Proper Anger

We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.

James Baldwin

While the Bible gives advice on how to be angry – slow anger (James 1:19), when you are angry  do not sin (Ps 4:4), again “be angry but do not sin” (Eph 4:26) – the Bible does not say it is wrong or that we should never be angry. There are instances and circumstances in life that calls for anger, and our anger is very much appropriate. In Mark 3:5, “Jesus looked around at the people of the synagogue (who had stubborn hearts) with anger.”

In Matt. 21:12-17 Jesus is angry at defilement within the temple and overturns the money tables. Paul in Col. 3:8 condemns passion without qualification. Just like Jesus in the aforementioned verses, there are times when anger is qualified and justified.

We should not allow our anger to cause us to sin, but instead use it as a catalyst for positive change and action. It is those circumstances that we ought to take the example set forth by Jesus and use our anger for matters of justice, truth telling, working for the oppressed, and hopefully in the end we can reach reconciliation with those whom we are angry, by God’s grace.

~ Rev. Nick

Salt and Light

Salt has many properties: it enhances flavor making them savory, it has the ability to preserve, and salt has qualities that enable it to heal. Jesus doesn’t call his followers to be salt, Jesus declares that they already are salt. We, the church, are salt. We are here to add flavor to this world, to help preserve one another, and heal those who are hurt or wounded. We should to strive remember that, “If the salt has become foolish, then it has no power.”

Theologian Stanley Hauerwas reminds us when Jesus called his community together Jesus gave its members a new way to live life. He gave them a new way to deal with offenders – by forgiving them. He gave them a new way to deal with violence – by suffering. He gave them a new way to deal with money – by sharing it. He gave them a new way to deal with problems of leadership – by drawing upon the gift of every new member, even the humble. And he gave them a new way to deal with death – by offering hope through the resurrection.

May we continue to be salt and live together in this community of believers.

~ Rev. Nick

Beatitudes

So often as a kid and teen I would hear that the Beatitudes are just that, attitudes that you should be, as if they are something to seek out and try and become. However, what Jesus imparts to us in the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount here is not a prescription, but a description. The Beatitudes describe a community already following God.

The people Jesus speaks about in his Beatitudes are a hopeful people – people who live with the knowledge and trust that all of life is in God’s hands. These people are referred to in Greek as makarios. Makarios has been translated and understood in a variety of ways; the most common translations are blessed, happy, and fortunate.

A translation I’ve come to greatly appreciate comes via the Spanish bienaventuranza – which can simply mean “blessed,” but also translates to English as “a good adventure to you.” The late liberation theologian Jorge Lara-Braud, said in regard to this translation of bienaventuranza in the Beatitudes, “We all know that adventure means risk, the courage to defy the odds, the refusal to play it safe.” To follow Jesus is not safe; following Jesus is an adventure full of risk.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is foolishness to a world who mainly seeks to climb mountains and remain there. As a community of believers who believe Jesus came to turn the world upside down, to comfort those whose backs are against the wall, I say confidently we are both foolish and blessed, and I look forward to serving you as your pastor on this adventure.

– Rev. Nick

Interim Pastor Announced

Riverside’s deacons and trustees are pleased to announce they have selected Rev. Nicolas Mumejian as an interim pastor for Riverside Baptist Church. Rev. Nick joined Riverside February 2, 2020.

Ordained within the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and in communion with and support of the Alliance of Baptists, Rev. Nick has served in pastoral positions at Baptist churches in North Carolina and Connecticut. Rev. Nick is personally passionate about matters of interfaith relations, ecumenism, reconciliation, and LGBTQIA advocacy. He has organized, led, or participated in religious events at churches, synagogues, mosques, and cultural centers in North America and abroad.

Nick’s academic background includes a Master of Divinity from Duke University and doctoral studies in Hartford Seminary’s joint PhD program with the University of Exeter, which focused on comparative religion. He is is the Managing Editor of The Muslim World, a peer-reviewed academic journal housed in Hartford Seminary’s Macdonald Center for the Study of Islam and Christian – Muslim Relations where he has served for over a decade working for both the journal and teaching seminary courses.

Rev. Nick happily spends his time outside of work with his wife, Virginia, and twin sons, Declan and George.

Our Duty

Keep Moving Forward!

As we grieve the departure of our dear Pastor Bledsoe, we must not forget our calling.  Sunday is not about us. Church is not about us.  It’s about our mission to reach every man, woman and child in need of refuge.  It’s about the poor, the sick, the downtrodden — looking for an open door or a lifeboat to keep from drowning.

We, your deacons and trustees, are committed to continue the legacy that defines our beautiful church.  It is not just our responsibility, it is our duty.

There is work to do.  Don’t look back!  We are not heading in that direction.

Onward in Christ,
Riverside Deacons and Trustees  

Let Not Your Hearts Be Troubled

There are as many ways of saying goodbye, I suppose, as there are routes to be taken to the sea. Think of this: we have had nearly eight months to get our minds around the idea of my retirement and departure as your pastor. Eight months! We have had time to chat with one another, study options, talk about accomplishments, remember both good and bad times and all within the loving context of this church that is so much a harbor to us. We travel toward the sea, we return to this harbor.

Most goodbyes, as you well know, are not so intentional. People leave our lives abruptly and there is not time to tie up loose ends. But we have had this remarkable time of intention and in that time our leaders have bravely taken on the tasks associated with finding a pastor. And during that time we have continued to BE the Church—as we experienced so brilliantly this past Sunday in the Christmas music program provided by our choir and musicians. And as we have experienced in worship, Sunday after Sunday, never missing a beat; gathering for prayer and a Word from God; baptizing, communing and living within the sphere of the Gospel.

This does not necessarily remove the sting of departure. And truly, that sting becomes most poignant when absence is finally encountered—my office, for example, empty of books and the various artifacts of my faith from candles to crosses. It looks and is empty. What we must do our best to remember is that we navigate our lives within the narrative of good news that is Christ. And we know that he had conversations with his disciples about his departure. He would tell them things like, “I must leave but I am not leaving you as orphans in the world.” And he said, “Let not your hearts be troubled…” I encourage you to read the entire 14th chapter of the Gospel of John. You will find much to encourage and comfort you there.

The presence of a loved one—a family member, a friend or yes, an old pastor—is like a lingering perfume. They may leave us but they are never truly absent. And that holds true for me as I and Melinda come to terms with a new routine that will not include worshipping at Riverside (and let me just say that if we think about it, we can understand why best practices include a pastor stepping out of the congregation s/he has led—I would find it difficult not to be your pastor and you would find it difficult not to respond to me as pastor and that, dearly beloved, would lead to frictions that simply do not need to arise as you make a way into a future with a new pastor). The gift of your presence remains with us. We will call on that when we are missing you and of course, we will commend you to God who, through the Holy Spirit, will provide you peace that passes all understanding. God be with us ’til we meet again. ~Pastor Bledsoe

Making Best Use of Our Building

One year later, we have “learned the ropes” about our beautiful building. It has surprised us at times with its intelligence and beauty, doing things and allowing us to do things we could not do previously. At other times, we’ve had to adjust and perhaps have been pinched. There is no perfect building. We live and we learn. So in what follows, a few “heads up” tips as we move forward. And by the way, special thanks to Luke Wassum who has been MVP for figuring out our building. He has made sure the HVAC is scheduled properly and has addressed an array of issues over this past year, making sure loose ends were tied up. Thanks, Luke.

Sanctuary Seating Access. When you look at the configuration of our pews, you can see that we have one short pew (first pew on the piano side) that allows for wheel-chair, stroller or walkers to be seated. This needs to be recognized for what it is: making our sanctuary accessible. In other words, a wheel chair can “park” on either side of that short pew. Also, the longer first pew on the other side has been cut short to allow a wheel chair or walker to park there. How might we maximize these strengths?

  1. I would urge all of us to give our members in wheelchairs or using walkers the priority to sit in those spaces.
  2. I would ask the choir to move from the short first pew on the piano side to the longer pew toward the communion table side. This is a matter of just several steps but will make a world of difference for people who need those spaces.
  3. Ushers should be proactive and help guide wheelchairs and walkers to those prime spots for seating. It is sometimes difficult to navigate when there are people filling the pews. Ushers can be a very welcome guide to someone trying to locate a seat.

Food and Drink and Spilled Drinks. A year in and we can see stains on our carpet near the rest rooms and on the landing outside the sanctuary. Two thoughts. 1. If you take food or drink into the atrium area and spill it, please clean it up immediately and 2. Never bring food or drink into the sanctuary. It is our holiest place and as well, the most expensive in terms of furniture and flooring. The Nelson Multi-Purpose Room, with its linoleum floor, is the easiest room by far to weather such spills.

Entrance Doors. Remember the wooden doors at our entrance? Aren’t we glad to have the steel/glass doors? YES, we are. They can rattle though. So while we have become accustomed to hearing some noise in the sanctuary, it would be helpful if: 1.you carefully close the glass doors so they don’t make a racket and 2. Be careful of your voice levels upon entering, particularly if you’re running late and service has begun. Low voices, less talking and quietly coming to the landing and into the sanctuary would help ease some of that.

Parking Cars. We have really worked out the parking and that is due in no small part to the consistent presence of Imani on Sunday mornings, opening the door to allow cars inside to park. As well, Frank has been a great help getting in early on Sundays to open the door and hand it off to Imani and then graciously serving as a welcoming host in our atrium so visitors see someone with a friendly smile upon entering. Just don’t forget, your car has to be out by 3pm. If you do decide to hang out at the Wharf, be sure to make arrangements to get back inside the church so you can reach your car. You can always ask someone at the front desk at The Banks apartments to let you in or go to the bottom of the hill at the garage door and buzz to have them let you in.

Clean-up. We have a custodial service that comes into the church on Mondays and Thursdays but it would be especially helpful for all of us to pitch in especially on Sundays. Remove bulletins from the pews, for example. Or as the saying goes, if you see something, say something or do something —we want to keep the church clean and bug and rodent free. I think we’re doing a good job with this overall. Koinonia lunches continue to be a challenge as Jonathan and Ed tend to tie up all the loose ends and take trash out. It would help enormously to have folks volunteer to help them return the multi-purpose room to its clean state, take out trash and otherwise fill a dishwasher and wash, turn off the Keurig machine and make sure the doors on the refrigerator and ice machine are closed upon leaving.

Audio Visual. We are so thankful for Anthony’s providing the video feed to the downstairs TV in the multi-purpose room (and recording the service and placing the sermon each Sunday onto the web site where folks can hear it). Another way our church is “smart” is the hearing loop provided via our sound system. I hope in the coming weeks and months that we might revisit how we can put that technology into the hands of folks who could benefit by the hearing assistance.

That’s a long list but you know, we haven’t had a chance to sort some of this out and I’m preparing to leave so it’s just as well that I get this list going. If you have a concern or idea, don’t hesitate to let a trustee know or let Karl know and this can be updated in a newsletter in the future. Speaking of the building, this past Sunday was a glorious success as we tested our baptistry! A month ago, Karl and Jonathan helped me do a dry run of a baptism and Luke climbed on a ladder to reach the heat dial in a ceiling panel in the church office. All of them and other trustees like Etzel and Ed have also helped. Sarah Fairbrother found wonderful mats to catch the water and Deacon Laurel helped guide our baptismal candidate to the right points. I thought it went very, very well.

We have a few loose ends (like assigning a deacon to pick up the wet robe and towels in the dressing rooms) but really, it was a great success. How beautiful to see a young person baptized (congrats to Alexandra!). And Rev. Ruth said it so beautifully in her brief sermon, telling Alexandra (and all of us) that of all the clothes we will wear in our lives, nothing will be as beautiful as that wet, white robe worn into the waters of baptism where, before the world, we declare our faith and are baptized into Christ forever.

Thanks for being the people of God. ~Pastor Bledsoe

One Mind

The lectionary text read this past Sunday by Deacon Ida is from a remarkable chapter in Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  I want to strongly suggest that you read it over and again not just this week but every week until the search for a new pastor is completed.  I say this because of two things. First, because it is simply remarkably powerful scripture. Second, because we all know you are about to be tested.

Here’s the verse from that second chapter I have in mind:

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy,

2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.

3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.

4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.

Philippians 2:1-4

I am about to step out of the circle called Riverside after leading you for 28 years. Your leaders are working diligently to fill the pulpit and provide an interim pastor so they can then launch a search team for a permanent replacement. This is going to take time which means you will need to be patient. This is not going to be easy which means you should roll up your sleeves and offer your service, be it collecting an offering or cleaning up after Koinonia. I now want to put into caps what is pivotal in those verses just cited: BE OF THE SAME MIND, HAVING THE SAME LOVE, BEING IN FULL ACCORD AND OF ONE MIND.

How in the world do we make that happen? The answer is in the third and fourth verses. Be humble. Be helpful. Be positive and consider the interests of others as important as your own. Do not gossip. Do not raise your voice or disrespect anyone, particularly those who are volunteering their time to sort through this process and find persons to lead. Attend worship and do so with the joy of Christ overflowing in your hearts.

The circle will be unbroken if you do that. People step into and out of the circle of fellowship all the time. But the circle does not have to be broken. Find a way to achieve consensus. Do not give naysayers, backbiters, gossips or negative people your time. I don’t believe we have many of these at Riverside but any human institution is going to have folks like that. Keep your eyes on the prize.

This community of faith is worthy of your best efforts. May the Spirit of God provide you peace so you are not anxious but hopeful. You are and ever will be in my prayers. ~PSTR

Rip Tide Warning

Sing praises to the Lord, O you faithful ones,  and give thanks to God’s holy name.

Psalm 30:4

This time of year reminds me of rip tides at the ocean. You know, those currents that pull a person beneath the waves, running fast and swift. The warning to swimmers is, don’t try to swim directly to shore because the power of the current is too strong. Instead, swim parallel to the shore and at an angle in order to avoid being pulled under. Why does that come to mind this time of year for me? 

There is a steady ratcheting up of emotion and marketing at this time of year, beginning with Thanksgiving and then culminating at Christmas Day with people having spent lots of money and time at festivities. This cultural riptide can be a threat to sincere and authentic religious life. But I don’t believe the solution is to swim against that current and raise complaints about whether or not people say Merry Christmas or Happy Winter Holiday. Swim parallel to this current. Enjoy some eggnog, decorate your tree without guilty conscience (you’re not a pagan for doing so), exchange some gifts, wear ugly sweaters. Just keep swimming parallel to the shore at an angle until you step out of all that cultural bluster and the Silent Night of Christmas Eve ushers in the quiet beauty of the Good News given to Shepherds. One way to “swim parallel” is to worship in this season. Worship provides a safe refuge for us in this season and it also aims us in the right direction.

So Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. May your travels be safe if you’re journeying. And I hope you can sense that I’m praying thanks for all of you. For the gifts of God, for human friendship and companionship and joy, for the gift of life, give thanks. 

Grace & Peace. ~PSTR

The Circle of Life

I know you’re familiar with the song, Circle of Life, from the Lion King. I’m thinking more these days of Harry Chapin’s song, All My Life’s a Circle. Both speak to the seasons of our lives, the changes, the inevitable partings and hopefully new beginnings. I love both of those songs.

Speaking of circles, on Sunday December 8th we’ll be celebrating two circles that have come “full circle.”

First, we’ll have a baptism and I have the privilege of baptizing Alexandra Greenwood. This is such a joyful story! Alexandra is the granddaughter of Rev. Robert Troutman, formerly pastor of Riverside for some 14 years through the 1970s and 1980s. He really had a major impact on shaping our progressive Baptist identity. I met Bob in 1983 as a participant of the Baptist Peace Tour through Baptist Peace Fellowship—we had traveled with a large contingent of folks who wanted to counter the “evil empire” rhetoric and embrace our brothers and sisters living in the Soviet Union and remind them that we loved them. Anyway, Bob and I got to know each other; he heard me preach in Volgograd and then some 7 years later, he recommended me to the pulpit committee of Riverside. The rest is history as they say. Now here I am, at the end of my ministry at Riverside and who walks in the door? Alexandra, his granddaughter and she wants to be baptized. Her mother, Bob’s daughter, Karen and her husband James are hoping to join us that Sunday for her baptism. This will be very, very special indeed.

The second circle on Dec 8th will be our friends from Westminster Presbyterian Church joining us in worship. It has been just over one year since we left their fellowship and care of us to enter our new building. I thought it important that we get together again. So Ruth will likely join me in preaching that day (we each will keep it brief) and then all of us will return to Westminster for a catered lunch. Our choir and musicians will lead us in a time of singing hymns and some Advent carols. This will be an outstanding day of friendship and hope.

Finally, let me remind you that that Sunday is also a day of communion so we will have worshipped together within the great circle of these sacraments, baptism and communion. You won’t want to miss this.

Our choir will present Christmas music on Sunday, Dec 15th. And as you know, my last Sunday as your pastor will be Dec 22nd. All my life’s a circle…. Thanks be to God who makes us the Church and assures us that the circle will be unbroken.

Grace & Peace, ~PSTR