PASTOR’S REPORT: Rev. Sterling Severns
Fourteen and a half years ago I stood before you and attempted to preach my first sermon as Pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church. I don’t remember much about the specific sermon. I remember feeling both nervous and hopeful. I remember telling you that I had no idea what I was doing or where God was taking us. However, I also remember telling you that I didn’t feel the need to know the specifics because I was confident that God would reveal our collective calling as we continued to take leaps of faith. There was a tremendous sense of purpose in those fragile days of transition. Against all odds, we were still here. The nursery only had 2 active children, conveniently they relocated to Richmond with their parents when the church called their father to serve as Pastor. Back in 2004, our resources were fairly sparse and our vision was vague at best. Many outsiders didn’t think the church would survive. The odds were against us but God was for us.
All these years later, I look back to those tender days with delight. What a journey it has been. The vitality, and spiritual growth, we experienced in 2018 is a continuation of God’s faithfulness in our story. We are small but God is doing great things through us. The legacies of the every-day-saints that came before us continue to prosper through their generosity and examples. The new life that has come to us is a direct result of God’s desire for us to grow into our identity as Christ’s followers. Each day brings a sense of adventure and each relational opportunity helps us to reclaim an influential role in the kingdom. I am more hopeful and optimistic about our future than ever. Whereas, I still don’t know what I’m doing or where God is taking us, I am confident that God isn’t finished with us. If anything, we’re just getting started….
Here are some highlights from this past year of life and ministry together:
Steady and Faithful Leadership
Our veteran staff members continued to use their God-given gifts, and love of the church to guide us forward into a productive year of ministry. Thank you to our veteran equippers: Judy, Susan, Vincent, Ron, Terry, Ryan, Dianna and Kara. You have been such a blessing to us. Your tireless energy and creativity help to make this place a beacon of light in the city.
I can’t begin to express the depth of my gratitude for the faithful leaders that guided the flock throughout 2018. I am grateful to Woody Jenkins and Kathy McGraw, the chairpersons of our two major Boards. You, and all of your colleagues, led us well! Connie Jones, our beloved Treasurer, spent innumerable hours serving behind the scenes in the financial office and clothes closet. Connie, your integrity and dedication never ceases to amaze us. Thank you for your faithful service. We also owe a debt of gratitude to Allen Lowery, Jacque Green, and Terry McMahon for taking the helm in the office during the first portion of the year. Thank you also to Brenda Brown, for stepping back into service at the organ while Judy’s wrist healed.
I never cease to be amazed by the caliber of gifts and generosity represented in our pews. Thank you to all of our Ministry Team and Committee leaders for a stellar year of ministry together.
One of the strongest markers of health in the life of a congregation is exhibited trust. Our little church took an enormous leap of faith in hiring six new staff members in 2018. Meg, Hogan, Jerusha, Hope C., Hope N, and Kristen also took leaps of faith in coming to us. God has honored our collective trust in bringing each of these gifted servants into our fold. Our new staff members have brought a tremendous amount to joy to Tabernacle. The veteran staff and congregation have found deep wisdom in their words and inspiration in their leadership in the form of servanthood. Welcome home, friends.
One of God’s greatest gifts in 2018 was the ordination of Jacquelyn Brown Green. What a blessing it was to join together with multiple churches and mentors in Jacque’s life to affirm her calling and nudge her forward in ministry. We are better as a community of faith because of Jacque’s presence in our lives. Her unifying voice is needed in the Kingdom of God and we are humbled to play a small role in helping to shape her call.
Zoe and Kekoa’s Baptism
Two of the most memorable moments in 2018 centered on Kekoa Burgess and Zoe Jamerson’s baptisms. These two disciples, both wise beyond their years, professed their faith in Christ through spoken testimony and the waters of baptism. We are grateful for their trust and eager to see what Jesus will do as they continue to walk in faith.
A Strong financial year
Another strong marker of health in the life of the church is stewardship. We started the year with a huge leap of faith in the creation of the budget and ended the financial year in the black! Thank you, Tabernacle, for faithfulness and sacrifice.
A deepening relationship with leaders and families in our Child Care Center Ministry
Two years ago, we set out to reorganize the leadership structure of our Child Care Center Ministry. We did this in anticipation of Frances Thrift’s retirement and also with a desire to connect with the TCCC leaders, children, and families in a deeper way. I am continually amazed by what God is doing through the ministry of Kristen, our Director, and the unstoppable leaders on our TCCC Ministry and Administrative Committees. We’re gaining momentum with each passing season. The center is thriving.
Bread for the Journey
We offered bread for the journey to numerous family members that have moved into various ministry positions and/or opportunities in other cities, states, and countries. Whereas, the goodbyes have been very difficult, we can’t help but feel connected to the Universal Church, as they plant roots in new places. I won’t make a list of names for fear of leaving someone out. However, God continues to use these difficult transitions to keep our motives pure and help us to see that we are participating in something so much larger than our little corner at Grove and Meadow.
One of the strongest highlights of 2018 came in our open dialogue about the strengthening of marriage and the expression of our desire to support couples seeking marriage. The deacons were charged with a difficult task on the other side of the official acceptance of our Statement of Welcome in 2017. That role does the church play in helping couples grow into their covenant with God and one another? What is the role of the church in the area of accountability and mentorship of couples before, during, and after their wedding day? I encourage you to take a moment to review the working draft of our marriage policy in the appendix of this Book of Reports and pray for guidance as we live into re-commitment to marriage enrichment.
The greatest collective loss we experienced in 2018 was the official notice of the closing of the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. The seminary will close their doors in January 2019 and hold their last graduation in May. God has used BTSR to give us life in so many ways….for so many years. We are indebted to the students, graduates, faculty and staff for their partnership over this last quarter of a century. We grieve with the seminary community and trust that God will bring resurrection in surprising ways.
A turning point with our neighbors
Of the residual effects of the renovation of our row houses is positive connection with our neighbors in the Fan District. What a blessing it has been to encounter neighbors with a common sense of hopeful investment in our community. It is hard to believe we were slated to tear the houses down two short years ago. God is good!
We are a historic church located in the heart of the capitol of the confederacy. We are uniquely obligated and poised to actively engage in racial reconciliation. We spent the first half of the year in active dialogue and the back half of the year praying about next steps. I encourage you to look at the overview of our dialogue in the appendix of this document. I have no idea what fruit will be born through our lengthy conversations and faithful work of our leaders. However, I am eager to see what God will bring as we have opened the door and prepared our hearts for a new chapter together.
We recommitted ourselves to hunger ministry in 2018. The emergency assistance program shifted to first Saturdays and we added a new weekly program for senior adults. We are eager to focus our efforts on a deepening of relationships with our neighbors and we are especially grateful to Hope Nycum for her tireless leadership, Miriam Kennedy for her support last summer, and to all of our former and current lay leaders.
Family Ministry is growing
Would you believe that we now have 90+ children and 15+ teenagers actively engaged in church life in any given month? What a difference a year makes! We’ve hired Hogan and Jerusha to focus their gifts in discipling our children, students, and parents. Ministry teams have offered stellar support and all signs point to more growth in the year ahead!
A renewed commitment to our global neighbors
2018 brought a renewed focus on support of the global community. The Rone Support Team served faithfully. The Coppages remained in touch on a weekly basis. Rob and Amanda began a new company and planted roots in a new city. Both couples came home for furlough. Our ESL mentors worked diligently with our brothers and sisters from Myanmar. Our citizenship mentors celebrated with hard working students on the other side of numerous hours of study and successful citizenship test taking. Jim McMurray helped multiple refugee families purchase their first homes. Re-Establish Richmond
continued to thrive in their support of the Refugee Community. Kate Illian moved to Indonesia to teach English. Lindsay Comstock, and her wife Mary, began a new company in Bali, and several families were blessed to return home to visit with loved ones they haven’t seen in years.
God bless the little church at the corner of Grove and Meadow. Looking forward to another wonderful year of life and ministry together.
Yours in Christ,
Rev. Sterling W. Severns, Pastor