Tag Archives: Riverside Baptist Church development

MLK Sunday: $100,000 to heal our world

One Sunday from the inauguration of President-Elect Trump, many in our area are trying to find a way to step out of that drama.  How about this alternative?  This Sunday is also Martin Luther King Sunday, a day we remember the Baptist preacher and dreamer who led the “second revolution,” the Civil Rights Movement.  And we at Riverside will not only worship and sing in celebration of the values of the Civil Rights Movement–the enduring dignity of human beings, the worth of all of God’s children and the constitutional mandate to protect all of our citizens–but we will be dispensing thirty grants totaling $100,000 to groups who help heal, repair and redeem the world.  Want to be inspired and plugged into those values in a powerful way?  Join us Sunday for worship at 10 a.m.

Among those we’ll be offering grants to are the Malala Fund, Temple Micah’s Micah House, the Equal Justice Initiative and many local groups that carry out humane and just actions on behalf of the marginal.  Schools in Southwest like Jefferson Academy, Amidon Elementary, Apple Early Learning; shelters, hunger solutions like Martha’s Table and S.O.M.E; housing like Casa Ruby and Mary’s House, Sasha Bruce Youthwork; LGBT advocacy groups like Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, the Gay Christian Network and DC LGBT Center’s Global Division;   special needs children who, with their families, find support through ARC of Montgomery County; and many more.  We are doing this for a few reasons. First, because we are blessed to have secured an endowment for our church that will safeguard it for decades to come. Second, because we can think of no better way to counter the extreme right-wing rhetoric that would put these very persons and families at risk than to make a donation to the urgent work of these groups.  Third, because as our Lord taught, “to whom much is given, much is required.”

This Sunday, join us. Together, let’s honor the Dreamer and his legacy and worship in power and truth as we bless those who heal the world. ~See you Sunday

Riverside: Past Riverside: Born Anew

Riverside_FallOur 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.

~See you Sunday


Riverside in Transition: Throwing away and gathering stones

[there is] a time to throw away stones,
and a time to gather stones together
–Ecclesiastes 3:5 

Last week I traveled to Providence, Rhode Island in order to retrieve a stone from the First Baptist Church in America, first gathered by Roger Williams in 1638.  We will take this cobblestone–about the size of a baseball—and lodge it into our new building’s date stone.  As far as I’m concerned, this stone is as alien and revelatory as that bit of moon stone lodged into the Space Window at the National Cathedral, except our stone shouts for liberty of conscience and freedom from the tyranny of governments or religions.

Last month my dear friend, Rabbi Zemel, presented me with a stone from the Sea of Galilee, brought back from Israel by the generosity of his daughter’s in-laws.  It is a large stone that resembles in color a piece of toast.  This stone too will be inserted in the new church building at the threshold of our sanctuary, a reminder of the incarnated particularity of the Gospel, fashioned from the yearnings for justice and mercy of a people occupied and oppressed by Rome in the First Century.

We will take some of the existing stone of the current edifice and use it in our new church, thus linking us to the generations who assembled here for worship and for the declaration of those historic Baptist values so valiantly and brilliantly articulated by Roger Williams.  Since Fifth Baptist Church became Riverside Baptist Church in 1967, this church has been a “civil rights” church, a people dedicated to racial reconciliation and justice, gender equality and justice, LGBT equality and justice and the enduring belief that loving God and one’s neighbor is the sum of the Law.  These stones we bring with us will link us to the past and hopefully remind us of who we are to become in the years and even decades ahead.

In a month, we will vacate this building, and beginning October the first Sunday, we will worship at Jefferson Academy Middle School, same hour (10 a.m.) and same corner.  We will leave this building we love and cherish but we will not vacate the principles and values upon which it is founded. We bring these values with us. We carry them into the future.  Deliberately, methodically and with our eyes on the prize, we go forward, throwing away stones only to gather them together  again in an effort to proclaim the love and justice of God in this place.

~See you Sunday

Through Many Dangers, Toils and Snares: Reflections on our new church


Riverside Baptist Church began as Island Baptist Church in 1857.  Eventually, it outgrew that humble wooden dwelling and built a stone edifice after the Civil War and renamed themselves Fifth Baptist Church.  Then one hundred years later, urban renewal razed that building and other churches in SW and they built a contemporary and modest church on the corner of 7th, I and Maine Avenue. They also renamed themselves to Riverside Baptist Church.  There is that verse from Amazing Grace that rings true for this journey, “Through many dangers, toils, and snares/I have already come;/’tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,/ and grace will lead me home.”

We have been working hard for several years now in an effort to secure the future of our beloved church.  When we started, we wanted to secure Riverside financially by creating an endowment; we wanted to remain in SW, never having any desire to move out of the city; we wanted to build an iconic building, modest and yet beautiful.  We are on the precipice of completing this.  Having won the unanimous affirmation of the Zoning Commission and worked with innumerable agencies and groups, we are poised to move forward.  Our architect, Philip Renfrow, and his team have designed an iconic building and that design continues at this point to be tweaked.  I would like to share my thoughts about the church building that will replace our current sanctuary while at the same time reminding you that our primary goal has been to establish an endowment to safeguard the church over the coming next decades.

Our church will be the approximate square footage of our current building but will be comprised of two floors. The lower floor will find a fellowship hall that can be used for meetings, lectures, classes and overflow for special events in the sanctuary.  It will have our receptionist office, an archives area and a meeting room for deacons and trustees.  A caterer’s kitchen will also be located there along with restrooms.  An elevator from the garage will bring people up to that floor and to the sanctuary (the sanctuary will also be accessible by a stairwell in the atrium level).  Outside, the building will have an undulating roof and metal screen along the front of the building, all of which evoke themes of water. This is an important theme to us as Baptists, since we immerse people when we baptize, and it is a great theme in the bible (we recall Moses led the Israelites across the Red Sea, Joshua led them across the Jordan River, and the ancient Church likened itself to an ark with Christ as our Captain).  Indeed, one of the stained glass windows in our current sanctuary depicts an anchor.  On the sidewalk along the front entrance will be inscribed an anchor cross.  The outside also will have a “bell tower” with a cross and inside of that will be a digital carillon so we can call the community to prayer and play various hymns and songs.  Stained glass (not all of the glass) will be placed along that front wall and then on the 7th Street side, a slip of stained glass will ornament the stone wall, stones which echo the materials of our current building.  Inside, the theme of water will continue with a dramatic placement of our baptistery in the floor of the sanctuary. Currently, our baptistery is behind the chancel and above, totally out of sight and mind.  With this placement, the faithful will always see reminders of the two ordinances of the Baptist Church (and indeed of Christian life):  baptism and communion. The communion table will be center with a pulpit. The cross that now hangs in our baptistery (in honor of Anwar Trask) will be suspended behind the chancel area and center.  The inside will be warm and austere (this is quite in keeping with Baptist theology which is aniconic, that is, without images in deference to the first commandment).  Adjoining the sanctuary and standing between the church and Apartments will be a small “garden” that will provide a contemplative space even as it provides a green space between our two buildings. This will be solely for  the church’s use.

There is much left to do.  We will make decisions in the coming months about materials and some of those decisions will be predicated on our commitment to keeping the endowment intact. Our goal has never been to create a mega-church or use all our money on the building itself. We want to build an iconic church with a secure financial future. We are about to cross the Jordan River of our dreams and plans and into the promised land of our future. May God endow us with courage, faith, hope and love.

~Pastor Bledsoe