In the first email correspondence I had with Sterling after my husband Art and I began visiting in 2007 I told Sterling I felt that Tabernacle was “uniquely warm congregation to walk into.” That was my immediate sense, and it has remained true for us to this day.
As young adults feeling a little bit lost in the post-college worlds of graduate school and new careers, we were looking for a community in which we could feel rooted. We were looking for a pastor who spoke to our concerns within the Church and the world, and one who challenged us to search more deeply. We were also hoping to find some place to serve. We found those things at Tabernacle Baptist. At that time there was just a handful of young adults, mostly seminary students, and a wonderful community of people who were my parents ages and older. Together, we found community, practiced service, and worshipped together as we looked for ways to be Church.
Not long after we arrived, a growing number of families who were refugees began filling our pews too. At that time, our families from Burma had great needs. I saw God at work in this transitional moment for them and for our congregation. God turned our attention as a church away from concerns about church growth or finances or committee structure. We knew simply that there was a community that needed family, and we moved immediately to welcome them. It was not easy, but as we embraced new sisters and brothers in the faith, we found God making us whole. It was in service to each other (not just those in our congregation, but those in our greater community) that I experienced God creating a new energy, a new vision, and a new people at Tabernacle.
Since then we have seen the church grow in so many ways. Besides the beautiful cultural diversity that we enjoy, we have grown to include thriving children and youth ministries and a large number of young adults who participate in all areas of the church. Young families are filling our sanctuary, while at the same time, we have also maintained and expanded a wonderful community of older adults who so deeply enrich the church through their commitment, insight, wisdom, and ability to nurture. In my experience, church growth rarely happens in such an inclusive way. So often, churches take a one dimensional approach to church growth aimed at bringing in a specific “type” of people. I believe that we have grown in such a diverse manner because our growth was incidental to our vision, which was simply to serve God by serving each other. While many of us came looking for a church home, we’ve learned that Church is not a building with four walls, but a family of people with whom we serve and worship.
As we move forward, my hope and challenge is that we continue our journey together looking outward. I hope that as we see the beautiful things happening amongst us we will pause and pray the question: “What’s next?” Where are there other communities that need support? Who else can we come along side and call family? Where is the Church needed most in our city?
In asking that question we may find our ministry focus turning right here to our Fan neighborhood. Or we might find that, as an urban church, we need to be Church more wholly to the children and families who live in the most depressed of Richmond’s neighborhoods. Perhaps we need to be Church better to those experiencing homelessness or depression or addiction. I don’t know. But, my hunch is that when we begin asking God together, “What’s next?” we will start to find the answers.
– Beth Wright
Let us Pray
- For wisdom as we discern “what’s next?” in serving each other and our city.
- For our leaders—the church staff, deacons, administrative board, and team leaders—that we will grow a common vision as we move forward.
- For our children and youth ministries and the volunteers who have stepped up to lead and disciple our young people.
- That, as we grow, we will maintain that welcoming and warm sense of family in our congregation.
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://tbcrichmond.org/tbc/?attachment_id=3177 Ge[/author_image] [author_info]Beth Reddish Wright is the Director of Camp Alkulana, a year round ministry of the Richmond Baptist Association with a targeted summer ministry to inner city children. The camp has been in continuous operation since it began in 1915. The kerosene lanterns, which shone from the windows of the first cottage, appeared as bright eyes shining through the forest. Thus, the Indian word, “Alkulana,” meaning “bright eyes” became the official camp name. Camp Alkulana is located in Millboro Springs, Va, deep in the Alleghenies. The proximity of the camp to the George Washington National Forest provides it with boundless space and endless program resources. Some of the activities offered during the summer are hiking, cave exploring, camping out, cooking out, rock climbing, rappelling, ropes course, swimming, crafts, Bible study and worship. Though the camp is in Millboro Springs, we consider our ministry in Richmond because we serve the children and youth of Central Virginia. Throughout the year in Alkulana offers ongoing supports in Richmond to its campers through large group gatherings, a mentoring program for older campers, and a targeted leadership program for its junior counselors.[/author_info] [/author]