On Accidental Saints Over 50 Years

As most of you know, this past month I turned 50.  Half a Century.  I’ve told several of you that while we speak of 40 being the “over the hill” moment, this seems to be more like it.   My college friend, in for a weekend to help me celebrate said, “So where are you and Leigh Ann looking to retire?”  First person ever to ask me that question.  Don’t remember that happening at my 40th.  He then went on to talk about a dinner he had attended with several of our college classmates.  He said that early in the meal they were all congratulating one another on how young they looked, but then when the checks came, they all pulled out reading glasses, and as he put it…”Busted!”  Again, don’t remember hearing/telling that story at 40, let alone relating to it.

So, I’m here, at 50, whatever that means, if anything.  But it does seem like a more than adequate time to reflect on who I am and where I’ve been and those who have helped me along the way….my champions, my saints you might call them.  November 1 is All Saints Day.  We will observe it in two distinct yet significant worship services, both in our traditional worship at 11:00 and in Modern Vespers at 6:00.  I hope that you will make plans to be at both.  The theme of the Modern Vespers service is “Accidental Saints,” the idea being that many such folk did not set out to be saints, but nonetheless were saints for us, despite being flawed, not perfect, very much human.  

In thinking about that I began to think of my “accidental” saints over this half a century I’ve been given. There are other more likely saints, of course, but these accidental saints have played a most necessary role as well. They may not be on the front row of my balcony crowd, but they are there, and their contribution has not been forgotten.  

I think of my Dixie Youth baseball coach, J.W. Shanks.  Coach Shanks was a chain smoking telephone repairman.  He supposedly was a member of my church, but I never saw him there.  His religion was coaching baseball.  But he taught me about hard work and discipline.  He taught me about fairness.   And he taught me about compassion and justice.  In addition to a few of us from good homes, he would intentionally draft and support players nobody else wanted.   And with the likes of us, he won championships.

I think of Dr. Ed Akin.  To many Ed was a likely saint.  He was a history professor who was a beloved mentor.  But Ed was merely my sophomore honors professor, and that only for two months.  And when in a crisis, I came to drop out, he simply said, “Don’t worry about this.  You do what you need to do.  You’re going to make it.  You’re going to make a difference in this world, David.”  I’ve never forgotten that blessing and the lesson he taught me about the power of even a few words.

I think of Teresa, the manager of the music store where I worked during seminary.  Teresa drank too much and was endlessly chasing after the wrong guy.  But she was a good boss, and she loved me and Leigh Ann, and especially Hannah when she was a baby.  She would take Hannah in her arms and dance her around the store singing “The Name Game.” (Hannah, Hannah bo banana…)   That store became a place of refuge for several us who were in Seminary at a very difficult time.

These are a few of my “saints.”  Make a list of your own.  Bring it to worship on November 1.  Carry it with you.  Write, contact some of them this month.  Make sure to include the likely ones, but include the “accidental” ones as well, those on the second and third rows of your balcony.  They too have been used of God to enable you to be who you are.  May it also be an encouragement to the difference you can make in the lives of others.

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the November edition of Together.
Posted by Bridget Ellis at Sunday, November 1, 2015 | 0 comments
Share |

Remember You Too Were Aliens

Recently I’ve been reading the book The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.  Those of you who are avid readers know that I’m a bit late on this one.   It was released in 2003 and was on the NY Times best seller list for two years.  I try to read as much as possible, but can’t always keep up.  It’s a powerful book and not for the faint of heart.  Set in Afghanistan, it spans the time from just before the Russian take over to the rise of the Taliban regime.  It is filled with images of prejudice, violence, war, and what it means to be a refugee.   It is has been a powerful backdrop to the stories of refugees currently coming out of Syria, the ongoing issues of immigration in our own country, not to mention the refugees to which we are connected via Piece of Thread Memphis, Ekata Designs, and First International Baptist Church.

Scripture is abundantly clear as to how we are to treat refugees, aliens, and strangers.   God loves, protects and provides for refugees  (Ps. 149:6; Is. 25:4)  In like fashion, God expects us to welcome them and treat them with hospitality and compassion, (Zech. 7:9-10; Matt. 25:31-46; Is. 16:3-5).  God expects us to express this hospitality in every way, including giving of our resources to their welfare,  (Deut. 14:28-29, 24:19-21, 26:12; Lev. 19:10, 23:22)  God commands it.  We are to be obedient.   God acts this way toward them.  We are to treat them the same way.  It seems pretty clear.

But God knows us.  God knows that sometimes “Because I said so…” is not enough motivation for us.  And so God provides additional motivation.  God commands the Israelites to be kind, generous, fair, and just to the refugee or alien among them because “you too were once aliens in Egypt’s land”  (Ex. 22:21; Lev. 19:33-4; Deut. 10:16-19)  It seems that God knows our willingness to be compassionate toward others is often times linked to our ability to identify with their situation, and the strongest identification we can have is memory.  

“But unlike the Israelites, we have not been aliens before,” you say.  Well, keep in mind that somewhere back down the line some part of your family was an alien, of course; and that somehow all of us have, at one time, “been on the outside looking in.”  But even conceding the point that many of us have not known what it is to be an “alien” in a foreign land, scripture still has a word for us.  Indeed, scripture goes to some length to remind us that in terms of our salvation we were all excluded, yet nevertheless “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us,”  (Romans 5, Eph. 2).  So even if some of us have never known the exclusion of being an alien or refugee, out of our experience of salvation alone, we should have enough gratitude for the grace shown to us that we should willingly extend such grace to those that still feel alienated from God, from peace, justice, health, shelter and all that God wants for all God’s children.

If this were not enough, scripture provides even more motivation.   In earlier paragraphs, if my reference to the refugee in the objective (them, they) seemed a bit much…good.   For in addition to memory and identification, scripture reminds us that when it comes to thinking about  refugees/aliens/foreigners/strangers…there really is no “them” and “us.”   It’s just “us.”   Ruth, Jonah, the Good Samaritan, the Ethiopian Eunuch, Pentecost, Peter and Cornelius….all remind us that there is no “them,” no “us,” no “natives,” no “aliens.”   We are, all of us, beloved children of God.

I realize none of this provides easy answers to the questions posed by the present immigration and refugee crises.  But I do think it calls those of us who carry the name of Christ and proclaim the Kingdom of God to do everything possible to find answers that result in compassion, welcome, peace and justice, not just for some, but for all.   

On October 18 at 6 p.m., we will have our first Modern Vespers of the fall.  It will be a service of prayer for the World’s Refugees.  I encourage you to come.  Continue as well to keep yourself informed as to the situations at hand and what you can do to respond.  Here are some links to recent CBF articles: Article1: Immigration expert shares about ‘new face of the stranger’  and  Article 2: Syrian Refugees

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the October edition of Together.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Thursday, October 1, 2015 | 0 comments
Share |

A Time For Dialogue

Of all our core values, dialogue may be the most unique.   You look at the core values of a lot of churches and you will see things that resemble hospitality, community, and service.  But dialogue?   It’s not that most churches do not value dialogue.  They might just say, “It goes without saying.”  And in a sense, they would be right. How can you truly have a church that values hospitality and community and service without also valuing dialogue, the voices and thoughts of your own and your community? But for our church, situated in an environment where Christian and Baptist sometimes means anything but freedom and dialogue, it was important to name this value.  We want you to know that this is a family of faith that truly believes that reflecting Christ for us entails being a community of dialogue.

Well, now is the time for such dialogue around the issue of marriage equality. While we as a church already have openly gay members, leaders, and deacons, this question is, for some, unique and requires consideration all its own.  Formally the conversation will begin in our diaconate, and then, should they choose to bring forward a recommendation to the church body, the conversation will continue among us all.  But the reality is most all of us will be engaged in this sensitive conversation in numerous settings—home, work, school, as well as church.  Thus it is incumbent upon us as responsible Christians to become as informed as possible and to practice the type of dialogue we preach.  To this end we are sponsoring a series of dialogues entitled Homosexuality, Marriage, and the Church.  These will be held on four consecutive Sundays: September 13, 20, 27, and October 4.  This is a very complex topic, and no series, no matter how long, would be complete and perfect.  But we believe these four will be helpful to some, maybe many, and will help forward the dialogue that is already going on in our hearts and minds, families, friendships, businesses, community and congregation.  There will be time at the end of each presentation for questions and discussion.  While we cannot control how news of this series may spread in our community and who will attend, we will not intentionally publicize this series to the community so as to preserve this series, as best we can, as a time as for our own members to dialogue openly and respectfully on this important topic.  Childcare will be available with reservations.  

  • September 13: How the Church Has Failed Gay Christians…So Far Dr. David Gushee     Dr. Gushee is Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics and Director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University.  He is widely regarded as one of the leading Christian ethicists in our country.  He is the author or editor of 20 books and hundreds of articles in the field, including Righteous Gentiles of the Holocaust, Kingdom Ethics, The Sacredness of Human Life, and, most recently, Changing Our Mind, a personal, theological and ethical perspective on the LGBTQ issue as it impacts the church.  Dr. Gushee will preach in morning worship.  We will then eat together in Fellowship Hall where Dr. Gushee will elaborate on some points and respond to questions.
  • September 20: Homosexuality and the New Testament Dr. Mitzi Minor                                Dr. Mitzi Minor is the Mary Magdalene Professor of New Testament at Memphis Theological Seminary.   Dr. Minor is a graduate of Auburn (B.A., 1980), and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (M.Div., 1985; Ph.D., 1989).  She has served as a pastor, college chaplain and professor, before joining the faculty at MTS in 1993.  She is a noted author, New Testament scholar and much sought after preacher, including the Calvary Lenten Series.  Dr. Minor’s lecture will offer an in depth analysis of New Testament texts that are often cited in the discussions concerning LGBTQ inclusion. 6-7:30 p.m., Fellowship Hall.
  • September 27: A Time to Hear Stories and Ask Questions Elaine Blanchard and Broderick Greer                                                                                                                                             In many conversations about LGBTQ acceptance in the church, one voice is sometimes ironically absent, that of LGBTQ Christians themselves.  Elaine Blanchard is a well-known local storyteller and preacher.  She is a lesbian.  Broderick is the Curate (associate priest) at Grace St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.  He is gay.   Both are very dedicated Christians who were raised in the church and thus understand the difficulty of this issue for the church.  Both come simply to tell their stories and answer questions that only those who are LGBTQ and Christian can answer.  6-7:30 p.m., Fellowship Hall.
  • October 4: LGBTQ and the Church: A Panel Discussion on Pastoral Responses           This session will utilize a video of a panel discussion that took place in a break out session at the CBF General Assembly this past June in Dallas.   In this discussion, pastors of two CBF partner congregations—Steve Wells of South Main Baptist in Houston and Joe Phelps of Highland Baptist in Louisville—model unity despite differing pastoral responses to same-sex relationships and marriage.   Also included in the panel is Rebecca Adrian, Pastoral Care Manager of Baylor University Medical Center, who shares how the Gospel shapes how she seeks to minister to members of the LGBTQ community and their families. 6-7:30 p.m. Fellowship Hall.

As we engage in these dialogues and all that are to follow, formal or otherwise, let us speak and listen as Christ would want us to—with respect and kindness, seeking unity even amidst diversity.  As Parker Palmer suggests, “Only when we are in right relationship can we hang in with one another long enough to come to a rough consensus of ‘what is’ and ‘what ought to be.’”

Grace ,David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the September edition of Together.
Posted by Bridget Ellis at Tuesday, September 1, 2015 | 0 comments
Share |

Getting the Basics

It’s the first of August.  School is starting.  To some of our children, there is nothing odd about that.  That’s all they have ever known.   But to many of us that still feels weird.  “August is supposed to be a part of summer, don’t they know!” we exclaim.  And yet that is true no longer.  And so it’s time to pull things back together from the hopefully restful, scattered sabbatical of summer and get focused once again, back into the routine, fully engaged in the educational and vocational tasks before us.

But even though school starts earlier, some things about it remain the same.  Even though students return nearly a month earlier than many of us used to, that first month will still be mostly organization, orientation, and review from the year before.  It will be a time of going over the basics and “getting them down pat,” so that the students can, hopefully, go well beyond the those basics in the year to come.

Well, I don’t know that we’ve ever approached the beginning of the school year in the same fashion at church.  But this August we’re going to engage in a similar exercise in getting of getting re-focused.

In past years we have had a stewardship campaign in January and February.  What that has meant has been a pledge card drive with considerable publicity and an accompanying sermon or two.  It’s been fine and has worked to a degree.   But statistics show, both ours and those from across the religious spectrum, that the power of such a campaign is not what it once was. What is having better results is a more consistent conversational, educational, and testimonial approach.  To that end, our Finance Committee has been offering consistent testimonies in worship.  And now they are leading us in an all church study during the latter half of this month, and the first half of September.  During that time all Sunday School classes—adult, youth, and children—will utilize a curriculum entitled “First Things,” based on the book, “shiny gods,” by Mike Slaughter.  It’s an excellent, challenging, yet encouraging literature that we think all will find interesting and helpful.

Now, to one way of thinking, stewardship might not seem like a “basic.”  Indeed some might see it not as one of the introductory disciplines of our faith, but one that happens as the result of having all the other basics down.   I get that train of thought. But I can certainly make the argument to the contrary.  What’s more basic than understanding that “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those that dwell therein” (PS 24:1), than understanding that “every good and perfect gift comes from above” (James 1:17), than understanding that we have been entrusted with whatever comes our way to make the most of it and to utilize it not just for ourselves but for others as well.  Furthermore, what’s more basic to following Jesus, than to seek to give as he gave—as much, not as little, as we can.  

I think the truth of the matter is that when it comes to serving God and following Jesus, and the disciplines involved therein, there is no proper place to begin or end.  There will be times when you learn something and your heart will be moved, and you will give and serve more readily.   At other times, as scripture says, “wherever your treasure is, your heart will follow,” (MT 6:21, LK 12:34) your faithfulness to give and serve will lead you to your passion.  The important thing is to respond to the gospel that is set before us as best we know how, and to keep on doing that.

This study will set the gospel before us.  Let us enter it into with open hearts and minds, ready to respond.  Let us follow our children’s lead this August and make sure we know our basics.

Grace, David 

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the August edition of Together.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Saturday, August 1, 2015 | 0 comments
Share |

Kids Passport Camp Day 4

9 kids, 3 adults, 4 daysafter a 5 hour drive we're in Crossville to start a 'Revolution'! 
Each day you'll get to read what our campers are experiencing. Enjoy!

Lila Morse

: Today was great! I didn't want to leave camp. Yes, I missed my parents but I loved dancing and singing. On the way home we went to the Adventure Science Center. I went on a moon simulator! That's all! 

Mikey Hoffman: My favorite part of the day was when we played soccer. One thing I learned was God's revolution.

I am writing from the comfort of my couch tonight - meaning we have made it home safely! I cannot believe our Passportkids! experience is over. The past four days flew by. But, boy, they were full of learning and laughs.On our last day the theme was ACT. 

During our morning worship the question of the day was "What does Jesus' revolution look like?" I couldn't help but tear up as I heard your kids and others speak about the way the world can be better. And it will be better because of them! I left Memphis with 9 pretty cool but regular kids and returned with 9 inspired revolutionaries. 

I am excited to see what amazing things they accomplish! We had a little more fun on the way home. We visited the Adventure Science Center in Nashville and then had the most delicious authentic Italian pizza complete with entertainment! :) 

When you see our campers in the days to come I encourage you to ask them about their camp experience. Ask them who their superhero alter ego is. Ask them how they have flipped their perspective and are looking at the world in new ways. Ask them who they will stand up for. Ask them how they will use their voice to speak out for others. Ask them how they will put their faith into action. 

On a personal note a big THANK YOU to David and Julie Richardson! They took time off work to chaperon your campers. They were the perfect people to help me in my first time as a group leader and even more so to help your children what this Jesus Revolution is all about.Thank you all for your love and prayers for us as we traveled and as we spent our days at camp. Your presence was felt by all of us. I hope you feel inspired to begin a Revolution as well!

 Love and Peace,


Posted by Bridget Ellis at Tuesday, July 21, 2015 | 0 comments
Share |

Kids Passport Camp Day 3

9 kids, 3 adults, 4 days after a 5 hour drive we're in Crossville to start a 'Revolution'! 
Each day you'll get to read what our campers are experiencing. Enjoy!

Karamia Quiriconi: Today was awesome! We went to a talent show. Abby was in it with Callie and Lila. They did really good. We had to pack up. We have to wake up early tomorrow!

Abby Kellett: Today we started out the day with the morning celebration, followed by morning devotion. This of course was after breakfast. We then moved on to Bible Study and morning recreation. In Bible Study we talked about speaking up for people. In rec, we played a lot of really fun games.

After that we went to have a delicious lunch. The senior campers went to Sixth Sense and had an ice cream party. Meanwhile other campers hung out in the cabins. We went to missions and camper's choice next. In missions we talked about El Salvador refugees. Camper's choice is where the camper chooses from a variety of activities (I chose drama). 

Before supper, we had free time. You can go to the camp store, hang out with friends, go to the pool, play gaga ball, which we also do in any extra time we find, etc. 

After worship and worship response we prepared the Variety Show. Everyone was able to show their talent (if they wanted to and/or made the auditions). I sang 'Titanium.' Everyone dressed up as the theme, Superheroes. We are now getting ready for bed and packing up. Today was awesome!!

I can't believe we head home tomorrow! These days have flown by. I have so enjoyed everyday here with your kids. They have proven over and over how selfless and kind-hearted they are.

Our theme word for today was SPEAK. I know you parents know your kids are good at this. :) In Bible study campers studied three stories of Jesus from the Gospel of Mark. Each story gave an account of Jesus speaking up for the oppressed. They also talked about ways they can speak out for people. 

Day 3In our worship response time tonight each camper talked about how they saw God this week (you should ask them this when they get home - you will be impressed with their answers) and they also said things they can stand up for and speak out for when they get home. 

Our fun activity for the evening was the Variety Show. Several of our campers were a part of this show. Wow! FBC has some talented kids and you should be so proud!

Please remember us as we travel home tomorrow! I will send the last update tomorrow night.

Love and Peace,Mary 

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Monday, July 20, 2015 | 0 comments
Share |

Kids Passport Camp Day 2

9 kids, 3 adults, 4 days after a 5 hour drive we're in Crossville to start a 'Revolution'! 
Each day you'll get to read what our campers are experiencing. Enjoy!

Callie Payson: OMG fun! Drama was so fun. And the night market was also fun. 

Bo Hoffman: Today we made new friends. We went to the night market. And we simulated travels to the U.S.Edens Richardson: Today we went boating and I was soaked, the second thing we did was do the auditions for the talent show. I was with Karamia and our chant was called THE BOOM. Finally the last thing we did was go to the night market. There we got a ticket and we got to get one thing at the night market for the parade, I chose a bright, red flower in the parade! IT WAS AWESOME!!

Today's theme word was STAND. Campers read about some of the people in the Bible who took a stand - the daughters of Zelophehad, Amos, and Jesus. They also did an exercise where their Bible study leaders asked them to stand up when something about them was described. When we talked about this experience in worship response tonight the kids all said it was eye opening. They were able to see that they are never alone. Other people have, are, and will experience the same things our kids are going through.

Also in our worship response time we talked those people in our church who take a stand for justice. You would be proud of the people they thought of! We then learned about ways that we can take a stand.

Tonight we attended the El Salvador Night Market. Here the campers learned about life in El Salvador.Cam Day 2 They tasted food, made crafts, and experienced some of the jobs available. They have been learning about refugees this week and the night market gave them an opportunity to see the kind of life people are leaving to come to the US. 

When you see our campers when we get home, ask them what their favorite thing about night market was. Also, ask them about ways they can take a stand for others.

Love and Peace,Mary

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Sunday, July 19, 2015 | 0 comments
Share |

Kids Passport Camp Day 1

9 kids, 3 adults, 4 days after a 5 hour drive we're in Crossville to start a 'Revolution'! 

Each day you'll get to read what our campers are experiencing. Enjoy!

Will Wright: I learned that Jesus dressed as a regular person and flipped tables and people still cared for him. My favorite part of the day was the rec party!

Catherine Kellett: Today was really fun. We got to ride in a big white van. First we played with walkie talkies then we told creepy campfire stories for the rest of the time. Then we got to play Gaga Ball! After that we went to celebration, Bible study, worship, worship response, dinner, and then we had an awesome rec party.

Today has been a great day! Everyone was happy and ready to head out this morning. I don't think there was a quirt moment on the van but I so enjoyed hearing your kids laugh and share stories. They are such smart kids that think about things in ways you wouldn't imagine!

Day 1 at CampOnce we arrived at Passport we dove right into this year's theme: Revolution. Today's theme word was FLIP. Our Bible story for the day was Jesus flipping the tables in the temple. In our small group we looked at some Old Testament passages and compared them to what Jesus said. As one camper said, "What? That's completely different!" I think they got the point!

After the Rev'd Up Rec Party this crowd is ready for bed. I am looking forward to seeing what amazing things happen in your kids' lives the rest of this week. Love and Peace,Mary 

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Saturday, July 18, 2015 | 0 comments
Share |

Passport Youth Camp--Home Sweet Home!

10 youth and 3 chaperones are at Passport Youth Camp in Danville, VA this week and we made it back all in one piece!!! Well, except for one seat belt... (Please pardon my typos--this was written at the end of a very long day of driving!) 

We pulled into the FBC parking lot at 11:30 tonight singing "I really, really, really, really, really, really like you!" (one of our favorite songs from camp) and were greeted by excited parents ready to hug their campers and tuck them into bed!

We had a long but good day of travel.  Your youth were champs and I think they may have actually enjoyed their time together in the vans!  And not a single person asked me, "are we there yet?!"  We even stopped at Lovers Leap Lookout in Virginia to enjoy the beautiful mountain scenery for a few minutes (see picture above).

I think our campers deserve some much needed rest in the morning and you probably won't see them at church tomorrow, but when you do see them next here are some questions you should ask them...

  1. So what happened to the seat belt?!
  2. What is the waka waka and will you teach me how to do it?
  3. On a scale of 1-10 how gross was Brittany's pinky and why am I asking this question?
  4. What is a little red wagon?
  5. Where did you see God moving during the week?
  6. How did you participate in the Revolution at camp?
  7. How do you plan to continue the Revolution at home?
  8. How has the youth group committed to participating the Revolution this next year?
  9. Tell me what you did on your mission site.
  10. What were words of the day and what do they mean to you?

Thanks again for your prayers and support and for journeying with us this week.  Your youth lived up to their FBC name this week!!!  You should be proud!



Posted by Bridget Ellis at Saturday, July 11, 2015 | 0 comments
Share |

Passport Youth Camp Night 5 Update!

10 youth and 3 chaperones are at Passport Youth Camp in Danville, VA this week.  Throughout the week you will hear from each youth.  They will tell you a little bit about what they have been up to.  I will also add my update.  Thanks for your prayers!  (Please pardon my typos--these are written at the end of a very long day!)  

Today we finished boxing up everything at our site.  Turns out we helped 5000 people get clothes and supplies.  We had a volley ball tournament today and we lost the first game.  :-(  haha, but it was really fun.-Cedar Dean

Today I had a great day.  We worked with the kids at the halfway house in Danville, VA.  We started the day out with eating with the kids.  They had burgers.  After, we played with them..  Anything from coloring, to playing on the playground.  I enjoyed myself a lot.  We had a blast learning about their backgrounds.  After, we came back and had free time.  All of the FBC youth hung out.  It was a very fun day!-Grace Ward

Today's theme word was ACT.  Campers and chaperones talked in their Bible Study groups about balancing our faith with our actions.  Passport Missions is a great example of this balance.  Campers spend time in Bible Study each morning studying and exploring their faith--a faith that then inspires their actions as they head out to missions sites.  Our time on the missions sites today wrapped up with finished projects, goodbye hugs, and even a few tears.  

Our worship and group devotions tonight gave us a chance to respond to God's movement in our lives this week.  As a youth group we gave $160 to refugee ministries in Miami, Texas, and Virginia.  We also decided in our group devotion time to continue Passport's mission theme at home this year.  We committed to a deeper relationship with Peace of Thread and Ekata--ministries at FBC who develop relationships with refugee women in Memphis.  We would love for you to join us and to help us figure out how to partner with and learn from these women.

Your campers have been so wonderful and it has been a privilege to be their youth minister.  You should also know that Mary and Kyle have been rockstar chaperones--taking good care of your youth, forming relationships with other campers, serving on mission sites, making sure everyone is showered and on time, laughing with your teens, and engaging them in deep and meaningful conversations.  I am so very, very grateful for their support and care of our youth.  I couldn't have brought 10 youth to camp without them.Tomorrow I will send a list of questions you can and should ask our campers when they return.  They are excited to share their trip with you so stay tuned...  Also a special thank you to David Edwards for his kind email to us while we were away--your words were encouraging and meaningful to us in our church group devotions tonight--thank you!  Thank you all for reading and praying and care about your youth.

Continue to pray for us as we travel the long journey home tomorrow.  Pray for safety, pray for patience and tolerance of each other, and pray that though we will travel a great physical distance away from camp, we will carry what we have learned and practiced and experienced this week with us back to Memphis and into our every day lives.-Brittany

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Friday, July 10, 2015 | 0 comments
Share |

Passport Youth Camp Night 4 Update!

10 youth and 3 chaperones are at Passport Youth Camp in Danville, VA this week.  Throughout the week you will hear from each youth.  They will tell you a little bit about what they have been up to.  I will also add my update.  Thanks for your prayers!  (Please pardon my typos--these are written at the end of a very long day!)

Today in missions I tore down walls, mowed the grass, and picked up trash out of the yard.  it will be a house for people who can't afford one so i felt special today for helping them.  Today was REALLY fun!-Zealand Silver

Today in missions we swept a house and painted it.  I felt special doing this because this will be a future house for women who are restarting their lives out of prison and their kids.  Toward the end we prayed over the house to God that our mission would serve and help the family in need.  This was crazy because in the process of it I was on a ladder and the whole wall fell out on me!-Micah Breckenridge 

Today while I was at my mission site I got to work and play with amazing, talented, wonderful kids.  I felt like all of us being there made their day, because I know that they don't come from the best households.  We played outside all day, except for when we went inside to play musical chairs while someone played the piano.  Today was also kind of sad because they want us to be with them all of the time and some of them even started to cry.  Other than that today was a great day and I feel like I am starting to make an impact on the kids' life and I have only been here for four days.-Lily Merryman

I'm not going to lie--by day 4 we were all getting on each others' nerves a little bit.  We were tired, easily annoyed, and a bit impatient with each other.  That's what happens when you spend lots of time together!But today's theme was SPEAK--and we were challenged to speak up for those who are being treated unfairly, unjustly, and unkindly.  We talked in our church group devotions about times that we were silent when we should have spoken up for someone.  We talked about times when we were brave enough to speak up for someone--even though it was risky, uncomfortable, and awkward.  We talked about times that we were the ones say unkind, unjust, or unfair things and how we needed and wished someone would have spoken up and stopped us.  We talked about how so often we chose negative, unkind, destructive words or no words when we could use positive, life-giving words. We stood in a line facing each other and in pairs offered the affirming, life-giving words we all need to hear and to say.  Each one of your youth had individual, semi-private time together to share the positive and special things they see in each other.And wow.  A day tired, impatient, and at times careless words was quickly transformed into a beautiful picture of God's kingdom as we each heard special, healing words spoken to each other and had the opportunity to speak special, healing words to our youth group family.We admitted that while it is sometimes awkward and uncomfortable to both share and receive these words--it felt good and restorative.  Pray for us as we try to continue to replace the negative, detrimental words with life-giving, healing ones.Also for your prayer list--tomorrow night your youth will have a chance to respond to what they have heard and experienced this week at camp.  This can be a variety of responses from a profession of faith to revolutionary practices, like speaking and standing, they will commit to throughout the days ahead.  Pray that they will be open to God's movement in their lives.  Pray that Kyle, Mary, and I are open to the Spirit's leading as we seek to minister to the youth.Thanks for your prayers thus far.  We have felt them!!-Brittany

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Thursday, July 9, 2015 | 0 comments
Share |

Passport Youth Camp Night 3 Update!

10 youth and 3 chaperones are at Passport Youth Camp in Danville, VA this week.  Throughout the week you will hear from each youth.  They will tell you a little bit about what they have been up to.  I will also add my update.  Thanks for your prayers!  (Please pardon my typos--these are written at the end of a very long day!)

Today we hung out in the dorm and did missions.  We also played football and used power washers.  We also had an 80's dance party.-Bo Hoffman 

Today we got lucky.  They were serving TATERTOTS for breakfast!  Yum!  Finally something edible! :-)  After breakfast we went to celebration worship, Bible Study, yada yada yada...  But then we went to our mission sites!  I am with Black Circles (yee yee) and we went to the Boys and Girls Club of Danville.  When we got there, I saw a girl sitting all alone so I walked over to talk to her. Turns out whenever she goes there she just sits and does nothing.  (Her name is Kayla).  So I introduced her to Foosball and that was all she wanted to do.  It made me really happy that I felt God's calling.  When we left we had free time.  We had to actually socialize, which was really hard, us being a generation of living zombies and all (uggh!).  Anyways, when free time was over, we had worship and I read scripture from the Old Testament.  :-)  Then we had the 80's dance part-ayy!  Don't get excited.  It was packed and hot and we were the only people who really tried to look from the 80's... It was cool though...hehe... We then had bible study and came to our suite.  I am now about to pass out.  Bye! -Olivia Hankins 

Day 3 has been another great day!  The theme of today was STAND.  Students examined a long list of people--both past and present--who have taken a stand to make world a better place.  Ask them about these people when they get home--they learned some really cool stuff.We talked about how we can take a stand in the world identifying issues like racism, gender inequality, harming our environment, illegal immigration, patterns of poverty, and more.  We shared with each other in group devotions issues that we were passionate about and talked about ways that we can take a stand.We also admitted to each other that there are times when have felt on the edges--lonely and excluded.  We shared ways that we can take a stand for each other and prayed for each other asking God to give us courage and promising to quote a camper: "to have your back when you stand up for something."Your youth are revolutionaries who are already making a difference in the world.  They are taking a stand for things that they believe and challenging us all to join them.  You should be proud!!!-Brittany

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Wednesday, July 8, 2015 | 0 comments
Share |

Passport Youth Camp Night 2 Update!

10 youth and 3 chaperones are at Passport Youth Camp in Danville, VA this week.  Throughout the week you will hear from each youth.  They will tell you a little bit about what they have been up to.  I will also add my update.  Thanks for your prayers!  (Please pardon my typos--these are written at the end of a very long day!)

Overall, I have enjoyed my time here.  The dorms are small and hot, but that is all that's bad.  I enjoyed helping at my work station.  I especially enjoyed trimming the trees and bushes.-Carson Wright 

So on Monday, I woke up about 4:00 am and was ecstatic.  I was very bouncy on the way, and when I got there I was probably the only fully awake one there at the FBC parking lot.  I was just too excited.  The car ride was a little crazy after everyone awoke, a lot of seat switching and TONS of eating.  12 hours later we got there.  Everything was fine and dandy, though breakfast was weird.  The hashbrown tasted like cardboard.  Anyways, 2 showers later, a wonderful hangout session with the girls, millions of sweet tarts later, I'm here, rushing to go to worship.  Well, that's all for now.-Natalie Austria 

It has been a great start to our week at camp.  You should be so proud of your youth.  12 hours in a van and I never wanted to kick one out!!  They were champs!  We arrived a little late due to the long drive and things were very chaotic getting into our rooms and still they were awesome.  My favorite part of the trip was when we all piled (except for Mary driving the mini-van of course) into the 15 passenger van for a brief Bible Study and a game of Would You Rather.  We were cramped, but it was nice to all be together.

Today has been fantastic.  I have loved watching the youth make new friends and jump to work on their mission sites.  They are all doing some variety of yard work/painting/manual labor combined with playing with kids at various day school type programs.  They work hard, they work with new friends, and they love on the kids they meet.  It has also been fun watching them get to know each other better.  They came to camp in pretty distinct friend groups but more and more those groups are breaking down and they are  beginning to mingle and enjoy each other.     

The theme for today was Flip.  We talked about Jesus overturning the tables in the temple and how when Jesus is at work in our lives, he flips things--our perspectives, our normal ways of doing things--and turns it into something better.  The flipping process can be scary but it is always good and very necessary. They sing and pray and learn about the revolution that is started in their lives when Jesus turns things upside down.  At our church group devotions tonight, we wrote down some things that we need to flip--we looked around the room and realized that we all have things we want/need to flip and that we need each other to do it.  Some of us got brave enough to share those things and when we did we realized that we all had similar goals--goals that we would help each other with throughout the week and in the days ahead.   

Your youth are amazing people (I know you already know this but it's fun to watch them!)!  They can and are changing the world!  Please continue to pray for them.  Camp requires you to be vulnerable with strangers and with some of your closest friends and this is uncomfortable and hard.  Continue to pray that God will create a safe place for them to be vulnerable with each other, with their own self, and with God.  Thank your for loving and supporting us!!-Brittany

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Tuesday, July 7, 2015 | 0 comments
Share |

On Getting Stuck in El Dorado

I wrote this article from a hotel room in Dallas.  I was here for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly (June 16-20).   It is a meaningful gathering where decisions will be made and field personnel will be commissioned and ideas will be shared and significant old and new voices will be heard.  But behind and above, before and after all of that, the assembly is about community.   It’s about old friends in ministry catching up.  It’s about hearing what’s working and not working for churches and individuals.  It’s about welcoming young ministers into the fold.  It’s about honoring our saints.   CBF is a community of free and faithful and progressive Baptists who have chosen to walk with each other down some paths that have not been easy.  I am glad to be here among these folk.

Getting here though was quite the adventure.   I flew a new commuter airline out of Memphis that flies small planes which stop in Hot Springs and El Dorado.  I joked as I left, that I wouldn’t mind being stuck in Hot Springs, but El Dorado….Sure enough, weather stranded us in El Dorado, and the next available flight was a full day later.   So four of my new closest friends and I rented the only available rental car in El Dorado and drove to Dallas that night.

While in the El Dorado airport, I received a call that a church member was at the emergency room.  I told them where I was and confidently referred them to another minister.   And the next morning I received the call that Ed Myrick had died.  My heart sank.  I was/am so sad.  Furthermore, I will not be returning to Memphis until Saturday, and then the plan is for me to leave right after worship on Sunday for a week of vacation.  So again, I confidently referred them on to our other ministers.

As I thought about this, several thoughts came to mind about community:  

  1. I am grateful for my church family.   I am grateful for a group of folks who have allowed me to plant my life among them.   I am grateful for the saints like Ed Myrick that it has brought my way.  I am grateful for the support you give me to connect with the community known as CBF and to reconnect with my family on vacation.  I think of how many people do not have this, wish for it, yearn for it.  I wonder how we can offer our community to them.

  2. I am grateful that I am not the church, that it is not dependent on me, that it is much bigger than me.  I am grateful for all of those that stand in the gap when I am gone and make up the difference when I am lacking.  I am honored for the opportunities I have to return the favor.

  3. Community does not just happen.  It is a by-product.  It is a by-product that comes from living life together—walking together, serving together, playing together, laughing together, crying together, just being together.   You don’t get community on the front end.  You chose to engage in actions with others and community is the reward.  I wrote above that I drove to Dallas from El Dorado with four of my closest new friends.   I was kidding of course.  But it is surprising the sense of connection that can form between 4 strangers in a four hour car ride, all because we had to do something together.

As we think about what it means for us to reflect Christ through our core value of Community, as we think about what it means to Build Our Church Family (one of three vision team pillars), we will come up with new methods and messages and themes and programs, but in the end, much of this dynamic is really about our faithful choices to be present to each other and our willingness to open up and be present to others as well?   Maybe even when you’re stranded in El Dorado.

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the June edition of Together.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Wednesday, July 1, 2015 | 0 comments
Share |

The Gospel According to the Grizzlies

Well, unless you were living under a rock somewhere last month, you, along with most of this town, caught a significant case of Griz fever.   There are other events and forces that bring our fair city together, but for my money, in the last 7 years nothing has rivaled the Grizzlies in terms of unifying our residents.  And while the players themselves, and their success, are of course the main reason for this phenomenon, they have been greatly aided by a wonderful PR department that has built a campaign around three words--Believe, Grit, and Grind­—all of which have significant meaning far beyond basketball. 

Believe has rather obvious meaning for the context of faith.   We speak all the time about what it means to believe in God, to believe in Christ, and the power and hope that is found in such belief.  Furthermore, as Rob Bell likes to point out, this is a belief in a God who believes in us, who trusts us to take care of creation, who calls us to be disciples, who dares to believe that the likes of us really can change this world.

Grit has two connotations.  The first comes from its more literal meaning, which is of course, dirt.  People of faith are those who are willing to get dirty, to enter the hard, humbling situations of life because that is what God in Christ has done for us. Metaphorically speaking, the term refers to a sense of determination which enables one to persevere through those parts of the journey that are difficult and dirty.  It betrays the fact that one believes that there is a greater purpose or meaning to one’s effort, say the salvation or wholeness of oneself or others, or, beyond that, the Kingdom of God.  (For a discussion on Grit in the secular world see the excellent TED talk by Angela Lee Duckworth)

Grind for me speaks of sheer effort.   That whatever we do in life, work, or play, we should, in the words of the good King James, “do it heartily as unto the Lord.”   I’m not sure how we arrived so far off track on this issue in terms of church and matters of faith, but for many faith has become something that is supposed to be easy and/or make their life easy.   How did that happen when our faith is saturated with talk of sacrifice, and at its center is someone hanging on a cross?   Meaningful, purposeful, lasting?  Yes.   Easy?  No.   Faith requires effort and is a pilgrimage worthy of our utmost effort.

So to put all of this together … Because we believe in a God who believes in us, we dare to grit and grind, even when it calls us to the gritty places of life, because we believe that it is in such effort that we and others will be saved.   Maybe not a perfect gospel, but not a bad one either.   One that could serve a congregation seeking to Build the Future, to Build our Church Family, and to Build our Community, rather well.   Don’t you think?  And you thought you were just cheering a basketball team? 

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the June edition of Together.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Monday, June 1, 2015 | 0 comments
Share |

Growing by Building

What do you think of when you hear the word “Growing?”  Are you involved in that activity or just observing?   I think for most of us, most of the time, we would say observing.   We see a plant grow, a child growing, hair growing, and we have little involvement.  Even when we see farms, and we know that someone had a hand in that growth, we tend to marvel at the change, the evolution, the growth as if it were rather miraculous, and beyond ours or anyone’s control.  And when it comes to living things, of course, that is largely true. 

Our new vision statement runs contrary to this idea.  Grow First Baptist Church and its influence by reflecting Christ through hospitality, community, dialogue, and service.   Here “Grow” is used as an active verb, and we are the subject of that verb.  We are the actors, the ones who take the initiative and responsibility to bring about growth. (And by growth we do mean numbers, but we mean more than that.   We mean depth, passion, mission, giving, prophetic witness, outreach, etc.  Indeed tending to the latter types of growth will no doubt aid us in the former.)  Now, like plants, I think we do acknowledge that there are forces involved that we do not control, but likewise we believe that if we will do our part, that the most powerful force of all, God, will work with us and the desired growth will come. 

But if there is any confusion, the three pillars of our vision plan remove any temptation to think that this vision is someone else’s job.   For those pillars all begin with the word, “Build,”---Build the Future, Build the Church Family, Build the Community.   “ Build.”  

Now, there’s an active verb that leaves little doubt that we all have work to do.   Building takes planning, design, resources, sweat, effort and time.   And things built to last, require even more of all of the above. Now, none of us has to build it all.  None of us can build it all.   That’s not only a logistical truth.  It’s the way God designed it, with different ones of us resourced with different abilities and gifts, but each of us certainly has our part to play. 

I think of those fund raising campaigns where a sidewalk, a wall, a monument is constructed with bricks, each of them bearing the name of some donor who was willing to support the cause.  The Orpheum has one such drive presently going on in which the bricks will be used to pave the atrium to the Orpheum plaza entrance.   It’s a powerful symbol.   It reveals what should be obvious, that those bricks, and the wall or sidewalk or building they constitute, didn’t get there by themselves.   Those bricks represent the collected gifts and efforts of untold numbers of people, all seeking to bring about a common vision. 

As we think about growing First Baptist Church and its influence, as we think of what it will take to Build the Future, Build the Church Family, Build the Community…Where will your brick(s) be?  What pillar(s) will they be supporting?  How will you offer your gifts to be used?   How will God use you to bring growth to the Kingdom through the influence of First Baptist Church? How will you embody our core values of Hospitality, Community, Dialogue, and Service? 

We have a vision before us.   We have a plan consistent with our values.  We have solid lay and staff leadership to help us enact it.   God is with us.  Christ is risen.  The Spirit is active.  We have exciting days ahead of us.   Grace, David  

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the May edition of Together.
Posted by Bridget Ellis at Friday, May 1, 2015 | 0 comments
Share |

You Got to Rise Up

Easter is upon us, and as I was thinking about Resurrection, a couple of pop images came to mind.  The first was a catch phrase used by the late great Stuart Scott on ESPN.   Whenever he would do the commentary for a highlight clip of a homerun in baseball or a spectacular leaping grab in football or a dunk in basketball, he would often time punctuate the moment with the phrase, “And the Lawd said, ‘You got to rise up!’”   It’s a phrase that he heard in church as a young boy.   It’s a popular phrase which can be used in sermons on numerous texts, from Ezekiel’s dry bones to Jesus (Mark 2) or the disciples (Acts 3) healing a paralytic or one otherwise disabled.  

The second was Bruce Springsteen’s song, The Rising.   It’s a song which was written as an anthem of hope after the 9/11 tragedy.   It uses the image of rising in so many ways—of a fireman rising out of bed that morning, to then rise up the tower to his/her death, to then his/her rising up to heaven, and then the chorus which beckons the rest of us to rise up out of the ashes: 

Come on up for the rising. Come on up, lay your hand in mine. Come on up for the rising. Come on up for the rising tonight.

What struck me about both of these is how those who “rise up” play an intentional role in their own rising.  At Easter, we tend to experience the idea of rising from a distance--something that happened to Jesus way back then or something that will happen to all at the end of time, when we are only passively involved.  But these modern uses of the idea of rising in pop culture, especially the sports catch phrase (since it is based in scripture) remind us that we are involved here and now in our own daily resurrections.   Jesus’ resurrection provides hope for all that we need to “rise up” from and out of, not just the grave, but all the places of despair and grief and guilt and hopelessness in which we find ourselves.    And in those resurrections that happen here and now, we certainly have a part to play.

Think of those healings previously mentioned.  In both instances, the recipients were both told to rise up and walk.   They were healed.  Unlike before, they now could actually do that which Jesus or the disciples asked them to do.  But they didn’t have to.  Rising and walking are volitional acts.  They would actually have to tell their arms and limbs to rise up, and then choose to walk.  As absurd as it may seem, they could have chosen otherwise.  Gravity will let you remain on your back all your life if you want to stay there.   

So even before our grave, resurrection opens up a possibility for us, a hope-filled possibility of that which lies beyond whatever binds us, hampers us, holds us back, keeps us entombed.  

What might such  hope mean for you?  How might you step into that resurrection? What might such hope mean for us? How might we “come on up” to our own rising as First Baptist Church?  In light of our Vision Plan, how can we grow First Baptist and its influence?  How can we better reflect Christ through hospitality, community, dialogue, and  service?  

How can we consistently build for the future, build the church family, and build the community?  How can we step into the resurrection that God has already made possible for us?  What is your part in that plan?This Eastertide, FBC, let us respond to the call of God.  Let us follow the lead of Christ.  Let us rise up!

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the April edition of Together.
Posted by Bridget Ellis at Wednesday, April 1, 2015 | 0 comments
Share |

All the Good News

We are in Lent.  Indeed the entire month of March is in Lent.   How does it feel to read those words, to consider that?   All of March is in Lent. How does the word “Lent” by itself strike you?   What feelings does it evoke? 

I think, many of us, have been preconditioned to hear the word “Lent” and feel heavy and sad and somber.   Lent can sort of weigh on you.    And, to some degree, for good reason.  At this time we reflect on the death of Christ, and it does not feel appropriate to express anything but sadness.  Furthermore we reflect on the fact that Christ died for our sins, that we are as responsible for Christ’s death as Pilate, the High Priest, the crowd, Barabbas, Peter in his denial, Judas in his betrayal, all of them.  They are us, and we are them.  So again, heaviness.   And I do think there is something to be said for sitting with this heaviness for a while.   Sometimes we need to feel the weight of our sin and shortcomings in order to be motivated to do something about them.   But if that’s it, if all Lent leaves us with is a heaviness and burden that leads to nowhere, I think most of us will just stop.   We just will.  We can’t and won’t lean into this season for very long if that’s all Lent is about.   And if that is all Lent is, then such abdication is appropriate, because how could heaviness alone be Good News?   It’s not.

No, it is my experience that those who enter fully into Lent and what it has to offer are actually those who have a deep understanding of grace and an abiding sense of hope.  They are those who believe in possibility, in the possibility that whatever sin they confess can be forgiven; that whatever fear they face, can be overcome; that whatever calling they have not followed, can be renewed; that whatever brokenness they have experienced can be healed; that whatever has died within them can rise again.  Yes, to fully enter into Lent is to dwell upon more than the fact that Christ died, it is to believe the reason he lived and died was to reveal the amazing grace of a God whose love for us is beyond all measure and for whom all things are possible.   And when you believe this, truly believe this, then you can risk confession, you can face a fear, you can acknowledge a grudge, you can admit being hurt, etc., because you trust that God can take you beyond these heavy places to something much better.   Of course, Lent doesn’t have a copyright on these deep truths.   These truths and the avenues of grace they offer are available to us throughout the year.  But with the cross ever before us in Lent, we are given the opportunity to lean into them together with special intention.

In many high liturgical churches their weekly worship services include a time of confession.  It begins with a unison prayer of confession, followed by silence for personal confession, ending with an assurance of pardon that is generally spoken by the minister, but can be unison as well.  I had a good minister friend in this tradition that said  regardless of what people do or say each Sunday, in their hearts they generally fall into two categories.  There are those that get stuck in confession and never get up off their knees to hear the assurance of pardon, and there are those that rush to the assurance of pardon, having never dared to truly confess.  If we do Lent well, we will lean into both experiences.  Hear the good news, my friends, all the good news, and dare to believe it’s true for you this Lent.  All have fallen short.   All is forgiven.    

Thanks be to God.  Amen

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the March edition of Together.
Posted by Bridget Ellis at Sunday, March 1, 2015 | 0 comments
Share |

Wearing a Tux to Church

Over the Christmas holidays, I had the privilege to hear my friend John Ballenger preach.  It had been awhile.  John and I were the lone Baptists in the DMin program at Brite Divinity School.   John is someone who makes me smile, and on this Sunday, he left me with an image that has kept me smiling.

He was preaching on Isaiah 61:10-62:3 and Luke 2:22-40—Christmastide texts of Joy.   He told the story of how some years before he had worn a tux to church.  The day before he had been a groomsman in the wedding of dear friend in that same church, and when he woke up that Sunday morning he was just compelled to wear it because “some parties should never end.”  I can see the whole thing happening.  John leaping out of his car, taking joy in all the others smiling at him, and John asking them, “What do you think?  Too much?”

Well…what do you think?  Too much?  Can we be “too joyful” as Christians?  I mean, we do, after all, have much to be joyful about.  Think of our church right now: Brittany and Mary joining our staff, a three year strategic plan on the horizon, stories of meaning and joy and purpose and service that come about in and through this community of faith, etc.  And then most of us were raised with this idea that faith should produce happiness within us.   “If you’re happy and you know it…”  Certain passages of scripture even command us to be joyful.  “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord….”  And faith aside, we do like being greeted with a smile, entering an environment of happiness.   I’m guessing few of us would return to a church if we stepped in the door and were greeted with sad and sour.  So why not a tux?  Too much?

And yet all of life is not happy.  And being a faithful human, let alone a faithful person of faith, demands that we attend to all of life.   And in life there is pain, loss, worry, fear—the hard stuff, the yuck of life, that which does not make us happy, that which does not make God happy.   So, in the face of such, can the joy we confess, the joy we seek to express be “too much?”

Well, such a judgment is, of course, personal, relative to where we are on that given day.  But my friend John did, I think, give an adequate defense to at least an informed, sensitive confession of joy.  In the Isaiah text, God is sowing the seeds of righteousness and praise which will spring up.  There is no denial of present difficulty, or even future hardship.  Nonetheless there is the confession of hope that God is even now up to something more and that that something does indeed include us.  And this hope is the basis for even our present joy.

Now, there is genuine joy for all the blessings of the present, too, just like there is a wedding day which celebrates the present reality of love found and consecrated.  As we have noted, we do have reason to be grateful.  We can count our blessings every day.  But our present joy is not just for what is, but for what will be.   Our joy at the wedding is not just for that moment but also for the years to come.  Our joy on Sunday is much the same.  It’s not just about that day, but for all the days to come.

Now this not to say that we need to always be on top of the word, or be less than honest when someone asks us how we are.  But in general, let us dare to be people of joy, not because we are oblivious to the pain of this world, but because we believe in one who will see us through this pain, and is, even now, sowing seeds of joy that will spring forth in days to come.  In other words, maybe not every Sunday, but occasionally…If you got a tux, wear it!

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the February edition of Together.
Posted by Bridget Ellis at Sunday, February 1, 2015 | 0 comments
Share |

Behold! I will Do a New Thing Isaiah 43:19

Happy New Year!   It’s 2015.  Does it seem different?  Does it feel different?  Have you even begun to stop noting things “2014”?   Supposedly it is different.  We treat it that way.  We talk of turning over a new leaf, of our dreams for a better year, of New Year’s Resolutions.  We even have an image for all of this—a new born baby boy to replace the aging old man that was 2014.

And yet, is it any different?  Are these days any different than those that have gone before?  Isn’t this idea of New Years a bit arbitrary?  Indeed we have the stop and start of all kinds of years at other points on our calendar.   School Years, Fiscal Years, the Liturgical year.  And then there are the Chinese and Jewish and Mayan calendars, just to name a few, which have a much different date noted as New Years.

When you stop and think about it then…there really isn’t anything necessarily special about this turning of the calendar.   And yet the good news is that there could be.   Yes, the good news is that any day can be the start of something new and positive and meaningful and hopeful, not just for you, but for those around you.   And the better news is that you and I will have something to with that...by the choices and decisions we will make, by the priorities we will choose.  Yes, with God’s help, we get to participate in the “new thing” that God is seeking to bring to pass this day and every day, regardless of the date a chronologist wants to put on it. 

Yes, this New Year can be new.  It can be new because we decide to try something new for the first time.  I think such brand spanking newness is needed in our lives, at least every once in a while, so I encourage you to go for it. 

 But for the most part, I think the meaningful new will come from the raw material of what has been.   Such newness is at the heart of the gospel message.  It’s the meaning of redemption.  Its why salvation and salvage and salve all have the same root, and largely the same meaning.  So can 2015 be new?   You bet it can.   But its best newness may come from what we choose to do with what 2014 has left us.  

What will we do with the civil and racial unrest that Ferguson and New York left us?  Will we dare to listen to those different than us?  Better yet, will we make a new friend?  Will we dare to get otherwise involved?

What will we do with the grief we carry from friends that have died?  Will we withdraw or despair or will we vow to live life all the more fully?   Will we rise to carry on their legacy?  Will we fill in the gaps?  Will we invite others to do the same?

What will we do with the life-giving and life-sustaining and joy-filled aspects of 2014?  Will we continue them?  Can we grow them?  Can we share them?  Can we pass them on?

I write this article in the middle of Advent, when we remember that a young mother waits to give birth to another baby boy, one which will bring much newness.  Madeleine L’Engle’s wonderful poem Young Mary, begins and ends with this amazingly profound understatement, “I know not all of that which I contain.”I think that’s how I feel about this baby we call 2015.  We have no idea of all that it will contain.  But the majority of whatever it will be, already is.  It’s just a question of what we will do with it.Happy New Year my friends.  May it be filled with God’s “New Thing.”

 Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the January edition of Together.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Thursday, January 1, 2015 | 0 comments
Share |

Company is Coming

“Company is Coming.” What emotions does that phrase evoke for you? Excitement,anticipation,worry,anxiety,wonder? I had a friend who said those were his three least favorite words because anytime his mother said them, it meant a day of serious cleaning. I guess there is that part of it. There’s always some preparation in welcoming someone new into your space. But when I chose that phrase for this year’s Advent, I was seeking to tap into something a bit deeper and far more positive. 

Getting prepared for the arrival of company is, of course, not an unknown phenomenon this time of year. Chances are, if you are not getting ready for family to come to your house, someone is getting ready for you to come to their home. But if you grew up in a family that you loved and that loved you, and you looked forward their arrival…then even the work of preparation is done with air of joyous anticipation and expectation. Sure it was work, but it was all in service to these who were coming who were so special to you. What’s more, it was an investment. Getting ready now would allow you to make the most of the time you would share together.

Advent is the celebration of God’s coming in the person of Christ to keep company with us.We experience this advent of God in Christ in three distinct times. First we draw alongside the children of Israel as they long for the coming of the Messiah, and we reflect on the significance of what it meant for God to come in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Secondly, we wait for the return of Christ, and we strive to remain alert to the fact that such could happen at any moment, and thus live like it. And then in the meantime, in the in-between time where we find ourselves at this moment, we seek to be aware that Christ comes to us even now, in moments of Grace and Truth, Justice and Mercy and Peace. But evenfor the Christ among us now, there is much competition. So much can cloud our vision, clog our ears, fill our lives and hearts that even if Christ is right in front of us, we can miss his coming. Advent is the call to do whatever we have to do to open up and to pay attention, to not miss out, to not miss the coming of such Divine company.

Lots of suggestions could be made as to the best way to be so attentive. Among them are the themes of our four Sundays in Advent:

  • Advent 1 calls us to attention,to be alert, to Wake Up. 

  • On Advent 2, Isaiah and John the Baptist call us to Clean Up, and clear out space for our comforting Company to come alongside us and lead us home. Mary will invite us to Tune Up 

  • On Advent 3, to join here in singing the song of God’s deliverance.

  • On Advent 4, we return to John the Baptist to learn maybe the most basic tenets of all hospitality,to Lighten Up, that it’s not about us, but our Guest and what that Guest wants to do in and through our lives. 

  • And then what’s left to do come Christmas, but Welcome our company. 

I hope you’ll join us in the journey this Advent. Company is Coming. Let’s get ready! 

One Caveat. If there is a sense in which this theme struggles to work…it is this. One of the most effective ways to open ourselves up to Christ coming in a new way this Advent, is to be attentive to how Christ is already present among us, especially in the least of these. I challenge you to make that a part of your Advent preparation this season. Find some time, as an individual or family, to engage in service, in sacrifice. Make that a part of your spiritual discipline. Meeting Christ along the way makes it easier to recognize Him in Bethlehem.

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the December edition of Together.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Sunday, November 30, 2014 | 0 comments
Share |

I am

I’m writing this article on the Sunday after we at FBC had the honor of calling the Rev. Brittany Krebs to be our Minister of Music and Youth.  It was a wonderful weekend filled with amazing fellowship and dialogue and worship and singing and bowling and laughter and food and, of course, the opportunity to welcome Brittany and Kyle into the FBC family.

After leading us in worship through music on Sunday morning, Brittany preached beautifully during the Modern Vespers service that evening.  She preached on the call of Moses from Exodus 3, emphasizing the significance of the name of God.  She spoke of how “I am that I am” in Hebrew has no verb tense, that it could be translated numerous ways such as “I will be what I will be.”  The point being that God is not limited by time and situation, that God will be with us no matter where we go or what we do, and that that promise holds true not just for us, but for everyone.  And yet, at the same time, God is intimately concerned about each one of us.  Just as God knew Moses personally and called him by name, God knows us and calls each of us by name.

What an appropriate message given the fact that we had just called Brittany to come and serve with us, a call we all felt was a part of God’s call upon all of our lives.  But the appropriateness goes far beyond the situation at hand, for the reality, for both Brittany and us, is that we do not know all the future holds.   We need the “I am.”  We need a God who will hold us no matter what the future holds.  We are, of course, very excited and very hopeful, and rightly so.  If we will be faithful, God will no doubt bless our journey together.  But there will be challenges and struggles, too.   Just ask Moses.  There always are.

I was struck by a recent reading of Psalm 23.  What a text.   It is such a hope-filled testimony to the goodness and faithfulness of the “I Am.”   Indeed what makes it so powerful is that it does not deny the challenges of life—shadow of death, table full of enemies.  Man, that’s tough stuff.  And then it mentions being anointed.  God never anoints/calls anyone to a life of ease, but to mission and purpose and challenge.  (And God calls us all.  You good Baptists know that,  right?)  Maybe then that cup that overflows in Psalm 23 represents a life that is filled not just with milk and honey, but with an amazing mixture of all that a faithful life contains. What enables us to experience all of that and dare to live grace filled, abundant lives is the fact none of us ever does any of that alone.  God is with us.  God will never leave us.  God will be with us to enhance our joys, to calm our fears, to deepen our meaning, to enrich our fellowship, to challenge our complacency, to dry our tears, to lengthen our laughter, to guide our way.

I am that I am.   I will be what I will be.  We are all called.  We all dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  Let us lean into that strong name, that strong promise, as we lean into the future together.  I can’t wait to see it!

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the November edition of Together.
Posted by Bridget Ellis at Saturday, November 1, 2014 | 0 comments
Share |

On Being Rooted

Liturgically speaking we are in Common Time.  Common Time refers to the weeks between Epiphany and Lent, and then from Pentecost to Advent.  (Note here at FBC, we follow the Methodists and refer to the latter as Kingdomtide, but the point remains.)  The name is accurate in that these periods of the church calendar year are devoid of major religious observations. But I’ll never forget Glenn Hinson lecturing that all time is holy and that we should never see any time as “common time.”  Dr. Hinson suggested that we see this time through an agricultural lens, the equivalent of the fall or winter, when not much flashy is going on above ground, while all the while the essential work of sinking our roots deeper is being accomplished.

This idea of rootedness is certainly one that scripture affirms.  Think of the parable of the sower.  The objective is to sink deep roots, in good soil, and in so doing eventually bear much fruit.  Think of Psalm 1. “They are like trees planted by streams of water which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither, in all that they do, they prosper.”

Lillian Daniel, a Congregational Minister in Glen Elyn, Illinois, has written a book called When Spiritual But Not Religious Is Not Enough: Finding God in Surprising Places, Even Church.  In it she provides a spirited defense of the relevancy of church and spiritual community that has provoked considerable debate, some about her points in general, some about her sometimes biting sarcastic style.  I like the book, but can see the point of her critics.

Daniel likens those who claim to be “Spiritual But Not Religious” as those who pick beautiful bouquets of cut flowers—a rose from here, a lily from there, etc.   For a time they are indeed beautiful, sometimes splendidly so, but they don’t tend to last because they are not rooted.  In contrast she says that religious communities offer us a rootedness that comes from history and wisdom older than us and a community of people who care about us.

Now Daniel does not ignore the challenges of such a struggle.  She acknowledges that it’s hard to find meaning in a book that we did not write or choose, that its hard to find God in the company of people who are “just as annoying as we are.”  (I love that line.)  But, she concludes, that it is worth it.  Writing for herself and those like her, “Tired of decorating our lives with bouquets of our own choosing, we’re ready to go deeper, and even ready to put in the hard work it requires, because being part of a religious tradition takes work.”  

It’s this last point that sticks with me.   When we speak of rootedness, we think of an unconscious process of nature, something that just happens.  It’s a botanical metaphor, so it’s not perfect.  Maybe for us we could liken it to breathing or growing.  Not a lot of work involved there.  And I think that’s how we often times approach our spiritual rootedness.  At best it’s a passive endeavor on our part.  It’s not our job.  It’s the job of the dirt to be nourishing, and the job of theContinued on page 5other plants and/or weeds to get out of the way.  And to some degree, maybe all of that is true.

But the way in which Daniel and Hinson use it, in the end, we are responsible for our own rootedness.  There is work involved.  Sometimes hard work.  All of this begs some questions:  What does it mean to be rooted?  Do you feel rooted?  If so, why?  If not, why?  How long do you have to be a part of a community to feel that way?   What’s the upkeep?  How often do you have to be present to still feel rooted?  What work is involved?  More immediate to this season, I think Dr. Hinson would ask, “How will you make use of this Holy Time to become more rooted?”

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the October edition of Together.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Wednesday, October 1, 2014 | 0 comments
Share |

Crying Out

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been feeling a bit overwhelmed lately by the news.  From Gaza to Iraq and Isis to Ferguson to senseless violence here in our city, some in our own schools, my heart has been breaking for the brokenness of our world.  Even the suicide of Robin Williams hit me hard as it reminded us all of the secret pain that so many carry with them in such a way that it never makes the news, until…

I have a confession to make.  I avoided a lectionary text a couple of weeks ago.  It’s the story of the Syrophonecian Woman from Matthew 15.  You remember it.  It’s the story of a desperate mother crying out for Jesus to heal her daughter.   The problem is, she’s not a Jew.  She’s a foreigner, a fact that gets her initially dismissed by the disciples and then Jesus.  Still she cries out.  Jesus goes so far as to call her a dog.  But even this does not deter her, for the woman simply adds logic and wit to her cry and says, “Even the dogs get the crumbs.”  And in her stubbornness, she gets through.  She stops Jesus in his tracks, causes him to do a 180, in every respect.  She leaves not only with a healed daughter but with a compliment, “How great is your faith!”

I avoided this text, not just because it is a hard text, but because my take on it is one that you have heard before, and is one that is hard for some to hear.  Some say that Jesus’ initial refusal to help this woman, and his reference to her as a dog, are just a test of her persistence and faith and/or of the faith of those standing around.  But I read the text in a more straightforward way.  I think the woman teaches Jesus something, or at the very least, reminds him of who he is supposed to be.  I realize that’s a hard reading for some, to think that Jesus could be taught.  But to suggest that Jesus would adapt and learn and grow does not make him any less, in my mind. Quite the contrary, it makes him more, and further sets an example for us.

But I read a blog on this text recently that pointed out that before this story is about Jesus changing his mind or learning something new, it is a story about a person crying out, a mother who refused to allow her voice to be silenced in the face of sorrow and grief until she is heard, until her need is met.  It seems to me to be a rather close parallel to Jesus’ parable of the friend who goes to his neighbor at midnight and cries out for bread until the neighbor gets up and meets the request, not out of great love and concern mind you, but just to shut his friend up.   Both stories suggest that healing begins with our cry, with letting our need be known.   But is that all there is here?  A simple reminder that for our needs to be met, we must let them be known?   Possibly.  But when you add these texts to the strong Biblical tradition of lament, I think there is something more. 

I think scripture is saying that there is an inherent power in our crying, and in our crying out; that our healing and that of this world actually begins in the midst of the tears that we shed for the pain we know and know of; that if we are doing this thing called life and faith correctly we will find ourselves continually crying out on behalf of ourselves and others for healing and hope and peace and wholeness; and that such cries please God.  And while such cries may not change the mind of a God who is, no doubt, already engaged, maybe God does hear those cries and says, “Here is one that shares my pain for the brokenness of creation.  Here is one that I can work in and through to change this world.”

So, if you are needing to cry out.  Please do so.  For yourself, for others, for these situations, for those to come.  Cry out to God.  Cry out to one another.   Cry out over and above the obstacles that will be put in your way.   Listen, too, and be willing to serve.   But keep crying out until something is done, someone is changed, someone is healed, even if that someone is you. 

Grace, David 

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the September edition of Together.
Posted by Bridget Ellis at Monday, September 1, 2014 | 0 comments
Share |

On Adjusting

Well this will be quite a different August from what I was expecting in May.  Of course this has been quite a different June and July, as well, since we became aware of Scott and Kim’s departure.  It certainly kicked things into a different gear for me this summer with a new set of priorities.   The CBF General Assembly became a networking and interview opportunity that we could not pass up, and the past month has continued that theme as we have put a Search Committee into place. Changes, expected or not, require that we adjust, that we be flexible.  We have to be willing to let one vision of the future go, so that we can fully enter into a new vision.  

As I have engaged in such conversations, though, I have learned much more than names and gained much more than resumes.  I’ve met people and heard stories that I have found comforting and encouraging.  It’s very clear that we are not alone.  That there are many urban churches like us who have had a glorious past, who are presently striving to chart a new course toward health and stability.  And for those churches that are really daring to think this way, many are surviving, if not thriving.  Furthermore, there seems to be, on first glance, ministerial candidates out there who are not just interested, but excited about coming to serve churches like us, provided that we really are willing to take some risks and think outside the box.   Now, I’m not promising any results or timetable here when it comes to new ministers.  I’m just encouraged by what I have seen, and the resources that may be out there for us, human as well as ideas.

It seems to me to be a tricky thing to talk about the need for change when we serve a God of miracles, for whom nothing is impossible.  And yet most all movements of salvation require change.   Forgiveness requires confession and repentance.   Healing requires assessment and treatment.  Reconciliation requires vulnerability and reaching out.  Growth and maturation requires spiritual discipline.  Even eternal life requires that we go through the valley of the shadow of death first.    Ours is a God who is ever seeking to do a new thing, but for that to happen, generally speaking, something must pass away before something can become new.   And sometimes, this may not be a theoretical necessity, but more of a practical requirement. Sometimes you only have enough resources (time, money, human) to promote a certain number of ideas, themes, programs, priorities.

Our leadership takes the challenges before us very seriously.    Our staff, Vision Team, Deacons, key committees, all understand the reality of our situation, but they also understand the strength of our fellowship, the potential of our resources, and, as one member is fond of saying, “that God isn’t finished with us yet.”   And so the question becomes:  How can we live out our identity as a progressive missional urban congregation and achieve our potential?  How do we need to adjust?   What needs to change?  What can we let go of, and allow to pass away?  What must we hold on to?  What do we need to celebrate and lean into?  What new things, even after 175 years, is God calling us to be a part of?

I’ll be honest.  I’m something of a creature of comfort.  I don’t like having to adjust, to change.   I gather some of you feel the same way.  But I’m grateful that God’s love and call will not let any of us settle for comfort.  And so I can also say with all honesty, I’m excited about the days ahead, about the new adventures we will take, about new people, ministers and members, that will join us in this journey.  Let’s dare to be flexible and adjust as the Spirit calls us into our future.

Grace, David 

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the August edition of Together.
Posted by Bridget Ellis at Friday, August 1, 2014 | 0 comments
Share |

Vision On the Horizon

As most all of you know, we are in the middle of a vision process.  Our vision team (Emily Callahan, David Hankins, Mike Ward, Linda Marks, Paul Martin, David Richardson, Jennifer Kellett), along with our staff and various committee chairs, has been hard at work behind the scenes.  We are on target to present a vision plan to you in the upcoming fall, but offer you the following report in the meantime.  

We appreciate the participation by the congregation in our Vision Day this spring. We received lots of good information and ideas and are hard at work on exciting plans for the future. This is a challenging period in the life of our church. We are a vibrant congregation and have celebrated successes and milestones recently, including our 175th anniversary this year. Our church is sound financially due to the sacrificial giving of many.  At the same time we are not oblivious to the fact that offerings and attendance have been declining in recent years. The plans we are developing will begin to address challenges and opportunities, as well as emphasize core values that bind us together as a church family.  As the Vision Team continues their work, many of you have asked what you can do to help our church.

Four things every member can do now are…

  1. Pray.  Remember your church every day. Pray for our pastor, our staff and ministries. Pray for our Vision Team. Pray that we will totally depend on God to lead our congregation to make wise decisions that will allow us to minister and worship together as a family of faith for generations to come.
  2. Attend. Your attendance is more important now than ever before. Attending worship is your most visible expression of your love for First Baptist Church.  More of our members in worship enhances our sense of community and improves the worship experience for our congregation and visitors. We ask that you make church attendance a priority. If you attend 35 Sundays a year, would you make an intentional effort to attend 40 Sundays over the next year? If you usually attend about 40 services a year, would you commit to 45? Etc.
  3. Give sacrificially. We are facing key staffing changes. With the departure of Scott and Kim Looney, we are looking at how we will staff key ministry areas for the future. An important component of the decisions will be the finances necessary to attract new ministry talent with skills that complement those of current staff and the needs of our congregation.  A tangible, immediate way to help us plan for the future is to increase your giving now.  Giving involves time as well as money. If you spend an hour a week ministering to fellow church members, would you consider investing two hours? If you give two hours now, would you consider three? We are all ministers. Being intentional in our efforts to minister to each other, our community and our world will make our church stronger.
  4. Invite.  We love First Baptist.  It is special to us.  God comes alive for us in worship, study, community, and service. And we are not unusual.  Others need such a church.  And we need the influx of new talent and ideas energy that others would bring us.  Think of one person, one couple, one family you could invite.   It’s simple math.   If we all brought one person to church, our numbers would double.

As we dare to face the larger challenges before us, let us rise to these simple challenges now.  God is faithful.  God has provided before.  God will provide now and in the future.  So, let us be faithful as well.  God still has important work for us to do as a congregation.  We will not be discouraged.  We will lift each other up, seek God’s will for our church, and be ever open to new possibilities on the horizon.

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the July edition of Together.
Posted by Bridget Ellis at Tuesday, July 1, 2014 | 0 comments
Share |

Finding God While Scattering

The Summer Scattering.  That’s what I call it—the diaspora that happens around here, and pretty much every place where summer weather and school vacations make such alternative plans and travel possible.  It’s certainly not a bad thing.  But it does take us out of the regular routines and gatherings and places where we tend to at least think more about God and faith and community and service.   Indeed it may be for that very reason that it is a good thing, for it stretches us to become aware of the Holy in new ways and places—which is more or less the thesis for this article.  I write this to remind you to be alert and open to such possibilities even as you are away from familiar places and routines.

In the Bible it says several times, “Those that have ears, let them hear.”   It never technically says,  “Those that have eyes, let them see.”   But such is clearly implied, as Woody Guthrie would later prove, the two lines work awfully well together in a song.  But the good rhythmic King James here really doesn’t give us a good sense of the meaning of the Greek.   A better translation would be “Those that have ears, listen up!” And in like manner “Those that have eyes, open them!”  It’s a call to be alert to the God that is constantly seeking to comfort, save, call, challenge at all times….even when we are scattered.

So if you are in town this summer, I hope you will continue to gather with us, but if you are scattered, don’t leave God behind….listen up, open up to, as Barbara Brown Taylor would put it, the Altars in the World.

In your journeying, consider the idea of pilgrimage.  What are you leaving?  What is your destination?  How are you getting there?  What does God’s presence mean at every stage of the journey?  What might this trip teach you about your life journey right now, and as a whole?  

In traveling into another place, how is God visible there?  Could there be opportunities not just to be served, but to serve?  How might that add to your experience?  What does living in a space owned/inhabited by others teach us about stewardship and hospitality and how dependent we are on the grace of God and others?

What does the act of relaxation and vacation have to teach us about Sabbath and our need for rest?   What does it have to teach us about our valuable yet not essential place in this world, of how all that we have is not generated, earned, or bought, but comes to us as gift?

What does this scattering have to teach us about Community and the God-in- others?  Whom do we miss?  Whom do we meet?  Whom do we get to know better?  What new lessons do we learn from new communities and people that we can bring back to our church and community here in Memphis?

In short….as you scatter, both near and far….listen up, open up.  God has much to teach you, and us.  And when you’re in town, let’s gather up for each other and for new folks moving into town. Summer is not just the season of scattering, it’s also the season of relocating.  Let’s be here to welcome others and report on how God is moving in our midst even now.

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the June edition of Together.
Posted by Bridget Ellis at Monday, June 2, 2014 | 0 comments
Share |

Whew! What's Next

  April.  Usually such a sleepy little month…Not this year!

  We began the month with the celebration of our 175th anniversary.  What a great weekend!  Saturday afternoon with all the displays, Sunday morning worship with Sarah Holloway and so many former members joining us, the dinner on the ground (of the Fellowship Hall), Modern Vespers that evening—such a good time of memories, and community and dreaming around the theme of A Foundation…A Future.  

  We continued the month with the Tennessee Cooperative Baptist General Assembly on April 11-13.  We enjoyed a wonderful meal and convocation at Trinity Baptist on Friday night.  The spirit continued on Saturday as we joined our fellow TCBF folk from across the state in service projects throughout Memphis.  And then on Sunday, after our children began Palm Sunday worship morning, we had the privilege of welcoming Dr. Suzii Paynter, Executive Coordinator of CBF to our pulpit for worship.   

  Holy Week followed—Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Egg Hunt and Great American Bake Sale, the Flower Cross, Easter Sunrise at Levitt Shell, Easter Worship, and Modern Vespers on Easter evening.   And last weekend, we joined congregations throughout our city in participating in the Mayor’s Faith in Action City Clean-Up on Saturday, followed by an Earth Day emphasis in worship on Sunday, not to mention the River City Band Concert that evening.  

You see what I mean by “Whew!”   Indeed, given this schedule, and the fact that regular meetings and such continued, this may have been the busiest month of my ministerial career, and I would respectfully submit, maybe one of the busiest in the 175 year history of FBC.   But, I’m not complaining.  Are you?  What blessings!  What memories!  What reconnections!  But also…what possibilities!  What opportunities!  What ideas and energy for the future!

Thanks is due to so many: the 175th Anniversary Task Force; Kati Hoffman and Scott Looney who represented us on the TCBF General Assembly planning group; the Missions Committee and their work on the TCBF service day, the Great American Bake Sale, and the Faith In Action Cleanup; the Children’s Committee and Leadership for the Palm Sunday processional and the Easter Egg Hunt; our Flower Cross leaders; and, of course, our amazing ministerial and support staff.  I’m sure I left off someone.  Do forgive me.  

But most of all I am filled with gratitude for the opportunity to simply have been a part of God’s good work in and through FBC this past month, as well as the one to come.   So , in the words of Dag Hammarskjold, “For all that has been—Thanks. For all that will be—Yes!”

Grace,   David 

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the May edition of Together.
Posted by Bridget Ellis at Thursday, May 1, 2014 | 0 comments
Share |

Connecting the Dots

Wow!  Its here! What’s here?  April.  April is here.  It always seemed like a rather humble, unassuming month.  But not here.  Not at FBC this year.   It is loud and proud and chock full.  We have many wonderful opportunities for all of us to be present to God, to one another, to our community, and to ourselves.  Indeed, it would be easy to get lost in the shuffle if not execution of all of it.  

First of all, it is Lent, and Holy Week will be the second full week of this month, with Easter being April 20.  But before that we have our 175th Anniversary on Sunday April 6, with a grand homecoming and dinner on the grounds.  And then on April 11-12 we will join Trinity Baptist and Second Baptist in hosting the Tennessee Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Assembly here in Memphis, culminating in Dr. Suzii Paynter, Executive Coordinator of CBF, preaching at FBC on April 13.   Whew!  I’m tired already.  But each of these has something to teach us, by themselves, and as they stand beside one another.    

The themes are rich.  In Lent and Easter we have the themes of sacrifice and resurrection and new life.  In the TCBF assembly we have themes of community and missions.  In our anniversary, there are themes of faithfulness, foundation, and future.   What might we learn by connecting the dots?  Here are some thoughts/questions for reflection that have occurred to me.

How many sacrificed over and over again to give FBC these 175 years?   What types of sacrifice are required of us now as we lean into the future?

Jesus was not/is not a stagnant entity.  He grew and changed and adapted over time.  We see this clearly in his death and resurrection and ascension.  How do the challenges of today require us to change and adapt?  What do we need to let die, so that something else might be born?  What is God seeking to bring to life within us and through us even now?

Jesus did not operate alone.  He did what he did in community.  He came to create a community.  That being said, it was not a large community, and yet through that relatively small band of disciples, he changed the world.   Our main state and national affiliation is the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.  It is much smaller than the SBC.  What challenges are here?  What opportunities are here?  How can we work together and with other Christians as well as people of other faiths to have a maximum missional impact on our community and world?

We, as a church are also smaller than we once were, and thus our vision has changed over the years.  What opportunities and challenges does this offer us?  How can we maximize our missional impact?  What steps do we need to take, what sacrifices do we need to make, to make possible the next 175 years?   God is faithful.  How are we to be faithful to God, to our heritage, to one another, to our community?

Our faith teaches us that God is everywhere, and that God can use anything and everything to teach us and lead us and guide us and shape us.   We have a full and active month ahead of us, but let us not allow it merely to be busy, but rather rich as well.   Let us drink deeply from these wells.  Let us attend to what each moment has to teach us.  May we listen closely.   May we follow eagerly.  And so may we honor our Foundation by leaning into our Future.

Grace, David 

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the April edition of Together.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Wednesday, April 2, 2014 | 0 comments
Share |

A Future for a Foundation

What do you buy someone or something for their 175th birthday?  It’s a tough one, isn’t it?  I mean especially when that someone already has their own gym, bowling alley, racquetball court, commercial kitchen, organ, bell tower, etc.  Talk about having it all!

Well, we’re talking about a church here, of course, not a person.  Still, it’s our church, it’s our entity, it’s an institution we love and cherish and value, and so no ordinary gift will do.  It needs to be special.  

Well, I’m not the best gift giver in the world.  I’ve had a few duds of my own over the years.  But if I’ve learned anything about gifts, it is that the best gifts are gifts of oneself—one’s time, energy, thoughtfulness.   Even if the gift is a simple item, it needs to be one that shows that thought, intent, and effort went into its procurement.

Maybe that could be a starting place for us as we think of what we might offer this beloved church that turns 175 this year.  At the end of the day, the best gift we could offer our church is an investment of ourselves into the mission that brought FBC into being in the first place—a commitment of our time, talents, and resources—intentionally, thoughtfully, freely offered.  In short the best gift we could give this grand foundation of a church, is our investment in its future.  Others “paid it forward” so that we might be here today.  We can do the same for future generations.

One image that might be helpful to us here is one that I learned from the noted church historian, Dr. Martin Marty.   Dr. Marty once said that it is of utmost importance how we handle our heritage.  He said one way was to dismiss it.  We can say this is a new day that requires new ideas, so the sooner we get rid of the old and make way for the new, the better.  Such a vision, says Marty, is almost always nearsighted.  “What is” was created to meet the needs of people far more like us than not.  Thus a strategy of dismissal almost always ends in regret.  

On the other side of the spectrum is nostalgia, that deification of what was and the ways we used to do them that fails to take into that change is necessary.  Splitting the horns of this dilemma, Marty suggests a third model: Restoration.  Now while we are familiar with that term from home repair, its true definition, says Marty, is much more obvious and Biblical.  Restoration, means literally to “Re-Store.”   Think of the church as a store.  Over time the shelves of the store become depleted, as people come in and use what they need.  That’s OK, of course, because that’s the purpose of the store, in some sense.  But for the store to remain vibrant, it must be restocked, re-stored, with that which the customer really needs, in packaging that makes it accessible and even attractive.  That will mean, says Marty, that some products will come and go while other “staples” will never go out of style.   For us such staples would include—grace, acceptance, missions, forgiveness, spiritual development, etc.  Even these, however, will need to be repackaged and remarketed from time to time.

Like all metaphors, this one has its limits.  Indeed the only way this one works is if we understand that one of the products that church offers, maybe the main one, is the opportunity to serve, to give back, to give our lives away.  But still, this idea of Restoration has potential for most all churches, especially those 175 years old.

So as we think of the future we seek to shape for this grand foundation of a church, how might we “re-store” its shelves?   What is essential and needs merely to be adapted?  What new elements and approaches might we stock on the shelves?  What part do each of us play in that?  What does this “re-storing” ask of us?  How might we be a part of what God is doing now and “pay it forward,” too?  If we think of it in these terms, it makes all the sense in the world that one of the first ways we will celebrate our anniversary is to spend a morning beginning to think about such questions.  

Vision Day is Sunday, March 23.  On this day, we will gather in the Fellowship Hall at for breakfast to be followed by sharing conversation around the tables.  We will be discussing that which we love and adore about our church, that which brought us to FBC in the first place.  We will be defining our essentials.  And in the process, we also begin to think about new offerings and approaches that might help us capitalize on these strengths.   I trust that you will make every effort to be present.  You can call the church office or make your reservation online

Until then, Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the March edition of Together.
Posted by Bridget Ellis at Saturday, March 1, 2014 | 0 comments
Share |

Expressing Our Devotion

  Chances are you have seen it by now—the viral video of the Lutheran minister in Montana who proclaimed his sermon would be one minute due to the start time of a playoff game.  He told all present that they could help themselves to the communion elements, then proceeded to reveal that beneath his robe was a San Francisco 49er t-shirt, before he walked out the back of the church.  Now, as I understand it, he was just joking about the fact that he would not be preaching.  Makes you wonder what his sermon really was about.  Maybe it was one that called into question where our deepest sympathies lie—God or football?

  You remember those days and those sermons, don’t you?  They usually were always focused around the Super Bowl and whether or not we were going to cancel Sunday night worship to accommodate our devotion to the pigskin.  Thankfully, most churches I know of have moved beyond that.  Indeed, many have found a way to accommodate the game, making it an opportunity for fellowship.  As I write, I’m already aware of two groups in our own church that will be getting together to watch the game.  

  Of course, the NFL has struck back in this battle, too.  Did you know that it is actually against the law to show the game at church to a group of more than just a handful?  To do so you are supposed to pay a fee, and about 8 years ago, the NFL brought charges against several churches.  Thankfully the backlash over such action was so great that the NFL backed down.  But still, in going as far as they went, one was made quite aware that the NFL was first and foremost devoted to money.

  All of these situations, along with a certain romantic holiday of this month, raise the question of devotion.  To whom or to what are you devoted?  For whom or what will you drop everything?  What is the pecking order of your devotion?  What comes first, second, third?   The challenge of our faith is to be single minded.  “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.”  “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and its righteousness...”   “What confession brings you to these waters?... Jesus Christ is Lord.”

  These are familiar words that roll rather easily off the tongue for those of us raised in church, and yet when you see them in the light of these questions, the implication can seem rather harsh, unreasonable, almost impossible.  And, I think, that is the way it is supposed to be.  These commands, these calls to commitment are not meant to be glossed over quickly.   But note, too, that scripture never assumes that God will be our only devotion.  Indeed, it assumes just the opposite.  It assumes that since we are devoted to God, that we will care about what God cares about—family, friends, the poor, creation, justice, etc. And that we will display that loyalty in the right way, with the right priorities, with action as well as words.  In other words, our devotion to God becomes the lens through which we evaluate and express all other devotions.

  February will give us an opportunity to express our devotion to God and specifically God’s work in and through the life of First Baptist Church.  You will be hearing much about vision and stewardship, and you will be called upon to participate, to commit, and to serve.  May our devotion to God give us eyes to see, and ears to hear, and hearts and arms ready to receive and to respond to all that God has in store for us.  

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the February edition of Together.
Posted by Bridget Ellis at Saturday, February 1, 2014 | 0 comments
Share |

Happy 175!

Happy 175!

Well, Happy Birthday, First Baptist.   Didn’t know it was your birthday?  Well technically, not quite yet.  We’ll have to wait until April formally to light the candles and such.  But when you are celebrating 175 years…what’s a few months?  And since ours is truly a celebration of not just longevity, but perseverance and faithfulness, we’ve decided to not just make it a week, but an entire year of celebration.   You will be hearing much more about this in the near future.

But other than an excuse to have yet one more party, what do such anniversaries offer us?  How can they help us, today, to be more of the people of God we are called to be?

Well, it quite obviously offers us an opportunity to look back and remember and be challenged by the example of those that have come before us.  It offers us an opportunity to take stock of where we are.  It offers us an opportunity to see God’s faithfulness to this congregation, as well as the faithfulness of thousands through the generations.   But if all it offers us is a glimpse back, an assessment of what has been…then the real power of such an anniversary has been sadly missed.

History is wonderful, interesting, intriguing.  I love it.  I love museums, historical biographies, arrowheads…you name it.   But far too often, such emphases turn into nostalgia--a memorializing and idolizing of what was.  And lost in all such thought is the rather obvious truth that the best way one can be faithful to one’s history is not necessarily to preserve it, but to allow such a history to propel us into the future. 

Indeed, think of even recent saints—Warren Jordan, Henry and Margret Martin, Frances Marks, Dr. Caudill, etc, just to name a few.   These are some of the folks who made the history we will celebrate this year.   If given the choice, would they choose a tribute or a plaque, or would they choose you and me being fully engaged in outreach and missions and pastoral care?   

Indeed, the best way we honor our heritage is to allow it to challenge us to be faithful as well, to allow it to lead us to a commitment that says, the circle will not be broken with us.  With this in mind, the theme for our celebration will be “A Foundation…A Future.”   

One very special way we will be focusing on our future will be a Vision Process that you will be hearing more about as well.  How appropriate!  Don’t you think?  In this year of celebrating our heritage, we will also be fully engaged in clarifying who we are and where we are going. 

I encourage you even now to begin praying for this process and the leadership that will be guiding us through it.  The foundation has been laid.  God stands ready to lead us into the future.  What a grand thing it is to be a part of FBC!

Grace, David

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Wednesday, January 1, 2014 | 0 comments
Share |

A God Who Dares

The question “What if?”, when applied to the past, can at times be much fun, at other times pure trouble.  At times it can be interesting, intriguing to wonder how things could have, would have been different had things happened differently, had different choices been made.  And when we apply such questions to God, or what we believe about God, of course, we’ve entered a vast territory of limitless possibilities.

But, one of the convictions of traditional Christianity is that in the beginning, God chose to create.  God did not have to create, but God chose to do so anyway.  Furthermore God chose to give humanity and creation free will, meaning that they could choose to do and act and think in ways that were productive and constructive and life giving…or not.  God could have just as easily made creation to be a puppet of God’s will, but instead God gave us free will.  And then, when humanity rebelled against God, God could have said enough with all of this and wiped it all out. But instead, God refused to give up on us and kept coming to us offering repentance and redemption and reconciliation.  And then when God’s prophets were only partially successful in bringing humanity back, God chose to get personally involved, by coming to us in the person of Jesus Christ.  Again, God could have chosen to remain high and lifted up, continuing to work as best one can from a distance, but instead God came to be with us in our suffering and pain and death to show the depth of His love for us, and to personally invite us to be a part of the building of the Kingdom of God.  God dares to do all of this for you and for me.

Well, as Newton would teach us in Science, for every action there is an equal and opposite re-action, and the same is true in relationships.  Every time someone takes an action toward us and for us, it calls forth a response within us.  Obviously had God not created us, we would not be able to choose at all.  And the same would be the case had we not been given free will. But given that those are true, and the fact that God refuses to give up on us, that by God’s grace forgiveness and redemption and service in the Kingdom of God are still possibilities for us…God’s daring activity for us, dares us to respond.   And such will be our theme for Advent.

  • Advent 1 is Dare to Expect.  The apocalyptic texts of this day remind us that we can expect more than we could ever imagine, from God and from ourselves.  
  • Advent 2 is Dare to Hope.  Life can weigh so heavy that despair looms large.  Christ’s coming gives us cause to keep hope alive.  
  • Advent 3 is Dare to Believe.  Isaiah writes of being ransomed and redeemed.  Dare we believe such is possible for us and for our world?  
  • Advent 4 is Dare to Trust.  Our world can be a scary place.  Fear cannot only be ever present, but crippling.  In coming to be with us, Jesus showed God to be worthy of our trust and modeled for us what it means to be faithful, rather than fearful.  
  • And Christmas Eve, based on all of the above, we will Dare to Change, ourselves and this world.

So, this Advent, dare to follow the lead of our God, who dares to come and redeem and restore and bring hope.  Come and be present and consider what it would mean for you to Dare to Expect, Hope, Trust, Believe, Change.  See you soon!

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the December edition of Together.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Sunday, December 1, 2013 | 0 comments
Share |

On the Intergenerational Church

If you were like me, you were raised in an intergenerational church.  There were people present from 1 week (in the viewing window no less) to 100, and everywhere in between.  At every age that I can remember, there were those older than me present and those younger than me present, each offering their own unique gifts and struggles.  We spoke of church as the family of God, and going to church did have the feel of a weekly family reunion where you reconnected with those that were many times even closer than blood relatives.

But this past month, I read an article that mentioned a generational church, which is a church composed almost totally of a single generation of people.  And then that same week I went out to eat with a local pastor whose church is pretty much a generational church, comprised of those in their twenties and thirties.  And then you don’t have to look far to see many congregations that consist only of seniors. 

It’s a phenomenon which should not have caught me off guard, but it did.  I say it should not have caught me off guard because for decades now, even our typical multi-generational church has been becoming more and more segregated by age, and by this I’m referring to more than just Sunday School.  In many larger churches you may have totally different worship services for children and youth and college/young adult, even seniors.

In some respects, the dynamics here are not new, nor are they peculiar just to the issue of age.  We tend to like ourselves—our views, our likes and dislikes, our tastes—and thus we tend to seek out those with whom we share such things in common.  Its just too much work to deal with diversity.  And many times these dynamics follow along generational lines.  Common history and experience many times leads to common views and taste.  And thus, we see what is happening in church today.

And yet, is this really what we want?  At the very least we should stop and consider what we are giving up.  We should consider the unique gift that each generation makes to the church family.  Do we want to give up the blessing that only seniors can offer?  Do we want to abandon the life wisdom of median adults?  Can we really live without the prophetic enthusiasm of young adults, the energy of youth, the joy of children?   Now, to be reminded of such significant truth does not negate the fact that creating intergenerational community, as with all types of diversity, is work, because it is.  It will demand patience and time and a willingness try things outside our comfort zone.  And at times it will require us to agree to disagree.   

But when the Body of Christ is at its best, it is a complete body filled with numerous diverse parts all doing their part to further the Kingdom of God.  And this, in my book, includes not only the diversity of spiritual gifts, but the diversity of the generations and what they bring to the table.  It may be hard work to create an intergenerational church, but I would contend that its worth it.

Recently one of our young adults wrote beautifully of the sadness she was experiencing over the death of a senior adult in their neighborhood.  She said the woman had been the glue of the neighborhood, always stopping to talk and take interest in what was going on in your world, a surrogate grandmother to most every child in the neighborhood.   As I read her tribute, I thought of how I had experienced the same dynamic, time and time again, in our church, and how blessed we all are to be a part of family of faith of many generations.

So, as we face our future and all the challenges that accompany it, I do hope that we will do so, not by retreating back into our own groups, generational or otherwise, but as a family composed of those “across the ages.”  It may be hard work, but we will be the better for it, and the Kingdom of God will be the better for it.

Grace, David 

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the November edition of Together.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Friday, November 1, 2013
Share |

What a Website Can Say

I don't know about you, but I think websites say a lot about organizations. In today's world, people do research online before checking out restaurants, schools, churches. And so a website is often the first introduction you get to a church. And, as the saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. I get that. And that's why launching this new website is such an exciting new step in the life of our church. It's been on my priority to-do list ever since I was invited to join the PR committee at First Baptist because our previous website just didn't convey who we are or what we're about. One of our core values is hospitality, and we want that to be reflected when you visit our website as well as our building. 

We hope you find our new site welcoming, accessible, and easy to use. We hope you find evidence of the community, relationships, and dialogue we take pride in at First Baptist. We hope you find an emphasis on spiritual growth, worship, and service in our community. And location matters. When our city experienced population flight years ago, we could have followed. But we made the decision to stay put, to serve our city, and to help make it a better place. And look around - Memphis is thriving, and we're glad to be a part of what's going on. 

We partner with Levitt Shell, just across the street to our west in Overton Park, to help them build community with 50 free outdoor concerts each year. We partner with Caritas Village, Rachel's Kids, and others to serve the Binghampton community to our east, where a federal grant from the Building Neighborhood Capacity Program is helping that community thrive. And that's just what's happening on the immediate borders our church property. 

Use our website to get to know us. Get to know our history, our values, our staff, our members. Read our blogs - we'll be posting twice a week, once from a minister and once from a lay person. Connect with us on Facebook and Twitter. Check out our events page and join us. We are a Midtown congregation for all of Memphis.

Posted by Meagan Walley at Tuesday, October 1, 2013 | 0 comments
Share |



200 East Parkway North, Memphis TN 38112
Office: 901.454.1131 ⋅ Fax: 901.454.1135
Email UsGet DirectionsService Times