Our church building at 7th and Maine Ave., a sanctuary that has served us and our community since 1968, will begin to be razed this week. As one might expect, there are mixed emotions with regard to this moment.
Sadness for seeing it forever gone. Elation that we have secured our financial future for another generation. Excitement that we will have a 21st century building (of similar size) built on the same corner. Grief for giving up the sacred space we have cherished. To have ambivalent feelings about this is quite human and expected.
We are reminded in such a moment of the impermanence of the world. Riverside Baptist Church was built after the razing of Fifth Baptist Church in the first urban renewal project in the country here in South West. Fifth Baptist traversed the 19th and 20th centuries. Riverside will have traversed the 20th and 21st centuries. Think of that—we have been here longer than most of the community partners who share our quadrant. Before airplanes flew. Before the atom bomb. Before the interstate highway system. Before the microwave and cell phones. The congregants of these churches have seen Presidents since James Buchanan, fought in and survived wars dating from the Civil War, bore witness to the Civil Rights Movement, the Feminist Movement and assorted other human rights actions to include Gay persons, protect the elderly from the scourge of abandonment by securing Social Security, and including disabled persons in the mainstream of civil discourse and opportunity. This congregation has lived in a few different “skins” or buildings and now has once again responded to its ecosystem and boldly taken steps to insure that yet another generation can step into a sacred sanctuary of peace.
We say farewell to a building but we take with us our history, our collective memories and our passion for speaking the Gospel with power and truth. For all those who made this building possible, we are grateful. Now, as we turn to the future, we say our thanks to those presently who have secured our church for another fifty or one hundred years. We are still worshipping (at Jefferson Middle School) on Sundays at 10 a.m. This coming Martin Luther King Sunday, we will welcome thirty groups to whom we will gift with a grant of money. Thirty grants totaling 100,000 dollars. Before we spend a dime of our endowment, before we invest it, we are giving this money to American heroes who heal and repair our world. I hope to see you Sunday the 15th. It will be a powerful day, celebrating the legacy of Dr. King, empowering those who stand up for the marginal, and vibrantly carrying on the mission and ministry of this church we love.
~See you Sunday
This is our first year (and hopefully only one of two) in our interim journey. We worship in a middle school, for which we are grateful. Trust me, other institutions in SW would not have us, apparently dismayed that we’re a religious organization. But the DC Public School system allowed us to lease a space and for that, we are indeed thankful. But as you might imagine, the school system does not open buildings on Christmas Day or New Year’s Day, both of which fall on a Sunday this year. So what you need to know: there will be no services on Christmas Sunday or New Years Sunday. Enjoy your family, worship where you’d like and then be sure to return on Sunday, January 8th!
This Sunday our choir presents their Christmas music. Surely one of the favorite scenes in the birth narratives is Luke’s presentation of angels singing and offering good news to shepherds tending their flocks in the fields. In the night of Roman oppression, they received news of a light that the darkness cannot overcome. So what you need to know: the Choir will bring you angelic news on Sunday Dec 18th at 10 a.m. Given the gloom enveloping our nation, you might find this a very good moment to reprise the role of the shepherds.
Martin Luther King Sunday is January 15th and this happens to be the Sunday prior to the inauguration of the President-elect. On that day, we will worship in truth and power, not only recalling the Dreamer’s legacy but dispensing grants totaling $100,000 to organizations that repair and heal our world. Groups like the Malala Fund, the Equal Justice Initiative, the Evangelical Environmental Network, local schools in SW, food banks, an LGBT shelter and civil rights groups and the list goes on. We are doing this as a sign of hope in darkness. We are doing this to declare that the marginal should not be oppressed or made to suffer more than they already do. We do it because we have been blessed and to whom much is given, much is required. So what you need to know: there is a candle of justice and peace burning in our world and the darkness will not overcome it. A blessed and Merry Christmas to all of you!
~See you Sunday
Pastor Bledsoe will preach on Sunday, November 13th a sermon entitled, “The Foundations Shook,” based upon the scripture of Isaiah 6:1-8 when the prophet, confronted by the death of his king and an apparent darkness and foreboding faced by the people, was surprisingly confronted with the reality of God. An excerpt from tomorrow’s sermon: ”You and I are about to step off into a Machiavellian period that would make Orwellian politicians blush.” What is to be our response?
Do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together, the writer of Hebrews wrote. Come to worship, embrace one another and let us find a response worthy of God’s people for this time in which we live. Remember, we worship now in our interim space at Jefferson Middle School Academy on Seventh Street, directly across from our church building. ~See you Sunday
“I am an ally. I will stand for your right to be who you are. I am safe.” Join me in wearing a safety pin to declare to others at risk that we stand with them in these perilous times.
You could stay home Sunday and watch another round of talking heads. But at this point, why would you?
You could go online and check polls at various news outlets and ideological outposts and forget coming to church for an hour to sing, pray and hear scripture read and expounded upon. But at this point, why would you do that?
Our souls need respite from the turmoil of the world and especially we need access to light, unfettered grace and love, the truth of God-in-Christ, reconciling the world.
Saturday night, turn your clock back one hour and then Sunday morning, bring your soul to worship. You got a soul–don’t give it to the politicos this Sunday. Bring it to Christ for restoration, redemption, renewal and empowerment. In the Name of God, peace to you and all whom you love. ~ See you Sunday!
Near the Zen garden at Bons Secour Center. photo by Pastor Michael Bledsoe.
Last Saturday we had a one-day church retreat at a beautiful center in Maryland called Bons Secour. Since seminary days, I have been blessed to have found my way into the streams of contemplative Christianity provided by our Catholic brothers and sisters. And Bons Secour did not disappoint–they have created a treasure of a contemplative space.
Our facilitator, Rev. Paul Clark, was also fantastic. He is measured, wise, and insightful. Paul designed the interactive part of our retreat and drew us into thoughtful process about our transitions in life, particularly our transition in this interim journey as a church. Of course, as he said to me, he was blessed to work with such loving Christians.
On my own, during my individual contemplation, I discovered several places of solitude and beauty that registered cadences and notes of peace and quiet. The picture of the stone steps was at the bottom of a circle of a Zen garden out in the woods. Its message to me is clear anyway: in order to ascend, we need to retreat at times. Finding a way to do that annually or every season is important but here is the lesson from Catholic contemplation: the hours of the day offer us moments to retreat; the phases of the day from dawn to noon to dusk, provide us an opportunity to step aside and center, breathing deep and through prayerful mindfulness, achieve a peace and calm that empowers us forward into our life and the world around us. Retreat, ascend. ~See you Sunday