Some cautiously but all with courage, they trickled into a side room down in Kelly Auditorium as the morning warmed into being. Their questions and hopes for this place filled the room even more than they themselves packed the seats. Friendly greetings from the nearby arriving Sunday School class and from Deacons whose meeting had just concluded were shared, and together, new and old alike broke bread and shared the cup (bagels and coffee, but one form of a holy meal nonetheless!). For in this space, across tradition and life stage and opinion and age and gender and difference, God was stirring.
This picture I paint is a sacred one, one in which I’ve had the privilege of a front row view. I’m speaking of course of our First Impressions classes, a two-week arc for new or prospective members to learn more about the identity, calling, and future vision of First Baptist Church on Fifth. In quick succession to meet the growing needs of numerous newcomers, we’ve now completed two classes in two months, each full of hopeful travelers on the journey eager to learn more.
Those who recently have shared in this adventure represent the rich and varied tapestry already at work within our beloved community: collegians and young adults living downtown and carving out a new identity in the working world; retirees who’ve moved to town in search of a slower pace and meaningful community; a few aching for a church community again, some even bearing scars from a past experience; families with babies, families with elementary schoolers, and families with teenagers, all looking to root their lives and give shape to their kindred’s story. Their questions speak to their search for a community that practices bold love and boundless compassion in the way of Jesus: What is First Baptist passionate about? What kind of Baptist are you? What’s next in the church’s story? Where do your people fall along ideological, theological, or political lines? How can I put my feet to my faith and get involved in a meaningful way? What expectations come with church membership? How is God at work in your midst? Is there a place for me here?
This Sunday (“Joining Sunday”), some will find strength in numbers as they come and commit their lives to our fellowship. Individuals and families will say ‘yes’ to the experience of God within the beloved community of First Baptist. I will say back to them what I tell every person who joins: “we’re ready for you to come and lead us — to be more faithful, more loving, more courageous, more joyful, more generous followers of Jesus.”
I’m sure that questions and curiosities will remain for our newcomers, just as they do for those of you who have been here for ages! But I trust that the God who makes all things new will dawn once more, warming us again and again with the brightness of a new day.
Together in the work of Love,