A Big Week For Belonging

| July 1st, 2024

Dear Beloved Community,

Belonging had a big week around First on Fifth.

We belonged with a bunch of Baptists over in Greensboro, as our Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) family gathered for its General Assembly. This once-a-year event draws together CBF churches, partners, and individuals for several days of worship, fellowship, learning, and deep, abiding joy over simply being together. 

I could tell you about the mix of attendees, as racially diverse as I’ve ever seen it. I could tell you about the preachers (thoughtful and full of holy fire!), the workshops (helpful and clear), the reach of CBF (stretching wide across the world, in countless locations, touching the lives of thousands). I could speak about our church’s presence there (commanding in leadership and energy from all ages!), our outgoing moderator (as fine as they come – though I call him Dad and am a bit biased!), our Executive Coordinator’s leadership (again – biased always toward a Baxley! – but wise, open-hearted, and so very, very good).

But what I most want you to hear is the spirit of the people. Our Fellowship grows deeper and wider, more inclusive and faithful with each passing year. CBF Global is, as the Annual Gathering theme stated, “reimagining” the scope and shape of our witness to the way of Jesus in a changing world, and doing so with equal parts clarity and nuance, grace and truth. 

I’ve been going to CBF gatherings as long as I can remember, so it was all the more meaningful to hear this sentiment reflected from a newbie. Sally, one of our family’s dear friends from Louisville (who has served on staff at Highland Baptist where I served too), was in Greensboro for her first CBF gathering. She wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, after spending meaningful conference time in a variety of Christian and church-adjacent spaces this year. “I had no idea,” she told me, “that CBF was this warm, this hopeful, this welcoming.” 

First on Fifth, you can be proud that our CBF Global family is among our very best partnerships in the gospel ministry. In an age when other Baptists obsess about how tight the circle of belonging can be, these Baptists to which we belong give me fierce hope and abundant gratitude. 

The next morning, more than 50 of us gathered to bear witness to God’s bold love and boundless compassion at the Pride Festival, a place and community of such joyful belonging. We took on a new community leadership role this year, as we hosted a pre-Pride breakfast for many of the churches who also participated in the Pride Festival, some for their very first time! As our sister church folk began milling around on our front lawn, they were deeply grateful – and not just for the downtown parking! This work of being an inclusive witness to the gospel is better shared, and it was a gift to begin the morning in this way.

Along the way, First on Fifth folks showed up: setting up our booth, making coffee, baking biscuits, greeting fellow church-goers in our community, walking with exuberant welcome, talking to participants all afternoon at the booth, gladly handing out “Y’all are Beloved” fans in the stifling heat. These hours were filled with meaning, and I am endlessly grateful to serve our community alongside you. 

As the day unfolded, I remembered a conversation I had at Pride last year. One of the teachers at my kids’ school was there to support a friend of hers, and she found me at our church’s booth that afternoon. “I want you to know,” she began in earnest, “that when I saw all the kids carrying your church banner in the parade, I burst into tears. I’m not a church person,” she said, “but I’ll do whatever I can to support First Baptist. Your presence matters so much in our community.”

Imagine my surprise some six months later on Christmas Eve when I see her and her family enter the Sanctuary for worship! After the service concluded, she told me that though her family had never worshiped together at a church before, they knew they would be safe and cared for in our church on Christmas Eve, in part because of our presence at Pride and what that conveyed. It was one of the most moving conversations I had all year. 

At the heart of both of these gatherings and their impact? Belonging. To one another, of course, but most importantly, to the God whose image we bear and in whose Love we live.  

Together in God’s work of Love,

Pastor Emily