I am a member of Memorial Baptist Church in Buies Creek, NC. As I was sitting with my children in church today, there were several thoughts that occurred to me which illustrate why I am so proud of my church. I'd like to share them with you. In a day and time when there are many churches in turmoil, and people frequently complain about their church, I'd like to say a positive word about the community of faith where my family worships.
First, we have a wonderful pastor, Dr. David Whiteman. He has been our pastor for more than 20 years. He is beloved by the membership of our church, indeed the "marriage" between pastor and parish has been very good. It is a healthy relationship and the fact that he is such a good pastor means a lot to my family. He is always there when we need him to bring a "pastoral presence." He leads the staff well as they plan and conduct the worship services and his sermons always have a tremendous amount of depth to them. He makes me think. And any pastor worth his/her salt should do that every Sunday. Furthermore, I consider David to be one of my closest friends. I always feel at ease around him. I never feel like he's judging me for my weaknesses. I always feel accepted by him, which is how I think people probably felt around Jesus, again a trait that any pastor worth his/her salt should possess. Pastors should welcome people to their presence, not repel people away by their arrogance.
Second, our church has a wonderful program for children. My children are happy at Memorial Baptist Church. There are lots of activities for the children. The Sunday School is good. And, children are treasured at our church. Our Childrens' Minister, Rev. Robin Hardison, is the best in the business. Even though she is a busy mother herself, she always finds time for the children in our church. I have always admired how patient she seems around the children and every child is valued and loved the same by her.
Third, we have one of the best atmospheres of fellowship that I have ever experienced in a church. Our church has one of the most diverse congregations that I have ever been a part of, yet we celebrate that diversity and it becomes our strength rather than an impediment. Let me illustrate what I mean. Some churches are like blankets. They are all one color, all one depth, and all one pattern. They might keep the congregation warm, but there is no diversity. In fact, diversity is not encouraged and is even threatening in a church like this. The leadership of churches like this would prefer that the church remain like a blanket because diversity could lead to change or a least might lead to challenging the status quo. But, our church is like a quilt. We have lots of color, lots of different edges, lots of shapes and sizes. But in spite of that diversity, we are all united in purpose. Our church's statement of purpose "Celebrating Christ, Growing Together and Serving Others," unites us as one body with different parts, all important for our mission. Do we always agree? Absolutely not. But, we're Christian about it. We discuss things in committees, in business meetings, and in Sunday School classes, but no one goes away mad. We respect one another. We have different theological perspectives from liberal to conservative. We have different political perspectives from conservative Republican to liberal Democrat and everything in between. Sometimes our discussions are passionate. But, we are always there for each other and our diversity becomes our strength. I like belonging to a "quilt-style" church rather than a "blanket-style" church! Furthermore, quilts are prettier than blankets. They take more work to make and they even keep you warmer on a cold, dark night! Our church is one of the best I have ever seen at celebrating its diversity.
Fourth, our church prays for and cares for those in need. My family has experienced this firsthand over the last several months. My wife has had a long history of chronic back pain. Finally, she had an accident last August which ultimately led to a very extensive back surgery just before Christmas. I can't even begin to express how helpful our church community has been to our family. Several people kept our children overnight during the time that my wife was in the hospital. Others have made meals for us. Still more have prayed for Pam. And, there has been an outpouring of love and concern that we'll never be able to repay. Perhaps the way we repay is simply to return the love and sharing of resources to someone else who is in need.
Fifth, our church understands the essence of the Baptist tradition. We are a church that celebrates freedom. Early Baptists understood the value of freedom. They celebrated the freedom of the individual believer within the community of faith. They valued the freedom of the local congregation to govern itself without any kind of coercion from the outside. They cherished the freedom to interpret Scripture for themselves. And they worked tirelessly to secure religious freedom from the government, both for themselves and for others. They understood the nature of the Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." They understood that if they needed freedom to practice their faith as they were led to do so, they in turn had to work for freedom for others with different beliefs as well. If freedom of religion is repressed for one group, ultimately there is no true freedom of religion. Our church is a "Baptist" church and as such we value the freedom to be whatever God's Spirit leads us to be.
Sixth, and this is a little bit more specific, I am very proud that our church celebrates that God can call and use both women and men in ministry. I am so proud that our church has just recently been named to receive the "Church Award" from Baptist Women in Ministry of North Carolina. This means that we have been selected as the church of the year by this fine organization for our promotion of women in ministry. Today, we celebrated "women in ministry Sunday," an emphasis promoted by the Baptist History and Heritage Society. Our Minister to Youth and College Students, Rev. Jenny Folmar, shared an outstanding message with our congregation today from I Corinthians 15 entitled, "I Am What I Am." It was a very good message that challenged us. As good as the sermon was though, the thing that stood out the most to me was how much attention my ten year-old daughter Hannah paid to it. The fact that a woman was proclaiming the Gospel from the pulpit of our church today and held the attention of my daughter made quite an impression on me. And, it also sent a message to my daughter and to any other young girls in the congregation that if they hear God's voice calling them to ministry someday, our church will celebrate and encourage God's call on their lives, not try and convince them that they are mistaken.
That leads me to one final thought. Our church is in the process of trying to make some decisions about the entities it is going to affiliate with beyond itself. More specifically, we are trying to decide whether we need to continue in fellowship with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina or are we going to alter that relationship in some kind of way. For me, the decision becomes a matter of conscience. How can we continue to associate with a Convention which seems to be moving so rapidly in the direction of becoming a de facto auxilliary of the Southen Baptist Convention? And, anyone who has followed, even from a distance, the direction that the Southern Baptist Convention has travelled, should be concerned. The SBC is now one group of Baptists which are defined on the basis of what they are against rather than what they are for. And that is a terrible p.r. problem! The SBC has made it clear in its Baptist Faith and Message 2000 statement that it has no room for women serving God in ministry positions, most especially the pastorate. In other words, they want to try and limit whom God will call to the ministry. Furthermore, there is a mean spirit prevalent in the SBC which comes across in a militant tone. It turns people away rather than invites people in. So, if this is the direction that the Baptist State Convention seems to be going, does our church really need to be affiliated with it? What can I say to my daughters some day if either or both of them should feel the call of God to preach and our church is formally affiliated with a Convention that not only does not celebrate her call, but would want us to tell her that she is mistaken? Additionally, how can a church that celebrates its diversity (a "quilt-style" church) find commonality with a Convention that seems bent on encouraging more "blanket-style" churches? Or, put another way, can a "quilt-style" church find a place at the table in a Convention full of "blanket-style" churches?
If you live in the Buies Creek area and you are looking for a church, I encourage you to come by Memorial Baptist Church. Our quilt will keep you warm! Check out our website at: