PASTOR’S NOTES JAN/FEB 2009
As we look ahead to the New Year, I suggest that First Baptist mark 2009 as a festive year. In 2009, Baptists celebrate a major anniversary: the 400th anniversary of our religious tradition. In the late 16th and early 17th centuries, the Protestant Reformation was well underway, however, some religious groups still experienced persecution and harassment even by those who were reformers themselves. A group of English dissidents fled to Amsterdam, a safer place for religious tolerance. By 1609, English pastor John Smyth’s congregation began articulating religious views we now look back upon as the earliest evidence of a Baptist way of believing and practicing the faith.
Throughout 2009, you will receive notes about our Baptist history and heritage through special bulletin inserts, newsletter articles, and congregational events highlighting the spiritual hallmarks of our tradition. Keep an eye out for announcements of special opportunities via the congregation’s various ways of communication: email, website, newsletter, and bulletin. It is my hope that the congregation will see our tradition’s “big 400th” as an opportunity to celebrate our past, reflect on our present day identity, and deepen our resolve to keep the Baptist tradition alive and well into the future.
This January, U.S. citizens recognize the only civic holiday named in honor of a religious leader: the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The legacy of Dr. King takes on a particularly poignant note this year as the King holiday falls on the day before the inauguration of Barack Obama as the nation’s first African American president. A number of organizations are encouraging communities to celebrate the King holiday and the new opportunities presented by the incoming White House administration by hosting local events or dedicating themselves anew to local grassroots initiatives.
By happy providence, First Baptist and other interfaith-minded religious communities are doing just that with the dedication and grand opening of the Bennington Free Clinic the week before. On Wednesday, January 14, 2009, from 5-7 PM, the community will celebrate the dedication with local and state leaders attending to help cut the ribbon. I encourage every congregant to attend the dedication so you can enjoy the words of thanks and recognition for your part in making this community initiative take flight.
This clinic will offer free healthcare to adults, especially the seventeen percent of Bennington County residents (ages 18 to 64) who are without health insurance. On Thursday, January 15, 2009, the Free Clinic will begin its weekly efforts to help our community members in need, utilizing space at First Baptist every Thursday evening and the skills of various area doctors and other medical professionals and community volunteers. To donate or volunteer, call 802/442-3700 and talk with Sue Andrews.
The Free Clinic is illustrative of First Baptist’s growing understanding that our congregation has a Missional calling. With the tutelage of Dr. Ron Carlson of ABC/USA National Ministries in the past (and the future—we’re hoping to have Ron back in early March 2009), First Baptist is considering what it means to be a Missional church. Dr. Carlson is crossing our nation working with congregations just like First Baptist, and I believe we are hearing his good word about the future of our faith (and the change necessitated to get there!). As part of his introduction to Missional church training, Dr. Carlson writes,
You have been chosen to live during the most accelerated rate of change in human history. Human knowledge is doubling every two years. Think for a moment of all the ways life has changed in the last fifty years: communication, technology, medicine, science, culture, global economy. How has all this change affected the church?
Just fifty years ago, eight out of ten Americans got up on Sunday morning and went to Christian worship. Today fewer than two out of ten Americans attend worship on any average Sunday. What changed? Everything!
As Christians, we believe that the gospel message of Jesus is good news for every era, and we know that the church has adjusted to every new challenge in each new generation. How will the church respond to today's challenge?
Missional church is a growing movement throughout America in response to this time of change. A missional church is "an authentic community of faith that primarily directs its ministry focus outward toward the context in which it is located and to the broader world beyond”.
Along these same lines, Dr. Troy Jackson, a minister and author of a new book on Dr. King, explores how the Missional church movement harmonizes with the thought of Dr. King. He writes, “King would challenge you to think first about the welfare of your community rather than the size of your congregation the next time someone asks how your church is doing”.
While we are not a congregation of considerable size, First Baptist seems to be coming to terms with being “smaller than we used to be” and reframing its identity and ministry around the new day at hand. Whether it is renting space to non-profits, cooperating with other religious communities on common ground efforts, or engaging in creative projects with our own congregants, First Baptist has much to offer. Let the year 2009 serve as a time to remember the past and go forward boldly into the future as the heirs of Smyth and King.
The Rev. Jerrod H. Hugenot, coordinating minister