Posts Tagged ‘church membership’

By Katie Smith. Photos by Paul Bickford and Win Grant.

“First Connection” is the jazzy new moniker for the revamped membership process at First Baptist Church. My husband and I took our time joining the church—around two years. By the time we decided to take the leap, we luckily got to be in one of the first groups to go through First Connection.

callout-BLOG-luncheonIn some ways, we were expecting to need an extra cup of coffee to make it through a church history lesson mixed in with membership requirements. However, our real experience was delightfully different. First Connection is a four-part process, plus attendance at one membership luncheon (offered three times a year). All sessions are offered during the Sunday school hour and after the 11 a.m. service, conveniently.

(1) On the first and fifth Sundays of the month, prospective members can attend an “In-House Coffee” to get to know others who are also new to the church, in a casual setting, in the Adams Room. In this way, a sense of community begins.

(2) On the second Sunday of the month, prospective members have the chance to mingle with the ministers. (In our case, we skipped the mingling, and found the opportunity to corner two ministers and ask them some of the tough questions on our minds about being Baptists. The ministers handled it very gracefully.)

firstconnection13) The third Sunday was arguably my favorite — The “Tour de First Baptist.” Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine our church had so many floors, so many nooks and crannies, and so much SPACE. We toured everything from the choir room to the middle school hangout to the beautiful chapel used by our deaf congregants, and I was astounded.

(4) On the fourth Sunday, prospective members are encouraged to “Jump into the Pool” by listening to an overview of FBC’s myriad Sunday Bible study offerings. Due to the size of the church, these groups are typically arranged around age, giving people a sense of belonging in a large congregation.

firstconnection2Finally, the luncheon. Baptists love a good luncheon, and I can confirm the food was excellent. More importantly, the speakers were quite impactful. Surrounded by portraits of First Baptist pastors from the church’s rich history, we were welcomed by Sharon Brittle, learned about the history and mission of the church from Steve Booth and Lynn Turner, and heard a bit about the membership process from Louis and Linda Watts, and Hanna Zhu. These speakers did not use note cards – they spoke from their hearts. They believe in FBC, and they made us feel welcomed again into a warm and loving community.

firstconnection3The decision to join a church seems monumental to me. There are so many churches to choose from in Richmond, so many programs and offerings, so much doctrine. Therefore, the process of becoming a member of any church must be informative; more importantly, though, it must connect the visitor to the spirit of the church. When the spirit is engaged, the visitor can transition into a committed congregant, a caring volunteer, and a loving member of a community. “First Connection” touches on both – the objective aspects of our church, and the spiritual ties that bind us together and welcome others in.

The spirit of First Baptist Church is clear. FBC is essentially a diverse group of individuals who believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God who died for our sins, and rose again, giving us the hope of eternal life. In First Connection, visitors come to understand this essential truth through the experience of community, conversation, hospitality, and teaching.

See related story: A grand tour returns to Monument and Boulevard.

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By Katie Smith. Photos provided by Anthony Nesossis, Janet Chase and Katie Smith.

Callout-BLOG-belongAs newlyweds in 2008, blindsided by the recession, my husband Van and I began what we call our “grand tour of Virginia,” as we kept chasing our careers around the state. During those years, we identified with a nondenominational church in Williamsburg, an Episcopal church in Charlottesville, a large Anglican church in Northern Virginia, and visited countless others of every denomination. Ironically, we even attended First Baptist Church for five months in 2008, before our careers moved us to Charlottesville.

Smith family

Smith family

Fancying ourselves to be independent thinkers, Van and I were not going to settle easily. Van is an attorney and I have taught college classes in years past—as such, we view most major life decisions through an analytical lens, carefully weighing all options. To commit, we knew, would be to decide on a place that would impact our spiritual growth, our way of serving the world, and our fellowship with other believers. In our decisions, we typically tread carefully. During that phase of our life, denominational differences mattered little—it was the spirit of each church that drew us close.

That spirit drew us back to FBC when we returned to Richmond. But its beauty also played a part. Architecture helps us feel a sense of awe in our humdrum suburban life, and the gorgeous columns and archways of First Baptist remind us of classic buildings. We love that First Baptist is not just located in the city, but it is also focused on being a church for the city, as it seeks to bring the kingdom of heaven to Richmond. And the intergenerational nature of the congregation brings a necessary sense of perspective. At a few churches we visited, we saw hardly a soul over the age of 40; in others, nary a person under 65. A church feels more whole, it seems, when all age groups are represented.

Never before (I cringe to admit) have we committed to a Bible study, but the Young Couples class has us sincerely hooked. And, I’m sure we must have broken some sort of church rule for requesting that our one-year-old be dedicated prior to us formally becoming members last year, but I’m still glad we did. A beautiful picture of Jim Somerville and our daughter Farah sits on our bookshelf and brings me joy. He asked us to join the church at the baby dedication. My husband looked at me and smiled wryly, “Ahh, a twofer!” I look forward to experiencing the new members’ class at some point, and I’m thankful for a church that is patient and accepting of members “right where they are.”

Maybe our journey was not random luck. My hunch is the Good Lord (as my parents refer to God) had a hand in it. Both of my great-grandfathers were Baptist ministers, after all. Perhaps I should have seen the writing on the wall. In any case, I feel a sense that Van and I, (plus an energetic toddler) are all on a faith journey together with First Baptist Church at the steering wheel. When I look around during Sunday services, I see people in plain and fancy clothes, the very young and the very old, and all manner of other folks. And I feel like we belong. Thank the Good Lord.

Katie SmithKatie Smith grew up in Winston-Salem, NC, and met her husband, Van, while studying at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg. She served as an academic adviser at several community colleges in Virginia before recently beginning to work part-time for Van’s family law firm, Smith Strong, PLC. Van and Katie are the proud parents of Farah Lee Smith, who was born in September 2012 and dedicated at First Baptist Church. Van and Katie enjoy attending the Young Couples Class.

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