All posts by Michael Bledsoe

Musings on 27 years

For nearly half my life, I have pastored Riverside Baptist Church. For over half my life I have been a pastor. February 1992, I stepped into the pulpit of Riverside for the first time as your pastor. Needless to say, I have a whole lot of stories and have seen a lot. If these were collected–and I wouldn’t because of pastoral confidentiality–I would entitle that collection, “Stories of Faith and Betrayal, Hope and Loss.” That, as they say, is the human predicament. If you’re interested, I published a book about a long pastorate entitled, The Novel Pastorate. You can find it on Amazon.

In 2006, I asked the church to put together a development committee because I could see that our small, progressive Baptist church was threatened by an aging facility and no money in the bank to speak of. We were faced with potentially losing our history which stretched back to 1857. And just as importantly, we were at risk of losing our future. A dozen years later, we are sitting in a beautiful sanctuary full of light, fully accessible and paid for. We have an endowment. I am reminded of the story about Jesus healing the ten lepers and only one of them turning back to him to say thanks. I’ve said it before and I say it again: we should be praising God and thanking God for this remarkable moment in our history, not complaining about some aspect we might individually dislike. Thank you, God–every day, every Sunday and then Monday through Saturday, roll up your sleeves and work on connecting your church to this community.

I also muse about how old I’ve become in the process. This too is simply the human predicament. I’m putting a double exposure picture of me when I graduated from college and a current picture of me, below this blog post. I am an old man now. But as regards the pastorate, age can actually be a benefit since with age comes wisdom. At least we hope so! It is a sad truth that persons age physically but when they’re senior citizens some still operate with the theology of a child. As the Apostle Paul said (1 Corinthians 13), when he grew up he put away childish things. So look, it is a wonderful gift to be able to age in place in a church we love. It is a hopeful thing to be allowed to partner with God for the future so others whom we will never know or meet, find their way into this sanctuary of peace.

This Sunday, add your thank you in the midst of the people of God. Add your voice to the choir and sing in praise for how God has led us this far. Stand shoulder to shoulder with your fellow congregants and this old pastor to say to the world, we will not be moved. We continue to proclaim the Gospel and work for justice and peace.

Pastor Michael Bledsoe, 1976 graduate of Stetson University, old pastor of Riverside Baptist Church, 2018.

black history month

“The power of song in the struggle for black survival–that is what the spirituals and blues are about.” –James Cone. Join us in worship this month if for no other reason than the Church is the epicenter of struggle and response for Black survival in the apocalypse of America. Our celebration of Black History includes reading Cone’s book (it is a brief book and under $10); we will share in a soul food potluck on February 10th (bring a soul food dish to share with others); and we will hear a review of the book by Pastor Bledsoe. After lunch, we’ll head upstairs for a presentation of Spirituals directed by Lauren White. The next day, we’ll go to Blue Monday at Westminster Presbyterian (with parking available in their lot). The goal here is to engage both our minds and our spirit as we celebrate Black History–let us think deeply about the contributions of this history and then let us experience it musically and as a community through our shared food and fellowship. As well, Pastor Bledsoe will speak to this theme beginning the first Sunday of February. Join us!

Covington Catholic Boys: lessons on justice and privilege

By now most of us have seen the images of what appears to be a smirk and some male-pack bonding in service to mocking an Elder of an Native American nation. I won’t revisit all those details and if you follow me on twitter (@Riverside_Wharf) then you’ve read my take on this.

What troubles me most is the obvious ways in which the White community responds when its children are in danger of being maligned and how they are nearly tone deaf when it comes to the murders and ruination of Black children. I wrote a post in 2014 begging White Christians in Florida to speak up after the execution of Jordan Davis. I wrote, “Speak up, for Christ’s sake, for the sake of your conscience and because you know in your heart of hearts that had a black man killed your white son playing music in a car with friends, you probably would not have to be demanding he be tried because a mob of white folks would have administered mob justice.” In 2015, I wrote in regard to the “All Lives Matter” rally, “you really don’t believe all lives matter or you would have shown up and supported mothers in their grief when their children, husbands, fathers, daughters and mothers were killed by police.”

So now we see vividly, do we not? If White boys from a private school are seen and perceived as having mocked an elder and are called to count for it, the parents and community of those boys will rise in defiance and protest. Would you had exhibited a fraction of that passion in defense of Black citizens! Now we see vividly, do we not? You will stand up and demand “justice.” But just not for the Black victims of extrajudicial killings. That a Catholic school is part of this story is simply inconsequential. For had you really believed in the noble principles of your Tradition, instead of running to a PR firm to issue a doctored narrative, you would have instead urged your sons to enter the confessional and sort this out with a priest; urged some kind of discernment process; entered the dialectic of confession and forgiveness. Instead it was a press release, the Today Show and a wink from the President who only recently defiled the memory of Wounded Knee. No, what is clearly in play here is White Privilege. Perhaps we should thank you for making this so abundantly clear to us.

Church to dedicate new building

Sunday the 20th we dedicate our new church on MLK Sunday. Our previous building was built in 1967 and was to have its first service on April 7, 1968. Dr. King was assassinated on April 4 and the subsequent riots in DC postponed that first service. Now, 50 years later, on a national day of remembrance of his birth, we gather to dedicate our new church building. Terryn Nelson will be singing Patti Griffin’s MLK Song (Up to the Mountain). Dr. Michael Kinnamon will be preaching. And we will stand up! shoulder to shoulder to say The Beloved Community that gathers on the corner of 7th and Maine Ave in Washington DC is alive and vibrant and still speaking truth to power. Join us at 10 a.m. won’t you? Let us be the Beloved Community.

Sunday service cancelled

January 13th: Due to the timing of the snowstorm on Sunday morning, with heaviest accumulations expected between 9 am and noon, we are cancelling services on the 13th.  Be sure to visit our church web site where you can listen to a sermon, catch up on other information and also, if you are so inclined, make a weekly donation.  Be sure to join us next Sunday on the 20th for our Church Dedication.  For those so inclined, I know Westminster Presbyterian will be open–they have a visiting choir and their service is at 11 a.m. Stay safe and warm.

What will you bring to the manger?

Sunday the 23rd is the last Sunday of Advent, the Sunday before Christmas. Christmas Eve will be at 7:30pm with parking at Westminster Presbyterian who will be joining us for our communion and candlelight service.

I’m not sure how to encourage folks to show up for these worship opportunities. I assume worship is high on the list of things one must do for Christmas to be truly Christmas. O Come All Ye Faithful. In the midst of the chaotic world and the swirling hatreds and violence around us, how would we pass up a chance to enter a place of peace in order to worship and honor The Prince of Peace? I look forward to seeing you Sunday morning at 10, Monday evening at 7:30. Because a communion of believers gathered ’round the holy child IS Christmas. Grace & Peace ~PSTR

Music, meditation, prayer

Please note: All events for Thursday and Friday Evening have been canceled due to expected severe storms.

Our choir blessed us immensely on Sunday with an eclectic, joyful celebration of the Christmas story.  We had a wonderful time in worship! Thanks to all of our choir members, instrumentalists and our director, Lauren. There will be a reprise of the concert on Friday evening at 7pm in our sanctuary (we do not have parking on Friday so plan to metro or park elsewhere).

Besides the concert we have midweek opportunities for prayer and praise. At Noon, we’ll meditate (bring a brown bag lunch for afterwards). At 7pm, we’ll have a service of praise, prayer and devotion in the sanctuary. These spiritual practices will deepen your Christmas journey. It is one thing to complain about the consumer binge that has become the holidays but it is quite another thing to take intentional steps toward a spiritual appropriation of the truths of Christmas.  Plug in and this year, make your Christmas a spiritual pilgrimage. 

Christmas Eve service is a candlelight service and communion at 7:30 pm in our sanctuary. Our dear friends from Westminster Presbyterian will be joining us and Pastor Ruth and Pastor Brian will be sharing in our service.  Plan to join us for a silent night of contemplation, music and devotion.

Christmas Choral Presentation

Join us Sunday, December 16, as the choir presents its Christmas choral music.  What a beautiful moment in our Advent journey as we sit in the holiness of our sanctuary filled with light and music.  The service begins at 10 a.m. We have parking in the underground garage (the drive is between the Waterside Tower Apartments and the new Banks apartments).  

Tours of the building for Saturday morning are cancelled due to weather.

Lord of the (Butter) Flies

FYI:  Wednesday events are cancelled due to on-going construction and remedial work at the church.  We apologize for any inconvenience.

Can you imagine living in community only with young people? I ask this because Riverside wants to be a community that welcomes young people. But that does not mean we want to be solely a church of the young (any more than we want to be solely a church of the old).  I remember reading a novel in high school called Lord of the Flies.  That was about a group of young people on an island.  You might recall reading it or seeing a movie based on it.  That did not turn out happily.

So Riverside Church is better perceived as a  Lord of the Butterflies church.  I use that image because as you know, a butterfly goes through four developmental stages. And of course, these are beautiful creatures compared to a horsefly.  To be a Lord of the Butterflies church means we are an intergenerational community of faith,  so that across the spectrum of human development, we are able to interact with both children, young adults,  and our elders. That is a beautiful community of faith indeed!  We invite you, no matter your age or developmental stage, to worship with us and walk with us a while on your sacred journey. We worship the Lord of Butterflies, of renewal and resurrection.  Note the calendar of events this week and drop by. And I certainly hope to see you on Sunday at 10 am for our choir’s presentation of Christmas music.

Advent and the task of preaching

Most people these days use the word ‘preach’ in a negative way.  Like “stop preaching at me.”  I’ll use the word ‘proclaim’ on occasion just so we can steer around the negative connotations.  But the reality is, the Gospels all agree when Jesus began his ministry and it wasn’t in the manger–it was after his baptism by John.  Immersed in the Jordan River, he came forth “preaching the good news.”  So a preacher is, or should be, trying to echo that good news of Christ. And you’ll note this by the way–there is Good News before the crucifixion. We have a lot of crucifixion-fixated Christians who fail to recognize that Jesus proclaimed Good News from the very beginning.

So I bring this up to say, I’m preaching on the second Sunday of Advent (Dec. 9)  from a song that Moses sang as one of the last things he ever did, reminding the people who were about to enter the Promised Land without him just how they had managed to journey to that moment in their lives.  Not only is it a challenge to proclaim any time but during Advent, it is a special challenge. I won’t bore you with all the reasons that is true but just one:  it’s a challenge because everyone has heard the story or they think they have heard it.  So why show up in church on a Sunday morning when you could be doing laundry or watching the news cycle which very much resembles the dry cycle as you do your laundry?  Right!  You can show up to get out of that rutted and mundane hamster cycle of existence, sit in a sanctuary of peace and light with others who simply want to daydream about peace and justice or rejoice for what Advent uncovers or are praying, like you and I, for some answers to the riddles we keep in our pockets like old parking meter stubs.

How about this?  You come to worship on Sunday and I’ll do my dead level best to sort through Advent and offer some good news.  Afterward, we’ll all go downstairs for our potluck Koinonia Lunch (a word that means ‘fellowship’). And then we’ll have a short concert on the carillon outside.  It beats the heck out of wet clothes and dried, recycled news.  ~See you Sunday