“We all come — in time — to view the good that inevitably results from adversity; and the history of the mission school that eventually became the Tabernacle Baptist Church of Richmond exemplifies that statement”. These are the first words in Margaret Emery’s The First Hundred Years: A History of the Tabernacle Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia. His name was John A. Traylor, a successful young businessman suddenly stricken with tuberculosis. The doctors told him that he needed to change his work environment to enable him to be outside for the better part of the time. Thus, he gave up his lucrative flour business and purchased a newspaper route to deliver the Richmond Morning Dispatch to an area bounded on the north by Main Street, on the south by the James River, on the east by Harrison Street, and on the west by the road being established to the new reservoir (this road now the Boulevard, running north/south beyond the western limit of “the Fan”.
In 1886, when he began his outdoor work in the western section beyond Richmond’s City Limits, John was a member of the Young Men’s Missionary Society of Grace Street Baptist Church, as were a number of his young friends. The area in which John came to work was a thinly-settled farming community, with dirt roads and open fields. But there were children in abundance. Daily as he made his rounds, learning to know first one child and then another, his mind dwelt on the future of these kids and on what it would mean to each of them, and to their families, if they were given the opportunity to attend a church school. John could relate to the thoughts and anxieties of children under pressure, from whatever causes. He knew instinctively that progress would eventually bring opportunities for these little ones. But his own childhood memories probably fueled his desire to make life a bit better for them while they were young.
The school began it’s ministry on a bright day, a Sunday afternoon, at half-after three o’clock on May 15, 1887. One hundred and twenty-eight years later we find ourselves continuing to live out the mission God gave this young man and the generations of faithful disciples that followed him down the road. We began as a ministry to children and youth and continue to embrace the call as God brings them to us. This week we pause to offer thanks to God for this unique calling in each and every one of our lives. We also pause to recommit ourselves to the vision. Young families are returning to the city literally from the corners of the world and collectively they are finding a home in this place. The roots that were established generations ago have been repotted by the creator over and over again; we continue to bloom where we are planted.
I believe we are on the cusp of a wonderful chapter of life and spiritual vitality. The vision that God gave young John Traylor continues to be lived out through our hearts and hands. What a blessing it is to live into the dream, to make the sacrifice, and prepare the way. May God guide us, and the littlest among us, as we live into our 128th year together.
Yours in Christ,
Sterling W. Severns, Pastor