Archive for the ‘Features’ Category

Story by Mimi Bennett

Who would imagine that Deuteronomy 29:29 (The secret things belong to the Lord but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever…) could have been written as the vision statement of the FBC Scholarship Fund Team? Do you know who they are? Or what they do? It is an amazing and gratifying story.

calloutThe FBC Scholarship Fund has been in existence since the 1930s but the details of its inception have been lost to history. Yet, since that time, college bound FBC students have been awarded scholarships year in and year out. All the funds have come from FBC members, some unrestricted and some with specific stipulations. Carl Johnson, President of the Endowment Fund, which manages the investment of the scholarship funds, reports that they currently stand at about two million dollars. This comprises approximately 10% of the church’s total endowment. Each year an amount equivalent to 5% of the Scholarship Fund is awarded to students. In 2017, this will be a little more than $100,000.

FBC's Best Kept Secret

Chaired by Jim Markham, the dedicated members of this standing committee are Sue Atkins, Susan Hughes, Bart Dalton, Jim Norvelle, Martha Selden, and Richard Szucs. They have worked together for many years and annually review all applications submitted and determine the amount of each award.  Amounts vary according to a point system and are confidential, but virtually everyone receives something. As the team works through their process, they consider such things as active FBC involvement, church membership, GPA, family income, how many other college students may be in a family, and the applicant’s year in college. Extra points are awarded if the student will be a college freshman and bonus points are awarded to those who are in seminary. Students must submit an application annually to be considered for continuing funds.

The work of this ministry begins in mid-December when high school seniors are sent a letter inviting them to apply for a scholarship. In January, an informational meeting for students and their families is held to clarify the process and answer any questions. Information and deadlines are available on the FBC website under the Communities tab and are published in the Sunday bulletin and First Family News. Applications are submitted online and the deadline must be adhered to strictly. No application will be looked at that is submitted after the published deadline. This year that date is May 1.

The work of the FBC Scholarship Fund Team begins in earnest once the deadline passes. Through the spring, all the information is prayerfully and carefully reviewed and decisions reached by unanimous consent. Hope Cumbia is the lynchpin here. She assembles all the applications and organizes them for team members to use as they determine each scholarship. Once students are notified about their awards, Hope coordinates sending the checks directly to the individual colleges and schools. In the past 18 years, $1,400,000 has been awarded to 840 FBC students. This is a remarkable achievement.

FBC’s steadfast commitment to provide financial assistance toward the education of its students is not truly a secret. The Scholarship Fund Team, however, operates below the radar for many. Now that this ministry has been revealed to us all, it belongs to us all and to our children forever. The opportunity to contribute to the future is compelling.

Editor’s note: For more information contact Jim Markham (804-261-5527) or any other team member.

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Story by Jeannie Dortch. Photos by Jeannie Dortch and Sean Cook.

Author Alexandre Dumas immortalized three heroic musketeers who served their French king with unflagging devotion and courage. Currently First Baptist Church members are encountering three young men, all working in service to their King, the Lord Jesus. Unlike the musketeers, however, they work under different staff members and in unrelated capacities.

In Service to Our King

Brett Holmes, Scott Biggers and Justin Pierson

Justin Pierson, 24, is from Roanoke and a first-year student at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. As second cousin to Steve Blanchard’s wife, Susan, Justin lived with the Blanchards when first in Richmond. This led to conversations about part-time work in FBC’s Compassion Ministry. While earning his MDiv degree at BTSR, he spends 18 hours a week as a Compassion Assistant, reporting only to Steve. Operation Christmas Child and CARITAS have been two responsibilities, along with attendance at Grace Fellowship and weekly participation in FBC’s Community Missions. Justin has been impressed with how well volunteers in the Compassion Ministry interact with people in need in the community: “When they perceive a need, they brainstorm to determine how to reach out to help in the best way possible.” Justin’s call to ministry is strong, and he feels fortunate to be able to work in such a large church with so many opportunities for growth.

Scott Biggers, 25, from Harrisburg, NC, is in his 3rd year at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond. After much soul searching and study of the differences in Presbyterian and Baptist theology, Scott discerned that he longed to live out his call as a Baptist pastor. That is how he made his way to FBC; he joined in October 2015 and was baptized in January 2016. Last summer, Scott fulfilled an internship as a chaplain at MCV, and this year he is serving as an intern to Jim Somerville, whom Scott will shadow until June 2017. He also has secured a part-time preaching position at a church in Keysville, VA. Scott remarked about his experience at FBC: “Because so much ministry and mission is done at this church, I am beginning to see and know what I like best. In this way, my internship is helping me shape my pastoral identity. My impression so far has been that everybody who comes here wants to be here. They love their church. “A common question I hear is ‘What will the church look like in the future?’ To me, FBC is a good example of what church should be (like in the future).”

In Service to Our King

Brett Holmes, 29 and a Mississippi native, is a graduate of Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University in Waco, TX. As FBC’s current pastoral resident, he is being mentored and supervised by Steve Booth until the summer 2018. While working as a bank teller after college, Brett volunteered at a local Baptist church, working with youth and college groups. Encouraged by the experience, he enrolled in a hybrid program at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary that allowed him to work, take online classes, and attend in person once a month. Brett’s desire, however, was to attend seminary full time. Learning that Truett offered a student loan program, Brett visited, applied, was accepted, quit his job, and moved to Waco. While there he evolved from wanting to teach and talk about theology in a university setting to wanting to teach, preach and discuss theology within a church setting. The shift came when he recognized that inside church is where theology happens, and theology had become Brett’s passion. One of his friends at Truett, Nick Deere (former pastoral resident), encouraged Brett to apply to FBC for their two-year residency program.

As FBC’s new pastoral resident, Brett is a paid employee on FBC’s staff for two years. Brett’s first year is spent working in each ministry area with each staff minister learning how to do ministry applicable to that area. In his second year, he will focus on what comes after his residency while maintaining an active presence within the congregation and in worship.

Brett shared, “What most impresses me is how healthy the staff is. In a church this large, it is rare to avoid conflict and yet, here, everyone works well together. It is good to see a model of what a healthy staff can be. That bleeds down into the congregation, providing safety and a place to feel comfortable.”

The motto of the three musketeers was, “All for one and one for all!” Though Justin, Scott and Brett do not hold the same position, their motives reflect the same purpose—to glorify God and bring honor to Him in their joint service to God’s people at FBC.

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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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Story by Terry Whipple.

We’ve been making Christmas wish lists since we were children. Although it’s more blessed to give than to receive, we all like to receive…at least a little bit. After celebrating Jesus’ birth and praising that amazing gift of gifts, eventually we’re around the tree and we’re at the parties.

Our Christmas wish lists have more grown-up toys now than when we were young. We want a David Yurman bracelet, or a new bathrobe (please!), or some tulip bulbs from Holland (because December isn’t too late to plant them, is it?). Or maybe we want tickets to the Richmond ballet or the Redskins, a new shotgun, a recliner chair for the TV room. Our lists include things we’ve thought about and  really want.

eating-christmas325pxBut what is not on our Christmas wish lists? We don’t list chocolate covered cherries or a gift certificate to a French bakery or a bottle of champagne. Why? We must not really want them. So, if we don’t really want them, why do we consume them with such gusto at the Christmas parties? They aren’t at all healthy. In fact, they’re actually unhealthy.

New Year’s is coming soon, a time when our resolutions inevitably include something about losing weight or getting fit. It might be easier to keep those resolutions if we didn’t allow such excess during the Christmas season. So, let’s think about what’s on our Christmas wish lists and enjoy those things we really want.

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Story and photos by Jeannie Dortch.

First Baptist Preschool (FBP), a ministry of Richmond’s First Baptist Church, is celebrating its 70th year as one of the city’s best known and most highly respected preschools. It is so respected that its reputation has spread beyond Richmond’s borders.

Ralph Starling, Associate Pastor of Christian Invitation, referring to America’s influx of internationals, but specifically of those from VCU, commented, “The world has come to Richmond and I think the church should look like the world.”


Zhu family and Alex Hamp

Alex Hamp, FBP’s administrator, commented that “For years, there was not much diversity here, but Ralph Starling has been instrumental in his outreach, and now we are one of the few preschools in the vicinity that is not only multi-cultural but also offers scholarships. More diversity here provides a more welcoming environment, and it’s good for the children.”

“In the past we have enrolled a few bi-racial children, but our program has evolved to include children from seven countries and four continents. The multicultural environment here is healthy because, though it may be unconscious, the children notice that not everyone is the same. The beauty is that as the children accept that we look different on the outside, we are all the same inside.”


Dingh family

Thang and Thao Dingh are from Viet Nam. After earning a scholarship to study in America, Thang earned his PhD in Computer Science at the University of Florida before moving to Virginia to be an assistant professor of Computer Science in the School of Engineering at VCU. Their daughter, Thu, attends preschool while Thao stays home with Thu’s little brother. Thu loves learning her letters and colors. She finds preschool so interesting that she even wants to come on the weekends!

Seventy-three percent of Viet Nam’s population identifies as non-religious, but, when possible, the Dinghs visit a Buddhist pagoda. They are happy, however, for Thu to be exposed to the Christian faith in preschool because they believe that the moral structure of their own upbringing is similar. Acceptance, kindness and love are universal, and Thu feels all three from her teachers and friends in preschool.


Daryos family

Maysam Daryos and Wisam Toma emigrated from Iraq where they were members of the Syriac Orthodox Church. Wisam is a veterinarian working on his PhD in pharmacology at MCV/VCU. Maysam has a Master’s in veterinary medicine and taught in Iraq. They were pushed out of Iraq by ISIS because of their faith and fear returning for that reason. Their daughter Mariam, born in America, is looking forward to her second year in FBC preschool because she loves her teachers and friends, and learning at school.

Maysam assists in the baby class while Mariam is in school. She and Wisam are very comfortable with FBP’s traditions: “All we want is to share peace, help others, and teach our children to accept everyone despite their religion.”


Hemeda family

Ahmed and Ayatullah Hemeda are from Egypt. Ahmed is working on his PhD as a research assistant in VCU’s Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering Department. They have a son who attends school in Chesterfield County while daughter Lily is enrolled in FBC’s preschool. As Muslims, they have the opportunity to practice their religion in one of the mosques located in the counties that surround Richmond. Ahmed finds the people in America very welcoming: “The culture here cultivates acceptance and the schools teach children to be polite.”

Other countries represented in the preschool are Ghana, India, China, and St. Vincent and The Grenadines. Ralph Starling summed up how the FBC family feels about our growing multi-cultural community, “I love it when the church reaches out and opens its doors to everybody and I love the ministries we have that seek to love all God’s children because everybody is created in the image of God. We are at our best when we’re open to loving others.”

Author’s note: For more information, visit the First Baptist Preschool website.

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Story by Dr. Terry Whipple

“Come before His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise.” Well, sure, it is a good mantra. And we don’t do it often enough, despite His blessings. But we’ve adopted—or adapted—a time of thanksgiving for Pilgrim survival, harvest, and community with natives into a gustatory holiday. After all, we cannot overdo giving thanks.

thanksgiving mealBut we can overdo Thanksgiving. Mmmm, gravy, taters, dressing, crispy skin on juicy turkey, pies of every description, maybe Grandma’s banana pudding. Dig in this year, again, after asking God’s blessing on the meal and family. But eat slowly, chew thoroughly, talk a lot and push back. Pushing back from that wonderful table has so many benefits. First, it preserves more leftovers. And everybody loves Thanksgiving leftovers. Second, we’ll be on time for kickoff at the traditional Thanksgiving Day football game. Third, we are not as likely to regurgitate during a wonderful afternoon nap. Wow, we’re making progress.

Most important, though, tomorrow it won’t show on the scale. We will not have overdone it again. We can put off those resolutions to “lose that weight” six more weeks until New Year’s Day.

Self-discipline makes a delectable dessert, and the effect lasts and lasts. This year we can all push back from the table and go for a walk around the block with someone else who’s pushed back from the table. It will help the digestion, cement a relationship, and give time to reflect on our blessings.

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Story by Dr. Terry Whipple

It’s a great, traditional holiday, especially for youngsters. Halloween stands for All Hallows’ Evening, the evening before All Hallows’ Feast Day. The feast day marks the beginning, for Christians, of All Hallows’ Tide, three days dedicated to the remembrance and honor of the dead, especially the saints. Hence the theme of ghosts carries into the celebration of Halloween, and the treats mimic the Feast Day.

eating-halloween-candy300pxSo what does this mean for us, practically speaking? Do we participate in the liturgical celebration of saints? Do we pray fervently and light candles for the dearly departed? Actually we tend to costume up, party down, and snitch the candy our kids bring back from Trick or Treating. Interesting…maybe that should be Treat or Tricking, because the treats can easily become tricks.

Who cares about A1c, the calculated code for the three-month average blood sugar in our hemoglobin? We do…or should! There are 29 million Americans with diabetes, a rampant and debilitating disease with widespread, serious complications. And there are another 89 million with prediabetes, a condition that occurs when A1c approaches 6.0. Diabetes is most prevalent in those over 65 years of age and affects one-fourth of that population. Shouldn’t we be aware of our A1c and the risk? After all, diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death and costs some $250 billion per year in healthcare in America.

Think about that as those innocent, idle calories slip down the throat at Halloween, or Halloweatin’. Will that help or play tricks on our blood sugar and our ideal weight? How about an apple instead?

Terry Whipple

Terry L. Whipple, MD, known as “Dr. T,” launched The Physician Within medical education mission at FBC with the support of Dr. Somerville and the church staff in 2008. Dr. T specializes in sports medicine, hand surgery and joint replacement. He has 15 surgical patents and has published many medical articles. He has degrees from Princeton and  UVA medical school. He was a Navy flight surgeon and enjoys risky sports and teaching bed-side manner and ethics.

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