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An Undaunted Advent

By Phil Mitchell, Associate Pastor for Christian Worship

Advent, the upcoming season that encompasses the four Sundays before Christmas Day, is a time when the church’s worship focuses both on the birth of Christ and the Parousia (the second coming of Christ). During these four weeks, you are encouraged to pray, read the scriptures, reflect and thoughtfully consider the unthinkable… God in the flesh.

At Richmond’s First Baptist Church, we observe Advent every year. Celebrating the season together has always connected us in deep and powerful ways.

And then, the COVID-19 pandemic came on the scene and has reshaped everything, including our plans for Advent.

Since Advent is, at its core, a “journey,” we needn’t let our circumstances derail its message or meaning. Our current circumstances mean that Advent may not look the same, but we can still celebrate the birth of Christ!

Why should we resolve to discover and put into practice alternative ways to celebrate Advent? Would it be worth the extra effort? Couldn’t we just ignore Advent this year?

Marcus Aurelius, the second century Roman emperor, wrote, “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” (Meditations, Book 5.20) This is profound and true. Let’s imagine a way through Advent that births new means and new meaning.

As you prepare for your journey through Advent, remember its place in the annual journey of the church. The first Sunday of Advent is the beginning of a new liturgical year and it would be a great time to renew a commitment to reading the Bible every day. The liturgical year that began on November 29, 2020 features readings from Mark. One can read through all of the Gospel of Mark in less than an hour!

Place an Advent wreath in your home. Whether you live alone or have a house full of family, using an Advent wreath is a perfect way to see the progression of the Advent season. Traditionally, the wreath is encircled with two purple candles, one pink candle, and one more purple candle, all surrounding a white candle (the Christ candle) in the center of the wreath. Here are a few websites to help:
https://www.flumc.org/newsdetail/resources-for-advent-home-worship-6532688
https://www.doityourself.com/stry/advent-wreath

Emphasize an Advent “gift” to focus on giving each week. Each candle in an Advent wreath represents a symbol of the key emphasis for worship on that day. The first Sunday of Advent (November 29) represents hope; the second Sunday (December 6) represents peace; the third Sunday (December 13) represents joy; and the fourth Sunday (December 20) represents love. Perhaps during the week of November 29, you could give the gift of hope to others through words and deeds. For the week of December 6, spread peace in your own context by being an agent of peace – be a calming presence, repair an injured relationship, get involved in an organization or initiative that fosters peace. Be a joyful presence in someone’s life. Be creative in the ways you allow your life to reflect the symbols of the Advent candles.

Advent has historically been a time of reflection and repentance. Consider making an “Advent jar that would house small pieces of paper, with habits, actions and sins that you acknowledge and offer to God. Destroy them on Christmas Day as a celebration of Jesus, God’s life-restoring Redeemer.

Read something new that will enrich your spiritual journey during the season. Perhaps you are already reading: Awaiting the Already, Magrey deVega, Abingdon Press, 2018.

Other good possibilities:
Longing for Enough in a Culture of More, Paul Escamilla, Abingdon Press, 2007
Mark for Everyone, N. T. Wright, Westminster John Knox Press, 2004
Sacred Thirst, M. Craig Barnes, Zondervan, 2001

Perhaps you could incorporate some simpler practices to enrich your Advent. Some ideas are to save a dollar a day (or more) and give it to someone you don’t know on Christmas Day. Or you could make a Chrismon ornament and put it on your tree. A Chrismon is a Christmas decoration with a Christian symbol. Chrismon ideas are found on the following website: https://www.umcs.org/chrismons/making.htm

Finally, there are still ways to participate in the Advent journey with your church family. Here are a few:

  • Sunday Morning worship in-person (with a reservation) or participate in worship on fbcrichmond.org/watch or Facebook page.
  • Wednesday evening speakers and services.
  • FBC Virtual Christmas Concert on Wednesday, December 23 at 7:00 p.m.
  • Christmas Eve celebration outdoors in the Courtyard at 5:00, 9:00 and 11:30 p.m. (with a reservation)

Complete details for FBC Advent emphasis are at fbcrichmond.org/advent.

“What stands in the way becomes the way.” Let’s walk the Advent journey… together.

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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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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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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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