Fifty Years of Blessings

Charleston Speech and Hearing Center Board member Mrs. A. Baron Holmes (Dewar ) was the first to tell me about First Baptist Church when I came for an interview, but Lester Hamilton was the first to invite me to visit.  He said, “When my wife comes to invite you to the church, tell her that her husband already beat you to it.” Nell was a paid visitor for the church.

On our first visit we encountered an amazing, inviting and engaging group of young professionals. We left a similar group behind at Goodwood Baptist Church in Baton Rouge. When we heard Dr. John Hamrick preach the deal was sealed. Liz said, “It is formal enough for me and Baptist enough for you.”

When we joined, Dr Hamrick said to Liz, “I will ask you this, but I will only ask you once. Do you have any interest in becoming a Southern Baptist?” “No, Dr. John I don’t” “Welcome to the church,” he said. “The only thing you can’t do is to vote to give it to the Presbyterians.” Dr. Hamrick understood that she could not abandon the faith of her Presbyterian missionary parents. When David Redd became the Minister of Music and Worship, our cup was filled to overflowing. I came to First Baptist knowing how to praise God, how to thank him and how to petition him, but together Dr. John and David taught me how to worship. What a combination of talents. Of course the beautiful historic sanctuary inspires worship.

Our children, Suzanne and Michael, were baptized at First Baptist and Suzanne was married here.  In late August, 1989, Liz was rushed to St. Francis Hospital. During the terrible thirteen days that she was in intensive care and I remained in the hospital to be close, Dr. Scott Walker and G. W. Bowling never missed a day in visiting us. The people of First Baptist and Westminster Presbyterian Church, where she taught kindergarten, kept me well supplied with food and company. At Liz’s funeral Scott said, “When that aneurism hit Liz, God was the first to cry.” Two weeks after her funeral Hurricane Hugo devastated the sanctuary and the entire Charleston area.

When Carol and I were married at First Baptist nine years later by Dr. Hamrick, Dr. Tom Guerry and Dr. Monty Knight, the church welcomed her with open arms. She relished singing in the choir until she had to give it up late this summer. Carol asked Mary Peeples to represent her mother who was in a nursing home. Ann Fox coordinated the event.

We started the John A. Hamrick Lectureship in 1996. Dr. John’s life illuminated his faith. “If God tells you to do something, he will find a way for you to do it.” When Marshall Blalock arrived as our pastor, he fully supported the lectureship. He also supported Forty Days at First Baptist and Say Something Nice Sunday. None of these could have thrived without his support. Lori Lethco, Marshall’s administrative assistant, deserves a lion’s share of the credit for the success of these programs. There is nothing like the lectureship in the state. It is supported by contributions. The committee and especially Marshall are routinely criticized for our choice of speakers overwhelmingly by people not connected to the church.  Marshall simply states, “The people of First Baptist Church are sophisticated enough to make up their own minds.” The Hamrick Lectureship will celebrate its 20th. Anniversary in January, 2015.

When the editor of the Florida Baptist Witness wrote a front page editorial denouncing Say Something Nice Sunday as, “Gospel Free Sunday,“ Don Kirkland, editor of the Baptist Courier, asked Marshall if he wanted to respond. Marshall replied, “No. His words speak for themselves.”

The celebration of the church’s 325th. Anniversary in 2007 was a glorious affair. The Rev. Dr. Thomas McKibbens, now interim pastor of the First Baptist Church of Providence, Rhode Island – the first Baptist church in America, delivered an electrifying sermon, “The Theology of Friendship.” The service was followed by a congregational lunch at the John Hamrick Activity Center.

I have always loved church. I made my profession of faith public in Northside Baptist Church in Woodruff, South Carolina when I was eleven years old. The invitation hymn was, “Just as I Am.” I am grateful for the wonderful people in that small church that gave me a firm foundation that has allowed me to explore and expand my faith with assurance. “I know in Whom I Have Believed.”

October 6, 2014, is my 50th anniversary as a member of First Baptist Church of Charleston.  For about twenty seven of those I taught an adult Sunday school class after stepping in as a substitute. Although these fifty years have not been without heartbreak and pain, my family and I found a home. This is a loving, supportive church family. I have nothing but gratitude for the people at First Baptist and thanksgiving for the spiritual nourishment I have found here.

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Katy Couric. The Best Advice I Ever Got

Katy Couric. The Best Advice I Ever Got. New York. Random House Trade Paperbacks. ©2011

There is a reason Katie Couric’s book is a New York Times Best Sellers. It is a terrific offering. Katie asked many of the people that she has interviewed over the years to answer the question. What is the best advice you have ever received? Most of these are well known; however, many others are relatively unknown. All of the replies are well worth reading.

Jay Leno answered, “Marry your conscience.”  Michael J. Fox explains, “Be Grateful.” “Giving is living,” is the contribution from Mitch Albom. .Rosario Dawson adds, “Feast on your life.” Eric Schmidt says,   ”Say yes.” And Colin Powell contributes, “It doesn’t matter where you start.”

These are just a small sample of all the wonderful examples Katie includes. Katie contributes several entries herself. The only thing that mars the book is that the print and lack of white space makes it difficult to read. Perhaps I should have bought the hardback or the ebook. All the royalties from sales go to Scholarship America. It is a great gift for college graduates and those facing challenges.

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Fearing the ‘other’ – Molly Marshall – ABPNews.com

Perfect love casts out fear, if we have the courage to forgive rather than retaliate.

By Molly T. Marshall

My responsibilities as a seminary president require that I spend an inordinate amount of time in airports and on planes. These venues offer a stimulating opportunity to view humanity in all its richly hued diversity. I get to play peek-a-boo with little ones, surely a universal game, granting a little respite to tired parents. On occasion, I get to assist first-time travelers as they navigate unfamiliar security requirements or train links between gates.

I also have opportunity to witness the traveling challenges immigrants encounter and the xenophobia that surprises us. As I prepared to board a plane in Atlanta yesterday, I noticed two young men dressed in Muslim garb, complete with knitted caps. Of Middle-Eastern descent, they were sprouting beards and wore only sandals.

Instinctively, my antennae went up. Even though I regularly participate in interfaith gatherings and seek occasions to find common ground with those from Islamic traditions, I found myself watching these men with a measure of suspicion and fear. I was not alone in this scrutiny, and soon the men had moved to a corner away from others.

The only way to conquer my fearful reaction was to walk toward them and speak. They had an equal amount of suspicion, also, so I made my greeting brief and did not extend my hand, as many Muslim men eschew that practice. I simply extended the traditional greeting of peace: As-salamu alaykum. They nodded gravely and returned the hope that peace would be upon me, too.

The current international crisis surrounding the militant actions of ISIS has raised the question once again about whether Islam is a religion that sanctions violence. Some evangelical writers are quick to see the recent atrocities as warrant for denouncing this Abrahamic religion, and they advocate strong military action against this marauding force. My fear is that this will only exacerbate brutality — by sword and by drones.

Early in his papal leadership, Benedict XVI displayed a measure of insensitivity when he delivered a lecture at the University of Regensburg that suggested that Islam was “a religion inherently flawed by fanaticism.” He spent the remainder of his eight years in office seeking to clarify and soften this assessment. Hardliners today, however, are hailing him as a prophet.

Indeed, the firestorm that followed his early missteps prompted Islamic scholars to broach dialogue with the Catholic Church as well as Protestants. American Baptists have hosted a number of conversations with Muslims, and these have fostered greater understanding and respect. We need to cover so much more ground in our journey toward peace.

In my judgment, Christianity has as much to prove about its relationship to violence as does Islam. When we claim the Hebrew Scriptures as the Christian Old Testament, we are receiving texts that outline a program of herem, the utter destruction of those who stand in the way of conquering the land of promise. Although Jesus commanded his disciples to “put away the sword,” we know that many of his followers were all too ready to take it up against Muslims in the Crusades. And the bloody religious wars that spattered Europe following the Reformation reveal a violent approach to theological conformity.

America as a “Christian nation” is part of the mythos of national identity, and when we undertake military action against nations where Islam is the primary faith, it is seen as Christians against Muslims. When I confer with friends in Southeast Asia, I receive questions about how Baptists feel about our nation’s use of force around the world. Albeit a professed pacifist, I reluctantly mumble something about “just war” theory, realizing that even this construct is an accommodation to a world fallen to violence. I hasten to add that we really cannot find warrant within the Jesus tradition to justify such action.

Fear retains a vise-like grip on the human psyche. Our long evolutionary history, which privileges survival, means that we will fall to violence in order to escape what we fear most — pain and extinction. Human aggression and self-defensiveness encroach in the religious sphere, and this may be where our fear is most pronounced.

Yet, “perfect love casts out fear,” if we have the courage to forgive rather than retaliate. As Bethany Sollereder has recently written in Christian Century, “… love’s endeavor is to approach pain head-on, to stand against it, and to remain undeterred through it.” Love is the antidote to fear, and we are incapable of it without the divine assistance.

I wish I had mustered the courage to inquire further about the well-being of the young men and their hopes and dreams for the future. I wanted to know if they were studying to become imams or simply devout in their religious practices. I would have if I had been more loving and less fearful.

OPINION: Views expressed in ABPnews/Herald columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.

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As for Me and My House, Call Me a Thug – Connie Stinson – ABP

DAY, SEPTEMBER 5, 2014 COMMENTARIES

As for me and my house, call me a thug

It is past time to realize that division only brings more division.

By Connie Stinson

I pastor a racially mixed church in a densely populated Maryland suburb of Washington. We accurately call ourselves diverse.

One month ago, one of our young adults, a particularly gifted 20-year-old, preached “Judge Not” from my pulpit and further exclaimed, “As a young black male, I am often followed through a store by a suspicious security guard. It’s my life.” The parents of color in the congregation didn’t blink an eye. They understood this young man’s painful reality. The message that we should judge not hit home that day.

While I sorely grieve the violence in Ferguson, I also recognize it as one of many indications that our country is being shredded into factions of hate and deep-seated prejudice. That is why we are joining our District of Columbia Baptist Convention on Sunday mornings to pray to end violence in a nation that needs peace.

I was in Missouri last week, less than seven days after the shooting of Michael Brown. My first full day there was the Sunday after. The Ferguson-focused reports saturated local media, local pulpits and local conversations. My Sunday afternoon dinner with extended family from southern Missouri represented three churches they attended that morning.

“What did your pastor say about Ferguson this morning?” I asked. I was wondering how (or if) Christian compassion might express itself in the politically and theologically conservative, whiter, geographically-closer context. I was told, and I personally witnessed as I sat beside my mother in her church that morning, that “all sides were prayed for.” Another said, “We prayed for the family of Michael Brown as well as for the safety of the police officer. We also prayed for all the thugs there.”

Thugs? That was a word I hadn’t heard in a while. What exactly is a thug? The next day, I heard the word used repeatedly by TV newscasters. Wow, apparently it was a popularly understood term, whatever its meaning. My insides grimaced. It was yet another label that we human beings thoughtlessly use to judge and divide, but here it was being used as a regular noun like “boy” or “girl.” I looked it up. Its textbook definition is a person of violence, especially a criminal. Its street slang meaning is one who wanders, looking for meaning in life.

In my view, David True’s words ring painfully true, especially, “The equation black = criminal is built into our culture’s deepest sinews.” We are a country divided by our own fear and our own sick efforts to maintain law and order. It is past time to realize that we are all human beings with the same needs. It is past time to realize that division only brings more division. It is past time to realize that human connection, brought by compassionate listening, is the only way to break down the barrier wall that divides us.

As for me, call me a thug. Never mind that I’m a 58-year old white woman pastor. For that matter, call my whole church a bunch of thugs. I reject the old-school definition; we are not violent criminals. I am claiming the truth in that slang version of the word. Though we do not do it well a lot of the time, we aim at meaning, especially when it comes to seeking unity in diversity. Sometimes we wander, sometimes we go backwards, and sometimes we attempt to march boldly into the future. But the goal is to be meaningful and make a difference in the name of love.

Isn’t that what it’s supposed to be about? May God forgive us all, including our own country, for being much less most of the time.

“For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility.” (Ephesians 2:14)

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Connie Stinson

Connie Stinson is pastor of Luther Rice Memorial Baptist Church in Silver Spring, Md.

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