A Word of Introduction, Rev. Sterling W. Severns, Pastor
There is a phrase I find myself using quite often these days as an assortment of folks ask questions about how things are going at Tabernacle Baptist Church. Generally speaking, neighbors and colleagues will allude to something they have seen or heard about us:
“I hear that things are going quite well at the church…..it sounds like you are really growing?”
“I saw pictures on Facebook of your Sanctuary last Sunday…it looks so creative!”
“I spoke with __________ about finding a home at Tabernacle, I’m pleasantly surprised they have joined you as I thought they had given up on The Church”.
I always enjoy these types of conversations as they provide a wonderful opportunity for me to share the story of what God is doing among us. After sharing some of the details, I inevitably use this phrase,
“…..Life begets life”.
The re-emerging church at the corner of Grove and Meadow continued to gain momentum in 2015. The life that God has poured into our little congregation is drawing others to us and, ultimately, drawing all of us towards the source of life. We, by the grace of God, are vital again and the gift of that vitality is increasingly evident to anyone that has contact with us. The secret is out. People know that Christ is at work in this place and the sharing of our story is opening doors for partnership, ministry, and growth.
This last year of worship and ministry has taken many of us by surprise. Growth was anticipated in 2015 but not at the level we experienced it. Signs of life emerged in unlikely places and new spiritual formation programs grew at a pace we couldn’t have imagined only twelve short months ago. Two feature articles in national publications drew attention to our congregation by brothers and sisters from all over the world. The process of commissioning and sending two our own to southeast Asia has opened doors that we are only just beginning to discover. To say that it was a very good year would be an understatement.
Some of the highlights include:
- The gift of connection with the Universal Church: We offered bread for the journey to numerous members called to step across the threshold of our church doors to serve in corners throughout the country and world. Twenty-four new family members crossed over the same threshold to enter into the membership of our local church. Each of them helped connect us with the the larger body. I will never forget Preston and Hazel’s baptisms in early 2015. God is using these two young believers to build the kingdom. We prayed with Rob and Amanda as they discerned God’s guidance on where to serve and, ultimately, we helped to commission and send them to Myanmar. What a privilege it was to participate in that process and to see the church step forward to create a support system for them. The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Virginia and Faith & Leadership, a national digital publication sponsored by Duke University, featured Tabernacle in stories centered on our use of worship arts. We have been contacted by numerous congregations, from throughout the ecumenical spectrum, to serve as a resource for the creative use of gifts and physical space in worship. Our partnerships with ReEstablish Richmond and Camp Alkulana provided invaluable opportunities to contribute in the lives of families here in our community. Our partnership with Metro Baptist Church in NYC, by way of the ministry of Rev. Joseph Perdue, Bridget Fulks, and our mission team(s) connected us to a long line of servants that have kept an important bridge in tact between our two churches. Our partnership with Doug and Lea Coppage in Hungary reminds us that God can overcome the greatest of distances to keep us connected and unified. The gift of technology, through the use of the live-stream and podcast ministries, allows us to worship with brothers and sisters that can’t be physically present with us but are still a very important part of our everyday lives.
- The gift of servants of the everyday saints: We said goodbye to “Teddy” McClure after decades of service as our Church Sexton. Teddy has been a beloved member of our church family through such a pivotal time in our story. He helped to hold the line when we were struggling and helped us to emerge into the congregation we are today. He kept our facilities safe and clean and he did so with an amazing attitude. We also said goodbye to Evanne Benson, our Financial Secretary. Evanne served our church faithfully and provided some much needed stability. The personnel committee had a very difficult task at the beginning of the calendar year in the loss of these two staff members. Clearly the hand of God was at work in the search process as we welcomed Vincent Sallie, our new Church Custodian, and Susan Lumpkin, our new Financial Secretary, into the fold. Both of these gifted servants stepped into their ministry positions with open hearts and an eagerness to work. They are both thriving in their positions and I am beyond grateful for their leadership! Kristen Koger’s transition into the Pastoral Residency position was seamless. She is an extraordinary Pastor and has such a heart for ministry. Art Wright began the year as our Deacon Chair but quickly transitioned into a new position onto the pastoral staff in February. The Spiritual Formation Program, under his good guidance, hasn’t been this strong in generations. Art’s leadership and guidance has been invaluable. The addition of our very own Samuel UC Lian onto the pastoral staff has been such a blessing. Many of us remember Samuel when he was in our youth group. The fact that he is now serving as our Pastoral Intern, working with our youth and families, is direct evidence of God’s grace working in full circle. The unstoppable Judy Fiske rounded off her 35th year of ministry among us with style, creativity, and unconditional love. I know of no other Pastor that works so diligently to facilitate meaningful worship and care of a congregation. The purchase of the “Judy Van”, a 15 passenger vehicle used to carry children and teens safely to church and camp alike, is a fitting tribute to her commitment and sacrifice. Betty Robertson, our Church Secretary of ten years, provides the glue that keeps us together. She represents our family to the community-at-large with integrity and warmth. She facilitates care and keeps us all in loop. She is well loved for good reason. The ever-evolving job descriptions for the members of our music staff kept Ron, Terry, and Ryan on their toes. However, they rose to the challenge, and many of our music programs are thriving because of it. Bonnie Bailey continued to serve behind the scenes to assist Teddy in his departure and also to help teach Vincent the ropes. I don’t know what we do without her. Frances Mathews longevity of service in the Child Care Center Ministry speaks to her passion for ministry to children and families. She is looked to as a Pastor by so many current and former parents. I thank God for each of these servants and for their willingness to equip you, the everyday saints of Tabernacle Baptist Church.
- The gift of ordination: The ordination of Rev. Kristen Koger and Rev. Megan Strollo are two of the highlights of 2015. What a blessing it was to ordain these two gifted and caring servants and to do so beside so many other congregations and institutions. The Kingdom of God is a brighter place because of Kristen and Megan’s commitment to serve as equippers and caregivers.
- The gift of diversity: The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship featured Tabernacle in an important story focusing on multi-cultural relationships and the gift of unity we find in Christ. Our story was shared with hundreds of churches, many of of which have contacted us to offer encouragement and gratitude. The TBC ESL ministry continued to morph and I continue to be grateful for the assortment of leaders and volunteers that keep this ministry moving in the right direction. A good handful of our burmese rooted family members became US citizens in 2015 and some of my favorite memories of the year feature house blessings for our first time home buyers. God continues to provide. Our sexuality dialogue, on Wednesday evenings last fall, set a hopeful and respectful tone for important conversations in the year ahead. God has used our theological, multi-cultural, socio-economic, and racial diversity to create a beautiful picture of the Kingdom of God.
- The gift of progress: A major phase in the renovation of our physical structure was completed in 2015. The basement of our main building welcomed an overhaul and provided a hint of things to come.
- The gift of longevity: We are a well-rooted congregation and we are grateful for our legacy. We buried six members in 2015. Two of them had been active members for 80+ years. Louise Cochrane died at age 99. She and Harwood were married for 81 years; their commitment stood as the 10th longest surviving marriage in the world. We stand on the incredibly strong shoulders of those who came before us.
- The gift of growth: 2015 ushered in a baby boom at Tabernacle as the nursery hasn’t seen this many children in 40+ years. We averaged 50+ children and youth on Wednesday evenings and needed multiple vehicles to transport them to an assortment of camps in the summertime. If the volume of noise in the sanctuary, at the conclusion of any given Sunday service, is an indicator of life….we have assurance that the church is alive and well. Our adult Sunday school classes and small groups are growing rapidly to the point that we are looking for new spaces to meet on Sunday mornings and Sunday evenings. Numerical growth isn’t something we specifically seek out. Rather, it is an indicator of health and a direct result of God’s Spirit moving among us.
Future generations will be better equipped to put the year into perspective as we are too close to the story to fully understand what God is doing. Only time will tell. That said, I feel so very fortunate to live into the story beside you.
Yours in Christ,
Sterling W. Severns