Facets of Community Episode 9: Voice

Each year the FBCR congregation sets aside a few weeks for reflection. We reflect collectively on who we are as a church, and we reflect individually on how we relate to the church at large. From now through Sunday, November 7, 2021 I want to invite our faith community to consider broadly what it means to live in community together. Toward that end, we will highlight nine different facets of community, nine ways by which our community takes shape.

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Well, for this last episode of our stewardship reflection podcast series I’d like to talk about a facet of community that I think is understated and certainly underutilized. Our voice. That is, the voice we share as a community of faith.

Somewhere along the line we have gotten the idea as the church that we play a role in serving those who are affected by injustice and affected by the ills of the world – serving them directly, but not necessarily paying attention to the underlying causes of the things that push people to the margins of society. But one only needs to turn to scripture to see Jesus turning over tables and having it out with the powers that be over issues of the way that people’s lives are valued and the way that people are treated in society.

We certainly have a role to play as followers of Jesus in looking to those areas in our society where people are pushed to the edges or mistreated or not given what they need to live a full and rich life, but that’s a terrifying prospect as individual follwers of Christ to think of ourselves as a sort of crusading prophetic person who goes alone into the world to try to change the systems that bring these things about. We alone have a very quiet voice in society, but as a community of faith we have a bit of a louder voice. Certainly at the congregational level we partner with organizations who work in the area of advocacy to look into certain kinds of issues – childcare, hunger, racism, and other areas of injustice. We’re also connected nationally to a body, the American Baptist Churches USA, The Alliance of Baptists, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty who do this work for us, because of us – standing up for what is right in the world and standing up for those who can’t stand up for themselves. We have a much louder voice as a community than we do each individually.

Many of those I know in these organizations tell me how empowering it is when they are meeting with leaders in our society to advocate for certain kinds of changes to be able to tell them I come not as an individual, but on behalf of the 5,000 churches of the ABC or on behalf of The Alliance or BJC.

Here are some things to think about:

What are the areas of injustice you care most about and what are the underlying causes? How can you be involved in standing up for the kinds of changes that need to take place in our wider community and in society on the whole? And how does it make you feel to think of yourself as an advocate for those changes? It’s possible it feels overwhelming, like you’d be one person against the world. That brings us to the action piece: find someone at FBCR who cares about that thing too and see if they’d be willing to join you. Check in with the Mission Committee and see if we’re already doing something or connected to an organization who is. Check in with me; I’d love to chat with you about it.

It’s all worth considering. I’ll see you on Sunday.

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Facets of Community Episode 8: Volunteering

Each year the FBCR congregation sets aside a few weeks for reflection. We reflect collectively on who we are as a church, and we reflect individually on how we relate to the church at large. From now through Sunday, November 7, 2021 I want to invite our faith community to consider broadly what it means to live in community together. Toward that end, we will highlight nine different facets of community, nine ways by which our community takes shape.

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Ok, here’s what I need for you to do…

Click here to open up an email to me. Now write, “Dear Pastor Brent, I listened to episode 8 of our stewardship reflection podcast series and I have decided…”

And that’s it, just leave that there for now.

We’re going to talk today about the fact that as a church we do a lot of things. There are lots of components and activities and tasks that have to be done and decisions to be made, and that’s ok that there is a lot to be done because there are a lot of us to share the workload. That’s one of the facets we’re thinking about in this series – things need doing for us to be who we want to be in the world.

I am reminded of a story by one of my favorite preachers, Fred Craddock, that I know I’ve shared with you before. No one – NO ONE – can tell a story like Fred Craddock can tell a story, but as I recall Fred tells the story of serving a small church early in his ministry who had a tradition of doing baptism in the river not far from where the church was. The tradition was that some of the members of the church would arrive early and set a campfire. Later he would arrive and those who were to be baptized would arrive and they would all pull on their baptismal robes. Others would arrive and set out a potluck dinner and get everything set just right and in time they would make their way down to the river. They would welcome folks into their faith community through the ancient rite of baptism. When they were done Fred and those who’d been baptized would make their way up to a make-shift tent that had been set up so they could change into dry clothes. While they did that the rest of the community would move over to the fire, maybe sing a couple of hymns together and make conversation. Once those baptized had rejoined the group they would finish the evening with this tradition. Going around the circle each person would offer, “My name is ______ and I’m the one you call if you ever need ______.” My name is Sheila and if you ever need your kids watched I’m the one you call. My name is Frank and if your car isn’t running right I’m the one you call.

Fred reminds us in the end of that story that there’s a word for that tradition in which each and every one offer themselves one to another in service. It’s called, “Church.”

The truth of the matter is, whether it be something needed interpersonally or something the organization of the church needs, we all need to rely on each other for a wide variety of things. That’s called church. In fact I want to let you know about a few things that we need organizationally and interpersonally at First Baptist.

  • Here at FBC Rochester we’re in need of Sunday School teachers for our children.
  • We’re also in need of folks to help lead discussion on Wednesday evenings and in our other adult education times.
  • We have a pretty good library with volumes for enjoyment or for education and that library needs people to organize it.
  • We also have a Missions Committee who oversee service projects from time to time and those projects need volunteers and leaders.
  • We have a number of partners in mission, organizations doing good work in our community and around the world and we need to stay in touch with those organizations. It helps to have a few people who can help us stay in touch with organizational leaders and report back to us on what is happening.
  • In worship on Sundays we need smiling faces to greet people as they come in.
  • We need readers to help lead in worship through the reading of scripture and other elements of the service.
  • We even need people who might be interested in trying their hand at writing liturgy.
  • We also need some administrative things like people to plan events or people who might not want to plan, but wouldn’t mind helping out with events from time to time.
  • Sometimes we need coverage on the church phones for a while.
  • We need IT help sometimes.
  • We’re looking for people who would be willing to make phone calls and check in on various people in the congregation just to make sure all is well and stay connected and let others know if anything is amiss with them.
  • We need people to coordinate various caring actions when congregants are in need such as provision of meals.
  • We also need people who are willing to do those caring actions like providing meals.
  • Sometimes we learn that someone needs a lift to church due to car issues or  health concerns, so we need a list of people who might be willing to pick someone up on the way to church sometimes.
  • We also have a tech team at church now. We need people who can run Zoom or the sound board or just generally help with tech things. You don’t even need to know how to do those things! We’ll train you.
  • Our beautiful campus requires upkeep sometimes too. We have a service who does most of the ongoing things, but at certain times of the year we need gardeners to tend our flower beds or people to do other kinds of general yard work.
  • The pandemic has given us reason to be more stringent about disinfecting the building. We have a wand that ionizes disinfectant and when our staff can’t get to that we sometimes need volunteers to cover. The amazing part is that using the disinfecting wand is an oddly reflective/meditative thing to do.
  • Of course there is also the routine of setting up tables and chairs and equipment for events.

Did I say this is not an exhaustive list? It might seem exhausting, but it isn’t exhaustive. There are other ways to serve at FBCR such as in leadership on the Church Council or on a Committee or with the Trustees. I’ve named a lot of things here and there are many other things we need help with from time to time. Many hands make light work, and in fact, they make joyful work as well. It is indeed a great joy to go about the work of the church when we do it together. That’s why we need you.

So let me bring you back to that email.

“Dear Pastor Brent, I listened to episode 8 of our stewardship reflection podcast series and I have decided…that I should let you know that I would like to be considered to help out with…”

You can fill out the blank with something I just mentioned or something I didn’t mention. If you have a skill, interest, or ability that you think might benefit this faith community even if we’re not sure how it fits just yet.

So finish up that email and click “Send.” Depending on what you’ve said in that email we may be right in touch with you or we may simply add your name to a list of those who are willing for when certain needs arise. Either way we will be in touch.

Won’t you consider how you can participate in the FBCR community by helping out with any of the many joyful things we do that make us who we want to be in the world?

See you Sunday!

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Facets of Community Episode 7: Emotion

Each year the FBCR congregation sets aside a few weeks for reflection. We reflect collectively on who we are as a church, and we reflect individually on how we relate to the church at large. From now through Sunday, November 7, 2021 I want to invite our faith community to consider broadly what it means to live in community together. Toward that end, we will highlight nine different facets of community, nine ways by which our community takes shape.

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For the last two weeks on Wednesday nights, we’ve been talking about stewardship, the shapes it can take, and how each of us can become stewards. Part of our discussion revolved around identifying the resources we all have, especially those resources that we might not immediately recognize as resources.

One of those resources is our emotions. Throughout his life, we see Jesus stewarding his emotions towards the building of God’s peaceable reality of welcome and grace. Whether he was angry, such as the time he pitched a fit at the temple or yelled at a fig tree, whether he grieved, such as the time he cried in the garden, or whether he was experiencing delight, Jesus showed his followers that one’s emotions are a central component of living a life of faith— not only this, but that, as God’s physical image on earth, it’s through our bodies that we experience relationship with God.

The same is true for the church. There’s a reason, after all, why we call ourselves the body of Christ. We, just like the elements we take once a month, are sometimes broken, which not only is alright, but reflects Jesus, who, following his crucifiction, was broken as well. Thomas tells us that Jesus “had the mark of the nails in his hands and […] side,” an unperfect body, one whose emotions sometimes were, just like ours are, topsy turvy, but which, just like God, were essential.

There’s a Pixxar movie called Inside Out whose characters all represent different emotions. There’s Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and other characters. Each of these emotions work alongside each other in a control center located in a young girl’s head, helping her live her life every day and stay afloat through her life’s ups and downs. I like to think that we, the church, are kind of like a control center, too. Each of us have different roles and pull different levers, but work together as one team, helping the body of Christ take steps every day.

Here are some questions that linger for me:

  • How do our emotions help us experience God’s presence?
  • How can we learn to steward our emotions as non-tangible resources?
  • How have some of us been discouraged from expressing certain feelings?
  • And what do all of these questions have to do with our life together as the church?

 

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Facets of Community Episode 6: Wisdom

Each year the FBCR congregation sets aside a few weeks for reflection. We reflect collectively on who we are as a church, and we reflect individually on how we relate to the church at large. From now through Sunday, November 7, 2021 I want to invite our faith community to consider broadly what it means to live in community together. Toward that end, we will highlight nine different facets of community, nine ways by which our community takes shape.

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Wisdom is critical to the life and work of a faith community. If we are following God’s call to be a redemptive presence in the world we will necessarily encounter things in the world for which there are no simple answers. Those questions arise in big and small ways. Anything from, “How should a congregation respond to the continued unmasking of systemic racism in our community?” or, “What’s the most effective way to join efforts to eliminate poverty?” to, “Which organizations should we support,” or, “Is our form of communion open and welcoming enough for everyone?” Every facet of the life First Baptist Church requires a depth of insight and the cultivation of knowledge. Everything we do as a church requires wisdom, so where does wisdom come from?

We’ve heard a few answers to that question. “Wisdom is God-given.” Indeed that seems true. “Wisdom comes from life experience.” That also matches with my experience. “Wisdom mirrors intellect,” or, “Wisdom mirrors character.” I can’t prove those are true, but there seems to me to be an element of truth in them. But there is a source of wisdom that we should be careful not to overlook – community.

We often think of wisdom in the way that naturalist Jean Pierre Huber understood and described the lives of ants in 1810. In his book, On Trails, which we read as part of our Lenten pilgrimage last year, Robert Moor tells how Huber’s early speculation searched for a kind of specialized access to knowledge unavailable to other creatures in the way they go about finding food. Other naturalists of his time even speculated after watching such tiny creatures work with such efficiency at finding food and returning it to their next that they must have divine knowledge. God told them where to find food, or at least designed and created the ants with a prevenient knowledge of where food would be and when it would be there.

Later discoveries in the anatomy of ants revealed that they were capable of producing and following tiny, invisible pheromone trails. That helped explain how the masses knew where the food was once it had been discovered, but it took a bit more observation to answer how they found it in the first place. Researchers disrupted those pheromone trails just to see how the ants would respond. When they did so, ants would reach the broken spot in the trail, pause for a second, then wonder off in seemingly aimless directions. They were clueless! Eventually though, simply because there were so many of them, one ant would stumble upon the original food or some new source of sustenance and immediately turn and walk back to the nest leaving a new pheromone trail behind.

As it turns out the source of the ants’ ability to provide for the colony, their wisdom, was God-given, but it was given in the form of a community who, by being present in the world both individually and collectively had a kind of wisdom among themselves. I think faith communities are much the same and not just because we spend an inordinate amount of time wondering around trying to find food. When we come together to discuss the way we do life together, the way we respond to struggles in the world, the way we worship together, all the elements of church life, our varied experiences in life and our varied perspectives have a way of making us better together than we might be on our own.

So here are some things to consider over the next couple of day:

How are you sharing your perspective, expertise, experiences with your faith community? That doesn’t have to mean taking on a big project or putting yourself out there as a thought leader. It might mean those things, but it might also simply mean being in conversation about the important topics of our time, sharing your thoughts.

Here’s another thing to think about: how are you listening for the perspectives of others in the community? How is the way someone else experiences the world informing, sharpening, shaping your life, your faith, and your service.

As always, should these moments of reflection stir thoughts that you’d like to share or bring up the wish for further conversation I’m always happy to chat. Just reach out by calling the church office or sending me an email. See you Sunday.

Facets of Community Episode 5: Membership

Each year the FBCR congregation sets aside a few weeks for reflection. We reflect collectively on who we are as a church, and we reflect individually on how we relate to the church at large. From now through Sunday, November 7, 2021 I want to invite our faith community to consider broadly what it means to live in community together. Toward that end, we will highlight nine different facets of community, nine ways by which our community takes shape.

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I’m not sure when the church – that is the global community of Christ followers called to be a redemptive presence in the world – the church became a membership organization. A church historian could probably enlighten us on that.

What I do know is what tradition tells us – that the church began, before the term “church” or any kind of structure was given it, as a group of Jesus followers who took their way of life to various ancient cities where communities of mutual support sprang up around the counter cultural, redemptive ideas of Jesus. Those loose communities became something of a movement and in the fourth century were lent political credibility by the emperor of Rome and became an organized institution. Centuries later movements like the Reformation and the Radical Reformation gave the church diversity of thought and we became a global web of loosely interwoven institutions and somewhere in all of that the idea arose that people should “join”, should become “members” of these institutions. That idea has come forward to today to suggest to us that one is a “member” of a church in almost exactly the way one is a member of vegetable co-op, or a member a civic organization, or a member of a club, or a member of Costco. I mean we do serve sample size food and beverage in worship once a month.

Wherever the idea of church membership began, I’m sure it met the needs of the church at that time, but I do wish I could go back to that point whenever it was and let the people making that decision know how “membership,” a concept intended to serve the mission of the church, would begin to shape the mission of the church.

If I had a nickel for every conversation I’ve been a part of that centered on membership in the church, but had nothing whatsoever to do with the work of the church – well, let’s just say the Once and For All Fund would be in even better shape. That’s a shameless plug from episode 4. If you haven’t heard it yet, go back and give it a listen. The idea of belonging IS important in a faith community, but we’ve become sometimes a bit too focused on stringent definitions of how one belongs or what it means when one belongs; we’ve become a bit focused on this membership thing. Sometimes that makes people feel a sense of entitlement about the church instead of presenting an open invitation to everyone in the decision making process. It can cause a sense of “us vs them” in relation to other congregations or other Christian traditions. The sense of belonging that can be gained by calling one’s self a member can come at the expense of a felt sense of belonging for those who for one reason or another would rather not formally join. And my personal least favorite, the tail so often wagging the dog of the church – an obsession with measuring the worth of a church first and foremost by how many members belong. How did we get from “The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed…,” to “how big is your church, pastor?” It tempts the church into a kind of consumerist mentality and just begs church leaders to make a product out of the church rather than a community. Ok, I’ll get off that soapbox – for now.

Here’s the thing though. The way that becoming an membership organization has shaped the way we think about church has not always been helpful, but there IS good reason to have a kind of understanding of just who we’re talking about when we say First Baptist Church of Rochester.

First of all, we may be a spiritual community in the Kingdom of God, but we’re also a legal entity in the town of Brighton, New York. We have property and spend money and make decisions that have legal implications. We have to have people who make those decisions and hold property in trust and generally interact with the legal and governing systems around us. Those people have to have a formal connection to the organization in order to do those things.

There are also in this world, things from which we want to delineate ourselves. As much as we don’t want to be exclusive, we also don’t want to be a leaf tossed in the wind. Christ calls us to stand for the vulnerable and we can’t do that without drawing a line between ourselves and the forces that cause the ills of the world.

And perhaps most importantly of all, the sense of belonging that comes from a formally stated intent to be part is a good thing and belonging is something the church should offer.

We also know that we’re living in a world that is becoming less and less concerned with “joining” in general. People are often content to just hang around organizations who might wish for a more formal connection or commitment. So if membership is the way the church measures its success, we’re in for some rough years ahead.

In short, what we need is a way to think about how we each, as individuals, are connected to this community that doesn’t draw a hard line over against those who aren’t or don’t want to be members. That’s why I think we’re better off to think of the way our community is comprised in relationship terms than in membership terms.

Think about how you maintain and define your relationships with the people in your life. I know that I have a number of acquaintances who I could call on right now who would give me the shirt off their back if I asked. I know they’re my friends and I’m theirs, but we’ve never once had a conversation about whether or not we’re friends. I have very close friends to whom I’ve never said, “You’re my best friend.” I am deeply dedicated and loyal to people who have never said to me, “I’d like you to be my friend.” And yet, somehow the relationships even without definition are rich and meaningful and supportive. We belong to one another.

But, I also have relationships – one in particular – for which I and those in the relationship with me have seen fit to talk a bit about what the relationship means to us and what we want it to look like. You might think this is crazy, but with one such person I went through a whole 6 week preparation course to help us think through our hopes and potential snags in relationship then we stood in front of a big crowd of people and made a public promise to always make that relationship the most important one. I know, kind of intense right. Anna and I defined our relationship and we made specific, verbal, stated commitments to it. I’ve done the same with some of the family to whom I was born. But I’ve got lots of relationships that are deeply meaningful for which I’ve not gone to quite that length.

So which of these are valid relationships? Which are important relationships? Which ones sustain me as a person? Which ones am I committed to? All of them, of course.

What if we thought about how our faith community is comprised in the same way? What if you thought about your relationship to your church in the same way? If you want to be a part of this community how do you do it? In the same way you might become a friend with someone – meet them, say hello, ask them a bit about who they are, share a bit about who you are. When speaking of a faith community that functions at a couple of levels. You can get to know us corporately by asking about what’s most important to us, how we make decisions, visiting our campus or online campus, and what not; but you can also get to know us interpersonally in conversation with folks. If you are already in that kind of relationship with FBCR, guess what. You’re a part of the community. Like a full part of the community. You’re not a visitor or on a second tier or on the outside looking in. You’re part of FBCR just because you’re in relationship to us – and you didn’t even have to say a word about it. There are others though – many who are listening in fact – who have wanted to define that relationship a bit further; who’ve wanted to make a bit more of a commitment and who have wanted to feel a deeper commitment toward themselves. They have entered something like the covenant relationship that we think of in marriage. They’ve had a conversation with the pastor or another leader in the church who have told them they are a valued part of the congregation and are welcome as a part; and needed in service. In turn they have pledged to support the people and the work of the congregation; the life of the community, and to participate in the decisions, to hold in trust the property, and to be in relationship with the people of FBCR. These are those we have traditionally called, “members,” but who are so much more than that.

I wonder, in fact, let this be your first thought for consideration over the next couple of days – I wonder what might change about the church if we thought of ourselves as in relationship with a faith community rather than as members of an organization. What do you think?

Here’s another thought for your perusal. How would you define your relationship to First Baptist? Are there things that you need from the relationship? Are there constructive, generative ways to avail yourself to those things or ask for those things? You notice I say “constructive” and “generative,” that’s because another implication of the consumerist mentality has been that when we, as church members aren’t getting what we need, we tend to think of ourselves like customers not getting what we paid for. Rather, are there things you need from your community, from other participants in the community, from the leaders in the community that you could constructively ask for or even help provide for others? Conversely, are there things about being in this community that are meaningful and sustaining for you? And have you let anyone in the community know just how meaningful those things are? Have you offered to help support those efforts or causes or relationships that are so important to you?

Lastly, here’s your point for action. What does reflecting on your relationship to FBCR suggest you need to do? Do you need to reconnect? Jump in and serve (more on that in a later episode)? Reconnect? Maybe the idea of covenant relationship sounds like something that would be beneficial to you. Let’s chat. Give me a call or an email and talk about what that would look like for you?

The next episode of facets of community will be up on Friday, then I’ll see you on Sunday.

 

Facets of Community Episode 4: Financial

Each year the FBCR congregation sets aside a few weeks for reflection. We reflect collectively on who we are as a church, and we reflect individually on how we relate to the church at large. From now through Sunday, November 7, 2021 I want to invite our faith community to consider broadly what it means to live in community together. Toward that end, we will highlight nine different facets of community, nine ways by which our community takes shape.

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Money & religion: two things one doesn’t talk about in polite company. Well, we’re going to venture both today. Namely we’re going to consider the difference between the way that many organizations doing good things in the world fund themselves and the idea of financial participation in a faith community.

So it’s no secret at this point that we live in a consumerist society. That’s not just a statement about our love for stuff, but a note about how our society views the things, the people, the ideas in our world. Namely, the way we place value upon things. Specifically, we tend to place value upon things in our life and therefore make decisions about what gets incorporated into our life in the same way we make decisions about which consumer goods and services we wish to purchase. I’m no economist, so that’s about as far into the weeds as I can venture, but at some point organizations doing positive work in the world recognized and embraced that all things – even altruistic, positive, redemption seeking initiatives – are valued in the same way that consumer goods are valued, and for that reason are valued over against those things. So they responded in a way that seems appropriate, they began to “sell” their product, the work they’re doing in the world. “For just $0.49 per day you can sponsor a hungry child.” You can purchase a cow for a family in a place far away. You can even have the checker at the grocery store scan a UPC code to add a donation to your total. You can buy an end to world hunger. How ‘bout that!

At some point the consumerist approach to charity leaked into the church and we began to think about funding faith communities in the same way. That is, financial contributions to the church (or other faith organization) became viewed as charitable donations – donations being, in essence, being purchases that procure the good things in the world the donator wants to see.

Aren’t contributions to churches and other faith organizations just donations? The IRS categorizes them as such. Well, there is a subtle, but important difference. Certainly faith communities benefit when people say, “Hey they’re doing a thing I think is important, I’ll donate to that,” or, “Hey, they offer beneficial worship services, I’ll help support the cost of doing that.”

So that’s certainly well and good, but it is in contrast to the understanding of contributing financially as participating in community. “I’ll donate to that cause,” is different in subtle, but important ways from, “I’d like to participate in the life and work of this community, which means sharing the monetary cost.” The idea of financial participation in community over against the idea of donating to a cause does a few things. It fosters equity in the congregation, because a person’s voice in the church is not tied to the size of their contribution. Sure, some among us are able to carry more of the cost than others, but that doesn’t add up to more power. The direction and vision of the church doesn’t follow the money if the members therein don’t view themselves as donors. It also means that the full cost of ministry gets funding rather than just those things that are popular in the moment.

One of the most important aspects of the financial participation model of contribution is that everyone gets to be a part. A donation of just a few dollars may not seem like much when weighed against the collective cost of an entire organization. That can leave “donors” feeling insignificant. If instead of focusing on the size of the contribution, but rather on the intent – that is a desire to participate in community – then everyone is an equal participant. That’s gospel, friends, and I think it is the most critical part of how we think about our financial contribution – a sense of belonging. When we “donate” we give to an agency outside our reach. We say, “Here are some of my resources, go and do good with them.” When we think of our contributions as part of our participation in community we do entrust their expenditure to the wisdom of the congregation, but a congregation of which we are part. Donating encourages relinquishing involvement, participating financially draws us in to other parts of the life of the community. It enlivens our worship, engages us in mission, draws us more fully into relationship.

So here are a few things to ponder as you go:

How might viewing your financial contribution to your faith community as one facet of your participation over against making a donation impact the way you think about other areas of church life like mission, like faith formation, like worship?

How does fostering equity within the congregation support the work of equity outside the congregation?

And here’s one point of action for you to consider undertaking in the days ahead.

Would you prayerfully consider how you might be able to participate financially in the life of First Baptist Church of Rochester? There are a couple of ways to do that. The most pressing is to support our general operating budget, which is currently being mapped out for fiscal 2022. For planning purposes, it does our leaders well to know what our financial outlook will be, so our budget process works on pledges. You have or will soon receive a pledge card in the mail if we have your up-to-date contact information; otherwise they’re available outside the sanctuary. Would you consider filling one of those out to let us know how you’d like to participate financially in this community next year?

If you’re looking for a way to do more for the community, our Once and For All Fund might be an opportunity you’d like to look into. Once and For All is a fund established a couple of years ago with the purpose of lifting the cost of our physical campus off of our general operating budget. It’s a way that we hope to care for and share our beautiful campus for generations to come, while also allowing our budget to be more mission focused. You can make simple contributions to that fund or there are a number of ways to contribute that don’t involve writing a check at all. Legacy gifts, contributions of stock or other assets are helpful too. In fact there are likely ways to support the Once and And For All Fund that would mean little or no cost to you or your family that you may not even be aware of. If you’d like to learn more about those possibilities I can connect you with the people who can share all the details. Just let me know by calling the church office or emailing me at .

I’m grateful for your taking the time to reflect on these facets of community. See you at church.

Facets of Community Episode 3: Care

Each year the FBCR congregation sets aside a few weeks for reflection. We reflect collectively on who we are as a church, and we reflect individually on how we relate to the church at large. From now through Sunday, November 7, 2021 I want to invite our faith community to consider broadly what it means to live in community together. Toward that end, we will highlight nine different facets of community, nine ways by which our community takes shape.

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Heads Up! I refer to this episode as episode 2 but it is episode 3 in our 9-part series.

At Wednesday night forum last night, we talked about the concept of stewardship and how we might move away from thinking about stewardship in a purely financial sense and towards a model that includes how we choose to use the resources life has given each of us.

One of these resources we have at FBCR is time. Some of us have more time than others, but all of us, no matter how busy we are, have at least a little bit. When our group was chatting about this on Wednesday night, we agreed that resources are tools that we use to strive towards a goal; one of the central goals of our community at FBCR is to care for one another.

Institutions often revolve around care: Hospitals revolve around the care of people’s bodies and often psyches. The academy—another important institution a lot of us have passed through—focuses on the care of people’s minds and perspectives. The church, an institution that has shaped all our lives, revolves around the care of souls, as well as our bodies and brains.

Some questions come up for me here: 

  • How does the type of care that the church can offer differ from that offered by other institutions? Does it differ at all?
  • How might the autonomous way we govern ourselves as Baptists shape how we reach out to one another?
  • Is there anything theologically significant about the fact that we have so many lay people here who share in the work of compassionate care and outreach?
  • What might this distinction reveal to us about God?

Facets of Community Episode 2: Mission

Each year the FBCR congregation sets aside a few weeks for reflection. We reflect collectively on who we are as a church, and we reflect individually on how we relate to the church at large. From now through Sunday, November 7, 2021 I want to invite our faith community to consider broadly what it means to live in community together. Toward that end, we will highlight nine different facets of community, nine ways by which our community takes shape.

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In El Salvador a civil war has been replaced by gang violence. I don’t live in El Salvador and don’t know much about El Salvador and, as a guess, not many of you listening do either. And yet, our faith calls us to not only care about the suffering happening there, but to be a part of alleviating it.

In Guatamala corporations from wealthy countries exploit the land and resources that belong to the people. And my faith calls me to care and to do something about that.

In Laos and Thailand children are among the most vulnerable and many fall prey to abuse and violence. I’m called to care and be a part of the repair.

Here in my own city folks suffer the indignity and pain of homelessness. I’m supposed to be part of fixing that too.

Both the magnitude of the suffering and injustice people in our world face and the sheer diversity of kinds of suffering and injustice pose a huge problem for those of us who believe we are called by God to be part of redemption in the world. Standing with people in suffering and advocating for and working toward new ways forward requires an enormous amount of time, energy, and resource to say nothing of a high degree of skill and dedication. We don’t all have those things to contribute in any one area much less in all of the areas that need attention. But still, following Jesus, we believe, means doing just that. So what’s the answer?

You guessed it. Community.

At FBCR, because we have a dedicated congregation who share resources with one another we are able to help support a number of organizations and individuals who have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of justice, peace, and wellbeing in our community and around the world. But we don’t just write checks. Financial support is well and good of course, but we also seek opportunities to serve directly whether that be in direct support or through advocacy or volunteer projects. Our Missions Committee at FBCR are the folks who lead our efforts connecting our available funding with the causes that need it most, considering how we might be able to support various efforts, and planning those opportunities.

None of these things would be possible if not for our ability to share the load with one another and with other churches locally and around the nation. That’s right, our connection to American Baptist Churches USA means that we’re also a part of efforts happening nationally and around the world. Because we exist in community we have a more robust, well resourced, longer lasting response to the ills of the world than any of us would have individually.

So here’s some food for thought:

-What do you know about the efforts that American Baptists are making and the FBCR is making to be present to those in need? Do you think it’s important to know a thing or two about those efforts, and if so, how can you stay up to date on them?

-How can you imagine a group of people bound together in faith might make a difference in their community aside from funding?

Here’s a possible point of action for you:

Get involved at some level in the work FBCR and our partner organizations and churches are doing at some level. If you don’t know much about what’s going on, take a look at our website and familiarize yourself. You can find a list of organizations and initiatives we support at www.rochesterfbc.org/what-we-do. Have any questions or see an area you might like to be involved? Contact me by email or phone and I’ll connect you with our Missions Committee.

I’m grateful to you for taking the time to consider this facet and of community and others.

Facets of Community Episode 1: Polity

Each year the FBCR congregation sets aside a few weeks for reflection. We reflect collectively on who we are as a church, and we reflect individually on how we relate to the church at large. From now through Sunday, November 7, 2021 I want to invite our faith community to consider broadly what it means to live in community together. Toward that end, we will highlight nine different facets of community, nine ways by which our community takes shape.

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Baptists from the beginning saw what could happen when matters of faith and belief were cast upon people. They understood that belief by coercion was not true belief at all, but simply a mode of control and, ultimately, oppression. In answer they began to experiment with the idea that perhaps individuals had to be trusted with their own beliefs and actions rather than having them handed to them by a hierarchical authority like the government or the church. They also knew though, that on their own, there could be no true encounter of God and no robust mission. They needed one another in community. The community served to pool resources, to hold the beliefs of the community in dynamic tension with one another, to organize their efforts in the world. For Baptists, the local church, became their central organizing principle. Churches worked together in association, yes, but held no authority over one another. In Baptist life denominational authority is granted only by the churches and authority in the churches is granted only by the people of the congregation.

So, what does this have to do with stewardship?

Well, if stewardship means taking stock of what community means and how we care for and serve our community of faith, then recognizing that congregational polity is a part of that means realizing that we all as individuals – that you dear listener – have authority in the congregation. You share that authority with the other members of the FBCR community, but YOU have authority in the decisions made, in the vision set, in all workings and happenings of the church.

Given that you have authority in the workings of the church, here are some things to contemplate:

  • If the way that our community of faith shows up in the world is a matter decided by bottom-up, congregational leadership, what does that require of us in terms of dialogue and communication? What does it imply about how we deal with things like conflict and controversy? What does it say about unanimity and unity?
  • What does congregational polity suggest about your role in the church?
  • Lastly, what does the fact that you are a needed and integral part of the mission and vision of FBCR call you to do? To know a bit more about the way we make decisions? To express an idea? To become involved in leadership? How can you put your knowledge of congregational polity to its most constructive use?

Letter from Pastor Brent

FBCR Family,

Each year the FBCR congregation sets aside a few weeks for reflection. We reflect collectively on who we are as a church, and we reflect individually on how we relate to the church at large. Because we, as humans, tend to default to the pragmatic this period of reflection, which we often call “Stewardship Season” seems like nothing more than the practical process of funding the operations of our organization. Once each year you hear from FBCR leadership asking you to support the church financially. This year, I would like to invite you – to invite us – into a season of reflection that goes beyond the pragmatic. Yes, the way FBCR stewards its resources is one facet of our consideration in the weeks ahead, but there are several others worth our contemplation.

From now through Sunday, November 7, 2021, I want to invite our faith community to consider broadly what it means to live in community together. Toward that end, we will highlight nine different facets of community, nine ways by which our community takes shape. Those nine areas are:

  • Polity
  • Mission
  • Caring
  • Financial
  • Risk
  • Workload
  • Voice
  • Wisdom
  • Membership

To aid in your consideration we will release a brief podcast-style reflection each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday through the end of the season. Each reflection of roughly 5 minutes will introduce one of these facets of community, pose a couple of questions for your contemplation, and suggest an action item to help you participate fully in the life and community of FBCR. The reflections will come to you by email and will be available on our website at rochesterfbc.org/stewardship, where you will find the message available in text, playable audio, and downloadable audio for listening on the go. If the last two sentences seem like another language to you, worry not – just click the link in the email, then the highlighted message at the top of the page.

Soon you will receive in the mail (also available in the foyer and on the Vitality Table on campus) a resource that will aid us in our reflections – a response card – provided for you to indicate potential areas of service you might be interested in. The card also allows you to pledge your financial participation and support for the 2022 budget year if you should choose. That card may be returned via the offering baskets on campus, mailed to the church office, or submitted via scan/image to by November 7, 2021.

For reasons unknown to us, God has chosen faithful community as a vehicle for God’s redemptive work in the world. That community though, is not built or maintained without intentionality. Will you join me in a season of reflection on the shape of the community we call First Baptist and on your participation within? May God bless this season with insight, energy, and a renewed sense of our call to be together in important and meaningful ways!

Grace & Peace,

Rev. Brent Bowden, pastor