An adventure to worship alongside sister congregations
Combined Worship: First Baptist Church Cooperstown NY, First Presbyterian Church Cooperstown NY and Tabernacle Baptist Church, Richmond VA. September 6, 2020
The visit with Rev. Joe Perdue and the congregants from First Baptist and First Presbyterian was a balm to my broken soul. I can tell that they are struggling with many of the same things we struggle with. There were technical difficulties that they worked through real time. Mask usage and distancing was mixed.
There were prayer requests for loss of a loved one, adjusting and healing and a request for the people of Vietnam. Joe also asked for prayers for the people of Rochester NY. Because of the murder of a man by police last spring and the violent response to the protestors from local police. This was close to home as Joe has two pastor friends in Rochester who are walking through this. He asked for prayer for “peace but not at the expense of justice”. The two pianist, tenor soloist and hammered dulcimer player were all delightful. I enjoyed the comfortable mixture of musical styles throughout the service, with English classical, a spiritual and the black national anthem. The sermon “Fault Lines” was an excellent illustration of the behavior of conquerors. God sent 10 plagues before Pharaoh let the people go. The reminder that there are natural consequences for actions and that God’s grace has often given us forgiveness. He recounted the trouble and demonic forces that we face in 2020. Joe said that when things are as bad as they can possibly be, we are called to worship and encounter God. He closed in challenging us. God chooses to act through us, so we “better get to it”. He challenges us to do the work of the Exodus in caring for others, wearing masks, hearing people of color, valuing black lives, protecting, and serving our neighbors. I was truly inspired by the closing “We are not obligated to complete the work, neither are we free to abandon it”. The closing was equally powerful with the Canticle of Turning as the last hymn and a benediction from Benedictine Sister Ruth Fox of Sacred Heart Monastery.
May God bless you with discontent with easy answers, half-truths, superficial relationships, so
that you will live from deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, abuse, and exploitation of people, so
that you will work for justice, equality, and peace.
May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and
war, so that you will reach out your hand to comfort them and to change their pain to joy.
May God bless you with the foolishness to think you can make a difference in this world, so
that you will do the things which others tell you cannot be done.
If you have the courage to accept these blessings, then God will also bless you with:
In the coming days we should continue to pray for the unrest in New York as well as other communities including our own. We need to lift up First Baptist in prayer as they begin a bible study on race. We should pray that God’s provision be upon them in their upcoming fundraiser.
I am thankful that God has graced us with Joe Purdue and will make sure to pray regularly for his ministry and the community in Cooperstown.
Respectfully Submitted By
Denise L. Walters
Celebrating Churches Crossing Racial Boundaries: Neighbors Under the Son in Ashland
First Baptist Church of Ashland is a mostly White church; their neighbor, Shiloh Baptist Church, is mostly Black. For the past year, teams from each congregation have been partnering to build friendships and learn how worship can bind the two churches together. Terry and I joined their remote service on September 6 for a celebration of that partnership, “Neighbors Under the Son.”
It was a wonderful worship service. Readings, reflections and prayers from members of the two teams gave a glimpse into the year they spent talking, fellowshipping, praying and working together. The service also included original worship songs written and led by songwriting interns from Urban Doxology, a summer program that mentors young adults in learning how worship can help them bridge racial boundaries (Tab’s own Alan Lowery was an intern with them not long ago!).
Finally, the pastors of each church preached together about repentence and reconciliation. Pastor Josh Hayden of FBC said the world approaches sin in two ways–seeking revenge or avoidance–but the church has a different call. “If we as the church will acknowledge the sin between us, staying out of the ditches of revenge or avoidance, healing can begin. There is no resurrection without the cross, no healing without repentence.”
Pastor Randell Williams of Shiloh said the question is, “How much is the price of a person’s dignity or humanity?” He said there is a price to loving others across racial lines, a cost to not standing by while others devalue the person I care about. But, he added, “If we are faithful to repent, God will take on the matter; He will not leave us alone in working this out.”
Pastor Josh said the partnership between the two churches started small, with just 12 people from each church committing to build their relationships over a year. “We brought our two fish and fives loaves, and told God we needed a miracle to help this little group become friends, a foretaste of God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven,” he said.
“And,” he added, “we found God’s intervention came through our shared intention. It is in the small places that healing begins.”
In a time when the voices about race in the U.S. are strident and the anxiety is high, it was such an encouragement to see two churches who are building friendships in the context of the kingdom of God. It’s obviously God’s providence that they began their relationships before the pandemic and the groundswell of tension in the wake of George Floyd’s killing. And this worship service offered a prophetic word in a world that values and devalues according to the color of skin. God’s way to healing is neither avoidance or vengeance, but open-hearted confession and repentance, which opens the door for reconciliation.
As a friend recently reminded me, “Racism can’t be healed with the head, but only with the heart and the body.” The partnership between First and Shiloh put feet to bridging the distance between them, and spoke through the heart in confession of the sin of separation. In turn, hearts are being healed and learning to love. I’m sure the journey so far has been neither easy nor perfect, but it lifted my spirits to hear the good news of these two congregations learning to walk together.
And what about my own church family? My hope is that we at Tab, like First and Shiloh, will be open to God’s call to us. God brought together “neighbors under the Son” in Ashland…what might God want to do between us and our neighbors at Meadow and Grove? I pray our ears, eyes and hearts will be open.
The service is available on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/1stashland (“Neighbors Under the Son”)
Or on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=694200051180614
Submitted by Beth McMahon