We will be meeting Sunday October 18 as well as Sunday October 25 at 11:15 AM in the Winslow Room.
If you’ve ever wanted an orientation to First Baptist Church, Community Compass is it. Community Compass is an informal gathering for people who want to know more about our community. Bring your questions and share your experiences. Learn about mission, membership, money, and any other “m” words you can think of. Letting us know you’re coming is helpful, but not required.
We will be meeting Sunday October 18 as well as Sunday October 25 at 11:15 AM in the Winslow Room.
We have embarked on a reading of the Gospel of Luke, and any one is welcome to join us---for an occasional week or as a regular thing. We are in the first chapter, and the last couple of weeks we have been talking about the "back story" for Jesus: Luke begins that back story with some relatives of Jesus' mother Mary, Elizabeth and Zechariah. Below are the first verses of the four gospels. Each of them sets the back story a little differently. Like the gospel writers themselves, we will be sharing and comparing our perspectives about the Jesus story, which in some ways we know so well, and in some ways are always beginning to understand.
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, "Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way; the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight--" John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Ammin'adab, and Ammin'adab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Bo'az by Rahab, and Bo'az the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king. And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uri'ah,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us, just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed. In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechari'ah, of the division of Abi'jah; and he had a wife of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.
Co-leaders and hosts Mark Heim, Lloyd Clarke and Joshua Lyons
On St. Francis Day, worship services around the world may include kangaroos, wolves, camels, dogs, cats, and even beetles. You may even be invited to bring your family pet to church for a blessing.
The current Pope Francis took the saint’s name in recognition of St. Francis’ concern for the poor. However, the iconoclastic friar and preacher who died on October 3, 1226 was also known for his love of "all creatures of our God and King."
Pets were a fixture throughout my childhood. Sam, our goldeen-roodle (golden retriever/poodle mix) had puppies when I was in kindergarten. Our hamsters were escape artists. One pair of black cats we had, Bib and Tucker, were brothers with surprisingly different personalities. Zero, an Alaskan Malamute we adopted, was majestic, dignified, and loyal. Our shepherd mix, Duke, was a neighborhood legend.
It is no wonder the world loves St. Francis Day; a day when our transcendent connection to animals is celebrated.
October 4, 2016 is St. Francis Day. It is acknowledged by a broad range of people and organizations: The Humane Society, PETA, Catholics, Protestants, and others all celebrate St. Francis' love for creation.
"Francis' deep love of God overflowed into love for all God's creatures — expressed not only in his tender care of lepers and his (unsuccessful) attempt to negotiate peace between Muslims and Christians during the fifth Crusade, but also in his prayers of thanksgiving for creation, his sermons preached to animals, and his insistence that all creatures are brothers and sisters under God."
At 10:00 am on Sunday, October 4, we will recognize and celebrate "all creatures of our God and King" with worship in the Sanctuary which will include friends from Animal Adventures.
At 11:15 am, there will be a special event with Animal Adventures in the Chapel for all ages. All are invited to participate in either or both the 10:00 am and 11:15 am gatherings.
All are invited to bring there own pets from home to celebrate and receive a blessing. Photos of pets and stuffed animals are also heartily welcome!
Perhaps you have a beloved pet story to share in the comments below.
A new course covering the relation between science and religion is being held after the 10:00 worship service. It runs roughly from 11:20 - 12:30 and meets in the Gallery.
Phil Rounseville and Dick Ransom are leading the course. Phil makes telescope lens for a living and possesses and encyclopedic knowledge of astronomy. Dick has great interest in the theological aspects of the beginning of the universe and evolution. Mark Heim will be dropping by from time to time to share his insights on the topic of science and religion, which is one of the areas on which he focuses as the Samuel Abbot Professor of Christian Theology at Andover-Newton Theological School.
A Fine-Tuned Universe: The Quest for God in Science and Theology by Alister E. McGrath will be read during the fall. McGrath is a professor at Oxford who has earned doctorates in both biophysics and Christian theology. This book explains and promotes natural theology, which seeks to find God primarily through the study of the natural world rather than through divine revelation. Proponents of natural theology have included Thomas Aquinas and C.S. Lewis. Karl Barth and Richard Dawkins have strenuously opposed natural theology.
The “fine-tuning” in the book’s title refers to numerous parameters (the ratio of electromagnetic force to the force of gravity, the strength of the strong nuclear force, the amount of matter in the universe, the strength of cosmic repulsion, the ratio of the gravitational binding force to rest-mass energy, and the number of spatial dimensions) which had to have just the right values for our solar system to be formed as it was and for life to develop and survive. If science makes your head spin, do not fear – this course is going to be an adventure to go on together! And if you happened to understand any of that science just mentioned, you have a moral duty to attend the class and explain the technical stuff.
Winter and Spring Schedule
The next book to be covered will be The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief by Francis S. Collins, who served as head of the Human Genome Project. He explains how his knowledge of the human genome supports the concept of evolution, but also supports the existence of God. Besides his argument for God, the book is full of fascinating facts:
In addition to discussing these books, there will be opportunities for real or virtual field trips, some of which will provide the opportunity for some breathtaking views through telescopes.
See you Sundays!
In a recent survey, more than half of the parents who participated listed their stress levels
at a seven out of ten between June first and July thirty-first. I can only imagine these numbers rising with the onset of the school year as they do in my home.
In the process of reading the more thorough documentation of stress in recent years, I’m realizing that stress and anxiety are taking much more of a toll on my health—and a more widespread toll on the health of other people—than I had initially understood. Reading these reports is almost leading to an additional feeling helplessness; feeling stressed about stress.
Connecting Reduces Stress
My good friend Michael Lee Stallard has researched and written extensively on what he calls a "connection culture." In a recent interview for Forbes.com he says,
"Human beings are hardwired to connect. When we feel connection and experience social support we are less likely to go into a state of stress response."
What is a "stress response"?
Stallard says, "The body senses when threats are present and it goes into stress response mode, sending blood, glucose and oxygen to the heart, lungs and big muscles like the thighs. At the same time, the body shortchanges the brain, digestive, immune and reproductive systems, leaving us more vulnerable to memory loss, digestive disorders, infection and illness. The body is preparing to fight or flee. When we are stuck in a state of stress response for a long period of time, it drains the life out of us."
Shortly after my arrival at First Baptist Newton in 2011, we were fortunate to have Stallard participate in a leadership retreat and help us begin creating a culture of connection, based on shared identity, empathy and understanding.
How to Bless a Backpack
Our Blessing of the Backpacks will hopefully, in some small way, remedy this by creating a simple opportunity to connect with others.
To bless a backpack, we invite a child or student (or adult!) to receive a brief prayer of encouragement: that their trusty backpacks would remind them of their connections to this caring community.
Another way to “bless a backpack” is by helping families who struggle to fill their backpacks this September, especially nutritionally. Blessings in a Backpack (www.blessingsinanbackpack.com) reminds us that "hunger doesn't take weekends off" and provides elementary schoolchildren who are on the federal Free and Reduced Price Meal Program with a backpack of food to take home for 38 weekends during the school year.
If you plan to participate, I encourage you to give your child the money to hand in, by which you will not only be fostering a connection with your child and with the family you are providing to, but also helping your child continue learning about generosity and connection.
For more on kids, stress and school:
Our goal is to create an opportunity, a space, where friends and strangers can be awakened to see things as they really are.
A young woman who grew up in Newton and visiting from out of town this past Sunday approached me after worship saying, "I wish I could take this [worship service] to back home with me!"
A growing group of more than fifty people regular help make Sunday mornings a highlight of our week. They contribute to worship on Sunday mornings as readers, greeters, musicians, visual artists, hospitality hosts, speakers, tech support, and more.
The primary activity of a church is worship. Our primary gathering for worship is 10a on Sundays. Other communities meet differently - different times, places, styles of music, etc. Some even forgo the words "worship" and "church" in order to be freed from unnecessary expectations. It all matters and nothing is wasted.
The way we are worshipping as First Baptist Church in Newton is not the only way, nor is it the best way. It is simply "our way."
Our goal is to create an opportunity, a space, where friends and strangers can be awakened to see things as they really are. To see things as they are is to see with the eyes of God, the eyes of "love without measure", the eyes of Jesus.
To this end we sing, pray, listen, share stories, read the Bible, and much more. Moreover, we seek to do these things in a way that is both honest and empathic, both available and vulnerable, both active and contemplative.
Our "way" evolves. There are similarities from week to week, but there are different people in the room each week. In this sense, no two Sundays are the same. In this sense, simply showing up is a valuable contribution.
One might ask, "How do you worship?" or "What is your service like?"
Perhaps a better question would be, "How are you worshipping?" or "What is your serving like?"
This way of asking the question emphasizes action and the holistic nature of worship as something that is expressed on a Sunday morning, but lived throughout the week.
If you would like to be alerted of opportunities to contribute by reading, greeting, or providing food to our "worshipping", send an email to info[at]fbcnewton[dot]org. You will be notified via "Planning Center" of how and when you can join in.
What about you? How do you enjoy "worshipping?" What is your "serving" like these days? Add your comments below.
On Sunday, we looked at living careful, thoughtful, and soulful lives; lives like Warren Berggren.
Warren was a longtime member of FBC while living in Boston between 1972-1989. He and his wife championed health as human right and led serving trips ("mission trips") to Haiti with students from FBC.
We are sadden to receive the news of his death in January.
Full article: http://bit.ly/berrgren
Excerpt: "July 29, 2015 – The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health community was saddened to learn of the death on January 30, 2015, of Warren Berggren, MPH ’63, DPH ’67, who passed away in Golden, Colorado, at age 85. Together with his wife and public health partner, the physician Gretchen Glode Berggren, SM ’66, Berggren launched groundbreaking community health programs in several countries in the developing world, including in Haiti, where they worked at the Hôpital Albert Schweitzer in Deschapelles for many years."
I received an email recently responding to my describing God as "capricious" in a sermon. My response describes some of the thinking behind my 'sermons' and theology in general.
Thank you for your thoughtful message. I appreciate your kindness and willingness to share your experience. I can see why you might be surprised, even jarred, by my referring to God as "capricious". I wish others would engage me as you have! You speak from a deep place.
Perhaps I can explain myself a bit.
What I am interested in is encouraging, even instigating, a deeply empathic, honest, and vibrant community. It is difficult for churches to become this kind of community when there is a subterranean anxiety fueling a perceived need to uphold or protect 'correct belief' or "orthodoxy" [however it is defined]. This anxiety limits spiritual growth by discouraging honest conversations. The experience is, "Unless you are exactly like us, you can't become one of us...you can't "belong". Right Belief comes first, then you can participate, you belong. Until then, we will accept you as you are and tolerate you and your journey towards orthodoxy."
It is difficult, if not impossible, to see this from the inside. It is much like the emperor's new clothes. In order to protect us all from embarrassment and to avoid offending anyone, we remain silent.
As "clergy", my role is to create opportunities for tranformation. I approach this with (hopefully) a deep awareness of my own limited understanding of a fathomless God. Telling people how to think or speak about God robs them of their opportunity to discover God on their own. Jesus' disciples were asked to pick things up as they went along. "More of Christ is caught then taught," as they used to say.
The morning I spoke about miracles, everyone who spoke expressed confidence about the possibility miracles. Most were agnostic about miracles, resigned to accept the possibility, but not the certainty, of miracles based on a simple rationale: "I can neither prove nor disprove the possibility of miracles, nor can I understand the mind of God. Therefore, I will remain open but not expectant or certain." This kind of thinking is not especially "Christian" as much as it is rational or common sense. Perhaps thinking "Christianly" is more demanding? Perhaps thinking "Christianly" is even more demanding than choosing a side and thus resolving the dissonance and our lives (our actions and behaviors) show us what we "believe".
There were people in attendance that morning who did not speak up that are both (1) deeply skeptical about the possibility of miracles and (2) deeply skeptical about the virtue of remaining agnostic about miracles ("lukewarm...neither hot nor cold..."). By proposing that God may be "capricious", I spoke on their behalf in order to (1) stand with the marginalized in the room and to (2) create the opportunity for others to discover, even share, their own conflicted thoughts about miracles, and so on.
I realize this can be perceived by some as "unconventional". I might be more inclined to accept this conclusion except that Jesus takes a similar approach when fielding questions about money (giving to Caesar what is Caesar's), power (who will get the seat next to God), and sin (throwing stones).
Regarding God's "capriciousness": God does appear "capricious" in the Hebrew Bible - Abraham's near-murder of Isaac, genocide via a flood, life and death cosmic games with the life of a "Godly man", Job. Many people find traditional interpretations of the Bible difficult (especially in a post-Holocaust world) and many (most?) churches are missing the valuable opportunity to become "interpretive communities" in favor of becoming communities of particular interpretations. It is, in fact, the slow, process of interpretation which yields the very spiritual growth many (most?) churches long for. This kind of transformation only occurs when we are confronted empathically with the gap that exists between what say we believe and how we really live. My own passionate plea to trust God by resisting consumerism can distance me from my fear of financial ruin.
I hope this helps a bit. I hope to see you again soon!
The Council has weighed the costs and benefits of gathering for worship in the Sanctuary versus the Chapel. Here's our next step.
During Lent this year, we enjoyed worship on Sunday mornings in the Chapel. It wasn't the first time the room had been used as such. One of the reasons the room was called the Chapel is because it was once used regularly for Sunday morning worship, especially when the sanctuary was being built in the 19th century. There was also a balcony at either end where smaller rooms now exist. Folks would sit facing the Fogg Building (where the church offices and kids rooms are).
During the last two summers, we have also enjoyed using the space for worship. We missed the sanctuary, but a warm, approachable side of ourselves became more accessible in the smaller space. We felt more connected.
We miss the Sanctuary whenever we are in the Chapel. It is one of the treasured jewels of Newton (and beyond). On Easter Sunday, we returned to the Sanctuary with a joyful celebration!
We have learned there are benefits and costs to using both spaces, the Sanctuary and the Chapel. We have noticed, in particular, that welcoming new people on Sunday morning is easier in the Chapel.
At the moment, we are a small congregation, and the grandeur of the Sanctuary easily overshadows the intimacy available in a smaller group. It is also difficult to notice changes in attendance. A difference of 20 people is hardly noticed in the Sanctuary and impossible to overlook in the Chapel.
Offering hospitality is a core activity of a church. It is spiritually formative to receive it and to offer it. We are all very interested in nurturing the growth of the church and many people enter the community via Sunday morning worship. Practicing hospitality on Sunday mornings is crucial.
After some thorough discussion and hearing from others, the Council has concluded that continuing to worship in the Chapel on Sundays may encourage growth by helping new folks connect, fostering relationships, and enhancing our worship in a way that is difficult to replicate in the Sanctuary at our current size. Moving forward, from April 19 to September, we will worship in the Chapel. We will, however, have the best of both worlds. On communion Sundays (the first Sunday of each month, May 3 and June 7), we will gather in the Sanctuary and fire up the organ. As the summer closes, we will reevaluate.
I think this is a wise choice. First, we are blessed to even have two spaces to consider! What this church offers is unique, exciting, and important. It is transcending familiar (and tired) categories like traditional/contemporary, left/right, formal/informal. We are "all of the above" and it should be shared. I want to see the Sanctuary filled with people looking for something they can't find elsewhere, but in the meantime, the heart of our little village is easier to access in the Chapel.
The difference in my experience is distinct. When speaking and leading music, I am closer to everyone - physically and emotionally. Our subtle interactions as a group are amplified. We can hear ourselves sing together. And when we sing, we are looking (and singing) up rather than down towards a bulletin or hymnal. We literally "sing from the same song sheet". We can hear each other speak when we invite conversation. Simply put, the Chapel is more suited to what we are trying to accomplish right now - deepening trust and discovering our mission.
I suspect we will look back and treasure this season in the Chapel as the disciples may have treasured their time meeting with Jesus in homes before gathering on lakes and on hillsides to accommodate the growing crowds. Change is never easy and we will help each other, remembering that there can be no Spring without the change from Winter and there can be no adulthood without a transition from childhood. My hope is that we will continue to embrace the adventure with gratitude for helping us feel alive and a part of a large and holy conspiracy.
What else can we do to offer hospitality? Add your comments below.
During Easter preparation, the choir asked me about the choice of "Into the Fire" as a solo for Easter. It is a choice that needed context I had not provided for them, so I am glad they asked. I had already written a brief introduction for the service which I expanded on. We are putting it on the blog by request and with bit of magic from Mark Heim. -- Sean
What was Bruce Springsteen's song "Into the Fire" doing in our Easter worship? It is not a conventional choice, but then we are not trying to be a conventional church.
When you love someone enough to endure a painful experience or great hardship, we say things like,
"I would do anything for you,"
"I'd walk through fire for you," or even
"I'd go to hell and back for you."
When describing Jesus' journey this week, the earliest Christian theologians said, that Jesus went to hell and back again for the sake others, for the sake of those he loved; "love without measure". It is even written down in an early statement of Christian belief which appeared in a letter around 390AD and is sometimes referred to as the Symbol of the Apostles. In the short list of essential things, it says Jesus "suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell; the third day He rose again from the dead."
Bruce Springsteen wrote "Into the Fire" with some specific people in mind who stepped into fire, who went to hell and back for the sake of others. He was thinking of 9/11 and people who went "up the stairs" into the fire. He may not have had Jesus specifically in mind when he wrote it....but it sure sounds like he could have.
Part of worship involves going back to live inside those saving events 2000 years ago and to make them part of us. Another part involves looking at significant events in our lives and world right now (like 9/11) and seeing Christ and our faith already reflected in the midst of them. The chorus, which we all sang with such urgency on Sunday, seems like a loop of prayer and song we address to that risen one who has been through the fire:
"May your strength give us strength,
May your faith give us faith,
May your hope give us hope,
May your love give us love."
Sean Witty and Mark Heim