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.
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!
So among the various stupidities that assault us in any given week at the hands of elected congresspersons was the pronouncement this week by one Congressman Randy Weber of Texas who denounced the President as worse than Hitler since Hitler at least visited Paris. Perhaps the scary thing is not that this individual sits in the Congress but that he was elected by a district of people who actually thought him fit to represent them.
This came on the heels of the horrific attacks in Paris by gunmen who thought they would honor The Prophet by killing innocent individuals and the “guilty” ones who dared to caricature a religious figure. Instead of speaking to religious hatred and fanaticism, Monsieur Weber decided to exploit a tragedy in order to attack his and our President.
The week prior to this it was revealed that the third ranking Representative in the House, GOP whip Steve Scalise, had addressed an international convention of White Supremacists, the European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO), a group led by David Duke, a former Klansman. This group has been identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group. Scalise has in response received the full support of the Majority Leader, Mr. Boehner and will not be censured. We are to remain calm and carry on rowing our little boats merrily down the stream. As if…
I do not bring these items up to register a political opinion. I bring these up to point out the obvious: racism is alive and reactive in our country. There really is a need to have a Martin Luther King Sunday and not just because our body politic is such a mephitic cesspool of hatreds and lies. We also need MLK Sunday because so many in our churches across our country are still comfortable with segregation. You can defend your position on why you worship in a single-race church. I’m sure you must have some good reasons, but I for one am finished with ever worshipping in a church that is composed of one race. Won’t do it. Ever. I pastor a “blended” church as a famous pastor sneered at me years ago in a meeting and whose name I won’t mention. My response? Damn right, I pastor a blended church. That, my friend, is called the Gospel. Look, I don’t know where you’ll be on this Sunday, but I would urge you to come sit in a pew of an interracial, gender inclusive, sexually inclusive, ecumenical, passionate-about-justice Baptist congregation. It may be as close as you can get this week to the Dreamer and his dream. See you Sunday. ~Pastor Bledsoe