involved in helping bring forth the 2020 Vision, but none more so than the pastor. From the facilitation team’s first meeting, Dr. Somerville was encouraging, optimistic and hopeful. Clint recalls him saying, “The church has a lot of history, let’s make some more!” And Dr. Somerville has embraced this effort wholeheartedly asking questions such as, “What is our church doing well, and not so well?”

Dr. Bill Wilson from the Center for Healthy Churches was our consultant. He provided structure and helped us to think on a grand scale, as we sought to discern the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The result?  Twelve Implementation Teams that are almost equally focused in areas within and outside of the church.  School partnerships, adult spiritual literacy, a community garden and lay led worship at times other than Sunday morning are only a few of the teams that have completed their reports and begun work in all of these areas.

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Vision is certainly one of the greatest gifts that Dr. Somerville has brought to the table, but he has offered so much more to our church and community by his involvement in a plethora of activities and interests.

Dr. Somerville has been a hands-on participant in Community Missions. Steve Blanchard, our Minister of Christian Compassion writes, “One of the first things that stood out to me was his passion for community and service. Jim thinks outside the box. He is passionate and not afraid to speak out if he believes in something wholeheartedly. Too often, the church (universal) is way too silent on social issues as it battles itself as to whether its purpose is to preach Jesus or preach about social issues.  Jim realizes there is no difference, the two are the same. I appreciate Jim and his willingness to come along beside me and others and meet people on the margins where they are, not just with his words, but with his actions as well.”

The Senior Pastor is a consultant to the Church Endowment Board. Carl Johnson reflects that, “The job of consultant can be difficult. First is the difference between consultant and advisor. Dr. Somerville has done well understanding the difference between the two. Second, I’m sure there have been times when he had a contribution that would have been helpful, but did not have an invitation for comment. He handled that well too. His involvement with numerous Richmond civic, charitable, educational, denominational, etc., entities and his insight, particularly with new entities, has been most helpful when we have received funding requests from them.”

Dr. Somerville has had a close and supportive relationship with Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, serving two three-year terms on the Board of Trustees. He has even taught two semesters of preaching there, covering for Dr. Tracy Hartman while she was on sabbatical.

The list of involvement could go on and on, but let’s focus a minute on the events that transpired in bringing him to our church in the first place.

The earliest and arguably best advice given the Senior Pastor Search Committee was from Buddy and Dickie Hamilton. Both had served on previous senior pastor search committees. They told the team that prayer had not been central to those earlier efforts, but that they should make it central to theirs, so that’s what they did.

They prayed to open and close their meetings, they prayed as they studied resumes and went on visits, but most significant were the prayer retreats, directed by Alan Jones, former staff member, and Lynn Turner, staff liaison. Those prayer times challenged them to seek God’s heart and lay aside their own agendas. A significant verse for the team was 1 Samuel 16:7; it directed them to look for “a man after God’s own heart.”

The church family also gave the team significant advice, which was used to develop a Senior Pastor Profile. Preaching was at the top of virtually all responses, and the church is grateful God led us to Jim Somerville who proclaims the Word in ways that are clear, fresh and challenging.  This was evident when the team initially visited First Baptist Church in Washington D.C., where Dr. Somerville served before he came to us.

Another critical requirement was the ability to honor FBC’s traditions while challenging the church to grow into the future. This required a prophet, another of Jim Somerville’s significant gifts. To best describe how he matched the team’s profile is his life verse: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful,” Luke 6:36. It is inscribed on the pulpit stand given to him on May 11, 2008, when he became our senior pastor.

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Every week, at the close of the leadership staff meeting on Tuesday mornings, the ministers join hands around the table and pray together,

“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, in Richmond as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread…. Amen.”

That small, but intentional adaptation of the Lord’s Prayer encourages the staff and the congregation to ask, “How does this existing ministry or new initiative help bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, VA?” That simple question continues to keep our staff and membership focused on our shared ministry as cast by our pastor.

Dr. Somerville’s creative and energetic vision has both challenged and encouraged us all to join in God’s redemptive mission, as Jim would say, by “looking around and noticing what does not look like heaven, and roll up our sleeves and get to work.”

Jim’s vision is making a difference in our church and our city. Thanks be to God!

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1 The Hopeful Imagination: Walter Brueggemann

2 An attractional church model seeks to build up a church through programs and events to pull people in: If you build it they will come. A missional model, on the other hand, seeks to find out what the needs of a community are and then seeks to meet those needs as a church: Churches are not the goal of God’s mission, but the tool of God’s mission.

Editor’s note: For this article, we interviewed Dr. Somerville, and a number of individuals were asked to speak to various aspects of Dr. Somerville’s 10 years of ministry at Richmond’s First Baptist Church. What followed was more material than can appear in a single story. Their reflections have been condensed into this article, but to more fully understand the effect of Dr. Somerville’s ministry here, we have included all of their contributions in this addendum. Here is the full interview with Dr. Somerville.

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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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Volleyball for All

Story by Bill Loving. Photos by Sheila Dixon.

Volleyball for AllKrista is a substitute teacher who recently relocated from New York. Will participates in the youth department at Richmond’s First Baptist Church. Sulay is an international student at Virginia Commonwealth University. Hardy is a facilitator with the Divorce Recovery workshop. I’m an architect and sing in the choir at FBC. What do we all have in common? We play volleyball together on Tuesday nights in the FBC gym.

Twenty years ago, Tuesday night volleyball games began as an outgrowth of the Metro Singles Bible Study. Singles from around Richmond gathered at FBC for music, fellowship, and Bible study, and some of the singles began to stay afterwards and play volleyball. The Metro Singles Bible Study ended many years ago, but the volleyball games have continued.

Volleyball for AllOver the years, we’ve had singles, couples, youth and entire families come out on Tuesday nights to play volleyball. Many of the participants in the Divorce Recovery Workshops have joined us for volleyball and recently, a number of international students from Virginia Commonwealth University have joined as well.

We welcome players of all skill levels. Several people have played for many years; some have not played since gym class in middle school; and some have never played. The game is adjusted to the person’s level of play. For example, if a new player is having difficulty serving the ball, we may let them try several times or serve from closer to the net until they improve. Most of all, we provide lots of encouragement.

Games are played according to the USA Volleyball Rules, which allow players to use any part of the body to hit the ball: head, feet, and of course, hands. Each team is allowed three hits to get the ball over the net. Scoring is not dependent on who has served; whichever team wins the rally earns a point. Because rally scoring makes the game move faster, games are to 25 rather than 15 points.

Volleyball for AllPlaying volleyball hones skills that are useful both on and off the court:

Teamwork: Rather than just hitting the ball back across the net like table tennis, the team is encouraged to pass the ball and create a play. We teach a simple center-setter formation. In this formation, we pass the ball to the center front player and that player “sets” the ball to one of the other two players on the front line who can make a good, clean hit. By passing the ball to others rather than just hitting it over, players learn to play together as a team.

Communication: To play well as a team, the players have to communicate with each other. By calling the ball, a player lets other teammates know that they intend to hit it. This is particularly helpful when a ball places between two players. In a center-setter formation, the middle front person is supposed to hit the second ball. By calling “help” when the ball is not reachable, others know to go for the ball.

Trust: We teach that each player has a position for which they are responsible. Unless another player asks for help, it is better to let them miss the ball and encourage their effort than to encroach on their position. Trusting your fellow teammates allows others to grow in their skills. Also minding your assigned position leaves no holes in the defense that the opposing team could take advantage of for easy shots.

While we try to teach a bit of volleyball on Tuesdays, our gatherings are really as much about community as they are about playing volleyball. We learn to play as a team; we encourage and cheer each other; and we have fun. At the end of the night, we gather in a circle, share prayer concerns and have a closing prayer. Please come out and join us any Tuesday night from 7:00-9:00 p.m.


Bill LovingBill Loving is an architect, a graduate of Virginia Tech and a Rotarian. He has 21 years of perfect attendance with the West Richmond Rotary Club. Originally from Chesterfield, Bill now lives in the museum district. Bill has had 20+ years of volleyball at FBC and loves to sing. He is a member of the Church Choir and the Men’s Ensemble.

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