Last week I traveled to Providence, Rhode Island in order to retrieve a stone from the First Baptist Church in America, first gathered by Roger Williams in 1638. We will take this cobblestone–about the size of a baseball—and lodge it into our new building’s date stone. As far as I’m concerned, this stone is as alien and revelatory as that bit of moon stone lodged into the Space Window at the National Cathedral, except our stone shouts for liberty of conscience and freedom from the tyranny of governments or religions.
Last month my dear friend, Rabbi Zemel, presented me with a stone from the Sea of Galilee, brought back from Israel by the generosity of his daughter’s in-laws. It is a large stone that resembles in color a piece of toast. This stone too will be inserted in the new church building at the threshold of our sanctuary, a reminder of the incarnated particularity of the Gospel, fashioned from the yearnings for justice and mercy of a people occupied and oppressed by Rome in the First Century.
We will take some of the existing stone of the current edifice and use it in our new church, thus linking us to the generations who assembled here for worship and for the declaration of those historic Baptist values so valiantly and brilliantly articulated by Roger Williams. Since Fifth Baptist Church became Riverside Baptist Church in 1967, this church has been a “civil rights” church, a people dedicated to racial reconciliation and justice, gender equality and justice, LGBT equality and justice and the enduring belief that loving God and one’s neighbor is the sum of the Law. These stones we bring with us will link us to the past and hopefully remind us of who we are to become in the years and even decades ahead.
In a month, we will vacate this building, and beginning October the first Sunday, we will worship at Jefferson Academy Middle School, same hour (10 a.m.) and same corner. We will leave this building we love and cherish but we will not vacate the principles and values upon which it is founded. We bring these values with us. We carry them into the future. Deliberately, methodically and with our eyes on the prize, we go forward, throwing away stones only to gather them together again in an effort to proclaim the love and justice of God in this place.
~See you Sunday