Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Hooray! My Pastor’s Back!

We at Jeff Street Baptist Community at Liberty have been missing our pastor for several months, now, as she has been on sabbatical leave–something very necessary for longterm pastorates. A church is more than its pastor and Baptist congregations are supposed to be lay-led. So people were still visited at home, in the hospital, in prison; the homeless and poor still fed; injustice in the city and around the world still challenged; the gospel still proclaimed–both by members and visiting preachers. Some of the latter is still happening. (I am looking forward, for instance, to giving the Reformation Sunday/All Saints’ sermon at the end of this month.) But we have missed our wonderful pastor, Rev. Cindy Weber.Cindy is shown above in the pulpit in our sanctuary–a pulpit that has missed her presence these last many weeks. An excellent expositor, a caring shepherd and administrator, a fiery, challenging prophet (as our city leaders have reason to remember!), and compassionate proclaimer of the evangel is our Cindy. She is also a pastor-theologian in the truest sense of the term. That doesn’t mean our theologies are always in agreement (this is a BAPTIST congregation with strong belief in liberty of conscience and the priesthood of all believers, after all!). But when I disagree, I am still forced to think and re-think in light of the Word made Flesh and revealed among us.

The sabbatical leave was profitable for us, the congregation, and, I trust, for Rev. Cindy. But it sure is good to have her back home. Posted by Picasa

October 10, 2006 Posted by | church | 3 Comments

Publicity for My Church: Jeff Street Baptist Community @ Liberty

Friend and kindred spirit Dan Trabue has been profiling the church where we are both members over at his blog, A Paynehollow Visit. He has blogged a series of short posts on some of the more curious aspects of Jeff Street Baptist Community @ Liberty (Louisville, KY), complete with photos. (Can anyone spot me in the middle of the balloons & confetti & dancing that concludes our Easter services? After a very solemn Lenten season with a cruciform Holy Week, we tend to REALLY celebrate resurrection on Easter Sunday.)

Those who would know more about us can check out our church blog, Life at Jeff Street. And if any of you are ever in Louisville, drop on by at 800 E. Liberty Street (corner of Liberty & Shelby). (Yes, I know. We are one of several Louisville churches that kept one place name after moving to a different street. I’ve never seen the like anywhere else in the U.S.) Yes, the big green building that looks like a machine shop is the right place. Our building is converted (on the inside) from an abandoned tool and die factory and the outside still looks more like that than a typical church building.

We are a fairly small congregation (usually 80 or so adults most years, never more than 100, plus LOTS of kids, natural, adopted–all loved) but we have 5 ministers on staff because only our pastor, Rev. Cindy Weber (currently on sabbatical leave until October), is full time. Our minister of music, Paul Whitely, Jr. (one of many very musically gifted members–of which I am not one) is volunteer. He is a seminary graduate but makes his living as a labor union organizer. Previously, he worked for Jobs with Justice. Together with his wife, Kate Sanders, an extraordinarily talented muscian and songwriter, they form the folk/roots rock duo, Down to Earth. I hope they will cut a CD in the near future.

Our Youth Minister, Roger Thomas, seminary trained and ordained, works for Jeff Street part-time but is also a social studies teacher at the public Middle School my oldest daughter, Molly (11), attends.

Our Minister to Children, Peggy Foskett, is also part-time, and works full-time as a Spanish teacher at the public elementary school where my youngest daughter, Miriam (7), attends. (Her older sister used to go there, too.)

Our Minister to the Homeless (a position my wife, Rev. Kate Westmoreland-White, once held), Diane Moten, has worked with children, as a social worker, and as a GLBT advocate for the Louisville Fairness Campaign and Kentucky Fairness Coalition, –organizations working to extend and defend the civil rights of sexual minorities in this city and state.

Our membership consists of many working poor people, some homeless folk (they tend to come through the church more than stay), along with an assortment of public school teachers, social workers, community organizers, artists, musicians, post-secondary educators at various nearby universities, non-pastoral clergy (mostly chaplains in local hospitals, hospices, mental institutions, etc.), one medical student, two lawyers, a pharmacist, and a couple who run a socially-responsible investment firm! Our educational levels run from the “never finished high school” level to the Ph.D., but, until recently, we were short on the “middle range” of folks with just one college/university degree. I used to say that educational divisions were the ones we had the most difficulty bridging in our very diverse congregation (racially, linguistically, income level, denominational background, sexual orientation–all very diverse), but I am happy to report that in recent years we have had more success in crossing those barriers.

Because of the numbers of poor people, our attire on Sundays tends to be quite casual (shorts in the summer, T-shirts, etc.), but folk who come in coat & tie or fancy dresses are just as welcome.

For more info., be sure to check out Dan’s great posts.

September 8, 2006 Posted by | Baptists, church | 4 Comments

Mottos for Communion Tables

Darrell Pursiful notes that Protestant communion tables usually engrave the quote from 1 Cor. 11:24, “This Do in Remembrance of Me.” While acknowledging its biblical appropriateness, Darrell has a few other suggestions, just as biblical, that might transform church life in healthy ways. Check it out here.

August 25, 2006 Posted by | church, eucharist | 3 Comments

Introducing Seminarians to Peacemaking

I spent today in Lexington, Kentucky (1 1/2 hours from my home in Louisville) at The Baptist Seminary of Kentucky, staffing a resource table for the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America. The seminary is a progressive alternative to the The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, the mother seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention. The SBC, as most people probably know, underwent an internal feud (c. 1979-1990) which left this largest Protestant denomination in North America completely controlled by rightwing fundamentalists and creedalists. The mother seminary of the SBC, SBTS in Louisville, resisted complete fundamentalist takeover (although there had been creeping incursions since c. 1987) until the retirement of President Roy Lee Honeycutt (1926-2005) and the selection by seminary trustees of R. Albert Mohler, Jr. as his successor in 1994, after which the school made an incredibly sharp turn to the theological and political rightwing. Like many similar efforts, BSK is a free-standing theological seminary in partnership with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. (BSK is also working to develop relationships with other Baptist groups, especially historic African-American groups such as The National Baptist Convention, USA, The National Baptist Convention of America, and the Progressive National Baptist Convention.)

Baptist Seminary of Kentucky shares the campus of Lexington Theological Seminary , a seminary of The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and is across the street from the Law School of the University of Kentucky. Thus, BSK is part of a growing trend in centrist-to-progressive Baptist theological education: a commitment to historic Baptist distinctives (including academic freedom and liberty of conscience) but taking place in ecumenical settings or partnerships and in university contexts. This seems to me to be right and proper: the spiritual formation and theological education of ministers is not isolated but connected to other expressions of Christian faith and the wider world–just as ministry is.

At any rate, this was an orientation for new and returning students and I was one of many people staffing tables where students found internship possibilities (e.g., Kentucky Hospice, Kentucky Baptist Fellowship’s rural anti-poverty program, the Kentucky Council of Churches’ environmental, racial justice, or prison ministry programs), mission and ministry opportunities (e.g., CROP Walk, Habitat for Humanity, Coalition for the Homeless, and me with the BPFNA), as well as resources to help students connect to the wider world of theological scholarship (e.g., journals such as Interpretation, Theology Today, & The Review and Expositorjournals of serious scholarship but aimed at working pastors rather than requiring advanced technical skills to read & comprehend) and ministry (e.g., Baptists Today, The Christian Century, Preaching, The African American Pulpit.).

It was a fun experience to meet these students, most of whom had never heard of the Baptist Peace Fellowship, introduce them to some of our resources and opportunities and get them excited about attending the 2007 Summer conference (“peace camp” as the children and youth call it) next July in nearby Berea, KY on the campus of Berea College. (Berea College was founded in the 19th C. by Christian abolitionists, was the first integrated college in the South, and is committed to the education of rural Appalachia.) It was also fun to meet with fellow exhibitors and connect with the wide array of ministry opportunities in my adopted state. Since several of my former teachers (before the fundamentalist takeover of SBTS) are, in retirement, part-time faculty at BSK, it was also fun to be reunited with the likes of Wade Rowatt (psychology of religion and pastoral counseling) and E. Glenn Hinson (one of the finest church historians Baptists have ever produced and also a longtime leader in the renewal of contemplative spirituality and devotion among Baptists).

I came away excited about the possibilities before this young seminary (although the legal and financial groundwork was laid in the 1990s, BSK only opened its doors in 2002 and graduated its first class in 2005) and its students. The world is changing quickly in this new millennium, with unique opportunities, challenges, and dangers. But these students (most twentysomethings, but some older) seemed eager to do ministry in such a context, prepared by grounding in spiritual and ministerial formation, intense study of Scripture, the historic traditions of the church (including, but not limited to, Baptist distinctives), exposure to the wide range of contemporary theology and ethics, and hands-on ministerial opportunities. It was good to represent BPFNA and present students with the challenge of seeing Jesus’ call to justice seeking and peacemaking as a vital part of their education and ministry. I hope it will be the beginning of many opportunities to connect to the work of this and similar schools and the current renewal in theological education in North America.

August 19, 2006 Posted by | Baptists, church, peacemaking | 15 Comments

Sister Diane Moten: Gentle Saint

My congregation, Jeff Street Baptist Community at Liberty is a small church with a big name. (I twice lost a vote to get us a smaller name, like Anastasis. We did have one joker who wanted to call us Liberation Anabaptist Fellowship–LAF.) We only have about 80 adults and maybe 50 children and youth, crammed in a re-furbished machine shop that, from the outside, looks nothing like a church building.

But the saints of this particular part of the Body of Christ continue to enrich and edify me no end. This is Diane Moten. Currently, she is our Minister to the Homeless (a position my wife, Kate, once had). But she has served as a deacon; cooked for Wednesday night dinner; represented us as a delegate to the convocation of the Alliance of Baptists. Di loves children and all the children of the church love her. I was, at first, uneasy with the way white kids, including mine, called her “Auntie Di” because of the history during segregation of white folks calling African Americans such terms of endearment–while all the while keeping them in positions of servitude. Fortunately, my political correctness has been ignored by all concerned and Di has treated my daughters as she does all the children–as her dearly beloved.

Thank-you, God, for Diane Moten and all the “ordinary saints” you use to extraordinarily bless our lives.

August 1, 2006 Posted by | church, family, saints | 1 Comment