A Night to Remember in Arthur Ashe Stadium

By Rodney Franklin

person woman sport ball
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The third round of the US Open in New York was set with Naomi Osaka the 2018  US Open champion and Coco Gauff the 15 year old phenom. The Arthur Ashe stadium in the Queens borough of New York City is the largest of its kind in the world and was filled to capacity. One reporter asked a couple who were in the nose bleed section, “Why would you come all the way up here when you can see the match better on your television at home?” They responded, “we are here to support Coco!” Thousands were there to support Coco but it was not her night to have a victory against the number one player and former champ. Coco lost the match but something really special happened after the game.

There is an interview that occurs after the match which is “live” with the winner, reporter and audience. Gauff was visibly upset, packing her tennis equipment and heading to the locker room where she would probably increase the water height of the Flushing River in Queens with a good cry. But “breaking tradition,” Osaka asked Gauff to join her for the on-court interview.

“These people are here for you,” Osaka told Gauff, who initially declined the opportunity because she was afraid she’d cry on camera. But Osaka wanted to give Gauff a chance to address the crowd that had, for much of the match, been cheering for Gauff. “I think its better than going into the shower and crying,” Osaka told Gauff.” We have to let these people know how you feel.” Gauff thanked Osaka for her kindness and example of being an amazing tennis player.

In a later press conference Osaka explained her rationale to ask Gauff to join her saying, “It was kind of instinct, because when I shook her hand I saw she was kind of tearing up a little, then it reminded me how young she is.” She said she figured that “normal people don’t watch the press conference unless they’re fan-fans, and so I was thinking it would be nice for her to address the people who watched her play, and for me, I just thought about what I wanted her to feel leaving the court. I wanted her to have her head high and not walk off sad. I feel like the amount of media on her now is kind of insane, so I just want her to take care of herself.”

This was a night to remember when the acts of grace, humility, and integrity were seen by thousands of fans in the stadium and millions on television.  How can we create more of these acts in places where we work, live and have community? Osaka and Coco have given us a blueprint. Whose ready to serve?

Not In My Backyard

By: Valerie Burton

8 Minute Read

Why did two of your ministers sign the Interfaith Proclamation of Sanctuary? And how did we end up on the news? We owe you an explanation. We also want you to be an informed congregation for this difficult conversation on immigration and justice. Taylor and Valerie have written two entries to shed light on the Sanctuary Movement and its relevance for Christians today. The first entry, published today, answers the questions “What is ‘Sanctuary?’” and “What does the Bible say about the immigrant?” The second entry, to be published Friday, invites us to see ourselves in the storylines of people and parishes responding when their neighbors needed aid. As a Baptist church it is our responsibility to discern together how we will respond to the immigrant in our own community. These entries are just the beginning of what we hope is a fruitful dialogue. Lean in as we communally discern the Spirit’s leading. As Christian pastors, we know God is calling us to respond. So let us discern together what this response may look like at BCOC.


When the foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.  Leviticus 19:33-34

When did we see you a stranger and invite you in…? ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’                  Matthew 25: 38a, 40

On a Monday morning in July, a man in middle Tennessee was driving home with his 12 year old son. Immigration officers followed him and tried to pull him over. After the man pulled into the driveway of a house, the officers blocked him in. But the man and his son remained inside the vehicle. A crowd gathered and neighbors reportedly brought extra gas for the van and food and drinks while they waited. While there were immigrant advocates present, the movement to harbor the two was mainly populated by their immediate friends and neighbors from their community. The immigration officers eventually left the scene. The neighbors continued to surround the family and formed a line of protection in order for them to exit the van and enter the home.

What would I have done if a neighbor on my street had called me to say that immigration was following him and he was afraid to get out of his car? Would I have jumped into my car to go to his aid? Would it have mattered how long I had known him; or if he was undocumented; or if his son had been in school with my children?

A woman who was interviewed at the scene said she had known the man for fourteen years. She showed up to help because she didn’t want to see the father separated from his son. Fourteen years he had lived in her community.

When I think about offering sanctuary to someone in danger of being deported, this is the kind of scenario that would motivate me to action. For the woman, it was personal. She wanted to help her neighbor.

Earlier this month, plants in small towns of Mississippi were raided by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers. ICE officers stormed the Koch Foods plant offices with guns drawn, pointed at the managers and demanded they immediately leave the office and wait in the break room. More than 600 workers were removed from the plants and detained. It was the first day of school in those communities. Children started the day with excitement and ended it with horror – many not knowing where their parent was.

Paula Dempsey of the Alliance of Baptists reached out to me personally the evening of August 9 through text. “Are you seeing what’s happening outside Jackson?” She wondered if I knew of congregations in our region who were responding to the “humanitarian crisis and/or otherwise responding to the moral crisis?” I didn’t see her message until Saturday when I was meeting folks at BCOC to prepare for a new education year.  I knew there were clergy and faith communities in Birmingham talking about immigrant justice issues and how they wanted to follow the lead of immigrant advocacy groups here in Alabama. A statement [Interfaith Proclamation of Sanctuary] written by representatives of that clergy group was in my email inbox. Later, I would find it to be thoughtfully composed, compelling, and respectfully challenging and empathetic of law enforcement. It was worded so that signers could stand in solidarity on the side of immigrant justice while allowing autonomy of persons and congregations to interpret “sanctuary” for themselves down the road.

Now, you may have heard others use the phrase, “Not in my backyard!” You may have said it yourself in regard to some unseemly activity or business moving into your neighborhood.  I wonder if we would also say it about domestic gun-violence, hate-crimes, racially motivated re-zoning for public schools or voting places. What about deportation of long-standing, tax-paying, but undocumented workers? [1]It’s a hard thing, isn’t it? We want to respect the laws of our nation, but we know there have been times in the past that the law was wrong. We want to be able to discern, as Martin Luther King, Jr. did,  a just law from an unjust law. A just law is a man made code, he said, that squares with the moral law or the law of God. The enforcement of our current immigration laws to the point of separating families and detaining people for months until their case can go to court is where the current law and it’s enforcement seems harsh, unfair, inhumane at times, simply unjust.

Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Canton, Mississippi went into action immediately following the raids that shook their town. Reverend Michael O’Brien pastors the church. Father Mike writes at their website:

We are now running a Crisis Center in our Parish Hall. We have lawyers, counselors (for children & adults) and social workers meeting there with impacted families. Our Parish Hall is also the collection site for donations of food, personal care items and school supplies.
We have confirmed that all our children have at least one parent in their home, so they are safe. But these children are sad, traumatized and scared. Our focus is on the children and we are even making plans for a temporary daycare ministry.
Parents no longer have jobs and with this sudden loss of income families are facing a frightening and uncertain future. Emergency funds are needed, as well as money for rent and the most basic household expenses.
Sacred Heart parishioners & churches of all denominations; families & individuals; old friends & new friends from communities near and far, have been giving awesome support. Much help is needed and will continue to be needed.[2]

Father Mike goes on to share what items are needed and how to make donations. For Father Mike it was personal. These are “our children” he says.

At the moment that our own neighbors are impacted or “our children” are separated from their families, will we set aside the entanglements (aka politics, semantics, optics) and down-right fear that might prevent us from taking action? I’d like to think that I would respond like the neighbors in Tennessee or like Father Mike defending and caring for the most vulnerable.

A few years ago, when the enforcement of immigration law came to the forefront of people’s minds, our own volunteers in our Internationals ministry decided they would continue serving those who came without any question. They would not ask for identification or require documentation. They would assure students that while they were inside our buildings, they were safe and conversational English classes would continue as they always had. We have practiced this kind of welcome to all people since our inception and in spite of what was said about us. We organized care-teams for people with HIV/AIDS when it was an unpopular political issue in Alabama. We have partnered alongside Beloved Community to provide safe and blessed space for years hosting families through Family Promise. Each Wednesday, we open our doors to feed the poor, homeless, and hungry on a first-come basis. We don’t check IDs. In fact, we have gone to great lengths to make sure they are kept safe while on our property.

We are a justice-minded group of folks. We are known in our community for hospitality and aid. Our neighbors know that we care. Other agencies in town often refer folks to us for assistance. It’s no wonder video footage of our steeple ended up on the news after the Interfaith Proclamation for Sanctuary was made public. We seem to be known for this sort of thing. Let’s continue to define ourselves by the ways WE offer sanctuary to the disenfranchised and the alien among us. Politics will try to define our reasoning. The evening news may try to interpret what we are doing before we even do it. Let us find confidence or motivation in saying that we are caring for the one in whose eyes we see the eyes of Jesus.

I read a journal entry recently in which Rev. Dr. George Mason said, We say we belong to the tribe of Jesus, but we’ve been revising his words to fit our politics instead of revising our politics to fit his words.[3]

That’s convicting to me and my thinking. And then, I recall words from our corporate and individual commitments that motivate me to engage fully this dialogue on immigrant justice with you.

Corporately, We commit ourselves to: …a prophetic proclamation of the Christian faith that is responsible and free, fervently evangelical, socially concerned, and relevant to our needs as a caring fellowship in today’s society.

Personally, I commit myself to… Give myself in loving concern for individuals within the church, supporting them in life needs, seeking to be an instrument of reconciliation and recognizing the freedom and dignity of personal convictions within the bonds of unity.

[1]https://bipartisanpolicy.org/blog/how-do-undocumented-immigrants-pay-federal-taxes-an-explainer/

[2]https://sacredheartcanton.org/; Canton: How to help

[3]Mason, George. Christians without Borders: Toward a Trespassing Church, Christian Ethics Today, Summer 2019

What is “Sanctuary”

By: Taylor Bell

5 minute read

Why did two of your ministers sign the Interfaith Proclamation of Sanctuary? And how did we end up on the news? We owe you an explanation. We also want you to be an informed congregation for this difficult conversation on immigration and justice. Taylor and Valerie have written two entries to shed light on the Sanctuary Movement and its relevance for Christians today. The first entry, published today, answers the questions “What is ‘Sanctuary?’” and “What does the Bible say about the immigrant?” The second entry, to be published Friday, invites us to see ourselves in the storylines of people and parishes responding when their neighbors needed aid. As a Baptist church it is our responsibility to discern together how we will respond to the immigrant in our own community. These entries are just the beginning of what we hope is a fruitful dialogue. Lean in as we communally discern the Spirit’s leading. As Christian pastors, we know God is calling us to respond. So let us discern together what this response may look like at BCOC.


The Sanctuary Movement began on March 24th, 1982 at Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, AZ. This church declared they were a “Sanctuary” for Central American refugees seeking asylum from violent political oppression but were denied asylum status by the U.S. Government. Declaring “Sanctuary” meant this church would house and protect asylum seekers regardless if they entered the U.S. legally or not. By 1985, the Sanctuary Movement was in full swing, becoming a nationwide multi-faith network. Drawing parallels from the Underground Railroad, this network worked to move asylum seekers from one house of worship to another until they could reach Canada where their refugee status would be recognized. This movement lasted until 1996.

The church’s declaration in 1982 was understood as a Christian moral response to the growing human rights crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border. For them, their Christian faith demanded they care and seek justice for the immigrant, regardless of the nation’s laws. The Old Testament is rich with divine mandates to care for the immigrant. Leviticus 19:33-34 (NIV) states: “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” In the New Testament we here echoes. In Luke, the Parable of the Good Samaritan directly applies, as the question “Who is my neighbor” is answered as anyone who is in need of help regardless of legal code or social custom. For these Christians, declaring “Sanctuary” was a faithful Christian response to the cries and needs of their immigrant neighbors.

The Sanctuary Movement was also premised on the legal tradition of “Seeking asylum,” or the “Right to Asylum.” This right states that “Everyone has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution,” as confirmed by the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951), and the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (1967). Being granted “asylum status” depends on the country’s dictates that one is seeking asylum in. Our legal affirmation of asylum seekers is rooted in a deep historical tradition. The ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Hebrews all recognized the “right of asylum” to some extent. For Christians, in 511 CE, the Council of Orleans declared that asylum could be granted to anyone who took refuge in a church. This tradition continued through European Common Law and into the present-day.

It is this historical, legal, and Christian tradition that inspires and roots the present-day Sanctuary movement. We can note historical parallels to 1982, where today refugees from Central America journey to America to seek asylum from violence and oppression. We also observe the U.S. government’s refusal to grant these people “asylum status,” instead detaining and rounding them up for extradition. It appears our government’s goal is to make the U.S. as inhospitable to immigrants and refugees as possible–a direct contradiction to the Christian gospel. In reflecting on the Sanctuary Movement and its struggle with the U.S. government for compassion and justice, I am reminded of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail where he writes:

“There are two types of laws: there are just laws, and there are unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that ‘An unjust law is no law at all.’ … A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law, or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law … Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality … We can never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was ‘legal’ and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was ‘illegal.’ It was ‘illegal’ to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany.”

The Christian tradition of King and the Civil Rights Movement reminds us that while government is necessary, it is not always good and just. When this happens, Christians have a moral imperative to respond not by attacking the government, but by sharing compassion, hospitality, and solidarity with those people who are ostracized and oppressed. We are convicted as clergy of the Christian Gospel that it is our moral responsibility to stand in solidarity with the Sanctuary Movement and the refugees it struggles for. As Christians, hospitality for the immigrant, no matter documented or undocumented, is part of what it means to be Christian.

The Question of Meaning and Christian Calling

By: Taylor Bell

This blog post is an introduction to Life is Calling Team, a Lilly Endowment funded project led by Samford’s Center for Congregational Resources (CCR) researching how churches can more deeply help people discern and embody their God-given callings. As one of 16 CCR partnering congregations, a BCOC Life is Calling Team has been working since January to discern, design, and eventually propose a congregational initiative on calling. Because of Lilly’s involvement, the CCR is providing up to $30,000 for each church’s proposed initiative. Essential (meaning required), for our proposal and receiving funds is the congregation’s participation in this research, primarily through (1) The Life is Calling Survey, and (2) The Birkman Assessment. The deadline to take both survey and the Birkman is Wednesday, Sept 4th. The BCOC Life is Calling Team is inviting each adult member of the congregation to take both the survey and assessment, as they will also be instrumental for guiding us in designing an initiative that is both resonate and meaningful for Covenant. Instruction are posted below. The blog post itself is largely an introduction to the Life is Calling’s theological, historical, and programmatic foundation that informs this work—both for the CCR and the BCOC Life is Calling Team. If you are uninterested by in the theological thought and context behind our work, then feel free to skip the blog and just take the survey and assessment. However, if you would like to know more about Life is Calling then I invite you to keep reading.

  • Life is Calling Survey: use the link provided. The survey takes 5-10 mins (I timed myself)
    1. https://samford.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_bxW2jgBC4gNfDDv
  • Birkman Assessment: in an email to Josey Windham (jwindham@bcoc.net) to indicate your willingness to take the survey. Taylor will provide your email to The Center for Congregational Resources at Samford who will send you a link to take the assessment free of charge.

Okay, onto the actual blog post

The question “How do I live a meaningful and purposeful life?” is a universal and fundamental human question. We all ask it whether consciously or unconsciously. Meaning is the existential understanding that I matter, that my life is significant, that my life causes some amount of ripple in the vast ocean of the universe. Purpose is the opportunity or capability to embody and express one’s meaningfulness. It is knowing that my life’s actions matter because I matter. Meaning and purpose are existentially vital for they are at the root of our struggles for happiness, fulfillment, and hope. For without meaning and purpose happiness is empty, fulfillment is evasive, and hope is unsustainable because none of these realities hold any real meaning or purpose for our lives. Without meaning life has no significance, and without purpose life is empty.

Recognizing this, it is no surprise that throughout human history we have cultivated a myriad of ways to live a meaningful and purposeful life. Religion has been a central means, and we Christians epitomize this. We believe that meaning and purpose are not so much cultivated as received through faith. Faith as the faithful relationship between humanity and God. It is through this faithful relationship that we integrate the meaningfulness that we are each lovingly and intentionally created in God’s image, and therefore we are each called to live out the purpose of sharing this divine love with the world. Within Christian history, we have used various yet related vocabularies such as Christian discipleship, living a life of faith, following Jesus, responding to God’s will, and listening to God’s calling to define and live out this purposeful life. No matter the terminology it is all rooted in the existential need each of us was created for: to be meaningful and live purposefully.

Because meaning and purpose are so essential to living, there may be no greater task for the Christian church than helping people discern and embody their God-given meaning and purpose. Without these two existentialities the human psyche goes haywire. We become despairing and violent. When one does not know their own meaning and purpose life inherently lacks value and worth, and it becomes easier to destroy life—both others’ lives and one’s own life (this is also the case when one’s meaning and purpose is easily threatened, but this is a conversation for another time). In our contemporary society where the traditional vessels for instilling us with meaning and purpose are being uprooted, changed, and reformed—especially the Church—we Christians must critically inquire and discern anew how the Christian community can help people realize and live out meaningful and purposeful existence. Such a task means exploring again Christian history, tradition, theology, ethics, and ecclesiology. It means expanding our dialogue partners to learn from non-Christians. And it means faithfully trusting and listening to God, taking risks as we discern and embrace God’s calling us into the church’s future. To evade this task is to shirk the very reason for the Church’s existence: to be the community of God on earth; to be a community of deep and enduring meaning and purpose.

The Lilly Endowment, a philanthropic foundation that provides millions of dollars for theological education annually, has embraced this task to such an extent that they have dedicated over $10 million into an initiative termed “Called to Lives of Meaning and Purpose.” For Lilly, living a life of meaning and purpose is defined as living out God’s calling for one’s life. Lilly’s convictions for this project are twofold: that when we embody our calling (1) life is deepened and enriched, and (2) the church’s vitality is strengthened. For Lilly, calling is not just an individual concern. There is a communal dynamic as well. A faithful belief that God weaves together individual callings to strengthen and revitalize the fabric of community. Thus, it is not just the individual that is at stake in explorations of calling. The community is at stake as well. The church needs people to live out their callings if it is to survive and thrive.

Samford’s Center for Congregational Resources (CCR) was selected by Lilly as one of the 13 sites. The CCR shares in Lilly’s twofold conviction, and have anchored their research in the question: “What would our churches look like if everyone was living out their God-given calling?” To explore and respond to this question, the CCR has selectively partnered with 16 Alabama churches for 4 years, inviting them to discern, design, and implement a congregational initiative that will help the church members and the congregation discern and live out their God-given callings. To help make these initiatives a reality, CCR is providing up to $30,000 for each church. These creative, contextualized, and well-funded initiatives will provide the CCR with the essential information to answer their anchoring question and providing the Lilly Endowment with potentially groundbreaking research.

BCOC was selected by the CCR as one of the 16 partnering churches, and our BCOC Life is Calling Team is made up by Caroline Jansen, Ann Carol Mann, Mike Martin, Drexel Rayford, and myself (Taylor). We are incredibly excited to be partnering with the CCR and their research.  Both because this research is important for the North American Church and this project provides us with a unique and exciting opportunity. We have the opportunity to design an initiative on discerning calling that BCOC can carry with it into the future. We are eager because this initiative, while it may be helpful for us in this season of transition, it is intended to be impactful beyond just this season. The team is currently unsure what the proposed initiative will be. But we do know that whatever it is needs to be something that BCOC and its members can return to again and again. The question “How do I live a meaningful and purposeful life?” is a question asked anew as we enter new stages of life. With each next stage, we need space and resources, a supporting community, and faith in God to discern this question anew each time.

Since January 2019 the BCOC Life is Calling Team has been deliberately researching and learning about Christian calling. We have engaged research, learned from Fisher Humphreys on Baptist history, and held three focus groups with BCOC members. All of these efforts to help us discern and propose an initiative that is significantly resonate, meaningful, and impactful for Covenant. In other words, it would be a travesty and waste of time to propose a $30,000 initiative for our church only to have designed something disconnected and insignificant. And because of this intent and concern, we need (and it’s required for our participation) the whole congregations’ help (yes that includes you!). We are now expanding our research from small groups to the entire congregation. The CCR has provided us two opportunities to engage all of BCOC, which I previewed at the top of this post. (1) is the Life is Calling Survey, which takes 5-10 mins and will provide data on how BCOC widely understands Christian calling. (2) is the Birkman Assessment. A widely used “behavioral and occupational assessment” that helps spur reflection on the connection between gifts and areas of service. Furthermore, on Wednesdays Sept 11th, 18th, and 25th we will be using the Birkman Assessment to facilitate reflection and dialogue on Covenant’s gifts and connecting them to both the church and wider community. You’ll need to take the Birkman to get the most out of these evenings! Instructions for taking both of these are below. The deadline for both the survey and assessment are Wednesday, Sept 4th. Your responses to these resources will be integral to shaping the BCOC Life is Calling Team’s discernment and work. We invite you to take them and invite other members to do the same.

  • Life is Calling Survey: use the link provided. The survey takes 5-10 mins (I timed myself)
    1. https://samford.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_bxW2jgBC4gNfDDv
  • Birkman Assessment: in an email to Josey Windham (jwindham@bcoc.net) to indicate your willingness to take the survey. Taylor will provide your email to The Center for Congregational Resources at Samford who will send you a link to take the assessment free of charge.

Email Taylor Bell (tbell@bcoc.net) for any questions regarding Life is Calling and BCOC’s involvement in the program.

What Happened To Summer?

By Rodney Franklin

Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
– Jeremiah 43:19

What happened to summer? What happened to pool parties, summer camps and hanging out with friends and family at the beach? What happened to summer? What happened to summer cookouts with endless days of lawns and gardens hoping for rain? What happened to summer? The watermelon is still sweet, the Chilton county peaches are juicy and the muscadines are on their way to be enjoyed, but what happened to summer? Trust me I still feel the heat when I get into my car but the calendar says the August days are upon us which means it is time for a new rhythm of church life.

Kalbarri N.P. - Natures WindowI believe Jeremiah is reminding us about the call to this new rhythm of church life. It is rhythm that reminds us that we are not by ourselves but God continues to accompany us along this journey. It is a rhythm that summons our souls as we rejoice in what God has done and will do in the future. This new rhythm is our call on the eve of a new season of church life where we pray, play, eat, and serve.

We have been making our way through the wilderness of transition in pastoral leadership. We praise God for continuing to lead us because we know that God is faithful and just. We also believe that during this time of transition God will continue to guide our steps as we move forward. So as we continue to move and be led by God, the Week Day Fellowship on Wednesday evenings begins on August 14, 2019. We have almost made it through the hot summer – our Birmingham wilderness experience. So please plan to come out on August 14 and bring a church buddy or even someone who is not connected to a church as we participate and see what new things God will be doing at Baptist Church of the Covenant.

Casting Lots

21 We need to choose someone to take his place…
23 So they suggested the names of two men. One was Joseph, who was called Barsabbas. He was also called Justus. The other man was Matthias. 24 Then the believers prayed. They said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen. 25 Show us who should take the place of Judas as an apostle…” 26 Then they cast lots. Matthias was chosen. So he was added to the 11 apostles.                                                                                                    –Acts 1: 21, 23-26

sunny-luck-ipad-business.jpg
Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

A motley crew of weathered apostles circle up to roll the dice. Luke is careful to use this term, apostle, rather than disciple.  An apostle is one who was an eye-witness to Jesus ministry, death and resurrection. A disciple is a believer who has heard the stories of Jesus – like you and me. Luke thought it important to replace an apostle with another eye witness. After the death of Judas, Acts claims that Peter called the group to seek a replacement. Much like our process this evening. They nominated two reasonable candidates who fit the description of an apostle. They prayed, “Lord you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen.”

The practice of casting lots is mentioned in the Old Testament and New Testament. Nothing is known about the actual lots themselves. They could have been sticks of various lengths, flat stones like coins, or some kind of dice; but their exact nature is unknown. The closest modern practice to casting lots is likely flipping a coin.[1]

So, the apostles cast lots. They rolled the dice. They flipped a coin. And the lot fell to…

Tonight, we will hear nominations from the floor of business meeting and select through ballot voting seven from among us who will be charged with finding our next pastor. Like the apostles, we want to nominate a group of folks who have been eyewitnesses to the stories of Baptist Church of the Covenant, apostles – active in the life of this body and devoted to building up this faithful community. There are likely other sought after qualities as well: persons devoted to prayer and tending one’s own personal spiritual growth for example.

We will vote for seven of those to represent the greater congregation. Each person gets to vote for up to seven people out of those nominated. Our votes will be tallied to find the top seven out of all the votes cast. It feels like casting lots to me. I know some might argue with that. Be my guest.

Truly, it’s not the casting votes that is the most important act this evening. If we want to follow the example of the apostles, we must also say our prayers. Let us be praying as we go about our day, or on our knees, or in complete solitude. Let us be intentional about prayer for this crossroads in BCOC’s story. Pray for our  discernment; wisdom; clearness of mind and eye. Pray for the ability to trust the outcome. Pray that when we say, “Lord you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these you have chosen” that we can trust those who ARE chosen to represent the greater body that is Baptist Church of the Covenant. Once they are selected, there will be so much more for which to pray, but let’s save that for tomorrow.

Tonight, we will see to whom the lots fall.

[1] https://www.gotquestions.org/casting-lots.html

Why I Need Good Friday

By: Taylor Bell

This week, majority of the Christian Church journeys through its most significant week: Holy Week. While most Christians look forward to its culmination on of Easter Sunday, I am always most anticipating Good Friday. For those who are unfamiliar, Good Friday is the Friday before Easter Sunday, and is the day Christians remember the story of Jesus’ betrayal, crucifixion, and death. It is utterly the darkest moment of the Christian story. Jesus’ death personifies the complete loss of hope, redemption, and salvation. Yet oddly enough, I find Good Friday anchors my faith more than Easter Sunday.

My reverence for Good Friday was cultivated throughout my childhood. I grew up in a Baptist church known for its high liturgy, which influenced our Tenebrae Good Friday service. Tenebrae is Latin for “darkness,” and is a service held sometime between DementorConceptArtMaundy Thursday (the Thursday before Easter) and Good Friday. The service moves through the progressive extinguishing of candles accompanied by a darkening of the sanctuary. The intention of Tenebrae is to help the congregation experience the darkness of Jesus’ final despairing hours and death. Our church even had someone dress up as Death, reminding me of a Dementor from Harry Potter to emphasize death’s dark power and who would slowly extinguish the candles. Creepy!

It was a dark, eerie, and frightening service for my ten-year-old self. Yet it was incredibly captivating, and with each passing year I came to look forward to Good Friday. There was a despairing realness about the service I resonated with but could not consciously recognize nor explain. Throughout the church year, the majority of our themes were bright and positive: Christ’s redeeming love, the importance of hope in a broken world, and how everyone is loved by God no matter what. However, on Good Friday, the tenor and theme were anything but. It was dark, despairing, and hopeless. And yet, it felt deeply real, honest, and true.

Though I couldn’t name it then, I realize now my reverence for Good Friday is how its darkness resonates with my own. Since childhood, I have dealt with the trauma of my parents’ divorce. Today, divorce has become somewhat commonplace and its usualness may hide the reality of how particularly traumatic it is for everyone involved, especially the children. For children, divorce means the violent ripping apart a quintessential bond that provides safety, orderliness, and meaning. For me, the divorce inflicted a mortal wound, razing any belief the world was or could be trustworthy, dependable, and purposeful. Though I grew up with all my physical necessities, emotionally it was about survival. It was about learning to survive the painfully habitual oscillations between my parents. Home, security, joy, and love were divorced, violently split between two houses. And the void in between was terrifying. My life lacked unity, harmony, and coherence. I was powerless to change my world, powerless to refuse its terror and pain, so all I could do was learn to survive its chaos.

I still navigate this trauma today. That is the power of trauma. It collapses any realistic sense of time and place so that though the person may not truly be in the traumatic situation, they still experience its terrifying reality nonetheless. Such fear is experienced consciously and unconsciously, and it powerfully returns the person’s thoughts, behaviors, and existence into survival mode. The darkness of trauma is that it feels ultimate; feels as though there is no life beyond its totalizing grasp.

It would seem then Good Friday and trauma don’t mix well. Why journey to the cross at Golgotha when we can look straight to the empty tomb? Why revisit darkness and despair when we can celebrate the joy and happiness of resurrection? For me, answering these questions is about integrity. I cannot have a faith which ignores or cannot understand my trauma, because of how drastically it has impacted my life. To ignore the cross by looking only at the empty tomb is to deny the reality of the cross, and thus to deny the reality of pain, suffering, and brokenness. And for me to claim such a faith requires me to deny my own pain, suffering, and brokenness. It requires me to live a lie. And I am in too much pain to find solace in a lie.

Such faith that celebrates Easter resurrection without journeying through Good Friday crucifixion is what the German theologian and freedom-fighter Dietrich Bonhoeffer infamously termed cheap grace. Cheap grace is “grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”[1]  Cheap grace is Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane allowing his Father’s cup pass by him. Cheap grace emerges from an optimistic faith that denies the Good Friday cross because it is afraid of darkness and death. Optimism is the act of avoiding the truth of pain and suffering by focusing exclusively on what is pleasurable. Optimistic faith is a dangerous fantasy it finds hope and solace in the denial of pain, not embracing of it. It is dangerous because it destructively collapses when the reality of darkness becomes unavoidable. Optimistic faith believes in cheap grace so that it doesn’t have to feel and experience life’s painfulness. Addicts use drugs to avoid their pain, Christians use cheap grace to avoid theirs.

I don’t need a faith that promises redemption and healing but cannot face the depths of my own woundedness. Out of integrity and live for my own soul, I cannot accept a faith that prompts me to ignore my trauma. This tactic only inflicts more pain and suffering. I need a faith that knows what real suffering is. As a child, I needed a faith that journeys into the darkness, despair, and suffering of life because I needed to know that God would find me, hold me, and love me. I needed to know that amidst the impenetrable darkness of my own trauma that I was not alone. And then I needed a faith that would guide me out of this darkness and into the light; to guide me into new life beyond my trauma. I still need such a faith today.

Optimistic faith and cheap grace are worthless because they deny the Christian truth that healing, resurrection, and new life are found by journeying through pain, suffering, and trauma.[2] For there to be resurrection there must first be crucifixion. This is the paradoxical truth of the Christian faith: that our hope, redemption, and healing are found by journeying with Christ to the cross, not by avoiding it. Such faith discovers what Bonhoeffers terms costly grace. It is “costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life … it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son.”[3] Costly grace emerges from a realistic faith which acknowledges the truth of pain, suffering, and death within life. It can acknowledge, because realistic faith follows Christ to the cross and into the tomb to mysteriously yet profoundly discover resurrection. It knows that grace is costly because it is experienced only by directly journeying through one’s darkness. And it is graceful because amidst one’s own darkness we discover Christ right with us, guiding us through to new life.

Realistic faith and costly grace are what I rediscover every year at Good Friday. Which is why I now recognize why Good Friday is so important for my faith. Good Friday is what makes my faith real. By real I mean that Good Friday anchors my faith so that it has a real guiding and healing impact on my life. I need Good Friday because it is an essential step in my faith journey that Christ calls me to walk for healing and redemption. Good Friday reminds me why I need Easter. The faithfulness of Good Friday brings me face-to-face with the realness of my own despair, hopelessness, violence, trauma, darkness, and brokenness. And the real grace is through my faithful journey I have mysteriously again and again found Jesus guiding my path, not abandoning me, lovingly embracing me when I become tired and afraid, imbuing my steps with courage and hope, and miraculously nurturing meaningfulness where there was once meaninglessness. Because of my journey through Good Friday, I have begun to experience the resurrection of Easter Sunday.

As a pastor, I believe we all seek, desire, and need such realistic faith. On some level of our being, we desire a spiritual grounding and guidance that provides real healing and a flourishing life. For me, this spiritual grounding is my Christian faith and it must again and again journey through Holy Week, especially Good Friday. Bonhoeffer claims “costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again,”[4] which is why Holy Week, Good Friday, and Easter are practiced every year. I am human and have a broken tendency to forget the salvific truth of my Christian faith: that Christ is gracefully redeeming me everyday if only I will follow him into the darkness to rediscover resurrection. When I forget Good Friday, I forget the realness of my faith and I lose my way. My forgetfulness is why I need Good Friday this year, next year, and all the years to come. Because Good Friday makes my faith real. And I know it is real because through this faith I am discovering God’s graceful love, healing, and redemption. This is the real Gospel: that there is new life beyond death. If you are not already, I invite you this year to join me in journeying again through the darkness of Good Friday. I cannot guarantee, I can only faithfully claim that Christ will meet and lead us through the darkness into new light.

[1] Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship. 1st Touchstone ed. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995. P. 45

[2] Palmer, Parker J. Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000.

[3] Bonhoeffer, p. 45, original emphasis.

[4] Bonhoeffer, p. 45.