Posts Tagged ‘service’

Story by Beth Bayless. Photos by Janet Chase, Alex Hamp and Marathon Foto.

Not everyone at First Baptist Church knows Tom Visotsky but we all should. He is the person who ensures the bills are paid, that we stay within budget, and that FBC continues its many programs in a fiscally wise manner.

Perseverence and ServiceTom knew from high school days in New Jersey he wanted a career in business. He attended American University where he had an academic scholarship. He chose American both for its academic program and its track and field program. Tom ran track in high school, setting a state record for the half-mile in a four-man relay.

At American, he started out in economics but soon decided to become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). He was so determined to reach that goal that during his last semester at American, he took a full course load while studying for his CPA exam—which he passed shortly before graduating.

After working in Washington, D.C. for three years, Tom moved to Richmond where he has lived ever since. Eventually Tom struck off on his own to start a staffing company that provided financial professionals to businesses. Ultimately, the company had 15 full-time employees and up to eighty temporaries providing services to businesses in the community. Later, Tom merged his business with a publicly traded staffing firm that provided similar services throughout the U.S.

When Tom first retired, his wife was still working. Not ready to stay at home, he came to FBC in 2014 as interim business manager. Apparently he enjoyed the job and the people; when the position of finance/business manager was posted, he applied and was hired.

Tom has always served his community. He is active in his church where he served on the vestry. He is a past president of the Virginia Society of Certified Public Accountants, which has a membership of more than 10,000. He takes pride in the fact he was the first CPA from the business area to hold this office.

Perseverence and ServiceRunning is Tom’s avocation. Over ten years ago, he embarked on a drive to support the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and raised more than $10,000 on their behalf through running a half marathon in Virginia Beach and two full marathons. His first marathon was in Rome, Italy. He says he remembers the cobblestones, the crowds and some of the historic sites before he hit the wall of fatigue marathon runners often face. He persevered and finished the race. His second of ten marathons was at Disney World.

Perseverence and ServiceWhile there is nothing like finishing that first marathon, Tom says several other races also stand out in his memory. In 2015, he was selected to run the Dash for Cash in the Monument Avenue 10K. He had a number of sponsors who pledged support and was able to donate both the $2500 prize for winning as well as those pledges for a total of more than $20,000 to the Massey Cancer Center. Two other races also stand out in Tom’s memory. In 2013, he completed the Boston Marathon just 19 minutes before the tragic bombing attack. The next year Tom again ran the Boston Marathon; this time in memory of those who had been killed or injured.

Has Tom stopped running? No indeed. Perseverance as well as service is characteristic of Tom. He plans to compete in several half and full marathons by the end of 2017 including races in Hampton, Richmond, Myrtle Beach, and New York City.

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Story by Toni Myers. Photos by Susan Brown.

Let the sisters pray on.Women on Mission at Richmond’s First Baptist Church had its beginning in 1813. In the spring of that year the Female Missionary Society was organized to support in prayer the Baptist missionaries newly sent to India and Burma. At that time many members of FBC (then known as Richmond Baptist Church) opposed organizations of any nature so they appealed to Elder Courtney, pastor from 1788 to 1824, to forbid this innovation of a women’s prayer meeting. He settled the matter very simply by saying, “I never heard of praying doing anybody any harm. For my part, the sisters may pray on.”

Since then the women added Mission Involvement and Missions Education as part of their agenda, and the name evolved to Women on Mission (W/M).

Let the sisters pray on.When women are aware of needs, they respond. And when they faithfully pray for missionaries, souls are saved here in America and around the world. Martha Grace Washington commented, “I’m a member of the Book Club (one of seven small groups that meet monthly), and through our reading we learn so much about the men and women who faithfully serve as missionaries at home and around the world.”

Let the sisters pray on.Jeanne Hechler is involved in missions in our city: “I am happy to participate in Women on Mission and glad that we have an opportunity to serve our Richmond missionaries.” Included in that service is preparing and serving meals to the homeless at the Oregon Hill Baptist Center, purchasing children’s jeans to donate to the Christmas Store for needy families at the South Richmond Center, and preparing and hosting lunch for students at the Baptist Collegiate Ministry at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Other mission projects focus on building relationships. Beverley Beer says, “One of the things I like most about being part of W/M is the opportunity of visiting our homebound people. Let the sisters pray on.It is enriching for me to hear their stories and experiences, as well as letting them know how much we appreciate them. A lot of times we will pray together at the end of our visit. It really grows into a nice friendship.”

While there are multiple ministry opportunities each month, there are also personal blessings. Martha Grace mentions caring for one another: “Every year we plan two socials for fun and fellowship together and at every meeting we dedicate a time for supporting each other in prayer.”

Ginny Samuel shares some of the personal benefits she has experienced: “Growing up at First Baptist Church I was a GA (formerly Girls Auxiliary, now Girls in Action), YWA (Young Women’s Auxiliary), and a YWA leader. I hope as part of W/M I can serve, pray, and share God’s love as He leads me to do. And I love getting to be with Christian ladies of all ages and having the opportunity to learn from them, and to form lasting friendships with them. I am inspired to be a better person because of the examples they set for me.”

Editor’s note: FBC W/M has seven groups that meet monthly – three on Tuesday and others on Wednesday night, Friday noon, and Saturday afternoon. For more information contact Mary Palmer (804-794-2620) or Toni Myers (804-358-9090).

Let the sisters pray on.Toni Alexander Myers grew up in Mississippi and is a graduate of Mississippi College where she met her  husband, Lewis. The Myers felt God’s call to serve as missionaries to Vietnamese people and have served Vietnamese in Vietnam, Cambodia, and the U. S.  A First Baptist member since 1977, her main ministries have been in Women on Mission, the Church Choir, and Mustard Seed Bible Class.

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Story by Allen Brown. Photos by Allen Cumbia, Win Grant and Allison Maxwell.

Easy to Follow His CallOn February 12, 2015 Becky Payne completed 25 years of extraordinary ministry as a member of the staff at Richmond’s First Baptist Church. During that time she has served as organist, soloist, children’s choir coordinator, accompanist for choirs, ensembles and soloists, advisor for senior adults, handbell choir director and ringer, and organizer and director of the JoySingers and the Youth Girls’ Ensemble. Becky has taken additional responsibility for many mission trips and choir tours and for a long-running Bible class for FBC members who live at Lakewood Manor.

In a recent interview Becky shared about her ministry at FBC.

Leaving First Baptist Church, Jackson, Mississippi, a place where you served happily and successfully for 11 years, was a major step for you, personally and professionally.

Yes, but for me the call of God was to “go.” I saw it not as a “leaving” but a “going.” Believing fully in God’s faithfulness, I found it easy to follow His call.

What are some memories of those early years at First Baptist?

becky-friends_350pxThe surprise of renovation. I had left a church which had just finished a major renovation, then learned that we were to do the same here. The renovation process causes big adjustments for an organist and accompanist. Also, I remember that it took time to balance staff responsibilities, each finding our niche and then finding ways to support each other.

Then there was the surprise of process, finding that the pace of most everything was much slower, especially in church life. In my previous church, things happened quickly and, other than scheduling, without needing the approval of deacons or committees.

Other vivid memories include the illness and subsequent death of our senior pastor’s son. The love and support shown to their family by FBC people told me so much about my new church home. (Dr. James Flamming was pastor from 1983 to 2006. His son Dave died in 1991, a year after Becky’s arrival.)

In your many roles since you arrived, what have been the most meaningful personal and spiritual parts of your ministry?
Worship and relationships. When I am using music to help people feel the presence of God, it is fulfilling. When the people sing “Worthy of Worship” or “Amazing Grace,” for instance, these become holy moments for the church family. But it is not about me—God is using my hands and feet and talents to glorify Him—to point people toward Him.

Personal relationships have been so important, especially walking through difficult times with someone. One of my spiritual gifts is discernment. I can feel the pain and share in the difficult but special process of walking with them.

Tell us some warm memories or “aha” moments.
becky-directing_350pxThere are at least three music moments that are special. One is our congregational singing of “The Lord’s Prayer” after communion. Another is when we sing “Silent Night” on Christmas Eve. Those two moments make me fully aware of what it means to be a part of the body of Christ and the power we share in that relationship.

The third is when the Youth Girls’ Ensemble sang “Blessings.” The phrase “what if the trials of this life are blessings in disguise…” When I selected music for the Ensemble, I looked for text more than melody. As they practiced, they sang the words over and over. For this piece they internalized a great truth: If we let Him, God uses what happens in our lives for good. I was glad to be part of their learning this lesson.

One memorable personal event occurred after I had been here about 10 years. I was driving home from a conference and realized for the first time that I felt I was coming home. This was my place and still is.

How do you feel about your work with seniors?
When I was new to Richmond, I met the Wendy Bunch (a small group of couples who met on Sunday nights after church, first at Wendy’s, then in homes) – the Seldens, the Dixons, the Shearons, the Harringtons, the Lucys, the Elmores, and others. They embraced me with such love and care that I knew I was in the right place.

As my work with seniors grew and became a significant part of my ministry, I found my life enriched on every level. We have studied together, laughed and played together, prayed together, grieved and celebrated together. Our senior adults are the heart of this church. I love them.

You’ve gone on several mission trips. How have they changed you?
beckywithchild_350pxI was a Sunbeam and a GA (Baptist missions organizations for children), and I had a missions-minded mother, so of course I’ve always had a desire to see God’s world and His people. But nothing could have prepared me for what I experienced in Germany and Indonesia.

In Essen, Germany, I learned what it felt like to be considered part of a cult (how many Germans view Baptists). That sense of separation was overcome as I watched a young girl weeping when she sang “Fairest Lord Jesus” in German while some of us sang in English. I realized anew that God is everywhere and that we serve the same God. And I have lasting friendships with members of our host church there.

The two trips to Indonesia were medical missions. It was a life-changing experience to be among people who had lived through a tsunami, who had never seen a doctor or white people. Many of them walked for hours to wait all day, hoping to be treated. Yet there were always more than we could possibly see each day.

Despite that disappointment, blessings abounded. Indonesia is a place where I should have been afraid, but I wasn’t. I witnessed a miracle as our group prayed for a girl who was obviously demon-possessed, and we saw her healed. Also, relationships among team members were deepened. We became more accessible and more important to each other as we recognized a new meaning in being brothers and sisters in Christ.

You are truly ministering to us through your exceptional instrumental and vocal skills. Tell us your feelings about this.
My calling is to teach others about the love of God through Christ Jesus. Music is the means, not the end. My abilities are God’s gift to me and He has been generous. I believe the greatest ability is availability—to be willing to use what God has given me to point others toward Him.

Editor’s note:
Becky’s last day as FBC’s organist will be June 28. She will retire on June 30, 2015.
View a video about Becky produced by Sean Cook and Allen Cumbia.

Allen BrownAllen Brown was Minister of Music in Baptist churches in North Carolina and Virginia, before becoming Director, Department of Church Music, at the Virginia Baptist General Board, from 1962 until his retirement in 1993. He has served the Music Ministry of Richmond’s First Baptist in many ways, including as a member of the search team that brought Becky Payne to FBC. He has been on Partnership Mission trips to Brazil, Germany, Slovakia and India. Allen and his wife, Charlotte, have two sons, four grandchildren, and two great grandchildren.

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Story by Susan Beach. Photos by Susan Brown and Mary Palmer.

When you say “Christmas,” members of Richmond’s First Baptist Church think of many things – hoping no one will drop a wreath during Hanging of the Green, humming along at the choir concerts, making gingerbread houses and eating the remnants, wondering who will be Baby Jesus in the Youth Christmas Pageant. We have much to enjoy and many opportunities to celebrate.

But wait; there is more – a lot more that we enjoy and celebrate outside FBC.

  • Women on Mission serve a holiday breakfast to the homeless at Oregon Hill Baptist Center and provide toys and clothes for the Christmas Store at South Richmond Baptist Center.
  • One Accord presents a concert at Bruton Parish in Williamsburg.
  • Staff wrap and deliver gifts to the teachers and students of Glen Lea Elementary and Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal schools.
  • A gift from former member Ralph Anderson provides a special Christmas breakfast to the homeless.
  • The church family gives holiday parties for international students, for residents of Essex Village, and for members of Grace Fellowship.
  • Members of women’s mission groups prepare Christmas food bags for the homeless in South Richmond.

And there’s still more. There’s all you do! Use the Comment box below to share what you do or what you’ve seen others do to take Christmas outside the doors of FBC and bring the celebration to Richmond.


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By Jane Powell. Photographs by Paul Bickford.

Al Astle

“Please use me.” These are the words of Al Astle, an active and vital member of Richmond’s First Baptist Church who celebrated his 95th birthday on August 30, 2011.

Al is a Sunday morning balcony usher, a volunteer for the Community Missions Shower Ministry, and a volunteer at Henrico Doctors Hospital, Forest Campus. In July, Al achieved 7100 hours of volunteer service in the endoscopy unit, transferring patients and making them comfortable. In 2006, he was the recipient of the hospital’s Humanitarian of the Year award.

Al has a heart for service, and for doing God’s work. Having had a distinguished career as a professional percussionist in symphonies from New York to Oklahoma, he had an equally distinguished managerial career in instrument sales. Al spent ten years driving a YMCA bus after his retirement, transporting children to after-school programs.

Al could relate many stories about the people he has helped over the years, but one story in particular is very close to his heart. It involves a dying woman he knew in only the briefest passing, from the building in which they both lived. Al felt the strong urging of the Holy Spirit to minister to this woman in her hospital room. Her capacity to respond to him was severely diminished, but she let him know that she understood. He recited the Lord’s Prayer and read Isaiah 26:3-4, verses suggested by his minister son. Those comforting words about the constancy of the Lord were among the last she ever heard, as she died only a short time after Al’s visit.

Pastor Emeritus Jim Flamming spoke during the “A Life in Ministry” Wednesday evening session in the church’s Dining Hall July 6. He urged the assembled group of retirees and near-retirees to reorder their lives for the Lord’s service when they have finished their careers. Perhaps he had Al in mind, along with some others among the membership who continue to serve the Lord into their eighties and nineties. Dr. Flamming knows, as does Al, that a post-retirement life of meaningful service can be a great and enriching reward and a wonderful way to draw nearer to the Savior.

Al says: “Take one day at a time, and leave it in the Lord’s hands.” From a man who has lived 95 years, including many years of continuing and faithful service, this is good advice.

Jane Powell has been a member of FBC since 2005 and is a member of Journey Bible study class. She has sung in the church choir and volunteered for community mission work, but her current focus is on lobbying the state and federal legislatures to protect the rights and safety of the severely intellectually disabled of Virginia. She has testified publicly, met with members of state government and the U. S. Department of Justice, and penned several letters published by the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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By Susan Beach.

If your spiritual life is a bit dry, or even non-existent, this Lenten season might be the time to try some of the ancient spiritual disciplines. There are a variety of disciplines because each of us is different, and because at various times, each of us is in a different place. Perhaps one will be just what brings new life to your spiritual journey. Because new life is what Lent leads to.

Each week, beginning on Ash Wednesday, one discipline is introduced. Try each one, even if it’s not familiar – allow God to connect with you in a new way. Adjust it as needed – remember that it is a tool. The point is to grow closer to God. If it doesn’t work for you, change it until it does. For each discipline there is a practical example of how to live out what you’ve learned in your journey with God. Try it or one of your own creation. At the end of each section is a resource for you to use if you are interested in learning more.

Beginning Wednesday, March 9, Ash Wednesday
He went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. (
Matthew 14:23, NIV)

Silence, solitude, and listening to God have worked together as part of Christian practice since the third century when the desert fathers and mothers chose lives distinctly separate.

Pick a verse that is meaningful to you, find a place where you will be undisturbed, quiet yourself by breathing slowly, say the verse to yourself several times, then quietly allow God’s presence into your space. When you are distracted, repeat the verse and again quietly await God’s presence.

Live it out: You may want to share with someone or write in a journal what you experienced. You may also draw, dance, or give a gift to someone as your response to God’s presence.

Resource:  www.centeringprayer.com/centering_prayer

Beginning Wednesday, March 16
When you fast, do not look somber. (
Matthew 6:16a, NIV)

For Christians, fasting has a long tradition from the Old Testament patriarchs to New Testament examples. While some churches have an established time and type of fasting, the discipline can be practiced in private by anyone at any time as a personal commitment. In a fast, the believer chooses to do without something that is hard to give up, something that might be interfering with getting closer to God.

Often we think of fasting from food. If you choose this kind of fast, you can give up one meal a day, or eat smaller portions, or give up a specific food. You can fast from reading the newspaper, knitting, serving on committees – anything done so much that it takes away from time with God, that interferes with your hearing Him speak to you.

Live it out: Allow a food fast to remind you of those who are hungry not by choice. Bring a bag of groceries to FBC’s Food Pantry. Let other fasts prompt appropriate responses; if you can’t think of one, ask a friend for suggestions.

Resource: Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster

Beginning Wednesday, March 23
The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you. (
Deuteronomy 31:8a, NIV)

A prayer labyrinth is a tool for meditation, prayer and connecting with God. Unlike a maze there is only one path to the center; there are no dead ends. The point is to help you focus on your spiritual journey.

It is a physical experience, so pay attention to your pace, what you hear and see, who you encounter. You can pray for a special concern, meditate on a scripture passage, listen to what God is saying to you. You can stop at any point or spend time in the center.

Live it out: Use the labyrinth at 3351 Loxley Road in the Sherwood Park neighborhood of Richmond. Or use the link below to a finger labyrinth that you can print and use anywhere.

Resource: http://zdi1.zd-cms.com/cms/res/files/382/ChartresLabyrinth.pdf

Beginning Wednesday, March 30
The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve. (
Matthew 20:28a, NIV)

Sometimes the walk out from the center of a labyrinth becomes a journey to service. God is at all times calling us to serve Him by serving others. From the Old Testament’s question of “what do I require of you” to Jesus’ taking up the towel and bowl of water, we know He intends for us to show who He is by how we behave towards others.

Service is part of every believer’s life; it is not just for those who commit their entire lives to service in His name. Find direction from Brother Lawrence: “We must not grow weary of doing little things for the love of God, who looks not on the great size of the work, but on the love in it.”

Live it out: Find time today to do some little thing for someone you don’t know. Tomorrow do something for which you get no recognition. As you approach your regular work this week (whether it is doing the laundry or writing an important paper), do it as an offering to God.

Resource: The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence

Beginning Wednesday, April 6
O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you … On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night. (
Psalm 63:1a, 6, NIV)

The divine offices are the practice of praying specific prayers at specific hours of the day.

Before you get out of bed, begin the day by praising God for who He is in your life – creator, shepherd, parent, teacher, champion, protector, healer…

In the middle of the afternoon, before the concerns of home take over, pray for those you work with or those who serve your meals, fix your car, deliver your mail.

As you get into bed, reflect on the day and thank God for His protection throughout and for how He used you to do His work.

Live it out: Perhaps a thank-you is in order for one of those you’ve prayed for during the afternoon. But before you express that, make a list of all the things you are grateful for about this person. Think of small and specific things, so that when you say thank you, it is received as genuine.

Resource: A Diary of Private Prayer by John Baillie

Beginning Wednesday, April 13
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. (
Exodus 20: 8, NIV)

The creation story begins with the keeping of the Sabbath. God kept it and expected His created beings to keep it. His intention was to give us a day of rest and restoration; part of that rest and restoration comes from knowing who He is. For Christians, the Sabbath is also a time of celebration of Jesus’ resurrection, of the life that is to come.

Plan how to turn this Sunday into a time of keeping the Sabbath. It’s not about rules that keep you from doing things. It is about setting aside this day, making it different from the rest of the week, so that you start the next week refreshed spiritually, mentally and physically. Begin by acknowledging who God is through worship. If you don’t always have time for a relaxed family meal, make Sunday dinner special – something everyone likes, with enough time to enjoy each mouthful, and hear from everyone present. Or plan a meal for a friend, keeping it simple and allowing for a relaxed time to catch up. If you’re inside at a desk most days, make time for a walk outside. Include time for rest. If reading or listening to music is a rare treat, include that in the day. End the Sabbath with scripture – something like Psalm 98 to celebrate the day God has given you.

Live it out: Commit to making one Sunday a month a true Sabbath for you and all your household.

Resource: http://www.jewfaq.org/shabbat.htm

Holy Week, April 17-24

Sunday, April 17, Palm Sunday

Meditate on Luke 19:28-44 several times today. Imagine the scene – the sights, smells, sounds. Watch Jesus as He weeps over Jerusalem; listen to His words. Now imagine He turns to you and says “Have you found peace?”

Wednesday, April 20

A contemplative service led by Robert Dilday.

Thursday, April 21, Maundy Thursday

Walk through your neighborhood today or through the halls where you work. Pray for everyone you see, for those you know and those you don’t know.

Friday, April 22, Good Friday

Spend your lunch break in the quiet of the sanctuary at Tabernacle Baptist Church, 1925 Grove Avenue, at noon. Remember that “From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land.” (Matthew 27:45, NIV)

Saturday, April 23, Holy Saturday

Set spiritual goals for yourself: Choose one of the disciplines that worked best for you during Lent and one that was a challenge. Commit to doing the former one once a month and the latter once a year.

Sunday, April 24, Easter

As you plan your Easter Sunday, include whatever will make it a true Sabbath celebration.


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