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Story by Ann Carter.

Reflecting God OnlineSocial media has a bad reputation these days as a place where political opinions and personal insults are hurled with a lack of respect and downright cruelty, where you are shouted at for posting what you think and where you can’t tell real news from fake news. Many people I know are taking a break from social media because they can’t stand the hate and the vitriol. And I can’t blame them. Some days I have a hard time reading my newsfeeds. But I won’t give it up. You see, I love social media. It is where I connect with friends I have made from every stage of my life and every place I have lived and traveled. It is where I find interesting newspaper articles and blogs and daily devotions. It is where I watch a giraffe waiting to give birth. It is absolutely the best on my birthday when I get literally hundreds of birthday wishes. What’s not to love? Oh yeah, the political posts. But you know what? I think social media has great value in our society today—even with the political posts. “Why?” you may ask. Because it is a place where community happens; a place where people of different views can show up in my news feed and get equal reading time; a place where we can be called to action as well as called to encourage or pray or comfort; a place where we can share our joys and our sorrows and be joined in our grief and celebrations.

Reflecting God Online

Ann Carter

In January 2016, I was asked to take over the social media accounts of Richmond’s First Baptist Church. I gladly said “yes” because I love being on social media. First of all, it gives me the perfect excuse to be on social media. You know, “I have to be on here for work!” But seriously, just about everyone else in the world has a voice in social media and the church needs one too.

What is the purpose of church social media platforms? I believe there are three main purposes. First of all, social media can inform our congregants about what is happening at church. Second, it can provide an avenue of invitation to our neighbors for events that may be of interest to them such as the Church Choir Concert, Upward Basketball or The Physician Within. Third, and I believe most importantly, it is a place where we are the presence of Christ.

I believe the church should be the voice of peace and justice and hope and love in our broken and polarized world. Many churches are just that for the people who come in their doors and sit in their pews. But what about people who don’t come into our buildings and sit in our pews? How are they going to hear words of hope in their times of despair? How are they going to feel the loving presence of God in a world filled with hateful, judgmental words? How are they going to experience peace in the midst of so much political and social conflict? How are they going to know a just God in an unjust world? And so as I administer our social media, I try to capture moments when our church reflects a God of hope and peace and love. I try to capture God at work in our world through the people of FBC. I try to invite people into the adventure of serving God with us. I try to highlight where God is at work in our world through people outside of Richmond’s First Baptist Church—good things are happening all around us if we only take the time to look!

But I don’t need to be the Social Media Associate for a church in order to do these things. I can do them through my own personal social media accounts.  I can be the voice of peace and justice and hope and love in my own world. I can give grace-filled answers to my friends who disagree with me. My social media accounts can reflect a God of peace and hope and love and a God at work in our world. And so can yours.

Meredith Gould, Ph.D., is a digital strategist for churches. In her book, The Social Media Gospel, she shows how our faith provides a framework for using social media. I want to highlight a few of her points:

“Believing in a gracious and merciful God calls us to be gracious and merciful during online interactions.”

She also says that “believing in Gospel teachings calls us to model what we believe while using social media by offering helpful information, providing comfort, sharing joy and engaging in conversations that build and unite, rather than tear down or divide the people of God.”

And in 2010, Gould created this contemporary take on Saint Teresa of Avila’s prayer, “Christ Has No Body”:

Christ has no online presence but yours,
No blog, no Facebook page but yours,
Yours are the tweets through which love touches this world,
Yours are the posts through which the Gospel is shared,
You are the updates through which hope is revealed.
Christ has no online presence but yours,
No blog, no Facebook page but yours.

This is what guides me as I post both on the church’s social media and on my own. And I hope it can guide you as you evaluate your own social media presence. May our social media pages be used to touch the world with God’s love. Amen.


Here are a few of our most popular Facebook posts:

Reflecting God OnlineJune 19, 2016 – the youth leaving on their mission trips: Ahhhh… I love this image; the doors of our church flung open and all of us spilling out to go be the hands and feet of Christ wherever we find ourselves in our world.

Reflecting God OnlineJuly 14, 2016 – This picture was snapped in the pool in Helena, Arkansas where a team from Richmond’s First Baptist Church has been serving this week. I was immediately struck by the beauty and the power of this image – especially in light of the recent racial tension our nation is facing. Let this image inspire to us open our hands and our hearts, reaching toward one another in love, as we venture into the waters of reconciliation.

Reflecting God OnlineNov. 9, 2016 – A prayer for whatever it is you are feeling this post-election morning. And now…Church, let’s go be the presence of Christ wherever we find ourselves today. And tomorrow. And the day after that. And for all the days.

Reflecting God Online

April 16, 2017 – Christ is risen indeed! Hallelujah!

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Review of The Faith Club: A Muslim, A Christian, A Jew – Three Women Search For Understanding by Ranya Idliby, Suzanne Oliver, and Priscilla Warner

Review by Jeannie Dortch. Photo by Janet Chase.

Most people feel safer when surrounded by like-minded individuals. Conversations that produce angst, confusion or fear are usually avoided, certainly if those conversations are about religion or politics!

In The Faith Club, three women of different faiths begin to acknowledge and, with genuine candor, shatter long-held assumptions about each other’s respective faiths. As New York City residents, all are acquainted with grief, alienation and prejudice, but are also full of courage, patience and love. The Faith ClubThey meet to write a children’s book, but begin an interfaith dialogue that changes their project and their perspectives about expectations of life and death. Their relationship evolves from superficial to penetrating and profound as thoughts and feelings begin, at times, to jeopardize their hard-won friendships.

This story is so appealing because it hikes trails the reader wants to explore but seldom has the necessary traveling companions or audacity. Conversations about heaven progress into the inevitable “who’s in and who’s out.” Discussions of death lead to questions about the reality of the afterlife and the misconceptions each holds about the others’ beliefs. All this talk is set against the tensions of different cultures, family loyalties, and religious doctrines.

In the end, they use their weekly meetings, outside readings, visits to places of worship, and meetings with varied religious leaders to better explain faith to their children and to themselves. This journey is possible with a growing and abiding trust in themselves, each other, God, and their mission.

Their questioning leads them to “truths that set them free,” but also to the hope that what they discovered is possible for any of us willing to ascend our own mountains of misunderstanding and uncertainty. If successful, reconciliation with those of different faiths might be possible for more than just these three determined women in New York City. It might be possible for us too.

Editor’s note: The Faith Club is available in First Word, FBC’s library.
Leave a Reply  below to recommend one of your favorite books from First Word Library.

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JimsBlog

This afternoon I’m headed to Roanoke for the annual meeting of the Baptist General Association of Virginia—our state convention. It’s going to be an interesting meeting, and I’m sure I’ll have something to blog about tomorrow and the next day, but I’m not leaving until this afternoon and it’s because I’m having lunch with these guys.

These are some of the religious leaders in the interfaith group I meet with from time to time. In the top photograph you see Nathan Elmore (left), a Baptist campus minister at VCU; next to him is Imam Ammar Amonette, from the Islamic Center of Virginia; and on the right is Imad Damaj, President and founder of the Virginia Muslim Coalition for Public Affairs. In the bottom photo you can see Rabbi Ben Romer on the left, from Congregation Or Ami; Wallace Adams-Riley in the middle, Rector of Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church; and on…

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By Allen Cumbia, Mission Executive Team, Co-Leader

Philippine mission

2012 mission trip to Philippines

Most mission trip participants cover all or the majority of their costs for travel, food and lodging.

Some people do personal fundraising by taking on extra jobs, holding yard sales or enlisting the support of family and friends. In addition, FBC accepts donations designated for use by a specific individual, or for a specific partnership mission or trip.

There are some sources of help for those who are unable to pay all the costs.

The First Baptist Endowment Board yearly sets aside money to be used by first time mission trip participants. These participants are eligible for a grant of up to 50% of the trip cost, but that amount may be increased in cases of great financial need.

The church budget also offers some assistance for people who have participated in previous mission trips. The amount of this assistance is generally 25-40% of the trip cost and decreases as the individual’s number of trips increases. In 2012, $24,000 was available through the budget for mission trips. However, only about half of that is for assistance to trip participants, including team leaders who may receive half the cost of their trip. (The rest is designated for the supplies used on trips, for the youth mission trip, and for Steve Blanchard’s travel to set up and coordinate mission partnerships.)

There are also some designated funds that have been set up by church members to be used by mission trip participants. These are administered by the Board of the First Baptist Endowment Fund. The amounts vary each year depending on the return on these funds. For 2012, $800 was available for use by staff members participating on trips; $2400, for partnership missions; and $6500, to split between partnership missions and community missions.

For more information, please contact Steve Blanchard or 804-358-5458, ext. 133.

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