On this Memorial Day Sunday of 2014, we printed on the front of our worship program (you can download it under the sermons tab) the names of those members of Fifth Baptist Church who died in World War I. I found it quite moving to have Bob Nelson read these names–names that have likely been quietly overlooked for years if not decades. August is, of course, the 100th anniversary of the First World War and we will have some other activities to remember and honor those who served. But today got me thinking about the history echoed in our congregation…
Obviously our church (which underwent a name change in 1968) was around and ministering in Southwest DC at the time of the “Great War.” But think of this: our nation has had 44 Presidents. Our church history–not our building, because we have occupied four different buildings in SW (you can click on the About Us tab and find a brief history)–has witnessed 30 of those 44 Presidents. Just say that aloud to yourself. Our history intersects 30 of the 44 Presidents of the United States. Anyone want to guess the average life span of a business in the United States? Here is a quote from Businessweek that can put this into perspective: “The average life expectancy of a multinational corporation-Fortune 500 or its equivalent-is between 40 and 50 years. . .A full one-third of the companies listed in the 1970 Fortune 500, for instance, had vanished by 1983-acquired, merged, or broken to pieces.” This June, we’ll celebrate our 157th Anniversary.
Before a toaster was invented or a microwave, before an airplane flew or antibiotics created; through the Civil War, the First World War, the Second World War, the Korean Conflict, Vietnam, Iraq 1 & 2, and 9/11 our congregation(s) have lived, prayed and served. Right here, in Southwest DC. While our ministry is local, our voice is global. Back in the 1980s Pastor Troutman took delegations to the Soviet Union on a Baptist Peace Tour to counter the “evil empire” rhetoric coming out of the Reagan White House. We wanted Christians (and others) to know that we knew the majority of Russians, Ukrainians, and Georgians were not Communists. Indeed, there were more Christians than Party members. In 1972, Riverside began ordaining women to the diaconate. In the 1970s, the church began its journey toward becoming a bi-racial congregation. In 1992 we boldly declared our separation from any affiliation with the Southern Baptist Convention because of its hideous rhetoric attacking gay men and women. We have been brave in voice and action to include those who have been historically marginalized in our country. Recently, my open letter to white Christians in Florida, denouncing the Stand Your Ground law, was read by over 100,000 people.
This is a history rooted in the faith of our people. We are not the guardians of stained glass and stone nor a museum’s cultural artifact. We are a living organism, we are the Body of Christ, we are dedicated to the uplift of all human beings. Come and join us this Sunday and let’s celebrate our history by raising our voices together in worship and joining our hands in the work for the healing of our world.