I've been enjoying meeting, albeit virtually with many of you over the past six weeks or so of quarantine during worship, in small group zoom sessions, and over the phone. Each time we meet I feel the movement of the Spirit in our midst. I am convinced that the only way our congregation will emerge from this pandemic as strong or stronger than we were before is by gathering in small groups during this time. I know, that's a pretty bold statement. Yet, as I watch, listen, and reflect on our community of faith, it is our connection to one another that makes us who we are. We care for each other. We pray for each other. We talk with each other.
In premarital counseling, I frequently caution couples on getting so 'comfortable' that they begin taking each other for granted. I usually say something like, "each day in a relationship we need to wake up and say, 'I choose to love this person today;' and the day we stop doing that, is the day the relationship begins to fall apart." This is true for all of our relationships. When we stop being intentional about reaching out, or getting together, we begin to drift away from one another.
So- this comes as a friendly reminder to be intentional; call someone today. Look for information about new small groups that will be forming over the next few weeks- and join one.
But, this also comes with an invitation. Beginning April 29, I'm going to be hosting a small group called 'Oasis.' Along with checking in, building relationships and praying for one another, we will be focusing on the scripture passage(s) for the coming Sunday. We will look at the background, context, etc., but then just read and reflect together on the passage and how it applies to our lives.
My hope Is that this group becomes a mid-week time of refreshment in a time where we may be feeling spiritually dry. The group will be held via Zoom each Wednesday at 6:30 PM. If you would like to receive an invitation to attend, please click to sign up here. There is also a sign up on he fron page of our website. Class size is limited, so don't wait too long.
I look forward to meeting with each of you in this time of spiritual renewal and refreshment!
I pray this post finds you well, safe, and surrounded by God's presence. We are never alone! Our FBCM community of faith prays for one another, connects with one another, and supports one another. On days where it seems more difficult, or more isolating than others, I remember each of you- I remember that you are praying for me, and I for you. I remember the bond that keeps us and calls us, a people of God. And then I feel and draw on that strength! I am so grateful for this time together, yet apart.
I hope that you are joining us for virtual worship each Sunday whether on our FaceBook page or on our website. I have especially enjoyed seeing each of you who have created video spots for our services. It is SO good to see you!
We are now into Holy Week, a time for remembering and journeying with Jesus toward the cross. Feelings of sadness, mourning, and despair, even on a 'normal' year, are expected. We read the scriptures depicting the betrayal, the denial, the horror of Jesus's crucifixion, and I don't think we would be human if we didn't feel the depth of sorrow that goes along with those texts. It is a naturally reflective and dark time in the church year and may seem even bleaker in the face of COVID-19 and quarantine.
And as we read, meditate, and pray, there is a desire in us to run from those feelings, and immerse ourselves in something else to distract ourselves; to deflect or even ignore the pain of what we're experiencing.
We want joy to return. We long for light. In our heart of hearts, we yearn for resurrection! Come quickly, Lord Jesus! We need your healing spirit! We need the power of new life!
Those feelings of wanting to skip this week, and run toward Sunday are also real- also valid. But let me encourage you this week, to try to stay in/sit with some of the darker feelings that come up as you journey through the week. Bring those feelings before God through prayer. Name them. Reflect on where you are in those feelings, and also where God is in those feelings. Trust me God is there.
Once you have spent time in prayer, naming, reflecting, locating- then find someone you trust with whom you can share some of those feelings. Let someone know how you're doing and what you're feeling. Let others help affirm and reflect with you.
Paul tells us to bear one another's burdens, and in this way, we fulfill the law of Christ. (Gal. 6:2) Reach out. Don't wait for others to call you, rather pick up the phone, or send an email or text. By doing so, you allow others to enter the dark places with you; and when you do, even your darkest place seems not quite so dark.
Please know that I and the rest of the ministerial staff are here if you want to talk, pray, or even just name the dark you may be feeling. You are not alone.
Peace on your journey,
As the news of COVID-19 escalates, our anxieties and fears tend to rise as well. How do we keep calm amidst the storm of minute by minute media coverage? How do we separate real and valuable information from hype? It isn't easy. We are told through scripture to cast our cares on God, the source of strength. That perfect love casts out fear. That we should be "anxious for nothing," Yet still we may find our minds swirling with "what if's," and worry.
I can't help but think about Jesus and the disciples in the midst of the storm on the Sea of Galilee. As the disciples scurried around the boat, fearing for their lives, Jesus slept on a pillow in the stern. In Hebrew, sleeping is a metaphor for trust. Isn't that beautiful - that though he is in the same storm with the disciples, Jesus chooses trust over fear. And that IS beautiful - if you're Jesus. But how about the rest of us? Let's look at the disciples.
In their fear, they felt the need to wake Jesus up. "Master, don't you care that we are perishing?"
At first glance, we may think of the disciples, (and us) as not having enough faith. Why couldn't they (or, why can't we) trust that God is in control - and let Jesus sleep? But I don't see the disciples waking Jesus as an act of fear - I see it as an act of faith! While the storm swirled around them and they had done everything they knew to hold things together, instead of relying on themselves and their own abilities, they went to the source of power and strength. They woke up Jesus! What a bold and faith-filled act! And what a fantastic model of prayer for us during times of anxiety.
So many times we approach God as pleading children - begging for mercy or protection or immunity from the storms of life. But God has given us a promise . . . that despite how it may look or how we feel, God's promise is sure; God will never leave us alone - not for one second. And so when storms come we can pray to God, not arrogantly . . . but confidently, and with boldness, and with surety in God's promise as did so many before us in scripture... "Wake up God! You promised to be with me and right now I'm not feeling it!"
Now, this kind of praying does two things (at least). First, it focuses our attention from the storm to the only one who will finally, still the storm. And second - it reminds us that the Christ in us continually connects us to God through the Holy Spirit. The Jesus (Christ) in us always "sleeps," always trusts. In faith, "wake up," the Jesus inside of you! In faith, call on that trust, call on that calm, call on that love. Stand up and rebuke the wind in your own mind - "Peace, be still." And rest in God's great calm.
Peace to you,
It’s been a very busy two weeks at FBCM.
Last Thursday, we mourned the passing of Charlotte Gillespie and celebrated her life in a wonderful gathering at the church. Her Memorial Service gave the community who loved and respected her a chance to grieve together and find comfort in God’s loving Spirit.
Sunday, Paula Dempsey and Carole Collins, Co-Directors of the Alliance of Baptists visited our church. Paula gave an inspiring and timely sermon, which gave us some background on the Alliance, how they function and how they support one another in ministry. You can listen to that sermon here: http://www.fbcmoorestown.org/listen.html Just click on last week’s service!
After worship, Paula and Carole handed out some more detailed information on the Alliance and what it might mean for our church to become a ministry partner. They fielded questions, explained how our congregation members can become involved in communities working for justice, equality, ecology, and so many more issues through the Alliance. As well, they explained how we might bring our own peace and justice issues to them, and gain support for causes important to our congregation. You can read more about Alliance of Baptists here: http://allianceofbaptists.org/Home Let me encourage you to click around their website and become familiar with the Alliance.
August 13th after worship, we will be having a congregational chat to talk about the possibility of FBCM joining the Alliance, and we would love to hear your impressions. The Leadership team had a chance to meet and discuss this on Tuesday at the regular monthly meeting, and are in agreement that joining the Alliance is a wise move for our church. However, this is something that all of us as a congregation would need to decide. So, bring your questions and concerns, your hopes and dreams and let’s chat about it as a congregation.
Our Leadership Team works tirelessly to help our church become the best version of ourselves that we can be. Please take a moment this week to thank one or more of our LT members for their service. (Lois Dinsmore, Bev Bennett, Adam Buck, John Khanlian, Vanel Perry, and our Ministerial Staff) Each person is an inspiration as they share themselves with us and for the betterment of our church.
Perhaps you have a gift that you can also share? We are presently in need of a church clerk- someone who can record minutes of congregational meetings as well as keep membership rolls current, etc.
Lastly, let me invite those of you who have a desire to become involved in worship planning and preparation to a meeting this Sunday of the Worship Ministry Team. At our last congregational chat, we brainstormed about worship being more creative, more diverse musically, poetry readings, dramatic and fine arts adding another dimension, etc. If you would like to put some legs to these ideas, please join us! We have a wonderful future ahead praising God in a diverse worship setting that is reflective of the diversity of our congregation. Let's make that happen together.
Peace to you,
Last week's congregational business meeting was both energizing and fruitful. For those of you who were able to attend- Thank you! I was glad to see the level of participation and engagement and was touched by the positive and thought-provoking comments and questions. It is clear that we are in a forward-moving time at our church.
For those who could not attend, here is a summary of what was discussed:
1. Communication: Lois explained the ongoing effort to better communicate pertinent information to the congregation. Also, if you have a specific way you would like to be reached for emergencies, please let us know.
2. Two members were unanimously elected to the Leadership Team. We are grateful to Bev Bennett and John Khanlian for their willingness to serve in this capacity.
3. We need two people to serve as delegates to our Rochester Genesee Region. Delegates are responsible for keeping up with region events and actions, voting on behalf of our congregation on relevant issues, and attending the delegate meetings twice per year in Rochester (that part is optional). One person expressed interest already, so if you would like to fill the other position for 2017, please let me know.
3. Alliance of Baptists: As described in last week's 'Pep Talk,' the Alliance of Baptists is a group of progressive Baptist churches, much like us, who, partner together to do mission, support and encourage one another, and act for peace and justice. The Alliance affords churches of our size the opportunity to get more involved in progressive church movements than we would as one church with limited resources. The Co-Directors of Alliance of Baptists will be joining us for worship and discussion on July 9. Please try to be present that Sunday as we will have the chance both to find out about this wonderful organization, and ask questions.
4. John Dinsmore, Chair of Trustees gave a wonderful report on some of the happenings in Properties and Grounds. For a detailed report, scroll to the bottom of this blast. Thank you, John (Deeee!) for giving so much of yourself and your time to our church!
5. A NEW way to give: Margie Green explained a new giving option for those who do prefer not to use checks, or on line bill paying. Our church will now be able to accept debit/credit card payments on Sunday mornings via a "Square" device, which allows those of us who do not like to carry cash to still contribute to the church. It is a great way to give straight from your checking or savings account, no matter what the amount. The church will incur a small surcharge for each donation, but it will enable another group of our population to contribute.
6. ABC-USA: People were given the opportunity to express feelings on the appointment of our new General Secretary, Lee Spitzer. The Leadership Team will continue to talk about this, and host congregational conversations about this issue in the near future.
I hope this summary has been helpful to you. If you have questions, concerns, please contact the church office and ask for me. I'm happy to meet with any and all of you. The minutes of this meeting are posted in the black notebook in the church lounge for your perusal. Next week, I will give you an update on some of the ministry areas in which you may feel called to be involved, and some of the ways that our ministry circles are impacting our community of faith, and beyond!
Last weekend I attended our Regional Meeting in Rochester, NY. The meetings are held three times per year in order to keep people informed about the working American Baptist Churches of the Rochester Genesee Region, (ABCRGR), much like our quarterly congregational meetings. Representatives of all of the region churches gather to discuss how we can best function as a region, build relationships, and vote on relevant issues. If you would like to read a full summary of the meeting, including a letter from our Executive Minister, Rev. Alan Newton, please scroll to the bottom of this letter.
One of the items I was eager to discuss was the appointment of our new General Secretary of ABC-USA, Rev. Dr. Lee Spitzer. Dr. Spitzer was the former Executive Minister of the ABC New Jersey region of which we were a part. Dr. Spitzer holds a very conservative theological and social perspective and has shown himself to NOT be in favor of full inclusion of all people into all aspects church life. His appointment is disconcerting, and the vote to accept him was not unanimous on the part of the electing body.
As you may know, the Leadership Team of FBCM met a few weeks ago to discuss how Dr. Spitzer's appointment may impact our church, and I was tasked with seeking more specific information at our region meeting, specifically if there was going to be a formal response on the part of RGR, as well as what procedures /processes are in place to ensure that Dr. Spitzer adheres to American Baptist principals, namely church autonomy and the right of individual churches to ordain the people they feel called to ministry.
Here are my findings and some comments:
1. The General Secretary is accountable to the General Board of ABCUSA. The General Board is made up of representatives from each region, and the General Secretary has no input as to how those board members are chosen. RGR has one representative on the General Board, which meets monthly to discuss the work of the General Secretary and keep regions connected.
2. The General Secretary, though our national head of communion, does not have authority over regions or individual churches. Unlike other denominations where edicts come down from the highest office and churches follow, American Baptist Churches are not structured that way. Church autonomy is still paramount among American Baptists - each church has the freedom and authority to govern itself.
3. There is no formal response from our region planned. Some of the churches in our region are concerned about Dr. Spitzer's appointment, as he represents a very conservative theological and social aspect of Christianity. However, there are also churches in our region who are quite happy with Dr. Spitzer being the new GS, as they are also conservative. Part of ABCUSA life means that we come from many different backgrounds and theological perspectives and respect each other's right to believe as we wish on issues.
4. Many of the churches approached me after the meeting to let me know that they are praying for us; that they understand that Dr. Spitzer's appointment is upsetting to us as we have had previous experience with him as the Executive Minister when we belonged to ABC-NJ Region. It was comforting to be surrounded by a loving and supportive community of churches, who wanted all of you to know that we have a safe home with RGR.
At the congregational meeting on June 18, we will be discussing this with all of you to hear your comments, concerns, and ideas going forward. Our church has a long history with ABCUSA, and we take our denominational affiliation very seriously. Please take the time to gather your thoughts, pray and bring constructive ideas and comments to the meeting.
Please note- there is no pot luck luncheon at this particular meeting as it is Father's Day. We will, however, go into the lounge for a coffee hour where there will be extra chairs set up so we can still "meet and eat." Please try to arrange your schedule to be at this important meeting in the life of our church. We need your voice - and have saved a place for you!
'Pep' Talk- 6/1
This past Sunday our church held a congregational luncheon and chat called "Widening our Circles." The purpose of the gathering was to solicit feedback and brainstorm ideas about our church. It was a wonderful event! I was so happy to see so many people in attendance, and all so willing to share! We had more than enough delicious food (holy carbs!!!) and as we ate our lunch together, we looked over a list of all of the ministries currently operating at our church. Then we discussed four questions- first at our individual tables, and then with the whole group. The following is a compilation of the question and responses:
1. Why do you attend FBCM?
It's a welcoming, comfortable, safe community where we can be authentic
2. What present ministries would you like to see continue, with your support? (Each of the following ministries got volunteers to sign up to be involved/support)
Worship Greeting & Welcome
Food Pantry American Baptist Women
Q-Munity Children and Youth Ministries
Congregational Care Music/Performing Arts
Breezeway Chats Properties and Grounds
Community Cafe Diner's Club & Social Activity planning
3. What things would you like to see at FBCM that we can improve upon or add? (for each of the following, a team has been formed to work on that specific area)
More small groups for increased connection
Bulletin board to help connect people to ministries
More creative/interactive worship- more tactile elements to worship
More diverse music, including ethnic music, contemporary music, and upbeat music
Blended service- mix of traditional and contemporary
Better communication church-wide
4. What things are you led to pray about when you pray for FBCM?
For our leaders and pastors
To become even more diverse, and more welcoming
For our children
That we can be aware of and involved in justice issues
That we can learn to communicate better
For growth in finances
For church growth
When we had finished our discussion, we stood, hand in hand, and prayed for our congregation- and for the things mentioned in this last section. It was a beautiful, spiritual time for us.
If you could not be at the luncheon, we would still love and value your input. If you have responses to any of these questions that are not on the above list, please drop me a note via email, letter, or even meet to chat with one of our pastors or leaders. I am so encouraged for the future of our church. I know that God is doing wonderful things through our congregation and witness.