Tag Archives: interracial baptist church

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

Ride a Bike, Worship the Lord

Imagine opening a garage door and seeing a bicycle splayed out on the concrete, its various parts lined up across the floor.  There’s the handle bars over there and there are the tires separated from the rim that is lying beside it and so forth. Then imagine the owner of the bike telling you, this is what it means to have a bike.  What on earth could such a statement be telling us other than the owner of the bike has confused parts with the whole?

We live in this kind of age though where people think that you —YOU— can be explained by reducing you to your various parts or your blood chemistry.  But just as a bike is more than the sum of its parts (so that actually riding a bike and feeling that nearly inexplicable feeling of balancing on two tires and the breeze gliding across your face is the point) so it is with you.  You are more than the sum of your parts.  You are a living soul.

So imagine that garage door opening and then in a kind of backwards-winding of a film, you watch as the parts reattach themselves one by one until, wow, the bike stands before you.  And its standing before you is also a beckoning to you to ride it.

That dear friends is Church on a good day. When the church door opens and we cross over the threshold, we are not reduced to our various and multiples parts. Instead, we are put back together; we are reattached; we are re-membered.  And that experience of song-praise-prayer-proclamation is not so far removed from riding a bike and defying gravity and being engaged with the world around us in a remarkably different perspective than when we are standing on a corner waiting for traffic to stop or sitting in a cubicle answering a phone call.  It is invigorating and we are renewed because the truth is, you really are more than the sum of your parts.  In the midst of the congregation, you have transcended those parts and become part of the whole.  I hope you get on a bike this week.  I hope you’ll put aside the excuses for not attending church and get yourself into the congregation of those who pray, praise and proclaim the Truth of God’s abiding love for us.  ~See you Sunday

April 4, 1968: Keep Your Eyes On the Prize. Hold On.

This week is a watershed moment in our nation’s history as we ponder the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee.  While there are an array of things you can do on Wednesday to honor Dr. King’s legacy and life, I hope you’ll consider going to the nation’s Mall and stand with others who are calling on our nation to End Racism Now, sponsored by the National Council of Churches.

This is also a configurative moment in the life of our church, for Riverside Baptist Church had just completed its building and had set its first worship at 7th & Maine Avenue for Sunday, April 7th, Palm Sunday.  That service was cancelled in lieu of the rioting that broke out in the city, following the Dreamer’s death.  Fifth Baptist Church was reborn,  from a bustling white church of a thousand in 1957, to  a few handfuls of persons that had stayed after the urban “renewal” project in the ’60s; it slowly but surely became a bi-racial church at the behest of Rev. Frank Foster who, after ministering in the streets after those riots while pastor at National Memorial Baptist, came to Riverside.

Now in 2018, extrajudicial executions continue and those who carry them out are not held to account. Alton Sterling of Baton Rouge, and very recently in Sacramento, Stephon Clark was shot by police eight times in his back. He was unarmed. He was Black.  As the New York Times columnist, Charles Blow, notes, “These shootings keep happening because, on some level, America finds them acceptable, finds them unfortunate but unavoidable.”

We are a small church. Since 1968, we have moved toward being a church that is bravely actualizing the dream that all of us are equal and can find a way to live together instead of perishing together, as Dr. King would say.  We are vibrantly opposed to the idea that the worship hour must remain the most segregated hour in America. We are passionately engaged in embracing all of God’s children. And we have been marching and calling on our nation to honor Black Lives because they matter as much as other lives.  We obviously have a long way to go.  The world needs a church like ours. We want to live up to that high calling. I hope to see you on the Mall on Wednesday. I will certainly see you at Jefferson Middle School for worship on Sunday.  Keep your eyes on the prize.  Hold on.

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Time Is Filled With Swift Transition

New Church of Riverside Baptist, rendering from 7th and Maine.
New Church of Riverside Baptist, rendering from 7th and Maine.

The Gospel song, Hold To God’s Unchanging Hand, begins with this noble truth:  “Time is filled with swift transition…”

Riverside Baptist Church has for seventeen months worshipped at Jefferson Middle School. We are so grateful to Jefferson and the DC Public Schools for allowing us to worship in their auditorium on Sundays and have choir rehearsal on Thursday evenings.  We will always remember this kindness extended to us when others in our community could not open their doors to us. We have been in SW since 1857 and yet, it was this middle school that opened their doors and let us in. Thank you, Jefferson!

The school will be renovating soon and we are happy for this moment when their school is updated and modernized. For us, it means we need to find another location to worship until we enter our new church.  We should have news about this very soon. Meanwhile, we anticipate our last service at Jefferson to be Sunday, June 10th.

Our foundation is due to be completed by end of March. We will see the steel structure go up in April. Pentecost Sunday, May 20, we will have a “topping out” ceremony, walking from Jefferson over to the construction site to see the steel structure and say a prayer and sing a song.  We are being told the building will be completed November of this year.  So “hold on to God’s unchanging hand” as the song goes.  How long? Not long.  Time is filled with swift transition. We are marching onward and forward in the light of God.  See you Sunday.

Return

This coming Sunday, the first Sunday of 2018, we will return to Jefferson Middle School for our worship at 10 a.m.  Back to an auditorium that has served us well for over one year now.  And hopefully, prayerfully, we will walk into a new sanctuary sometime this Fall.  Return. Come back.

Though we were never truly apart. Our worship with Westminster Presbyterian Church on Christmas Eve was a delight.  How great it was to worship with our friends, our brothers and sisters there. They welcomed us and made us feel so at home in a true illustration of ecumenical life. We are better for having come together.  Thanks to Pastor Ruth and Pastor Brian and the entire congregation there. I will be working with SW clergy and especially Ruth to guide our congregations to more shared experiences and shared ministries in 2018.  Then this past Sunday on New Year’s Eve, Christ United Methodist welcomed us into their beautiful sanctuary. Their reception of us was as warm as it was warm inside on a cold day.  And again, we felt the strength and joy of being together with fellow believers.  Their new pastor, Monica Raines, is fresh out of Wesley Seminary and offers them (and our community) energy and vision.  We pray for your ministry and presence, Christ United.

Now it is time to return to our “church” such as it is and this we have learned:  while a building is wonderful (how wonderful it was to be inside those two churches!) we the people are the church.  Return and let us begin this year with renewed commitment and purpose. Be here as often as you possibly can.  Step up and support our ministry.  Reach out and embrace one another.  Let us be the Church.

And for any who have searched and longed for a church of peace, justice and Christ-centered joy, come with us this year.  Return. Come home.  Your spirituality and life in God can begin or continue here.  As we embark on this journey together, may Christ the Good Shepherd gather us, guide us and bring us to his Kingdom.  ~See you Sunday

The Future Just Showed Up: Welcome DC Wharf!

pier_toward_Riverside

October 12.2017

This morning I had the opportunity to amble about The Wharf and as I turned a corner from the waterfront onto the walkway that leads out toward Maine Ave., I saw the future. There in front of me in full frontal view was our construction site with crane.  In about a year, the thousands of pedestrians who call The Wharf home, shop its retailers, join with friends for a bite to eat, or show up for a concert will see our church and hear our church (as our Carillon rings out bells and songs).  The future just showed up.

I congratulate Monty Hoffman and the entire team there for what has been created.  I hope you’ll join us for worship in the auditorium at Jefferson Middle School this Sunday at 10 a.m. and then in the late afternoon at 4pm, walk to the District Pier where I, along with other clergy, will “bless the Wharf.”  ~ See You Sunday

The God Who Makes All Things New, Renew Us

January 8th is a week away and we can begin worshipping together again!  I hope the two weeks away have rekindled your love of our church and you’ll enter this new year ready to make a difference.  I have certainly missed being with you as the People of God, formed in the crucible of Grace and Mercy and the proclamation of God’s Good News.

La Sagrada
La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona. ~photo by PSTR

As many of you know, I took retreat in Barcelona for a week where I ducked into ancient churches (like the Cathedral of Barcelona and Santa Maria del Mar) and a “new” church, begun in 1882 by the architect, Antonio Gaudi, La Sagrada Familia.  I lit a few candles, said prayers and otherwise pondered my life within the light and quiet of these sacred places.    I commend our church leadership for its unwavering commitment to the pastoral office and the need for pastors to have not just down time, but time held in the suspension of sacred duties in order to be renewed.  Not every church makes that kind of commitment.  That annual line item in the budget that secures a means by which I can retreat and renew is a significant affirmation and I am deeply grateful.  Clergy burn out (as do others in other professions).  There are, sadly, those congregants and churches that begrudge their pastors time away and needless to say even more who, while they may embrace the idea, will not financially support it.  Riverside is not one of those churches.  “Pastoral care” then is a two-way street.  Pastors who have congregations that care for them can, in turn, provide pastoral care.

While I did not have the chance on this first day of the new year and the first Sunday of 2017 to worship with you, I did worship at a sister church in SW, St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church which, as you likely know, completed their development project and moved into their new sanctuary in November.  It is a space filled with light and the homilist this morning, Rev. Martin Smith, delivered a wonderful sermon.  Congratulations to our friends at St. Augustine’s, our prayers are with St. Matthew Lutheran Church as they have broken ground for their development and new church and may the God who makes all things new, renew us!  SEE YOU SUNDAY~ PSTR

Padded Pews and Splinters of the Cross

I like padded pews, not that I get to sit in them since I’m the preacher.  But they provide a measure of comfort that seems legitimate given how hard it is at times to listen to a preacher.  You deserve a padded pew.  At the least though, a preacher ought to preach the Gospel in a way that makes the pad necessary and I don’t mean by that the kind  of hellfire and brimstone beating people in the name of Jesus sermons I heard growing up. I mean sermons that call us to the justice and peacemaking Gospel Jesus preached even before there was a crucifixion.

Speaking of which, we’re getting close to the Easter High Holy Sunday and as you know, you can’t really get to Resurrection Sunday without passing through Thursday and the Garden of Gethsemane, betrayal and Friday’s catastrophe of blood and shattered body that was the flogging and crucifixion.  But like padded pews, lots of folks–both liberal and conservative–try to pad the Gospel and reduce Jesus to an ethical teacher or a prosperity salesman.  It will be very important in the coming days and weeks as we approach Golgotha that we listen to the Christ and all he had to say about servant-ministry and sacrificial love.  Martin Luther King summed it up well when he said, ‘When I took up the cross I recognized it’s meaning. The cross is something that you bear, and ultimately, that you die on.’  We are all not called upon to give up our lives as King or Christ did, but we darn sure ought to get a splinter now and then from following the Crucified Lord.

Be awake. Be alert.  We are following Jesus to Jerusalem. We will sit in the upper room and commune with him.  And a time will come when we are tempted to betray him, to run from him, even before the rooster crows for the rising sun.  It is time to weigh our souls in the balance and find our way to a Holy place.  Easter is coming. First, however, there is a Thursday night of betrayal and a Friday noon of nails.

Communion and Offering Plates

One might easily overlook someone confusing a communion plate for an offering plate if that person has seldom if ever entered a church. Even so, a communion plate as passed along in a Baptist Church or an Evangelical Church (and I do not equate the two denominations as some do) will have bread of some sort in it.  How do you put money into a plate filled with bread?  But as I say, this is easily overlooked when the error is made by someone without experience in such churches. But when you are someone who is running for the presidency of the United States and have loudly claimed the bible is your favorite book, though you cannot seem to recite a verse from it, and you make a point to embrace Christianity and especially Evangelicals in Iowa who are about to caucus, well, that is a different kind of error.  It too is forgivable but it cannot be overlooked.

That is exactly what Evangelicals seem to be doing, however, as they flock –as Jerry Falwell, Jr. has done—to embrace a candidate who claims to be one of them but betrays in quite glaring ways that he is as a matter of fact quite clueless when it comes to their religion.  But elections in our country at this point in time require enormous sums of money, outrageous lies and promises and lots of whining in the face of the most straightforward and obvious questions.    The failure is not just one candidate but the convention of which he is part finds it nearly impossible to counter misogynist, racist, and xenophobic rhetoric spewed on a weekly basis by this candidate. The wholesale cowardice is actually frightful.  I won’t blame the media. The media should confess its own complicity. But I will, as a clergyman, say that having religious spokespersons and entire swaths of Christians embracing a megalomaniacal candidate who borrows Christian symbols to promote himself is shameful.  Pope Francis clearly has decided it is time to confront what he believes to be a posturing Christian (denouncing the building of a wall between Mexico and the United States as “unChristian”).

We, the Church, are a table fellowship, a covenant people and we practice—or at least we should—a radical table fellowship that does not discriminate. We take the words in Ephesians from the Apostle to the Gentiles as true:    Christ has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.  When a politician arises in the land who promotes hostility, division, rancor, intimidation of women, and xenophobic hatred then it behooves all of us but especially Christians to note the incongruence.  Putting an offering in the communion plate is the least of the problems.