i had a unique experience today, preaching at calvary baptist church in downtown washington. the pastor, amy butler, is a colleague in the doctoral program. she invited me to preach the last time we were together, back in may. since then i have looked forward to today with a mixture of joy and dread. i had never preached in a baptist church, although more than one of the good folk at trinity church have accused me of sounding like a baptist! is that a compliment or not?
calvary is an historic congregation, started in 1862. its sanctuary is just awe inspiring. it really is an amazing place. they have undergone a great deal of renovation recently, with more to come, so much of the building is still empty or underused. but the people were very friendly and welcoming. pastor amy has been at calvary for four years, moving there from new orleans, where she served as an associate pastor (she went to college at baylor and seminary in zurich). calvary is an american baptist congregation, meaning they are more progressive in their theology than their southern baptist cousins-- hence the willingness to have a woman pastor. the fact that amy was called to pastor an historic congregation like calvary says much about its character and her ability.
i have attended baptist churches only a couple of times in my lifetime. once in high school i went with a girlfriend. it was not a good experience. afterward i complained about feeling guilty, and she replied, "maybe you should." true as that may have been, i never went back! last may on mother's day in d.c. i visited shiloh baptist, an african-american congregation. that was an amazing experience.
today was a very interesting experience as a visitor. calvary's service is very formal, with lots of liturgy, unlike what one expects in a baptist church (i say this neither as praise or criticism, it's just true). they read all three texts from the lectionary, and sang many of the responses of a methodist or catholic congregation. today was a communion service, and, again unlike many baptist churches, other visitors and i were welcome to the sacrament.
the people were very positive in reacting to my sermon. it was epiphany sunday, the end of the Christmas season. it is a day to recall the visit of the magi to the Christ child. i used this day to ask what their dreams are for their congregation, and an invitation to offer those dreams to God as a gift, just as the wise men brought Jesus gifts. it was an opportunity to affirm pastor amy's leadership and position, at a time when they are facing growing pains and trying to vision about their future. they have a major meeting scheduled for tomorrow night. to my friend pastor amy and new friends at calvary church: thank you for your hospitality and affection. God be with you tomorrow and always. i hope my words were positive and challenging. i will be praying for you and the church tomorrow night.
i close this entry as i ended the sermon, with a poem by the great african-american preacher howard thurman. dr. thurman was a major advisor and pastor to martin luther king, jr. and a former dean of the chapel at boston university. these were great words for calvary, and for all of us.
"when the song of the angels is stilled"
when the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flock,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild nations,
to bring peace among brothers and sisters,
to make music in the heart.