Annual Business Meeting
Our church had its annual business meeting Sunday, February 7, at 11:15 AM. While that may not sound very exciting, that yearly event is very important in the life of the church. During the meeting the proposed budget was passed. There was also be voting on new Council and Ministry Team members. It is truly what launches the church into the new year. And you can click here to read the Annual Report from 2015, in case you missed it.
Lent: Clearing Out the Clutter and Getting Flipped
Lent was a time for renewal during a tough year. We cleared out some clutter and made room for new growth in our lives. This included some of you giving Soap Box Sermons on the Beatitudes, and a Maundy Thursday gathering where we shared a simple meal of soup and bread before a candlelit service in the Chapel.
During this time we were also visited by author, speaker, and pastor Doug Pagitt. He co-hosted an OPEN Network "Open House" lunch with our Senior Minister Sean Witty. That was followed by an evening of readings, music, light refreshments, and conversation. Our own Lynn Bailey Witty performed and Doug spoke about and read from his new book Flipped. We still have some free copies available in the church office, in case you missed the wonderful event. Doug Pagitt then ended his visit by speaking during worship on Palm Sunday.
Saved From Sacrifice
During April and May, some in our community gathered at each other's homes to discuss Mark Heim's book Saved from Sacrifice and discuss why Jesus died the death that He did. It was a time of open honest conversation on a topic that is difficult to understand within our hearts or explain to others.
Red Wagon Sundays
We have continued to gather non-perishable food items on the first Sunday of each month. The following Saturday, we put the food in a red wagon and walk it down to the Centre Street Food Pantry with children in our community. They then get to help stock the shelves. It is a great lesson in generosity.
Resurrecting the Resurrection
Senior Minister Sean Witty followed up Easter by giving a series of reflections on resurrecting the resurrection, rescuing it from "professionals" who have kept it for themselves instead of making it available for everyone. As he put it:
Jesus’ resurrection is in dire need of rescuing. It has been hijacked. It needs rescuing from the clutches of a group who has kept it to themselves in order to save their livelihood. It has been commandeered and lives may have been lost. My ambition here is to rescue Jesus’ resurrection from the guilty party - the professionals - the "teachers of the law," the historians, the philosophers, the theologians, the Biblical scholars, and the clergy. These people, "forgive them for they know not what they do,” bear a resemblance to some of the people who were the most threatened by Jesus. Those who were threatened by Jesus were those who profited most from prevailing structures. Simply put, these structures divided people into “insiders” and “outsiders.” Jesus had a particular interest in challenging (to put it mildly) these structures. At the very least, Jesus taught that the “Kingdom” (the realm, the economy, the commonwealth) of God was within each of us, not within hierarchies and rituals...
As I point a finger at “the professionals” I am aware that I am simultaneously pointing three fingers at myself. I, myself, stand as one of the guilty party. Together, we have kidnapped Jesus’ resurrection and held it hostage for ransom. The professionals have been given (and willingly accepted) the power to decide who “gets it” and who does not. The professionals have had the power to decide who is on the inside and the outside in the realm of belief, but no longer. They have been relieved of their power. They have had their day and now it is dusk.
The Open Circle Bible Study, led by Mark Heim and Lloyd Clarke, read the the Gospel of Luke together. The Science and Religion course, led by Dick Ransom and Phil Rounseville, discussed A Fine-Tuned Universe: The Quest for God in Science and Theology by Alister E. McGrath, and The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief by Francis S. Collins. Both wrapped up this Spring after an exciting year. Both will resume in the Fall, with the latter group switching topics to exploring Jewish, Christian, and Muslim versions of Biblical stories.
Red Chair Conversations
Red Chair Conversations are a chance during Sunday worship for special guests to have a more relaxed conversation than a typical sermon allows. The conversations are moderated by Sean Witty, and also offer those in attendance a chance to be part of the dialogue and an active participant in church life. Everyone listens, engages, and asks questions.
So far, Rabbi Or Rose of Hebrew College shared his reflections on the challenges and possibilities of Jewish-Christian dialogue and joint action in contemporary life. Adam Hearlson, Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship and the Director of Wilson Chapel at Andover-Newton Theological School, joined us for preaching and conversation on June 12. And our own Eunice Wilson joined Sean to talk about Compassion in Action Ministry here at First Baptist Church.
Speaking of Compassion in Action, some from our community recently served lunch and participated in worship at the Common Cathedral on the Boston Common. Common Cathedral ministers to the homeless population of Boston, and their friends. They handed out 100 turkey sandwiches, 80 egg salad sandwiches, 100 individual size packets of fig newtons, 100 pieces of string cheese, 1 gallon of grape juice for communion, 200 paper cups, 200 napkins, a big can of powdered lemonade mix, and a birthday cake.
It was truly an example of compassion in action.
There has been a lot of talk about wide eyed, Big Tent Christianity around this church lately. Sean Witty has been clarifying his vision for this community - how it can be a place where wonder still exists that truly welcomes all by creating a space for believers and seekers, for the faithful and the faithless, and for the saints and the sinners. Wide eyed people are astonished easily. They are awake and aware. They have not lost their sense of wonder. They are curious and willing to ask questions without fear; questions that could easily be dismissed as childish, naive, or obvious. Big Tent Christianity nurtures hope and courage by creating room for doubt and uncertainty. Big Tent Christianity welcomes strangers.
Blue Ribbon Sunday
June 5 was our annual Blue Ribbon Sunday. After worship in the Sanctuary we enjoyed delicious Blue Ribbon Barbecue and live music. It rained this year, so we had to stay inside. But the food was still delicious and the music still got everyone moving.
Matsiko World Orphan Choir
The Matsiko World Orphan Choir performed in the Chapel on Friday, July 8. The chapel was completely full that night with some of our non-vacationing folks attending. But most attendees were members of the Newton community. It is great that so many came and supported the event.
The performance by the children was simply marvelous. They are free with their singing, dancing, and especially hugs.
On Father's Day, in addition to recognizing fathers and those who have been fathers to us, we celebrated several baptisms, our graduates, and gave 4th graders Bibles during worship. It was wonderful to see so many extended family members with us that day.
After the tragic mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida we remembered all the victims and lives lost by lighting 50 candles during our Sunday worship.
Pokémon Go and Practicing Generosity
By now you probably know a few people playing Pokémon Go, the mobile game taking the world by storm. During a few days when the sun was bright and the temperature in the high 90s, we sat at a picnic table on the lawn with a bunch of ice cold bottles of water and cans of Coke. A sign with the church’s logo and name was put next to the table, along with “PokéStop, Free Drinks” to welcome people to our space. It was a simple way to show some generosity to people who were passing by our space.
August Soap Box Sermons
Thanks to all the positive feedback from Soap Box Sermons during lent, they are returning for the entire month of August. Each Sunday you (yes, you) are encouraged to share for 8-12 minutes on a topic and Bible passage of your choice. Churches now have a unique opportunity to become “communities of interpretation,” where the Bible and the world can be interpreted as a community, not simply by the “professionals.” In this type of church, soapboxes are brought inside and multiple voices can be heard as an expression of Christian faithfulness. In this setting, creedal confessions of faith can still be useful and honored. Though Christian identity is not defined by what we assent to verbally, but how we live together. How we live together becomes the objective and the measure of our faith.
So much has already happened here at First Baptist Church in Newton, and the year is only half over. We look forward to new experiences as a community during the rest of the year! And these are just a few of the highlights from the year so far. What is missing? Share your own memories in the comments below or let us know what you hope to see in the future.