The Glo-cal Church
As one entered our seminary chapel, you passed by a variety of things: a wooden sign saying “Quiet please—chapel in progress”, a little guestbook register that had been in service since Moses was young, a wooden stand with the day’s bulletin available, a place to store book bags, coffee mugs (truly a tool for classroom learning) and other items in hand, and a small table with usually a few flowers and a little wooden cross.
It took most chapel attendees about five seconds to walk past through the entranceway. Habit made this hallway overly familiar and without much pause to stop and look around. One day, I did take my time entering the chapel, and I noticed that there was a small note on the cross itself. Written in careful small letters, the note read, “This cross is fashioned from wood taken from a renovation of William Carey’s home.”
Unless you slept through seminary courses in church history, world mission class, or even Baptist history 101 (and many did get drowsy in one or all three), you would recognize the name of William Carey, considered to be the “father” of the modern mission movement. William Carey was a British Baptist living in a time when “missions” was not a concern for Baptists. Indeed, the theological view of many British Baptists of the 18th century was that God did not need believers to spread the Gospel. Those who would believe would believe if God wanted them to do so. A crash course in early Baptist beliefs would be helpful to explain this, but the fact that this notion sounds odd and pretty bizarre to your ears means that William Carey’s appeal for Baptists to go forth with the gospel around the world worked. The notion of Baptists being mission-minded is just as deeply engrained in our Baptist spiritual DNA as our love for gallons, of water to baptize believers and the passion for a good potluck dinner.
Today we begin our month of offerings to support the World Mission Offering, benefiting the work of American Baptists through the Board of International Ministries. It is our way to make certain that our mission work continues a proud tradition stretching back to the era of persons like William Carey and Adnoiram Judson. American Baptists celebrate many good ministries around the world, and it is our responsibility and calling as First Baptist, Bennington, to support our missionaries and mission. Your mission board set a goal last year and the annual meeting approved that goal back in January, and now it is our opportunity to fulfill it. The 2007 goal for the World Mission Offering is $500, which will be joined together with the giving of other American Baptist congregations to be faithful to our common vision for a global mission effort. (And trust me, the folks in International Ministries depend on your faithfulness. Most of their operating budget is received through this annual offering.)
In my mind’s eye and with a good belief in the New Testament notion of the communion of saints above cheering us on, William Carey leans over the side of the heavens above, and says, “Go, First Baptist, go!” It might be taken at first as a word to make sure that we make that $500. (The tellers encourage your giving of paper currency. Those who give $500 in unwrapped pennies will be chased with a stick.)
I hope it is not fanciful thinking to imagine William Carey up there calling to First Baptist, “Go, First Baptist, go!” for more than just financial reasons. A good saint above would commend us to be good saints below, not merely giving to mission, but likewise becoming hands on in mission ourselves. Can we hear differently the words: “Go, First Baptist, go!”
American Baptist mission happens because of people saying “yes!” to the Great Commission to go forth and evangelize the whole world. The criticism of North American Christianity, however, has been that we have been supporting mission for so long (and certainly with great faithfulness) that we have forgotten how to do mission ourselves. We live in a mission field, indeed, what is called by American Baptist National Ministries as the third largest mission field in the world: right here in North America. Yet, when we hear the word “mission”, we think of what God is doing somewhere else. So, today, when we think of “mission”, can we start thinking of this idea: “First Baptist supports glo-cal mission”?
Glo-cal is not a word that you will find in Webster’s Dictionary or even in a good theological dictionary. It is a word that has been created to remind us that mission is “local” and “global” alike. Instead of thinking of mission as something that we fund elsewhere in the world, we turn things around a bit and say, “How do we do mission here as well as over there?” as well as “How do we live out our Christian faith in a way that is mindful that we are called to tend the needs not only of this congregation or community or nation, but to embrace the whole world itself”? These are tall orders, but I think that there is proof that “glo-cal” thinking is already being sighted in our midst:
The 2007 budget that was set for this year features our faithful and essential support of American Baptists. The line items also include historic giving to our region and community. Our mission budget is different this year, as it features increased giving to the Interfaith Food & Fuel Fund and the Coalition for the Homeless, an organization raising critical needs for those without shelter in our county. We also have new line items for the Bennington Youth Center and the Bennington County chapter of Habitat for Humanity. If you glance at today’s bulletin, you will see that we are nearing the goals for pledges to local (i.e. “this church” and her needs) and the building fund (which again is all about “this church” and her needs), but we are still needing to fulfill our covenant that is our annual budget to ensure that our mission giving to denominational, local, community, and other ministries, is met. We should not let our mission support be unduly lacking while attending to the necessary affairs of day-to-day operations here for this congregation.
But thinking glocally is more than just line items and pledge giving. A glo-cal minded church dares to be hands-on in its mission. For the past month, the Adult Sunday school has gotten underway with twenty or so persons attending. We have been discussing the biblical call to serve and advocate for those who are in need, and as we read biblical texts, we are also hearing “reality checks” from our own congregants who are working to help those in need or congregants who are in need of assistance and advocacy. It is difficult to live in Bennington, find a decent paying wage or salary, and to make ends meet. It strikes me again that we cannot hope to be a church that is relevant unless we are aware of our unique calling to be the First Baptist Church OF, IN, and FOR Bennington, Vermont. And that would strike me as indeed a good reason to think of our work as holy and important work. Could we start calling ourselves “missionaries” as well—those who not only speak of the Gospel but also dare to live it in the midst of a people who are less inclined towards the Christian way of discipleship than they were in previous generations? Mission is not just “over somewhere else”. It is here, and we ought to be at the ready to be here in this mission field as well!
First Baptist has some excellent opportunities to start this journey:
(A) Spend time together as a congregation pondering your calling as a church. We have some significant opportunities between now and Thanksgiving to start listening for God and discerning what is necessary to move us closer to a vision for the future that is not just “good intentions on a page” but words that we seek to live by as we serve this community. I cannot stress enough the importance of each one of you being the critical part of what will make this congregation go forward. I’m just the minister. You are the people whom decide whether the story just repeats the last three decades of decline or if you dare to see clearly that new life and relevant mission is on the horizon. These next few Sundays are key opportunities for you to spend time learning from visiting guests like Sue Andrews, manager of the Food & Fuel Fund as she speaks about the unique issues that she encounters with those in need within our community as well as Dr. Anthony Malone, an Albany area pediatrician and American Baptist layman who has helped foster significant efforts by faith communities to help children and families in need. Then, we spend the rest of our “pre-holidays” time talking about the vision of First Baptist, stewardship, and most importantly, why you think this church has a future that God is calling us to bring about in the midst of this community.
(B) Take opportunities to ponder what our “footprint” looks like as a local church if we dare to be “glo-cal” in our outlook. American Baptists are a people who embrace the call to be Baptists in this country as well as part of the larger world. Over the past weeks, news of political strife and violence has come from the country of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. American Baptists hear of Burma and think of the significant mission work of the Judsons with great fondness. (Perhaps some of you elder congregants remember reading the Judson biography To the Golden Shore.) Here is a critical opportunity for the needs of today to match up with the historic convictions of our tradition! Right now, the people of Myanmar need our prayers as their government seeks violent and coercive ways to quell the people’s right to protest. American Baptist churches are helping with refugee resettlement as Burmese come to this country to get away from the strife and establish a new life. Indeed, right now, American Baptists are calling for donations of up to $500,000 to meet the anticipated demand for dollars to be spent in helping these refugees, many of who arrive in this country seeking assistance. Our role as a small congregation is not settle for looking out for our church building or just this one community. God calls us to speak out for those in need and to offer assistance, regardless of a person’s identity or status. Our footprint as a congregation can be much larger, and it needs to be so, especially for the sake of those who are in great need and times of challenge and who are marginalized or oppressed! The Baptist World Alliance, a global group of Baptists, is calling out to churches, especially in North America, to become “global impact” churches. Is it time to adopt a new identity, not just as First Baptist “of, for, and in” Bennington, Vermont and move a step forward to being “First Baptist of, for, and in the world”?
(C) To be willing to receive, give, and be transformed by God. The spiritual life is not meant to be prayers, church attendance, and service to the “internal” life of a congregation’s governance and maintenance. The spiritual life is one of prayer, discernment, worship, and discipleship AND seeking to proclaim and enable God’s justice to be known in an unjust world. Whether it is poor families in Bennington or politically displaced Burmese families on the run from dire circumstances back home, it is all about doing God’s great mission, fulfilling Jesus’ great commission, and finding the Spirit, lest our desires and myopias lead us to the great sin of “omission” as we praise God and forget to tend these bruised and needful world.
(D) Ready to serve rather than waiting uncertainly. We can be a church that moves in the power of the Spirit, the same that fueled the ministry of Jesus and the mission of the early Church. Are you ready, First Baptist, to be more than a name on the street corner sign and more a sign on the streets of this community and this world that the gospel of Jesus Christ is here, drawn near, and ready to move into the mission field?