Because We Are Friends and Brothers
Early on in our conversations, the pastor nominating committee told me about the annual joint service with First Baptist Church that’s been held every Labor Day weekend for the past dozen years or so. Everyone agrees that it is a significant event and one in which we take appropriate pride and joy. A few months after I arrived, Keith Pacheco was kind enough to share some of the details of the events, how it grew out of a desire to take seriously our call to racial reconciliation. The idea of a mostly-white congregation worshiping with a mostly-black congregation is a good idea.
Certainly racial reconciliation which is both a biblical mandate and a national necessity. How can we Christians proclaim our unity in Christ and make the amazing claim that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” when Sunday morning remains the most segregated time of the week? In 1858 Abraham Lincoln used the biblical metaphor of a house divided against itself to describe a nation that still tolerated human slavery. 150 years later, a racial divide still scars our nation’s life and Christians know the one salve that can heal that wound – the healing grace of repentance and forgiveness. (By the way, whatever your politics, last night’s event in Denver should long be remembered; it is important and good for all of us.)
But let me be honest with you. At first I was less than enthused by this tradition, because it has all the signs of being just and only that; a tradition. In fact, many of you have heard me say that I have discovered that it is a tradition that everybody loves and nobody owns. That is, we all want it to happen, but it is hard to find people willing to make it happen. I wondered, is the joint service with First Baptist Church one of those events that has seen its time but is now growing tired, a program filed under “we’ve always done it that way?”
But then I met Luke Mason. Like me, Luke Mason is new to Langhorne. He has been pastor at First Baptist for three months longer than I have been pastor at LPC. He, too, has heard a lot about the joint service, and, like me, this will be his first experience with it. As tradition has it, LPC hosts the service in even-numbered years and when we host, the Baptist pastor preaches. Luke has the pulpit on Sunday.
After Labor Day I will want to talk about our joint service. Is Labor Day weekend still the right time to hold it? How can we encourage those Baptists and Presbyterians who won’t walk down the street to the other congregation’s sanctuary to leave their comfort zone and join us? And what might we do to build a bridge between our congregations and communities that is open more than one Sunday a year? Or is the joint service a good idea whose time has come and gone? (And if not, who is willing to own it?)
That’s for after Labor Day. This year I am very eager for the Sunday before Labor Day because I will be worshiping with some Langhorne folks I haven’t met – those from First Baptist – but, especially, because I will hear the Word proclaimed by someone I already know to be a brother in Christ and with whom I think I just might have experienced the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
I’ve never heard Luke preach, but as we have spent some time together, I already know my colleague in ministry to be faithful and wise, funny and smart, open and caring. Luke is not in Langhorne everyday since he works full time for Presby’s Inspire (Presbyterian Homes), but we’ve made plans to get together and share our lives and our stories on a more often than annual basis.
I’ve never been to a joint worship service with LPC and First Baptist. I can encourage you to come based on what I’ve heard other folks say. I can exhort you to attend because it really is important. Or I can tell you that I think you’re going to like my friend Luke as much as I do. Be sure to be with us (you don’t even have to walk down the street to the other sanctuary; 2008 is an even-numbered year).
Because We Are Friends and Brothers