As you read these words I am beginning my seventh year as Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church. Seven is a biblical symbol for Sabbath, completion, release, rest. It occurred to me that for many of us “church” is a task or a project, and out primary feelings about it are feelings of obligation, duty and (sometimes) worry. I want to remind us that God is good. And I, for one, am glad that God has brought us this far together. I remind myself that First Baptist Church had already reflected the light of Christ in this community and around the world for 151 years before I showed up here, and for almost a century before even our longest tenured members came aboard. This is an outpost of the Church of Jesus Christ, “and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). And I pray that in the coming year our prevailing feelings about our church will be feelings of joy and gratitude. “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’” (Psalm 122:1).
The Church will endure; this is God’s promise. But will we flourish? I don’t need to belabor that we are in a generational shift. It is obvious as God calls faithful servants out from among us to be in his direct and everlasting presence. Among those so called in 2012 were two stalwart, faithful and multitalented servants of Jesus Christ and laborers of in this congregation: Sharon Rich and Charlotte Shepherd. “‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘they will rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them’” (Revelation 14:13). And some of us lay down some of our burdens in the hope that others would lift them up and continue forward. This process is natural, and will continue until the end of the age. At the same time, we are seeing a number of younger worshippers in our midst. On our “Family Christmas Day,” I counted six infants and toddlers in attendance with their parents. The challenge for us is to be faithful to God and to our historic understandings of our faith and our congregational life, while at the same time examining our protocols and procedures to see what furthers the work and what hinders.
We made a start toward this “visioning” in 2012, with three lively town hall meetings, but I am still not sure if the will and the workers are available to see the hard detail work through. Yet we can’t just expect new generations to come on board with the same faithfulness that has characterized FBC’s history without giving them a genuine voice in its future and doing hard listening to them and to one another. Also, I am still troubled by the relative lack of entry points and affinity groups in our congregation for younger adult participants and would-be members. “Come, Holy Spirit!”
In the midst of changes and challenges, we give thanks to God for the continuing faithfulness of our pastoral and professional staff and our many volunteer leaders. May God bless our pastors, Rev. Peter Im, Rev. Ed Stelle and Pastor Rick Francis. May God bless our music director, Travis Hatton and the musicians, both professional and volunteer, who have birthed new and creative elements in our worship life this year. May God bless our business manager, Cathy Francis, and her skilled support staff. May God bless our facilities manager, Keith Ponce, who “manages the traffic” generated by the myriad users of our historic buildings. Thank you all for the harmony and good will you have displayed this year. And may God bless our diaconate and the many, many volunteer leaders who are the hands and feet and voices and brains and hearts of FBC.
May God bless the ministry partners who share our downtown facilities and exercise their own gifted ministries that expand Christ’s presence and power in this spiritually (and often physically) hungry city. Dinner & a Movie, F.O.C.U.S., Shared Housing, Solid Rock Church and Transitional Youth continue to make Christ’s love visible and tangible to their respective constituencies. The Eye-Openers A.A. meeting continues to (literally) open our main building seven days a week and off er hope to its participants. “Now you are[collectively] the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27).
As servants of Christ, we are all in the work together! And he has promised that he will be with us always (Matthew 28:20)! So in accordance with this promise may “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you” (2 Corinthians 13:13), today, tomorrow and going forward.
–Dr. David L. Wheeler