Monday, November 19, 2012

First Calvary Baptist Church: More than lip service

The hardest part of not being the pastor of a congregation is finding a place to worship.  I battle with that decision every week.  Where should I go to receive a message that challenges me to remain faithful to my calling? Where should I go to be reminded that the work of the Church matters?
To be frank, it has been a challenge.  It’s not the fault of the places I’ve gone to remain connected after walking away for a season.  I’ve found lively worship that left me rekindled after a week filled with stress.  I’ve heard sermons that inspired me not to give up after grappling with doubt.  I’ve gained much, but something was missing.
That changed on Sunday.
“Because of you, we are able to help a family from Lincoln Apartments pay the deposit and cover the cost for them to move,” Frederick Davis, pastor at First Calvary Church shared. “This is possible because of you.”
Davis went on to share the support of the congregation for a family that lost everything in a fire. “We sent a car load of clothes,” he said.
I wanted to scream a declarative amen.  That’s what’s been missing.  The mission of First Calvary was present throughout the worship service.  It was clear.  It was known and celebrated by the entire congregation.  Everyone understood there is more to being a church than gathering each week to impress people with hairdo’s and wardrobes.  I left feeling connected to a mission to reach out to those who needed more than a spiritual message.
“There are consequences to decisions we make,” Davis stated in his sermon.  “First Calvary will have to answer to some of the decisions we have made.  We have not been placed here to stay in a pretty building and not take care of what is around us.”
That’s when the chills hit.  You can’t depend on those pretty buildings to speak.  Yes, Jesus said the rocks will speak if we refuse, but the people need more than a message from the bricks.  They need love.  They need compassion.  They need food and shelter.  They need prayers, but they need more than prayers.  They need answers.  They need more than judgment, they need hope.
“This is why we need you to give,” Davis stated.  First Calvary was able to help a family evicted from the Lincoln Apartments because of the mission and giving of its membership.  That’s faith in action.  That’s real ministry. It’s what the Bible means when the question was raised, “Can these dry bone live?”
What happened to the tenants at the Lincoln Apartments is tragic.  On Sept. 28, residents were informed by the Lincoln Hospital Foundation, which owns the apartments, they planned to terminate all leases and close the 150-unit complex.  Since then residents have been told they can remain until January, but that’s not easy when money is tight and you have to make arrangements to move.
The tenants marched in protest on Oct. 29, claiming the closure would leave 152 people homeless.  It’s no surprise that the community came to the rescue. Administrators for both city and county government forced conversations to give tenants more time.  Housing for New Hope has matched up to $5,000 in contributions to pay deposits for rent and utilities. The Durham Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance has committed to assisting Lincoln residents.  Many have chipped in to help. 
The support coming from First Calvary isn’t abnormal.  Other congregations have done the same.  What made Sunday different is the way the announcement was normal for First Calvary.  They do more than their share of helping those in need.  It’s part of their culture.  It’s their mission.  It’s their faith in action.
Yes, there’s that beautiful building on Morehead Avenue that seems to be out of place.  I’ve been critical of building fancy structures when the people have no food to eat. It seems like a crave contradiction, our impressive edifices juxtaposed against prevailing poverty.  It seems like a waste of resources when so many are in need.
That’s why the confession Davis made is so powerful.  “We have to answer to decisions we have made,” he stated.  Don’t all of us have to do the same? Haven’t our personal decisions impacted our ability to give more?
So, I have a message for Pastor Davis and the members at First Calvary Baptist Church.  You are the light of the world.  You are a reminder that life emerges from the ashes.  You are a tower representing the strength of a community.  You are hope in action.  You challenge us to do more than we have before.  Just like that amazing temple on Morehead Avenue – it seems out of place, but it’s not! 
And, I have a message for those broken.  Look to those hills where your help comes from.  Troubles only endure for the night, they say. Joy comes in the morning.
Mine came on Sunday morning, and it happened on a hill called Calvary.

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