Tag Archives: inclusive baptist church

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Why I March in PRIDE–A Pastor’s Perspective

“Hope will never be silent.”

Harvey Milk

Over my twenty-five year ministry at Riverside, I have marched in at least a dozen PRIDE parades. I cannot march today but tomorrow I will be preaching on the topic, PROUD. I hope you will join us in worship.  What follows is a post I wrote last year.  Happy PRIDE, everyone. ~PSTR

 I have been marching in the PRIDE parade for a while now, since the mid or late 90s. I cannot remember the first march but I do recall that it wasn’t that big. Now the Washington DC Capitol PRIDE march is gigantic.  I don’t march because I’m Gay, I march because justice matters and human rights matter and sexual orientation should not be condemned any more than left-handed freckled people should be condemned.

I march in PRIDE because the Church has not only been silent through the centuries but it has been complicit in the deaths, torture and slow annihilation of GLBT human beings.  I march for the same reason I go to the Holocaust Museum each April and read names during the Days of Remembrance:  because Christians have some great atoning work to do for the sins they’ve committed in the name of the Savior.

Over two decades as a pastor, I’ve talked in my office to persons bearing the crushing weight of their family’s hatred; written letters and emails of support to individuals who desperately longed to serve God in a church that would authentically welcome them; I have buried persons abandoned by their families. I prayed at the Capitol with a colleague when Matthew Shepard was murdered…  I march because these scars do not go away any more than the scars were erased from the crucified Christ.  I march in PRIDE simply to humbly say, “I hear you.”  Not, “I know your pain,”  because I do not.  I can only imagine it. But I hear you and I’m willing to stand by you on a day when you declare to the world that you are not only out but you are, like Walt Whitman, willing to sing a song to yourself, love yourself and celebrate your humanity.

I also march for hope and joy.  I fondly remember when a group of us attended a showing of the film, MILK.  What an exciting moment to be together!  I have performed more “gay marriages” than straight marriages in the last three years.  I do not see LGBT persons threatening the institution of marriage but they are saving it by taking monogamous, loyal love seriously.  I have blessed children adopted by gay couples.  How joyful!  On this Saturday, I’ll be marching in another PRIDE parade. I am proud of you, GLBT brothers and sisters.  I hope for you, pray for you, advocate for and admire you.  I am fortunate to pastor a church that is inclusive.  Maybe some Sunday, you’ll walk into a worship service with us.  We won’t single you out as LGBT. We will simply embrace you as fully human and like all persons, as someone who bears the Image of God.

For the haters, the Christian homophobic self-righteous and those who insist on demonizing others who are different, I adjure you to repent.  Turn around from that hatred.  It only leads to hell.  To the scholars, the scribes who find a way to leverage the bible against the love of Christ, I adjure you, cease from this inhumane scholarship.   These, alas,  will pass away.  But faith, hope and love will abide.      And PRIDE.  ~See you Sunday

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Life at Riverside:::Worship as Defiance

Life at Riverside Baptist Church this week includes:

Prayer Retreat   Nearly 30 of us are signed up for a full day retreat at Bon Secouers Conference Center where we will be led in ancient ways of prayer including the Liturgy of the Hours, the Prayer of the Heart, and the Lectio Divina.  A Baptist Church bringing congregants to a Roman Catholic Retreat center and being led by a Sister of the order of Bon Secouers and an Oblate of the order of St. Benedict is a vivid illustration of our church’s commitment to ecumenical cooperation.  We value one another and we benefit by the truths and disciplines of one another.  The goal of our retreat is twofold. First, we want to create a peaceful respite from the noise of the world. Thankfully, Bon Secouers has already accomplished that. Second, we want to begin creating contemplative disciplines that will take that peace with us as we leave and benefit our faith and practice for months and years to come.

Deacon Ordination   One aspect of Baptist polity is its congregational polity. That is, we believe in the autonomy of the local church –we do not believe the gifts of the Gospel and the Church reside only in some ecclesiastical hierarchy.  So we call persons out of the congregation to serve the church. Deacons are those who serve the church by extending pastoral care to the congregation. They oversee its two ordinances, Baptism and Holy Communion.  They provide wise counsel to the pastor. Therefore they are ordained to this office, this function, by the church.  We will ordain two new deacons on Sunday, June 4th, in our morning worship. The rite of “laying on of hands” and praying for their empowerment resides with the church and each individual believer.  A simple ritual, it is nonetheless powerful in its expression of local Baptist autonomy and the priesthood of believers. Finally, we ordain women as deacons (and pastors as far as that goes), believing in the egalitarian nature of the Church.  The Deacon Board is not a boy’s club, at least it should not be.  We also ordain LGBT believers as deacons, again believing there is no discrimination at the welcoming table of Christ.  A radically free and Christ-centric church—this is who we are.

Conclusion to Study of Job  Our seminary intern from Wesley Seminary and Aspirant, Tonetta, will conclude our First Sunday Bible Study series on Job on June 4th, following worship.  Tonetta, formerly an English teacher and in her final year at Wesley, brings literary and theological insights to bear on this study.

Worship is the “work” of the church.  It is the most important thing we do.  Worship is not entertainment though one would be hard pressed to conclude otherwise when looking at the religious landscape in our consumer society.  Worship is crossing a threshold into the presence of the Holy and finding oneself in a communion with other kindred souls.  Worship is also a primal act of defiance against idolatries that currently consume our country’s energy and time—idolatries of celebrity cults of personality that includes the current occupant of the White House; idolatries of political power aimed at hobbling the poor, the disadvantaged, the elderly, women and minorities.  In worship, we may enter as persons sorted out and tagged by the larger culture’s interest, but once we enter this space and sacred time, we are transformed into equals, fellow human beings made in the image of God.  I hope you will worship with us Sunday and resist the forces of darkness. Step into the light and peace of God. ~See You Sunday

How To Begin Holy Week How to End Holy Week

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Holy Week begins this Sunday, Palm Sunday.
This is how to begin Holy Week: take one step toward Jerusalem, very carefully look for a Galilean whose face is set like flint and who holds in hand a trampled palm frond.
On Monday, be brave and ask him where he is headed.
 On Tuesday, offer him your pillow, because for three years, his head has rested on a stone each night.
 On Wednesday, do not say a word. Do not try to talk him out of where he is going.  Cry for yourself and all that is irretrievably lost in the world.  Then smell your favorite perfume or cologne and pretend you have anointed him for his burial even while he was taking bread from a leper’s hand.
 On Thursday, drink wine and rejoice in the presence of the Galilean and then look at it and think, this looks like blood.  Sing a hymn.  Worship with others if you can so you are not alone in the night, as he prays over there in the garden alone.
 On Friday.  On Friday.  On Friday.   Hammer a nail into a tree. In the evening of the Sabbath, weep because we killed the Son of God.
 Saturday, find some holy place in order to ponder how it is that humans always name holy ground after the most unholy things possible, like battle fields, cemeteries, and a hill of skulls called Calvary.
 On Sunday, when the sun dances along the edge of the horizon and birds sing doxologies worthy of Mozart, put on  fresh clothes and run to a holy place, so you can hear the news that Magdalene proclaimed first  . . . so you can hear the words that Magdalene proclaimed … so you can hear.
 Pray this all week long.  Christ have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.
In the Name of Christ let us walk now, bravely, fully, into Holy Week. I will see you on the other side of Friday.  Sunday is coming.
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25th Anniversary Sunday of Pastor Bledsoe

This Sunday, February 5th, marks 25 years since Pastor Bledsoe was selected as our pastor.  This is  a significant milestone in the life of both pastor and church.  Join us for worship as the choir and soloists sing, the pastor speaks to the occasion and following the service his new collection of sermons, Safe Harbor, will be available for ten dollars.

Riverside has had long pastorates as a rule, though the minister prior to Pastor Bledsoe was here for about three years. Prior to that, however, Robert Troutman was pastor for fourteen years.  The institutional memory, the continuity and care through generations and over the life span of an individual member are all qualities of a “novel pastorate.”  Churches sometimes go through a revolving door of staff and when this happens, it can be a test to keep folks together. We are a church obviously that prefers longevity to a revolving door.  This does not mean we are not forward-thinking though. After all, we are in the process of building a new church on our corner and steering the congregation to meet the future of new opportunities that await our community as The Wharf comes online.  We are a Christ-Centered, Multi-Cultural, Inclusive, and Ecumenical church, rooted in historic Baptist principles of soul freedom and the priesthood of each believer.  Join us this Sunday as we celebrate this significant moment in the life of our church.

~See you Sunday (at Jefferson Middle School)

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What Do These Stones Mean?

Sunday September 25th is the last service to be held in the current building.  We’ll begin worshipping in the auditorium of Jefferson Academy Middle School the first Sunday in October, the 2nd.

This process of exchanging our current configuration–a parking lot with a church building–for a new building closer to Maine Avenue and across from the Wharf–began in 2007.  I and the chairman of Trustees sat informally in my office with the previous and beloved pastor of fourteen years, Robert Troutman.  He blessed us as we began a process of questioning and pondering our future.

After many, many meetings and countless discussions and endless hoops jumped through and navigated, here we are:  we are about to exit this building and cross over into our future.  We are ready. We are brave. We are full of hope.  When Joshua, the heir apparent to Moses, took the children of Israel across the Jordan River into their land of promise, he ordered them to take twelve stones out of the river bed and make a memorial.  The scripture says, “When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’  then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark of the covenant of the Lord.”

At some juncture three years from now, we’ll step into a new church building on the same corner. We will have secured our church financially for another fifty to one hundred years if those who come after us are as prudent and careful as we have been.  I can hear a child ask what those stones mean–the stone from the First Baptist Church in America that will be placed near the date stone of the new edifice; the stone from the Sea of Galilee that Rabbi Zemel was so kind to have arranged delivery of and will be placed near the threshold of the new sanctuary. And the answer will echo through the millennia: God made a way for us to cross.  Hallelujah!  ~See you Sunday.

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Orlando: We Mourn With Our GLBT Brothers and Sisters

120px-Gay_memory_flag.svg  Pastor Bledsoe’s pastoral prayer and remarks from Sunday, June 12th:   

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It’s okay not to have the words to speak your grief.  This grief will take a very long time to pour out of our lives in torrents of tears; to trickle out in beads of sweat; to bleed from us in what has been too bloody a wicked act already.

There is plenty of blame to pin on any number of persons from politicians to preachers to radio talk show hosts and the contemptible NRA and its brood of coward politicians.  For now, until we have prayed our goodbyes and pondered what we have lost by these who have been slain, we need not assign blame. But a Day of Reckoning is coming for those who insist on fanning flames of hatred and then legislate access to assault rifles, guns and ammunition so that millions of  Americans are turned into potential lone wolf terrorists.

It’s okay to be angry.  Our anger is our wound, turned inside out. But today, this week, let us pray for these families who bear the terrible burden of loss. We will touch our wounds and weep with those who weep.

Our hearts especially break for the GLBT communities across our country and particularly in Orlando.  Saturday I had the joy of participating in the Capital PRIDE march.  Last week, I blogged about why I, a pastor, march but I did not think to include the reason that a madman, fueled by religious hatred, would gun down scores of innocents.  After an ecstatic Saturday of marching in solidarity, I awakened on Sunday to this grievous news. Dearest GLBT individuals:  we stand with you and express our profoundest sympathy as you were viciously attacked simply for being who you are.  Beautiful.  Wonderfully human. Children of God.

We will not abandon you in this time but pray for you and say again, we at Riverside are a refuge of peace for all and will not accept any religion—Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, ANY—that refuses to accept you for the gift you are.  It is incumbent upon each religion and its practitioners and spokespersons to critically engage their religious teachings and stop persecuting Gay human beings.

We in the United States are living in a country that is terrorized by its own inhabitants. We are and have been perpetually at war now for more than fifteen years.  We are polluted by violence.

We pray in the words of the ancient Church:

Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.

~See you Sunday:: Pastor Bledsoe