Posts Tagged ‘RVA United’

Story by Clint Smith. Photos by Susan Brown, Win Grant, Ralph Starling and Jess Ward.

As members of Richmond’s First Baptist Church, we regard our building as far more than brick and mortar. It’s a place where we go to seek God and where God lives to be sought. It’s a holy, safe place where we wholly present ourselves to the Lord and trust our deepest concerns with one another. For most of us, we cannot remember a time when our beautiful church didn’t reside gracefully at Monument and Boulevard, its permanence only eclipsed by its warmth and beauty. But the building is not ours, it is God’s—and every week, hundreds of people travel through our doors seeking not a worship service but support, advice, exercise, or simple camaraderie.

SMILE Christmas celebration

SMILE Christmas celebration

Two-thirds of the members of Single Moms in the Lord’s Embrace, better known as SMILE, are not members of First Baptist Church. “Single moms have a unique set of needs,” says Beverly Wells, who leads the monthly group. “We help single moms find acceptance, support, and confidence in themselves, while learning how to become better parents to their children with God’s presence in their lives.” When these women arrive at the church on the second Tuesday of each month, they are greeted with a prepared meal, free child care, and a guest speaker sharing advice on anything from home repairs and vehicle maintenance to real estate and budgeting. “One of our members came to me after the [budgeting] program with tears streaming down her face,” recalls Beverly. “She told me that the presentation was exactly what she needed to get control of her financial situation. On my drive home that night, I truly felt God’s presence and knew that He was blessing others through SMILE.”

The Divorce Recovery Ministry, celebrating its 25th year in September 2015, regularly reaches individuals struggling with marital separation and divorce. They come from as far as Farmville, Fredericksburg and Williamsburg, and from any religious background imaginable. “One of the biggest ways the Christian church can make a difference in the lives of people going through divorce is by creating a safe place for them to experience grace, healing and hope,” says Rev. Ralph Starling, Associate Pastor, Ministry of Invitation, and the facilitator of the annual Divorce Recovery Workshop. “By creating a safe, non-judgmental atmosphere, participants are able to learn to trust again and remember their value.” The workshop, which runs for eight consecutive Sunday evenings each fall, teaches participants to process their hurt, anger and grief, leveraging the trust in the room to form lasting new friendships. “Almost weekly I encounter someone at the grocery store or shopping mall that will approach me and say, ‘You may not remember me, but I was in your workshop at First Baptist years ago, and I just want you to know it … saved my life.’ This ministry is about transformation!”

Tai Chi class

Tai chi class

“I was weak, overweight, and generally miserable,” Jenny Barone said of her life after retiring from a career in law. “I found a tai chi class and signed up, and then I signed up for another, and another. Within a few years, I knew I wanted to teach this great form of exercise that anyone can do, whether standing or seated, and realize real physical and psychological benefits from it.” If regularly practiced, this ancient Chinese martial art improves balance, strength, breathing, circulation, and fall prevention. “Over half of our class comes from outside the church, and it’s been very rewarding for me and my students.” One particular student, Jenny tells, had not exercised in many years and had given up her beloved walks on the beach due to difficulty balancing in the deep, dry sand. Using the techniques Jenny taught her, she was again able to stroll down the beach. “Small victories over limitations, whether from aging or injury, are very rewarding!”

Upward basketball

Upward basketball

Other groups meet specific but deep needs, such as the Survivors of Suicide Loss. “I have lived through four suicides,” tells Shirley Ramsey, who leads this newly-formed ministry. “My mother, my mother’s brother, my sister’s son, and then [my son] all lost their battle with major depression. I learned the importance of opening our hearts and allowing ourselves to grieve our losses.” The tenth-leading cause of death among Americans age 10 and older, over 35,000 annual suicides leave a much larger number of grieving loved ones in their wake. “I decided this would be a good way to honor my dear [son] Jackson by helping others. When I tell my story, it opens doors for others to share. By opening conversation about suicide, we help to reduce the stigma that seems to surround mental illness.” She continues, “My First Baptist family has walked me through this tragedy with faith, love and compassion and I want to pay it forward to others.”

RVA United worship

RVA United worship

Through these and many other diverse groups, including Alcoholics Anonymous, the Boy Scouts of America, HOPE (Hanging on with Purpose Every Day, a depression support group), karate, RVA United (worship for 20- and 30-somethings), and Upward sports, First Baptist Church offers counsel, fun, friendship, and solace to hundreds of people. The multiplied impact of our gifts, both of time and money, is even greater when considered against this larger community. As usual, Jesus says it best: “Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me’” (Matthew 25:34-36, NRSV).

More information on ministries described in this article at:
•    Divorce Recovery Ministry, FBCRichmond.org/recovery
•    Single Moms in the Lord’s Embrace, FBCRrichmond.org/compassion/smile;
•    Survivors of Suicide Loss, Shirley Ramsey (804-868-0082) or Ren Bell (804-548-6670)
•    Tai chi, Jenny Barone (804-382-8103)

Read related stories: Scouting at First Baptist Church, Moving Upward, RVA United is a big dream

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By Clint Smith. Photos by Win Grant.

Rob and Katie Courain aren’t afraid to be honest – in fact, they’ve constructed an entire ministry around it.

RVA United, dedicated to bringing twenty – and thirty – somethings together to worship, study and serve Christ, is about the business of authenticity. Recent sermon topics at their biweekly services include dating, marriage, alcohol, and personal integrity. “Ninety-nine percent of this age group either don’t know or aren’t experiencing a real relationship with God,” says Katie. “We want them to feel safe asking the tough questions that keep them from going deeper.”

RVA-montageRob, a Richmond native, met Christ three years ago. “I believed in God – maybe,” he says. “Even if I had wanted to have a relationship with Him, I wouldn’t have known how.”

Struggling to find his identity in Nashville, Tenn., where he was pursuing a career as a songwriter, Rob accepted an invitation to Kairos, a 1,500-member young adult ministry based out of Brentwood Baptist Church. Describing his favorite seat as “the back wall – not even the back pew,” Rob claims that on his tenth visit, the truth from the pulpit and the overwhelming love of the congregation finally moved him to accept Christ. His romance with Katie and a move to Richmond soon followed, and they have dedicated their first years of marriage to establishing the same type of welcoming, worshipful environment that opened his own heart to the love of God.

Their ministry began when Rob met Dave Allam, a Christian with a shared dream for Richmond’s young adults. Allam’s ministry, RichmondOne, was in its infancy when the Courains came aboard. The program evolved into RVA United, and its leaders went searching for a home church.

“For every reason you could imagine, we heard a lot of ‘no’,” Rob says. “But everything changed when Katie sat down with Lynn [Lynn Turner, FBC’s Senior Associate Pastor]. Before Katie could even ask, Lynn smiled and said, ‘Why don’t you do it here?’ That very week she invited us to a prayer meeting, and twenty or thirty people I had never seen were hugging me and praying for our vision. I’ll never forget that. First Baptist is such a special place.” A short time later, RVA United held its first worship service in the sanctuary at Monument Avenue and the Boulevard.

Every two weeks, the Courains mobilize a small band of volunteers and professionals to make the Tuesday night service a success. The stage is built, the lights are placed, the screens and projectors are hung and focused, the sound is checked, and the food trucks are booked – all before anyone arrives.

Then the greeters, musicians, teachers, prayer leaders, and counselors go to work. A rotation of guest speakers fills the pulpit, already calling upon ministers from the Commonwealth Chapel, Bless Richmond, New Life UMC, and Movement Church. “We are passionate about getting people plugged into church,” says Katie, when asked about the decision to invite guests to deliver the message. “That’s the ‘united’ part of our name – a union of churches that serves one Lord.” The Courains extend invitations to church partners across the city and surrounding counties to both announce their events and welcome young adults into their own congregations.

The Courains’ vision for RVA United is packed pews, a rich and diverse network of church and community partnerships, faithful small groups meeting across the city, impactful service projects, destroyed addictions, restored relationships, and most of all, thousands of hearts turned toward Jesus Christ. “We need help,” admits Rob. “It’s a big vision, and it’s big work.”

RVA United is seeking Christians who can serve as mentors and counselors during and beyond the worship services. “Don’t think that you have to be under forty to come on Tuesday night. We very much want and need mature Christians – of all ages – to counsel, mentor and pray with this congregation. If your gifts lie more behind the scenes, there are plenty of opportunities there, as well: equipment set up and tear down, audio, video, light mixing, child care, hospitality, and many others.”

“Our dream is big, but so is our God,” Katie says.

If you are interested in helping RVA United, please contact Rob Courain, (804) 356-6337.

Editor’s note: RVA United meets for worship every other week, beginning September 10, 2013, at 7 p.m., in FBC’s sanctuary.

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