A Great Host Surrounds Us – Celebrating 335 Years

Not many churches in the United States can boast of being 335 years old, but on September 24, 2017 First Baptist Church of Charleston will celebrate that honor. The current sanctuary, designed by Robert Mills, was dedicated in 1822. The congregation moved from Kittery, Maine in 1696. Mr. Elliott gave the current property for a Baptist church in 1699. We know there has been a Baptist church at this location since 1701.

It is inspiring to think about the people who have worshipped here, the ministers who have served here, the ministers and missionaries that the church has produced. The most significant milestone is the thousands of ordinary people who have contributed thousands of hours and millions of dollars to make our world a better place. We may never know their names but they have built and repaired houses, taught school, mentored children, served in the homeless shelter, sang in retirement homes and jails, coached sports, visited in homes and hospitals, prepared and served meals to the bereaved, packed school bags, gone on local and foreign mission trips, visited the sick at home and in hospitals, performed yard work, tutored inner-city children and provided childcare and senior care. What has been the impact of 335 years of faithful service for no other reason than it is the right thing to do? What has been the impact of millions of hours of volunteer service to this city and around the world? No one can calculate the impact.

We remember the names of the famous pastors: Screven, Hart, Manly, Furman, Hamrick and organist David Redd, but these are the ones who inspired the volunteers and urged them on to fulfill the mission of the church. Before the Civil War the church had 200 African/American children in Sunday school and more Black members than White members. After the war the Black members were invited to remain and many of them did and served until their deaths. Others went across town and formed Morris Brown Baptist Church. From the beginning the pastors nurtured young prospective ministers. Furman University was the natural offspring of those efforts. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary grew out of Furman.

Dr. John Hamrick started a day school in 1947 long before the civil rights movement. He was the founding president of what is now Charleston Southern University. The church started the rehabilitation of Market Street during the pastorate of Paul Craven Jr. by purchasing a site and erecting the John Hamrick Activity Center in the early 1970s.

Under the leadership of the current pastor, the Rev. Marshall Blalock, the church is building a new high school campus on James Island and planning to renovate the historic campus downtown.

For 335 years the congregation and its leadership have modeled the scripture, “Where there is no vision the people perish.” There is still a vision and the future is bright.

When People Talk, It Can Make or Break Your Church – Bill Owen- ethicsdaily.com

When People Talk, It Can Make or Break Your Church | Bill Owen, Leadership, Community, Center for Healthy Churches, Healthy Churches, Conversation, Speech

Unhealthy conversations that go unchecked damage culture. It leads down a path of dissension and decline, Owen writes.

Church people talk.

They talk about all kinds of things: the pastor, her sermon, how many people used to be in worship, and what we ought to be doing but haven’t yet.

This kind of talk can be threatening to a pastor, but it doesn’t have to be.

Having people care enough about what’s happening at church to talk about it is a good thing. Conversation creates culture. It’s the path toward vitality and growth.

Effective church leaders must learn that the surest way out of an unhealthy climate is by changing the narrative, by reframing how “people talk.” This process is nuanced, but the gospels help.

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all began as conversations. These writing evangelists stood in a long line of communicators, stringing together stories told and retold, heard and recounted.

They gathered the best and wrote them down so parents could recite them to their children, teachers to their students and neighbors to their neighbors. Before long, friends from remote places were also talking about Jesus as the Son of God.

The political talking heads tried to spurn Jesus’ story by mocking him and killing him for blasphemy. But those who had been near him had gotten word to those now far off that he was so much more.

They re-authored the culture surrounding Jesus’ story all because church people decided to talk.

Conversations can be powerful.

If you think about it, not one of us would have ever come to faith apart from someone having said something to us. Words as simple as “Hey, why don’t you come to church with me?” Maybe it was “I’ll pray for you” or “God bless.”

Whatever it may have been, the fact is someone at one time or another said something that touched us, “spoke” to us or maybe challenged or even angered us. It whetted our appetites or made us curious enough to take a step toward God.

This is how church has worked for two millennia now. It thrives on people talking to one another. This is how a carpenter’s son from Nazareth becomes known all over the world.

People talk and word travels. People talk and lives transform. People talk and churches are established. People talk and systems get established like hospitals and nonprofits to help the poor, the sick and the broken mend.

Just think what churches have accomplished, are accomplishing and still can accomplish by how they focus their talk.

But beware: Having people care enough about what’s happening to talk about it can also be bad.

Unhealthy conversations that go unchecked damage culture. It leads down a path of dissension and decline.

Too often, we underestimate the effects of how people talk. Serious matters treated too casually or electronically reduced to 140-word tweets or diminished to emoticons or scrolled across the bottom of television monitors threaten the culture being shaped.

Talk is seldom cheap. What we say, when and how we say it, counts. It matters in every realm – political, relational and spiritual.

When political leaders articulate with moral clarity our highest values, citizens rally to form a more perfect union.

When friends surround one another during times of crisis, words of comfort and concern give strength and peace.

When a neighbor tells the truth in love to one who has asked for it, when a spouse ends a quarrel with forgiveness, when a teacher bends to encourage a student to use her voice because every child matters – it makes a difference.

Pastors should never underestimate the power of conversation, whether in the hallways, around the table or from the pulpit. It all matters.

It’s easy to settle for tepid, empty words – to exchange pleasantries, to bless the status quo, to comment on the weather or exchange sports scores.

Don’t be duped. While everyday banter can help build rapport and establish trust, left alone or left unshaped is not pastoral leadership.

Good pastors articulate a consistent, clear vision of a God-sized future; communities of faith respond.

Effective pastors are able to spread the message: “Here’s the picture; this is what we’re doing; here’s why we’re doing it; if things go right, here’s what the picture will look like a year from now.”

The really good pastors are able to use their pulpits to offer a prophetic call to congregations to follow the narrative of Jesus without feeling threatened by a low trust culture.

The best pastors are able to get their ministerial staff to be collaborative leaders shaping the new narrative while they lead teams.

When this occurs, specific steps of implementation follow and real ministry takes root shaping the church’s culture, spilling over into the life of the community.

I, along with my colleagues at the Center for Healthy Churches, work to help church leaders and churches identify processes that enable such a shift in narrative building.

Healthy churches and pastors know how to establish a high trust culture that focuses attention on what and how people talk. Churches that put a premium on healthy, intentional conversations thrive.

People are going to talk. Why not make it a healthy conversation?

Bill Owen is the south central consultant at the Center for Healthy Churches. He served previously as pastor of Mount Carmel Church in Cross Plains, Tennessee, before retiring after 32 years of ministry. A version of this article first appeared on the CHC blog website and is used with permission. His writings can also be found on his blog, and you can follow him on Twitter @owenrevbill.

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The Kingdom of Heaven Is Like Good Fried Chicken: Rev. Susan Sparks

Hi y’all, welcome to the Shiny Side Up! A journal of infectious inspiration that will lift you up, make you smile and leave you stronger.

Recently in Atlanta, Georgia, I discovered that the Kingdom of Heaven is like great fried chicken. This realization came after a dinner with my roommate from college.

Atlanta, if you don’t know, is a foodie heaven. Every major chef — every James Beard award winner is down there. So I was excited about what new edgy restaurant we might explore!

My friend picks me up from my hotel and after a bit of a drive, we turn into the parking lot of a sketchy motel with a neon flashing sign across the street advertising “The Onxy Strip Club.”  Nestled in the middle of all this glory was the Colonnade Restaurant, circa 1927.

I wanted to turn to my friend and say “you have GOT to be kidding me.” But like the good southerner I said, “well how lovely” (still thinking you have GOT to be kidding).

Here’s where the lesson shows up. About a half an hour later, the waitress arrives with our food. Brothers and sisters I kid you not – the heavens opened up, and a flock of angels came down with the keys to the kingdom because there in front of me was a big ole plate of fried chicken that was so good it’d make your tongue jump out and lick the eyebrows off your head.

That evening I learned that the Kingdom of Heaven is like good fried chicken because often times we find it in places we might not otherwise choose to go.

Appearances are fooling – whether it’s a building, or a neighborhood, or a nation or a person, you can never judge based on how something or someone looks. The book of John 7:24 says, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”

Besides the fact that judging is wrong, it’s also dumb. We miss the best things in life by focusing only on what’s shiny and beautiful, popular and hip. Had we gotten scared off by the sketchy motel and the Onyx Strip Club, we would have missed experiencing the Kingdom through that fried chicken. And the same is true for all of us.

Right now, today, something or someone around you is offering YOU a beautiful gift. The question is: will you judge the appearance of the giver or will you accept and enjoy the gift?

Below you will find more inspiration via photos, articles and sermons. Until next time, keep the shiny side up and the rubber side down!   –Susan

The Invisible Woman – www.ethicsdaily.com

Wednesday, August 23, 2017 4:47 am

'The Invisible Women' | Mitch Carnell, Baptists, Catholics, Women in Ministry, The Invisible Women, Sandra Makowski

Too often, we study the men [in the Bible] and ignore the women, Carnell observes.

“The Invisible Women: Naming and Proclaiming the Forgotten Women in Scripture and Church Law” is a book of great consequence.

Through Sister Sandra Makowski’s superb writing, research and scholarship, the poor treatment of women in the Bible, lectionary and local church is brought to new light.

Of course, Makowski writes from a Catholic perspective, but that does not mean there is no food for the rest of Christianity. As a Baptist, I was surprised by the number of things I did not know.

For example, I have never read a book or heard a sermon on Hagar and yet Makowski’s book helped me to see how Hagar becomes more and more important as international conflicts continue to unfold.

Similarly, I knew almost nothing about Huldah, the prophet who lived during the time of Jeremiah. I have been saturated with knowledge about Jeremiah and his teachings and that is Makowski’s point. Too often, we study the men and ignore the women.

In the beginning of the church, women and men shared equal status and roles. However, as the church became more and more structured it took on the cultural characteristics of the society around it. Women gradually were stricken from the leadership and their voices disregarded.

In the Catholic Church, this pattern continued unchallenged until after Vatican II, where no Catholic women were originally invited.

However, a major shift began that indicated that the laity share equally in being gifted with the Holy Spirit, being called to holiness and being engaged in the mission of the church.

Although women play major roles in the Bible, their importance is mainly marginalized by the male-dominated church, Makowski asserts. When women are mentioned, it is most often in relationship to the male figures.

Jesus reverses this practice; however, the church downplays the extraordinary recognition Jesus gave to women.

The role of women has often been described as the sleeping beauty fairytale. Women are simply to wait until Prince Charming arrives, awakens them and gives meaning to their lives through him.

It would be nice to think that that notion has been put to rest; however, we know that this isn’t true.

The Baptist Faith and Message statement of the Southern Baptist Convention in the year 2000 states, “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”

Another section states, “A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ.”

As a result, in many Southern Baptist churches, women cannot be deacons or teach men.

One of the major new ideas to me from Makowski’s book is that there were women at the Last Supper. The Scriptures do not restrict the possibility. Yet, in my life in the church this possibility has never been remotely suggested.

At the end of each chapter, Makowski includes a short story that places the reader in a situation and then asks the reader to answer several questions. These questions are very important in helping personalize the impact of what has gone before.

The concluding paragraphs of “The Invisible Women” are powerful.

“If we fail at being our best selves, or if we are not invited to the banquet, that doesn’t mean we give up. It simply means that tomorrow is another day. And tomorrow we try again with God’s grace,” Makowski writes. “It is God who has the final answer, and in the end, it is God who does the inviting. God has already extended the invitation to women and men alike. No one is excluded from the banquet.”

She continues, “Let us remember that it is God who has the last word, and in God we trust because God loves us, God sees us, God calls us by our name. We are God’s beloved – male and female alike. And nothing and no one can take that away. What more is there to say!”

Mitch Carnell is a member of First Baptist Church of Charleston, South Carolina. He is the author of “Our Father: Discovering Family.” His writings can also be found at MitchCarnell.com and ChristianCivility.com.

Give your tongue a rest and listen with your heart, Sparks says

“Is there anywhere in the Bible that shows Jesus laughing?” asked the Rev. Susan Sparks at the beginning of the 9:15 a.m. Thursday morning worship service in the Amphitheater. Chautauquan Susan Hughes had stopped Sparks after her presentation at the Interfaith Lecture Tuesday and asked the question.

“The short answer is no, not in the Gospels; there is nothing about joy,” Sparks said. “But in the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, there is a phrase used several times, ‘and the Savior laughed.’ ”

Sparks took a short diversion from her sermon topic, “Check Your Weapons at the Door.” The theme was angry words and the Scripture readings were James 3:3-5, Proverbs 18:21 and Psalm 141:3.

Sparks and her husband were on a motorcycle trip near Yellowstone. She was wearing an open face helmet and momentarily took off her glasses, and a bug hit her in the eye. It hit her eyelid, but “it felt like a meteor coming at me. I was not pleased and I am sure the bug was not happy either,” she said.

They stopped at a Cody, Wyoming, hospital to get her eye looked at and she noticed a large sign at the front door: “Check Your Weapons at the Door.”

“Is that sign for real?” she asked the nurse looking after her,

“Honey, this is Wyoming,” the nurse said. “You have no idea what people come in packing.”

The sign was important to keep people safe in the hospital, Sparks said.

“There is a lot of talk about weapons today — nukes, drones, WMDs, AK-47s — that we need to seriously consider checking at the door,” she said. “But there is a more dangerous and equally scary one that each of us has. We are all packing heat with our personal WMD — the human tongue.”

In Proverbs 12:18 it says “rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” We are all familiar with the damaging power of words, Sparks said, that can sting like bugs at 70 mph. They tear apart families, cause jealousy and anger, and lead to prejudice and racial slurs.

“Fifty-two percent of young people have been bullied online,” she said. “These words are spoken and written because the fingers are the extension of the mouth. Hurt-filled words that are spoken, written, texted or tweeted are part of an arms race that must stop.”

In the letter of James, he tells his readers that a bridle in the mouth of a horse can control it, and that a great ship is guided by a small rudder.

“So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits,” Sparks added. “There has to be a way to bridle the tongue, to check our weapon at the door along with other, dangerous, human-made weapons.”

The first way she suggested to check the weapons is to take responsibility for what you say or write.

“I know that pasta is done when I throw it against the wall and it sticks,” she said. “When we treat words like that, they always stick. I wish we had autocorrect for the tongue.”

One day Sparks was texting a parishioner and thought she had sent: “Our prayers are with you. You have family in NYC.” When she checked the message, it read, “Our prayers are with me, you have family here not.”

The parishioner had a sense of humor and wrote back, “I pray my pastor will master autocorrect.”

There is no autocorrect in life; we can’t take things back and we will be held accountable, Sparks said. As baseball player Willie Davis said, if you step on people in this life, you are likely to come back as a cockroach.

The second way to check our tongues, Sparks said, is realizing there is power in shutting up.

“We need to take a Shabbat, a rest, for our mouths and listen,” she said. “We think by the inch, talk by the yard and show people the door by the foot.”

Author Stephen Covey said that we don’t listen to understand, we listen to reply.

“I know that from my training as a trial lawyer, I was always looking for something to say that was sparkly, intelligent or would win the argument,” Sparks said. “But we do this naturally in our own lives.”

If we only listen to reply, we are only listening with our mouth, she said. If we listen to learn, we are listening from the heart.

“Let’s give our mouths a Shabbat,” she said.

The third suggestion was that words can change the world for better or worse. As an example, Sparks told a story of being in a pre-operating room with her husband, who was awaiting back surgery. A doctor entered the cubicle of the patient next door who was waiting for surgery and said: “You are going to hate me after this operation. This is the most painful surgery I do.”

In contrast, her husband’s surgeon came in and said: “Let’s do this. You will be taller and stronger because of me.”

She also shared the story of a father playing catch with his son in a local park. The small son had a glove about the size of his head. The dad would throw the ball and it would drop to the ground. The father kept moving closer and throwing the ball, and it kept dropping to the ground. Finally, he walked up and put the ball in the glove.

“That was great, good for you,” he said to his son.

“What an indelible footprint that dad made on the flexible psyche of his son,” Sparks said.

People are hungry for love and affirmation and every word has an impact on them. We can change them and the entire world with our words, she said.

“Do your words lift up and leave people better than you found them or are they WMDs?” Sparks asked. “We can get all worked up packing heat, making the tongue a destructive weapon, or we can make it a tool for healing and change the world for the better. Check your weapons at the door.”


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